(RNS) — A Muslim leader who spent the past several years leading a small national following from a federal prison has been released early due to the coronavirus.
Imam Earl Abdulmalik Mohammed claims to be the rightful ideological successor of Imam W. Deen Mohammed, the massively influential black Muslim leader who shepherded the Nation of Islam toward orthodox Sunni Islam under a new association, the American Society of Muslims.
Earl Abdulmalik Mohammed, who was W. Deen Mohammed’s national representative for 15 years, was released from custody on May 7 after serving seven years of a nine-year sentence for mail fraud. In 2014, he pleaded guilty to swindling more than $6 million from customers purchasing precious metals online.
The federal correctional complex in Butner, North Carolina, where he was held, has seen one of the largest outbreaks among the country’s federal prisons, with over seven inmates dead and more than 300 having tested positive for the disease at the facility. Like many prison systems around the country, it has begun releasing many non-violent and particularly vulnerable inmates in an attempt to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
Now, Earl Abdulmalik Mohammed has returned to his home in Washington, D.C., where he plans to launch another office and continue his ministry and nonprofit, the Muslim-American Ministry for Human Salvation, outside of prison for the first time. Though he faces mosque closures and restrictions on gatherings and travel, his office says it is not stymied.
"We've been looking forward to this day,” his representative Imam Ibrahim El-Amin said. “There's a lot of work ahead and we intend to get it done."
When W. Deen Mohammed died in 2008, no successor was named to follow him. Several claimants to succeed him have arisen since, however, including his former longtime representative.
Earl Abdulmalik Mohammed has a small dedicated following, distinct from the broader community of largely black Muslims who follow W. Deen Mohammed’s ministry. Earl Abdulmalik Mohammed has long faced allegations of stealing from some of W. Deen Mohammed’s followers, which he denies.
From behind bars, Earl Abdulmalik Mohammed issued regular statements to his followers, answering questions, offering guidance and self-publishing two books.
With prison behind him, his focus now is solely on guiding his followers in “their own community development under obedience to what they understand that G'd wants them to be,” Earl Abdulmalik Mohammed told Religion News Service.
His only objective, he said, is living out the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad and of W. Deen Mohammed.