Can you explain why Imam W. Deen Mohammed chose the term ‘Imam’ as his title? What distinguishes this term from other Qur'anic terms that Muslim leaders use? What function does this title signify?
IMAM EARL ABDULMALIK MOHAMMED:
This is a very good question. There are many terms in the Holy Qur'an and Islamic teaching that identify leaders and leadership. The leadership terminology that is chosen by the various Muslim peoples tells us something about their character and aspirations as a people. It also tells us something about their spiritual nature and moral constitution, and how they perceive what challenges them in the world. It tells us something about their Islamic character and their desires for themselves and the human community.
We know that Imam W. Deen Mohammed was first a minister in his father's Nation of Islam. When he became leader of the Nation of Islam he was then first known as Supreme Minister. Mr. W.D. Fard had this title and the Honorable Elijah Muhammad had this title as well and different times in that history. The Minister refers to administration of some important service or principle. Later on we know that Imam Mohammed referred to his office as WDM Ministry. This was a tribute to his father and those influences from the Temples of Islam which shaped his preparation, determinations and his language of leadership. Most people do not know this or appreciate it.
The term 'Imam' is the most comprehensive term in Islam for leadership. Imam W. Deen Mohammed first used the language and spelling "Chief Emam", once he had made other changes for the Nation of Islam, especially the change of the name to "World Community of al-Islam in the West." He wanted our pronunciation of the word to be correct. Why? So that we would pay close attention and study the term itself. A person who is careful with spelling and pronunciation is a serious student of language. Imam Mohammed intended this as a progression, as the whole of the Nation of Islam experience was a progression.
The Arabic language term "ummah" is "Nation" in the common expression of Arabic speakers. There are other words that say 'Nation' in Arabic but this term is the most strong, complete, and comprehensive. It is referring to that which births a people in all of what distinguishes them. It says politics, education, language, geography, culture, religion, and material and spiritual sciences associated with that people. It is a much stronger term than 'state' or 'country' in Arabic. It comes from the word "umm" which is also an ancient term saying "mother." When we say 'mother-land' or 'father-land' we are referring to something different and special with each term. The Prophet was asked to whom we should give the most respect in our human systems of honor toward each other. He replied "your mother." And he repeated this twice more to the person. Then the fourth time he said "your father." So, we see from this how leadership evolves and how it is nurtured and what it is responsible for producing. The proper leadership in the psyche of the people will eventually produce the 'father'. So, there is the 'umm' nature which eventually produces Adam, the first father and then Abraham, the second father. Before we can be 'amir' or 'maulana' or 'shaykh' or 'aalim' or 'ayatullah' or 'mufti', we must first have this origin. We understand Prophet Muhammed, the choice salute and peace be on him, to be the Imam of all Imams. Abraham, is referred to as Imam in the Holy Qur'an; but before he can be that he is referred to as "ummah." Why? Because his disposition came out of Adam's nature. Adam's nature was a womb for Abraham's moral disposition or moral spirit and the development of his intellect. And it was the combination of those two components that establishes his role. And the Holy Qur'an says that we are of the "millat Ibrahim". We are of the order of Abraham. And that order is a womb, in Arabic it has female gender. And Abraham was reaching for and pointing to Muhammed's leadership. He prayed that the people would have Muhammed. And Muhammed is 'Imam'. He is the eternal leader and all leadership descriptions and terminology are subsumed in his leadership. All of these special, cultural terms that are used in the Muslim world to describe leaders must follow this progression. And this is why we say Prophet Muhammed is the Imam of all Imams, that includes the Prophets and Messengers and all of the learned and righteous until the Conclusion. Imam W. Deen Mohammed saw this in where the Temple of Islam wanted to go, he understood it in his nature, and he preserved it for us in his use of the term "Imam." This is why he is the first "Imam" for his people, and the only legitimate example of what our leadership looks like and how it should present Islamic life, now and forever.
Not many have fulfilled the obligation of Imam. And they do not know what I have just described and they do not appreciate what Imam W. Deen Mohammed was putting in place. The term 'Imam' also refers to a 'record' or 'standard' of a people. This is why some of those who were Ministers for the Honorable Elijah Muhammad became 'Imams.' Their knowledge had not yet become Islamic, but they represented a progression in the 'record' of a people, and so therefore they were legitimate 'Imams.' More-so than many of these we have now, who think they have Islamic knowledge. They are imitating other people's natural progression. They are artificial, tin soldiers. They read and ponder and follow the "shaykhs" of the Muslim world not understanding that the course Imam Mohammed invited them to understand and follow was the conception, gestation, and production of a new people.
I pray this is help to you and all who read it.