Birthday: October 7, 1897
African American Men
Spiritual & Religious Leaders
Died At Age: 77
Sun Sign: Libra
Also Known As: Elijah Robert Poole
Born in: Sandersville
Famous as: Religious Leader
Height: 6'0" (183 cm), 6'0" Males
Spouse/Ex-: Tynnetta Muhammad (m. ?–1975), Clara Muhammad (m. 1917–1972)
father: William Poole, Sr.
mother: Mariah Hall
children: Akbar Muhammad, Elijah Muhammad, Emmanuel Muhammad, Ethel Muhammad, Ishmael Muhammad, Jabir Herbert Muhammad, Jr., Lottie Muhammad, Madia Muhammad, Nathaniel Muhammad, Warith Deen Mohammed
Died on: February 25, 1975
place of death: Chicago
U.S. State: Georgia
Founder/Co-Founder: Muslim Mosque, Inc., Nation of Islam
Elijah Muhammad was a black American leader of the religious and social movement known as the ‘Nation of Islam’ (NOI). Elijah served as the inspiration and mentor to several personalities, such as Malcolm X, Louis Farrakhan, and Muhammad Ali, who led the movement further. Elijah came from a poor family from Georgia and faced racist atrocities, rampant in America from the late 19th century to the early 20th century. He came across a speech about Islam by Wallace D. Fard and got the push he needed to raise his voice against the discrimination. He took charge of the ‘NOI’ from Fard in 1934 and held it until his death in 1975. He was known for his extremist preaching about Islamic beliefs and urged more and more youngsters to join him in his quest to spread the canvas of Islam across the US. By the time of his death in 1975, the controversial cult had grown significantly and garnered almost 250,000 members. Following Elijah’s death, his son, Warith Deen Muhammad, took charge of running the cult. Following this, several other communities were established, as Warith struggled to keep all his followers together as a unit.
Childhood & Early Life
Elijah Muhammad was born on October 7, 1897, in Sandersville, Georgia, into a poor African–American family of former slaves. During the days of slavery, his father, William Poole Sr., worked in the cotton farms as a sharecropper. After the abolition of slavery, he became a Baptist preacher. His mother, Mariah Hall, also worked as a sharecropper and looked after her big household that had 13 children to take care of.
Elijah, born Elijah Robert Poole, belonged to a devoted Christian family. At the age of 9, he had to drop out of the school to start making money as a sharecropper just like his parents. His other siblings also followed suit. The family was poverty-stricken, and the only way to see food on their plates each evening was to ignore their education and start working. Elijah left home at the age of 16 and worked several jobs to look after himself.
He married Clara Evans in 1917. At that time, the former Confederate States, such as Georgia, were facing a troubled time. Slavery had just been abolished, but it was still tough for the former slaves to make a decent living. It resulted in the First Great Migration, as many black families left the South to look for more opportunities elsewhere.
Talking about his teenage experiences in Georgia, Elijah stated that he had witnessed enough brutality on the blacks to last him a thousand years. Without himself being aware of it, the seed of hatred toward white supremacy had already been sown in his psyche.
In the early 1920s, the entire Poole household moved to Michigan. The American economy was hit hard after the First World War. Thus, it became very difficult for the family to find respectable work. The hardships continued through the 1920s and the 1930s. He worked in an auto factory in Detroit, until he met Wallace D. Fard.
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Nation of Islam
In the early 1930s, Elijah became increasingly interested in the black movements, and upon the insistence of his wife, he attended a speech by Islamic preacher Wallace D. Fard. It was 1931, and Fard’s speech had a deep impact on Elijah. Following this, he convinced his entire family to follow the path of Islam.
Fard, the founder and leader of the ‘Temple of Islam,’ inspired by Elijah’s enthusiasm, gave him the post of a minister and honored him with the title ‘Karriem.’ His name was later changed to “Muhammad” and he was made the supreme minister. Speaking about changing his last name, Elijah stated that “Poole” was the name of the slaver who had kept his grandparents and that it was never his actual family name.
Elijah quickly rose through the ranks and became Fard’s right-hand man and an essential part of the ‘Temple of Islam.’ For the next few years, he was given in-depth knowledge about their aims and aspirations. A wave of change was being felt in the American landscape, as the Muslim communities started opening religious centers and several businesses that catered to the black and Muslim communities.
Following extensive work by Elijah, their community in Detroit grew rapidly and Elijah was soon made their leader. Soon, the ‘Temple of Islam’ was renamed as the ‘NOI.’ Elijah and Fard continued their comradeship until 1934, when Fard disappeared. The same year, the ‘NOI’ started its very own newspaper named ‘Final Call to Islam’ and preached about their visions to grow more followers.
The ‘University of Islam’ (UI) was subsequently promoted, and several followers enrolled their children into the ‘UI,’ ignoring the public school systems. It resulted in a clash between the ‘NOI’ followers and the Boards of Education of Detroit and Chicago. Violence erupted, and when the situation became uncontrollable and several UI board members were jailed, the ‘NOI’ backed out. The university, however, stayed up and running.
After the disappearance of Fard, the group was divided into many parts, with several potential leaders claiming their right to the leadership. One of his younger brothers also turned against Elijah for the same. Sensing a threat to his life, Elijah moved to Chicago with his family and founded four temples dedicated to the ‘NOI.’
He was an extremist and banned the members of the ‘NOI’ from indulging in any behavior that went against the teachings of Prophet Muhammad. The members were not allowed to drink or smoke, could not eat pork, and had to dress conservatively. Grooming was made a necessity. He also preached about being the prophet and said that the black people were the original human beings and that the whites were provided with power by Allah just for a while. He also read many books recommended to him by Fard.
In 1942, Elijah was arrested for the violation of draft laws during the Second World War. He was also charged with manipulation of his followers, as he turned them against joining American forces. As a result, he was held in a federal prison in Milan, Michigan, for four years.
For the next two decades, Elijah’s influence weakened, and he lost his hold on the ‘NOI.’ Several of his competitors proved themselves to be a lot more educated, talented, and ferocious. One of them was Malcolm X, one of the most notorious men of the 20th century. Malcolm led the ‘New York Temple’ but in the mid-1960s, he formed his own movement. He was assassinated in 1965.
Death & Legacy
Elijah Muhammad died of congestive heart failure on February 25, 1975, in Mercy Hospital in Chicago. He had eight children. One of his sons, Warith Deen Muhammad, was supposed to be the next leader of the group.
By the time of his death, Elijah had converted the ‘NOI’ from a small religious group to a full-fledged enterprise with more than 250,000 members. The group owned banks, restaurants, stores, and schools in about 46 cities of the country.
Several future Islamic preachers, such as Muhammad Ali and Louis Farrakhan, grew under his mentorship. His son Warith took charge of the ‘NOI,’ following his death. In 1976, Warith disbanded the ‘NOI’ and established the ‘American Society of Muslims.’