Daughter of Imam W. Deen Mohammed urges Muslims to unite and continue his vision
By Margaret Ramirez, Chicago Tribune reporter
As she mourned the loss of her father, Laila Muhammed, daughter of Imam W. Deen Mohammed, asked Muslims to unite with other faiths and continue his vision of religious unity.
"I ask that we pray for each other and that we stand firm, with not only the African-American Muslims, but with all Muslims," she said at a news conference Wednesday in the offices of the Muslim Journal, the weekly newspaper started by W. Deen Mohammed.
"And not only with Muslims but with faith communities—the Muslims, the Christians, the Jews. This is Imam Mohammed's work."
Laila Muhammed said there would be no successor to her father. "He has given us what we need to be leaders," she said.
W. Deen Mohammed, 74, the son of the late Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad, who boldly broke from black nationalist teachings and converted thousands of African-Americans to mainstream Islam, was found dead Tuesday at his home in suburban Markham.
An autopsy showed that Mohammed died of a possible heart attack days before he was discovered, said William Taylor, a spokesman for the Cook County medical examiner. The Muslim leader suffered from diabetes and cardiovascular disease, Taylor said.
Muslims worldwide learned of his death as they marked the ninth day of the holy month of Ramadan.
In 1975, Mohammed succeeded his father as leader of the Nation of Islam, a religious movement that melds black nationalism with the Islamic faith. He immediately made reforms to move its followers to more orthodox Islam, prompting a mix of praise, dissent and threats against his life.
His religious reformation led Minister Louis Farrakhan to split from Mohammed's community and revive the Nation of Islam under its original teachings of black superiority.
"Upon his immediate leadership, he immediately freed us as individuals," said Laila Muhammed, 48, his eldest daughter. "He gave us the Quran, and he showed us with his life that the best example of goodness is the Prophet Muhammad."
"That freedom gave us the sensibility to be free to choose unity," she said.
Mohammed and Farrakhan remained bitter rivals for nearly 25 years. But the two leaders reconciled, starting in 1999, and pledged to work together. Farrakhan is expected to attend funeral services Thursday.
Minister Ishmael Muhammad, an assistant to Farrakhan and Mohammed's younger brother, shared memories of when they grew up in Chicago.
"He was very loving as a young boy," said Minister Muhammad. "I can remember him being sweet and kind and generous. He was always genuine when he embraced you. We mourn that loss and thank God for him and the contributions he made to help improve the image of Islam."
Brother Imam, as Mohammed was known to his followers, achieved historic milestones for Muslim-Americans. In 1992, he became the first Muslim to deliver an invocation to the U.S. Senate. In 1993 and 1997, he recited from the Quran at President Bill Clinton's two inaugural interfaith prayer services.
Mohammed's movement was reinvented and renamed several times, starting as the World Community of al-Islam in the West, then as the American Muslim Mission in 1980 and eventually the American Society of Muslims. In 2003, he resigned as head of the American Society of Muslims, saying he was frustrated with imams in the organization who refused to get more religious education.
In his later years, Mohammed's profile diminished somewhat. He focused more on his non-profit ministry, The Mosque Cares, which has its headquarters in south suburban Hazel Crest. He also worked on building interfaith relations, meeting with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican in 1996 and starting a dialogue with Cardinal Francis George.
"I ask that we all have God's mercy because my father was not just our father, but he was our leader," said Laila Muhammed, choking back tears. "And he was not just your leader, he was your friend. And I know that we're all grieving together."
Tribune reporter Manya A. Brachear contributed to this report.
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