Elijah Muhammad's son counters Farrakhan teachings

May 16, 1994|By Newsday

From a modest, two-story bungalow in the Chicago suburb of Calumet City, Warith Deen Mohammed runs a ministry that has touched hundreds of thousands of Muslims.

Although he is considered the spiritual leader of most black Americans and others who follow Orthodox Islam, his name is not widely known. And although he is the son of Elijah Muhammad, one of the founders of the Nation of Islam, he rejected his father's teachings and turned his back on the money and power that was bequeathed him.

His followers say that he is a sincere, humble and deeply religious man who converted thousands of former Nation of Islam members to Orthodox Islam. And they're puzzled why he does not receive some of the intense media attention showered on his former protege, Minister Louis Farrakhan, whom he believes presents "a false image of Islam."

"I'm not comfortable with that kind of language," Mr. Mohammed, 60, said when asked if he considered himself a top Muslim leader. "I would say that I have a lot of people -- blacks and people of other colors in this country who are good Muslims -- and they say that. They want me to be that, and I feel very happy to accommodate them."

There are 6 million Muslims living in the United States, about 40 percent of them black.

Fareed Numan, the council's research director, estimates about 200,000 members of the Nation of Islam followed Mr. Mohammed into Orthodox Islam after his father died.

C. Eric Lincoln, a professor of religion at Duke University and author of "Black Muslims" calls Mr. Mohammed "the very positive face of Islam in this country. In the Islamic world, many see him as a very important player in the West."

Muslim observers say that Mr. Mohammed will be spending more time in the New York metropolitan area, where he can start countering some of the media coverage Minister Farrakhan has been receiving.

Mr. Mohammed and his siblings were tutored by a professor who taught them the tenets of Orthodox Islam as practiced throughout much of the rest of the world. A self-educated man, he immersed himself in the Koran and came to realize that his father's teachings were different from Orthodox Islam.

This was during the 1950s and 1960s, when the Nation of Islam was drawing thousands of converts, including Malcolm X. As the Nation grew, so did Mr. Mohammed's defiance. Twice he was expelled from the organization.

After Malcolm X was assassinated in February 1965, Mr. Mohammed kept a low profile. But after Elijah Muhammad's death in 1975, Mr. Mohammed was selected to lead the Nation.

In 1978, Minister Farrakhan broke from Mr. Mohammed, revived the teachings of Elijah Muhammad and restarted the Nation of Islam.

Mr. Mohammed says his father would never condone Minister Farrakhan's remarks about Jews. "If he were here, I'm sure he would have stopped that," Mr. Mohammed said. "He would not have liked that at all, that they singled the Jewish people out for attacks and abuse."

"I resent that Farrakhan didn't change with me," Mr. Mohammed said. "But I can't resent being put on the spot to answer questions and explain the difference between the two of us."

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