“From Him we come and to Him we return.”
Yesterday a beloved and respected (revered, actually) member of the Minaret of Freedom Institute’s board of advisers passed away. Warith Deen Mohammed is best known for bringing the Nation of Islam, a cult co-founded by his father, Elijah Muhammad, into mainstream Islam. He did much more than that. To me, he was a visionary of the first magnitude who, in his humble manner provided a brilliant example to the Muslims of every race and national origin.
Warith Deen’s influence was all the more remarkable because he was not a charismatic speaker. A product of the school system founded by his mother, Sr. Clara Muhammad, he was self-taught in the Islamic sciences. With a characteristic self-effacement, he rejected the title of scholar, but to me he was a paragon in the pursuit of ijithad (original critical thinking), not only for the keenness of his intellect and the meticulousness of his research, but the humility of his presentation.
The obituaries in the mainstream press take note of such accomplishments as the fact that he was “the first imam to deliver the prayer and invocation on the floor of the U.S. Senate.” This was a proud accomplishment for all American Muslims, but for me personally, Imam Mohammed was the one who articulated the importance of supplementing liberty, a necessary element in the human enterprise, with vision, the role religion plays in our lives. “Freedom without vision,” I recall him saying in a speech at Howard University, “is destruction.” Every human being has the God-given right to choose his path, but only one with vision will avoid the path to Hell.
Although W. Deen Muhammed never used the word libertarian to describe his political position, his commitment to liberty was beyond question. His understanding of the corrupting influence of power was strong and his moral integrity matched it. When his father died he inherited a powerful organization that at one time had been the biggest importer of fish to the United States. It preached communal self-help, but impeded its implementation by its own hierarchical structure. Rather than wait for the power he inherited to corrupt him into believing he could reform such a behemoth, he dismantled it, contenting himself to be the spiritual leader of the movement, and urging his followers to practice their communal self-help by running their own mosques and businesses.
W.D. Mohammed’s practical commitment to entrepreneurship was matched by a sound understanding of the principles of the free market as well. When Adam Meyerson was editor-in-chief of Heritage’s magazine, Policy Review, he told me that Heritage was so impressed by Mohammed that they would have been proud to have him on their board of directors. It speaks well of the Heritage Foundation that they would recognize that. We were proud to have him on our board of advisers and we miss him already. We are grateful to God for giving us the benefit of his support during our first 15 years of existence.
Minaret of Freedom Institute
[A copy of W.D. Mohammed’s address to the Minaret of Freedom Institute’s fourth annual dinner is available on the Minaret of Freedom Institute website.]