Founder: Wallace D. Fard (c.1877-1934) was a traveling salesman who gathered followers during the Depression among the poverty-stricken African-Americans of Detroit. He mysteriously disappeared in June 1934, and was consequently identified as an incarnation of Allah. Under Elijah Muhammad (1897-1975), Fard's Minister of Islam, and Muhammad's lieutenant Malcolm X (1925-1965), the movement gained international prominence.
Main tenets: The Nation of Islam's declared aim is the raising of the moral, social and economic standing of non-whites. This has included the vilification of the dominant group, white Caucasians, even to the point of calling whites the personification of evil, and maintaining that the white race is an aberration, the human race having originally been black. Therefore, according to this theory, blacks must pursue separate development. By turning racist ideas around to oppose whites, the movement has attracted many adherents and has had particularly good success in converting prisoners, criminals, and drug users. Black Muslims have financed the construction of mosques, schools, apartment complexes, stores, and farms.
History: Elijah Muhammad taught that American blacks, a group that includes all people of color, were descended from the ancient tribe of Shabazz that had originally settled the holy city of Mecca, and that that blacks and whites can share no real community.
Malcolm X was his closest collaborator until a quarrel between the two men in 1964. Malcolm X then went on a pilgrimage to Mecca. where he saw people of every race worshiping side by side, and he became convinced of the hopelessness of racism. He returned to the United States and founded the Organization of Afro-American Unity, which preached black nationalism but not black separatism. He was shot and killed while speaking to a large gathering in New York City in 1965. After Elijah Muhammad's death in 1975, his son Warith Deen Muhammad radically transformed the Black Muslim movement, opening it to whites and renaming it the American Muslim Mission. In 1979, Louis Farrakhan broke away from the Mission, establishing the more radical Nation of Islam, which restricts membership to blacks, and advocates a separate black social structure.
Main Sacred Text: Fard wrote two manuals that are now the basic documents of the movement: The Secret Ritual of the Nation of Islam and Teaching for the Lost Found Nation of Islam in a Mathematical Way. The organization's publication Muhammad Speaks, now called the Balalian News, also instructs believers.
Principle center: Mosque Maryam, National Center and Headquarters for the Nation of Islam in Chicago, Ill.