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Life and ministry of Imam W. Deen Mohammed remembered

By Ashahed M. Muhammad
Assistant Editor | Last updated: Sep 21, 2008 - 9:13:00 AM

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Imam W. Deen Mohammed

CHICAGO ( - Sympathetic thoughts and prayers have poured in from all over the country after the death of Imam W. Deen Mohammed, one of the most influential Muslim leaders and scholars in the United States.

Imam Mohammed, a son of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad died at the age of 74 at his home in Markham, a southern suburb of Chicago on September 9.

During his outreach spanning over three-decades in working for religious and racial tolerance, the life and ministry of Imam Mohammed is credited with moving thousands of Black people towards Islam with the predominant Muslim World.

Thousands came to pay their last respects to Imam W. Deen Mohammed on Sept. 11, 2008.

While moving away from some of the spiritual and historical teachings of the Hon. Elijah Muhammad, Imam Mohammed continued to emphasize business development and self-reliance—a primary characteristic of his father’s teachings.

One of those independent entities setup by Imam Mohammed was The Muslim Journal.

Speaking at the newspaper’s administrative offices where family members held a press conference on Sept. 10, Mr. Mohammed’s daughter Laila Mohammed told The Final Call that because her father kept a low profile and didn’t seek the spotlight, many people misunderstood him thinking that he did not care about things like politics and just prayed all the time.

“He never did press conferences on political issues, but he was balanced,” said his daughter, who also worked on behalf of his foundation, The Mosque Cares. “He was political, he was spiritual, he was an educator, he was a businessman, he had balance and because there was no extremeness in him, sometimes, people thought certain attributes didn’t exist, but he was a well-rounded person that Allah inspired,” she added.

Rami Nashashibi, executive director of the Chicago based Inner City Muslim Action Network (IMAN) said he was shocked to hear of the passing of Imam Mohammed because he was with him just a few days earlier at a program on Sept. 6 at Navy Pier in Chicago.

Imam Mohammeds children and grandchildren spoke fondly of him. Photos: Kenneth Muhammad

“While we never dispute with the wisdom of our Creator, it is undoubtedly from our perspective and enormous loss,” said Mr. Nashashibi. “He forged forward with a meaningful and dignified path of both being Muslim, American and human and he set the standard for many of us. It was an honor and a privilege to get to know him and to be in the company of an absolutely beautiful human being,” Mr. Nashashibi added.

On Sept. 11, thousands gathered at the Islamic Foundation in Villa Park, Illinois to participate in Janazah prayer for the late Imam Mohammed.

Thousands impacted by the life and teachings of Imam Mohammed traveled from across the United States to pay their last respects to the man who did much to educate them regarding the principles of the religion of Islam.

The Janazah prayer service was delayed for close to an hour as the huge crowd that had assembled could be organized and situated. Though slightly overcast, the atmosphere was peaceful and serene as many Muslims who had not seen each other for years embraced. Some quietly offered personal prayers during quiet moments of reflection, others shed tears, while still others talked of their favorite experiences with Imam Mohammed.

Present were many influential Muslim leaders and scholars representing many of the most prominent Islamic organizations.

“Imam Mohammed’s spiritual leadership will be greatly missed by the American Muslim community, but his legacy will live on in all those who benefited from his knowledge and guidance,” said Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR). “CAIR’s board and staff nationwide are particularly grateful for Imam Mohammed’s wisdom and support over the years and we offer our heartfelt condolences to his family,” Mr. Awad added.

The Amir of the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) Dr. Khurshid Khan said that he had lost a close friend and a mentor. “It is a very sad day today for the American Muslims. Imam W.D. Mohammed was a great leader and Da’ee of Islam. He will not only be missed by his family but by all the Muslims of America,” said Dr. Khan.

Radio talk-show host and foreign affairs commentator Akbar Muhammad told The Final Call that on February 13, 1960, he had gone to the mosque in New York to hear Malcolm X speak. Malcolm had gone out of town and Imam W. Deen Mohammed was brought in from Philadelphia to speak in his place. After hearing him speak, Brother Akbar accepted Islam.

Minister Farrakhan, family members and Nation of Islam laborers at the memorial tribute held for Imam Mohammed on Sept.13.

“This Janazah prayer begins a process of healing because everyone regardless of what community or group they belong to feel the pain of his loss,” said Brother Akbar. “Everyone was touched in one way or another by the Imam and he made us see the oneness of these communities,” Brother Akbar added.

Referring to Imam Mohammed as “one of the greatest bridges” to religious tolerance as a voice of reason, understanding and wisdom during a time when the view of Islam has been distorted, misunderstood and attacked, Imam Siraj Wahhaj, Amir for the Muslim Alliance in North America (MANA) said Imam Mohammed’s Janazah demonstrated that even in his death, he was still bringing divergent groups of people together.

Imam Wahhaj also told The Final Call that he and Minister Farrakhan spoke, embraced for a “real moment” and made a commitment to sit down in the “very near future” to discuss the development of Islam in America.

“Minister Farrakhan holds the key to the development of (Islam) in this country—so we’re going to talk about where we go from here, let us now continue the process so that we can move even further on toward the development of Islam in America because the attack is against Islam and they don’t ask you the question (are you) Sunni or Shiite, (are) you with the Nation (of Islam) or what? No. We have to recognize that the enemies of Islam are united against us,” said Imam Wahhaj.

Brother Ishmael Muhammad reflected on the life of his older brother Imam Mohammed saying the thousands in attendance at the Janazah and burial really represent “only a fraction” of those within the Muslim community nationally and internationally who respect and honor Imam Mohammed. In his work as Minister Farrakhan’s assistant for close to two decades, Brother Ishmael told The Final Call that he has learned much in his observance of the lives of men of consequence.

“The thing that I’m learning and realizing is that men of consequence, men that are used by God as His servants in His cause are never understood, often misinterpreted by their contemporaries and misjudged because we are so limited in our understanding of God and His divine plan,” said Brother Ishmael.

Alif Muhammad, who recently lost his father, Jabir Herbert Muhammad, Imam Mohammed’s brother, less than a month ago, reflected on the life of his uncle, who he said was always sharing the wisdom of the Qur’an and the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad. He said the family has appreciated the support shown over the last few weeks.

“We as family are very pleased with the outpouring of love that our community has shown the Imam and our family, the love and appreciation for us and the support and prayers. We pray that Allah blesses the community of Imam Mohammed to be safe and to keep them in our prayers and the family in our prayers,” said Brother Alif.

Muslims from many different Islamic communities and locations were present for Imam Mohammeds Janazah prayer service and burial.

At a community memorial service on Sept. 13, at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Forum, hundreds came out despite heavy rainstorms. Imam Mohammed was described as a modest and humble man with a great sense of humor who lived a simple life in his efforts to please Allah.

With a backdrop of the flag designed by Imam Mohammed during the first few years he came into leadership of the Muslim community and a slideshow of pictures from various stages of his life on both sides of the stage, Ayesha K. Mustafa, editor-in-chief of The Muslim Journal said Imam Mohammed was an excellent example for all.

“He was a devout follower and the best example of being a follower of Muhammad the Prophet and we would always say if our Muslim world would strive to follow the Prophet the way Imam Mohammed followed The Prophet, we would be light years ahead of the situations and circumstances we find ourselves in today,” said Ms. Mustafa.

Though unable to attend, a proclamation from Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN) was read as well as statements from numerous other political officials and organizations including the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago led by Cardinal Francis George.

In an historic moment of healing, the Hon. Minister Louis Farrakhan addressed those in attendance to celebrate the life of Imam Mohammed.

Minister Farrakhan said it was at Imam Mohammed’s home in Philadelphia, that he first learned how to perform salat. Min. Farrakhan also said Imam Mohammed influenced him in his writing of the play “Orgena.” He said the community of Imam Mohammed must remain strong though their leader and teacher is no longer physically among them.

“The winds of emotion must never be allowed to shake this house, and we who are left behind are not left with nothing, we are left with the majesty of the words and wisdom that he taught, that we have in our possession,” said Min. Farrakhan. “I must say in truth that I thank Allah for the whole Muhammad family and wherever there is Islam in America today, we have to honor that family through whom so much has come of Islam to the United States of America and has even been inspiration to bring those who were born into Islam back to the straight path of God,” Min. Farrakhan added.

72 year-old Imam Darnell Karim and Imam Mohammed were lifelong friends and classmates in the first high school graduating class of the Muhammad University of Islam in 1953.

He described Imam Mohammed as “a man with a conscience who loved people and never liked seeing another human being hurt, no matter what color,” said Imam Karim. “He was an example for us even when we were children,” Imam Karim added.