Master Fard Muhammad: Prophet or God?
There has been quite a bit of talk lately about Master Fard Muhammad, whether he was God or simply a prophet. As is known, in the Nation of Islam it is taught that he is God, the Supreme Being of the Universe. Others, such as certain members of the Nation of Gods and Earths (though certainly not all), teach that he is not God: he is a ‘prophet’ who simply brought the knowledge of God to the wilderness of North America. This latter claim is based largely on the fact that in some early literature, such as Lost Found Muslim Lesson No. 1 (1-40), Master Fard Muhammad is referred to as ‘Prophet, W.D. Fard.’ The argument is that he originally identified himself as Prophet, but the Hon. Elijah Muhammad later (mis)understood him to be God. The claim is that Master Fard Muhammad never called himself God. If he did call himself God, of course, then those who deny that he is God yet hold on to the material that he brought (i.e. the Lessons) are in a bind. They must count Master Fard Muhammad a liar or ignorant of his own self. Either way, one could surely not maintain any allegiance to the Lessons which, after all, are the record of exchanges between him and his student the Hon. Elijah Muhammad, both of whom would have taught that Fard is God. So the question is, Did Master Fard Muhammad himself claim to be God? Why is he called a ‘prophet’ in the Lessons? This excerpt from my upcoming book, The Book of God (Revised Edition) answers these questions. I offer it simply as a contribution to the discussion.
(Excerpt From True Islam’s forthcoming The Book of God [Revised Edition]: An Encyclopedia of Proof the Black Man is God)
14.6. Prophet or God?
The Apostle Paul makes an important claim about the Son of Man (Christ Jesus) in Phil. 2:6-8:
Who, being in the Form of God,
Did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited
He emptied himself (or: He made himself nothing)
Taking on the form of a servant
Becoming as (ordinary) human beings are;
And being in every way like a human being,
He was humbler yet,
Even to accepting death, death on a cross.
In this passage we learn of the coming Son of Man’s kenosis (self-humbling). The verb kenoo means metaphorically to “deprive” or “make of no effect.” Christ being in the “form of God,” morphe theos means both that he was born with a glorious divine body and that he was born with the very nature of God himself (1). Yet, he deprived himself of these, or, better, he “made them of no effect.” That is to say he did not exploit this divine form and nature. He instead assumed the appearance and condition of a normal human being, allowing himself to serve and suffer. Habakkuk 3:4 therefore prophesizes that God, when he comes from Arabia at his advent, will “veil” or “conceal” his power. He will appear to all as a simple human; a lowly human because he will serve and he will suffer, though having the very nature of God he did not have to do either.
It is in this context that we must understand Master Fard Muhammad’s statement, recalled by one who heard his very first addresses in Detroit: “My name is W.D. Fard and I came from the Holy City of Mecca. More about myself I will not tell you yet, for the time has not yet come. I am your brother. You have not yet seen me in my royal robes.”(2) The “royal robes” are clearly metaphor for his glorious divine form and status.
Thus in the Lessons as well as in the editions of the Allah Temple of Islam’s early newspaper, The Final Call to Islam, Fard is referred to by the Hon. Elijah Muhammad as a Prophet, not God. He came among the Black community in Detroit humbly, not as God; as a servant (silk-peddler). Some have understood these early descriptions of Fard as ‘Prophet’ to indicate that he was not therefore God. The claim is that he never called himself God. He called himself prophet, but Elijah unilaterally exalted him to “God-status” after Fard left. This is incorrect.
Firstly, Master Fard Muhammad never called himself “prophet”; he called Himself God. The Hon. Elijah Muhammad told Hatim Sahib in 1951:
"He did not teach us that he (Master Fard Muhammad) was a prophet. We used to call him a prophet. I made the followers call him prophet because I (did) not know exactly what name to give him. No one called him prophet before me. First, I thought we should call him Master; later I thought we should call him prophet, and later I told them that he (is) neither of either one; I said that we should call him the ‘Almighty God”…He (Fard) came to Chicago and delivered a speech in which he said, “I am God himself,” and I looked at him and he looked at me when he said so…He did not say that “I am a prophet,” but he said that “‘I am the one who comes in the last day.”(3)
It is thus inappropriate to seize these early characterizations of Fard as ‘prophet’ as the final word. The author of this characterization, the Hon. Elijah Muhammad, admits to only ‘trying it out’ as he was searching for the right terminology. When Master Fard Muhammad and his secretary Ugan Ali first visited Elijah at his home in the fall of 1931, according to the Hon. Elijah Muhammad, “(Fard) said that he was Mahadiah and that he was Allah who everyone expected to come two thousand years after Christ who was crucified at Jerusalem.”(4) It is thus Master Fard Muhammad himself who is the source of his characterization as “God.”
Fard’s divinity as a Black man was apparently part of the teaching at that first Temple on Hastings Street. Robert Harris, after sacrificing his roommate Josef Smith on a make-shift altar in his home on November 21, 1932, claimed that he was ordered to do so by the “Gods of Islam,” by which he is believed to have meant Master Fard Muhammad (who wrote about “sacrificing four devils” in his book, Secret Rituals of the Lost-Found Nation of Islam) and Ugan Ali. Thus, when the detectives (Oscar) Berry and (Charles) Snyder entered the Temple on November 22, 1932 to arrest the two of them, Ali, Fard’s right-hand man at the time, was at the podium proclaiming himself “God of the Asiatics.”(5)
It was not just to ‘gullible Negroes’ that Master Fard Muhammad revealed his divine identity to. At the First Precinct police station Fard told detectives Berry and Snyder that ‘he was the supreme being on Earth.”(6) He told Dr. David Clark, psychiatrist at the Detroit Receiving Hospital who observed and diagnosed him for five days, that he was the Supreme Being on Earth. (7) Fard’s claim to divinity was published in not only in the Detroit papers, but in the Chicago papers as well. (8) These reports are likely the basis of the claim made by Brother Yussuf Muhammad, one of the early followers of Fard, that
"When the police asked him who he was, he said: ‘I am the Supreme Ruler of the Universe.’ He told those police more about himself than he would ever tell us."(9)
It was thus Master Fard Muhammad who was the source of the claim that he is God, and Elijah Muhammad who first claimed he was prophet, not the other way around. But the Hon. Elijah Muhammad clearly did not mean to deny Fard’s divinity by calling him by names such as ‘prophet’ or ‘master.’ These were the terms of honor that the would-be preacher was most familiar with. He tried them out in his presentation of Master Fard Muhammad to the people, then abandoned the first, knowing all along it did not adequately define Who He Was. We know for a fact that calling Fard ‘prophet’ did not mean for Elijah that Fard was not God. The Hon. Elijah Muhammad tells us that during that time “I used to go to my clothscloset (sic) and pray to Fard who brought us the truth that I was longing to hear.”(10) The Hon. Elijah Muhammad is here admitting to praying to Master Fard Muhammad as God, even while calling him ‘prophet.’
Not only did the Hon. Elijah Muhammad originate the early practice of calling the God a ‘prophet,’ it was he, not the Hon. Louis Farrakhan, who first thanked Allah for sending Master Fard Muhammad to us. He said to Hatim Sahib in 1951:
"Mr. W.D. Fard taught us what to eat, when to eat, and how to eat. That was a great lesson to us. We all today pray and are thankful to Allah for sending him."(11)
He thanked Allah for sending Mr. W.D. Fard even though Mr. W.D. Farad was, according to the Hon. Elijah Muhammad, “Allah himself incarnated.”(12) These are no contradictions. The Hon. Elijah Muhammad was displaying profound theological insight. In the Hebrew Torah, God Himself appears at time icognito. Instead of coming in his glorious, divine body he comes in a normal human form called mal’ak Yahweh, often translated “the Angel of the Lord.” But we now know that this mal’ak Yahweh is no ‘angel’ but is God himself in an unrecognized human form. The term mal’ak means literally ‘ambassador’ or ‘sent one/messenger.’ Thus in these biblical narratives (e.g. Gen. 16; Judges 6) God himself appears to people as a “sent one” looking like a normal human.(13) Who “sends” God in these biblical contexts? The Council of the Gods (Elohim). Who do we thank for sending Master Fard Muhammad? Allah, i.e. the Council of the Gods. This biblical tradition of the God coming among humans as an unrecognized, ordinary human described as a ‘sent one’ sent by the Divine Council exactly parallels Master Fard Muhammad’s (God’s) coming among us as an unrecognized ordinary human being and referred to as a ‘sent one’ or prophet sent by the Divine Council.
As the apostle Paul in the Philippians passage noted with regard to the coming Son of Man or Christ Jesus: he will humble himself and suffer, not because he has to, but because he doesn’t have to. That he would suffer on our behalf when he did not have to demonstrates his Godhood. The Honorable Elijah Muhammad noted as well:
"Mr. Fard Muhammad (God in Person) chose to suffer three and one-half years to show his love for his people who have suffered over three hundred years at the hands of a people who by nature are evil, wicked, and have no good in them.
He was persecuted, sent to jail in 1932…He submitted himself with all humbleness to his persecutors. Each time he was arrested, he sent for me that I may see and learn the price of Truth for us (the so-called Negroes)."(14)
1. See Markus Bockmuehl, The Epistle to the Philippians (London: A & C Black, 1997) 126-29; Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (Grand Rapids, MI.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995) 204.
2. Quoted from Beynon, “The Voodoo Cult,” 896.
3. Elijah Muhammad to Hatim A. Shahib in 1951 interview. Hatim A. Sahib, “The Nation of Islam,” Masters thesis, University of Chicago, December 1951) 93-94.
4. Elijah Muhammad, statement to the FBI September 20, 1942. FBI File on Wallace Fard, September 30, 1942, #100-9129.
5. “Raided Temple Bares Grip of Voodoo in City,” The Detroit Free Press November 23, 1932 A01.
6. “Negro Leaders Open Fight,” The Detroit Free Press November 24, 1932 A02,09.
7. “New Human Sacrifice With a Boy as Victim is Averted by Inquiry,” The Detroit Free Press November 26, 1932 A01.
8. "Probe Weird Rites of Detroit Voodoo Cult,” Chicago Defender December 3, 1932 A01, 04.
9. See Erdmann Doane Beynon, “The Voodoo Cult Among Negro Migrants in Detroit,” American Journal of Sociology, 43 (1938): 897.
10. Elijah Muhammad to Hatim A. Shahib in 1951 interview. Sahib, “The Nation of Islam,” 93.
11. Elijah Muhammad to Hatim A. Shahib in 1951 interview. Sahib, “The Nation of Islam,” 95.
12. Elijah Muhammad to Hatim A. Shahib in 1951 interview. Sahib, “The Nation of Islam,” 98.
13. See especially James Kugle, The God of Old.
14. Elijah Muhammad, The Supreme Wisdom, 2 vols. (New Port News, Virginia: The National News and Commentator, 1957) 1:15.