In the Name of Elijah Muhammad: Louis Farrakhan and The Nation of Islam

In the Name of Elijah Muhammad: Louis Farrakhan and The Nation of Islam

3.6 3
by Mattias Gardell

View All Available Formats & Editions

In the Name of Elijah Muhammad tells the story of the Nation of Islam—its rise in northern inner-city ghettos during the Great Depression through its decline following the death of Elijah Muhammad in 1975 to its rejuvenation under the leadership of Louis Farrakhan. Mattias Gardell sets this story within the context of African American social history,

…  See more details below


In the Name of Elijah Muhammad tells the story of the Nation of Islam—its rise in northern inner-city ghettos during the Great Depression through its decline following the death of Elijah Muhammad in 1975 to its rejuvenation under the leadership of Louis Farrakhan. Mattias Gardell sets this story within the context of African American social history, the legacy of black nationalism, and the long but hidden Islamic presence in North America. He presents with insight and balance a detailed view of one of the most controversial yet least explored organizations in the United States—and its current leader.
Beginning with Master Farad Muhammad, believed to be God in Person, Gardell examines the origins of the Nation. His research on the period of Elijah Muhammad’s long leadership draws on previously unreleased FBI files that reveal a clear picture of the bureau’s attempts to neutralize the Nation of Islam. In addition, they shed new light on the circumstances surrounding the murder of Malcolm X. With the main part of the book focused on the fortunes of the Nation after Elijah Muhammad’s death, Gardell then turns to the figure of Minister Farrakhan. From his emergence as the dominant voice of the radical black Islamic community to his leadership of the Million Man March, Farrakhan has often been portrayed as a demagogue, bigot, racist, and anti-Semite. Gardell balances the media’s view of the Nation and Farrakhan with the Nation’s own views and with the perspectives of the black community in which the organization actively works. His investigation, based on field research, taped lectures, and interviews, leads to the fullest account yet of the Nation of Islam’s ideology and theology, and its complicated relations with mainstream Islam, the black church, the Jewish community, extremist white nationalists, and the urban culture of black American youth, particularly the hip-hop movement and gangs.

Read More

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“A unique and unprecedented view of the enigma of Louis Farrakhan. In putting it together, Gardell has masterfully interwoven the information from an impressive collection of documents not treated by other scholars. His access to Farrakhan and the information make this a very special study.”—Yvonne Haddad, author of Muslims in America

“An outstanding work, In the Name of Elijah Muhammad provides an in-depth analysis of the most recent changes in leadership and structure of the Nation of Islam. Gardell’s theological/ideological discussion is brilliant and insightful, while the chapter on the FBI’s counterintelligence program on the Nation of Islam is a stroke of genius. Gardell’s research is comprehensive, well documented, and powerful.”—Clifton E. Marsh, author of From Black Muslims to Muslims

Product Details

Duke University Press Books
Publication date:
The C. Eric Lincoln Series on the Black Experience
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.25(h) x (d)

Read an Excerpt

In the Name of Elijah Muhammad

Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam

By Mattias Gardell

Duke University Press

Copyright © 1996 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-8243-0


Restoration of Dignity: The Rise of Black Nationalism

This chapter will discuss the black nationalist tradition that provides a significant ideological background for the Nation of Islam. Wilson J. Moses defined the years 1850 to 1925 as its "golden age," as this period "saw the flourishing of all the major black nationalists, with one exception—Elijah Muhammad." With the addition of Muhammad's successor, Minister Louis Farrakhan, this is a valid statement. It also points out the direction in which the legacy of black nationalism was to be cultivated. After the climax represented by the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) prior to the imprisonment of its founder, Marcus Garvey, the central tenets of classic black nationalism were developed by religious preachers of various movements, the most successful being the Nation of Islam.

Black to Basics In spite of their disagreements and differences in character and perspective, the different proponents of black nationalism operating during the classic period share some essential basics on a more general and abstract level, as has been convincingly shown by Moses. He argues that classic black nationalism was "absolutist, civilizationist, elitist, and based on Christian humanism." Though radical in its call for black political empowerment, the ideology was predominantly conservative in regard to traditional values articulated in mainstream American culture. The path toward liberation was envisioned as an emulation of European civilization, including its institutions of education and industry. Black nationalism was based on an organic view of races, derived from contemporary Western theories about races as different "personalities." The race was seen as an authoritarian, structured entity with specific features, differentiating it from the other race personalities interacting on the global stage of world history. A notion of cyclical time frequently added a mystical dimension to world history, an idea that was to become fundamental in the later religious nationalist creeds.

The concepts of race and nation differed considerably from their definitions in the late twentieth century. In the black nationalist usage, the distinction between race and nation was frequently blurred, due in part to the unique situation of the African Americans. Descendants from a wide variety of African peoples and cultures merged into a "nation" during the centuries of slavery. Over time a pan-African American identity was formed based on a shared social history commenced in the holds of trans-Atlantic and inter-American cargo ships. As race became a factor determining social, economic, and political status, it also became a criterion for the black nation in America.

Black nationalists were influenced by the nineteenth century's scientific and romantic European, especially German, discourse on race. Prior to the rediscovery of the work of the biologist Gregor Johann Mendel, founder of the modern theory of genetics, race had a wider meaning. Its definitions were generally in line with the German Volk and owed much to the Pan-German völkisch tradition. The race transcended biology and acquired national romantic meanings of a spiritual, psychological, and cultural kind. Race solidarity was organic, and by "nature" members of a race were believed to share mental and spiritual qualities, from which shared ambitions and a common destiny were derived. Besides physical features, criteria today applied to define nation, ethnicity, and culture were employed. In his 1897 essay, "The Conservation of Races," prominent black nationalist W. E. B. Du Bois identified eight races in the world, using language, religion, geography, and history as criteria: "[The eight races] are the Slavs of Eastern Europe, the Teutons of middle Europe, the English of Great Britain and America, the Romance nations of Southern and Western Europe, the Negroes of Africa and America, the Semitic people of Western Asia and Northern Africa, the Hindoos of Central Asia and the Mongolians of Eastern Asia." Black nationalism offered solutions to the problem of identity so crucial for post-Emancipation black discourse. Caught up in the peculiar position of being American but not American, African but not African, black nationalists suggested various concepts for their own national identity, none of which so far has been received with universal agreement. The heated debate over whether or not they should be called Negroes, Colored or Blacks, Negro-Saxons, Anglo-Africans, Euro-Africans, Afro-Americans, African-Americans, or, most recently, African Americans, highlights the emotional significance of the dilemma.

Some tendencies of black nationalism have emphasized one side of the bipolar identity at the expense, to a certain degree, of the other. There is one category of nationalist ideologies that underlines the importance of physical and/or cultural repatriation; this move toward separatism has never been exclusive but has always been opposed by advocates that stress the American side of the identity. A back-to-Africa agenda thus cannot be, as sometimes has been suggested, the criterion for black nationalism. Many spokespersons have agitated for equality in a multiracial United States, while at the same time stressing the qualities of their distinct black national identity.

Black religious nationalists advance the race-organism thesis by adding divine intention to the meaning of its existence. Generally, the African American is said to be of the "chosen people," created in His likeness. The aboriginal African culture is seen as the cradle of civilization, where it all began. For various reasons, not infrequently due to past transgressions against God's will, blacks lost their leading position among other races. Colonization and slavery are presented as hard but necessary parts of a greater divine plan in which blacks are predestined to reascend as the guides of mankind. Black religious nationalists have championed alternative concepts for their own people that reflect the perceived divine meaning of existence. In the United States movements can be found that advocate that African Americans properly should be named Ethiopians (African Orthodox Church, Rastafarians, and others), Moors (the Moorish Science Temple), Jews (various black Hebrew organizations), Nubians (the Ansaaru Allah Community), and Bilalians (the American Muslim Mission). The Nation of Islam, which argues that they are the original black Asiatic man, is an early proponent of this tradition.

Classic black nationalism held the concept of civilization as a central tenet. The word had become increasingly popular in the academic discourse since its introduction in the eighteenth century. Even though the concept of civilization acquired different meanings in the Anglo-Saxon, French, and German vocabularies, it quickly became diffused as an honorific label, colored with pride as the hallmark of advanced nations. In popular usage it became equated with European culture and society, and thereby became related to the theory of evolutionism. Beginning with its breakthrough in the late nineteenth century, evolutionism came to dominate the academic understanding of man and society for several decades, which is why it also had a direct bearing on black nationalist theoreticians.

Evolutionism was formulated in a time of unsurpassed European optimism. Mankind was believed to be close to reaching its predestined stage of perfection with the help of omnipotent science. The intelligentsia was heralded as the vanguard of civilization, able to solve the mysteries of the universe and to pave the way for a new world in which the liberated rational man would be established. The theoretical roots of evolutionism received nourishment from Enlightenment thought, the Hegelian view of history, and Comtean positivism. But the history of ideas cannot be isolated or used as the sole explanation for the development of theories. To reach a more complete understanding, we have to move beyond the universe of ideas and examine the world political scene.

Evolutionism originated in the context of European imperialism and colonialism, especially their conquest of Africa. The European superpowers incessantly forced their way into "new" areas with their military and commercial spearheads. During this expansion, a stream of "new" peoples were "discovered," confronted, and, in some manner, subjugated. Colonialism and its slave economies created a need to legitimize this new world order. Two trends related to this process of legitimation are significant for our purposes: the anthropological theory of a hierarchy of races and the racial reinterpretation of Christianity. Evolutionism made its breakthrough with the works of Herbert Spencer and Edward B. Tylor, a development that concluded the previous debate about whether or not the newly subjugated peoples in the outskirts of Europe were at all human. The differences between "them" and "us" were explained by the same process of evolution that Darwin outlined in the field of natural science. Mankind had gone through a series of evolutionary stages, and living proof could be found along the route of European expansion. Technological development was equated with mental evolution: the intellect of the "savage" was as primitive as his tools. The researchers projected their findings back into prehistoric times and made the contemporary cultures an image of their own cultural origin. From this primeval "savage," "primitive," or "natural" (as opposed to cultural) stage man had gone through a mental evolution, reaching ever higher stages and finally resulting in the pinnacle of culture: the European civilization as the crown of creation.

These imperial ambitions were accompanied by an erasure of African influences on Christianity. The Middle Ages had black Madonnas, and artists could use dark tints to depict Jesus. Now, the complexion of God, the angels, Jesus, Mary, and the apostles became increasingly more European. The West Asian Jesus of Nazareth turned into a blond, blue-eyed white man, with a mission to save the peoples of the world. The African fathers of the church—Clement, Origen, Tertullian, Cyprian, Dionysos, Athanasius, Didymus, Augustine, and Cyril—were presented as "Greeks" and the Hellenic civilization was said to owe nothing to African impulses. The importance of the early African churches in Ethiopia and Egypt was diminished, just as the pre-Christian Egyptian civilization was de-Africanized. Troublesome facts, like the existence of African saints, were explained by theological rationalizations. Thus, the black saint, St. Benedict the Moor, was said to have been originally a white man, who prayed to God to make him so ugly that he would be rescued from all temptations by the opposite sex. God granted his sincere wish and made him black.

Light and dark is a basic dichotomy applied in Christianity to symbolize the distinction between the realm of God and Satan. What is good and innocent is "white" and what is evil and cunning is "black." We speak of a "white lie," "innocence as white as a lily," and "white magic." But a "black cat" brings bad luck, an evil soul is "black," and when the stock exchange crashed it was called a "black Monday." This kind of color symbolism acquired new meanings when it was applied to people with white and black complexions. To explain the diversity of races descending from a created single couple, morality was associated with skin color. Black skin was a divine punishment for past transgressions. Blackness as the curse invoked upon Ham and his son Canaan was sometimes said to be a mild form of leprosy with an excess of pigment as the only symptom. Ham and Canaan as the cursed progenitors of the black race are analogous to Cain, who allegedly was marked by God with blackness, which was in turn inherited by his offspring. So pervasive was the merging of moral quality with complexion that a good black man was said to have a white soul. Blacks, unlike whites, required spiritual bodies of a different hue in the Resurrection. They would be cured of their deformity and rise in perfected white.

The precolonial existence of Islam and Christianity in Africa was ignored, as was the content of the various African religions, and so the inhabitants could be presented as living their life in barbarous fear and superstition. The Europeans became deputies of God, obliged to spread the light on the dark African continent. Both trends converged in the legitimation of the European presence in Africa and of slavery as an institution. The colonial power could be presented as the benevolent father, who in his mercifulness engaged in civilizing and developing these savage people, blessing them with his refined culture and religion. A few fortunate individuals were rescued from the dark continent to be raised in Christian surroundings. Slavery and colonialism were thus depicted as the "white man's burden," as it was lyricized by Rudyard Kipling, the great poet of English imperialism:

Take up the white man's burden
Send forth the best ye breed
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives' need.

These basic arguments of legitimation were absorbed by the thinking of leading black nationalists at the time. European culture was highly valued, and Africa was seen as almost helplessly underdeveloped and barbarous; thus, colonialism was believed to be somewhat justified. "They do not seek to repress the Africans," Booker T. Washington explained in Berlin in 1910, speaking of German colonialism, "but rather to help them that they may be more useful to themselves." The Africans in America had to be civilized, and different programs for racial improvement were envisioned. Bishop Turner argued that God temporarily allowed the enslavement of Africans because they needed to be civilized, but he also condemned the Anglo-Americans for defaulting from their part in God's project: "We gave the white man our labor, yes! In return he should have educated us, taught us to read and write, at least, and seen that Africa was well supplied with missionaries." Booker T. Washington condemned slavery as such, but in underlining its indirect benefits he nevertheless reflected proslavery argumentation: "We must acknowledge that, notwithstanding the cruelty and moral wrong of slavery, the ten million Negroes inhabiting this country, who themselves or whose ancestors went through the school of American slavery, are in a stronger and more hopeful condition, materially, intellectually, morally, and religiously, than is true of any equal number of black people in any other portion of the globe." Racial self-improvement and civilizing were key themes in the program of Booker T. Washington (1856–1915). Freed by the Act of Emancipation in his early childhood, Washington realized that liberation required more than formal freedom. He improved his personal conditions through education and hard work and envisioned such a path of progress as the only one possible for the black community. On July 4, 1881, Washington inaugurated the Tuskegee Institute in Macon County, Alabama. The pedagogy applied at this school stressed the combination of manual labor, industrial training, and intellectual learning. Washington believed that a meaningful education should teach practical skills and civilized manners: "We wanted to teach the students how to bathe; how to care for their teeth and clothing. We wanted to teach them what to eat, and how to eat it properly, and how to care for their rooms. Aside from this we wanted to give them such a practical knowledge of some one industry, together with the spirit of industry, thrift, and economy, that they would be sure of knowing how to make a living after they had left us. We wanted to teach them to study actual things instead of mere books alone." In the subsequent growth of the Tuskegee Institute, the students themselves cleared the ground and constructed the buildings. They founded industries like brick making and wagon production, planted their own crops, and raised their own cattle. In all things Tuskegee strived to be self-sufficient and beneficial to the surrounding community. Acquiring useful knowledge would make blacks wanted and respected in society, and thus automatically lead to an improvement of race relations. An industrious race of morally conservative and well-behaved individuals could accommodate perfectly the prevailing Anglo-American culture. In the eyes of Booker T. Washington, such blacks would make a positive contribution to, rather than endanger, the social fabric of Southern society. "In all things purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as a hand in all things essential to mutual progress," said Washington, speaking on race relations at the Atlanta Cotton Exposition in 1895. In the same speech he played upon the Americans' xenophobic fears of new immigrant waves and underlined the proven loyalty of the blacks. Advancing his argument, Washington doomed agitation for social equality as "the extremest folly," claiming that progress and equality only could be "the result of severe and constant struggle" for self-improvement, and that "no race that has anything to contribute to the markets of the world is long in any degree ostracized."


Excerpted from In the Name of Elijah Muhammad by Mattias Gardell. Copyright © 1996 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Read More

Meet the Author

Mattias Gardell is Associate Professor in the Department of Theology at Uppsala University, Sweden.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >

In the Name of Elijah Muhammad: Louis Farrakhan and The Nation of Islam 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not a truthful account. It is biased. I wish I could get my money back. Read the "Circle of Six" to get the truth about the 1972, Mosque #7 incident with the NYPD. Farrakhan knows him because the author wrote his Dissertation in Sweden about Farrakhan.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The book is well written and discusses important events that occured in our country. The NOI is a very positive organization and ISLAM is all about peace. The BIBLE was not even around when JESUS was around. think about it