The Independent Thinking Of Imam Warith Deen Muhammad – Analysis

By and


Imam Warith Deen Muhammad, a contemporary African American Muslim leader, died on September 9, 2008, leaving a fascinating legacy that calls for an investigation. As with many notables who preceded him, his leadership was engulfed in both approval and opposition. By examining the life of Imam Warith Deen Muhammad, in particular, his rejection of his father’s theology. Also, with his refusal to follow traditional juristic rulings and his relationship with ijtihad (juristic reasoning), we find that he was a mujtahid and a reformer who presented contemporary Muslims with a practical approach to living Islam in America. We will begin this research by revisiting W.D. Muhammad’s early quest for Islamic knowledge and some primary factors that may have influenced his decision to render his father’s theology errant. Also, we will examine his understanding of Islamic law by focusing on his utilization of ijtihad. This research employs a historical method that entails exploring, documenting, analyzing, and interpreting past events to discover clues that help understand historical and present happenings and, to a substantial but limited extent, for predicting the future. Lastly, we will highlight some possible lessons that the contemporary Muslim communities in America and behind can learn valuable lessons from the contributions and W.D. Muhammad’s independent reasoning, leadership, and forward-thinking as a reformer of the twenty-first century.

Research Methodology 

This study attempts to delve into the captivating reformation legacy of Imam Warith Deen Muhammad and the use of independent reasoning to bring change to the African American community. Therefore, reexamining the primary sources of existing data was considered suitable and utilized to investigate what had been studied and produced by researchers and groups. This inquiry understands that by looking at past events, perspective is everything. Our primary sources of information emanated from individuals or groups who participated in or witnessed an event and recorded it. Accordingly, the study consulted many materials; they include written speeches, minutes of meetings, personal letters, records, archival data from open sources, reports, and much more. Also, for secondary sources, it means a piece of secondhand information written by someone other than the eyewitnesses of the event. That’s why the study consulted academic articles, theses, newspapers, and history books.

This historical approach involves a procedure supplementary to observation, a process by which the historian search to find out the accuracy of the reports of comments made by others. Thus, we understand that the historical method tries to describe an accurate account of some elements of life occurrences and their scientific scrutiny and presentation (Tan, 2015:1-5). Historical research allows admission of data that cannot be collected through other means. It also aids in studying past events and pieces of evidence. Another key strength is that using historical research is crucial in analyzing trends presented by past Islamic scholars on independent reasoning known as ijtihad. This research acknowledges that this type of inquiry may be subject to questions of internal validity and biases in interpretation. Historical research, nevertheless, lacks control over the external variables. The primary reason for choosing this method is to understand the African American Muslims culture based on their religious ideologies within the mainstream society. 

Most notably, historical research was paramount in explaining the aspirations and successes of Imam W.D. Muhammad in the realization of his objectives. Historical analysis, attempting to forecast future activities, was based on extrapolating data from the past. Another motive for selecting historical research is to explore, document, evaluate, and interpret past incidences, aiming to discover indications. These indications assist us in understanding the history, the present, and prediction of the future and searching for solutions to the usage of independent reasoning to redirect the theological underpinnings of African American Muslims before making the transition to the world of Islam (Howell and Prevenier, 2001). The fundamental argument of historical research is to help us understand the choices available to us, thus providing a critical perspective for understanding and undertaking present and future demands.

Historical Background of Imam Warith Deen Muhammad 

Imam Warith Deen Muhammad was born on October 30, 1933, to Clara and Elijah Poole Muhammad of Detroit, Michigan. Interestingly, at birth, he was named Wallace Delaney Muhammad, a name taken after the Nation of Islam (N.O.I.) founder, Wallace Dodd Fard, who is said to have come from India. As a child, he was constantly reminded of his being named after the “savior.” And that his future role was to help further spread the doctrine of the presumably god-incarnated Wallace Dodd Fard and his father, the so-called messenger of God, to black American post-emancipation. However, as time went on, he found himself conflicting with his father’s theological underpinnings and the direction of the N.O.I.

His doubts about his father’s theology began early on as a young man. Surprisingly, his orthodox views were born within the N.O.I.’s vacuum. He received his early education at the N.O.I.’s elementary and secondary school, better known as the University of Islam (Curtis, 2002). The University of Islam offered standardized subjects, religious education, and Arabic (Ibid). Elijah Muhammad hired a few native Arabic-speaking teachers to teach the students classical Arabic. Thus, as a young man, W.D. Muhammad studied Arabic with a Palestinian named Ibrahim, an Egyptian named Kamil, and another Palestinian named Jamil Diab. Diab also taught his students some basic Quranic concepts of God, such as the uncreated and ever-existing. Later, Diab became an open opponent of Elijah Muhammad’s philosophy. He went on to lead a movement to discredit Elijah Muhammad (Ibid). Ironically, by W.D. Muhammad’s admission, this early exposure to Qur’an in Arabic paved the way for his theological metamorphosis from the N.O.I. to Sunni Islam (Nasser, 2008).

A few contributing events further corroborated how W.D. Muhammad formulated his Islamic orthodox theological views. One early episode of W.D. Muhammad’s life, which he would later see as a spiritual catalyst to his doubt in the N.O.I. doctrine, can also be seen as an epiphany. On Wednesday night, at 12 or 13 years of age, young Wallace was left home alone while his parents went to the temple. (Ibid) Suddenly, he became sleepy but was frightened after hearing several noises in his house. His fear led him to raise his hands and invoke God, pronouncing the following invocation: “Oh Allah, if I’m not seeing you correctly, will you please help me see you correctly.” (Ibid). His denouncement of Wallace D. Fard as God-incarnated is presumed to be the divinely inspired answer to this invocation.

Again, W.D. Muhammad did not have to travel far to quench his thirst for Islamic orthodoxy. For example, while living with his family in their Chicago home, young Wallace frequently visited his father’s private library, which was right across from his bedroom.

He had access to Islamic literature from Sunni Islam as well as the Ahmadiyyahmovement. He read about the tenets of Islam and the life of Prophet Muhammad. One book that stood out was called God, Man, and the Universe, written by Muslim philosopher and poet Muhammad Iqbal (Ibid). This information seemed more compatible with his logical reasoning than the N.O.I. teachings. However, at this time, he was not aware that this exposure would eventually take him away from the N.O.I. theology.

Imam Warith Deen Muhammad’s Rise to Supreme Minister

W.D. Muhammad slowly rose through the ranks, beginning his career as an assistant minister in the Chicago Temple. In 1958, W.D. Muhammad became the minister of the N.O.I. temple in Philadelphia (Ibid). He taught the members directly from the Qur’an, which was unusual because N.O.I. members were discouraged from reading the Qur’an. Oddly, most of the ministers taught lessons using the Bible. His focus on the Qur’an also led him to teach his members the Arabic language. Members noticed that he didn’t quote Wallace D. Fard as much and reframed from calling white people devils (Curtis, 2002). Although his lessons were different, he was very strategic and careful not to contradict his father’s teachings directly. Nevertheless, his Qur’anic teachings earned him distinction, as rumors began to spread that he would be the one who would succeed his father. Unfortunately, in April 1960, after several years of legal battles, his upward momentum was interrupted when he was sentenced to prison for three years for draft evasion.

On October 31, 1961, W.D. Muhammad reported to the Sandstone Correctional Institution in Minnesota to serve his sentence (Ibid). His imprisonment was paramount to his spiritual growth and development. While in prison, he maximized his time and delved into studying the Bible and Qur’an (Ibid). Doing so allowed him to review the N.O.I. beliefs alongside the religious text. He felt that the N.O.I. theology contradicted his rational thinking. For example, believing that the white-skinned Wallace D. Fard was God-incarnated is similar to the Christians’ approach toward a white-skinned Jesus. Yet and still, the N.O.I. would sharply condemn the Christians for their beliefs.

Consequently, Wallace D. Fard was no longer intellectually, morally, and spiritually appealing as God- incarnated. The anthropomorphic views of the Nation of Islam began losing relevance in his mind. Thus, while in prison, he made up his mind that when he came out of confinement, he would never again return to the belief that Mr. Wallace D. Fard was God-impersonated (Nasser, 2008).   W.D. Muhammad was paroled on January 10, 1963. He returned to the N.O.I. ranks, but this time with a new theological perspective. Other N.O.I. members noticed that he was talking differently than the other ministers. He became highly open about his views that Wallace D. Fard was not God-incarnated. His nephew Hasan Muhammad Sharif recalls a conversation in which W.D. Muhammad exclaimed, “If Fard were standing here right now in front of me, I would grab him in his collar and snatch him out of his shoes.” (Nasir, 2010). 

Eventually, the word of his disbelief in the N.O.I.’s doctrine got back to his father, and thus, he was summoned to the N.O.I. court, where he was charged with disbelieving that Wallace D. Fard was God (Nasser, 2008). As a result, he was excommunicated from the N.O.I. and was not allowed to talk to other N.O.I. members, including his mother. While away from the N.O.I., W.D. Muhammad endured some harassment by N.O.I. members. According to Assistant Professor of Religion at Trinity University, Edward E. Curtis, “Like Malcolm, Wallace feared that he might be murdered, and on August 4, 1964, he went to the F.B.I. and the local police hoping to obtain some protection from what he described as the “punch-your-teeth-out” squads in the N.O.I.” (Curtis, 2002). Surprisingly, Malcolm X was assassinated on February 21, 1965. Perhaps, feeling pressure and knowing the capabilities of the N.O.I., he rejoined the N.O.I. five days later at the annual Savior’s Day gathering in Chicago. Curtis asserts, “From 1965 until 1971, Wallace was expelled from the movement at least twice and perhaps as many as three to four times.” (Ibid)

Nonetheless, W.D. Muhammad garnered enough support to secure his position as supreme minister of the N.O.I. Although his father didn’t announce it publicly, other N.O.I. members, including W.D. Muhammad, claimed that on several occasions, his father indicated that W.D. Muhammad would succeed him. In fact, before his father’s death, W.D. Muhammad toured the country, visiting different mosques. On that account, Naim Shah Sr., former lieutenant of the Nation of Islam, recalls his visit to Los Angeles in 1974. W.D. Muhammad figuratively defined Wallace Fard Muhammad, Elijah Muhammad, and himself as a three-stage rocket (Nasir, 2010). Shah recalls W.D. Muhammad saying he was the third stage, designed to take the passengers to their final destination. In line with his claim, on February 25, 1975, W.D. Muhammad became the new supreme leader of the Nation of Islam (Ibid).

The Implementation of Changes After the Death of His Father

Incredibly, under the leadership of Elijah Muhammad, the N.O.I. was most certainly a legitimate organization worth an estimated $85,000,000 (Turner, 2003). Moreover, Elijah Muhammad was one of North America’s most accomplished Muslim leaders. At its peak, under Elijah Muhammad, the N.O.I. acquired nearly 1 million followers, seventy-six mosques, the Guaranty Bank and Trust Company, thousands of acres of farmland, the Muhammad Speaks newspaper, housing complexes, an aircraft, and retail and wholesale businesses. Also, W.D. Muhammad felt a need to reform the organization (Ibid). The N.O.I. seemed to take on the characteristics of a black mafia, with the ministers wearing fur coats and jewels (Nasir, 2010). Before taking office, W.D. Muhammad became increasingly concerned with the image that the N.O.I. had adopted.

And thus, Elijah Muhammad, the charismatic leader of the Nation of Islam, passed away on February 25, 1975, of congestive heart failure (Lincoln, 1994). The unexpected news of his death sent shockwaves throughout his flock of loyal followers, many of whom refused to believe that the “messenger” was dead. Coincidently, the following day was Saviors’ Day, a yearly holiday and celebration commemorating the birth of the Nation of Islam mastermind, Wallace D. Fard. In front of some twenty thousand Nation of Islam members, the announcement was made confirming the death of Elijah Muhammad, followed by the statement of a new supreme minister – Wallace D. Muhammad, the seventh son of Elijah Muhammad (Ibid).

As the new supreme minister, W.D. Muhammad accomplished an incredible theological reform in virtually a short time. In less than a decade, he successfully transformed the Nation of Islam from Islamic heterodox, based on the anthropomorphic depiction of God-incarnated in the body of Wallace D. Fard. He changed other unsubstantiated theoretical beliefs, into Islamic orthodox, based on a message of universalism. He taught Wallace Dodd Fard was not divine; instead, he was a community worker and a psychologist (Turner, 2003). In an interview, W.D. Muhammad said, “This man was a mystic, and I think maybe an experimenter who was just experimenting on the minds of the African American people…I think with the hope of challenging the mind of the African American people.” (W.D. Muhammad, 1983). 

Also, W.D. Muhammad changed his name from Wallace Delaney Muhammad to Warith Deen Muhammad (warith ad-deen linguistically means “Inheritor of the Religion”). More importantly, he changed the N.O.I. terminology into that of Sunni nomenclature. For instance, instead of being called a “supreme minister,” he accepted the orthodox Islamic title of minister, Imam. Temples were converted to “masjids” (Arabic for mosque). American patriotism was promoted, and white people were no longer called devils. Several of the Nation of Islam’s foundational beliefs, including, Yacub’s theory, Elijah Muhammad’s messengership, and Wallace D. Fard’s divinity, were all retired as myths. From a Sunni Islamic perspective, these beliefs seemed farfetched. Yet, he went as far as to change the name Nation of Islam into the “World Community of Al-Islam in the West” (Turner, 2003). In our view, this change significantly transformed the theological belief system gradually. He reformed and redirected his community toward a sound and universal message of Islam. Imam W.D. Muhammad reformed the theological underpinnings of the African American Muslims on a larger scale.

In contrast, none in the twentieth and twenty-first century has been able to replicate what he accomplished using his independent reasoning tool. By modern standards, we maintain that he had the necessary qualifications for a modern independent reasoning mujtahid to solve the unorthodox theological challenges of his people in America. In the next part of our discussion, we will examine these decisions in light of Islamic law and the utilization of ijtihad.

WasImam Warith Deen Muhammada Mujtahid?

Accomplishing a movement’s successful paradigm shift requires creativity from an Islamic reformer. Did Imam Muhammad utilize Islam’s creative tool of ijtihad? Before reaching an immediate conclusion, we must explore the definition of ijtihad from the views of lexicographers and jurists of the past. According to renowned scholar Ibn Athir (1160-1223), ijtihad is the undertaking of effort and endeavor to achieve some objective (Aman, 2009). From the views of Al-Mawardi, ijtihad is to exert strenuous effort by stretching out the mind to gain an aim (Ibid). Shi’a theologian ‘Allamah al-Hilli (1250-1325) asserted that ijtihad means applying diligent effort to attaining a presumption concerning legal rulings. And yet, Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali (1058-1111) shared a similar view on the juristic meaning of ijtihad

Also, Thomas Hughes defined ijtihad in his “Dictionary of Islam” as the complete exercise of the jurist thinker’s mental faculty in attaining a solution for a particular situation (Hughes, 1994). In light of these definitions, we conclude that as a juristic term, ijtihad refers to exerting the faculties of the mind to the utmost to derive a legal opinion from the Islamic sources of jurisprudence (Lane, 1968). Furthermore, the word ijtihad is derived from the root word jahada, which means “he strove, labored or toiled.” (Ibid). The legal foundations of ijtihad are founded in the well-known hadith (saying attributed to Prophet Muhammad) concerning Mu’ad ibn Jabal.

When the Prophet Muhammad asked him what he would do if a problem were presented to him, Mu’ad ibn Jabal replied that he would judge by what is contained in the Qur’an. The Prophet then asked him what he would do if there were no authority in the Qur’an. Mu’ad responded that he would make a judgment in accordance with the Sunnah of the Prophet. When the Prophet asked him what he would do if he found no authority in the Sunnah, Mu’ad ibn Jabal replied that he would exercise his opinion and spare no effort. At this, the Prophet expressed his pleasure, thus indicating the position and status of the mujtahid in Islam. (Khalid, 1998)

According to traditional scholars, ijtihad can only be exploited in matters related to rulings already existing in the legal sources of Islamic law (hukm shar’i). In that case, the jurist would deduce (istinbat) from these sources to derive a new ruling. A ruling cannot be inferred if the evidence is not found. Matters in which definitive proof (dalilal-qat’i) is established are excluded from the reaches of ijtihad.That is to say; ijtihad may not be utilized in regards to the one Creator, the sending of prophets, and the obligatory duties such as prayer (Kamali, 2011).

The question then arises, who is allowed to utilize ijtihad? Traditional scholars argue that ijtihad is an enormous task that requires the use of Islamic legal precepts. Therefore, the jurist can only invoke ijtihad with the proper understanding of Islam’s legal system. And thus, the layman is excluded from this endeavor. To that end, the one who employs the tool ijtihad is called a mujtahid. Consistent with Mohammad Hashim Kamali, professor of law at the international Islamic University in Malaysia, “The earliest complete account of the qualifications of a mujtahid is given in Abu’l-Husayn al-Basri’s al-Mu’tamad fi Usul al-Fiqh.” (Ibid) Except for a few modifications, this outline was generally accepted by the likes of al-Shirazi (1083), al-Ghazali (1111), and al-Amidi (1234) (Ibid). To this day, these standards are utilized by modern Islamic legal theorists.

First, the person must be an upright Muslim with a sound mind. He should know the Arabic language. This knowledge should include Arabic grammar and syntax, morphology, and principles of Arabic rhetoric. He must be knowledgeable of the Qur’an. According to al-Ghazali, ibn al-Arabi and Abu Bakr al-Razi, the legal verses of the Qur’an that the mujtahid must know are about five hundred. He must possess knowledge of the Sunnah (teachings and practices of Prophet Muhammad), with emphasis on the legal text. He must know Usul al-Fiqh (Islamic Legal Theory). He must know all the cases sanctioned by ijma’ “scholarly consensus” (Zaidan, 2009). Hashim contends, “He should be able to verify the agreement of the Companions, the Successors and the leading Imams and mujtahid of the past so that he is guarded against the possibility of issuing an opinion contrary to such an ijma. He should know the maqasid al-shariah (objectives of the law).  His aim should be to protect the five principles: life, religion, intellect, lineage, and property. 

The scholars have further divided the mujtahid into three categories. First, those who fulfill the previously listed requirements can be considered a mujtahid mutlaq or absolute mujtahid (Kamali, 2011). The founders of the Islamic schools of thought, including Abu Hanifah (699-767), Malik ibn Anas (711-795), as-Shafi’i (767-820), Ahad ibn Hanbal (780-855), and Ja’far al-Sadiq (702-765) would all qualify to be considered absolute mujtahids. (Ibid)They have all developed their methodology for deriving rulings that have survived till the present day. A second category has been established for those who have mastered the methods and principles of a particular school.

These mujtahids are confined to the regulations set up by their predecessor Imams; nevertheless, they have shown moments of sway by developing different opinions from their Imams. For example, individuals in this category include the likes of Zufar ibn al-Hudhayl in the Hanafi school; Isma’il ibn Yahya in the Shafi’i school; Abu Bakr ibn al ‘Arabi in the Maliki school; and Ibn Taymiyyah in the Hanbali school (Ibid). Finally, some are mujtahidsin a particular issue. That is to say, they specialize in one subject and can make rulings on that issue alone. Individuals such as Abu’l-Hasan al-Karkhi in the Hanafi school, Abu al-Fadl al-Marwazi in the Shafi’i school, Abu Bakr al-Abhari in the Maliki school, and ‘Amr ibn Husayn al-Khiraqi in the Hanbali school are all considered from this category (Ibid).

Did W.D. Muhammad’s intellectual resume meet the traditional standards needed to claim juristic legitimacy? Undeniably, W.D. Muhammad was an upright, sound-minded Muslim. As previously mentioned, he began his early studies in Arabic at the N.O.I.’s elementary and secondary school called the University of Islam (Curtis, 2002). Elijah Muhammad hired a few native Arabic-speaking teachers to teach the students classical Arabic. Thus, as a young boy, W.D. Muhammad studied Arabic with a Palestinian named Ibrahim, an Egyptian named Kamil, and another Palestinian named Jamil Diab (Ibid). Jamil Diab seemed to be the most impacting of the teachers. 

Also, from observation, when W.D. Muhammad uses the Arabic language in his speeches, it is evident that he has studied under a teacher. However, difficulty arises when trying to determine the extent of his studies from his various online and otherwise lectures. Besides a few quotes from the Qur’an, his speeches consist mainly of the English language. His former student Abu Qaadir El-Amin, an Imam at the Muslim Center in San Francisco, California, claims that Imam Muhammad taught weekly classes using the book, Learn the Language while serving as Imam in Oakland of the Holy Qur’an by Dr. Abdullah Abbass Nadwi (Abu Qadir, 2012). This book mainly consists of Arabic morphology and syntax without delving into the rhetorical eloquence of the Qur’an. Thus, from examining his speeches and writings and conducting interviews with some of his students and his teacher, Ahmad Sakr, we find that these sources affirm his understanding of the Arabic language. 

We acknowledged that he was not an expert in the Arabic language. If we use the standard qualifications of mujtahid set by early Muslim scholars, he will not meet their threshold due to the rigidity of the standards. Also, those qualification standards were valid and suitable for solving past problems, and many of those must be retrofit to the new standards relevant and applicable for solving modern challenges. To use old means for a modern man or thinker is unfit and can not be retrofitted; thus, it is discriminatory and deleterious to society. And lastly, it causes intellectual stagnation and brings hardship to the society. Each era requires new standards and qualifications appropriate to meet the needs of the people.   

Furthermore, to claim that W.D. Muhammad met past standards would be challenging to prove. Our investigation determined that W.D. Muhammad didn’t possess religious Ijazaahs (licenses) in Islamic studies from a reputable institution in America or abroad. However, some can argue that the past scholars did not study from recognized institutions of higher learning; instead, they followed the one-on-one tutelage approach. This remains one of the few options available when attempting to study Islam in America. Imam W.D. Muhammad studied one-on-one with qualified Islamic teachers who were open and known to him. For example, the late Dr. Ahmad Sakr encountered his weekly interaction with his student. Dr. Shakr was a Muslim scholar, biochemist, Imam, author of Lebanese origin, and well-respected scholar in America. Before W.D. Muhammad became the supreme leader of the Nation of Islam, Dr. Sakr visited him once a week for intensive one-on-one Islamic studies classes consisting of Arabic, fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), and Qur’anic studies, hadith, history, and so on. 

As stated by Dr. Sakr, it is, therefore, safe for us to suggest that Imam W.D. Muhammad followed the learning method of acquiring knowledge used by earlier scholars of Islam. And many students of the past were given verbal authorization (Ijaazah) to teach what they had learned from their immediate teachers, so this could be the case for Imam W.D. Muhammad. But, much like today, there were no reputable institutions in America specializing in the Islamic sciences that could equip their students with the tools to claim the status of mujtahid. Given the rigors it would take to fulfill such requirements set forth by early scholars, it is conceivable on face value to suggest that W.D. Muhammad was not a mujtahid by traditional standards only. Subsequently, in our view, not meeting the old qualification standards does not by any means disqualify him from being a modern mujtahid because we are not judging him through the lens of earlier Islamic scholars. Instead, we are looking at him via the prism of current standards. 

However, to W.D. Muhammad’s credit, he never claimed juristic prominence. Some scholars say that no one can meet these standards in modern times. This opinion is held by those who believe that the gates of ijtihad have been closed and taqlid (blind following) remains. This notion developed after the third century of the Islamic era when the jurists became reluctant to expand the realm of shari’ah (Islamic law) due to the accomplishments of the first three generations, notably the founders of the four schools of Sunni Islamic law (Weiss,1978).  Asharite theologian, Imam al-Ghazali (1058-1111) is often blamed for shutting these doors, due to his harsh critique of rational sciences. Consequently, Muslims were overtaken by the tendency to follow (taqlid) those early generations of jurists blindly. However, we would argue that this was a faux pas from the early scholars than a given set of divine written laws. At best, the gates of ijtihad were restricted but never closed. In our estimation, we believe that the door of ijtihad is wide open until the end of time, and no one after the Prophet has the authority to speak with impunity on the closure of the door of ijtihad. 

Also, the Islamic legal theory scholars were far from agreeing on this theory. Indeed, the renowned jurist Shihab al-Din al-Qarafi mentioned that there was scholarly consensus on harshly reprimanding religious scholars who handed down legal judgments mechanically without performing ijtihad. They merely followed the ancient texts in their books literally without regard for new realities on the ground (Farooq Abdullah, 2006). Commenting on this statement, Ibn al-Qayyim, said,

This is a pure understanding of the law. Whoever issues legal rulings to the people merely based on what is transmitted in the compendia despite differences in their customs, usages, times, places, conditions, and the particular circumstances of their situations has gone astray and leads others astray. His crime against religion is greater than the crime of a physician who gives people medical prescriptions without regard to the differences in their climes, norms, the times they live in, and their physical conditions but merely following what he finds written down in some medical manual about people with similar anatomies. Such a person is an ignorant physician; the other is a naive legal scholar but more detrimental. (Ibid)

Also, M.A. Muqtedar Khan is the associate professor in the Department of Political Science at Adrian College. He believes that Muslims should use their intellectual and independent reasoning to solve the ongoing challenges they face in their respective community or society, thus, strongly opposing the notion of taqlid, especially for Muslims living in the West. For this reason, he states:

Therefore, comprehension and awareness of the logic and motivation behind every action are necessary. Such cognitive and reflective beings can only emerge if one takes one’s cognitive and rational faculties seriously. If one rejects one’s rational and cognitive capabilities, one has rejected one’s humanity. One can then only be an ape! Islamic theology has a term for this aping; it is called taqleed. I cannot conceive of any human and any Muslim as an ape. Therefore aping (taqleed) is not an option. (Khan, 2002)

We will see that W.D. Muhammad’s thoughts in this regard were similar to Khan’s assertion. Furthermore, Khan explains two views in regards to ijtihad. The first view is in line with the traditional definition of ijtihad, which we have previously elaborated on. Commenting on this conception of ijtihad, Khan contends,

This view is designed to stifle independent thought among Muslims and confine the right to understand and explain Islam to Muslim jurists. It is also opposed to reasoning because it essentially says that reason shall be employed only when the texts are silent. No medieval scholar has addressed the issue under scrutiny. According to this viewpoint, the reason is the last resort for understanding the will of God.” (Ibid)

Non-jurist modernist Muslims usually employ the second definition mentioned by Khan. Also, Khan explains, “ijtihadis about freedom of thought, rational thinking and the quest for truth through an epistemology covering science, rationalism, human experience, critical thinking and so on.” (Ibid). Commensurate with Khan’s assessment of ijtihad, the former definition has led to intellectual stagnation. Under the confines of this ijtihad, the Muslim world has not progressed intellectually as in the times of Ibn Sina and Ibn Rush, who combined the religious sciences with secular disciplines. As a result, we agree entirely with Khan, who repudiates the notion of Muslims in the West blindly following the past scholars, two different times and thinking.

And Yet, Muneer Fareed, associate professor of Islamic studies at Wayne State University, suggested that ijtihad can be viewed in three ways: as a legal tool, as a form of legal reasoning, and as a creative impulse (Smock, 2002). Ijtihadbased on creative impulses indicates the ability to produce a new solution to a problem through imaginative skills. The traditional definition of ijtihad involves deducing (istinbat) from the Islamic legal text. One may argue that W.D. Muhammad used ijtihad as a creative impulse because his movement could only survive using innovative solutions to their problems. These solutions may involve deducing from the feelings of the heart rather than the legal text. Even then, such a person could not perform ijtihad on their own. Fareed’s vision regarding this type of ijtihad is linking the creative thinkers, perhaps, the secular academics or philosophers, with the jurist who specialize in deducing from the texts. Traditionalists seem to disapprove of a reinterpretation of the text based on impulse. Undeniably, ijtihad based on creative impulse could not stand on its own as it will lead to the widespread destruction of the doors of ijtihad.

From a traditionalist’s view, Abu Ishaq al-Shatibi (1388 AD) distinguished between simple and specialized ijtihad.The former refers to universal principles everyone understands, while the qualified jurist can only exercise the latter (Goolam, 2006). Dr. Umar Furouq maintained that “even the common people were required to perform their type of ijtihad, by striving to discern the competence of individual scholars and selecting the best to follow, a principle emphatically asserted by the majority of Sunni and Shia scholars and their schools.” (Farood Abdallah, 2006). In keeping with this understanding, it is possible that W.D. Muhammad applied both simple and specialized ijtihadwhen determining which opinion was appropriate for his community to follow. However, the one who utilizes simple ijtihad is not considered a mujtahid. Therefore, we contend that simple ijtihad does not carry enough weight to fulfill the needs of a reformer. And Imam W.D. Muhammad carried enough weight to meet the criteria of a modern reformer. 

This reality can be seen in past reformers such as Jamal al-Din al-Afghani and Muhammad Abduh of Egypt, Sayyid Ahmad Khan of India, and Allal al-Fasi of Morocco, who sought to synthesize fundamental ideals of modernity with Islam.But on the other hand, Islamic modernists usually rejected the notion of blindly following Islamic tradition about Islamic laws and ethics (Curtis, 2002). Individuals such as Rashid Rida (1865-1935) pleaded for ijtihad and claimed that Islamic lawwas founded on its basis. He rejected the notion of taqlid (blind following) and criticized the Muslim scholars for keeping the doors of ijtihadclosed. These reformers used ijtihad to reinterpret Islamic laws for new conditions and circumstances. Curtis declares, “In a move reminiscent of many Islamic modernists, Imam Muhammad presented Islam throughout the 1980s as a tradition compatible with notions of personal freedom, individualism, and democracy.” (Ibid) Thus, Ijtihadwas often used by postcolonial Islamic thinkers for intellectual and social reform and movement building.

His Understanding and Opposition to Taqlid (Blind Following)

More importantly, like the reformers who preceded him, W.D. Muhammad was unwilling to make taqlid. He didn’t confine himself or his community to the traditional Islamic rulings that he felt didn’t fit the American context. Although it was presented to him, he never claimed exclusive adherence to any of the four Sunni schools of thought. In 1982, W.D. Muhammad published a book called “Prayer and Al-Islam.” This book was based on six years of his lectures and included teachings about the five pillars, ablution, prayer, and funeral rights. In regards to the book’s portion on basic fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), he seemed to utilize Jamal A. Badawi’s book, “At-Taharah, Purity, and State of Undefilement,” and Muhammad Abdul Aleem Siddiqui’s book, “Elementary Teachings of Islam.” Badawi’s book claims adherence to no specific madhhab, while Siddiqui’s book adheres to the Hanafi madhhab

This style of integrating schools of thought is typical in America, especially amongst early converts to Islam who, unconcerned about a madhhab, had to depend on whatever translation was available to learn the basics. Perhaps, America’s early converts benefited from the da’wah (propagation) efforts of the Indo-Pakistani Muslims, many of whom were Hanafi. They translated much of the Islamic material into circulation, beginning around 1917 with the first published English translation of the Qur’an by Maulana Muhammad Ali. As a result, with W.D. Muhammad being no exception, many of America’s early Muslim converts were influenced by the Hanafi school of thought.

It is also important to note that W.D. Muhammad built a strong alliance with Saudi Arabia. They gave his community free literature, while a few of his followers even received scholarships to study in Saudi Arabia. They gave grants to him as well as to some of the mosques affiliated with his leadership. On a few occasions, they also sponsored W.D. Muhammad and members of his group to perform Hajj(pilgrimage to Mecca) and Umra’ (minor pilgrimage). In fact, in 1977, a couple of years after taking office, W.D. Muhammad led a delegation of 300 Muslim Americans on Hajj (Ibid). Perhaps, Saudi Arabia saw the opportunity to religiously shape the mind of African American community through W.D. Muhammad. Their heavy da’wah efforts throughout the 1990s and the importation of the Wahabi brand of Islam into the African American community have been highly criticized for inciting division and discouraging community activism. W.D. Muhammad’s N.O.I. training and the concept of “do for self” may have been the motivating factors behind his praiseworthy decision to avoid the possible Arab Wahabi indoctrination. W.D. Muhammad did not favor importing culture and imposing its ideals upon his African Americans. To that end, Curtis propounds,

For Imam Muhammad, the act of independent interpretation also required that blacks rely less on their non-black brothers and sisters. “It is not enough for God to tell us through another race; we still feel insecure,” the Imam said. “We feel unapproved that we still have not been validated as a man. They are the master, and we are the boys.” (Ibid)

Ironically, W.D. Muhammad’s rejection of taqlid may have been influenced by his allies in Saudi Arabia, where proponents of Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab also reject the notion of taqlid. Reportedly, the late Shaykh Abdul Aziz ibn Baz advised W.D. Muhammad’s community not to follow a madhhab. However, W.D Muhammad made up his mind and knew that for Islam to be relevant in America, it had to deal with issues related to American time and space. Therefore, it is imperative that when utilizing ijtihad, the mujtahid must be aware of time and space. Consideration of time and space is an important lesson that can be learned from the Qur’an. But, more significantly, the time and space factors are integral to Islamic history. After all, the portions of the Qur’an revealed in Mecca differed from those in Medina.

 Kamali maintains that “The Qur’an took into account the prevailing conditions of Arabian society, which were reflected not only in the substantive laws that it introduced in each phase but also in the occasions of its revelation, the form, and style of its language, the intensity of its appeal and the psychology of its discourse.” (Kamali, 2011) For example, the early Muslims weren’t allowed to fight while in Mecca. Nonetheless, they migrated to Medina, and their conditions changed with forming a community and a government. The Qur’an then initiated a new approach for a unique situation.

Furthermore, Kamali mentions the example of the Qur’an being revealed piecemeal over twenty-three years (Ibid). This strategy clearly took into consideration the changing circumstances of the early Muslim community. For instance, the slander (al-ikf) of Aisha, the young wife of Prophet Muhammad, which left the Muslim community in disarray, was addressed in the Qur’an. Through revelation, she was cleared of the accusations, which even drew the eyebrows of Prophet Muhammad. This represents a changing condition that the Qur’an effectively addressed.

And yet, another product of the time and space consideration is the incidence of abrogation (naskh) in the Qur’an and Sunnah. For example, drinking alcohol was allowed early on, but this allowance was eventually abolished by revelation. Also, some of the legislation sent down in Mecca was different than in Medina. During the early stages of Islam, the Muslims in Mecca were a minority in a dominantly non-Muslim environment. Eventually, the Muslims became a sovereign authority in Medina. Therefore, the abrogation of legislation reflects those changes.

Accordingly, W.D. Muhammad was conscious of the time and space consideration. We claim that he knew better the African Americans’ social conditions and spiritual upbringing than any jurist during that time. Based on his understanding, observational analysis through lived experience, and assessment of the circumstances, he concluded that taqlid or blind following threatens the survival of his community. And at the same time, he would place his African American followers back in psychological slavery, hindering their growth and development in North America. In other words, he was attempting to build his community’s self-esteem for them to have the confidence to function independently in the world. The N.O.I. produced black pride, and thus following non-blacks was not an option for those who went through that system of thought. In fact, some chose not to follow W.D. Muhammad’s direction towards mainstream ideology, as they believed he was following the “white man’s” (Arab’s) idea of religion.

In his philosophy of black particularism, W.D. Muhammad’s unwillingness to divorce independent reasoning was indicative. He associated Islam with black identity to maintain a sense of black consciousness. In what can be viewed as a direct assault on taqlid, W.D. Muhammad introduced the former N.O.I. to a famous African companion of Prophet Muhammad named Bilal Ibn Rabah. Bilal was an ex-slave who joined the early group of Muslims and eventually rose to become the first prayer caller in Islam. W.D. Muhammad felt this was a necessary figurehead to which Black Americans could relate. Thus, he chose the name Bilalian as the identifying title for Black Muslims, replacing black and African American (McCloud, 1995). Imam Muhammad wrote, “We believe that the term “Bilal” identifies us with a person in history. We know that the name Bilal itself really refers to the soul, and Bilal was a person who was highly spiritual… So, this inner sensitivity is what we identify with in Bilal.” (Ibid) He also changed the name of the N.O.I.’s newspaper from Muhammad Speaks to the Bilalian News. Nevertheless, his forward-thinking attracted criticism from his new Sunni immigrant Muslim allies.

Also, in 1980 after nearly five years in leadership, W.D. Muhammad changed his name from Wallace Delaney to Warith Deen, which means “inheritor of the religion” (Esposito, 2008). His example and suggestion made his followers change their birth names. Perhaps he knew that a name change was not required upon new converts. However, he knew the positive psychological implications that it might have on his followers. Moreover, the objective of Islamic law is to protect a person’s lineage, and thus, changing one’s last name would disrupt the continuity of the father’s name. After all, many African Americans are unaware of their true lineage due to the displacement of Africans to America for slavery. 

During slavery, enslaved person often got their last names from the Bible, their work, or their owners’ last names. Therefore, a name change would symbolize a spiritual rebirth and a spiritual reconnection to an unknown lineage. Many early movements with ideologies stemming from the East encouraged name changes for their members. For instance, N.O.I. teachings required their members to take an “X” as their last name, which symbolizes “unknown.” The Moorish Science Temple of America requires its members to suffix an “El” or “Bey” to their surnames to signify Moorish heritage. Most of W.D. Muhammad’s followers chose Arabic names that they believed made sense and described their potential.

Yet, there are other instances of Imam Muhammad’s deliberate rejection of taqlid. For example, Imam Muhammad was one of the first American Muslim leaders who initiated interfaith dialogue. Curtis asserts, “Instead of attacking black Christian leaders, he sought closer ties with them, a transformation that produced more than a few ironies.” (Curtis, 2002) In 1976, he began traveling around the country conducting interfaith spiritual Jubilees. In October 1996, he visited Pope John Paul II at the Vatican in Rome (W.D. Muhammad, 2008). On August 17, 1997, he was even presented the Luminosa Award for Unity from the Focolare Movement.

Nevertheless, Imam Muhammad was often criticized for his frequent participation in interfaith cooperation. At that time, many of the Imams were hesitant to participate in Interfaith until the events of 9/11 occurred. After 9/11, many of the imams in America who condemned interfaith dialogue saw the importance of reaching out to other faiths to sanitize the image of Islam. Again, in this regard, Imam Muhammad was an independent forward thinker. The rejection of taqlid can also be seen in W.D. Muhammad’s philosophy of Americanism. 

In a surprising and, to some, disappointing decision, Imam Muhammad placed an American flag on the front of the N.O.I. newspapers. He told his followers to salute the American flag, and the children attending the schools in his association began reciting the pledge of allegiance every morning (Ibid). He allowed those of his association to participate in the system by voting and participating in the political process. He even let his members join the United States military. As stated by late historian Dr. C. Eric Lincoln,

“In the old Nation of Islam, Wallace and his father Elijah went to prison for refusing military service, but on February 5, 1992, Imam Warith Deen Muhammad was invited to the Pentagon to address the elite of the American military. The next day on the floor of the United States Senate, Imam Muhammad invoked Allah, “the merciful Benefactor, the Merciful Redeemer,” on behalf of “the President of the United States… every member of the Senate… every member of the House of Representatives.” The wheel had turned. The Nation of Islam had almost come full circle. (Lincoln, 1994)

Historically speaking, he was the first Muslim to deliver the United States Senate invocation. His new message of Americanism was a direct contradiction to the teachings of his father. Before the N.O.I. embraced Islamic orthodoxy, African American groups already represented Sunni Islam in America. Groups such as the Hanafi Muslims headed by Hamas Abdul Khaalis, Darul Islam led by Jamil al-Amin, and the Islamic Party headed by Muzaffarideen Hamid weren’t exactly sympathetic to the philosophy of Americanism (McCloud, 1995). In fact, W.D. Muhammad chose to go in an entirely different direction than these existing groups by advocating societal participation and American dress. He rejected eastern-style clothing and the application of overseas fatwa (religious rulings). Imam Zaid Shakir, American Islamic scholar and co-founder of Zaytuna College, propounds,

Perhaps the greatest of Imam Muhammad’s work was his effort at “indigenizing” Islam in America. When many converts to Islam were led to believe that being Muslim involved dressing like an Arab or a Pakistani and cultivating a bitter anti-Americanism, Imam Muhammad encouraged his followers to wear business suits, make a robust commitment to their families, and salute the flag.

His approach in this regard was not in the spirit of an uncritical “Uncle Tomism.” Instead, it was a realistic acknowledgment that whether we like it or not, this is our country, and actual Islamic teachings urge us to acknowledge this fact and work for the benefit of everyone. (Shakir, 2008)

Also, W.D. Muhammad received much criticism regarding his policies regarding women. At one point, he allowed Muslim women from his association to marry non-Muslim men. In addition, he was lenient concerning the Muslim women’s Islamic obligation to wear the “hijab.” These controversial allowances attracted the attention of Muslims outside of his association. However, after reviewing the criticism from his allies, he would later recant his position on allowing women to marry outside of Islam. This would not be the first or the last time that W.D. Muhammad surprised his allies with his independent thinking.

As reported by Curtis, W.D. Muhammad “called for the development of an African American school of fiqh.” (Curtis, 2002). In the Muslim Journal on May 6, 1994, an article by Imam Vernon M. Fareed entitled “Conference on Unity in Islamic Thought in America” mentions the establishment of a new madhhab (Hilal, n.). The topic was to be further discussed at a conference in Ohio. In his final interview, W.D. Muhammad clarified his position on following a madhhab.

It’s because, as I understand, the madhabs are geographically influenced. We are in totally different geography in America. And I don’t think we should adhere to any madhabsbecause those were influenced by their location, and they are different based on their location—the Shafi school, the Maliki school in North Africa, and the Wahhabi one in Saudi Arabia. Regions are supposed to develop these madhabs. I think, we are gradually getting a sense of madhabs in America, especially those like me. We are getting a sense of madhabs. And with the coming generation, I think that we will be getting a much stronger sense of it. It is coming more and more. (W.D. Muhammad, 2008)

Nevertheless, the development of an “American madhhab” and the “fiqh of Imam Muhammad” has been mentioned by members of his association on several occasions. Following W.D. Muhammad’s death, the use of the terminology fiqh and madhhab was frequently invoked by journalists in the Muslim Journal. We argue that his followers may utilize the terms’ linguistic meaning rather than the juristic meaning. For example, the “fiqh of Imam Muhammad” can mean “the understanding of Imam Muhammad.” And likewise, “the madhhab of Imam Muhammad” seems to indicate “the social philosophy of Imam Muhammad.” The technical definition would require exertion, which the layperson often misunderstands.

More recently, other scholars have discussed the development of fiqh for minorities (fiqh al-Aqalliyyat). They argue that the old religious rulings (fatawa) imported from an eastern context are not applicable in North America. Also, contemporary Muslims are facing issues that never existed before; thus, new solutions are required to solve these new issues. Taha Jabir Al-Alwani postulates,

Fiqhfor minorities is a specific discipline that considers the relationship between the religious ruling, the community conditions, and the location where it exists. Fiqh applies to a specific group of people living under particular conditions with special needs that may not be appropriate for other communities. Besides religious knowledge, practitioners of this fiqh will need a wider acquaintance with several social sciences disciplines, especially sociology, economics, political science, and international relations. (Al Alwani, 2004).

He was a practical mujtahid familiar with the objectives and benefits intended by Islamic law. In essence, the divine way-to help develops and governs his community resourcefully and successfully. He was very concerned about their overall well-being and affairs, both in this mundane world and the hereafter. Imam W.D. Muhammad, to a great extent, understood the objectives of divine law and possessed the necessary knowledge of ijtihad. It helps him to rightly understand and contextualize the legal texts, the Qur’an and the Sunnah. His ijtihad further helped him arrive at sound and practical rules and brought benefits to the African American Muslim community. Evidently, W.D. Muhammad’s objective was to develop a model community, particularly for African American Muslims living in America. His example can be utilized to further the discussion of fiqh for minorities.

Our Understanding of Ijtihad and Consensus

The notion of ijtihad as a means of deducing Islamic rulings, the qualifications of the person who practices it, and the consensus of past Muslim jurists “ijma” have been contentious subjects throughout the history of Muslims for many centuries. Many past Muslim jurists and some contemporary Muslim scholars have believed that the door of ijtihad was closed. Thus, it is almost inconceivable for a new person to become a mujtahid. Moreover, many scholars have maintained that the consensus of early generations is binding to the generations to come. This notion, in our view, is a purely fictional imagination of their mind. 

We maintain that old ijtihad, scriptural interpretations, and consensus are no longer suitable to provide us with needed and practical answers to the encounters we face today. We must do all we can to challenge and deal with the plague of stagnation in our minds. Suppose the Quran is the Book of all times. In that case, it means that we, the Muslims living in the West, must adapt and evolve in our understanding of the Quran in light of current circumstances, as we alluded that the issues of ijtihad and consensus have been disputable and continue to be so among contemporary Muslim scholars and thinkers. Historically, we can pinpoint it back to the common era’s eighth century. From a historical point of view, we contend that the consensus of Muslim jurists is applied to the legal rulings stated in the Qur’an or the teaching of the Prophet. In some cases, the Quranic texts and the Sunna are not clearly understood, or there is no mention of it in either the Quran or the Sunna. We are well aware that the consensus under discussion occurred after the Prophet’s demise. 

We are not the first to question the binding validity of ijtihad and the consensus of past generations of Muslim jurists. Many early twentieth and twenty-first-century Muslim Quranic commentators, jurists, legal theorists, and thinkers raised questions regarding the validity of the consensus of past jurists. In twentieth-century, we have scholars such as Rashid Rida, Muhammad Abduh, Muhammad Iqbal, Muhammad Ibn Ashur, Abdullah Ibn Bayah, Ahmad El-Khamlichi, al-Qaradawi, Fazlur Rahman, and others. Some of those mentioned of twentieth-century as still living today, such as Abdullah Ibn Bayah, Ahmad El-Khamlichi, al-Qaradawi, Ali Guma, Abdul Wahid Wajeeh, Abdul Hakim Sherman Jackson, the late Sulayman Nyang, Mohammad Hashim Kamali, and many others, have suggested and advocated for new ijtihad, practical for solving our current problems. Many scholars have criticized the notion of maintaining the status quo of past ijtihad and, more so, ijma. Abdullah Ibn Bayah, Ahmad al-Khamlichi, Wael Hallaq, and many others considered past ijma outdated. Consequently, they have vehemently called for overhauling this old-fashioned legal foundation (Hallaq, 1984).

Furthermore, we maintain that the elected body of Muslim councils, jurists, and thinkers in modern times must include variegated male and female scholars from other fields other than Islamic scholarship to deal with everyday challenges and bring religious and social changes within the Muslim community. As stated by al-Khamlīshī, even though we trace it back to the eighth century C.E., this consensus could not be generalized as an underpinning of law binding to all Muslims past and present, wherever they may be (al-Khamlishi, 1988).  We agree with al-Khamlishi, who believes that past rulings deduced by consensus may not be valid and applicable for Muslim living in America, Africa, and elsewhere. The consensus of those scholars is viewed as their independent reasoning; therefore, they are subject to challenge, reform, and disregard. 


In summary, we acknowledge that W.D. Muhammad did not meet the rigid traditional standards of mujtahid put forth by early Muslim jurists. In their view, he was none of the three classifications of a mujtahid, which include: mujtahid mutlaq, a mujtahid within a madhhab, and a mujtahid in a particular issue. He was a man of different times and places, and the early qualification standards were unfit and outdated to be used as a qualifying scale. We also argue that the rigorous medieval standards of nearly a millennium ago need to be critically engaged for contemporary scholars to configure standards compatible with modernity. Besides the three classifications of a mujtahid, we advocate for new categories for individuals in situations similar to W.D. Muhammad must be considered. This classification can be termed a “default mujtahid.” 

This would apply to Imams with similar circumstances, such as in a land lacking traditional Islamic scholars and institutions of higher learning. Things are now changing in the United States; we have few learning Islamic institutes such as Zaytuna College, Bayan Islamic College, Mishkah Islamic University, and many other reputable American Universities producing modern Muslim learners and thinkers. This Imammust be loved and trusted by his community. Therefore, this person could exercise a “restricted or circumstantial ijtihad” regarding those in his following. Otherwise, he could only be considered an Imam in other social circles. Such a classification would be crucial for those with a community with special needs similar to the community of W.D. Muhammad. This way, the community is protected from importing a foreign interpretation that could do more psychological and spiritual damage than good.

Furthermore, we will also mention a few practical lessons for contemporary Muslim communities living in the West. First, W.D. Muhammad was one of the pioneer leaders of interfaith dialogue before it was popularized due to the tragic events of 9/11. Thus, Muslims must continue building alliances with other faith groups without compromising Islamic principles. These alliances must go beyond dialogue and move towards project-based initiatives benefiting the communities. Second, W.D. Muhammad taught a message of Americanism. Participation in America for everything good becomes necessary for those who choose to settle in America. The unfortunate unraveling of communities that elected to isolate themselves often resulted in uneducated and socially deficient community members; a failure to build institutions; and an overall inability to affect the status quo of society. 

As communities move into the future, they must consider civic engagement and training individuals who can represent the Muslim community in various American social spheres, including the political sector. The Muslim community, both the immigrant and indigenous, can learn from his attempts to balance his social philosophy of Americanism and his message of black particularism. Immigrants settling in America from other nations must realize that maintaining a connection to the culture from whence one came is not against Islam as long as it does not hinder growth and integration in the host county. At the same time, Muslims who are indigenous to America do not have to adopt another culture to be considered authentic Muslims. W.D. Muhammad showed that Islam doesn’t call for one to abandon their cultural identity.

As we alluded, W.D. Muhammad was an independent thinker, Imam, and mujtahid whose intellectual competence and dexterity cannot be underestimated or undermined. His refusal to be subjugated to foreign influences and becoming a blind follower of a particular school of thought must be considered praiseworthy. Lastly, we agree with Curtis, who propounds, “Imam Muhammad’s dynamic style of interpretation could very well yield such approaches to problems still facing the contemporary African American Muslim community” (Curtis, 2002). To take it even further, we will say that his legacy is a necessary study for those looking to lead any Muslim community in the West, regardless of race and ethnicity. 

  • Dr. Mustapha Kulungu is the Principal Researcher at the ILM Foundation Institute of Los Angeles, California. He graduated from Fielding Graduate University, Santa Barbara, California.
  • Dr. Jihad Saafir has a Bachelor’s Degree in Arabic studies, a Master’s Degree in Islamic leadership, and a Ph.D. in practical theology from the Claremont School of Theology. 


Abd-Allah, U. (2006). Innovation and Creativity in Islam. Nawawi Foundation.

Al-Alwani, T. (2004). Toward a Fiqh for Minorities. New York: Alta Mira Press.

Al-Khamlishi, A. (1988). Wijhat naẓar: Point of view (Al-Dār Al-Bayḍāʾ: Maṭbaʿat al-najāḥ al- jadīdah, 13.

Aman, A. (2009, November). Ijtihad: Reinterpreting Islamic Principles for the Twenty First Century. Retrieved August 23, 2022.

Bilalian News (1977, December 23). Muslim Journal, Vol. 3, No. 7.

El’Amin A.Q. (2012, April 20). phone interview by Authors. 

Curtis, E. (2002). Islam in Black America: Identity, Liberation, and Difference in African- American Islamic Thought. New York: State University of New York Press.

Esposito, J. (2008, September 10). W.D. Mohammed: A Witness for True Islam,

Hallaq, W. (1984). “Was the Gate of Ijtihad Closed?” International Journal of Middle East Studies 16:3-41.

Hilal, I. (n.d.) Studies in Usul Ul Fiqh, (California: Islamic Cultural Workshop), 189.

Howell, M. & Prevenier, W. (2001). From reliable sources: an introduction to historical methods. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.

Goolam, N. (2006) Ijtihad and its Significance for Islamic Legal Interpretation. (Michigan State Law Review), 1455.

Javed, A & Javed, M. (2011). IIUC Studies, Vol.8. The Need of Ijtihad for Sustainable Development in Islam, p215-229.

Kamali, M. (2011). Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence. Cambridge: The Islamic Texts Society.

Khalid, K. (1998). Men Around the Messenger. Egypt: Cairo, Al Manara.

Khan, M. (2002). American Muslims: Bridging Faith and Freedom. Beltsville: Amana Publications.

Lincoln, E. (1994). The Black Muslims in America (New Jersey: Africa World Press, Inc.

McCloud, A. (1995). African American Islam. New York: Routledge.

Muhammad, W.D. (1983). Religion on the Line. Chicago: W.D. Muhammad Publication.

Nasser, J. (2008, March 14). Warith D. Muhammad, interviewed.

Nasir, S. (2010). Lost Found, The African American’s Journey to Al-Islam. Mizan Studios.

Shakir, S. (2008, September 12). Imam Waarith Deen Muhammad,

Smock, D. (2004). Ijtihad, Reinterpreting Islamic Principles for the Twenty-first Century, United States Institute of Peace. p.6.

Tan, J., (2015), Historical Research: A Qualitative Research Method, April 21: 1-5.

Turner, R. (2003). Islam in the African-American Experience. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

Weiss, B. (1978). Interpretation in Islamic Law: The Theory of Ijtihad (The American Journal of Comparative Law, Vol. 26, No. 2, pp. 199-212.

Zaidan, A.K. (2009). Al-Wajeez fi Usul Al-Fiqh. Beirut: The Arabic History.

Dr. Mustapha Kulungu

Dr. Mustapha Kulungu is the Principal Researcher at the ILM Foundation Institute of Los Angeles, California. He graduated from Fielding Graduate University, Santa Barbara, California.

4 thoughts on “The Independent Thinking Of Imam Warith Deen Muhammad – Analysis

  • September 19, 2022 at 6:02 am

    Since you have been researching Imam W Deen Mohammed you should have run across how he spells his name and Prophet Muhammed’s name, with the logic behind his spellings. I haven’t read your whole article, yet, but just a start these are the points that sticks out with me. One more point to make the “D” in his name never stood for “ Delaney” as some observers have been made to believe, according to Imam W Deen Mohammed himself.

    Here are some comments that I made concerning the reasoning of Imam W Deen Mohammed on those spellings I mentioned:


    Our wise leader and teacher, Imam Warithuddeen Mohammed (raa), took note on how our Prophet’s name was spelled using the English lettering system. It’s obvious to me that He took his cue from what we read in the qur’an about how the disbelievers will accuse our prophet of being “mad” or “possessed”. Now it’s very clear why those who orchestrated this language, to use it to manipulate the minds with subtle hidden messages, why they chose to spell our prophet’s name “Muham(mad)”. Our beloved leader, who Allah has guided, changed that spelling to “Muham(med)”, letting those secret orders know that they are caught. When I see the spelling having the “med” ending, what comes to my mind is something from the “medical” field – a doctor of Medicine. That’s exactly what our Prophet was. He was a man sent by Allah to treat the ills of society. He wasn’t mad or possessed.

    15:6. They say: “O thou to whom the Message is being revealed! Truly thou art mad (or possessed)!

    Surely Allah Speaks The Truth!
    —The Sacred Qur’an 15:6

  • September 19, 2022 at 11:04 pm

    Dear Mr. Yahya Muldrow. I read with interest your beautiful comment on the rationale why our esteemed Imam (Raa) used (med) and not (mad) in the spelling of his name. Although this seem fascinating, awakening and even logically entertaining from the western thinker’s perspective, it does not necessarily mean that your analysis, or for that matter, anyone’s analysis, on this matter is accurate or was in fact behind the Muham(med) vs. Muham(mad) spelling.
    Another supporting evidence to my thesis is that what would you say about (Mu)hammed or (Mo)hammed? Should it (Mu) or (Mo) since some folks tend to use MO for Mohammed after 9/11 in what, to me, seem like disrespectful to the Prophet’s name (SAW)?!!!
    In short, the point you brought forth is nice and I personally like it, but it is pointless and has no connection with real value from a solid scholarship point of view. It is only mind entertaining but not scholarly or enriching. Thank you very much for your comment and for your understanding to my rejoinder.

    Sheikh/Ayub Haroun
    PhD student,
    Imam and Chaplain
    Community Leader and
    Islamic activist.
    I can be reached at: [email protected]

  • September 20, 2022 at 4:51 am

    Thank you for your comments and for responding to his comment. Sheikh Ayub, one thing we should know is that the name of Imam W.D. Mohammad has been spelled both ways. Even the acclaimed Smithsonian spelled his name Muhammad in the book “The Teachings of W.D. Muhammad, book 1, Elementary Level.” We are not the first to spell it with “Mu” instead of” Mo.” As you pointed out, it has no bearing on the subject. Additionally, all of Imam W.D. Muhammad’s siblings spelled their last name, Muhammad. I do not need to respond to a childless mind because it is pointless and a waste of precious time. Moreover, Wikipedia has a few spelling on his last name. Zaid Adhani wrote a chapter on Imam W.D. Mohammad in the upcoming book The Oxford Handbook of African American Islam, edited by professor Aminah McCloud. He spelled Imam Muhammad. Here is the link to the article: W. D. Muhammad’s Hermeneutics of the Second Resurrection
    Or you could find it here:

    The list can go on and on about the variant on the spelling of his last name. However, it will not change the course of action of the article, and we stand by what we wrote. We did our homework on how to spell our beloved Imam W.D. Muhammad’s full name. It is an honor for us to have done so.

    • October 30, 2022 at 2:29 am

      Dear Dr. Mustapha, i enjoyed your comment regarding Imam Mohammed, very interesting, i wish to forward my abstract of our life together in the Original Nation Of Islam, i am a schoolmate and childhood friend of Imam Mohammed, we were in class throughout our childhood along with his brother Dr Akbar Muhammad thank you for your wonderful research
      Imam Darnell Kairm
      Director of Islamic Affairs, Department of Religion, Staff Chaplain
      Rush University Medical Center
      [email protected]/


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *