Little Known Origins of the Nation of Islam Prison Ministry

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The Nation of Islam has built a strong reputation for rehabilitating Black men, many while they are incarcerated. What many don’t know is just how the prison ministry of the Nation of Islam began. Well, quite simply put, it was the work of the most Honorable Elijah Muhammad after being arrested on false charges.

He explains in Message to the BlackMan in America that: “I was arrested…May 8, 1942, in Washington, D.C. by the F.B.I. for not registering for the draft. When the call was made for all males between 18 and 44, I refused (NOT EVADING) on the grounds that, first, I was a Muslim and would not take part in war and especially not on the side of the infidels. Second, I was 45 years of age and was NOT according to the law required to register.”

While detained, the FBI seized the Messenger’s bag and copied everything in it. They questioned him for approximately 14 hours then held him two and one half months in D.C. and 11 months in Chicago. While in prison he set up a Temple and held classes. He would teach on Wednesday and Friday evenings until the bugle sounded and it was time for bed. He also taught on Sunday afternoons at 2 p.m, according to 1973 bibliography of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad produced by the Muhammad University of Islam School in Chicago.

The government actually was afraid of the Messenger teaching during the war, so he eventually spent more than four years in jail, without even a trial. Several others went to prison also, including his son, Emmanuel Muhammad and Raymond Sherriff, who would later become the Supreme Captain of the Nation of Islam.

About 70 Followers were sent to Sandstone in Minnesota, and others went to Milan in Michigan. While in prison, his wife would bring material for him and the other followers locked up to read. She even typed verses of the Holy Qur’an. Sis. Clara kept the family and the Temples together while her husband was locked up. She would handle all problems and if she could not handle them, she would ask her husband for the solution.

“When my father and I were in prison,” said Emmanuel in the MUI produced document, “the FBI approached my mother and told her that she would have to return the children to the devil’s school. She told them she would rather die first.”

The Messenger then told his followers to raise the $5,000 necessary to get him out of jail and on August 26, 1946 he was released.


About the author / 

Toure Muhammad

Author Toure Muhammad, an active member of the Nation of Islam under the leadership of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan since 1989. He is also a former Final Call journalist and author of the Chronology of Nation of Islam History, published in 1996.

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