Assessing the Nation of Islam

the long shadow of a complicated organization

At 6250 words this essay’s length exceeds that allowed by Gmail in email messages. I therefore ask that you read it, or complete it, at https://freddiedeboer.substack.com/. I would have planned better but I was not aware of this limit until Substack’s CMS started warning me.

Recently I watched Spike Lee’s 1992 film Malcolm X and was reminded of what a masterpiece it is. I am fully convinced it’s a better movie than Do the Right Thing, which most people would name as Lee’s best. I have always thought that the opening portions of the movie, when the main character goes by Red and falls into a life of crime, were too long. But now I’m starting to think that Lee understood how essential it was to dramatize that era before X’s conversion and to show Black life outside of the lens of politics and revolution, to give contrast to X’s exhilarating early days in the Nation, his gradual disillusionment, and the fear and isolation that preceded his death. It’s a great film.

The movie has me once again pondering the Nation of Islam and its singular status within the broader Civil Rights and Black power movements of yesteryear. This is not the first time I have been so moved. For two years I worked on and off on a piece that was commissioned by Harper’s. The result, published in 2016, is perhaps the best thing I’ve ever written1. That piece considered Louis Farrakhan and his complicated legacy, and the relationship between his brand of politics and that of BlackLivesMatter, published perhaps a year and a half after the latter movement had started in earnest. I concluded that Farrakhan had no place in the new movement given his peculiar brand of radical respectability politics and his multitude of bigotries, and that this was a shame, as he remains a fascinating man of great charisma and passionate commitment to principle. (But you should really read it yourself.)

I believe that there remains a lot of lessons to learn from the history of the Nation of Islam, ones that may be hard to keep in mind as we live after its slow descent into being little more than the mouthpiece for Farrakhan’s increasingly bizarre conspiracy theories. Every new iteration of a given social movement is in part a reaction to, and rejection of, that which came before, and it is worthwhile to look at how current trends in political activism reflect the past.

The contrasts between the NOI and our present movements are considerable. BlackLivesMatter is unusual for a Black liberation movement in that it has no explicit religiosity, unlike the abolitionist movement, the Black Christian Civil Rights organizations and leaders epitomized by Martin Luther King Jr., and the NOI. (I have not found that one killer essay on the secular nature of BLM, but it’s worth writing about. It would have to be written by someone who is Black, and I think it would be most interesting if written by someone who is religious.) The Nation has always been a rigidly disciplined and highly autocratic organization, even in its early iterations in Detroit; BlackLivesMatter is decentralized and leaderless. The Nation’s strict organizational principles have allowed it to operate with greater efficiency, deep secrecy, and unity of purpose; it has also made the group vulnerable to corruption, factionalism, and the whims of unaccountable leaders. BlackLivesMatters’ cellular structure prevents it from getting caught up in a cult of personality and allows it to better reflect conditions on the ground in various local areas; it can also make it rudderless, lacking in message unity or discipline, and also vulnerable to corruption, just in different ways.

But more than anything the difference that interests me today is the fundamentally different posture towards accountability and change, from then to today, the notion of Black America’s relationship to its own conditions of living and how that relationship affects the vision for politics and policy. And while the NOI itself is a shell of what it once was (compared not just to the early 1960s but also the early 1990s), the group and its leader continue to attract influential left-wing supporters. Is the Nation of Islam’s moral and political value a newsworthy topic in 2021? No, I suppose not. Luckily I’m the boss around here. (I can tell you as someone who labored as a freelancer for years that the right to be indifferent to news hooks is an unfettered good of blogging and new funding models.)

First, we should note that Elijah Muhammad’s and Farrakhan’s organizations are not the same Nation of Islam. After Muhammad’s death in 1975, leadership was passed to his son Warith al-Deen Muhammad. Many outside observers at the time would have assumed that Farrakhan would be named, and any number of other lieutenants would have been betting favorites over al-Deen; after all, he had been repeatedly excommunicated by the Nation for his denial of the divinity of his father. But his selection was unanimous2. Within a short span, the effect of this wild card played out: al-Deen began converting the NOI to mainline Sunni Islam and changed the name of the organization, essentially repudiating what had come before3. (For his troubles al-Deen endured years of abuse from NOI hardliners, routinely being called a tool of the Jews and of the Anti-Defamation League in particular.) Farrakhan appears to have briefly attempted to play good soldier, but within a few years of the elder Muhammad’s death he had gathered together many disgruntled members to revive the NOI. Farrakhan has not only asserted that the new organization is the spiritual successor of the old (which is certainly defensible) but the literal continuation of it (which is not).

In any event, I will consider both the old NOI and the new, with the warning to remember that the two organizations are not identical. Let’s start with the good.

The basic principles of the Nation, best outlined in Elijah Muhammad’s 1965 book Message to the Blackman in America, are a mixed bag, as is inevitable given that they were first articulated considerably more than a half-century ago. But in the essential principles there is a lot to admire. The emphasis on Black self-determination, the demand for police and legal reform, the call for reparations (of whatever form), the economic focus - none of these things were original or unique to the Nation at the time. But in the full sweep of Muhammad’s vision you can see a deeply influential set of basic demands which would influence the Black struggle for decades.

The NOI is of course a separatist organization, a prototypical separatist organization. Racial reconciliation has never been the Nation’s goal; the organization pursues Black self-determination and power, in the United States if necessary but in a new state carved out of Africa if possible. The relationship with whites was too toxic to be repaired and so a divorce was in the interest of both races. This fatalism regarding race relations is inevitable, given the group’s theory of the origin of the white race, which we’ll get to. Believing that white people are in fact fundamentally genetically different from Black, and that this genetic difference predisposes white people to wickedness, the idea of reconciliation would not have made much sense. Thus the demand for a place in Africa where Black Americans could build a new society follows a certain logic4. The prohibition against interracial relationships and demand for segregated schools, while jarring, are also natural extensions of a philosophy that saw the conflict between Black and white as not just inevitable but written into our most basic natures.

Many people will find the most arresting portion of Lee’s film to be when the Fruit of Islam assemble in response to the brutal police beating of a NOI member. Dramatizing a real 1957 event, the film depicts Malcolm X demonstrating his organization’s discipline and numbers in demanding and getting access to the NOI brother in police custody. Seeing the extent of his injuries, X ordered that he be taken immediately to the hospital, and his order was followed, likely saving the injured man’s life. The movie’s depiction of the event is substantially accurate.

There’s quite a few things about this incident that demonstrate the attractive elements of the NOI. The first is simply organization. With a defined leadership structure and strict rules for conduct, the NOI was always able to muster men together for shows of force, demonstrating to the police and white leadership that Black people would not let aggression go constantly unchallenged. (To the extent that there are several documented incidents of the NOI physically resisting aggression by the police, and winning.) As the hospital scene reminds us, in many situations the white authority figures were vastly outnumbered by the local Black citizenry. But without Black organizations to rally and lead the people it would be difficult to show strength in numbers, and many rival Black political organizations were explicitly Christian and not given to conflict. The NOI had no such misgivings.

Discipline was always at the heart of the modern Nation, and it was there in abundance that night in Harlem. The logic is pretty simple: when you are outnumbered and outgunned in a country that oppresses you with its laws and ridicules you with its stereotypes, the one thing that you can be sure you control is yourself. The Nation has long been known for its natty attire, the impeccable suits and restrained fabrics, the colorful bowties, the shined shoes and sharp hats. This dress code demonstrated unity between the members of the NOI and the self-respect of its members, visually codifying the pride which those members felt and which white power sought to deny them. The desire to demonstrate strength through the adoption of a uniform visual language is a hallmark of all manner of political organizations and the NOI utilized it effectively. And of course it had special significance for those whose clothing and appearance had long been mocked by whites. In places with significant NOI presence the Fruit of Islam, easily identifiable by their clothes, would come to be respected by much of the Black community.

The dramatized incident also demonstrated the power of demand. While radical and unapologetic political rhetoric and demands go back as far as the earliest days of the abolition movement, there has also been a long history of organizations dedicated to the ostensible liberation of Black people which emphasized a conciliatory and unthreatening stance towards white people and especially towards white authority figures. The specific interactions between X and the white police officers in the scene above are largely speculative, but we can still be sure that those officers would have expected a Black person’s objection to the situation to be easily rebuffed, given the power disparities at play. X’s forceful insistence on seeing the injured man and on his transport to the hospital would likely have been shocking, and his refusal to disband the FOI stationed outside gave that insistence teeth. In the late 1950s civil rights leaders of all stripes5 were demonstrating to white authority that their argumentative stance had irrevocably changes to that of righteous demand.

The Nation of Islam ran charitable organizations, largely according to Elijah Muhammad’s stated preference for empowering Black businesses and investing in the local community. The historian Nafeesa Muhammad has a thorough piece on the Nation’s economic program, and I won’t try to rehash it other than to say that the general plan was to expand their ownership of businesses and properties with the intent of offering Black people Black alternatives, such as a Black bank. The NOI also started several private schools, some of which still operate. (Clara Muhammad, Elijah Muhammad’s wife, ran a school out of their home for a time.) Unfortunately the financial resources of the Nation were often misused.

Which brings us, I’m afraid, to the bad.

Allegations of anti-Semitism have dogged the Nation of Islam essentially since its inception. Every NOI leader you can think of has been accused of anti-Semitism - Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X6, Louis Farrakhan7, even Muhammad Ali8. (I cannot find any indication of anti-Semitic sentiment associated with Wallace Fard Muhammad, but the historical record is so scant it’s hard to say. I have been unable to access this article through either legitimate or illegitimate means but I imagine it would prove illuminating.) (Update: got it!) The relationship between Black liberation efforts and Jews is famously complex, and you can find many books written about it. This is the country that was home to someone who stylized himself “The Black Fuhrer,” after all. The anti-Semitism that rose in Harlem in the 1930s, and in other Black communities, has to be understood and judged in historical context. Still: a sober consideration of the group’s record has to end in the conclusion that the NOI is an organization that has hosted anti-Semites in both its rank and file and its leadership for decades, none more virulent than its current leader, and has consistently waved away such charges. (For what it’s worth, the NOI denies that Farrakhan is an anti-Semite. The justifications in that article are, ah, interesting.)

The Nation has always been an explicitly patriarchal organization. Women have held positions of influence within the organization, but their roles have been dictated by doctrine in a way men’s have not been. There have been several fairly recent books about women’s role in the NOI, which all acknowledge their subservience but which disagree about the particulars and the overall quality of life. What’s certainly true is that women have rarely served in positions of leadership within the organization, and that Muhammad and Farrakhan have preached traditional gender roles that relegate women to the status of homemakers, caregivers, and mothers. Farrakhan is anti-abortion and has represented it as a tool for social control of Black people. He has given speech to male-only crowds, spurring backlash. As a fundamentally religious order there has been little room for reform; Elijah Muhammad believed his teachings were divinely inspired by Allah, and thus the limited roles and mandated deference of women in the faith was literally dictated by God.

Accusations of corruption and misappropriation have followed the Nation for years. Indeed, one of the criticisms of the organization that helped drive Malcolm X from the Nation was his (accurate) sense that many of the ministers were using the funds donated by members to live lavishly, an accusation certainly credible against Elijah Muhammad himself. (In 2021 dollars Muhammad’s personal fortune at the time of his death was nearly $28 million.) The Nation’s stated aim of lifting up Black businesses through their charitable programs have long invited accusations of inside-dealing and fraud. Vilbert L. White Jr’s 2001 Inside the Nation of Islam: A Historical and Personal Testimony by a Black Muslim9 details an organization rife with misuse of funds both big and small. The reputation for corruption has not stopped celebrities and other rich people from donating generously to the NOI.

The Nation has also consistently failed to develop close or lasting ties with other Black liberation organizations. The biggest part of this has no doubt been simple ideological disagreements, owing to the NOI’s extremity and peculiar doctrines, to say nothing of the potential bad optics of such an association for more mainstream organizations. But even beyond that there has often been bad blood. For example, the Republic of New Africa and the Nation engaged in a feud that lingered for decades. And though there have been many individuals who have been both Black Panthers and members of the Nation at different parts of their lives, there was in fact considerable animosity between the organizations, sometimes leading to violence10. In both of these instances the conflict was deliberately stoked by the FBI, in keeping with their regular practice of undermining Black political organizations in ways that stretch the law.

The Nation’s relationship to Islam has also been a source of frequent complaints. The teachings of the organization contain much that is not in keeping with most of the Islamic world’s idea of Islam, as we will see. The term “Black Muslim” has often been used to refer to NOI followers by both those within the organization and those without, but of course the vast majority of the world’s Black people who are Muslim practice Islam as traditionally understood and have no connection with - or, usually, affection for - the Nation. Many or most Muslim commentators on the Nation of Islam see the organization’s religion as a corruption, especially given the NOI’s frequently loose interpretation of the Five Pillars, the most essential holy acts of a Muslim life. (Farrakhan is fond of making fun of traditional Islamic headwear in his speeches.)

Then there’s Yakub.

To call the mythology of the Nation of Islam bizarre would be putting it mildly. This mythology was set in motion by Wallace Fard Muhammad, the founder of the Nation11, but was extensively fleshed out by Elijah Muhammad into the remarkable origin story that as far as my research can tell is still NOI doctrine, though sometimes downplayed. (As I understand it, there have long been people within the Nation who would like to be done with the mythology, seeing its… extravagances as impediments to recruitment.) That legacy has always been protected by Farrakhan, who has a literalist interpretation of the teachings12.

What are those teachings? It starts with Yakub. In the ancient times in Asia - Farrakhan holds with a theory, which has some purchase in the broader Pan-African movement, that Black people’s origins are Asiatic rather than African13 - in Mecca14 lived a young man named Yakub, or Jacob. At this time there was only the Black race and the people lived in harmony, with access to teachings and technologies that transcended anything we associate with the time period, and accomplishments such as discovering North America thousands of years before Columbus. Yakub was born a genius, but the price for this genius was a grotesquely enlarged head. For this he was outcast and ridiculed. One day Yakub was playing on the beach and found a magnet, from which he deduced that the universe was polar; that is, that all things had two sides, a positive and a negative charge. In humans this polarity was represented by the black and white15 “germ,” the positive and negative elements of human life. Consumed with resentment over his rough treatment, Yakub fled to an island called Patmos and used his new-found knowledge in a program of forced breeding which bred lighter-skinned people (that is, those with more of the white germ) together until he had created the white race, the white devil, the source of greed and evil in the world and the ones who ruined Black paradise, which was Yakub’s revenge16.

I could go on, as there’s lots of material - Farrakhan has repeatedly said that the great apes are the byproduct of Yakub’s attempts to create the white man; he has said that the “rope” in “Europe” comes from the fact that the Black man had to rope white people into Europe to contain them and keep them away from Mecca; he also believes that he is constantly followed by a UFO called the Mother Wheel, Mother Plane, or Ezekiel’s Wheel - but the Yakub myth should be sufficient to demonstrate that the Nation has a set of beliefs that are incongruent with history and common sense. It reminds me of Scientology and its thetans, the zany part that adherents would prefer you not focus on. (Farrakhan, in his declining years, has overseen a strange partnership with the Church of Scientology, which perhaps is par for the course with a man who invited Lyndon Larouche to join the Black Power movement17.)

When progressive people defend Farrakhan - and it does happen, as a trickle of email since the publication of my article will attest - what I think about first is the assassination of Malcolm X. It takes real mental gymnastics to revere X and simultaneously respect Farrakhan, Muhammad, and the NOI. Recently more information about the role of the FBI in the killing has been revealed. This is about as unsurprising as it gets; the FBI is a domestic terror organization that has targeted left political leaders generally and Black ones specifically from the beginning18. But the involvement of the FBI cannot cleanse the hands of the NOI. Whether you believe that the killers arrested for the murder were in fact guilty or hold with more recent theories that others were responsible, as noted in that Washington Post article, all were NOI associates. The Nation had certainly been responsible for the harassment of Malcolm X and his family, and the dark mutterings of leadership indicated deep and violent animosity towards the man that had come to be known as El-Shabazz.

Farrakhan’s involvement has been the subject of speculation since the day of the assassination. Malcolm X’s daughter Qubilah Shabazz was so certain of his culpability that decades later she hired a hitman to kill him in revenge. Others are adamant that the call did not come from him. Elijah Muhammad Jr. was credibly accused of saying, in a room full of several hundred members of the Fruit of Islam, that Malcolm should be killed and his tongue cut out - including by Malcolm X himself. Many who have researched the NOI and the killing will tell you that if anyone gave an explicit kill order, it was likely Muhammad Jr.19

But even if Farrakhan had no direct role in ordering the killing, he and the rest of the NOI leadership were without question responsible for creating the conditions that led to the murder. Two months before the assassination Farrakhan had written of X that “such a man is worthy of death.” NOI leadership knew that they had a passionate membership, some of whom had been specifically chosen to represent the violent potential of the organization, and deliberately whipped them into a frenzy against their former minister. It was perhaps this tactic that they utilized before another terrible act of violence 8 years later.

But here’s my biggest criticism of the NOI and the school of Black politics it represents. The working headline for my Harper’s piece was “The Last Radical Conservative.” Because that’s what Farrakhan ultimately is, a conservative. And that’s what the Nation of Islam has always been, a conservative organization. The fact that they are radically critical of America’s mistreatment of Black people does not change the fact that NOI teachings have always emphasized personal responsibility, traditional family relations, rejection of “alternative lifestyles20,” patriarchy, and the idea that Black people alone can lift themselves out of poverty and oppression. Farrakhan, like Elijah Muhammad before him, advances an ethic of self-improvement that can look a lot like assimilation. He is in fact a Black leader who literally tells young Black men to pull their pants up in hopes of appearing more respectable.

I mentioned above that the NOI habit of dressing in formal and conservative menswear (as well as literal uniforms at official functions) was a way to convey discipline and power. It is also, if you think about it, a type of respectability politics, a way to convey seriousness by embracing the white definition of what a responsible and mature person wears. The Nation has always been the site of this strange dichotomy between rejecting the white man’s authority and embracing the trappings of his success.

Take the Million Man March, which still attracts a lot of romanticism and nostalgia. The primary reason that it should not be looked back on fondly by Black progressives (or any other kind of progressives) is not just that it was tied to the anti-Semitic leader of a patriarchal and homophobic organization, but that it was fundamentally a massive exercise in victim blaming. The Million Man March’s explicit purpose was as a forum for Black men not to demand justice but to beg forgiveness. Farrakhan felt that Black men needed to atone - for joblessness, for crime, for being absentee fathers, for drug abuse, the whole litany of failings that they were daily being accused of by white politicians and commentators. The March took as a given that Black men had failed their families and communities. Consider the pledge that attendees took, which read in part

from this day forward, [I] will strive to improve myself spiritually, morally, mentally, socially, politically and economically for the benefit of myself, my family and my people. I pledge that I will strive to build businesses, build houses, build hospitals, build factories and enter into international trade for the good of myself, my family and my people.

There’s nothing nefarious in that, but it’s important to understand it as a statement intended to imply a contrast with what Black men were doing at the time, in Farrakhan’s eyes - that is, not building businesses or houses or hospitals or factories, not engaging in trade, not doing the best for their families and their race. The March’s mission statement had three planks: atonement, reconciliation, and responsibility. Each of these stressed Black failure even as they were invoked in an event intended to evoke Black pride. Atonement means to ask forgiveness. Reconciliation means to approach those you have been in conflict with and seek friendship. Responsibility means to do the duties that you are obligated to and which you have not been doing. None of this seems congruent with the current philosophies of Black liberation movements.

There is, for me, one question that lingers when it comes to assessing the relevance of the NOI for today’s Black liberation struggle. The Nation of Islam insisted on the strength and nobility of Black men. Its insistence on self-reliance had undertones of victim blaming, it’s true, particularly under Farrakhan. But it also accepted as a given that Black men21 were powerful, powerful enough to affect the monumental changes Black people needed and still need. The trappings of the organization were markers of the individual member’s belief in that power22. Today, the basic rhetoric of Black liberation emphasizes vulnerability rather than strength. People will get angry that I’ve said that, but it seems to me to be true on its face. We advocate for vulnerable groups of all kinds now not by asserting their power but insisting on their susceptibility to all manner of harms great and small. We talk more of Black trauma than of Black strength; that’s just a fact. When you insist that every misstep might do some group a grievous harm, you are saying that they are emotionally defenseless. Will that prove to be the more enlightened and effective vision for freeing Black people from their condition? I don’t know, but I think the question should be asked by those with an audience. I suppose time will tell, and I suppose it’s not really my business.

In the end, the Nation was of its time. At its best it was a necessary precursor for the secular, feminist movement that we see in BlackLivesMatter when that effort is at its best itself. At worst it was a bizarre cult that embezzled funds, enabled the whims of dictatorial leaders, and rejected solidarity (to put it mildly) with Jews, the LGBTQ community, and other racial minorities. It created the infrastructure that enabled Malcolm X to become one of the great historical figures of the 20th century and almost certainly killed him. It focused the dissatisfaction of Cassius Clay into the fierce political resistance of Muhammad Ali, then spent decades chasing away other prominent Black figures with its conspiracism and bigotry. It gathered the largest collection of Black men together in American history and used the occasion to yell at them for sagging their pants. It celebrated Islam while insisting that its founder, likely a conman and perhaps not Black, was the literal manifestation of Allah in the corporeal world, a rejection of Islam’s most basic tenets. It’s complicated. There will always be positives to derive from this history, but that is also where the Nation belongs - in history.

The organization will no doubt endure, likely soon to be in the hands of Ishmael Muhammad. I’m not counting Farrakhan out - he gave a speech billed at the time as his last 14 years ago - but he will soon turn 88 years old. The last time I saw the figures that the NOI was claiming, they said they had 50,000 members, but the number you see thrown around as an accurate assessment is 20,000 and shrinking. I suspect even this figure is generous. The group will likely continue to live on as a small sect, a historical curio, and the Black power movement will proceed into the future without giving them a second thought.

If you’re still on the fence about whether you should admire the Nation of Islam, perhaps this will help you decide. In 1973 associates of the NOI led an attack on a group of Black Hanafi Muslims whose leader had publicly condemned the Nation, its teachings, and its leadership. They shot three people to death, then proceeded to drown four children in the sink.

1

The piece had a long evolution. The magazine had given me a very broad mandate, for which I’m grateful, and I initially wanted it to be much more of a reported piece. A former longtime member of the NOI, and to hear him tell it at one time something of a player in the inner circle, had contacted me by chance about a piece I had written about Aum Shinrikyo several years earlier. We started a bit of a correspondence and at one point he was enthusiastic about participating in a piece on the Nation. However other interviews failed to materialize, beyond a professor who is an NOI observer and a couple ancillary figures. Most importantly multiple entreaties to Mosque Maryam to interview Farrakhan, in the form of emails, phone calls, and a physical letter, went unanswered, beyond someone at the organization telling me that they would call me back (which they never did). It seems unlikely to me that Farrakhan himself was ever even made aware of my requests. (The degree of Farrakhan’s isolation within the organization is a matter of regular speculation among those who watch the Nation.) In any event the original source fell out of touch with me for almost a year and, when he got back in contact, said he would only participate on background. So I gave up on reporting and it became the essay that was published. Looking back that was for the best. Why the Nation was not interested in an interview with an unknown white grad student I’ll never know.

2

This remains something of a historical mystery to me, exacerbated by the Nation leadership’s veil of secrecy. It’s known that the elder Muhammad and al-Deen (born Wallace Muhammad) had reconciled personally, and the NOI’s inner circle may have chosen him because of this renewed intimacy in the last year of Elijah Muhammad’s life. We know that the FBI favored al-Deen’s leadership precisely because of his potential to remove Black supremacy from the group’s agenda, which he swiftly did. But there’s no evidence that they actually did anything and it would be irresponsible to speculate about their direct influence.

3

The irony when considering Malcolm X is clear. X had himself broken with the Nation more than a decade earlier, accepted Sunni Islam as his faith, and changed his name to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, after which he preached a message of racial unity under Islam. (The “under Islam” part is sometimes ignored when people consider X’s later years.) From a certain point of view X paid for his conversion with his life, when the Nation itself was to make such a conversion not long after.

4

Today’s racial discourse is so relentlessly pessimistic, with its talk of white privilege as a timeless and inherent condition and the universality of anti-Black racism among white people, that I sometimes wonder when a contemporary separatist movement will become mainstream. The current dialogue does not seem sympathetic to the idea of reconciliation, which makes separatism perhaps the only logical way to go.

5

Because he is so constantly contrasted against Malcolm X’s radicalism and unwillingness to denounce violence, Martin Luther King has to some degree been represented as a conciliatory figure, a icon of respectability politics. This is of course dead wrong, as any exposure to his large bibliography will show.

6

The Autobiography of Malcolm X provides considerable fodder for this allegation, including a passage which reads “I gave the Jew credit for being among all other whites the most active, and the most vocal, financial, 'leader' and 'liberal' in the Negro civil rights movement. But at the same time I knew that the Jew played these roles for a very careful strategic reason: the more prejudice in America could be focused upon the Negro, then the more the white Gentiles’ prejudice would keep diverted off the Jew.”

7

No footnote could contain Farrakhan’s boundless anti-Semitism, but if we would like to sum it up we might refer to his career-long tendency to speak of “the Satanic Jew.” I am not in the habit of linking to the ADL but if you would like an endless list of Farrakhan’s anti-Jewish slurs, here you go.

8

The accusations against Ali do not seem to me to contain much beyond perfectly legitimate criticisms of Israel and Zionism.

9

If you are looking specifically for a book about the post-reconstitution new NOI and Farrakhan’s leadership of it, this is a good place to start.

10

These conflicts are described briefly by Mattias Gardell in his book In the Name of Elijah Muhammad: Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam (1996).

11

And a man whose identity has perplexed historians for decades. He is also known as Wallace Farad, as Walli Farad, as Wallace Fard, even Wally Ford. As I wrote for Harper’s, “theories about Fard diverge wildly: some say he was a white con artist, others a Lebanese carpet salesman, still others a black Barbadian rabbi and songwriter whose attempts to reform black America through mass conversion to Judaism caused him to split from Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association.”

12

Farrakhan is believed by some to function as little more than a figurehead at this point. Some NOI observers claim that Ishmael Muhammad, one of Elijah Muhammad’s 23 (known) children, actually runs the organization, and he is Farrakhan’s presumed successor. As Tynetta Muhammad was 23 when she gave birth to Ishmael she was, I’m sorry to say, rather older than several of the mothers of Elijah Muhammad’s other children when they gave birth. Muhammad’s sexual predation towards his teenaged underlings was a key source of Malcolm X’s eventual disgust towards the organization.

13

On this and other specifics Farrakhan has not been particularly consistent, though in his defense he has been giving speeches for over sixty years.

14

The exact timeline of events, and how it interfaces with both the historical and theological timelines of Islam, remain unclear to me. Yakub began his process some 6000 years ago according to the doctrine but not much else is specific. Though he constantly references the Koran as a source of holy scripture, in the many hours of Farrakhan speeches I have watched and listened to he very rarely actually quotes the book. This may, however, be a function of which of his speeches the NOI has chosen to record.

15

Sometimes referred to as the brown germ, but in either case contrasted with the purity and goodness of the black germ.

16

Dozens of hours of Farrakhan’s speeches are freely available on YouTube if you would like to investigate the accuracy of my summary. Here is a good place to start, but do try to watch several to get a sense of what varies in Farrakhan’s telling and what remains the same.

17

To be fair, there is something of a precedent for this kind of thing. Marcus Garvey regularly praised the Ku Klux Klan, saying of them “I like honesty and fair play;” Elijah Muhammad invited the founder of the American Nazi Party to give a speech.

18

The brutal violence between the followers of Kwanzaa founder Ron Karenga and parts of the Black Panther movement is a perfect example of a conflict deliberately and directly stoked by the FBI, as has been made undeniable by declassified documentation.

19

Muhammad Jr. died last year to little notice; the only obituary I have found is the NOI’s own. I find it a little surprising, as he was a key figure in the organization during its heyday and thus a figure of historical importance.

20

Farrakhan’s preferred term is “sissies,” as can be observed in some of his speeches such as “Origins of the White Man,” delivered at Mosque Maryam in 1989.

21

I’m sorry about the sexism, but it’s an accurate reflection of the NOI’s attitude.

22

One of Warith al-Deen Muhammad’s moves that most infuriated the hardliners was giving X names to white people.