This is written in tribute to my teacher, Imam Warith Deen Mohammed, one of the greatest peacemakers, leaders, and unsung heroes the world has ever known, whose voice I first heard in the womb of my mother as she sat in the audience while my father, then a part of the Fruit of Islam (FOI), the Nation of Islam's (NOI) paramilitary unit, stood on honor guard in 1975 as Imam Mohammed was raised up high on the shoulders of several FOI. This celebratory moment marked the commencement of Imam Mohammed's leadership over the Nation of Islam upon the death of his father, Elijah Muhammad, a man whom Rev. Jesse Jackson once called the "father of black self consciousness" for his transforming black separatist movement that saved the lives of thousands of African Americans through mental, physical, spiritual, and economic rebirth.

On that historic day, Imam Mohammed faced the threatening winds of emotion that swirled around the inevitable changes to his father's "nation" and bravely commenced transitioning the community toward a mission to uplift all of humanity with the dignity, understanding, and universality of traditional Islam. He told the audience confidently, "This is a house built on strength, divine strength.let your winds of emotion come against this house, it stands forever!"

I was born one month after that defining moment, and it was Imam Mohammed's teachings that incubated the desire within me to become a scholar of religion and champion of peace. I recall fondly how my siblings and I would listen to the imam's radio broadcasts or attend his Friday sermons in Chicago. I remember we had great fun with a statement in one particular sermon when the imam shouted, with force and severity, "How you gonna try to hypnotize my child with a pair of Mickey Mouse socks!" Long after that day, we repeated those words over and over, imitating the imam's voice with great delight.

These are the little things that shape a child, make her strong, remind her not to worship images, to be a leader, not a follower, to not give in to subliminal seduction, and to understand the importance of recycling the dollar within a community that had been "downtrodden through the muck and the mire" of America's racism.

Though completely deserving, Imam Mohammed has never been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, or anything comparable to it, and even the most astute scholars of African-American studies, religion, and world history have often left him glaringly out of the picture. Unfortunately, few people know the story of this humble man, whose ministry is titled "The Mosque Cares," and how he taught hundreds of thousands (some studies report at least 2 million) of African Americans to be soldiers for universal human excellence and tolerance in the name of Islam.

Among his supporters are great contributors to the betterment of America and the global community. They include, but are not limited to, judges, doctors, engineers, state representatives, mayors, filmmakers, scholars, successful entrepreneurs, Olympic gold medalists, professional athletes, and men and women in every branch of the U.S. military.

Muhammad Ali once described Imam Mohammed as "a peaceful warrior, using his wisdom and kindness to fight for the betterment of all African Americans as well as Muslims." Malcolm X described him as an objective, strongly spiritual man with whom he shared exceptional closeness and trust. Even with all these praises, Imam Mohammed has an outstanding level of humility. I have witnessed him prostrate himself to God in front of audiences of thousands when excessively praised in order to remind those who laud him that the praise belongs to the Almighty Creator alone. His revolutionary vision is based in his belief that "the salvation of society and the survival of civilization depend upon establishing and preserving healthy, sound, truthful, and charitable leadership."

I often marvel at his courage.

  • He had the courage to question his own father's teachings on Islam and be exiled from the NOI and his family.
  • He later transitioned the entire NOI to Islam proper, which he then decentralized in order to encourage the people toward individual and local economic, educational, and cultural development.
  • He upheld patriotism even when criticized by many other Muslims. That "love-it-and-make-it-better" patriotism was rooted in his belief that it was his duty to his government "to call them back to spiritual development," a mission he expressed at meetings with U.S. Presidents from Carter to George W. Bush.
  • He had the courage to resign from the leadership of the community he painstakingly educated for 28 years as a sign of dissent from many of the leaders in the community because of their disregard for his initiatives and unjust leadership of the people.
  • These accomplishments prove his oft-repeated message to his followers: "It only takes a few good people to continue the productive lifeline of a people."