'I've Seen the Sniper's Kind Before'

The Nation of Islam has a culture of violence embedded in it. But it's far more than that.

BY: Askia Muhammad


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The Nation enforced discipline on these men. The Nation's influence caused most of them to strive for higher achievements than they ever had before, and to leave the criminal lifestyle behind. But sometimes their previously acquired thug-life habits died hard. And because new converts are accepted almost as "newborns" in the faith, the slate wiped clean of any mention of their previous wicked lives, it's easy for those whose "transformation" is not complete to conceal the bad things they may still be doing from other Nation members who are striving to do good.

When I was a student minister at Muhammad Mosque No. 26 in San Francisco in the early 1970s, we referred to our region as "the wild, wild West." We were unregulated, because we felt we knew better than anyone anywhere how to interpret and how to live out the strict teaching given by the Hon. Elijah Muhammad.

Although most of the members I knew were (as they are now) God-fearing men and women, striving, praying to be "...upright to Him Who originated the Heavens and the earth...," I still remember many kooks and rogues. Brother Harlan X was one. I walked the streets of Salinas, Calif. with Harlan one day, selling Muhammad Speaks newspapers during a rally for United Farm Workers Union organizer Cesar Chavez. In 1970 he was accused of murdering another Muslim, supposedly over a drug deal that went bad.

Lt. Jervis X was another. He taught me karate when I first became a Muslim and first began attending Fruit of Islam (F.O.I.) classes. I thought he was as decent a man as I had ever known. He was a washing machine salesman at Sears. But then he was charged with attempted murder in 1971. Elements of the F.O.I. had been whispering among themselves that prostitutes should be doused with gasoline and then have lighted matches thrown on them. Jervis and a woman were both found in flames in the San Francisco Tenderloin district one Saturday night.

The most frightening case I knew about at that time was the arrest of several members of the San Francisco Mosque who were all former inmates. They were converted in prison, some of them served together at the same time, and they were all recruited to work for a Nation member who operated a moving and storage business. They were charged with systematically snatching white people off the streets and brutally murdering them in 1972. They were San Francisco's notorious "Zebra" killers. Fortunately for me that summer, I was taken away to Chicago, where I worked under Mr. Muhammad's direct supervision--eventually as editor-in-chief of

Muhammad Speaks


And I'm not particularly disappointed that people who have long ago vilified Louis Farrakhan's Nation of Islam as the black equivalent of the Ku Klux Klan are now having a field day draping this suspect in the trappings of the Black Muslim movement. Black people in America--all people in America--are better off today because of the presence of the Nation of Islam in our midst, no matter how many "bad apples" turn up in the bushel. The Hon. Elijah Muhammad, the founder of the Nation of Islam, always stood his ground, even in the face of withering condemnations from white America. His message was never corrupted, and he never forsook those who sincerely embraced his teaching. In the face of hostile criticism, he often told the story of the donkey that fell into a ditch. He said that every person who came by and saw the donkey in the ditch threw a stone at him. Pretty soon the passersby had thrown so many stones that the ditch filled up and the donkey walked out of the ditch without any further assistance. "Every knock is a boost," Mr. Muhammad would explain.

Louis Farrakhan lives according to that credo. And while there are few references to him in academic literature or elsewhere that do not include the word "racist" alongside his name, I do not believe he is a race-hater or anti-semite.

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