Elijah Muhammad and Islam

Elijah Muhammad and Islam

Herbert Berg
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 211
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  • Book Info
    Elijah Muhammad and Islam
    Book Description:

    Elijah Muhammad is arguably the most significant figure in the history of Islam in the United States. Successor to W. D. Fard, the founder of the Nation of Islam, and a mentor to Malcolm X, Elijah Muhammad led the Nation of Islam for over forty years.In Elijah Muhammad and Islam, Herbert Berg focuses on Elijah Muhammad's religiosity, which is frequently brought into question as the authenticity of the Nation of Islam as "truly Islamic" remains hotly debated. To better comprehend this powerful and controversial figure, Berg contextualizes Elijah Muhammad and his religious approach within the larger Islamic tradition, exploring his use of the Qur'an, his interpretation of Islam, and his relationships with other Muslims. Above all, Berg seeks to understand - not define or label - Muhammad as a Muslim. To do otherwise, he argues, is to misunderstand and distort the man, his teachings, his movement, and his legacy.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-8997-1
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    In early 1972 Elijah Muhammad granted a rare interview. Although at the time he seemed to be at the center of a movement beset by inner power struggles and external opposition, the frail and dignified leader of the Nation of Islam sat calmly, allowing sixteen journalists to ask whatever they wished. With poise and in his awkward English, Elijah Muhammad answered their questions about God, Islam, Blacks, Whites, and his mission as the Messenger of Allah:

    For forty years I have been a target for assassination, but I do not pay any attention to that kind of talk. That does...

  5. 1 American Islam before Elijah Muhammad
    (pp. 9-30)

    Many Africans who made the Middle Passage were Muslims. The story of how their religion was all but extinguished in the United States is a remarkable one. Just as intriguing is its seemingly spontaneous reappearance under the charismatic but unlearned and unassuming Elijah Muhammad. Although Elijah Muhammad and his Nation of Islam were almost entirely responsible for bringing African Americans to Islam during the twentieth century, a closer examination reveals that Islam was not unheard of even in the 1930s when he himself converted. Some African Americans were aware that many of their African ancestors had been Muslims when brought...

  6. 2 The Life of Elijah Muhammad
    (pp. 31-52)

    Elijah Muhammad lived through some of the most racially turbulent times in American history. He was born in 1897—a time of Jim Crow segregation and lynchings. As a young man, he experienced the worst of southern racism and eyewitnessed two separate lynchings. Later, he would be part of the Great Migration of over a million African Americans to the northern United States to escape the racism and poverty of the rural South. He discovered, along with the other migrants, that the North was also rife with racism. And, with the onset of the Great Depression, the North experienced poverty...

  7. 3 Elijah Muhammad and the Qur’an
    (pp. 53-74)

    The question of whether the religious movement Elijah Muhammad led for so long is “Islamic” is a challenging one. Were one to focus on doctrines such as the incarnation of Allah in the form of Fard Muhammad, Elijah Muhammad’s own status as the Messenger of Allah, the denial of the resurrection and contemporary nature of heaven and hell, the racial framing of Islam, and the focus on the racial conflict in the United States, it would certainly seem that Elijah Muhammad led a movement that was fairly unislamic.¹ A comparison with the five principles of Islam—belief in Allah (including...

  8. 4 The Major “Islamic” Themes in Elijah Muhammad’s Quranic Commentary
    (pp. 75-104)

    Since the Qur’an is thought by most Muslims to be the speech of Allah in the form of a book (a belief that closely parallels Christian theology based on John 1: 1-14, which sees Jesus as the Word of God in the form of a person), the Qur’an is the primary source of all Islamic beliefs, practices, and laws. So, were one to question the validity of any of Elijah Muhammad’s teachings as Islamic, one would probably do so by contrasting them with the teachings of the Qur’an. This, however, would be surprisingly difficult to do, because the Qur’an was...

  9. 5 Elijah Muhammad, Other Muslims, and Islam
    (pp. 105-126)

    Was Elijah Muhammad a Muslim? Can the Nation of Islam be considered part of the larger Islamic tradition? These questions vex scholars and Muslims alike. A broad definition of Islam might begin with the Five Principles of Islam: belief in Allah, angels, prophets, scriptures, and judgment day. Obviously, Elijah Muhammad’s teachings are at variance with several of these principles as traditionally defined. Not surprisingly, therefore, many Muslims have objected to some of the more prominent features of Elijah Muhammad’s formulation of Islam. They rightly ask, if the assertions that Fard Muhammad was “Allah in person,” that Elijah Muhammad was Fard...

  10. 6 The Legacy of Elijah Muhammad
    (pp. 127-146)

    Drew Ali, Fard Muhammad, and especially Elijah Muhammad, because they were located so far away from the traditional centers of Islam, had the unique opportunity to define and redefine Islam for many years without significant interference from Muslims with more traditional understandings of Islam. They seized this freedom to experiment with novel conceptions and formulations of Islam. However, as the historian of Islam Yvonne Haddad points out, “this freedom is fraught with the danger of innovation and deviance: the great range of options available in the American context carries the threat of sectarian division and fragmentation.”¹ Nowhere is this experimentation...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 147-176)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 177-186)
  13. Index
    (pp. 187-190)
  14. About the Author
    (pp. 191-191)