Warith Deen Muhammad, former Nation of Islam leader and the son of Elijah Muhammad, died last week. Muhammad left the NOI and embraced mainline Islam and was known for his leadership and scholarship and for building bridges among diverse communities of Muslims in America. Until his death, he was an advocate and spiritual guide especially for Black Muslims in America. A former student and Islamic Scholar herself writes a tribute to a mentor.
In 2000, when I brought Imam W.D. Mohammed to keynote at the first of
a series of student run Islam in America conferences I founded at
Harvard University I asked him if he remembered me.
Though I had beenone of his "students" (as Imam Mohammed referred to his supporters) my
entire life, and in my mom's belly as she sat in the balcony the day
he became leader of our community in 1975, I had not seen him face to
face since the fourth grade. But Imam Mohammed, always attempting to
make others feel he was just as honored to be in their presence as
they were in his, quickly replied that of course he had not forgotten
me. "The last time I saw you, you were nine years old." And it was
:: AD ::
Imam Mohammed used to teach my siblings and I Arabic in Chicago
when we were little. Besides being my imam, my spiritual leader, and
one of my earliest Islamic Studies teachers, he was also my hero who
taught me--and countless others--to pursue universal human excellence
with our whole hearts. Saying that my heart is broken at the passing
of Imam Mohammed is an understatement but he lives on in our steadfast
commitment to Al-Islam and to the betterment of all of humanity.
An honest study of the history of Islam in America reveals that Imam
W.D. Mohammed was arguably the greatest American Muslim who ever
lived. As a private citizen he not only transformed and led the
single largest constituency of Muslims in American history and--more
than any other American Muslim leader--garnered the most diverse
respect and friendship of religious and civic leaders nationwide and
throughout the world but he also produced "students" (among them the
great boxer Mohammed Ali) who accomplished major milestones for
American Muslims as a whole. They embraced his
love-it-and-make-it-better view of America, his insistence that they
should "contribute to American excellence" with "our best Americans"
and belief that "the vision of our founding fathers welcomes Muslims
into America's diversity." This is evidenced by pioneering firsts of
African American Muslims who have acknowledged him as their teacher
including the first Muslim American judge (1981), mayor (1991),
chaplain hired by U.S. military (1993), the founders of the first all
Muslim town (New Medinah, MS in 1987), the founder of the first museum
in America dedicated to Muslim cultures, the International Museum of
Muslim Cultures in Jackson, Mississippi (2001), and the first Muslim
American Congressman (2006) to name a few.
An unassuming and largelyuncontroversial leader, Mohammed's influence was largely ignored bythe mainstream media leaving many who knew of his influence, and the
accomplishments of his "students", confused by the American public's
search for the so called moderate Muslims in America.
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Precious Rasheeda Muhammad, a graduate of Harvard Divinity School, is a historian, author, award-winning public speaker and research consultant. She was born into an African American Muslim family. Get more info on Precious at Preciousspeaks.com