African-American Islam Leaders

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The following paper aims to study the biography, religion and the effect of society, caused by such important figures in African-American Islam as Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali and Imam W.D. Mohammad.


Malcolm X is a famous African-American leader, civil rights activist and minister, being a noticeable figure in the Nation of Islam. He expressed his ideas of race pride and black nationalism in the 1950s and ‘60s. Malcolm X, firstly Malcolm Little, was born in Omaha. At his young age, the boy suffered a tragic occurrence with the supposed suicide of his father. Young Malcolm was dropped out of middle school, and then he moved to Boston with the purpose of earning some money. However, the work was neither easy nor legal, since he worked as a drug dealer, gambler and thief on the streets. According to Malcolm (1965), after spending ten years in prison for theft, he became keenly dedicated to continuing his study (p. 9). At the same time, Malcolm’s brother informed him about the teachings of the Nation of Islam (NOI) and stimulated to adopt the Muslim faith. After his release from prison, he became a sincere supporter of Islam. Almost immediately after meeting the leader of the organization, Elijah Muhammad, and agreeing to be the part of the Nation of Islam, he changed his last name to “X” (X, p. 15). Malcolm promptly became the minister of Boston Temple number 11, which was founded by him. Elijah Muhammad Malcolm’s recognized talents and abilities and made him a National Representative of the Nation of Islam (X, p. 23). The public nature of his activities, though, led to the fact that the FBI started paying attention to Malcolm X. According to Malcolm X (1965), in the early 1960’s he was made conscious of complaints of betrayal against Elijah Muhammad. All the women who he was said to have adulterous affairs with were the members of the NOI, and the astonishment, caused by the news evidenced to be a tough exam of his faith (p. 35). Moreover, betrayed by his mentor, Malcolm X felt guilty for leading many people into a dishonest organization. In 90 days, he publicly proclaimed his segregation from the Nation of Islam and created his own religious association – The Muslim Mosque. After a short period of time, Malcolm was a pilgrim in Mecca, where he shared his philosophic and religious beliefs with people from various countries and of various faiths. Having returned to the U.S.A., he actively began the work in the sphere of human rights, independence, actions, etc. A few months later, in Manhattan’s Audubon Ballroom, some people ran to the stage in the course of his speech and killed him (Mamiya, 2017). Malcolm’s work inspired thousands of people all over the world to struggle for social fairness and equality.

Muhammad Ali was a famous boxer, champion, athlete and philanthropist. He was also known for his public position against the Vietnam War and durable struggle with Parkinson’s disease. Ali was born in Louisville in 1942 (Elmonds, 2006, p. 15). His first name was Cassius Marcellus Clay, Sr. However, later he would change his name for Muhammad Ali after joining the Nation of Islam. In the young age, Ali started to train box at a local gym, and what is more, his trainer was a police officer. Muhammad Ali won Olympic Gold and won a fame of an American hero. After some time, Ali became the heavyweight champion of the world. Moreover, Muhammad referred to himself as to “the greatest” and was famous for his unusual metaphors and expressions. For example, once Ali told journalists that he possibly would “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” in the boxing ring (Elmonds, 2006, p. 36). In 1964, he announced his membership in the Nation of Islam. A week later, the leader of the Nation of Islam, Elijah Muhammad, gave Clay a new name – Muhammad Ali. Many people and organizations, including the New York Times, refused to refer to him using this new name. When he was called up to the army in 1967, he refused to serve upon the pretext that he was a working Muslim Minister with religious principles that prohibited him from struggle (Elmonds, 2006, p. 67). Therefore, he was arrested for committing a crime and was instantly deprived of his belt and banned from boxing. Ali returned to the ring in 1971 (Elmonds, 2006, p. 68). Ali’s legendary fight took place in 1974 and was called “ The Rumble in the Jungle”. In 1978, Ali lost his title of the World champion; however, in September he became the only boxer who succeeded in the heavyweight championship for three times (Elmond, 2006, p. 70). Finally, in 1981, after the last loss, the famous boxer pulled out of the sport. In 1984, Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which affected his ability to speak and began ravaging his central nervous system (Elmond, 2006, p. 78). Ali was one of the unparalleled persons who travelled to different countries with peace-making missions, and earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005 (Elmond, 2006, p. 101). Furthermore, he created the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville. Even with the expansion of Parkinson’s disease, Ali kept an active position in the public life of the country. The celebrated boxer and activist died in 2016 in Arizona.

Warith Deen Mohammed, originally Wallace D. Muhammad, was “America’s Imam”, the leader of the Muslims American Experience. Even before his birth, he was predicted to be the leader of the movement. Mohammed was the seventh son of Elijah Muhammad. He was brought up in the tradition of the Nation, and in 1958 he was appointed to the position of the minister of Temple number 12 (“Warith Deen Mohammed”). In 1961, he was sentenced to imprisonment for beating the draft (“Warith Deen Mohammed”). Being dedicated to his father’s beliefs, Mohammed instigated a spiritual journey that took him to orthodox Islam. In 1963, he left the Nation of Islam because of theological conflicts with other frontrunners (“Warith Deen Mohammed”). He left and rejoined the organization several times. However, in 1975, he became the leader of the movement. Mohammed restated the Nation’s teachings, denying the philosophies that blamed and diabolized white people, and rejected that his father was a prophet. After some time, Mohammed gave another name to the organization – the World Community of al-Islam (in 1978 - The American Muslim Mission, in 1985 – The Muslim American Society), and renamed himself to Warith Deen Mohammed, having adapted the imam title (“Warith Deen Mohammed”). He named himself Muslim American Spokesman for Human Salvation and stimulated the communities of all religions to come back to the pureness of his faith and beliefs. Mohammed proved that there was no conflict in the fact that an ordinary American resident is following a Muslim lifestyle. Self-confidence and familiarity with the rules were the leading ideas of his teachings. Mohammad stimulated African Americans to start their own businesses.

In conclusion, the above-mentioned figures made an essential contribution into struggling for African-American culture, beliefs, traditions and especially, Islam religion. They were working for establishing of Muslim life in the United States of America and fought for liberty, independence, justice and equality for Muslims, African Americans and all other people. Their thoughtful characters and deep spiritual beliefs motivated the community to engage with the ideas of self-confidence and religiousness.

This text was written by Ian Myles who is a writing editor at