Since its founding in 1930, the Nation of Islam (NOI) has grown into one of the wealthiest and best-known organizations in black America, offering numerous programs and events designed to uplift African Americans. Nonetheless, its bizarre theology of innate black superiority over whites – a belief system vehemently and consistently rejected by mainstream Muslims – and the deeply racist, antisemitic and anti-gay rhetoric of its leaders, including top minister Louis Farrakhan, have earned the NOI a prominent position in the ranks of organized hate.
In Its Own Words
“These same Jews that are attacking the Minister are the blood relatives of the slave ship owners.”
– Nuri Muhammad, “Countering the Conspiracy to Destroy the Black Family,” November 2018
“Also pushing the federal government are the wicked members of the Jewish community, who have opposed every good deed and all of the good works of a good man.”
– Richard B. Muhammad, “Straight Words,” Final Call, Volume 37 Number 35, Aug. 14, 2018
“These false Jews promote the filth of Hollywood that is seeding the American people and the people of the world and bringing you down in moral strength. … It’s the wicked Jews, the false Jews, that are promoting lesbianism, homosexuality. It’s the wicked Jews, false Jews, that make it a crime for you to preach the word of God, then they call you homophobic!”
– Louis Farrakhan, Saviours’ Day speech, Feb. 26, 2006
“Who are the slumlords in the Black community? The so-called Jews. … Who is it sucking our blood in the Black community? A white imposter Arab and a white imposter Jew.”
– Speech by NOI national official Khalid Muhammad, Nov. 29, 1993
“Jews have been conclusively linked to the greatest criminal endeavor ever undertaken against an entire race of people … the black African Holocaust. … The effects of this unspeakable tragedy are still being felt among the peoples of the world at this very hour.”
– The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews (NOI book), 1991
“The Jews don’t like Farrakhan, so they call me Hitler. Well, that’s a good name. Hitler was a very great man. He wasn’t a great man for me as a black person, but he was a great German. Now, I’m not proud of Hitler’s evils against Jewish people, but that’s a matter of record. He raised Germany up from nothing. Well, in a sense you could say there’s a similarity in that we are raising our people up from nothing.”
– Louis Farrakhan, radio interview, March 11, 1984
“Integration is against the Desire and Will of God Who Wants and must Do that which is written He Will Come and Do: Restore the earth to its rightful owner (Black Man).”
– Elijah Muhammad, “Our Saviour Has Arrived,” 1974
For what would become one of the largest and best-organized groups in the history of black America, the Nation of Islam (NOI) had a relatively obscure beginning. Founded by a mysterious clothing salesman in the ghettoes of Detroit in 1930, NOI was considered an insignificant, if highly media-worthy, “voodoo sect” throughout much of the 1930s and 1940s.
Founder Wallace D. Fard (according to the FBI, other aliases include Farad Muhammad, Wallace Dodd, Wallace Ford, Wallie D. Ford, Wallei Ford and Wallace Farad) and his “messenger” and successor Elijah Muhammad preached a hybrid creed with its own myths and doctrines. These held that over 6,000 years ago, the black race lived in a paradise on earth that was destroyed by the evil wizard Yacub, who created the white “devil” through a scientific process called “grafting.” Fard and his disciple preached of a coming apocalyptic overthrow of white domination, insisting that the dominion of evil was to end with God’s appearance on earth in the person of Fard. Following this, NOI predicts an epic struggle in which the Nation of Islam will play a key role in preparing and educating the Original People, who ruled the earth in peace and prosperity until Yacub’s “blue-eyed devils” came along to gum things up. The Nation of Islam teaches that intermarriage or race mixing should be prohibited. This is point 10 of the official platform, “What the Muslims Want,” published in 1965. Fard’s FBI file concludes he was born in New Zealand on February 26, 1891, to a British father and Polynesian mother. The California Bureau of Identification and Investigation had Fard listed as Wallace Ford. Michigan State Police and the Los Angeles Police Department had him listed under Wallace Farad and Wallie D. Ford. After determining that all individuals shared the same fingerprint, the FBI found that “in all cases he is listed as Caucasian.”
From the start, NOI was tightly organized, a fact most clearly seen in its creation of the elite “Fruit of Islam,” a group envisioned by Fard as a paramilitary wing to defend NOI against police attacks. In the 1940s, “messenger” Elijah Muhammad also began constructing what would later be considered the Nation’s “empire,” purchasing the group’s first bit of Michigan farmland in 1945 and founding businesses and educational ventures in several states that a decade later were valued in the millions.
NOI’s real boom came during the 1950s, however, when the advent of the civil rights movement and the violent reactions it provoked converged to make NOI’s depiction of the “white devil” pertinent to a much larger sector of black America. New members, including Malcolm X and heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali (Cassius Clay before joining NOI), added visibility to the group and, in the case of the former, contributed directly to a meteoric membership increase.
Appointed to the prestigious leadership of Harlem’s Temple No. 7 in New York City just two years after his 1952 release from prison, Malcolm X was wildly popular, and his years as a prominent member of NOI (1952-64) saw membership skyrocket. But the Nation’s vituperative language and its advocacy of self-defense in place of nonviolence alienated it from mainstream civil rights groups. By 1959, Martin Luther King was warning of “a hate group arising in our midst that would preach the doctrine of black supremacy.”
Nevertheless, the mid-1960s saw a second membership surge at NOI as a new and more militant generation of black leaders began focusing on the residual racial problems of the North. As urban riots rocked the nation, NOI’s message that black elevation could come only through a radical separation from the structures of white oppression continued to resonate for many.
Following Malcolm X’s 1964 split from his former mentor, Elijah Muhammad, a rising star in the Nation was appointed to replace him at Temple No. 7. Louis Farrakhan had been working as a cabaret singer until he met Malcolm X and joined NOI in 1955. Ascending rapidly through the ranks, he had proved to be a superb speaker and organizer, managing to win over the congregation left behind by his charismatic predecessor. He faced a firestorm after Malcolm X’s 1965 assassination, for which many blamed NOI. Talmadge Hayer, an NOI member, was arrested on the scene. Eyewitnesses identified two more suspects, Norman 3X Butler and Thomas 15X Johnson, also members of NOI. All three were charged in the case. At first Hayer denied involvement, but during the trial he confessed to having fired shots at Malcolm X. (In the months before he was murdered, meanwhile, Malcolm X had a complete change of heart, denouncing the “sickness and madness” of the NOI’s racism and turning to Sunni Islam.) Hayer testified that Butler and Johnson were not present and were not involved in the assassination, but he declined to name the men who had joined him in the shooting. All three men were convicted. Butler, now known as Muhammad Abdul Aziz, was paroled in 1985. He became the head of the Nation of Islam’s Harlem mosque in New York in 1998.
Farrakhan weathered the storm of Malcolm X’s assassination and managed to create a powerful base within the Nation, ascending to the position of national spokesman in 1967.
When Elijah Muhammad died in 1975, Farrakhan initially remained faithful to his son, Wallace Deen (later known as Warith Deen Muhammad or Imam Warithuddeen Muhammad), who succeeded him. But the younger Muhammad’s dismantling of the Nation’s material empire and his attempts to bring NOI into the fold of mainstream Islam ultimately alienated Farrakhan. In 1977, a rebellious Farrakhan, backed by a powerful enough base to pull it off, rejected the younger Muhammad and declared the creation of a “resurrected” NOI based on the original ideology of Elijah Muhammad. Years later, both Wallace Deen Muhammad and Farrakhan made an appearance in a Muslim News Magazine documentary titled “Saviors Day: A Meeting of the Minds,” where Wallace touched on his refusal to acknowledge Farad as the reincarnation of God on Earth (due to the fact that Farad was a white man and Elijah claimed white people were the devil). During the interview Wallace claimed his father, Elijah Muhammad, lied about Farad’s desire to be acknowledged as a prophet and even refused the title.
As the head of the new NOI, Farrakhan successfully rebuilt an empire regardless of Wallace Deen Muhammad’s view of Farad. Aside from continuing NOI’s earlier educational and training programs, the reconstituted Nation embarked on economic self-sufficiency programs, creating bakeries, restaurants, fish markets and even a line of hair and skin care products.
Today the group owns farmland in Michigan and Georgia. Goods produced on the farm are sold online or in store at Your Supermarket, a grocery store in Atlanta, Georgia, that caters to NOI members. To date, the group claims to own thousands of acres of land and is linked to a number of restaurants. Farrakhan’s personal net worth, as of 2017, was over $3 million.
Unfortunately for NOI, its efforts are tainted by a long history of racist and antisemitic rhetoric. Even prior to Farrakhan, NOI’s characterization of whites as “devils” was unwavering. The seeds of antisemitism were deeply rooted in the organization, with Elijah Muhammad preaching early on about greedy Jews who turned Jesus Christ in to the authorities.
During the early 1980s, the deeply bigoted language for which NOI is now infamous became daily fare, exacerbated by the charged atmosphere surrounding Jesse Jackson’s 1984 presidential bid. Farrakhan made several of his most infamous remarks during the campaign, including calling Hitler “a very great man” and Judaism a “dirty religion.” (Some say he actually termed it a “gutter religion.”)
Farrakhan’s racist venom continued, to the point that he was banned in 1986 (and remains banned) from entering the United Kingdom, where officials cited concerns for racial harmony. In August 2017, Farrakhan planned to make a speech over livestream at Kennington Park in London, but was denied based on event permit restrictions.
He has frequently reiterated the “dirty religion” theme along with references to the “so-called Jew” (arguing that the “true” Jews were black North Africans) and constant accusations of secret Jewish control of financial and political institutions. One of the most baseless attacks came in the form of a 1991 “study” ordered up by Farrakhan and written by NOIs “Historical Research Department.” Titled The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews, the book uses isolated examples of Jewish merchants’ involvement in the purchase and ownership of slaves to place the onus of the slavery industry squarely on Jewish shoulders – a historical falsehood. The group has established what they call “The Nation of Islam Research Group,” which serves as a platform that ties together articles on current topics with an online store that sells NOI books. Both the NOI Research Group and Historical Research Department have been set up in hopes of lending credibility to NOI’s antisemitic claims.
The claims that are made in the books have been debunked on numerous occasions. Not long after its publication, Harvard University’s Henry Louis Gates Jr. argued in The New York Times that “the book massively misrepresents the historical record, largely through a process of cunningly selective quotation of often reputable sources.” David Brion Davis, Sterling Professor Emeritus in the department of history at Yale, broke down the claims that Jews had a major role to play in the slave trade and said, “The Secret Relationship gives a false and distorted picture.” The article notes several other scholars who all felt the book was factually incorrect. The harsh critique from academic scholars hasn’t stopped NOI and Farrakhan from releasing a plethora of other works. NOI’s influence is so great that DVDs, MP3s and books can be purchased from the various NOI-run websites as well as major retailers such as Amazon, Walmart and Barnes and Noble.
While Jews remain the primary target of Farrakhan’s vitriol, he is also well known for bashing the LGBT community, Catholics and Caucasians, whom Farrakhan calls “potential humans ... [who] haven’t evolved yet.” All of this has helped make Farrakhan attractive to certain white supremacist groups who agree that the races must be separated.
In one early instance, American Nazi Party boss George Lincoln Rockwell appeared at NOI’s 1962 Saviours’ Day Convention, christening Elijah Muhammad the Hitler of blacks. In another, Malcolm X, on departing from NOI in 1964, spoke of an Atlanta meeting (later corroborated by FBI records) between NOI and the Klan in an attempt to establish mutual working conditions. In more recent years, a yearning for racial separation has brought NOI other strange bedfellows. During the Jesse Jackson campaign, NOI was discovered by white “Third Positionists” (who espouse, among other things, radical racial separatism) in the extreme-right British National Front, some of whom developed friendly relationships with NOI officials in the late 1980s before suffering a backlash from the rank and file who could not understand their leadership’s cozy ties to American “n*****s.” Similarly, American neo-Nazi and White Aryan Resistance founder Tom Metzger has praised NOI’s antisemitic rhetoric and has even donated a symbolic amount of money to the Nation.
During the mid-1990s, Farrakhan tried to moderate his message, reaching out to the Jewish community groups and more mainstream black organizations. But any such effort was thwarted by his own continued antisemitic remarks and those of his officers. In 1993, for instance, an attempt at reconciliation with the Congressional Black Caucus failed after the Anti-Defamation League published an article detailing a wildly incendiary speech by top NOI official Khalid Muhammad at New Jersey’s Kean College in November of that year in which he violently bashed Jews, Catholics, LGBT people and whites.
In 2000, at the height of Farrakhan’s battle with prostate cancer, he announced that he would be working together with Wallace Deen Muhammad. His announcement was unexpected, as there had been a bitter rivalry between the two after Muhammad tried to take NOI in a more Orthodox direction. Farrakhan claimed the two men were on good terms and attributed his change in attitude to his struggle with prostate cancer. The announcement might have given outsiders the impression that NOI was headed for change, but the general hatred toward gays, whites and Jews continued.
During the 2008 presidential election, Farrakhan initially supported Barack Obama, saying, “This young man is the hope of the entire world that America will change and be made better.” Obama responded by disavowing Farrakhan and the rhetoric of NOI against members of the Jewish community. In one instance Obama described the attacks on the Jewish community as “unacceptable and reprehensible.” Fast-forward to 2016 and Farrakhan would go on to criticize Obama for not doing enough to help the black community. In a 2016 speech Farrakhan condemned Obama for not earning his legacy with black folks, saying: “We put you there. … You fought for the rights of gay people, you fought for the rights of this people and that people, you fight for Israel, your people are suffering and dying in the streets. That’s where your legacy is!”
Later that same year during the presidential race Farrakhan expressed his liking for Donald Trump. At his Saviours’ Day event, he let his followers know that Trump would help push black Americans to break away from “white America.”
With the emergence of the “alt-right” occurring around the same period, it wasn’t long before the two groups realized they had a lot in common. In fall 2017, Farrakhan took to Twitter to express his thoughts on the separation of black people from everyone else, tweeting, “Black People: We should be more convinced that it is time for us to separate and build a nation of our own.” In a matter of days, the tweet managed to get nearly 2,900 retweets, with many expressing their support, including prominent members of the alt-right movement. In one instance Michael “Enoch” Peinovich, an outspoken white nationalist and founder of The Right Stuff blog, retweeted Farrakhan and expressed his admiration of the NOI leader, stating, “I’ve always been a fan of Farrakhan TBH.”
White nationalist Richard Spencer took things a step further and expressed his willingness to engage in conversation by retweeting and responding with the line “We in the Alt-Right are open for a real dialogue.” Jared Taylor’s American Renaissance account (now banned from Twitter) responded to Farrakhan’s tweet by extending an invitation to speak on the issue in public: “This is the sort of self-determination we and the broader Alt-Right support. Would you like to discuss this in a public forum?” Just a few days later in his keynote address at the 22nd anniversary of the Million Man March, Farrakhan responded to all the praise and said: “Somebody told me that the alt-right, Mr. Trump’s people, had a tweet or something – ‘we kinda like what Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam is saying, we with them to separate in a land of their own.’ I said: very good, alt-right, y’all want to talk about it? Talking has been done, nothing to talk about because now it’s either separation or death.”
Just as disturbing has been Farrakhan’s willingness to tie himself to authoritarian and, in many cases, violently repressive foreign leaders for the sake of furthering black and Islamic administrations worldwide. Some of these former leaders include former General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq of Pakistan, Ugandan despot Idi Amin and former President of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe.
NOI also had a deep relationship with Muammar Gaddafi that was built on their shared ideology and dislike of U.S. foreign policy. In the 1970s Gaddafi loaned the Nation of Islam approximately $3 million to help the group acquire an old church on Chicago’s South Side that would become the flagship mosque of NOI. In May 1985, Gaddafi then gave a second loan to the group, this time for $5 million, for the purposes of helping establish Farrakhan’s “economic plan,” which set up a “toiletry firm” in order to produce soaps, deodorants and toothpaste. In 1996, Gaddafi made headlines again when he tried to donate $1 billion to NOI and another $250,000 to Farrakhan as an honorarium. Officials from the Clinton Administration blocked the “gift,” citing regulations that barred negations with Libya due to strong evidence that pointed to Libya’s involvement with terrorist activity. Farrakhan tried to argue that the money was for “humanitarian purposes” and claimed the money would be used to improve the lives of black people. To Farrakhan’s dismay, the donation was never approved.
Farrakhan has also become a purveyor of conspiracy theories. He has claimed that homosexuality is the result of a chemical reaction and convinced his followers that widespread homosexuality is part of a secret agenda being pushed by government scientists. Farrakhan’s belief is that by turning the black population gay, the government is trying to target and chemically castrate African Americans. He has stated on numerous occasions that food and water in black communities have been tampered with.
NOI has linked up with the Church of Scientology to host joint events in multiple cities across the United States, including California, Florida and Illinois. A number of NOI members study Dianetics and take Scientology courses, and the Western Regional Minister Tony Muhammad has appeared on videos promoting the church and received their Freedom Medal in 2017. The organization’s partnerships and self-promotion keep it going strong, and thus far they have been unwilling to denounce their hateful ideas – beliefs that have influenced not only the group’s membership, but also people outside it. On March 16, 2018, Washington, D.C., city council member from Ward 8, Trayon White Sr., an NOI supporter, posted on his Facebook page that the Rothschilds, who are a wealthy and prominent Jewish family, were controlling the climate for their own nefarious purposes.
NOI’s legacy of hate cannot be undone, but there is a possibility that the group could turn itself around by denouncing and censuring its own bigotry and focusing their energy on their community service projects instead. Farrakhan seems unlikely to do this, as he continues to publicly make antisemitic statements, but his reign is coming to a close and his successor could choose to make the organization a force for good instead of hate in the future.