Elijah Muhammad (born Elijah Robert Poole; October 7, 1897 – February 25, 1975) was an African-American religious leader, who led the Nation of Islam (NOI) from 1934 until his death in 1975. He was a mentor to Malcolm X, Louis Farrakhan, Muhammad Ali, and his son, Warith Deen Mohammed.

Elijah Muhammad took control of Temple No. 1, but only after battles with other potential leaders, including his brother. In 1935, as these battles became increasingly fierce, Muhammad left Detroit and settled his family in Chicago. Still facing death threats, Muhammad left his family there and traveled to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he founded Temple No. 3, and eventually to Washington, D.C., where he founded Temple No. 4. He spent much of his time reading 104 books suggested by Wallace Fard at the Library of Congress.

On May 8, 1942, Elijah Muhammad was arrested for failure to register for the draft during World War II. After he was released on bail, Muhammad fled Washington D.C. on the advice of his attorney, who feared a lynching, and returned to Chicago after a seven year long absence. Muhammad was arrested there, charged with eight counts of sedition for instructing his followers not to register for the draft or serve in the armed forces. Found guilty, Elijah Muhammad served four years, from 1942 to 1946, at the Federal Correctional Institution in Milan, Michigan. During that time, his wife, Clara, and trusted aides ran the organization; Muhammad transmitted his messages and directives to followers in letters.

Following his return to Chicago, Elijah Muhammad was firmly in charge of the Nation of Islam. While Muhammad was in prison, the growth of the Nation of Islam had stagnated, with fewer than 400 members remaining by the time of his release in 1946. However, through the conversion of his fellow inmates as well as renewed efforts outside prison, he was able to redouble his efforts and continue growing the Nation. From four temples in 1946, the Nation of Islam grew to 15 by 1955. By 1959, there were 50 temples in 22 states.

Muhammad preached his own version of Islam to his followers in the Nation. According to him, blacks were known as the ‘original’ human being, with ‘evil’ whites being an offshoot race that would go on to oppress black people for 6,000 years. He preached that the Nation of Islam’s goal was to return the stolen hegemony of the inferior whites back to blacks across America. Much of Elijah Muhammad’s teachings appealed to young, economically disadvantaged, African-American males from Christian backgrounds. Traditionally, Black males wouldn’t go to church because the church did not address their needs. Elijah Muhammad’s program for economic development played a large part in the growth in the Nation of Islam. He purchased land and businesses to provide housing and employment for young black males.

By the 1970s, the Nation of Islam owned bakeries, barber shops, coffee shops, grocery stores, laundromats, a printing plant, retail stores, numerous real estate holdings, and a fleet of tractor trailers, plus farmland in Michigan, Alabama, and Georgia. In 1972 the Nation of Islam took controlling interest in a bank, the Guaranty Bank and Trust Co. Nation of Islam-owned schools expanded until, by 1974, the group had established schools in 47 cities throughout the United States. In 1972, Muhammad told followers that the Nation of Islam had a net worth of $75 million.

Elijah Muhammad: Why I Teach Separation (Audio)