In light of this movement's skepticism about a literal, physical resurrection,
their choice to identify themselves as 'Muslims' is peculiar. Like a modern
political candidate, Mohammed ibn Abdallah stayed 'on-message' even at
the cost of repetition. His message, that men will rise again, was laughed
at by the scoffers, who said,
"But the unbelievers say to those whom they fall in with, 'Shall we
show you a man who will foretell you that when ye shall have been utterly
torn and rent to pieces, ye shall be restored in a new form? He deviseth
a lie about God, or there is a djinn in him,' but they who believe not
in the next life, shall incur the chastisement, and be lost in the mazes
of estrangement from God." (Sura 34:7-8).
"And He whom God shall guide will be guided indeed; and whom he shall
mislead thou shalt find none to assist, but Him: and we will gather them
together on the day of the resurrection, on their faces, blind and dumb
and deaf: Hell shall be their abode: so oft as its fires die down, we will
rekindle the flame. This shall be their reward for that they believed not
our signs and said, 'When we shall have become bones and dust, shall we
surely be raised a new creation?'" (Sura 17:99-100).
"If ever thou dost marvel, marvellous surely is their saying, 'What! when we have become
dust, shall we be restored in a new creation?' These are they who in their Lord believe not: these! the collars
shall be on their necks; and these shall be inmates of the fire, to abide therein for aye." (Sura 13:5-6).
"And they say, 'There is no other than our life in this world, neither
shall we be raised again.' But if thou couldest see when they shall be
set before their Lord! He shall say to them, 'Is not this it in truth?'
They shall say, 'Yea, by our Lord!' 'Taste then,' saith He, 'the torment,
for that ye believed not!'" (Sura 6:29-30).
Were the scoffers Mohammed ibn Abdallah encountered scoffing at the idea
an author might forge a simile between correction from error and resuscitation
from death? Inasmuch as there is nothing incredible in an author crafting
a metaphor or likeness, why would the scoffers balk at such literary license?
Rather they found the fact of resurrection impossible to credit, for much
the same reasons as did Elijah Muhammad.
The only thing dearer to Mohammed ibn Abdallah's heart than the resurrection
and meeting with God was the confession there is no God but God. Joining
other gods to God is unwelcome in this faith:
"SAY: Come, I will rehearse what your Lord hath made binding on you
-- that ye assign not aught to Him as partner; and that ye be good to your
parents..." (Sura 6:152).
"Had there been in either heaven or earth gods besides God, both surely
had gone to ruin. But glory be to God, the Lord of the throne, beyond what
they utter!" (Sura 21:22).
Given Mohammed ibn Abdallah's preoccupations, it is perplexing that a story-teller
who liked to recount tales of god-scientists and denied the resurrection
attached himself and his followers to this religion. Why not Hinduism,
which is sympathetic to long-phase cycles of gods? In attaching his followers
to Islam and urging them to read the Koran, Elijah Muhammad was stamping
an expiration date on his religion. When they follow his advice, they stampede
into orthodox Islam.
The Quest for the Historical Wallace D. Fard
The rise of the Nation of Islam occurred in plain view, recently enough
for ample documentation and evidence to survive detailing the circumstances
of its origin. Let us impose, onto this well-documented modern event, the
paradigm employed by secular 'Jesus scholarship.' The results are farcical.
The model employed by Ernest Renan in the nineteenth century was the "Legends
of the Saints." European saints were alleged to be modest, unassuming
types about whom legends congregated after their death. Jesus, too, must
have been of this stamp, or else He would be unlike the European saints:
"The legends respecting Alexander were invented before the generation of his companions in arms
became extinct; those respecting St. Francis d'Assisi began in his lifetime. A rapid metamorphosis operated in the same manner
in the twenty or thirty years which followed the death of Jesus, and imposed upon his biography the peculiarities of an ideal legend." (Ernest Renan, The Life of Jesus, Author's Introduction.)
Employing this paradigm in the case of Wallace D. Fard, we discover that
Mr. Fard did not claim to be God, rather this claim arose in the "twenty
or thirty years which followed [his] death." Yet not only Elijah Muhammad,
but also the Detroit Police, heard him make this claim:
"On Wednesday morning, November 23, Fard was apprehended while leaving
his hotel room at 1 West Jefferson Street. [...] Once at police headquarters,
he answered questions circumspectly and in his typical messianic vein.
According to police and press transcripts, Fard identified himself as the
'supreme being on earth' and claimed responsibility for starting the Nation
of Islam, assisted by Ugan Ali, who was also arrested." (Claude Andrew
Clegg III, 'An Original Man: The Life and Times of Elijah Muhammad,' p. 31)
In 20 B.C., no one had heard of 'Christianity.' In 140 A.D., Christianity
had spread round the globe. When confronted with a new thing in the world,
the nineteenth century 'explained' it with an adverb: "gradually."
Even though it is not clear an adverb can be the answer to a question 'why'
or 'how,' this answer solidified into unquestionable dogma.
It's not clear it's a useful answer even in the fields where it was originally
introduced. A tourist viewing the Western badlands is not impressed by
the idea 'this must have happened gradually.' While the topography of Sandy
Hook in New Jersey changes, no one has ever seen it change 'gradually.'
Rather, people wake up and discover a thundering storm in the night has
introduced a new reality.
The idea that new religions are introduced through gradual accretions to
existing religions is an especially unhappy one, and not only because the
time scale available is so compressed the 'Jesus scholars' must ever be
trying to enlarge it. The religious public is expected to throng to some
unpretentious, mild-mannered Mr. Milquetoast, holding aloft his beige banner,
as he leads them on an unexciting and unassuming program of minor reform.
They continue to follow complacently as the successor generation introduces
radical innovations such as Mr. Milquetoast's deity. What would make people
act like this? If the charismatic founder cannot introduce innovation,
how can the lackluster caretakers who succeed him?
In fact, none of the new religions born on American soil arose according
to the gradualist paradigm. When we inspect Mormonism, the Shakers, the
Comet Hale-Bopp UFO cult, and others, we realize that the most extreme
doctrines and practices of these groups either arose in the generation
of the founders, or not at all. New religions often experience a pronounced
contraction in the second generation, not an expansion to even wilder claims,
if indeed they survive at all. When Wallace Muhammad took over the reins
of the Nation of Islam from his deceased father, the group lunged toward
mainstream Islam and away from the founder's doctrines. Louis Farrakhan
and others who remained faithful to Elijah Muhammad's message were forced
to secede. Likewise, the Mormons abandoned polygamy, a controversial but
theologically significant practice espoused by Joseph Smith, in exchange
for statehood for Utah. Herbert Armstrong's group abandoned the founder's
heterodox teaching that God was a 'family,' not a Trinity, after the family
who thought it plausible God was a family passed from the scene. These
groups experienced, and succumbed to, pressures to conform, not only from
the larger society, but from their own members and contributors. From whence
would come pressure for ever-expanding doctrinal innovation?
New religions on American soil are not started by mild-mannered reformers
whose teachings and personalities are exaggerated by their successors.
Is there any reason to believe new religions have ever been so generated?
If there is not, then why is secular 'Jesus scholarship' based on this