Wallace Deen Mohammed, son of the late Elijah Muhammad and leader of the 1.5 million-member Muslim American Community, came to Baltimore yesterday bringing a message of religious unity and cooperation.
Mohammed, who addressed the board of directors of the Baltimore Jewish Council, condemned Islamic violence in the Middle East and made clear his divergence from Minister Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam.
"We are obligated as Muslims, once we know the difference to make it clear to the public that what he represents is not Islam," Mohammed said. "We hope that he will come to Islam like we did, but he has not come to Islam yet. Minister Farrakhan has not come to Islam yet."
Mohammed took over the leadership of the Nation of Islam from his father in 1975. He later changed its name to the Muslim American Community and embraced orthodox Islamic teachings. The Muslin American Community is the nation's largest Islamic body.
In recent years, Mohammed, who is based in Chicago, has advocated religious tolerance and has traveled widely, meeting with other religious leaders in that cause. In October, he went to Rome with Cardinal William H. Keeler and John H. Ricard, former Baltimore auxiliary bishop, to meet with Pope John Paul II. Mohammed had requested the meeting, and Keeler made the arrangements.
Yesterday, Mohammed told the Baltimore Jewish Council board that his pursuit of religious unity is part of his Muslim faith.
"I don't think I'm a radical in Islam," he said. "I don't think I'm doing something new or different. I would like to think I am following the way of our prophet Mohammed, who received the Koran from God.
"I believe we have to look for that common life that we all identify in, that life is innocence, purity, sincerity, loyalty to God and loyalty to what we say we believe in," he said. "If I find a Christian who is loyal to God, and he's loyal to the Scripture, I feel comfortable with that Christian. And if I find [such] a Jew, I am comfortable with that Jew."
The conflicts that some Muslims have had with other religious groups have been counterproductive, he said.
"We can't make progress in America and have a good future for our children to come if we are going to have a war with Christians or have a war with Jews," he said. "We want peace with Jews; we want religious harmony. That's necessary. I'm not a sentimental person."
Asked whether he condemned terrorist violence in the Middle East, Mohammed said, "We are on record for condemning the taking of any innocent life in the name of your cause. Any innocent life."
Such terrorism is "an extremism that Islam would condemn," he said. "Islam says we should love God and his messenger more than we love ourselves and our own children. So that's just one statement from the Koran that, in the hands of a desperate person, could perhaps make him think he should wire himself jTC up" with a bomb.
That is a distorted reading of the Koran, he said.