Remembering Master Fard Muhammad
February 26 is Saviors’ Day, the birthday of the founder of the Nation of Islam. Master Fard Muhammad will probably never get his due for his contribution, for a few reasons: 1) after more than eight decades, white people still aren’t ready to be called devils; 2) Sunni Muslims might love the Sunni fruits of Fard’s tree (most famously Malcolm X, but hundreds of thousands more), but they don’t want to see the tree that produced them; 3) in all honesty, Fard might have spoken the truth, but he also dressed it up in stories that many will have a hard time taking seriously.
The biggest challenge to fully appreciating Master Fard Muhammad may be that he so effectively escaped history. For decades, no one had any idea where he had come from, and even if we can now trace his origin to a town called Shinka in Afghanistan, or possibly Pakistan, we still have no idea where he ended up after his disappearance in 1934. For the most part, our source on Master Fard Muhammad is his student, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, for whom Fard was literally, physically God—not a “manifestation” or “incarnation” of God, but God. While working with the bare skeleton of biographical details and much more hagiography, it’s hard to make authoritative statements on Fard. But this is also part of the master teacher’s usefulness. In escaping history, Fard can become almost whatever people need him to be.
His public mission began in 1930, when he walked the poorest black neighborhoods of Detroit with an armful of silks, going door-to-door and trying to sell them to people with no money to spend. Even when he couldn’t make a sale, he regaled his customers with tales of the silk’s origin in what he called their “homeland,” a utopia across the ocean where people lived longer because they lived better—they had not been brainwashed by living in the Devil’s kingdom into eating the wrong foods and praying to a blue-eyed Jesus. People often invited Fard into their homes to tell them more about Africa. When he stayed for dinner, Fard always ate what he was offered, but then told his hosts that they should not eat such food, because people in their homeland did not eat it.