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The Supreme Wisdom Lessons

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From its beginnings in 1930s Detroit, the Nation of Islam has relied on a guarded series of texts, known as the Supreme Wisdom Lessons, to initiate and educate members. These texts appear primarily as exchanges between Nation founder Fard Muhammad and his student, Elijah Muhammad. Memorization, recitation, and interpretation of the Lessons have been of central importance to the Nation throughout its history. Even after Elijah Muhammad’s passing in 1975, the “orthodox” reforms of Elijah’s son Wallace Muhammad (later Warith Deen Mohammed) were grounded in part on Wallace’s authority to derive new meanings from the Lessons. The Lessons are also foundational for the Five Percenters, a community that emerged in 1960s Harlem through former Nation members’ reinterpretation of the Lessons.

This monograph, the first dedicated exclusively to the Lessons, places the Lessons in conversation with their historical milieu, exploring political and metaphysical discourses that informed Fard Muhammad’s world. Attention is also given to the education programs offered to convicts at San Quentin, where Fard Muhammad was incarcerated in the 1920s, for insights into his pedagogy. This monograph additionally performs deep dives into the text of the Lessons, exploring the Lessons’ process of codification, tracking differences between versions, and calling attention to points at which Elijah Muhammad appears to have performed edits within the text. Finally, The Supreme Wisdom Lessons looks at the diverse interpretive traditions surrounding the Lessons, and includes an annotated edition of the Lessons themselves.

Published: Apr 1, 2024