Stephanie Caspelich

Reporting the news that matters.

Nation of Islam

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The activities and message of the Nation of Islam have garnered much controversy over the years. Minister Louis Farrakhan’s appearance at UC Berkeley on March 12 sparked protests because of the “provocative” and “divisive” nature of his speech. His impersonation of an Asian person in relation to a point he was trying to make about immigrants taking away jobs from African-Americans was a classic example of rhetoric that has been denounced by critics for decades as bigoted, homophobic and anti-Semitic.

Although differences amplified in the news have influenced the public’s perception of the religion, ministers like Brother Jason Muhammad focus on the uplifting and restorative nature of the faith, and the similarities between the Nation of Islam and traditional Islam that lie in the “unifying thread” of their root and foundation.

Since it was established in July 1930 in Detroit, Michigan by Wallace Dodd Ford, generally regarded by members as Master Fard Muhammad, the Nation of Islam has been a theological source of community and pride for marginalized African-Americans.

“When you have a group of people who have been destroyed mentally, physically, morally and spiritually, as our people have, and someone comes along to give a word and that totally reverses the condition…well, he’s doing a job nobody else can do,” said Brother Jason, 36, assistant director of the Muhammad University of Islam at 7351 South Stony Island Ave. “We didn’t see value in ourselves until Master Fard Muhammad came for us. Because of his guidance, his servant the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and now with Minister Louis Farrakhan, they have given us from God, just that, value.”

Members of the Nation of Islam believe Master Fard, an Islamic term that denotes religious duty, to be the Mahdi, the redeemer or self-guided one – a belief that is not shared by Sunni and Shia Muslims.

“In Genesis, the prophecy talks about people who would be in bondage for 400 years and after that God will come and save them,” said Brother Jason. “We believe that the Honorable Fard Muhammad is the supreme being that would come after Satan’s rule, and he will come for those called the ‘lost sheep’; we believe that to be us (black people).”

Members of the faith believe in the Five Pillars of Islam: a declaration of faith (“I bear witness that there is no other god but God, and Muhammad is his Messenger.”); the importance of prayer; charity; fasting; and some kind of pilgrimage or hajj, a physical journey to the holy land, Mecca, or a spiritual inner journey.

In honor of God’s Messenger and Prophet, registered members have replaced their surnames with Muhammad.

“The holy book for all Muslims is the Holy Qur’an. We appreciate that it verifies the truth that is in the Bible,” said Brother Jason.

Brother Jeffrey Muhammad, assistant minister to the Nation of Islam’s assistant national minister Brother Ishmael Muhammad, believes the basic tenets of the faith are the same but the application is different.

“People who came up in the east believe that we have to come up the same way as them, but we were in a different condition,” said Brother Jeffrey. “Arabs did not go through what we went through. There is a different process or psychology that is involved because of our experiences. We needed someone to guide us to the straight path and that was Master Fard Muhammad.”

Fard Muhammad met Elijah Poole, who was later known as Elijah Muhammad, in 1931 and shared elements of the Qur’an and Bible that would later translate into freedom from the oppression of slavery and white supremacy. Master Fard groomed Minister Elijah to be his successor.

In 1934, Minister Elijah Muhammad and his wife Clara were at the head of the best-known nationalistic religious movement among African-Americans in the 20th century.

In the 1970s, Minister Elijah purchased the former St. Constantine Greek Orthodox Church at 7351 South Stony Island Ave. and transformed it into Temple No.2, Mosque Maryam, which is now the headquarters for the Nation of Islam.

Upon Minister Elijah’s death in 1975, his son, Brother Warith Deen Mohammed, was named successor. Brother Warith eventually adopted more traditional Sunni beliefs that went against his father’s separatist views. He believed people of all nations and of all races should be able to worship side by side. As a result, the Nation of Islam splintered and Minister Louis Farrakhan took over as the head of the Nation of Islam. At one point, it was believed that of the six million Muslims in the U.S., 40 percent belonged to Brother Warith’s movement, American Society of Muslims. The two leaders eventually reconciled on Saviours’ Day (Minister Fard’s birthday), February 25, 2000.

“The message is not just for black people. Minister Fard started with us because of our enslavement and the condition we’re in. He started at the bottom, but the message spreads all the way to the top,” said Brother Jason. “The message is universal. It is for all humanity but in an evolutionary course. Right now, people say ‘black nationalist group’. No, we are not a black nationalist group. They say ‘they’re black Muslims’. No, we are Muslims. We just happened to be black.”

The most powerful and effective message of the Nation of Islam lies in the countless number of lives transformed both by faith, conviction and practice.

“I am privileged to be able to work in capacities to see life change. See a man on drugs, see a man out of prison, see a man broken, but just over a few months to see that man transform and literally see the darkness on his face vanish; that is the power of faith,” said Sister Saaudiah Lisa Muhammad, 40, whose faith in the teaching of Minister Elijah has helped her overcome health issues and job loss. “To see that person speaking differently, acting differently, believing in themselves because now they know who they are. They can bring that knowledge back into their communities and effect change.”

Adherence to the religion calls for submission to God. The members of the Nation of Islam believe that if practitioners, followers, members of all faiths submit to God, no matter what name you call him, then you are on the right path: the path to righteousness.

“God is the God of not one group but humanity. And at the core of that humanity is freedom, justice and equality,” said Brother Jason. “The expression needs to be universal and include other people. This is how we achieve peace. This is what Islam is about.”

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Written by Stephanie Caspelich

May 2, 2012 at 11:21 am

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