Friday, September 12, 2008
Imam Warith Deen Mohommed recently passed away at his home in Markham, Illinois. He was 74 years old. Ironically it was on the 9th day of Ramadan (9/9/08), one of the high holy days of the Islamic tradition. He was a spiritual leader to me and a dear friend to my parents, Naomi Salaam Sharif and her former husband, Imam Sidney Rahim Sharif.
The day I learned of his death was like every other day in the news game--busy and deadline oriented.
My girl, Patti (who always manages to find out everything faster than me), left me an email with a news clip about the death of Imam Mohommed. I was simply stunned. His older brother, Jabir Herbert Muhammad (former trainer to Muhammad Ali), had died about 2 weeks earlier on my birthday and the opening session of the Democratic National Convention--August 25, 2008. Both men were sons of the late Nation of Islam (NOI) leader, The Honorable Elijah Muhammad.
I remember my earliest recollection of hearing about Imam Mohommed was as a 12 year old girl when my mother joined the NOI and became Sister Naomi 2X. I became Sister Vanessa X and my siblings all had Xs too. X became our name of choice to replace our slave name--Sanders. Wallace Muhammad was really what I like to call a 'renegade.' He openly challenged some of the teachings of the NOI as prescribed by Master Fard Muhammad, a man that NOI followers regarded as God having appeared in his person. Sorta like Jesus being God as the Son of Man.
My spirit agreed with the teachings of the NOI for the most part as a pre-teen. I was a little big-eyed, brown-skinned girl growing up in the U.S. and I very rarely had my blackness celebrated. At Temple #2 in Chicago I was treated better than a princess--more like a 'little queen'. It was great for my self confidence to know that black people were the cream of the planet earth.
We learned many things about God/Allah and the Islamic tradition. We stopped eating pork and prayed 5xs daily. We heard Elijah Muhammad speak on Sundays and on Wednesdays other ministers taught us. My siblings attended the University of Islam and later Sister Clara Muhammad School. My mom was a school nurse. My step-dad, a Chicago police officer, was a minister and in the Fruit of Islam (FOI); my brother William was in the Jr-FOI. We were taught from the Holy Bible although we were not Christian. We considered ourselves muslim.
In February 1975, when I was 16, we found out at Savior's Day that 'the lamb'--the Honorable Elijah Muhammad has made his earthly transition and that his son Wallace would succeed his leadership. My family and I welcomed the change but many did not. We would go on to follow the teachings of Orthodox Islam, many learning to speak and pray in Arabic, learning to read the Quran and to memorize suras. Many would take the holy pilgrimage to Mecca--in fact, my parents made hajj twice. We would fast during Ramadan and pay zakat to the poor. Imam Mohommed changed his name to reflect who he felt he was; from Wallace to Warith. he completed by changing the spelling of his last name, although he maintained his pride in being the son of Elijah Muhammad.
Imam Warith Deen Mohommed was a humble and wonderful man. He was brilliant, loving and intelligent. Men and boys wanted to be like him. Women admired him and envied his wife. He wanted to be more like Prophet Mohommed and Christ. He taught us to love them both and all of the prophets and men God raised up. He taught us to love ourselves and mankind. he taught us that being a muslim was a way of life--not a religion and that it was not reflected in our attire but in our hearts. He taught us to become independent thinkers and to read the Quran and Bible for ourselves. he encouraged us to pray for wisdom and understanding. He encouraged us to fellowship with muslims of other ethnicities and he led by example. And above all, he taught against us being racist or thinking one race was superior over another. Later, at age 38 I converted to Christianity and became a disciple and follower of Jesus Christ. I still respect the muslims and the impact Islam had on my life for a season. I still love and respect Imam Warith Deen Mohommed.
He was not perfect. He made many mistakes. He was a bridge-builder and did not author confusion or controversy. He was a world class leader.
Thank you for exposing the world to love, Imam Mohommed.
As Salaam Alaikum- peace be unto you