In terms of numbers, the Nation of Islam is a shadow of its former self now that most black American Muslims have joined the mainstream of Islam in one form or another. But it is still a potent force, as proved by the famous Million Man March on Washington organised by the groups leader Louis Farrakhan in 1996.
The movement began in the 1930s in Chicago, inspired by Marcus Garvey's teachings of respect for Africa and a search for roots in the old world and the evangelism of the Ahmaddiya Islamic offshoot sect, which identified Christianity with the anti-Christ. These ideas came together when W.D. Fard met Elijah Muhammad (originally Elijah Poole).
Elijah Muhammad propounded the theory of black racial superiority, that the white race was an offshoot of the black race, and that a separate state should be created for blacks in America.
But it was the charisma and fire of Malcolm X that turned the Nation of Islam into a mass movement. But Malcolm, a reformed convict, brilliant public speaker and fearless polemicist, split from the movement when he went to Mecca on a pilgrimage in 1964 and embraced orthodox Islam as al-Haj Malik ash-Shabazz. He was murdered the following year in New York.
The Nation of Islam continued its racist message until the death of Elijah Muhammad in 1975. Then his son Wallace, later known as Warith Deen Muhammad, gradually led the movement into mainstream Islam. Many American Muslim institutions now send scholars to learn at the ancient seats of Islamic learning such as al-Azhar University in Cairo and the Islamic University at Medina.
The black Muslim movement in America numbers in the hundreds of thousands and the number of sympathisers is far greater. Meanwhile, a rump Nation of Islam has continued under the leadership of Louis Farrakhan. He has antagonised America's Jewish community with fierce rhetoric but managed perhaps the key event of black American politics this decade: the million man march to Washington on October 16, 1995.
Farrakhan has also made an ally out of Libya's Colonel Gaddafi and opposes United Nations sanctions imposed on Libya over the Lockerbie bombing."I want to personally thank Brother Muammar Qadhafi for his kind and gracious words and for the spiritual and material support of Islamic movements throughout the world." he said recently.
What is the Nation of Islam? Holy War