Elijah Muhammad heads the Black muslim movement in the U.S. after his mentor W. D. Fard mysteriously disappears.
Elijah Muhammad succeeded W. D. Fard as the leader of the Black Muslim movement in the United States. Muhammad was born Elijah Poole in Sandersville, Georgia, in 1897. His father was a Baptist preacher, saw-mill worker, and tenant farmer. Muhammad was a deeply religious and race conscious youth. While employed as a laborer in Georgia in 1923, a white employer cursed him and he decided to move to the North. While living on relief in Detroit, Michigan, during the Great Depression, Muhammad came under the influence of Wallace Fard Muhammad (W. D. Fard), a mysterious silk peddler who had been teaching Blacks that they were members of a superior race, descendants of Muslims from Afro-Asia. Fard claimed to be a messenger from Allah sent to reclaim his lost people and save them from the inferior race of "white devils" who had made their lives so miserable. Christianity, he asserted, was a false religion used by whites to keep Blacks in subjection. Elijah Poole soon became Fard's closest associate and when Fard mysteriously disappeared in 1934, Poole, now known as Elijah Muhammad, took control of the group as "The Messenger of Allah to the Lost-Found Nation of Islam in the Wilderness of North America." Muhammad and his followers refused to bear arms for the United States during World War II, and Muhammad was convicted for encouraging resistance to the draft. He served three and a half years of a five-year sentence in a federal prison before he was released in 1946. Meanwhile, Muslim membership had dropped from a high of about 8,000 under Fard's leadership to 1,000.