Book: The Supreme Wisdom Lessons
Chapter: Renewing the Lessons: Nation(s) of Islam
This chapter moves beyond Fard and Elijah Muhammad to consider the interpretive traditions that have developed around the Lessons, focusing on the two primary heirs claiming Elijah’s legacy after his passing in 1975: his son, Warith Deen Mohammed, who led the Nation in what he called the “second resurrection,” moving towards aspirations of a global, universal, “orthodox” Islam; and Elijah’s national minister, Louis Farrakhan, who
had succeeded Malcolm X in that position and initially adhered to Warith Deen’s reform project, but broke away in 1978 to revive the classical Nation as it had been under Elijah’s leadership. This chapter reveals the Lessons’ complexity as a sacred text as we see its most authoritative readers deploy the Lessons to radically different conclusions. Warith Deen Mohammed’s project of bringing the Nation into “orthodox” Islam ironically depended in no small part on his authority to decode and ultimately recode the Lessons. To move his community away from the Lessons, in other words, he needed to make a convincing argument that this move was in fact embedded in a deeper understanding of the Lessons’ secret meanings. My treatment of Louis Farrakhan’s engagement of the
Lessons also complicates the picture, as I focus not only on Farrakhan himself but also leading intellectuals under his leadership, such as Tynetta Muhammad and Wesley Muhammad, who in very different ways demonstrate the Lessons’ versatility as a resource for making Islamic meanings.