Prayer services for Imam W. D. Mohammed

CHICAGO Warith Deen Mohammed moved thousands of African-Americans into mainstream Islam after breaking away from his father's group.

Family and friends prayed together Wednesday for the man who led them for more than 30 years. Imam Muhammad, one of American Islam's most important leaders, was a husband and father of nine children.

'He believed very strongly and again, he was very courageous because of his morality and his beliefs," said Laila Mohammed, daughter.

Born on October 30, 1933, in Detroit, he was the seventh of eight children of then Nation of Islam leader Elijah Mohammed. When his father died in 1975, it was expected Minister Louis Farrakhan would take up the mantle. Instead, Warith Deen did, and that decision would change the American Islamic movement forever, taking it away from the separatist black militant group it had been up until that moment.

"Immediately began to bring that community into the Islamic perspectives that are accepted worldwide, without ignoring the experiences, the special experiences we've had, not only as Nation of Islam but also as African-Americans who survived slavery," said Imam Plemon Lel-Amin.

"He is someone who will be remembered for preaching the unity of God but also things like economic independence, freedom of thought and self-reliance," said Ahmed Rehab, Council on American-Islamic Relations executive director.

Angered by the movement, Farrakhan broke away from Mohammed and reconstituted the Nation of Islam with far fewer followers. Imam Mohammed preached tolerance and mixed with leaders of other faiths.

"He believes Muslims have to love their neighbor, love God, love their neighbor -- that's the basis of Islam also -- and that Christians do that. Jews also do that," said Jo-Ellen Karstens, Focolare Movement Catholic Church.

In recent years, Mohammed and Farrakhan bridged some of their differences. In response to his death Tuesday, Farrakhan issued the following statement: "We mourn the loss of our brother and thank Allah for him and his work of helping to create a better understanding and image of Islam throughout the world."

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