Leader of US's largest Muslim congregation, Warith-u-Deen Mohammed, heir to Elijah Muhammad, dead at 74

"W. Deen Mohammed, one of the most prominent African-American Muslim leaders in the nation and the son of the late Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad, died Monday, sources told the Tribune.

"'Brother Imam,' as he was affectionately known, was 74. There was no immediate confirmation of his death by his family. The Cook County medical examiner confirmed that a Wallace Mohammed was pronounced dead at his home in the 16100 block of Cambridge Drive in Markham, a spokesman said."

Remarkable. This man presided over the largest Muslim congregation in the United States, as despite his break with his father was heir to a Muslim tradition dating back centuries in North America and West Africa.

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"Imam Warith Deen Mohammed, a major Islamic leader in the United States who led thousands of African-American Muslims to orthodox Islam, died Tuesday in Illinois. He was 74.

"Born and raised in Hamtramck, Mohammed, also known as W.D. or Wallace Mohammed, was the son of Nation of Islam leader and Michigan native Elijah Muhammad.

"After his father's death, Mohammed transformed the Nation of Islam from a black nationalist organization into a group that embraced a more mainstream Islam and rejected racial and ethnic divisions.

"He was considered to be the biggest Muslim leader in the United States among African Americans and may have had more followers than any other Muslim leader in the country, supporters said. Mohammed became known as a national leader who worked with other faiths and was the first Muslim to lead prayers in the U.S. Senate.

"In metro Detroit, Muslims were stunned to hear of his death. He had just spoken two weeks ago at a Detroit convention of his followers and was planning to speak in Detroit again later this month.

"'To us, he was more than just an imam and a teacher, he was a father figure for us,' said Dawud Walid, an assistant imam at Masjid Wali Muhammad in Detroit, which was the first mosque renamed by Mohammed after he left the Nation of Islam. 'History will show that he has been thus far the greatest Muslim leader in the history of America.'

"Mohammed's nephew, Sultan Muhammad, did not have a cause of death.

"'From God we come, and to Him we return,' he said. 'Imam W.D. Mohammed's passing is a great loss not only to Muslims in America and around the world, but in particular to his family. We would ask for prayers for him.'

"'He was a reviver of the religion,' said Imam Abdullah El-Amin, head of the Muslim Center in Detroit. 'He saved a lot of lives, including mine. He brought a whole lot of people to the correct worship of Islam.'

"After Mohammed broke from the racial teachings of the Nation of Islam, Minister Louis Farrakhan then broke away from Mohammed and formed his own separate group.

"While Farrakhan often got more media attention, Mohammed attracted a greater number of followers, according to his supporters.

"On Aug. 29, Mohammed spoke to thousands at Cobo Center.

"'He's a superb leader,' Nadir Ahmad, 58, of Detroit, said before his lecture. 'He has a sober message of good morals, but also a commonsense approach to life and religion.'

"During his talk, Mohammed -- a compact man with glasses and a modest brown suit -- praised Islam's founder, Muhammad, and Jesus.

"'We all ... should be trying to be Christlike,' he said."

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