W.D. Mohammed: A Witness for True Islam

The passing of Imam Warith Deen (W. D.) Mohammed is not only a loss for his community and the world … Continued

The passing of Imam Warith Deen (W. D.) Mohammed is not only a loss for his community and the world of Islam but also for all of us. He was truly an extraordinary man and religious leader, a charismatic figure whose profile seemed to defy the usual definition of the term. Indeed throughout the years the militant and more physically imposing Louis Farrakhan, who in fact enjoyed far, far fewer followers, managed to overshadow W. D. Mohammed in media coverage.

I first met Warith Deen at a small Catholic-Muslim gathering and discussion group hosted by the then Cardinal of Baltimore. The Vatican’s top official for inter-religious dialogue was also present. Two memories stand out. At first, as I sat at the discussion table, I couldn’t recognize who W. D. Mohammed was. There was little in the way he carried himself, spoke or acted that signaled that there was a prominent personality at the table. He neither dominated nor pontificated. Second, after the meeting when I was out on the street on my way home, I noticed an incredible entourage of cars with an imposing police escort. I was sure, it was the Vatican’s cardinal being whisked to the airport and accorded the security he warranted. As the entourage passed, there was W. D. Mohammed in the main limo.

Warith Deen Mohammed (then known as Wallace D. Mohammed) became the Supreme Minister of the Nation of Islam upon the death of his father, Elijah Muhammad in February 1975. Soon after the son set out on what would become a substantial reformation of the doctrines and organization of the Nation. He integrated the Nation within the American Muslim community, the broader American society, and the global Islamic community.

The Nation and its teachings were brought into conformity with orthodox Sunni Islam. Wallace Mohammed made the pilgrimage to Mecca and encouraged his followers to study Arabic in order to better understand Islam. The community came to observe Islam’s Five Pillars and black separatist doctrines were dropped as they community proceeded to participate within the political process and system. The equality of men and women believers was reaffirmed; women were given more responsible positions in the ministry of the community. The name of Nation was initially changed to the World Community of al-Islam in the West (WCIW); Mohammed Speaks became the Bilalian News, named after the first black convert to Islam.

In 1980, as if to signal his and the community’s new religious identity and mission, Wallace changed his name to Warith Deen Mohammed, renamed the WCIW the American Muslim Mission, and the Bilalian News became the American Muslim Journal (later renamed Muslim Journal). While the great majority of the Nation followed him, a number of dissidents resisted the changes; Louis Farrakhan broke ranks and revived the name “Nation of Islam” in 1981. Many years later, in 2000 W.D. Mohammed and Farrakhan publicly embraced, and declared unity and reconciliation

W.D. Mohammed became a prominent figure in inter-religious affairs. He was the first Muslim to give an invocation in the U.S. Senate and in 1993, he offered the prayer during the first Inaugural Interfaith Prayer Service of President Bill Clinton. On September 11, as Americans commemorate the attacks and tragedy of 9/11, Warith Deen Mohammed will be buried. His passing and the memory of his accomplishments are a witness and fittingly a reminder of the heart of Islam and the vast majority of its followers.

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  • Robert

    Another cover up of the inherently evil Islam. Esposito is paid by the Saudis and it shows.

  • EAM

    Imam W Deen Mohammed’s legacy stands regally in the world of Islam as an example of the true message of religion: peace, reconciliation, community building, and brotherhood. If we could learn this and make a third of the effort he made to courageously embrace these principles our world will have advanced immeasurably. To Imam W Deen Mohammed’s family and community, please know he was admired, appreciated, and loved by many of us. Thank you sir for a job masterfully done. May God bless you.

  • Anonymous

    Will God arrange that Hurricane Ike spares Corpus Christi (which means “Body of Christ”) and hits Crawford, Texas, instead?

  • Raouf M. Abdullah

    It will take time and scholarship to document the contributions of Imam Wallace D. Mohammed to religious understanding.


    This site on Islam is a brief illustrated guide for non-Muslims who’d like to understand Islam, Muslims (Moslems), and the Quran (Koran). http://www.islam-guide.com/ . OR http://www.islamalways.com May ALLAH let all of us live in peace and harmony.

  • Owais

    Montedoro, When you are quoting passages atleast have the decency of quoting the complete sentences so that it shows what was said and what you wanted it to say.or 8:55 which actually continies to 8:668:55 Indeed, the worst of living creatures in the sight of Allah are those who have disbelieved, and they will not [ever] believe –

  • E. Mahmoud, MD

    Thank you for the accurate commentary of Imam Mohammed. We pray that the world of humanity accepts the examples left for us by Imam Mohammed and his father, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad.

  • Sharif

    “From Allah (God) we come to Allah (God) we return.” May Allah, Highly Glorified is He, be pleased with W.D. Mohammad!I and my wife learned about Islamic concepts from the Nation of Islam. We and others were mesmerized by the rhetoric of the Nation, under Elijah Muhammad, who, in the 1970’s, talked like no other Black man we had ever heard of. Elijah Muhammad taught us that he was chosen by Allah (God) to deliver the black man from the bondage of white supremacy. Elijah Muhammad taught us that the white man is the devil and that Black men are God like. This doctrine was totally alien to Orthodox Islam and we, members of the nation of Islam, would ridicule and mock the “Sunni” Muslims. We all looked at Elijah Muhammad as a Messenger from Allah and the thought of him passing never crossed our minds! So, in February of 1975, Allah caused him to die and there was great depression and sorrow among his followers, including me and my wife. On February 26, 1975, it was announced that Elijah Muhammad’s son Wallace D. Muhammad would success his father as the leader of the Nation of Islam. Wallace D. Muhammad would eventually change his name to Warith Deen Muhammad and told us that if we wanted to change our names do it, don’t look for him to do it, as father used to do. It was the practice of the Nation of Islam for members to drop their “slave names” and be given an X for their surname. The X represented the “lost” family names of Blacks who were descendants of the African slaves. In slavery there was the practice of giving slave owner names to the African slaves to show ownership. This was one of the many things he did to move away from Elijah Muhammad’s doctrine towards Orthodox Islam! I and my wife are grateful to Allah, for W.D. Mohammad. A man who led us to the one true religion of Allah (God), Islam as preached by Muhammad Ibn Abdullah of Arabia, some 1400 years ago and away from Islamic deviance!

  • bye-bye wapo

    I can’t believe the Wahington Post is hosting this. Remember when it used to be American?

  • Al Amin Abdullah

    In The Name of God,Most merciful,Most Gracious this indeed comes as a shock to Islamic community but in the thirty two years of leadership he has givin his followers enough to sustain them for the rest of their lives.May God forgive him for his short comings and grant peace in Paradise.My condolence to the family.May Allah continue to be their protector.I am not the best typist in the world and hope my point gets across. Al Amin Abdullah (harvey l matthews)

  • Altaf Sulaiman

    I had personally met him in Tuskegee. He was a great muslim and a leader. He was instrumental in bringing thousands into mainstream Islam. He passed away in the month of Ramadhan. May Allah bless his soul.

  • Asim, San Antonio

    Thank you Prof.Esposito for eulogizing the great Imam.May God bless his soul.أللهم أدخله جنات تجري من تحتهاألأنهارخالدين فيها أبدا وتقبله برحمتك التي وسعت كل شيء في هذا الشهر المبارك

  • Bacco

    Amazing how “Concerned The Christian Now Liberated” quotes from a work of fiction and sprinkles his/her thoughts of current acts terrorism with a few acts of people defending their nation after invasion then he tops it off with other’s opinions of their own lives and blames a dead man for not addressing those made-up points of his/her.I won’t argue the fact that 9/11 and the train bombings in both the UK & Spain were acts of terrorism. They were.But don’t blame someone for defending their homeland after an invasion. Come “Concerned,” are you serious?Finally, 1 person’s lief story is not an indictment of an entire religion. Over 1,400 years ago, Islam gave women many rights not afforded them by the West till a few hundred (and in many cases less) years ago.How can you be fair if your criticizing an entire religion based on works of fiction or autobiographies while totally ignoring the actual scripture and related works of that religion.

  • Anonymous

    Sura (3:151) – “Soon shall We cast terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers, for that they joined companions with Allah, for which He had sent no authority”. This speaks directly of killing Christians, since they believe in the Trinity (ie. what Muhammad incorrectly believed to be ‘joining companions to Allah’).

  • antoine

    phub imam mohammed – a great man.to the unbelievers, who think there is more than one GOD, ALLAH will be the judge in the end. there is no god,but ALLAH AND MUHAMMAD WAS THE LAST AND FINAL MESSENGER. PEACE! P.S JESUS WILL

  • Anonymous

    Sura (4:95) – “Not equal are those believers who sit (at home) and receive no hurt, and those who strive and fight in the cause of Allah with their goods and their persons. Allah hath granted a grade higher to those who strive and fight with their goods and persons than to those who sit (at home). Unto all (in Faith) Hath Allah promised good: But those who strive and fight Hath He distinguished above those who sit (at home) by a special reward,-” This passage not only criticizes “peaceful” Muslims who do not join in the violence, but also demolishes the modern myth that “Jihad” doesn’t mean holy war in the Qur’an, but rather a spiritual struggle. Not only is the Arabic word used in this passage, but it is clearly not referring to anything spiritual, since the physically disabled are given exemption. (The Hadith reveals the context of the passage to be in response to a blind man’s protest that he is unable to engage in Jihad).

  • S. Ahmad

    A well written article. We will miss the Imam dearly and pray his work goes on with even more tenacity and most of all faith in G’d and HIS plan.

  • Concerned The Christian Now Liberated

    Harold, Harold, Harold,Once again: Fools are those who have read only the bible. God cannot be proud of such lazy creations!!!!

  • AmirSahib.com

    May the doors of heaven be opened for Imam Warith Deen Muhammad.Great article!

  • Jay david

    Esposito has made a living from whitewashing islam and sucking up to his Saudi paymasters. Perhaps Esposito can tell all the African American muslims

  • Woman of Peace

    In the name of Allah, most gracious, most merciful. All praises due to Allah.Imam W Deen Mohammed was a true believer, a great man, a wise man, and a man that will be truly missed. I pray that Allah continues to bestow blessing upon Imam W D Mohammed’s family and the righteous Islamic community of the world.

  • harold

    Woman of Peace prays for to bestow blessing upon Imam W D Mohammed’s family and the righteous Islamic community and not herslf. She should include all those that are the seed of Abraham and Jacob. That is what love thy neighbor is about. It is about love and peace between one another. That is what the LORD is. Love thy Father and Mother, fear thy Mother and Father, pray for peace on Earth as it is in Heaven. Father and Mother Mother and Father, Mother and Father Father and Mother.

  • abu abdAllah

    indeed, Allah is deserving of all praise. in the Name of Allah, Who Shows Mercy to all His Creation, Whose Mercy exceeds comparison to any other’s.may Allah accept from imam WD Muhammad his good deeds, may He overlook his mistakes and sins, and may He open up for him the doors of Paradise.indeed all of Creation exists by the Will of Allah, and to Allah it will all return.every word we utter is recorded and Heard — not be the spectres of conspiracy theories — but by the angels and by He Who Created us and to Whom we will all return.so it is sad that on a page that tributes the life of a man who did so much good, imam Muhammad, that so many people cannot stick to the simple human etiquettes of (1) praying for the departed according to their own traditions, (2) speaking only good of him, and (3) restraining themselves from harsh language.

  • Robert Earl Thorne Sr.

    As-Salaam-Alaikum: As a former member of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad in 1975 and then under the leadership of W.D.Mohammed, I have striven to keep my beyah(pledge)to ‘remake the world”. With the Quran and life example of Prophet Muhammad(SAWS)and Hadith, this man took me to the heights of understanding. His courage and scholarship will remain with me under the Angel Israfil sounds the trumpet once and then twice.

  • Alex

    fr Robert:>Another cover up of the inherently evil Islam….Um, yeah, ok. Whatever.

  • Stuart Rose

    Dear Prof. Esposito,

  • Reginald James

    This is a very thoughtful and insightful story about Imam Mohammed. I learned of the Imam the first time I read the Muslim Journal. While I have long admired (El Hajj) Malcolm and Elijah, I was unaware of Muhammad’s son.

  • 66

    Advertising is the rattling of a stick inside a swill bucket. Now the ads are automated and expanding, so there’s more rattling and more swill. It’s a bigger bucket of swill. Writers still have value and that can’t be automated because we must above all else think. We witnessed Islam in action and we have more action planned. I’m doing the best I can, without ads.

  • harold

    I am amazed that in the thousands of years of the Torah there is none that knows the Ark of the Covenant, the Mercy seat. It all has to do with the Ten Commandants. I am amiss that nobody knows them. How be it that nobody knows the LORD is the Father and the Mother. Many claim to know God, but I have proven that be not the case. How can there be peace on earth when the God the world worships knows nothing but evil. How can there be peace on earth when the world rejects the LORD. If anyone has a sane opinion to offer, please enlighten me.

  • Jabir

    I actually never heard about Imam Warith Deen until reading this post, he will surely be missed by many around the world, hopefully we can have more leaders like him who can change the world and the way people think and act

  • Muhammad M. Hameed of Ingenuity Consulting S.A.

    I am a young student of the now late Imam Warith Deen Mohammad (he passed this week) and like many Muslims in America this week recognized the closing and beginning of a new area in African American History, Muslim American History and Islamic and world History. So I was greatly disappointment that I was unable to find one article on this great American any where on CNN website. I am a regular watcher of CNN online….If my understanding is correct this Muslim American meet with the Vatican in 1999. So what is news……

  • Mansa BIlal Mark King, Ph.D.

    As-salaamu-alaikum the readers and the author,This is an honorable tribute to an honorable man. I am one who came into Islam, and then quickly found himself guided by students of W. Deen Muhammad. While they have not been my only guides, they have been important ones. Communities that follow W. Deen Muhammad’s teachings are among the most welcoming for someone new to Islam, and even for someone who knows nothing about the faith. Anyone familiar with the best example for Muslims, the Arabian Prophet Muhammad of 1400 years ago, has to agree that the community members strive for the best in Islam. W. Deen Muhammad has been the human vehicle most immediately used by God to make this happen. For that reason, the man deserves honor. My prayer is that, finally, he will gain more attention than Minister Farrakhan. I do now say this out of malice. I have love for what Farrakhan has been doing in many ways. However, a better balance is needed. The perception of both immigrant and indigenous Muslims in the average American mind tend to be askew and based on bad information or none at all. There is a good chance that many of my ancestors were African Muslims who became enslaved in this land. I have every right to be accepted in America. I have every right to be accepted in the Islamic Ummah (community). I have every right to be accepted as human. I believe that if more correct knowledge regarding Imam W. Deen Muhammad’s teachings and works are highlighted in the media, there is a greater likelihood of widespread agreement with the rights I claim. In essence, I am asserting that this man can serve to decrease religious and ethnic conflict – even in death. Only the wise will take advantage of the opportunity, though. Dr. Esposito and the Washington Post are demonstrating such wisdom. Many will be watching to see how widespread this wisdom is. Others will be pushing. Others will have their disillusionment further entrenched. Muslims or non-Muslim, American or non-American, we have to co-exist. For the sake of our children if not our Creator, we should do so with wisdom and tolerance. Thank you for your time, and may God’s peace and blessings be upon you in this holy month of Ramadan.

  • personal1note@yahoo.com

    In this day and age it is hard not to recognize things that are false, and have no merit or value to people as a whole. Yet when the passing of a person comes, and is not viewed as a true loss, we as a society suffer.

  • Sincere

    A job well done Imam W.D. Muhammad!!!!!Each group, culture, society or country has it’s own ills and atrocities against humanity by ignoring spiritual princples. Pointing fingers, only suggests superiority for ones self and personal ascriptions. What about humanity as a whole, and their God given individual inheritence to choose good or evil?Each individual is merely a small speck of a dot in the scheme of things, cohesiveness is what is important in order to progress. There is not one among us who is perfect, but, it is necessary for our good to out-weigh the bad. Reflections of May we all learn to co-exist for the sake of Allah/or what ever name one has chosen to call the Creator of all things, and for the benefits of humanity.