AN ORIGINAL MAN by III Clegg

AN ORIGINAL MAN

The Life and Times of Elijah Muhammad
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 A meticulous, absorbing reconstruction of the life of the ``Messenger of Allah'' who led the Nation of Islam for more than four decades, until his death in 1975. Clegg (History/North Carolina A&T State Univ.) has crafted a careful portrait of the enigmatic Elijah Muhammad (born Elijah Poole), a man revered by some as a divinely appointed messenger and derided by others as a black supremacist hate-monger (promulgating a chauvinist ``white-devil'' racial theory). Clegg maneuvers skillfully between these extremes to delineate the complexities of the leader's historical world while still offering a subtle critique of the more disturbing ideologies of the Nation, especially its propensities for violence and avaricious acquisition. This first full-length scholarly biography of Elijah Muhammad benefits greatly from interviews with the leader's family and from recently declassified FBI files on the Nation. J. Edgar Hoover's relentless pursuit of the ``Black Muslims'' included tapping Elijah Muhammad's phone at his Phoenix retreat, infiltrating the Nation with undercover officers, and following its leader at all times. The records of this surveillance, especially the phone tapping, reveal a complex and somewhat duplicitous Elijah Muhammad--reassuring Malcolm X of his secure role in the movement and then urging another follower to ``close Malcolm's eyes and chop off his head.'' Clegg also details the controversies surrounding Elijah Muhammad's extramarital affairs with at least eight women, by whom he sired more than a dozen children. What Clegg is perhaps less adept at demonstrating is why, despite all the scandals, Elijah Muhammad remained so beloved by his followers, who were aware of his indiscretions but overwhelmingly rallied to his support. In all, though, this is both an outstanding biography and an important contribution to the history of the Nation of Islam. (16 pages b&w photos, maps, not seen)

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-312-15184-5
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1996