Today, tens of thousands of devout believers will be commemorating the birth of their Savior.
And I’m not referring to Jesus Christ.
This man is arguably the most elusive figure in American history. No one knows where he was born. No one knows where or when he passed away. His legacy is glossed over by high school history textbooks. Nevertheless, in a span of few years, this man managed to drastically impact the consciousness of American Blacks and forever change the course of American racial relations.
In 1930, there was a mysterious, beige-complexioned man walking through the streets and alleys of Depression-era Black Bottom in Detroit, selling silk cloths to Black residents who couldn’t even afford to dream of wearing such exquisite items. He introduced himself as Wallace Fard Muhammed. Handsome and charismatic, Fard was often invited into the meager dwellings of those residents, who were enticed by his stories on the origins of those silk cloths in their “homeland”.
Assuming the role of some type of religious preacher, Fard spoke of how his poverty-stricken hosts were descended of kings and warriors who were kidnapped from their “homeland” and stripped of their ancestral heritage. Fard implored his hosts to reconnect with their history by abandoning the religion of their former masters.
He introduced the religious concept of Tawhid (oneness of God) and discouraged pork at their dinner tables. After adopting the dietary restrictions, those Black ghetto residents observed significant improvements in their health and concluded that there must be something to Fard’s teachings.
During his sales runs, Fard gradually evolved from a silk salesmen to a leader of a new religious movement.
Fard branded himself as a prophet and constructed a version of Islam unrecognizable to mainstream Muslims. The theological tenets of Fard’s religion involved a mad scientist named Yakub who created White people as Devils to reek havoc and destroy humanity. Therefore, the White man is innately evil and responsible for the burdens Black people are forced to endure.
To most of us today, Fard’s teachings sound nothing more than a racist crackpot theory promulgated by a dark-skinned version of L. Ron Hubbard. However, to poor Black residents of 1930s Detroit, Fard didn’t make less sense than church sermons revolving around a man who supposedly rose from the dead after three days.
It is also worth mentioning that the early 20th century was the heyday for racially-based eugenics. Today, eugenics is solely entertained by a small number of basement-dwelling shiteaters, as race is considered to be a meaningless concept by anthropologists and “biological determinism” has been discredited by the medical community. However, in the 1930s, eugenics was espoused by renowned academic journals, taught in public schools and was influential in US immigration policy. Madison Grant’s Passing of a Great Race (which profoundly influenced Adolf Hitler’s perspective on race) was on the best-sellers list.
Given those circumstances, you can see why Fard’s followers were so keen on accepting his bizarre theology.They were consistently bombarded with “scientific” studies denigrating them as subhuman degenerates. They were mocked with the “curse of Ham” by White Christian preachers. Accepting Fard’s teachings was their way of turning the tables and asserting respectability for themselves.
Coinciding with the independence anniversary of the United States, Fard and his followers formed the Allah Temple of Islam on July 4th, 1930. The mission of this new organization was to “teach the downtrodden and defenseless Black people a thorough Knowledge of God and of themselves, and to put them on the road to Self-Independence with a superior culture and higher civilization than they had previously experienced”.
Fard was hailed by his followers as the Mahdi, replacing Jesus as their personal savior. Fard was adamant to instill Islamic practices in his followers. He admonished the consumption of pork, which, as you would know from dining at a Soul Food restaurant, is replete in American Black cuisine. He established Muslim schools as an alternative to the public school system. He authored a book entitled Secret Rituals of a Lost-Found Nation of Islam which elaborated on his religion’s tenets. As the year went by, the Nation of Islam became more organized. Fard has even handpicked a young man named Elijah Poole as his protege in 1931. He rechristened the young man Elijah Muhammed and appointed him as his successor.
In 1932, a Detroit resident named Robert Kharraim (born Robert Harris), a member of the ATI, performed a human sacrifice to “bring himself closer to Allah”. Kharraim had cited a passage from Fard’s book Secret Rituals of a Lost-Found Nation of Islam, which stated “The believer must be stabbed through the heart.”. This caught the attention of the Detroit Police Department. Driven by anti-Muslim hysteria and racism, the police sought to charge Fard with murder.
Kharraim was later found to be insane and was committed to a psychiatric institution. Fard was forced by the police to disband the ATI and leave Detroit. Fard complied, as he would have faced legal charges, and left for Chicago on December of 1932.
Although the ATI was ostensibly disbanded, the organization actually remained in tact under a new name: The Nation of Islam.
The following month, Fard returned to Detroit. However, he was identified by the police and ordered to leave. Yet, in 1934, Fard was back in Detroit, but not for long.
Facing non-stop police harassment, Fard had Elijah Muhammed drive him to the airport. After bidding his protege adieu, Fard left to board his flight, never to be seen again.
To this day, no one knows where Fard went following his departure from Detroit. Upon leaving the organization he single-handedly built, Fard passed the mantle to Elijah Muhammed, who assumed leadership of the Nation of Islam for an eventful forty years.
Under Elijah Muhammed, the Nation of Islam garnered incredible recognition and respectability among Black Americans. The organization attracted the likes of Malcolm X and Muhammed Ali. It played an influential, though notoriously controversial, role during the Civil Right Movement.
However, certain aspects of Elijah Muhammed’s reputation caused many, including Malcolm X and Muhammed Ali, to leave the organization. To this day, there are rumors accusing Elijah Muhammed of orchestrating Malcolm X’s assassination as punishment for his departure from the Nation of Islam.
Following the death of Elijah Muhammed, his son, Warith Deen Muhammed assumed leadership of the Nation of Islam. Warith repudiated his father’s racist ideas and that bizarre tale of Yakub. Instead, he introduced Sunni Islamic practices to the organization, hoping to forge connections with mainstream Islamic group.
However, Warith’s reforms resulted a schism within the Nation of Islam. The oppositional faction was led by young firebrand named Louis Farrakhan, who aspired to reintroduce the teachings and theology of Wallace Fard Muhammed and Elijah Muhammed. Warith’s faction went on to adopt the name “American Society of Muslims” while Louis Farrakhan’s faction retained the name “Nation of Islam”.
Meanwhile, the whereabouts of Fard remain unsolved. Of course, numerous hypotheses have been proposed to unravel this evasive character.
In the late 1950s, the FBI conjured a theory linking Wallace Fard Muhammed to Wali Dodd Ford, a New Zealand-born White restaurant owner who lived in California during the 1910s and 1920s. This theory was propagated in newspapers as a tactic to discredit the Nation of Islam through some crazed Rachel-Dolezalesque fashion.
South Asia had been pinpointed as the possible birthplace of Fard. After all, he had the generic features of a typical North Indian: silky black hair, beige complexion, sharp, chiseled facial features, and a caucasoid bone structure. The fact that he reportedly expressed contempt for Hinduism is also indicative of his South Asian origins.
Turkey, Palestine, and Saudi Arabia have also been proposed as his possible birthplace. In fact, he had once claimed to have served as a diplomat for the Kingdom of Hejaz (located in present-day Saudi Arabia).
You’re probably wondering why a man with no African roots would go as far as to establish a Black supremacist organization!
Perhaps, Fard was seeking an opportunity to propagate Islam (well his unconventional version of Islam) while he was selling silk cloths. Seeing neighborhoods of destitute, marginalized Blacks in need of a savior, he took his chances with them. The affirming doctrines preached by a man who presented himself as a “high-yellow” Black man from the East would have been receptive to early 20th century Black Americans.
We will possibly never know the true origins of Wallace Fard Muhammed. We will possibly never know his true ethnicity or even his real name. We will never know who he truly was.
Nevertheless, we cannot deny the profound impact he had on the cultural milieu of America. Despite possibly lack a drop of African blood, Fard instilled in Black Americans a sense of self-respect that motivated them to fight for equality.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not defending the ideology he propagated. Nor am I a supporter of the Nation of Islam. However, in studying Fard’s ideology and the Nation of Islam in relation to the mores of early 20th-century America, we can have a more comprehensive perspective on Black American history, which will give us insight into the state of modern-day race relations.