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-LGBT 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
"[T]he 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
"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
"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
"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
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, 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. Ironically 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 while San Quentin State Prison had him listed as 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 “in all cases he is listed as Caucasian.”
Despite the initial group's small size and early setbacks, Fard and his disciple laid the groundwork for what the group was to become in the 1950s and 1960s. 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 (1952-1964) saw membership skyrocket from around 400 to between 100,000 and 300,000. 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 only come through a radical separation from the structures of white oppression continued to resonate for many. Although NOI remained frustratingly conservative in many ways (indeed, Malcolm X "liberated" himself from this conservatism in 1964), its radical rhetoric continued to attract recruits.
Following Malcolm X's 1964 split from his erstwhile 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 Muslim News Magazine’s documentary titled Saviours 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 God/prophet and even refused the title.
At 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. NOI also took on a series of initiatives including providing security for housing projects, reaching out to prison inmates, and creating programs for those suffering from HIV and AIDS.
Today the group owns farmland in Michigan and Georgia. Produce from the farm is sold online or in store at Your Supermarket. The group describes their products as being “Naturally grown and harvested without the use of pesticides or herbicides.” To date the group claims to own thousands of acres of land with 1,600 acres in Georgia alone.
Farrakhan’s homophobic rhetoric is one way he entices his followers to support NOI’s projects. On more than one occasion Farrakhan has stated that there is currently an attack being carried out on black masculinity. He claims that homosexuality is the result of a chemical reaction and has convinced his followers that widespread homosexuality is part of a secret agenda being pushed by government scientist. Farrakhan’s take is that by turning the black population gay, the government is trying to target and chemically castrate the black demographic. His belief is that food and water in black communities has been tampered with and it’s the reason the sperm count in black men is currently falling. According to Farrakhan, the answer to these problems is to purchase NOI branded goods from places like Your Supermarket and the online store of NOI Ministry of Agriculture.
The group has taken on several business endeavors and as more followers are brought in, a greater demand of NOI products will follow. With a growth in membership, clientele for businesses like Blue Seas and Salaam Restaurant will continue attracting patrons. Books like Elijah Muhammad’s cookbook series and “Holistic How-to-guide for ‘Cures’” will be purchased and NOI will continue profiting off Farrakhan’s scare tactics. As of 2017 it was estimated that Farrakhan alone had an estimated net worth of $3 million.
Over the last few years NOI has worked to reach out to top celebrity icons and engage with various artists in an attempt to entice a younger generation of potential NOI members. A quick look through Farrakhan’s Facebook page reveals his adoration for red carpet celebrities and he’s made it a point to highlight his encounters with stars such as Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, Chris Martin (Coldplay), Carlos Santana, T.I., Taraji Henson, DMX, 50 Cent, Kendrick Lamar, Dave Chappelle, 2 Chainz, Eminem, Migos, Ludacris, Charlamagne Tha God, Don King and even the late Fidel Castro.
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. Even during the early days of the civil rights movement, a period of collaboration between progressive Jews and blacks, Malcolm X had denounced Jews in the leadership of the NAACP and linked their presence there to the group's non-militant stance.
During the early 1980s, the deeply bigoted language for which NOI is infamous for today 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"). While these and other remarks ultimately spurred Jackson to publicly disavow Farrakhan, the controversy actually increased the NOI leader's visibility and appeal to many African Americans angered at the attacks on him.
Farrakhan's racist venom continued, to the point that in 1986 he was banned from entering the United Kingdom, where officials cited concerns for racial harmony. As of August 2017, the ban was still in place as Farrakhan was kept from making a speech over livestream at Kennington Park in London (officials citing restrictions as the reason for the gag order). He 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 NOI's "Historical Research Department." Entitled 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 blogging 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.
Fortunately, the claims that are made in the book have been debunked on numerous occasions. Not long after the first book was published in the early ‘90s, 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.” 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. In 2018, 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 gay men and lesbians, Catholics and, of course, the white devils, whom he calls "potential humans ... [who] haven't evolved yet." All of this has helped make him attractive to certain white supremacist groups who agree that the races must be separated. In its turn, NOI has come to view white supremacists as people who at least understand NOI's program and could therefore become allies.
In one early instance, American Nazi Party boss George Lincoln Rockwell appeared at NOI's 1962 Saviour's 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 nationalism 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 nationalism) 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 "niggers." 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, it seemed that Farrakhan was trying 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. Similarly, although many local chapters of the NAACP endorsed the Million Man March where Farrakhan was the keynote speaker, the national organization refused to participate in any way.
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 Jews as “unacceptable and reprehensible” and continued by stating “I have some of the strongest support from the Jewish Community.” 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. He carefully toed the line and just stopped short of endorsing Trump in the run against Hillary Clinton. At his Saviours’ Day event, he let his followers know that Trump would help push black Americans to the realization that it was time to break away from “White America”.
With the emergence of the racist so-called “alt-right” occurring around the same period, it wasn’t long before the two groups realized they had a lot in common. In fall of 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 3,000 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,” retweeted Farrakhan and expressed his liking 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 Historic 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 Zimbabwean Robert Mugabe.
NOI also had a deep relationship with Muammar Gaddafi that was built on the two’s 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 their flagship mosque. Then in May of 1985 Gaddafi 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 (these products can now be purchased online from the Ministry of Agriculture website). In 1996, Gaddafi made headlines again when he tried to donate $1 billion to NOI and another $250,000 specifically for 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 established close relationships with other extremist groups such as the New Black Panther Party (NBPP), which was led by former deputy Khalid Muhammad (who left NOI after his more volatile remarks were widely publicized) until Muhammad's death in 2001. Openly racist and violently antisemitic, the New Panthers have been denounced by leading members of the original Black Panther Party — men like Bobby Seale — as "a racist hate group." But that didn't stop Farrakhan from inviting former New Panther boss Malik Zulu Shabazz to co-convene NOI's 2005 Millions More March, marking the 10th anniversary of the Million Man March. Malik Zulu Shabazz left the New Black Panther Party in October of 2013, but the relationship between the NBPP and NOI hasn’t changed. In early 2018, current leader Hashim Nzinga expressed his appreciated for Farrakhan and shared a pic of the two on his Facebook page with the statement “The Most Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan has played a major role in my growth and spiritual development.”
Farrakhan has been suffering from prostate cancer, and weakening as the years pass. Nonetheless, it seems unlikely that NOI's legacy of racism will die with him. This is particularly true given that to this day, NOI members continue to promote racist and antisemitic ideas. A case in point is Ashahed Muhammad, a prominent NOI member and author of Synagogue of Satan, a book advertised on NOI's website that alleges, once again, a Jewish conspiracy to control the federal government. As a younger generation of NOI leaders rises to prominence, it is thus decidedly unclear whether NOI will be able to shed its legacy of hate.