The movement of African-American Muslims that broke away from the Nation of Islam nearly 30 years ago is undergoing a period of turmoil and identity crisis after its leader recently stepped down.
The resignation of W.D. Mohammed as leader of the American Society of Mosques revealed divisions and problems in a movement that has largely been credited with bringing American blacks into mainstream Islam. Mohammed, the son of Elijah Mohammed who started the Nation of Islam, broke ranks with the group over its black nationalism and race-based theology.
An in-depth Los Angeles Times report (Sept. 13) notes that Mohammed’s society (which has had several different names during its existence) now comprises the largest presence of Muslim prison chaplains in the U.S. and is the most active among Islamic groups in providing social services to the ex-prisoners, the homeless and the hungry. But Mohammed’s resignation “threw open long festering concerns” in the movement. He himself criticized other leaders (up to 80 percent of the society’s imams, he claimed) for their resistance to integrating into mainstream Islam.
He said that the leadership failed to engage in Arabic and Islamic studies. Others raised concern about how some imams used Mohammed’s name to raise funds while failing to provide Islamic services in return, reports Teresa Watanabe. African-American Muslims and non-black Muslims have criticized the society as weakly grounded in Islamic scholarly traditions. Such turmoil may serve the purpose of taking the spotlight off one charismatic leader and disperse authority throughout the society, according to observers.
Meanwhile, other groups seeking to advance African-American Islam are emerging. The most prominent one, the Muslim Alliance of North America, gives priority to domestic social issues, while targeting the needs of non-black, American-born Muslims as well.