Islamic Studies

W.D. Mohammed: A Witness for True Islam

by John L. Esposito

Originally published at News Week


The passing of Imam Warith Deen (W. D.) Mohammed is not only a loss for his community and the world of Islam but also for all of us. He was truly an extraordinary man and religious leader, a charismatic figure whose profile seemed to defy the usual definition of the term. Indeed throughout the years the militant and more physically imposing Louis Farrakhan, who in fact enjoyed far, far fewer followers, managed to overshadow W. D. Mohammed in media coverage.

I first met Warith Deen at a small Catholic-Muslim gathering and discussion group hosted by the then Cardinal of Baltimore. The Vatican’s top official for inter-religious dialogue was also present. Two memories stand out. At first, as I sat at the discussion table, I couldn’t recognize who W. D. Mohammed was. There was little in the way he carried himself, spoke or acted that signaled that there was a prominent personality at the table. He neither dominated nor pontificated. Second, after the meeting when I was out on the street on my way home, I noticed an incredible entourage of cars with an imposing police escort. I was sure, it was the Vatican’s cardinal being whisked to the airport and accorded the security he warranted. As the entourage passed, there was W. D. Mohammed in the main limo.

Warith Deen Mohammed (then known as Wallace D. Mohammed) became the Supreme Minister of the Nation of Islam upon the death of his father, Elijah Muhammad in February 1975. Soon after the son set out on what would become a substantial reformation of the doctrines and organization of the Nation. He integrated the Nation within the American Muslim community, the broader American society, and the global Islamic community.

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