Review – An Original Man: The Life and Times of Elijah Muhammad

Joe Bradford

| 08/27/2010

An Original Man: The Life and Times of Elijah MuhammadAn Original Man: The Life and Times of Elijah Muhammad by Claude Andrew Clegg

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Clegg outlines the life of Elijah Muhammad from his humble beginnings in Sandersville, GA to his days as a factory worker in Hamtramck, MI to WD Fard’s selection of him as his messenger to the lost-found in the North America.

A very balanced assessment of his life, he seeks to neither vilify the man nor laud him with praise. Instead Clegg gives an account of Elijah’s life that is accessible, one that can easily be read in the historical context of the era of American history which he lived in; this is definitely a positive about this monograph, the author sets the stage for Unlike the autobiography of Malcolm X, in which you feel that for some reason or another key info is being left out, this work leaves you with a holistic view of Elijah’s life decisions in light of his environment, something that other biographers of Islamic and Psuedo-Islamic personalities have failed to do.

His theology and what informed it is covered to a satisfiable depth, and to my surprise much of what is popularly thought of as the later machinations of Elijah are actually the teachings and organizational structure laid out by WD Fard. How this theology was expanded upon, and how its effects were curbed by circumstance and opportunity gives great insight into Elijah Muhammad as a social leader first and foremost, and as a religious leader secondly.

His relationship with Fard is touched upon, but not in enough detail to understand how Fard groomed him to be “The Messenger”. The reader is left wondering if his succession was really a matter of divine providence or was a power struggle, or a culmination of both. Allegations of Fard and Elijah’s involvement in the Moorish Science Temple is hardly dealt with at all, and Clara Muhammad’s role in enticing her husband to follow Fard is only lightly touched upon.

Additionaly, Fard’s identity is not dealt with in enough detail, leaving the reader wanting to know more about this mysterious figure. It would have been extremely useful to read some of the personal correspondence between the two (which can be viewed on the internet) to gain a greater appreciation for the love and respect the “Messenger” showed for his “Savior”. Until the end of his days he claimed to receive revelation from Fard, hearing his voice like “thunder from the sky”. Interestingly enough, there is enough information outlining Fard that one really could suppose that he was of South Asian origin, as WD Muhammad has said, he was most probably Pakistani. WD Muhammad’s claim to have spoken to Fard (either in person or on the phone) is not dealt with at all, making the man’s identity all the more a mystery. Could Elijah’s frequent trips to Pakistan be evidence of Fard’s origins and outcome? Did the “Asiatic Black man” simply return to the sub-continent after the USA got too hot for him?

The book deals with many facets of Elijah’s life, some of which were eye-opening. We learn about Elijah the man, Elijah the Messenger, Elijah the entrepreneur, and Elijah the father-figure. The pit-falls mentioned of the Nation’s management structure and business acumen are enough to wake any idealist of the movement up to reality; that the NOI was and is no more different than most religious organizations.

Elijah as father-figure is especially important, as it explains not only the man’s great ability to motivate his followers and nurture their innate abilities, but explains the nepotism that became inherent to the organization in its later years, as well as the changes WD Muhammad tried to make after his succession to leadership upon his father’s death.

Sadly however, Elijah the thinker is never touched upon. We never get a clear enough reading of Elijah’s psyche and thoughts, we are never able to see his thought process of read his mind. Although mental health problems are alluded to when discussing his imprisonment, no analysis of his personality is given in-depth.

Elijah the movement is the most outstanding part of this book. He successfully protected his “brand” until his death, and was hands down the most successful Black leader of his time, perhaps in the history of the US.

I haven’t read Karl Evanzz work on him as of yet, but afterward I am sure there will be much to compare and contrast. This work is recommended to anyone that thinks they have Elijah Muhammad figured out, and is definitely a credit to the legacy of this man, about whom I am sure a much longer work could be written.

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