Imam Warith Deen Mohammed died on Tuesday at his Illinois home, his family said in a statement confirming earlier reports. He was 74.
Imam Warith Deen Mohammed, popularly known as W. D. Mohammed, succeeded his father Elijah Muhammad in 1975, as leader of the Nation of Islam with unanimous support of its followers and began its transformation to the mainstream Islam.
Farrakhan was expected to succeed Elijah Muhammad. But a closed-door family council chose W. D. Mohammed to be the movement's leader. When the decision was announced at the Savior's Day meeting at Chicago's International Amphitheater, the group's annual gathering, some 20,000 people roared their approval.
He opened the Nation of Islam membership to all races of Muslims and encouraged Muslim Americans to register to vote and become full participants in the politics and economics of America.
In 1978, Farrakhan broke with Mohammed and formed his own counter-movement. He revived the name Nation of Islam, saying he intended to follow the teachings of Elijah Muhammad. But the greater number of African-American Muslims remained loyal to W. Deen Mohammed than to Farrakhan.
W. D. Mohammed is seen a pioneer in getting Muslims to embrace their religious identity at a time when that wasn't very popular. 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 America.
"I don't think people understand the tremendous change that occurred when he made that move," said Lawrence Mamiya, professor of religion at Vassar College told the Chicago Tribune. "He moved people from that concept of black nationalism into universal consciousness of their faith."
Yvonne Haddad, a professor of the history of Islam and Christian-Muslim relations at Georgetown University, said he single-handedly re-educated many of the imams schooled by the Nation of Islam, restoring their American patriotism and the original teachings of Islam. One of his highest priorities was uniting African-American Muslims and immigrant Muslim communities.
According to Associated Press, No one knows the size of Mohammed's movement, which was decentralized with many leaders and many entities, including The Mosque Cares. However, the number of his followers is believed to be in the tens of thousands. The movement included not only mosques nationwide, but many business projects, which reflected the continued emphasis on black economic self-reliance that had been part of the Nation of Islam's mission.
Here is a brief biography of W. D. Mohammed:
Imam Warith Deen Mohammed, popularly known as W. D. Mohammed, succeeded his father Elijah Muhammad in 1975, as leader of the Nation of Islam with unanimous support of its followers and began its transformation to the mainstream Islam. He opened the Nation of Islam membership to all races of Muslims and encouraged Muslim Americans to register to vote and become full participants in the politics and economics of America.
After Mohammed broke from the racial teachings of the Nation of Islam, Minister Louis Farrakhan broke away from Mohammed and formed his own separate group. While Farrakhan often got more media attention, Mohammed attracted a greater number of followers.
Farrakhan and Mohammed reconciled in 2000 through meetings and a joint public appearance at a Friday prayer in Chicago. However, still, Mohammed remained critical of many Nation of Islam leaders.
In 1977, Mohammed led the then largest delegation of Muslim Americans, most former members of the Nation of Islam, on Hajj, Pilgrimage to the Sacred House in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. That same year he toured China with "American Friends of China".
He has represented Muslims at the World Parliament of Religious Leaders for the survival of the Earth, in Oxford, England.
He signed the Williamsburg Charter at Williamsburgn, VA celebrating the First Amendment/First Freedom of the U. S. Constitution.
In 1992 he delivered the Invocation opening the U. S. Senate in Washington, D.C., the first ever given by a Muslim. He toured the Pentagon and addressed Muslims in the U. S. Military and its Chaplains.
He delivered an address on the floor of the Georgia State Legislature - the state of his father´s birth, the first ever given by a Muslim.
In 1993, Imam Mohammed participated in the Inaugural Interfaith Prayer Service for President William (Bill) Jefferson Clinton.
In 1995, Imam Mohammed delivered the Keynote Address at the Muslim-Jewish Convocation, the first serious public dialogue between top leaders of Islam and Reformed Judaism, in Glencoe, Illinois.
In 1996, Imam W. Deen Mohammed led a delegation of Muslims to The Vatican in Rome, Italy, where he met with Pope John Paul II and with Cardinal Francis Arinze, The Vatican´s Chief of Staff for Interreligious Affairs.
He also led a delegation of Muslim Americans to Jerusalem and areas under rule of the Palestinian Authority led by Palestinian leader, President Yasser Arafat, visiting Palestinian cities, government agencies, hospitals and homes throughout the West Bank. The visit culminated on Christmas Eve with a meeting in Gaza City with President Arafat at his headquarters, where he discussed the difficulties of Palestinian life.
In 1997, President Clinton, in his re-election Inauguration, invited Imam Mohammed to the White House for the 1st Annual Ecuemnical Breakfast, and requested Imam Mohammed to read from the Holy Qur´an at the Presidential Inauguration Day National Prayer Service.
In 1998, Imam Mohammed traveled to Auschwitz, Poland, where he participated in the Conference on Religion and Peace hosted by the Center for Christian and Jewish Understanding of Sacred Heart University.
In 1999, with Pope John Paul II and The Dalai Lama present on stage, Imam Mohammed addressed a gathering of 100,000 at The Vatican.
He participated in the Jubilennium Interfaith Conference for World Peace held in Israel and the World Conference on Religion and Peace Assembly VII in Amman, Jordan. There, he was elected as an International President in the U. S. for WCRP.
In 2000, he was appointed to the executive Committee of Religious Alliance Against Pornography (RAAP).
On September 11, 2001, Imam Mohammed, in the strongest terms, immediately denounced the terrorists attacks on the United States as un-Islamic and evil.
The same year, Imam Mohammed attended the Contribution of Religions to Peace Conference in Assisi, Italy, at the invitation of Pope John Paul II, for religious leaders to gather to pray for world peace.
In 2002, he was ceremoniously inducted into the Martin Luther King Jr. International Board of Preachers at Morehouse College, in Atlanta, Georgia, where his portrait hangs in the International Chapel of Non-Violent Religious Leaders at Morehouse.
He had been a friend of Malcolm X, who abandoned the Nation to embrace mainstream Islam before he was assassinated in 1965.