Wallace D. Fard, also known as Wallace Fard Muhammad (Arabic: ولي فرض محمد) (/fəˈrɑːd/; born February 26, 1877 – circa 1934), was a co-founder of the Nation of Islam. He arrived in Detroit in 1930 with an obscure background and several aliases, and taught an idiosyncratic form of Islam to members of the city's black population. He was also known as being a seller of silk, incense, and perfume and was described as an Arab or Middle Eastern man, but remembered as being a "light-skinned" black man by leaders of the Nation of Islam. Fard was last seen in 1933 by Elijah Muhammad, when Fard took off in an airplane from the Detroit airport.
In 1938, an article by sociologist Erdmann Doane Beynon was published in the American Journal of Sociology, giving Beynon's first-hand account of several interviews that he conducted with followers of Fard in Michigan. From those interviews, Beynon wrote that Fard lived and taught in Detroit from 1930 to 1934. He came to the homes of black families who had recently migrated to Detroit from the rural south. He began by selling silks door to door, telling his listeners that the silks came from their home country. At his suggestion, he came back to teach the residents, along with guests.
In the early stage of his ministry, Fard "used the Bible as his textbook, since it was the only religious book with which the majority of his hearers were familiar. With growing prestige over a constantly increasing group, [Fard] became bolder in his denunciation of the Caucasians and began to attack the teachings of the Bible in such a way as to shock his hearers and bring them to an emotional crisis."
Those interviewed by Beynon told him that reports of Fard's message spread throughout the black community. Attendance at the house meetings grew until the listeners were divided into groups and taught in shifts. Finally, the community contributed money and rented a hall to serve as a Temple where meetings were conducted. The Quran was soon introduced as the most authoritative of all texts for the study of the faith according to those interviewed by Beynon. Fard prepared texts himself, which served as authoritative manuals of the faith and were memorized verbatim by those who followed him.
From his interviews, Beynon described disputes and tension that arose between the new community and the police, surrounding the groups' refusal to send their children to public schools, and members of the group who some alleged to have participated in "human sacrifice" in 1932 in an effort to obey lessons given to the community regarding the sacrifice of devils. [Note 1] These incidents drew police attention to the group, according to Beynon, and contributed to persecutions and schisms.
Fard named his community the Nation of Islam. Following the rapid increase in membership, Fard instituted a formal organizational structure. He established the University of Islam, where school age children were taught, rather than in the public schools. He established the Moslem Girls' Training and General Civilization Class, where women were taught how to keep their houses, clean, and cook. The men of the organization were drilled by captains and referred to as the Fruit of Islam. The entire movement was placed under a Minister of Islam.
According to Beynon, Fard's followers grew to approximately eight thousand. "Within three years the prophet not only began the movement but organized it so well that he himself was able to recede into the background, appearing almost never to his followers during the final months of his residence in Detroit."
From interviews with approximately two hundred families who followed Fard, Beynon concluded:
Although the prophet lived in Detroit from July 4, 1930 until June 30, 1934, virtually nothing is known about him, save that he "came from the East" and that he "called" the Negroes of North America to enter the Nation of Islam. His very name is uncertain. He was known usually as Mr. Wali Farrad or Mr. W. D. Fard, though he used also the following names: Professor Ford, Mr. Farrad Mohammed, Mr. F. Mohammed Ali. One of the few survivors who heard his first addresses states that he himself said: "My name is W.D. Fard and I came from the Holy City of Mecca. More about myself I will not tell you yet, for the time has not yet come. I am your brother. You have not yet seen me in my royal robes." Legends soon sprang up about this mysterious personality ...
Fard used the name W. F. Muhammad on several lessons written in 1933 and 1934. In 1933, he began signing his name W. F. Muhammad, which stands for Wallace Fard Muhammad