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210 Pittsboro Street, Campus Box 6210
Chapel Hill, NC  27599-6210
(919) 962-2091   FAX: (919) 962-2279


For immediate use Jan. 28, 1999 -- No. 70


Note to editors: Media representatives are welcome.

Muslim leader to counter Islam’s negative stereotypes

UNC-CH News Services

CHAPEL HILL -- No other religion suffers from such negative stereotyping as does Islam, says Dr. Carl Ernst, religious studies department chair at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Countering that stereotype will be the goal of Imam W. Deen Mohammed, leader of the Muslim American Society, when he speaks at UNC-CH Monday (Feb. 1), Ernst said.

Mohammed’s talk, "The Role of Islam in America," will be free and open to all at 8 p.m. in 100 Hamilton Hall. Doors will open at 7 p.m.

"What he represents is a very positive, spiritual and religious understanding," Ernst said. He said Mohammed’s views differ substantially from those of more widely recognized Lewis Farrakhan. Farrakhan represents approximately 25,000 followers, Ernst said; Mohammed, some 2 million.

Mohammed is the son of the late Elijah Mohammed, who founded the Chicago-based Nation of Islam that Malcolm X originally served but later rejected. Wallace Mohammed served as a younger mentor to Malcolm X, teaching him from the Muslim holy book, the Koran, said Imam Abdul-hafeez Waheid of Durham, a North Carolina Muslim leader.

The younger Mohammed, twice excommunicated from his father’s nation for challenging its theology, did not accept its "black man: God, white man: devil" view, Waheid said. Despite these differences, Wallace succeeded Elijah in 1975 as head of the nation. "Upon his father’s death, he began transitioning the movement into the main path of Islam," Waheid said.

Now known as Warith Deen Mohammed, the leader promotes universal human excellence and dialogue among Islamic, Christian and Jewish leaders, according to his society’s World Wide Web site.

"The message of Islam in its true practice, delivered by (Mohammed) for over 20 years to persons of every race, sex and class -- leaders and common people alike -- has been a quiet yet resolute factor for increased tolerance, understanding and cooperation between Americans of different ethnic and religious backgrounds," says the Web site. "It is precisely this message that is destined to influence America and other nations across the globe to acknowledge and invest in their greatest single resource: the ability, excellence and aspirations of common human life."

Mohammed’s syndicated TV show airs locally on Durham cable channel 8 at 7 p.m. Tuesdays and 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays. His radio show airs in cities including Charlotte, Fayetteville and Statesville.

Mohammed was the first Muslim leader to deliver an invocation at the U.S. Senate. After the Persian Gulf War, he led a delegation of Muslim leaders and scholars to Saudi Arabia, where he addressed an Islamic conference on the conflict. In 1994, Hartford Seminary gave Mohammed its Cup of Compassion Award for his work in improving Muslim, Christian and Jewish relations. He is an international president of the World Conference of Religion and Peace.

Mohammed’s UNC-CH visit is sponsored by the university’s Ackland Art Museum; Sonja Haynes Stone Black Cultural Center; Carolina Seminar for Comparative Islamic Studies; Center for the Study of the American South; University Center for International Studies; provost’s office; and departments of African and Afro-American Studies, English, history, religious studies, and sociology. A 12th sponsor is the Carolina-Duke-Emory Institute for the Study of Islam.

For more information, please call the Stone center at 962-9001 or the religious studies department at 962-5666.

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Lecture contact: Dr. Carl Ernst, 962-3938

News Services contacts: Print, L.J. Toler, 962-8589; broadcast, Karen Moon, 962-8595