- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 2, 2003

Imam Wallace Deen Mohammed, the black Muslim spiritual leader who led his followers to a more orthodox form of Islam, resigned over the weekend as head of the American Society of Muslims (ASM).

Mr. Mohammed, the son of former Nation of Islam icon Elijah Muhammad, said Sunday during the group’s annual convention in Chicago that he was stepping down to work on improving the negative image of Islam in the United States.

The 69-year-old founder of the Muslim group said Monday that his fellow leaders do not support his work within the organization, nor do they have a grasp on theology.

“They want their followers just to obey them, but not question them or right their wrong deeds,” he told the Chicago Tribune.

Mr. Mohammed’s departure leaves open the direction of the society, which has an estimated 2.5 million members, 90 percent of whom are black. A successor has not been named.

Some observers say Mr. Mohammed’s departure will result in more radical forms of Islam taking hold in the ASM, while others believe that his replacement will try to join black Muslims in the United States with Arab immigrant Muslims, as Mr. Mohammed has done.

Mr. Mohammed’s courting of Muslim immigrants into the society gave him a hero’s status in Saudi Arabia, according to Earle Waugh, an authority on Islam and a professor of religion at the University of Alberta.

“The impact of him moving black Islam toward orthodoxy came from the influence of the Saudi regime,” Mr. Waugh said.

“And because he was afforded dignity status there, some felt he was too closely aligned with the Wahhabi movement. And the Saudis have worked very hard to bring some allegiance between black Islam and — if not Wahhabi — then at least Sunni, doctrine.”

Wahhabi is a fundamentalist form of Islam that some contend advocates violence against nonbelievers.

Mr. Mohammed took over leadership of the Nation of Islam when his father died in 1975. He led the group away from the “black first” principles it was founded on, which stressed that blacks were created to rule the Earth, and began aligning the Nation of Islam with the traditional Sunni principles of Islam that are accepted worldwide.

Louis Farrakhan, a disciple of Mr. Mohammed’s father, left the group and formed his own Nation of Islam, the group over which he presides today.

Mr. Mohammed founded the ASM in 1978, taking some of his followers and soon adding hundreds of thousands more as he reached more toward mainstream black Americans and away from the impoverished that flocked to the Nation of Islam.

Mr. Farrakhan and Mr. Mohammed became bitter enemies, and reconciled briefly three years ago. The two still remain ideologically estranged.

Calls to the Nation of Islam yesterday were not returned.

Mr. Mohammad’s resignation “was quite a surprise,” said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

The upshot, though, may be no change at all, he noted.

“It will be up to that community to decide which direction it wants to go in,” Mr. Hooper said. “We hope it will be in the tone of W.D. Mohammed for moderation and positive change.”

Mr. Mohammed formed a tight bond with his followers, many of whom will continue to look to him for guidance.

“It does not matter that he stepped down; he is still the leader, the heart,” said Atique Mahmood, editor of the Muslim Journal. “If he is officially the president or not, he is still the president.”

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