September 9, 2008–Imam Warith Deen Mohammed, a major Islamic leader in the U.S. who led thousands of African-American Muslims to orthodox Islam, died today in Illinois, according to local Muslims and his nephew. He was 74.
Born and raised in Hamtramck, Mohammed, also known as Imam W.D. Mohammed, was the son of Nation of Islam leader and Michigan native Elijah Muhammad. After his fatherâ€™s death, Mohammed transformed the Nation from a black nationalist organization into a group that embraced a more mainstream Islam that rejected racial and ethnic divisions.
He was considered to be the biggest Muslim leader in the U.S. among African-Americans and probably had more followers than any other Muslim leader in the U.S., say Muslims.
In metro Detroit, Muslims were stunned to hear of his death. He had just spoken ten days ago at a Detroit convention of his followers. During his Friday sermon, he repeatedly praised Jesus and stressed the importance of living a moral life.
â€œTo us, he was more than just an imam and a teacher. He was a father figure for us,â€ said Dawud Walid, an assistant imam at Masjid Wali Muhammad, which was named by Mohammed after he left the Nation of Islam. â€œHistory will show that he has been thus far the greatest Muslim leader in the history of America.â€
Walid was a student of Mohammed and was shocked to hear of his death.
â€œFrom God we come, and to him we return,â€ said Mohammedâ€™s nephew, Sultan Muhammad. â€œImam W.D. Mohammedâ€™s passing is a great loss not only to Muslims in America and around the world, but in particular to his family. We would ask for prayers for him.â€
â€œHe was a reviver of the religion,â€ said Imam Abdullah El-Amin, head of the Muslim Center in Detroit. â€œHe saved a lot of lives, including mineâ€¦He brought a whole lot of people to the correct worship of Islam, almost with just a wave of his hand.â€
Kyle Ismail, 35, a Muslim leader from Chicago, said he spoke today with Mohammedâ€™s daughter, Laila Mohammed, who told him that her father had died. â€œHe gave us everything,â€ said Ismail, who just saw Mohammed on Saturday.
After Mohammed broke from the racial teachings of the Nation of Islam, Minister Louis Farrakhan then later broke away from Mohammed and formed his own separate group. While Farrakhan often got more media attention, Mohammed attracted a greater number followers, according to his supporters.
On Aug. 29, Mohammed spoke to thousands inside a hall in Cobo Center.
â€œHeâ€™s a superb leader,â€ said Nadir Ahmad, 58, of Detroit, before his lecture. â€œHe has a sober message of good morals, but also a commonsense approach to life and religion.â€
In his talk, Mohammed urged personal responsibility and praised Jesus and Muhammad, Islamâ€™s founder, saying both were great teachers.
He stood on the podium slightly hunched over, a compact man with glasses and a modest brown suit who spoke in measured tones.
â€œWe all … should be trying to be Christlike,â€ he said.
Ahmad said Mohammed â€œhas always called for cooperation between faiths.â€