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Summary Article: Muhammad, Elijah
from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

US religious movement leader. Having had his own spiritual revelation about 1930, he fell in with the Nation of Islam, a movement founded by Wallace D Fard (or Farad), a somewhat mysterious black American who was working as a salesman in Detroit, but whose followers believed he had come from Mecca to save blacks from the ‘white devils’. When Fard disappeared from Detroit in 1934, Poole took over, changed his name to Elijah Muhammad, proclaimed himself the ‘Messenger of Allah’, and made a national movement out of the Black Muslims (a name that Muhammad and his followers neither used nor liked). Muhammad stressed the need for separation of the races and scorned attempts of the civil-rights movement to bring about integration; he even called for an all-black state or territory within the USA. He stressed the need for black Americans to establish their own economic power-base, and he required strict obedience to certain tenets of Islam; although never implicated in any improprieties, he definitely imposed one-man rule. Most Americans were totally unaware of Muhammad and his movement until the 1960s, when its most noted convert, Malcolm X, drew attention to Black Muslims; it was at this time that they gained an undeserved reputation for threatening white people.

Born near Sandersville, Georgia, the son of former slaves and sharecroppers, Elijah Muhammad left home at age 16 and went to Detroit, where he worked in a Chevrolet auto plant before becoming involoved in the religious movement. When he died, his son Wallace Poole took over; he soon led the movement closer to traditional Islam and changed its name to the World Community of Islam in the West. But certain of Elijah's teachings – the goals of hard work, discipline, self-support, and self-esteem for black Americans – came to be accepted by increasing numbers outside his movement.

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