Nation of Islam: Cult of the Black Muslims/Chapter 4
Absolute ruler over the NOI is the "Messenger of Allah," Elijah Muhammad, the 67-year-old former Elijah Poole from Sandersville, Georgia. He formulates and approves all NOI policy and decisions, has the entire funds of the cult at his disposal, and possesses considerable valuable properties throughout the country.
This small, frail, seemingly meek and humble man, who has only a fourth-grade education, is a master at creating mood, myth, and mystery. Elijah possesses that "something" mentioned in an essay on leaders attributed to General Charles de Gaulle, for "Allah's Messenger" seems to understand that "there can be no prestige without mystery," that, "in the designs, the demeanor and the mental operations of a leader, there must always be a 'something' which others cannot altogether fathom, which puzzles them, stirs them and rivets their attention."
Never appearing before the public without his black pillbox hat generously encrusted with jewelled stars and crescent, Elijah seems to have a touch of the patient Oriental in his face. He is not a dynamic speaker. In his public lectures, his rather rasping voice drones on in monotony. But he seems to know when to shake his audience into excitement. Suddenly he will electrify them with a tirade against the "white devils," the Government, or nonbelieving "so-called Negroes."
From every speaker's rostrum on which he appears before the public, Elijah practices brinkmanship tactics to the frenzied delight of his audience, some of whom frequently answer his veiled accusations with, "That's right" or "Praise Allah." They "get the message" even as he carefully refrains from specific language which could cause him to be arrested for "incitement" or "advocacy."
Financially and materially, Elijah has done well for himself as the "Messenger of Allah." With b6
b7C and at times some of his eight children, Elijah resided for many years in a 19-room, elaborately furnished home in Chicago. Besides this $75,000 residence, he owns also other properties in Chicago and elsewhere. In Chicago, an apartment building and a group of other buildings owned by Elijah are valued at more than $200,000.
"Messenger of Allah"
Though the headquarters of the NOI remain in Chicago, Elijah spends most of his time in Phoenix, where he is served by a chauffeur, cook, and several female secretaries. Involvements between Elijah and several of his young, unmarried secretaries have resulted in considerable embarrassing publicity to this leader of a cult that claims to have raised the morals of its members through its strong condemnation of adultery, fornication, lying, stealing, smoking, et cetera.
In July, 1964, in Los Angeles, two of these former secretaries filed paternity suits naming Elijah as the father of their children. One of them claimed Elijah had fathered her three children and the other claimed one child by Elijah. In Chicago, in July, 1962, two other former secretaries caused a much publicized incident, when each of them left her baby on the front lawn of Elijah's residence. Each claimed that Elijah had fathered her child and demanded that he continue support. Since 1957, several other young secretaries have been similarly involved with Elijah and have borne his children. The situation has become so notorious that members of some of Elijah's temples jokingly refer to it as one of the occupational hazards of serving as a secretary to Elijah.
b7C his daughters, and his sons have been aware of Elijah's personal misconduct for several years but because of their complete economic dependence upon him have had no choice but to ignore his actions. They have been completely engaged in and supported by NOI activities throughout their lives. Most of them have held some leadership position in the cult hierarchy and because of this have fared well economically--Elijah has been generous in supplying all their wants.
Until the defections of Elijah b6
b7C the NOI hierarchy had predominantly included most members of Elijah's immediate family. Still holding leadership positions are , and .
b7Ccult and gain support of persons abroad for the NOI. has had an affair with an unmarried young woman who bore him a child and with whom he is constantly having trouble concerning the support of this child.
b7C of the FOI and has been employed at the temple bakery and grocery in Chicago for years. failed to register under the Selective Service Act, was arrested by the FBI, and later registered as a conscientious objector; however, his local draft board advised he was not acceptable for military service as he was a "marginal literate." There are reports that he heads a young "strong-arm group" of the FOI in the Chicago Temple, which has on several occasions assaulted and beaten NOI members who were being disciplined.
b7C had three children by her first husband and two by She is For several years, she had of the Muslim Girls Training (MGT); but, according to she was temporarily suspended by Elijah because she broke cult rules by continuing to contact b6
b7C after his defection.
b7Cyears old, are still considered Muslims though they are not at present in leadership positions.
years old, married to his second wife, Elijah's of the FOI. has been a Muslim for many years, and he served about two and a half years in a Federal prison for violation of the Selective Service Act. He is now the strong, much feared disciplinarian of the NOI. Elijah depends more and more upon who acts also as a trustee for the NOI.
The only nonfamily member among Elijah's national leaders is known in the NOI as b6
b7CElijah's son and grandson, when they left the cult, advised that is an opportunist who is in the cult only for the financial opportunities and status he can maintain through cooperation with Elijah. Both claimed that he is completely untrustworthy, has misappropriated cult funds, and is "loose morally."
Though troubles have erupted among members of the cult on many occasions in the past, none had publicly involved the solidarity of the national hierarchy. Many people have wondered what caused the rash of defections and expulsions of former leaders of the cult during the past year. It would be difficult to state for certain, because it must be remembered that the dissident former members and leaders who later loudly condemned Elijah and his present hierarchy for their many faults, until recently, were all among his top supporters and recruiters.
But Elijah does have trouble in his "royal family." The first outward signs of a growing dissidence were revealed after Malcolm X made a statement on December 1, 1963, characterizing Presideut John F. Kennedy's assassination as an instance of "the chickens coming home to roost." He had told a cheering NOI audience in New York City that this did not make him sad, it made him glad. Elijah feared the publicity resulting from Malcolm's virulent statements would present to a sorrowing Nation an image of his cult which might lead to trouble for him. A few days later, therefore, he announced that, because of Malcolm's statements, he would not be permitted to make further public speeches. For a month, many furtive conferences were held between Malcolm and members of Elijah's hierarchy. Differences became more pronounced, and in early January, 1964, Elijah removed Malcolm as minister of Temple No. 7, in New York City. Malcolm, on March 8, 1964, publicly announced his complete break with Elijah and the NOI.
On many previous occasions, Malcolm had gloated over disasters to white people without incurring censure from Elijah for his remarks. For example, on the occasion of the crash of an airliner in France killing 120 Georgia tourists, Malcolm spoke of the tragedy as "a beautiful thing that has happened." There are indications that Malcolm's remark made following the President's assassination was not the real cause but rather the excuse for Elijah to expel Malcolm, who may have been acquiring an NOI stature that made Elijah jealous and uncomfortable. Over the years, the public press had devoted more and more coverage to Malcolm because of his violent denouncements of white people in his many public appearances--in speeches throughout the country, during radio and television interviews, and in statements made to the press.
More and more importance was attributed to his position in the cult--many articles reported that Malcolm overshadowed Elijah and was taking over the cult from Elijah, who was ill. This caused much concern to Elijah and members of his family. When Elijah was not able to appear at the annual Muslim convention in Chicago on February 26, 1963, and his place was filled by Malcolm, Elijah's family felt Malcolm was too "bossy" and was "grabbing" too much publicity for himself. Resentment and hostility toward Malcolm rapidly increased among various members of Elijah's family.
About this time, Elijahwho had for a long time been considered position, was released from a Federal prison where he had been serving time for his Selective Service violation. Though was on parole and could not engage publicly in cult activities, it became obvious that his attitude toward and other cult leaders had changed considerably from his preprison attitude.
like other ministers had strongly supported all of beliefs. In April, 1960, he was sentenced to three years for failure to report for hospital work as a conscientious objector. During the next three years, made unsuccessful court appeals to keep out of prison. Elijah claims to have spent about $20,000 in these court battles. On November 1, 1961, just three days before entering prison, married his second wife.old, married to his second wife, had been educated at the cult's school, the University of Islam No. 2. Long regarded as Elijah's favorite had acted as a cult minister-at-large and
According toeven before he entered prison he had experienced doubts about some of teachings which he had felt were in opposition to orthodox Muslim teachings. Then, while serving his prison term, he had time to reflect on a statement made by the judge who had sentenced him concerning how he had been "dominated by " He claimed he also wondered about connection with Fard, who claimed was Allah but who, in Fard's writings which had seen, had called himself the "Messenger of Allah."
Upon leaving prison in January, 1963,said he attempted to clarify some of his doubts about and his teachings. He talked to other members of his family concerning behavior but, he said, because of their complete financial dependence on they did nothing.
Though in the Chicago Temple. By January, 1964, word had reached Elijah that and Malcoim had talked together and with others concerning Elijah's relationship with his various secretaries and the misuse of cult funds by Elijah and his hierarchy. For some time though, Elijah took no action against his son.regularly attended NOI and FOI meetings in Chicago, even teaching some classes at the University of Islam, he apparently stirred up much controversy concerning activities, both nationally and
Apparently, Elijahwas one of the cult members who were influenced by the swelling undercurrent in Chicago. during 1963 and until at least May, 1964, when he allied himself with had regularly attended NOI meetings, acted as a lieutenant of the FOI in Muslim Mosque (MM) No. 2, and was of the MM No. 2 clothing store.
In June, 1964,left no doubt concerning his feelings about and the NOI. He went to the Chicago Police on June 23 requesting protection for himself and his . He advised that, at a meeting of the NOI in Chicago on June 21, both had been denounced as "hypocrites" and expelled from the cult for deviating from the teachings of Elijah. Because of this, he felt certain they would be attacked, as knew that other members had been disciplined by beatings delivered by the Chicago Temple's goon squad.
Big headlines in the Negro newspaper, "Chicago Defender," of July 8, 1964, announced the charges of corruption in the NOI brought by both He also said, "I am not referring to any single individual's wrongdoings or corruption; I am referring to Mr. Muhammad and his whole staff. agreed to the accusations against the Muslim hierarchy, telling the paper, "Not only are they true, they are mild."called 'a fake and a fraud."
was publicly denounced as a "hypocrite" in the January 1, 1965, issue of "Muhammad Speaks." Better educated than other members of the family, Elijah had expected while here, to denounce publicly Malcolm X, and other "hypocrites." Instead told a New York newspaper that while he was in Cairo his eyes had been opened. He said his father's "brand" of religion was "a homemade one with its own tight rules and regulations that tend to stifle any criticism of its leader. ' and his family shortly returned to Egypt.
Elijah indeed has had trouble in his "royal family"!
Further confusing the image of Elijah Muhammad and the NOI were events which came to a climax during the last week of February, 1965. Following Malcolm's open break with the NOI in March, 1964, he was outspoken in his opposition to Elijah. He formed two organizations, the Muslim Mosque, Incorporated, and the Organization of Afro-American Unity, which he claimed would better serve the Negro nationalists. Some NOI members left with Malcolm and became members of these new groups. During several extended periods in 1964, Malcolm travelled in many of the African countries. He returned, amid much publicity, to the United States late in 1964 and impressed many with his new image. He appeared to have softened his violent statements although he still openly condemned Elijah and his cult.
Early in 1965, Malcolm began a series of rallies in New York City. On February 21, 1965, just as Malcolm began to speak to a gathering of about 400 Negroes, a disturbance started and several men ran toward the front of the meeting hall firing guns at Malcolm. He was slain instantly. Arrested, and identified by at least one witness as Malcolm's assassins were several Negroes who'in the past had attended NOI functions.
This eventful last week of February, 1965, ended with Elijah's dissidentThe first week of March brought another surprising development. As reported in the Chicago press on March 6, decided to "return to the fold." At a meeting with his plea for reinstatement was accepted.making an appearance at the annual NOI convention at Chicago to ask forgiveness for things he had said about and the NOI. Though, since his expulsion from the cult in June, 1964, was reaccepted into the NOI on the recommendation of
What the future holds for Elijah Muhammad and his organizers cannot be predicted. Among the dissidents, Malcolm's following apparently is being taken over by his; and, while the Uplift Society is now dormant, those who had followed cannot be pleased by his decisions.
The many accusations against Elijah by Malcolm, and will not quickly be forgotten. Feelings between present and former NOI members continue to be strained.