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Warith Mohammed Dead at 74

POSTED: September 11, 2008, 12:00 am

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Internationally recognized American Muslim leader Imam Warith Deen Mohammed is dead at age 74. The son of former Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad and Clara Mohammed, and later the leader of the Black Muslim group, Mohammed had distinguished himself as an Islamic scholar and humanitarian.

Though less charismatic than the more popularly recognized Minister Louis Farrakhan, Mohammed was a quiet and dignified figure who stressed the study of the Quran and urged his followers to live faithfully and fulfill their responsibilities as Muslims and Americans. He was a popular figure before audiences worldwide and was a frequent speaker at international conferences.

Born Wallace Dean Muhammad, he found himself leading the Nation of Islam after the death of his father in 1975. It was a tall order given the reverence for his father within the Nation and the tensions that naturally exist within an organization upon the transition of leadership; particularly when it involves a personality the likes of Elijah Muhammad. Compounding his ascension to leadership was the loyalties of some to Louis Farrakhan, who many believed was the true successor to Muhammad and a close approximation of the late El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, better known as Malcolm X. Lingering suspicions over the assassination of the latter in 1965 also complicated matters and, combined with differences in their teachings, created a fissure between Mohammed and Farrakhan that persisted for almost three decades.

Imam Mohammed sought to move the Nation of Islam toward Sunni Islam and away from some of the incendiary rhetoric that filtered into the group’s teachings under his father and during Malcolm X’s pre-conversion participation with the group. Mohammed changed the name of the group to the American Society of Muslims and significantly expanded its membership. By the late 1970’s and early 1980’s a split within the group became evident and Louis Farrakhan, and his followers, separated from Mohammed and revived the Nation of Islam.

Mohammed continued to be the leader of the American Society of Muslims and took great care in urging his followers to follow mainstream Muslim teachings. His stature grew immensely and he was embraced by Muslims throughout the world. Mohammed had audiences with Pope John Paul II twice and read the Quran during the prayer service at President Clinton inauguration in 1997.

One of Mohammed’s most endearing acts was his public reconciliation with Minister Louis Farrakhan in 2000. He attended Farrakhan’s annual “Savior’s Day” convocation and the two men embraced, publicly declaring their reconciliation. Mohammed remarked, “For me, this is too big a cause for personal problems and differences.” That act brought Warith Deen Mohammed full circle, re-connecting him to the organization his father created and re-affirming him as a revered figure among Black Muslims in the United States and a leader internationally.

In 2003 Mohammed stepped down as head of the American Muslim Society but continued to tour the world and lecture. At the time of his death, he was leading a charitable group, Mosque Cares.

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