Muslim leader speaks of reconciliation Wallace Mohammed calls for defense of others

July 31, 1998|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

Wallace D. Mohammed, leader of the Muslim American Society and son of the late Elijah Muhammad, said yesterday it is the duty of Muslims not only to respect their Christian and Jewish brothers and sisters, but to defend them, if necessary.

In a speech to about 50 religious and civic leaders, Mohammed spoke of the racial and religious reconciliation he has emphasized repeatedly since he succeeded his father in 1975 and moved the denomination toward orthodox Sunni Islam.

"We are to respect religion and to respect the sacredness and the sacred things of religion, and even be ourselves committed to protect these things with our own hands and our own lives," he said in the address at the Baltimore Rowing Club in Cherry Hill.

If a Muslim sees a fire in a church, or someone about to profane a church, "if we're there and Christians are not there, we are to be as the Christians and protect the church or the sacred things," he said. "So it's more than just respect for the dignity of other religions. It's deeper than that."

The Muslim American Society, the nation's largest Islamic body, has anywhere from several hundred thousand members, an estimate made by religious scholars, to the 1.5 million claimed by the society. Originally known as the Nation of Islam, the group was renamed the World Community of Islam in the West after Mohammed took over. It became the Muslim American Society last year.

Two years after Elijah Muhammad's death, Louis Farrakhan resurrected the Nation of Islam, which today has between 20,000 and 30,000 members nationwide.

In his embrace of orthodox Islam, Mohammed has disavowed teachings of his late father regarding black separatism and the evil nature of the white race. Yesterday, Mohammed recalled his father's rise from poverty and illiteracy in Georgia, and he emphasized that there was much that was good in what he taught.

"My father built the Nation of Islam, the temple of Islam, and became a well-known person in America, not only for the things )) he said that Americans didn't like to hear, but also for the things he said and did that Americans did like to hear: an insistence on honesty, decency, obedience to the law, honest work, cleanliness," he said.

Mohammed's speech is one of a series he is delivering along the East Coast to counteract negative images of Islam.

"I think there are many Americans who see Muslims as fanatics, radicals, terrorists, as enemies of Christ," he said. "I think the role of Muslims in America, because of our life as Americans and our experience as Americans -- we're both Americans and Muslims -- we should be the ones to step out front and address these erroneous ideas about the perception of Muslims and Islam."

Mohammed, 64, who lives in Chicago, has worked closely with Roman Catholic and Jewish leaders in Baltimore, and yesterday representatives of both religious communities were present.

"We have had a series of meetings over the last few years in which we've discussed common concerns and areas of differences. But even more important, we've been able to work together on some of the important matters to our two communities," said Arthur Abramson, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council. "There is a general perception out there that the two communities are apart, but nothing could be further from the truth."

Pub Date: 7/31/98

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