Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 258
Elijah Muhammad was the shy and slightly sickly leader of the Nation of Islam organization for some forty years from the mid-1930s. He and Malcolm first met after extensive correspondence while Malcolm was in jail. Malcolm, for the twelve years after he left prison and until his split with the Nation of Islam, revered Muhammad as if he were a god and served him as a minister and close advisor. Malcolm credited Muhammad for much of his knowledge about the world as well as for his rise from street-smart hustler to respected leader. The two shared an almost father-son relationship.
Muhammad came from a very poor background in Georgia, where he was born Elijah Poole. He had only a fourth-grade education and was sickly but worked to follow and spread the teachings of Master W. D. Fard. Fard taught Muhammad about Islam and that it was the best religion for American blacks. Eventually, Muhammad became a minister at one of Fard's temples and received the name Elijah Karriem. Muhammad's rise in the Nation of Islam was a steady one but was filled with set-backs such as the nearly six years he spent in jail for draft-dodging.
Malcolm X and Muhammad started to part ways in the early 1960s, after reports of Muhammad' s illegitimate children surfaced and after Malcolm X became frustrated with the Nation's unwillingness to take stronger action on a number of issues. The final break occurred when Malcolm X made public statements about the Kennedy assassination, forcing Muhammad to "silence" him for ninety days.
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