The Nation of Islam was founded in Detroit, Michigan in 1930. It is a "messianic-nationalist sect" whose tenets focus on the spiritual and material elevation of black people and black culture, according to the Encyclopedia of Religion and Society. The Nation of Islam emphasizes the historical and ongoing exploitation of blacks by the Caucasian West, and asserts that it strives to follow "the path of a new spiritual culture and civilization of complete harmony and peace, one of refinement in the pursuit of happiness and eternal joy in the Supreme Knowledge of God and the Science of everything in life." While the Nation of Islam describes itself on its official website as a peaceful religious movement predicated on the principles of the "Brotherhood of Islam," others, such as the Anti-Defamation League, characterize the Nation of Islam as a racist, black supremacist and anti-Semitic organization.

History

The Nation of Islam was founded by Wallace Fard Muhammad, who was later deified by some of his followers as the messiah, sent to lead blacks out of servitude and oppression. After his disappearance in 1934, the leadership of the group was taken over by Elijah Poole, better known as Elijah Muhammad. Under Muhammad, the Nation of Islam advocated a puritanical code of behavior and stressed the importance of an independent black nation within the United States. In the early 1960s, Muhammad collaborated with Malcolm Little, better known as Malcolm X, and the Nation of Islam gained international prominence. However, the differing racial and political views of Malcolm X and Muhammad led to a schism in the movement, the climax of which was the assassination of the former in 1965. Muhammad died in 1975, and the Nation of Islam was led by his son, Warith Deen Muhammad, under whose leadership the movement became less radical and more racially inclusive. In 1979, Louis Farrakhan assumed the leadership and re-introduced some of its more radical racial principles.

Founding Beliefs

Wallace Fard founded the Nation of Islam on the premise that America's blacks were descended from an ancient founding Asiatic race, part of the lost tribe of Shabazz, originally from Mecca in the Middle East, but later exiled to Africa and then captured and enslaved in America for several centuries. The Nation of Islam hails Fard as a messianic figure -- he identified himself, according to the group's website, as the "Mahdi," a redeemer figure from the tradition of Islam -- whose mission was to bring peace, justice and righteousness to the world. Elijah Muhammad became a disciple of Fard's, assuming the leadership of the group and promoting an agenda of black independence -- a separate path of cultural, political and spiritual development -- predicated on the fundamental incompatibility of the black and white races. When Muhammad's son Warith Deen became the leader, he shifted the group away from its more eclectic and heterogeneous beliefs -- for instance, that the world is trillions of years old and that the white race was created by an evil scientist -- toward traditional Islam.

Principles and Practices

The Nation of Islam advocates a strict code of behavior, predicated on Islamic principles, that excludes the consumption of pork, coffee, tobacco and alcohol. It asserts high moral standards, and values education, modesty and manners, according to the sect's official website. It also espouses a traditional definition of family and family roles. The Nation of Islam ascribes to the five pillars of Islam -- belief in God's oneness, prayer, charity, fasting and pilgrimage -- and has built a number of mosques throughout North America.

Controversy

The Nation of Islam has been characterized as a racist organization by the ADL and others, based on its philosophy of racial separation. The sect's fundamental tenets -- the "Muslim Program" outlined by Elijah Muhammad, as it appears on the official website of the Nation of Islam -- include not only demands for equality, freedom and justice for blacks, but also prohibitions on interracial marriage, separate education systems for blacks and whites, and a separate territory for blacks in the southern United States. In its most recent incarnation, the Nation of Islam under Louis Farrakhan has been accused of promulgating an anti-Semitic viewpoint and has published literature such as "The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews," which posits a Jewish economic and political conspiracy against blacks.