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Elijah Muhammad and Islam

Herbert Berg

Publication Year: 2009

Elijah Muhammad is arguably the most significant figure in the history of Islam in the United States. Successor to W. D. Fard, the founder of the Nation of Islam, and a mentor to Malcolm X, Elijah Muhammad led the Nation of Islam for over forty years.

In Elijah Muhammad and Islam, Herbert Berg focuses on Elijah Muhammad's religiosity, which is frequently brought into question as the authenticity of the Nation of Islam as "truly Islamic" remains hotly debated. To better comprehend this powerful and controversial figure, Berg contextualizes Elijah Muhammad and his religious approach within the larger Islamic tradition, exploring his use of the Qur'an, his interpretation of Islam, and his relationships with other Muslims. Above all, Berg seeks to understand—not define or label—Muhammad as a Muslim. To do otherwise, he argues, is to misunderstand and distort the man, his teachings, his movement, and his legacy.

Published by: NYU Press


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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p. vii

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p. ix

I wish to acknowledge my indebtedness to all those institutions, scholars, and friends without whom I would not have had the wherewithal to complete this study. Much of my early research was supported by a postdoctoral fellowship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, a summer research stipend from the...

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pp. 1-7

In early 1972 Elijah Muhammad granted a rare interview. Although at the time he seemed to be at the center of a movement beset by inner power struggles and external opposition, the frail and dignified leader of the Nation of Islam sat calmly, allowing sixteen journalists to ask whatever they wished. With poise and in his awkward English, Elijah...

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1. American Islam before Elijah Muhammad

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pp. 9-30

Many Africans who made the Middle Passage were Muslims. The story of how their religion was all but extinguished in the United States is a remarkable one. Just as intriguing is its seemingly spontaneous reappearance under the charismatic but unlearned and unassuming Elijah Muhammad. Although Elijah Muhammad and his Nation of Islam were almost...

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2. The Life of Elijah Muhammad

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pp. 31-52

As a young man, he experienced the worst of southern racism and eyewitnessed two separate lynchings. Later, he would be part of the Great Migration of over a million African Americans to the northern United States to escape the racism and poverty of the rural South. He discovered, along with the other migrants, that the North was also rife...

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3. Elijah Muhammad and the Qur'an

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pp. 53-73

The question of whether the religious movement Elijah Muhammad led for so long is "Islamic" is a challenging one. Were one to focus on doctrines such as the incarnation of Allah in the form of Fard Muhammad, Elijah Muhammad's own status as the Messenger of Allah, the denial of the resurrection and contemporary nature of heaven and...

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4. The Major "Islamic" Themes in Elijah Muhammad's Quranic Commentary

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pp. 75-104

Since the Qur'an is thought by most Muslims to be the speech of Allah in the form of a book (a belief that closely parallels Christian theology based on John 1:1-14, which sees Jesus as the Word of God in the form of a person), the Qur'an is the primary source of all Islamic beliefs, practices, and laws. So, were one to question the validity of any of Elijah...

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5. Elijah Muhammad, Other Muslims, and Islam

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pp. 105-125

Was Elijah Muhammad a Muslim? Can the Nation of Islam be considered part of the larger Islamic tradition? These questions vex scholars and Muslims alike. A broad definition of Islam might begin with the Five Principles of Islam: belief in Allah, angels, prophets, scriptures, and judgment day. Obviously, Elijah Muhammad's teachings are at variance...

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6. The Legacy of Elijah Muhammad

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pp. 127-146

Drew Ali, Fard Muhammad, and especially Elijah Muhammad, because they were located so far away from the traditional centers of Islam, had the unique opportunity to define and redefine Islam for many years without significant interference from Muslims with more traditional understandings of Islam. They seized this freedom to experiment with...


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pp. 147-175


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pp. 177-186


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pp. 187-190

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About the Author

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p. 191

Herbert Berg is Professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religion at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. He is the author of The Development of Exegesis in Early Islam: The Debate over the Authenticity of Muslim Literature from the Formative Period and editor...

E-ISBN-13: 9780814789971
E-ISBN-10: 0814789978
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814791134
Print-ISBN-10: 0814791131

Page Count: 208
Publication Year: 2009

OCLC Number: 429905570
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Elijah Muhammad and Islam

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Black Muslims -- Doctrines.
  • Elijah Muhammad, 1897-1975.
  • Islam -- United States -- History.
  • African American Muslims -- United States -- History.
  • Black Muslims -- Relations -- Islam.
  • Islam -- Relations -- Black Muslims.
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