The Nation of Islam was founded in Detroit, Michigan in July, 1930 by Wallace Fard Muhammad, also known as W. D. Fard Muhammad (1877–1934). The N.O.I. teaches that W. Fard Muhammad is both the “Messiah” of Judaism and the Mahdi of Islam. Within one year, he had approximately 25,000 followers who knew him as Prophet W.D. Fard, at Mosque of Islam #1.

Fard’s assistant minister Elijah Muhammad succeeded him as head of the movement in 1934. Because of dissension within the Detroit temple, he moved to Chicago where he established Mosque No. 2. During World War II, he advised followers to avoid the draft, as he said the US did nothing for blacks. He was charged and convicted of violating the Selective Service Act and was jailed (1942–46).

Muhammad slowly built up the membership of the Black Muslims through recruitment in the postwar decades. His program called for the establishment of a separate nation for black Americans and the adoption of a religion based on the worship of Allah and on the belief that blacks are his chosen people.[9]

During this time the Nation of Islam attracted Malcolm Little. While in prison for burglary from 1946 to 1952, Little joined the Nation of Islam. He was influenced by his brother, Reginald, who had become a member in Detroit. Little quit smoking, gambling and eating pork, in keeping with the Nation’s practices and dietary restrictions. He spent long hours reading books in the prison library. He also sharpened his oratory skills by participating in debate classes. Following Nation tradition, he replaced his surname, “Little,â€� with an “X,â€� a custom among Nation of Islam followers who considered their surnames to have been imposed by white slaveholders after their African names were taken from them.

Malcolm X rose rapidly to become the minister of Boston Temple No. 11, which he founded; he was later rewarded with the post of minister of Temple No. 7. Elijah Muhammad named Malcolm X the National Representative of the Nation of Islam, his second in rank. Under Malcolm X’s lieutenancy, the Nation claimed a membership of 500,000. Malcolm X left the Nation in March 1964 and in the next month founded Muslim Mosque, Inc., claiming, “I never left the Nation of Islam of my own free will. It was they who conspired with Captain Joseph here in New York to pressure me out of the Nation.”

In 1955, Louis Walcott joined the Nation of Islam. Following the custom of the Nation, he replaced his surname with an “X�. Louis X first proved himself at Temple No. 7 in Harlem, where he emerged as the protege of Malcolm X. Louis X was appointed head minister of Boston Temple No. 11, which Malcolm X had established earlier. He was given his Muslim name, Farrakhan, by Elijah Muhammad.

After Malcolm X’s break with the Nation in 1964, Farrakhan replaced him as head minister of Harlem’s Temple No. 7 and as the National Representative of the Nation, the second in command of the organization. Like his predecessor, Farrakhan was a dynamic, charismatic leader and a powerful speaker with the ability to appeal to the African-American masses.

That year the young boxer Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. knocked out Sonny Liston to become the heavyweight champion of the world. After winning the heavyweight championship, Clay announced that he had joined the Nation of Islam. After replacing his surname with an “X,� Clay was given his Muslim name, Muhammad Ali, by Elijah Muhammad. Based on the teachings of the Nation of Islam, Ali refused to acknowledge his military service after being drafted. He said that his religious beliefs prevented him from fighting in the Vietnam War.

In 1967, Ali put his personal values ahead of his career. The U.S. Department of Justice pursued a legal case against Ali, denying his claim for conscientious objector status. Although found guilty of refusing to be inducted into the military, Ali later cleared his name after a lengthy court battle.

By the time Elijah Muhammad died in 1975, there were 75 NOI centers across America. The Nation’s leadership chose Wallace Muhammad, the fifth of Elijah’s sons, not Louis Farrakhan, as the new Supreme Minister. He renamed the organization as “The World Community of Al-Islam in the West;” it later became the American Society of Muslims. He shunned his father’s theology and black pride views, accepting whites as fellow worshipers and forging closer ties with mainstream Muslim communities in an attempt to bring the Nation of Islam closer into Sunni Islam. W.D. Mohammed’s organization would disband, change names and reorganize many times. It finally dissolved in August 31, 2003, after he resigned from the leadership.