History Of Malcolm X and Nation Of Islam
“For 12 long years I lived within the narrow minded confines of the
straight jacket world created by my strong belief that Elijah
Mohammed was a messenger direct from God… and my faith in what I
now see to be a pseudo-religious philosophy that he preaches. . . .
I shall never rest until I have undone the harm I did to so many
well-meaning, innocent Negroes who… now believe in him even more
fanatically and more blindly than I did…”
Capturing the essence of Malcolm X’s transition following his disillusionment with Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam, these words lie at the core of the next phase of the Nation of Islam’s journey following its consolidation under Elijah Muhammad in the 1950s.
The Nation of Islam attracted Malcom X, then known as ‘Malcolm Little’. While in prison in Boston for burglary from 1946 to 1952, Little joined the Nation of Islam. Following Nation tradition, Elijah Muhammad ordered him to replace his surname, “Little”, with an “X”, a custom among Nation of Islam followers who considered their surnames to have been imposed by white slaveholders after their African names were taken from them.
Malcolm X rose rapidly to become a minister and national spokesperson for the NOI. Highly influenced by Malcolm X’s membership, the Nation grew in numbers and influence.
In March 1964, Malcolm X was excommunicated from the Nation due to disagreements with Elijah Muhammad; among other things, Malcolm X found issues with Muhammad’s lack of adherence to Muslim teachings, and Malcolm X’s fame had led to media attention and a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) infiltration into the Nation of Islam.
The rift deepened after Malcolm revealed that the group’s leader, Elijah Muhammad, had fathered children out-of-wedlock with NOI secretaries. This public feud combined with competing political visions to cause deep divisions within the Muslim community. Malcolm formed two independent groups in 1964: the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU) and Muslim Mosque, Inc. (MMI).
A year later, he prepared to release a new political program which would have likely included voter registration drives, local organizing against police brutality, and a call for the United Nations to denounce American racial practices as human rights violations, Malcolm X was gunned down on the very day he was set to unveil it.
Elijah Muhammad’s links to Malcolm’s assassination continue to be alleged, and the controversy continues to haunt the NOI. As for Malcolm X, his death immortalised him, whilst the NOI was left to envision its existence and Theology following the death of Elijah Muhammad.
At the time of Elijah Muhammad’s death in 1975, there were 75 NOI centers across America. The Nation’s leadership chose Wallace Muhammad, also known as Warith Deen Mohammad, the fifth of Elijah’s sons – not Farrakhan – as the new Supreme Minister.
Warith Deen Mohammad shunned his father’s theology and black pride views, forging closer ties with mainstream Muslim communities in an attempt to transition the Nation of Islam into orthodoxy more similar to Sunni Islam.
The NOI move towards Orthodox Islam was not universally accepted however, and divisions emerged which would lead to the founding of the ‘New Nation Of Islam’ under Louis Farrakhan.
In 1955, Louis Wolcott joined the Nation of Islam. He was given his new name, “Farrakhan”, by Elijah Muhammad. In 1965, following the assassination of Malcolm X, Farrakhan emerged as the protege of Malcolm. Like his predecessor, Farrakhan was a dynamic, charismatic leader and a powerful speaker with the ability to appeal to the African-American masses.
Following the death of Elijah Muhammad, and despite the NOI’s transition to Orthodox Islam, the seeds of another ‘internal revolt’ were thus sown that would see the Nation return to its ‘radical roots’ under Farrakhan.