Question: "What is the Nation of Islam?"
Answer: The Nation of Islam is a religious organization based in the United States that encourages black nationalism in the name of Islam. Depending on whom you ask, the Nation of Islam is considered a religion, an arm of Islam, a hate group, or a cult. The Nation of Islam holds to a form of Islam, but it is considered heretical by traditional Muslims. It incorporates aspects of Scientology and many beliefs tied to black supremacy.
The Nation of Islam was started in 1930 by Wali Farad Muhammad (born Wallace Fard) in Detroit, Michigan. Like many others, Fard was highly frustrated with the amount of racial discrimination he faced, and he wanted to create change. However, W. Muhammad chose a very different path than Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who chose to fight racial injustice through the values inherent to nonviolence and Christianity. W. Muhammad decided that Christianity was the religion of “the white man” and thus an integral part of the oppression he and other African-Americans experienced. So W. Muhammad chose to embrace an altered form of Sunni Islam and added many of his own ideas to the belief system he built for the Nation of Islam.
After W. Muhammad’s disappearance in 1934, Elijah Muhammad (born Elijah Poole) took over leadership of the Nation of Islam until his death in 1975. E. Muhammad claimed direct revelation from Allah and instituted the formation of places of worship called temples or mosques. He also called white people “devils,” opposed integration, and preached that Armageddon was when the black man finally conquered the white man. Malcolm X was the Nation of Islam’s most prominent figure during the 1950s, but he split from the group in 1963 and later converted to traditional Sunni Islam. In 1977, after a couple years under the leadership of E. Mohammad’s son, Louis Farrakhan took leadership of the Nation of Islam, and he remains its leader today. In 2010 Farrakhan added aspects of Scientology to the Nation of Islam, specifically Dianetics.
The form of Islam practiced by the Nation of Islam is not generally accepted by the wider Muslim community. In fact, in 1998 the Italian Muslim Association issued a fatwa against the Nation of Islam for its twisting of Islamic doctrine.
The beliefs of the Nation of Islam go far beyond simply encouraging African-Americans to embrace Islam. The Nation of Islam has a number of goals and beliefs that place it in the black supremacist camp. A stated goal of the Nation of Islam is to create an all-black state in which people of African descent can run their own society without people of any other race being involved. In the meantime, the Nation of Islam promotes segregation in the here and now: African-Americans should establish separate schools, places of worship, and businesses. During his time in the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X claimed that black people were genetically superior to white people (he later changed his position).
The Nation of Islam is blatantly anti-Semitic, teaching that, originally, humanity was exclusively black, but then “Yakub” (the biblical Jacob) created the white race using eugenics. W. Muhammad taught that this “new” white race were to be considered devils because of how they were created. Farrakhan is on record making many anti-Jewish statements, and he promotes the theory that the Jews control America in order to corrupt society.
How should Christians respond to the Nation of Islam? We must recognize that the Nation of Islam is not in any way biblical. Its association with Islam and, more recently, Scientology makes it a false religion. Beyond that, the Nation of Islam holds to many dangerous ideologies about human value and race relations that are unacceptable to a Christian understanding of humanity. The Bible teaches that all human life is valuable and therefore racism in all forms is deplorable. The civil rights movement in the USA was and is important, but fighting racism with racism is not right. Holding the same beliefs about racial supremacy and segregation as what started the problem (only now with blacks as the preferred race) is not the answer to the problem of racism.
God desires all people to love each other (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 7:12; John 13:34). No matter our race or the race of those we interact with, we are to treat others with respect and Jesus’ love. The answer to the world’s problems is not one race “winning” over another race; it’s all races humbly recognizing their need for salvation in Jesus Christ.