Citation for Elijah Muhammad

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Nyang, Sulayman S. . "Elijah Muhammad." In The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World. Oxford Islamic Studies Online. May 22, 2022. <>.


Nyang, Sulayman S. . "Elijah Muhammad." In The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World. Oxford Islamic Studies Online, (accessed May 22, 2022).

Elijah Muhammad

Elijah Muhammad was the leader of the Black Muslim group, the Nation of Islam, for more than forty years. Born Paul Robert Poole in 1897 on a tenant farm in Sandersville, Georgia, Elijah Muhammad was the seventh of twelve children. He assumed the name Elijah in honor of his grandfather and later chose the last name Muhammad, following the example of his religious guide and mentor, Fard Muhammad (formerly Wallace D. Fard), an enigmatic figure who is believed to be the original founder of the Lost and Found Nation of Islam. In the 1920s, Elijah Muhammad married the former Clara Evans and migrated north to Detroit in search of employment. He changed jobs several times while living in Detroit and, between 1929 and 1931, went on welfare. It is believed that his first meeting with Fard Muhammad took place during this period.

Elijah Muhammad was said to be a follower of Marcus Garvey prior to his encounter with Fard Muhammad. Real or imagined, the fact that his movement embraced theologically grounded black nationalism makes him a fellow traveler. Following the disappearance of Fard Muhammad, Elijah Muhammad became one of the contenders for power within the embryonic Nation of Islam. It is claimed by some scholars that at this time Elijah's life was in jeopardy, and for this and other related reasons, he was on the run between 1935 and 1942. Federal Bureau of Investigation sources obtained under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that in 1941 Muhammad had been jailed in Washington, D.C., where he went by the name of Bogans. He and several dozen members of the Nation of Islam were imprisoned for refusing to register for the draft. During World War II, the Nation of Islam itself was believed by U.S. authorities to be friendly to the Japanese.

During his incarceration, Muhammad embarked on a mission of conversion among prison inmates. He gradually established a prison mission around the country. His most charismatic and powerful jailed convert was Malcolm X. Later known as El-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz, this recruit into the Nation of Islam transformed the manner in which the Black Muslims presented themselves to the press and society at large. As a result of Malcolm X's energetic drive to reach the poor, the jailed, the downtrodden, and the despised black members of the inner cities of America, many young and old African Americans embraced the Nation of Islam. Temples were set up in several U.S. cities, and by 1962 the U.S. media discovered this small but growing religious group.

Elijah Muhammad taught his followers that blacks in the United States were the descendants of the Shabazz tribe of Arabia. He claimed that Fard Muhammad was God himself and that the white people are offspring of the devil, a soulless creature whose existence was made possible by a rebellious black scientist named Yacub. Yacub, according to this story, created the first white man after having discovered a recessive gene and experimenting with sixty thousand people for six hundred years. The philosophy of the Nation of Islam also teaches that the whites of this world have a respite of six thousand years, during which they can do all their evil deeds.

Elijah Muhammad lived to see the transformation of his fledgling organization into one of the most powerful black organizations in the United States. He built a social movement that served as a haven for the underclass, injecting it with a sense of pride, no matter how exaggerated. His success in reforming thousands of black men and women lost to society earned him the respect of some American sociologists. However, it must be stated categorically that Elijah Muhammad's teachings were opposed both by the leaders of the U.S. civil rights movement and by the leaders of the Muslim world. The former opposed his views because of the damage they caused to race relations during a critical period in U.S. history; the latter saw him and the Nation of Islam as a heretical group operating at the outer limits of the Islamic world.



  • El-Amin, Mustafa. The Religion of Islam and the Nation of Islam: What Is the Difference?Newark, 1991.
  • Clegg, Claude Andrew. An Original Man: The Life and Times of Elijah Muhammad. St. Martin's Press, 1997.
  • Elijah Muhammad. Message to the Blackman in America. Chicago, 1965.
  • Muhammad, Elijah. The God-Science of Black Power. Secretarius Memps Publications, 2006.
  • Gardell, Mattias. In the Name of Elijah Muhammad: Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam. Chapel Hill: Duke University Press, 1996.
  • Lincoln, C. Eric. The Black Muslims in America. Boston, 1961.
  • Nyang, Sulayman S.“Islam and the American Dream.”Arabia (London) 15 (November 1982): 24–26.

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