Muslims: Islam, Nation of Islam are not the same

Northwest Muslims feared another backlash from the revelation that one of the suspects in the sniper shootings had converted to Islam.

But suspect John Muhammad was affiliated with the Nation of Islam, a sect led by Minister Louis Farrakhan, whose teachings many mainstream Muslims eschew.

Muhammad and his former wife, Mildred, attended a Nation of Islam temple in Seattle's Central Area that has since closed. A former neighbor said Muhammad also worked in security during the 1995 Million Man March in Washington, D.C., an event sponsored by the Nation of Islam.

Malik Zulu Shabazz, a former member of the Nation of Islam who was involved in security at the march, said he has no recollection of Muhammad working in any official capacity. A spokeswoman for the Nation of Islam's national office in Chicago declined to comment.

Some differences between the Nation of Islam and mainstream Islam are so sharp as to be "in complete contradiction," according to John Esposito, a Georgetown University professor.

Asked about the Nation of Islam, Jamil Abdul Razzak, a spokesman for the mainstream Idriss Mosque in Seattle's Northgate area, said, "I don't consider them to be a religion, personally. They are more a philosophy than a religion."

The Nation of Islam was founded in the 1930 by Wallace Fard Muhammad, who preached from the Koran and the Bible and espoused a message of black liberation in the ghettos. He called himself a messiah, blasphemy to mainstream Muslims.

Farrakhan has been accused of being anti-Semitic and racist against whites. In recent years, though, he has tried to soften the image of the Nation of Islam. He condemned the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and his newspaper, the Final Call, called the sniper shooting an act of domestic terrorism.

In Seattle, the Nation of Islam formerly had a temple at 18th Avenue and Yesler Way. Members now meet at offices of the Central Area Motivation Program.

The news has raised fears of "scapegoating and bias" against Muslims, said Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Jeff Siddiqui, of the American Muslims of Puget Sound, said, "I don't believe that religion should even be brought up in the discussion. This has nothing to do with Islam or its people."