Fall 1992 / Gnosis Magazine
today’s headlines, but the movement of which he is a nominal spokesman has a
(NOI), as it is officially known, came to the attention of the general public
Outsiders have done little in-depth research to trace the NOI’s doctrinal
predecessors. The NOI itself has denied its connections with previous
movements, specifically the Moorish Science Temple of Noble Drew Ali. Ali,
who was born as Timothy Drew in North Carolina in 1886, taught, among other
Eventually relocating to Chicago, Ali built an organization that numbered
perhaps 30,000 adherents at its peak. (2)
death of a rival, Sheik Claude Greene. Arrested and held in the county jail,
Ali was eventually released on bail, but died July 20, 1929, under mysterious
Master Fard Muhammad
W.D. Fard, Wallace Fard Muhammad, and Farrad Muhammad, but who is best known
as Msater Fard Muhammad. (4) According to his sucessor, Elijah Muhammad,
He came alone. He began teaching us the knowledge of ourselves, of
and the civilizations of some of the planets other than the earth.
He measured and weighed the earth and the water; [he gave] the
how it will begin and end. (5)
And according to another source, Fard, when asked who he was by the Detroit
police, responded: “I am the Supreme Ruler of the Universe.” (6)
Master Fard Muhammad is officially noted by the NOI as having arrived in
tradition of an earlier arrival twenty years previous as well as attendance
established temples in several cities and created a hierarchical organization
General Civilization Class (MGT-GCC). (8) This infrastructure was built upon
a question-and-answer format, became better known as the “Lost-Found Muslim
involved secrecy from outsiders; an esoteric ritual containing keys for
could be explained only to initiates. Central to these teachings were the
knowledge of self and the Black man’s godhood. (9) According to these
teachings, the Black man was by nature divine, and in fact was the original
man, ancestor of the human race (antedating Louis and Mary Leakey’s discoveries
scientist named Yacub approximately six thousand years ago. (10) Discovering
group of sixty thousand people on an island and, after six hundred years, was
able to create a biological mutation: the White man. Of course Yacub did not
his system, as well as the ideological basis for White supremacy. Bleached
of the essence of humanity, Whites were “without soul.” Nonetheless the race
was destined to rule for an allotted period extending to 1914 A.D, though, as
Fard’s messenger Elijah Muhammad put it, “a few years of grace have been given
to complete the resurrection of the Black man, and especially the so-called
They (so-called Negroes) have been made so completely mentally dead … that
extra time is allowed.” (11) It was also taught that the supreme god amongst
was claimed by Master Fard Muhammad himself.
Fard’s deification of man can hardly be considered an aberration in light of
the Peruvian Incas who traced their ancestry to the Sun God are well-known
and Haile Selassie, the Dalai Lama, and Kushok Bakula. (13) And even these
should hardly turn any heads in the light of the tradition of Jesus of Nazareth
as God incarnate. The Hindu avatar tradition would also be right at home in
The teaching of the divinity of the Black man specifically (a doctrine known as
Khem (and its variants Cham, Ham), an ancient name of Egypt, means “land of the
Blacks.” Nor did the doctrine of incarnation start with Master Fard Muhammad
and the NOI; according to Fard’s messenger and succesor, Elijah Muhammad, the
knowledge of man as god had been long known but “was kept a secret from the
“The Lost-Found People of Islam”
Prior to Fard’s appearance in 1930, Noble Drew Ali’s Moorish Science Temples
Noble Drew Ali had become reincarnated into him, Givens El, on August 7, 1929.
in Chicago. This was publicly announced in Chicago’s Pythian Hall on August
19 of that year. (15)
But, according to scholar Ravanna Bey, W.D. Fard, known at the time as Abdul
Wali Farrad Muhammad, and two other Moorish Scientists, Mealy El and Charles
Kirkman Bey, contested the authority of Givens El. The latter two went on to
establish their own independent Moorish Science Temples, while Fard converted
a Detroit Moorish Science Temple and renamed it the Temple of the Lost-Found
According to yet another source, Fard had declared himself the reincarnation
of Noble Drew Ali. (18) With so many stories in circulation, confusion has
been the norm.
On November 21, 1932, Robert Karriem, a member of Fard’s Detroit temple, was
arrested for the murder of J.J. Smith, another temple member. The police
Murder,” and the media followed suit. (19) The organization was referred to as
Karriem, also known as Robert Harris, was found insane and ordered to be
proving to be elusive. After seven months, the police finally arrested him at
Detroit’s Hotel Fraymore on May 25, 1933. Held overnight for “investigation,”
of the city. Traveling to Chicago, he was again arrested. According to Elijah
Muhammad, Fard “came to Chicago in the same year  and was arrested almost
immediately on his arrival and placed behind prison bars.” (20) According to
FBI sources, Fard was thought to have been arrested in Chicago on September 26,
1933, without disposition, photo, or fingerprints taken, for “disorderly
last official record of Fard. Unsubstantiated rumors lay his disappearance at
the door of the Chicago police department; but according to NOI tradition, Fard
continued to visit Detroit surreptitiously into 1934.
Fard The Man
Who was Fard? Official NOI teachings state that he was born in Mecca, Arabia,
the “lost tribe of Shabazz in the wilderness of North America.” He had
recieved the finest education in preparation for his mission; “he could speak
as far back as 150,000 years and knew the beginning and end of all things.”(22)
However, different sources contribute their conflicting versions of the man.
Fard was also described as a “Palestinian Arab who had participated in various
Maori mother and a British sailor father in New Zealand. (24) Still another
states that he was a Turkish-born agent for Hitler. (25) A recent account
somewhat incoherently describes Fard as a “Jewish Nazi Communist,” and says he
was an agent of the CIA in 1930 (seventeen years before that agency came into
hypothesis that Fard came to Sufi mysticism by way of Theosophy. (27) There is
even an account (complete with transcript) of a supposed ecncounter between
their own gone astrary, NOI initiates say that Fard, arriving in the
“wilderness of North America” as early as 1910, taught Noble Drew Ali, Father
though all of these later went on their own way. There is also a tradition
that in Egypt Fard taught Duse Muhammad Ali, the mentor of Marcus Garvey
himself, whom he met in London.
Fard was described as having an “oriental cast of countenance,” (29) a
description which a 1933 police photo seems to bear out. Police sources
describe him as five feet six inches in height and weighing 133 pounds. His
described as “dark” or “swarthy.” One entry described him as looking like a
“dark complected Mexican.” Only two photographs remain from Fard’s three and
a half years in Detroit: the police photo and a “glamourized” (i.e. touched-up)
portrait of a sort popular in the late 1920s, taken at a forty-five-degree
angle by a professional photographer. The latter became the official portrait
of Fard, and was later reproduced in a painted portrait at the Muhammad family
mansion in Chicago.
The Departure of Fard
Other accounts circulated after Fard’s disappearance. According to Elijah
Muhammad, Fard was “ordered out of the country” and caught a flight to Mecca.
(30) It was also reported that he sailed to Austrailia and New Zealand, and
that Fard is alive and living in California and is now himself an orthodox
In addition, there were rumors to the effect that Fard “met with foul play at
the hands of either the Detroit police or some of his dissident followers,” or
both his disappearance and his title of “Saviour.” (34) Another
unsubstantiated story said that, afflicted with an incurable illness, he died
and was buried under another name, and “no man knows of his grave to this day.”
initiated an investigation of Fard in 1942 that was to last more than thirty
years, could not substantiate or verify his name at birth, birth date, place
of birth, port of entry, exit, or present whereabouts, despite exhaustive
inquiries. There are even indications that bodies were exhumed in the search
The Messenger of Allah
It was Elijah Muhammad who was almost single-handedly responsible for the
deification of Fard as “Allah.” (35) Elijah Muhammad was born Paul Robert
Poole in 1897 on a tenant farm in Sandersville, Georgia, the seventh of
Fard would give him the name Muhammad. (36) Elijah married the former Clara
Evans and migrated to Detroit in 1923. Working at a variety of jobs until the
Depression hit in 1929, he went on relief until 1931. It was in that year that
he first met Fard, but says that “it was not until 1933 that he [Fard] began
revealing his true self to us.” (37)
After Fard’s disappearance, the struggle for succesion commenced. Elijah’s own
brother fell in the bloody internecine warfare that developed. (38) Rivals in
the Detroit temple made necessary Elijah’s hegira to Chicago, which was
destined to become the headquarters and power base; but from 1935 to 1942, he
charges of sedition. At roughly the same time, more than eighty members of the
Chicago temple were taken in under the same charge by FBI agents working with
local police. One of the arrested temple members said the officers “tore the
place apart trying to find weapons hidden, since they believed we were
connected with the Japanese.” (39)
The sedition charge was based on the temple’s anti-draft stance and was applied
status as martyrs for the cause.
for his movement when he was released. Prior to his imprisonment, the movement
was based entirely on its theological teachings and traditions. In 1946 it
numbered in the hundreds, just possibly the thousands. But that was to change.
cannot progress by talk.” And so, as his son Wallace later explained, Elijah
“changed from preaching his mysterious doctrine to doing something practical.
He said, ‘We have to have businesses.’ So he began to promote the opening of
businesses. He said, ‘You have to produce jobs for yourself’.” (40)
Quietly growing through the 1940s and ’50s, the NOI came to enjoy phenomenal
in Black inner cities for his dynamic presence and speaking ability. He gained
Hate that Hate Produced.” The program shocked Middle America, while at the
same time grim-faced FOI members met with admiration from inner-city audiences.
Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X, and the NOI had arrived on prime time. Recruitment
Born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1925, Malcolm X had been introduced
to Elijah Muhammad through family members while in prison in Massachusetts. In
the early 1950s he converted and took his “X.” (41) Upon his release he joined
the organization in Detroit and subsequently rose to a position of leadership,
1965 factional rivalry and FBI activities reaped their harvest: Malcolm X was
After his death Malcolm X became the martyr of the Black nationalist movement.
But for the next ten years, the various factions were just treading water, and
no one made any waves until the death of Elijah Muhammad in 1975.
Allah Comes To Harlem
In the meantime, however, the doctrine of Black incarnation had not died, and
while W.D. Fard was still invoked in prayer in the temples of the NOI, another
FOI Clarence 13X became the founder of the “Five Percenters” in New York City
teens he came with his family to New York City. Married and the father of
Honorably discharged in 1954, he remained a reservist until 1960, at which time
he joined the NOI. He remained in the NOI until he was expelled by Malcolm X
under orders from the Chicago headquarters in 1963.
The leading rumor of the cause of Clarence’s expulsion was his admitted love
for playing craps. Dice playing, it was claimed, was a way of demonstrating
Einstien’s famous dictum, “God doesn’t play dice,” the former Clarence 13X
Smith, who took on the attribute (or name) Allah, did claim, “I am going to
shoot dice until I die.” (42) And he did.
“Allah,” as he became known, took Fard’s “Lost-Found Muslim Lessons” out of the
temple and put them into the hands of the youth in the streets. Fard’s
was broken down into percentages. The Five Percent were those who taught
righteousness, freedom, justice, and equality to all the human family. They
taught that the god of righteousness was not a spirit or a spook, but the Black
man of Asia. (Asia was viewed as the primary continent, all the others as
subcontinents; continental drift was a facet of this teaching.)
The Eighty-Five Percent, the masses, believed in a “Mystery God” and worshipped
“that which did not exist.” they believed in a spirit deity rather than a
material man as god. They functioned on a “mentally dead” (i.e. unconscious)
level and were easy to lead in the wrong direction but hard to lead in the
The Ten Percent were the bloodsuckers of the poor who taught the Eighty-Five
Percent that a Mystery God existed. They kept the masses asleep with myths
and lies, catering to their superstitious nature and living in luxury from the
earnings of the poor.
The Five Percent were destined to be poor righteous teachers and to struggle
successfully against the Ten Percent. Their job was to lead the Eighty-Five
Percent to freedom, justice, and equality. At first a loose confederation of
the lumpen proletariat, Allah’s followers numbered in the hundreds, but that
The Rise of the Five Percent
Allah attracted the attention of both the police and the politicians – a lethal
combination. Mayor Lindsay’s administration in New York City saw in him a
riot-strewn Sixties. So Allah was put on the city payroll. Meanwhile the
their eyes on radicals and dissidents, put him at the top of their list of
“Black Militants.” (43)
For his part Allah wanted something for his youngsters. In the short time he
was associated with the mayor’s office, he was able to open an academy with
city funds. He expanded his recruitment of youth with picnic outings and
airplane rides. The youth in turn sensed his love for them, and it is no
wonder that in the contempary Five Percent he is referred to as “The Father.”
Allah was assassinated Friday the 13th of June, 1969 by “three male negroes.”
His Death was reported on the front of the New York Times. (44) His murder
remains unsolved. It has been rumored within the FOI circles that his death
was the result of his “taking the lessons out of the temple.” There is
evidence, however, that BOSS instigated the assassination to create a war
between the NOI and the Five Percent. (45) With Allah’s martyrdom, legends
again began to proliferate, and “The Father, Allah” joined the pantheon of the
Black gods of the inner city along with Nobel Drew Ali and W.D. Fard.
But Allah’s story doesn’t end there. Like Jesus, he taught “You are gods,”
(John 10:34), testifying to the inherent divinity of man; nonetheless his
followers elevated him above themselves. His biographies became tinged with
myth, and a supernatural element was added to his teaching; the “Father” has
haired, blue eyed Jesus.
A New Era
With the death of Elijah Muhammad in 1975, a new power struggle ensued in the
house that Fard built. Wallace Delaney Muhammad, son of Elijah, was born in
Detroit in 1933. He recieved his elementary and high-school education at the
and Arabic at orthodox Muslim schools. He was long regarded as the logical
successor to his father. Born and groomed for the part, he was introduced by
following in the footsteps of his father.” (46)
But not everything was to run so smoothly or so simply. Wallace D. Muhammad
had in fact been expelled by his father for his refusal to recognize the
divinity of Master Fard Muhammad. In addition, Minister Louis Farrakhan, the
national spokesman for the organization, was waiting in the wings. Farrakhan,
while probably more popular among hard-core militants, failed to muster the
votes required from the family dominated inner circle in Chicago. So, despite
Wallace’s departures from NOI orthodoxy, nepotism prevailed.
Wallace was careful, however. He did not challenge the sanctity of his
namesake’s coattails, to which he owed his own legitimacy. A year after his
accension to power, Wallace claimed ni speeches to believers that he was in
communication with the founder, saying, “Master Fard Muhammad is not dead,
brothers and sisters, he is physically alive and I talk with him whenever I get
ready. I don’t talk to him in any spooky way, I go to the telephone and dial
his number.” (47)
Within a few years, though, Wallace was moving in the direction of orthodox
Islam. Taking the organization through a number of name changes, he changed
his own name to Warith (meaning “heir” in Arabic). Ultimately he sold off the
businesses that had been accumulated over the previous thirty years and joined
the fold of orthodox Islam.
The Farrakhan Facet
For a while after Elijah Muhammad’s death, Louis Farrakhan toed the line.
Approximately three years later, however, the old-line NOI traditionalists
regrouped. With a certain amount of encouragement from them, Farrakhan left
the employ of Warith.
Known in an earlier period as Minister Louis X of Boston’s Temple No. 11,
Farrakhan had joined the NOI in the mid-1950s a former calypso singer, he
became a speaker of some note. He recieved the name Farrakhan from Elijah
Muhammad, but neither he nor anyone else seems to know just what it means.
Groomed in the shadow of Malcolm X, and sometimes hosting him in his visits to
Boston, Farrakhan was later to fiercely denounce him in the pages of Muhammad
Speaks, the paper that, ironically, Malcolm himself had started in New York in
Only those who wish to be led to hell, or to their doom, will follow
Malcolm. The die is set and Malcolm shall not escape, especially after
such foolish talk about his benefactor in trying to rob him of the
divine glory which Allah has bestowed upon him. Such a man as Malcolm
is worthy of death. (48)
Farrakhan later admitted his deviation from the NOI path in following Wallace.
Others had refused to recognize the legitimacy of Wallace’s succesion and had
left earlier. In time the NOI traditionalists regrouped around Farrakhan.
One, the former Bernard Cushmeer (now Jabril Muhammad), joined up claimed that
Elijah was not really dead. He wrote a book to prove it. Farrakhan, after
some hesitation, concurred; in September 1985 he claimed to have had a vision
in which he was taken up to the Mothership and saw Elijah. (49)
But there was one certainty in the air: that a era had passed and a new cycle
had been initiated in the history of the unique form of Islam practiced in the
wilderness of North America, complete with its own prophets, gods, saviors, and
brutality, and poverty, it was not difficult for semiliterate Black migrants
in the Depression era to believe that the White man was a devil. What was
difficult, after generations of being taught in schools, textbooks, and the
media that Black people were inferior and had no history of achievement before
enslavement, was for them to see the divine nature in themselves. It was not
for Black people to rehabilitate their view of Whites, but to raise their own
self-esteem. The doctrine of Black godhood responds to this need, and the
Black gods of the inner city are symptomatic ot this effort.
In recent years the Five Percent has grown in numbers, despite the departure of
Allah. The doctrine of Black godhood is enjoying a renewal among inner-city
youth of the 1990s. They are attracted by its esoteric tradition, its Black
Poor Righteous Teachers, King Sun, Rakim, Brand Nubian, Movement Ex, and Lakim
Shabazz (who has done a video in Egypt with pyramids in the background). (50)
What can you possibly think when you watch MTV and hear an attractive young
Black woman, “cultured-down” (dressed in long skirts with here hair covered),
announce: “Peace, this is the goddess Isis”? There’s definitely a connection
among godhood, Blackness, and Egypt.
However you may view the above, the next time you hear a twenty-year-old
youngster like Lakim Shabazz on MTV rapping about “knowledge, wisdom, and
understanding,” or saying “The original man is the Asiatic Black man,” or ”
I’m God, my number is seven,” you will recognize that he is reciting portions
of a once-secret ritual that is known to be more that sixty years old and that
that the Black gods and goddesses of the inner cities are alive and well.
[ Prince-A-Cuba, born in Havana in 1962, can be reached as W. Don Fajardo
c/o T.U.T., P.O. Box 3243, East Orange, NJ 07017. His forthcoming book is
entitled Our Mecca is Harlem: Clarence 13X (Allah) and the Five Percent. ]
America (Boston: Beacon Press, 1961, 1973),p. xii.
2. Lincoln, pp. 53, 57.
3. E.U. Essien-Udom, Black Nationalism: A Search for Idendity (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1962, 1971), p. 35.
4. E.D. Beynon, “The Voodoo Cult among Negro Migrants in Detroit,” in American
Journal of Sociology 43 (May 1938), Republished as Master Fard Muhammad:
Detroit History, Prince-A-Cuba. ed. (Newport News, Va.: UB & USCS, 1990).
Page references are to the latter.
5. Elijah Muhammad, Message to the Blackman in America (Newport News,: UB &
USCS, 1965), pp. 16-17.
6. Beynon, p. 6.
7. Ibid., p.5; cf. Pittsburgh Courier, July 20, 1957; and interview with
Elijah Muhammad by R.Simmons of the California Eagle, July 28, 1963.
8. Temples were founded in Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee, Cleveland, and
Washington, D.C. The Detroit temple had a membership of 8000, according to
NOI officials, and 5000, according to the Detroit police. Cf. Beymon, p. 7.
9. The expressions “knowledge of self” and “know thyself” are found throughout
the NOI teachings. Cf. George G.M. James, Stolen Lagacy (Newport News, Va.:
of an Initiation (York Beach, Me.: Samueal Weiser, 1991), p. 43.
10. Muhammad, Message, pp. 110-21.
11. Elijah Muhammad, Our Savior Has Arrived (Newport News, Va.: UB & USCS,
1974), p. 13.
12. Lincoln, p. 75.
13. India’s ambassador to Mongolia, conside