Warith Deen Muahammad


US Muslim leader who rejected the black supremacist ethos. A son of Elijah Muhammad, leader of the Chicago-based Nation of Islam, Imam Warith Deen Muhammad believed in traditional and racially tolerant Islam. He preached American Muslims to think about their faith in the context of a wider society. Deen Muhammad emerged from the cauldron of religious politics that characterised the Black Muslims, as the Nation of Islam members were called, in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1961, he refused the military draft, on the basis of his beliefs, and saying that he would not defend a country where segregation, racism and lynching killed his people. He was sentenced to three years in prison. While incarcerated, he began to notice contradictions in Nation of Islam theology. That led to the ideological rift with his father. A non-racial approach to religion was the hallmark of WD Muhammad unlike his father who taught black supremacy and led heterodox and separatists movement. His father excommunicated him several times for his dissidence. WD Muhammad was nonetheless unanimously elected supreme minister of the Nation of Islam after his father's death in 1975. He pushed his followers towards a more orthodox faith, emphasising study of the Qur'an and following Islam's five fundamentals. He moved decisively towards the religious mainstream. He disbanded the movement's militaristic security force, the Fruit of Islam, and decentralised its rigid structure. To his adherents believed to be more than 2 million WD Muhammad emphasised economic self-reliance with the promotion of business projects. He championed a range of social issues including education, improving access to healthcare and supporting ex-convicts. In 1976, WD Muhammad dropped the Nation of Islam name in favour of the World Community of al-Islam in the West; that was also the year he adopted the title of Imam. Two years later, he changed the name of his organisation to American Muslim Mission. His leadership position in the American Muslim community was evident two years after he succeeded his father when he led what was then the largest delegation of American Muslims on the pilgrimage to Makkha. Imam WD Muhammad was also credited with influencing the boxer Muhammad Ali's conversion to mainstream Islam. In 1992, Imam WD Muhammad became the first Muslim to deliver the invocation for the US Senate. He led prayers at both inaugurals of President Bill Clinton. He addressed a conference of Muslims and Reform Jews in 1995, and participated in several major interfaith dialogues with Roman Catholic cardinals. Deen Muhammad was born in Detroit named Wallace Delaney but changed it to Warith Deen when he became Imam in 1976. He learned to read Arabic and later studied English, History and social sciences in Chicago. He passed away in Chicago.

Compiler: M. Nauman Khan / Ghulam Mohiuddin

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