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Imam resigns after decades as leader of Muslim society

By Associated Press
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 1, 2003

CHICAGO - Imam W. Deen Mohammed, the black Muslim spiritual leader who over three decades transformed how American blacks practice the religion, resigned Sunday as head of the American Society of Muslims.

Mohammed said he will continue to represent and guide black Muslims and direct his ministry, The Mosque Cares, but would no longer lead the society, the main organization representing his movement.

"I'm getting ready ... to do more, to be more productive and to contribute to the good life of the believers," Mohammed said at the start of his keynote speech at the society's annual convention.

Mohammed, who will turn 70 in October, on Saturday privately informed his movement's imams, or prayer leaders, that he would step down.

His national representative, Imam Earl Abdulmalik Mohammed, announced the decision before Sunday's keynote speech. Some audience members gasped, then applauded and cheered for him.

"I don't know about you, but when I told the imams about my resignation yesterday, a big burden went off my back," W. Deen Mohammed joked to the crowd. He would not comment further on his resignation.

W. Deen Mohammed is the son of Elijah Muhammad, who led the Nation of Islam until his death in 1975.

The Nation had taught that its founder, Wallace D. Fard, had divine status and that Elijah Muhammad was a prophet - which is heretical in mainstream Islam and alienated the movement from Muslims worldwide.

When W. Deen Mohammed took over the Nation of Islam at the time of his father's death, he gradually moved his thousands of followers toward orthodox Islam, winning the respect of Muslim leaders around the globe. He founded the group that became the American Society of Muslims, and Louis Farrakhan took leadership of the old Nation of Islam in 1978.

The two publicly mended fences in recent years, although their movements remain separate.

About one-third of American Muslims are U.S.-born blacks, but not all are affiliated with W. Deen Mohammed.

He is known as a mentor to Malcolm X and for reaching out to leaders of other faiths.

"His greatness came from the fact that he brought African-American Muslims into a deeper understanding of mainstream Islam," said Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, a Los Angeles advocacy group.

Imam David Shaheed said the imams of the movement would be meeting to decide whether to name one successor or to restructure the society.

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