7 Things To Know About How Wallace/Warith Dean Muhammad Removed Nation-Building From NOI

7 Things To Know About How Wallace/Warith Dean Muhammad Removed Nation-Building From NOI


7 Things to Know About How Wallace/Warith Dean Muhammad Removed Nation-Building From NOI. Photo: Wallace/Warith Dean Muhammad, YouTube screenshot from "Living History presents Imam W. Deen Mohammed," https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EpusWnTGY9k

During his tenure as the leader of the Nation of Islam from 1934 until his death in 1975, Elijah Muhammad promoted the philosophy of self-help, building the NOI into an economic powerhouse worth millions of dollars. He did so by encouraging members to grow their own personal wealth as well as the wealth of the Nation. At its peak, the NOI and its members owned several businesses, schools, and a bank. But when Muhammad died in 1975, the direction of the NOI shifted.

Without any estate planning in place, Muhammad’s personal assets as well as the assets of the NOI got tangled up in litigation between his family members. The empire Muhammad built was slowly dismantled as his son Wallace/Warith Deen Muhammad led the NOI in a different direction and the family went to court to battle for control of the NOI’s wealth.

The economic program collapsed. Wallace Muhammad focused on mainstream multicultural Islam and stressed how the organization should support the U.S. government. Unlike his father, Wallace didn’t really believe in the Black do-for-self program.

Here are seven things to know about how Wallace/Warith Dean Muhammad removed nation-building from the NOI.

1. The NOI Elijah built

Elijah Muhammad encouraged a message of self-reliance, independence, and self respect. He also used wealth building and he led the expansion nationwide. In 1964, Muhammad introduced the Three-Year Economic Plan (also known as the National Savings Plan) specifically to help Black people achieve financial independence. The NOI opened 15 different businesses in Chicago alone. Nationwide, NOI businesses included grocery stores, clothing stores, dry cleaners, bakeries, farms, lamb slaughterhouse, and restaurants which provided food, cooked meals, and clothing at affordable prices to both Muslims and non-Muslims. In January 1973, the NOI gained a controlling interest in the Guaranty Bank and Trust Company on Chicago’s South Side. Elijah Muhammad called it “Bank for the Black man.”

By 1974, NOI enterprises entered into an agreement with a Peruvian fishing distributor to provide 1 million pounds of whiting fish from Peru. NOI members sold the fish door-to-door in Black neighborhoods to Muslims and non-Muslims.

By 1975, the NOI operated hundreds of businesses across the country, employing more than 11,000 people. The estimated annual revenue from these businesses was approximately $30 million annually. At the time of Elijah Muhammad’s death, the net worth of the NOI totaled $80 million, Black Past reported.

2. Family battle

Nineteen children of Elijah Muhammad, the late Black Muslim leader, went to court over their father’s bank account, which contained $5.7 million, The New York Times reported. Since Elijah Muhammad died without a will, a bitter fight ensued, not only over his bank account with Dai-Ichi Kangyo Bank of Japan but over his entire multimillion-dollar estate. It divided the family.

Wallace Muhammad and his brother Herbert Muhammad inherited the Nation of Islam leadership and property.

3. Wallace Muhammad: ‘Love America’

The direction of the Nation of Islam changed under Wallace, putting him at odds with the NOI heir-apparent Minister Louis Farrakhan.

Both Farrakhan and Wallace had been top advisers to Elijah Muhammad, and after his death in 1975, the two claimed to be carrying out Muhammad’s wishes. But both men had chosen strikingly different paths and they severed ties. Within two years, Farrakhan left to form a new Nation of Islam.

Wallace sought to bring African Americans to Orthodox Sunni Islam. He wanted Black people to celebrate being the fabric of America. He said African Americans should love America. “We should love America passionately now that America has changed so drastically within a relatively short period of time,” Wallace said.

As far as racism against Blacks, Wallace said, “A lot of what we read now as racism is not racism; it’s just human weaknesses. We tend to identify every bad experience that we have now as racism, and it’s not so.”

Wallace also shifted the NOI’s Black nationalist agenda towards Sunni Islam, which is considered the one of the largest branches of Islam.

4. Wallace dismantles the NOI

Not long after Wallace took control of the NOI, he began dismantling his father’s empire, The Los Angeles Times reported. He sold off the businesses, decentralized the mosques, and repealed the clothing requirements (dark suits and bowties for men, gowns and veils for women). He also changed his name and the name of his organization several times. In 1977, Farrakhan, who served as the NOI’s national spokesman from 1967 to 1975, re-instituted the NOI that Elijah Muhammad established and also repurchased some businesses that were lost during the Wallace shift.

5. Rebuilding NOI

When Farrakhan broke away from Wallace, he started to rebuild Elijah Muhammad’s vision of the NOI. “The rebuilding actually started in 1977,” said Lance Shabazz, author of the 2015 book, “Blood Sweat & Tears: The Nation of Islam and Me,” in an interview with Fred Hawthorne on the YouTube show “Barbershop Conversation.”

A student of the teachings of Elijah Muhammad, Shabazz is from New York City and co-owned Shabazz Steak & Take Restaurant and Shabazz Bakery & Dairy. Shabazz worked as a minister in New York and New Jersey NOI mosques, and he is the producer of the DVDs “Malcolm X vs. the Nation of Islam: The Naked Truth” and “Joe Tex: The Real Story.”

6. Wallace backlash

While Farrakhan was rebuilding NOI, his rival Wallace was making changes which included renaming one of the longtime NOI mosques “Mosque Malcolm Shabazz.” This renaming came as a shock to many members. Malcolm X became known as el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz after he converted to Sunni Islam and had a bitter break with the NOI and Elijah Muhammad. Malcolm X was considered a “hypocrite” by the followers of Elijah Muhammad, according to Lance Shabazz. So Wallace naming a mosque after Malcolm X was unacceptable to many NOI followers.

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7. Wallace stepped down

After all the changes and the turmoil over the leadership of the revamped, renamed, and refocused NOI, Wallace resigned as head of the American Society of Muslims in 2003. He said he would continue to represent and guide Black Muslims and direct his ministry, the Mosque Cares, but would no longer lead the society — the leading organization representing his movement, The Washington Post reported.

“I’m getting ready . . . to do more, to be more productive and to contribute to the good life of the believers,” Wallace Muhammad said at the start of his keynote speech at the society’s annual convention.

(Photo: YouTube screenshot from Living History presents Imam W. Deen Mohammed)