The Most Important Muslim You've Never Heard of

Warith Deen Mohammed, spiritual leader of thousands of U.S. Muslims, dramatically changed Islam in America.

It may have been the most earth-shaking news to hit American Muslimssince Sept. 11, 2001, but you wouldn't have known it from reading themorning paper.

Warith Deen Mohammed, spiritual leader of the American Society ofMuslims and perhaps the most influential American Muslim ever, announcedover Labor Day weekend in Chicago that he was stepping down. His action barely registered on the mainstream radar.

Yet some 20 percent of the roughly 3.5 million American Muslims areAfrican American-and most follow W. Deen Mohammed or some other orthodoxteacher. (By comparison, Louis Farrakhan, head of the more famous Nationof Islam, leads an estimated 100,000).

In stepping down, Mohammed implicitly criticized some of the AmericanMuslim leaders for not taking orthodox Islam seriously enough.  "I havetried over the last 10 to 12 years to encourage them to get morereligious education, but I have made no progress," he told the ChicagoTribune. "American Society of Muslim leaders don't support me, but thefollowers do."

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The favorite son of Nation of Islam leader Elijah Mohammed, W. DeenMohammed rose to power the day after his father's death on Feb. 25,1975. Taking the helm of the NOI--a group that linked Islam withseparatism and racial hatred--he led his flock on a dramatic new journeytoward orthodox Sunni Islam.

Like Malcolm X had done more than a decade before, Mohammed rejected hisfather's racism, emphasized Islamic ritual observance and gained therespect of Muslim leaders worldwide. And he brought hundreds ofthousands of people with him.

David Shaheed, now a criminal court Judge in Indianapolis and a leaderin the American Society of Muslims, was one of countless collegestudents who joined the Nation during this dynamic period. He creditsMohammed with changing the course of history for all Americans.

"Instead of having revolution in the streets," Shaheed says, Mohammedled a quiet revolution of his own: "He took the Qu'ran and made bettercitizens for the community."

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