Imam Warith Deen Mohammed (1933-2008)
Imam Warith Deen Mohammed, leader of the largest constituent of Muslims in America, died on September 9 at age 74. After inheriting the Nation of Islam community in 1975 from his father, Elijah Muhammad, and edging out the fiery Louis Farrakhan, he instituted a series of reforms. He abandoned racial supremacy, dropped the name Nation of Islam, adopted a more orthodox Islam and ended centralized rule in favor of congregational independence. In 1977, Farrakhan broke away to reestablish the Nation of Islam with its traditional racist doctrines and only a fraction of the membership joined him.
For three decades, Imam Mohammed built a large network of mosques, schools and businesses in the United State emphasizing Muslim tolerance and advancing the ideas of peace and interfaith dialogue. He was deeply committed to building bridges between African-American Muslims and immigrants from the Middle East and Asia. He was a “bridge builder” with Christian, Jewish and Islamic clergy in working to keep the lines of dialogue open as the only certain path to peace. In 1977 he invited his close friend Chiara Lubich (founder of the Focolare Movement) to address more than 3,000 of his followers at the Malcolm Shabazz Mosque in Harlem, New York. A year later, he joined a study mission for Jewish, Catholic and Muslim religious leaders to Poland and Rome, led by the Center for Christian-Jewish Understanding of Sacred Heart University. In 1999, he was elected as an international president in the U.S. for the World Conference of Religion and Peace. Following “9/11”, Imam Mohammed denounced the terrorist attacks on the United States as “un-Islamic and evil.”
Imam Mohammed was a powerful force for peace and fearless in facing down Islamic extremists who he believed betrayed the essential identity of the Muslim faith as one of tolerance and compassion. His leadership in promoting genuine dialogue and his courage in rejecting extremists with Islam have made an unparalleled contribution to building respect for Islamic life in America.