The man who vies with Louis Farrakhan for the allegiance of African-American Muslims warned yesterday against black nationalism and urged his audience to work toward harmony among all races and religions.
Imam W. Deen Mohammed, son of former Nation of Islam leader Elijah Mohammed, brought his message of tolerance and
personal responsibility to a gathering of more than 300 people in West Baltimore.
His 90-minute address was part of a three-day festival on the grounds of the temple Masjid Walter Omar on West North Avenue conducted to celebrate the city's ethnic diversity and to demonstrate neighborhood unity against violence and crime.
"We want to bring together the life of the community, the ones that are trying to do good," said Imam Bilal Omar, assistant to Imam Ronald R. Shakir, the leader of the Masjid Walter Omar congregation. The festival is being conducted on the Fourth of July weekend because "we also want to show the community that we do love America," Mr. Omar said.
The weekend featured a banquet Friday night, musical entertainment, food and T-shirt vendors. Mr. Mohammed spoke on a tennis court beneath an array of canvas canopies where large electric fans made a futile attempt to relieve the oppressive heat of the afternoon. On the dais behind him were imams from congregations across the country.
Mr. Mohammed, 59, traveled from Chicago for the event. He called "extraordinary" his recent trip to the Bethel A.M.E. Church in West Baltimore and the visit of that church's pastor, Dr. Frank M. Reid III to Masjid Walter Omar.
"All of us have one common destiny, one common future," said Mr. Mohammed, who in 1975 broke with Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam. Mr. Farrakhan followed in the footsteps of Imam Mohammed's father, who laid the foundation for a black separatist organization.
After his address, Mr. Mohammed said that he and Mr. Farrakhan differed in their interpretations of the Koran, the Muslim scriptures. "The belief that man is God, that's the worst thing," Mr. Mohammed said. He said his approach rejects Mr. Farrakhan's notion of black racial superiority and the idea that "white people are a separate creation, and that they are devils."
While Mr. Farrakhan has made headlines with remarks considered by many to be anti-Semitic, Mr. Mohammed made a point of urging harmony among Muslims, Christians and Jews. At one point he referred to the sacrifices of Jews who worked for civil rights in the 1960s, specifically the two Jewish men who were killed in Mississippi in 1964.
He told his audience that all people, including African-Americans, have something in their heritage to be ashamed of. He urged against seeking glory in the African past, even in the accomplishments of the Egyptians under the Pharoahs, as many of them were "despotic leaders" who built great civilizations with slave labor. Taking pride in the Pharoahs, he said, is comparable to Germans taking pride in the achievements of Germany under the Nazis.
He encouraged black Americans to let their ethnic pride flow from "respect for human identity," rather than from identification with African culture. He urged adherence to the principles of the Koran, and said betraying God is the same as betraying ancestors who stood up against slavery and racial injustice. They put their faith in God, he said, and that held them together. The violence in much of the black community, he said, is the
result of losing the faith. "God should punish us for betraying those ancestors," he said.