With the news that, for many, may be shocking if not unthinkable-that the leader of the largest identifiable body of indigenous (that is, "home-grown") Muslims in America, Imam W. Deen Mohammed, had announced his resignation at the annual meeting of the American Society of Muslims (ASM) this past Labor Day weekend-the Muslim community in America moves to a new phase of its development.

In response to those who, "Chicken Little"-style, report the demise of this community-as if somehow we are now supposed to go into a nosedive and crash-my view is that we are going to be a healthier, stronger community.

Some of those same voices had predicted the destruction of the Nation of Islam in 1975, when the Imam first came into leadership, following the passing of his father, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad; instead they and we saw demonstrated competent and capable stewardship, and as he single-handedly guided the transition of our membership from a sincere but inaccurate understanding of Islam to the implementation of the religion on its original foundation (the Qur'an and the life-example of the prophet Muhammad), respect and recognition by religious leadership around the world followed.

Not only did he bring to an end the malicious extremes of a teaching that had established self-respect on a basis of Black nationalism, but he also made Islam acceptable-and accessible-to a host of those who were not Muslim. Most important, in a now post-9/11 atmosphere, he established the real goal of presenting and representing Islam as a truly American religion. Even the break with Minister Farrakhan was reconciled, as demonstrated since the year 2000.

I have been a member of this community since 1970 when, as a college student strongly impressed by the teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, I joined the Nation of Islam. I had read the "Autobiography of Malcolm X," and was moved away from my atheism (declared while I was still in the military) by the self-help message and the pragmatic goals of economic independence presented by "The Nation," as we often called it.

As a young Minister, still in my 20s, when Imam Muhammad was brought into leadership by unanimous acclamation, I saw this new leadership as a new broom, sweeping clean of those who had become lazy, corrupt, or both; and with new instructions came new light, in terms of insight into the meaning of the religion for all human beings, Islam. I was one of many swept forward with excitement.

Every opportunity to learn moved us closer to the proper practice of the religion, as was being carefully monitored by our Muslim brethren from other lands. At the same time there were, among the many good leaders, those who refused to move, to change, or to grow. Again and again, Imam Mohammed warned, corrected, chastised, and cajoled his Imams to get them to represent him (and not themselves).

So it was not a complete surprise to many of us, especially when we foresee Imam W. Deen Mohammed being as-or even more-active than he has been. While largely unreported, no one has done more (especially since 9/11) to clarify and demystify Islam in the eyes of America, for Muslims and non-Muslims audiences. While many under his leadership were still struggling to rid their rhetoric of slogans from the past, Imam Muhammad moved us on to language on a higher level. The point was reached that it became necessary to distinguish leadership from those misleading. Even though the Imam has relinquished the position, he has not stopped leading.

So there will be no scramble for power, but rather a realignment of structure. While we are now a different body, those of us striving to follow an excellent example of Islam among us still have clear direction.

Personally, when I heard the Imam had said that 80 percent of his Imams had failed to follow him (not the exact words) I looked not at this or that Imam-I know too many who have given their all (and I know of others too)-but at seeing myself as giving only 20 percent of what I'm really capable of.

So I redouble my efforts to do the things Imam Mohammed outlined in his major address of the weekend, carried the very next week on C-Span: to study the history of America, and understand the context in which I represent our religion; to study and learn the Qur'an; to study the history of Islam, and the life history of Prophet Muhammad; to strive to be the moral example that a Muslim is supposed to be; and to move toward the collective goal of economic self-sufficiency.

So from this, my humble but truly blessed vantage point, Imam Mohammed's resignation is a step forward for our community, and a bright sign for Islam and America's future.

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