Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Muslim Leader Warith Deen Mohammed Dies at the Age of 74

Muslim leader Warith Deen Mohammed dies

By Niraj Warikoo
Free Press Staff Writer
September 9, 2008

Imam Warith Deen Mohammed, a major Islamic leader in the U.S. who led thousands of African-American Muslims to orthodox Islam, died today at his Illinois home, his family said in a statement confirming earlier reports. He was 74.

Born and raised in Hamtramck, Mohammed, also known as Imam W.D. Mohammed, was the son of Nation of Islam leader and Michigan native Elijah Muhammad. After his father’s death, Mohammed transformed the Nation from a black nationalist organization into a group that embraced a more mainstream Islam that rejected racial and ethnic divisions.

He was considered to be the biggest Muslim leader in the U.S. among African-Americans and probably had more followers than any other Muslim leader in the U.S., say Muslims.

In metro Detroit, Muslims were stunned to hear of his death. He had spoken 10 days ago at a Detroit convention of his followers. During his Friday sermon, he repeatedly praised Jesus and stressed the importance of living a moral life.

“To us, he was more than just an imam and a teacher. He was a father figure for us,” said Dawud Walid, an assistant imam at Masjid Wali Muhammad, which was named by Mohammed after he left the Nation of Islam. “History will show that he has been thus far the greatest Muslim leader in the history of America.”

Walid was a student of Mohammed and was shocked to hear of his death.

“From God we come, and to him we return,” said Mohammed’s nephew, Sultan Muhammad. “Imam W.D. Mohammed’s passing is a great loss not only to Muslims in America and around the world, but in particular to his family. We would ask for prayers for him.”

“He was a reviver of the religion,” said Imam Abdullah El-Amin, head of the Muslim Center in Detroit. “He saved a lot of lives, including mine…He brought a whole lot of people to the correct worship of Islam, almost with just a wave of his hand.”

Kyle Ismail, 35, a Muslim leader from Chicago, said he spoke today with Mohammed’s daughter, Laila Mohammed, who told him that her father had died.

“He gave us everything,” said Ismail, who just saw Mohammed on Saturday.

After Mohammed broke from the racial teachings of the Nation of Islam, Minister Louis Farrakhan then later broke away from Mohammed and formed his own separate group. While Farrakhan often got more media attention, Mohammed attracted a greater number followers, according to his supporters.

On Aug. 29, Mohammed spoke to thousands inside a hall in Cobo Center.

“He's a superb leader," said Nadir Ahmad, 58, of Detroit, before his lecture. "He has a sober message of good morals, but also a commonsense approach to life and religion."

In his talk, Mohammed urged personal responsibility and praised Jesus and Muhammad, Islam's founder, saying both were great teachers.

He stood on the podium slightly hunched over, a compact man with glasses and a modest brown suit who spoke in measured tones.

"We all ... should be trying to be Christlike," he said.

Ahmad said Mohammed "has always called for cooperation between faiths."


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