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Ebony S. Muhammad (EM): This is a two part question. The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan has been in the ministry for over 60 years and does not appear to be tired or slowing down. In fact he is increasing momentum/strategy. According to your interaction, observance and study of him how would you think he would describe his ideal student minister? Along with his request of one thousand new student ministers, what is the significance of a youthful age and a youthful spirit?
Willie Muhammad (WM): I can only respond to this question based upon what I have heard the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan teach over the years and from what I have heard him share of the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad’s words about him. Thus, I would say the ideal student minister would be one that is like the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan.
He shared with us recently that the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad told him that he was “his Ali.” The Minister explained that Ali means the standard bearer. In addition to that the Minister said the Messenger said that if he had ten more like him he could take over America. So the ideal student minister reflects Minister Farrakhan.
When I say reflect I am not talking about physical features, even though the Minister is a very handsome man. Therefore, when I say reflect I am talking about the need to possess those qualities that makes him the beloved of God and His Christ. When I say reflect I am talking about reflecting the qualities in the Minister that made the Christ tell him to sit in his seat and that we should look at him, hear him, obey him and follow him. I hope that answers your question.
Also when I say reflect I am talking about his character. In the Book of Jude in the New Testament the character of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan is attest to using the example of the Archangel Michael. The scripture says that Michael disputed with Satan over the body of Moses. During this dispute, even though Satan used low down tactics, the scriptures say Michael maintained his integrity. Most people throw principle out of the window when engaged with their enemy. But scripture shows the Archangel Michael didn’t stoop to the level of the Devil. The Messenger said he only had one Farrakhan. Michael is the only angel referred to as the archangel, and the Messenger told the Minister that he is an angel. An ideal student minister must have character.
Many of us still think about youth in a chronological sense. Remember the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan told us that is not the number one indicator of the Joshua generation. He said it’s about the spirit we possess and how that spirit moves us to be in lock and step with Allah. Look at the Minister, whom we say Joshua is a sign of in the Bible. Yet, the Minister is in his 80s. Biblical scholars estimate that Joshua in the scriptures was 60 years of age when he led the Children of Israel into the Promise Land. So it’s more about the spirit in than youthfulness.
EM: How real of an issue is burn out, resentment or even bitterness when it comes to being in the ministry? How do these sentiments enter the mind/heart of the one positioned to serve? How does one combat against it?
WM: Resentment, bitterness and burn out are real issues for people in the ministry. I personally think that burnout is the final stage after resentment and then bitterness. They begin to set in our hearts and minds when we fail to properly acknowledge our disappointments and fail to properly address them. These sentiments begin to take root when we look for reward and praise from others instead of Allah. If we keep Him as the focus then we can avoid those sentiments.
I’m not just trying to say that in a way that sounds cliché-ish. In the scriptures we see can learn from Jesus and the ten men he cured of leprosy. Only one of the ten came back, and the one that did was not a member of Jesus’ own people. Despite that, Jesus did not allow the ingratitude of the other nine take away from his spirit/desire to do what God raised him to do. Why? Because he was not doing it for vanity but solely for the glorification of God. The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan is a LIVING example of that in our midst. He is proof that we can defeat such sentiments.
Sometimes we bring these sentiments upon ourselves by doing more than Allah asked us to do. In the Holy Quran Allah asked us to simply live a life based upon the laws and principles He gave us. He also asked that our duty is to only deliver a clear message. This world has given many an incorrect understanding of salvation. Too many think that it’s about sitting back and doing nothing, while allowing God and Jesus to do it all. If we read the scripture we see that the person who hears the word has a responsibility to do something. The Minister said that the ear would be the instrument of salvation in the Last Days. Well, add that the words of Jesus when he said don’t just be hearers of the word but also DOERS!
Often time we go beyond that and try to do it all for our people and end up enabling them. This creates stress, which leads to resentment, then bitterness. We begin to resent the amount of time we spent trying to bring the message to our people. Then we begin to become bitter toward them and our own spirit becomes salty. So like the wife of Lot we are looking back and missing the world we were brought out of while we say we are walking with the Man of God toward the destination God is leading him. Then burnout takes place, which means the fire of Allah is extinguished due to resentment and bitterness.
EM: I always hear Minister Farrakhan give care and consideration in his opening. He does not waste one word throughout his messages. What kind of spirit does it take and what kind of love does it take to overcome exhaustion where it doesn’t affect one’s ability to convey the word of Allah?
WM: If we love sharing the Word of Allah, I mean really love it, that alone will help us overcome exhaustion. That love with the constant reminder that we are representing God’s man and speaking to God’s people, will help us be careful in our delivery. Minister Farrakhan is a living example of that. He is energized by the word and seeing people become awakened. I have experienced the same thing, I love sharing what the Minister is giving to us from the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad. This is all I really want to do. Share it verbally and find ways to manifest it in tangible ways as well. When I do I feel energized and fulfilled. I feel unfulfilled when large amounts of my time are consumed by things that don’t include this Teaching.
EM: What are the complexities related to tiring out? For example, there are some student ministers who work full-time jobs. How does that or how can that affect one’s spiritual energy? How does physical health and fitness contribute to one’s spiritual energy?
WM: I think the biggest challenge having a full time job presents is that it limits what we can do. It adds to the challenge for the struggle for balance, and it takes away from the creativity we can be devoting to planning, strategizing and developing the systems within our mosques or study groups.
We are participating in the resurrection of a mentally dead people, which is more than a FULL TIME job. Think about this example. Imagine there are two people who work at a graveyard doing 12 or more hour shifts. Their job responsibilities are exhuming bodies that are buried in caskets. One worker does this job full time. His full attention and energy is dedicated to doing that work, while the other has another full time job that requires his attention and labor from 8a-3:30p. As soon as this worker finishes he goes to work at the graveyard. Which one do you think would be the most effective in fulfilling his job responsibilities? Which one would have more energy? Which one do you think would be able to use his mental and creatively capabilities the most?
The disciples of Jesus, at one point in their following Jesus, had to leave their occupations to follow the Master Teacher. You don’t read about them still fishing and being accountants. They followed him. I personally believe we would make greater strides and accomplishments if more student ministers and laborers were freed up.
As it relates to physical health, it’s a must we maintain our physical health. We are not just spirits. We have physical bodies. Remember the body houses the spirit, therefore, it like every other physical thing needs maintenance.
It’s been documented that 30 minutes of exercise increases our energy. This is why I am thankful to the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad and the Honorable Louis Farrakhan, for teaching us the wisdom and knowledge of God in a way that destroys the mystery God teaching. In the book How to Eat to Live Book 1 and 2 we are taught that prayer and reading the scriptures alone will not maintain our physical bodies. We have to actually do the things that would allow us to have life and more life abundantly. Now throw in the need to squeeze time in to actually go workout 3-4 times a week in the example of the brother who works at graveyard while also having another full time job. Would it be a challenge? How much time would he have to spend with his wife, his children? Something aspect of his life will suffer.
This is why believers need to understand how important it is for us to work to free up our laborers, especially if they are those who are really out there trying to carry out the Father’s business. Unfortunately, far too many do not think about that or even care. Yet, the laborers are still expected to perform. How many do you know who have expressed concern about if their head laborer is being cared for? How many do you know are upset that the laborers or student minister’s aren’t freed up?
EM: Yes sir. As it relates to sacrifices: What do you consider healthy sacrifices vs. unhealthy sacrifices when it comes to being helpers in the cause of Allah?
WM: Unhealthy sacrifices are those that violate the principles and instructions that are given to us by Allah’s Servant in our midst. Some try to use the personal history of the Minister as a justification of neglecting our families. There are things in the Minister’s life and mistakes he made with his family that were allowed by Allah so he can teach an ENTIRE Nation what not to do.
In The Teachings 2.0 Twitter book the Minister was asked, “With your rigorous schedule all these years, has it been hard to schedule time with your family?” The Minister answered, “Unfortunately, my family was sacrificed because I did not achieve the balance that is necessary between mission and family. But I’m doing all in my power to achieve that balance. Better late than never.”
The Minister told us that the order of importance is God, family and Nation. The more I study that I realize that family and Nation are one in the same. For we, cannot have a strong nation without a strong family. The problem with some of us is that we have yet to see that nurturing and growing our relationships with our wives and children is important like any idea of soldiering we have in our minds. No man wants to be a hero in the eyes of the public but a complete failure in the eyes of his wife and children. We are not helping the Minister if we are allowing our family to suffer and go without for LONG periods of time. How effective of a maintainer are we if we give no time to that which we have been asked to maintain by God?
EM: The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan said that we must look at ourselves and be honest with ourselves in terms of our faith and belief. I love how transparent he was in his message “The Pathology of Hypocrisy” and how open he has been lately regarding his experiences in the ministry. It takes a tremendous level of growth and humility to exhibit that. What are some of the dangers current student ministers are faced with if they fail to see the signs of their own hypocrisy, and what kind of effort does it take to reverse it once it is discovered?
WM: I can’t speak on the hypocrisy student ministers face, I do not know what’s in someone’s heart and mind. I can share words about being the importance of being honest, though. The more I grow, the more I am realizing how important it is to be honest with ourselves about our strengths and even areas where we need to improve in. I often implore believers to be honest about things we do not understand.
Often time hypocrisy starts off as something we don’t fully understand. However, instead of being honest about it and going to someone who can direct us to where we can go to get an understanding, we walk around faking belief and understanding. When we do this we are pretending to believe in what we really don’t. That leads to the disease of hypocrisy. Let’s look at a principle found in English Lesson C-1 and pay attention to statements 33-36:
- Do you mean to say that the Devil fooled them three hundred seventy-nine years ago?
- Yes, the T R A D E R made an interpretation that they receive G O L D for their labor – more than they were earning in their own country.
- Then did they receive gold?
- NO. The Trader disappeared and there was no one that could speak their language.
- Then what happened?
- WELL, they wanted to go to their own country, but they could not swim nine thousand miles.
- Why didn’t their own people come and get them?
- Because their own people did not know that they were here.
- When did their own people find out that they were here?
- Approximately sixty years ago.
Why did it take our people 60 years before they came after us? The answer to that question is because they did not know where we were.
Imagine if I was in Houston and I called a brother at 3am and said, “As-Salaam Alaikum, Brother Eric or Brother Bryan, I need your help! I need you to come and get me? I need a ride.” Then when they ask me, “What’s your location?” and I say, “Oh…Umm…I…I…don’t want to tell you because it’s embarrassing.” Would they be able to help me? I think you and those who read this would say no. They could not help me, because they don’t know where I am.
How does this relate to the question? If we are afraid to admit what we do not understand then how will someone know where we are in our belief and direct us to the materials or lectures that can help us build our faith? Look at the Problem Book. We are told, “Ask questions and learn all about yourself.” A teacher can tell where a student is by the level and quality of their questions, NO real teacher would see a student falling short and not give him or her the resources that he/she needs to be a better student. It is not difficult to reach out to someone or find a lecture by Minister Farrakhan that does not address a question or some aspect of the teaching we do not fully understand.
I did not always believe the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad is physically alive. When the question was asked during an FOI class as I was growing in the ranks, I answered honestly. I did not worry about what others may have thought of me. It was not that I rejected that fact; it was more about I did not understand how that was true. That night I went to Allah in prayer and let Him know what my thoughts were about that and what I did not understand. I ASKED Allah to help me understand. From there I did not wait on a book to fall from the sky and hit me in the head to give me understanding. I picked up the Bible, the Quran and listened to lectures by the Minister. I read the writings of Brother Jabril Muhammad. But before all of that, I was honest about where I was in my faith. I submitted and kept working and studying and the understanding came. When I read about Elijah being taken up in a chariot and how Elijah Muhammad is that Elijah, my understanding grew to understand and see him and others as the Jesus of the scripture. Understanding does not come all at once any way. The Holy Quran was revealed to Prophet Muhammad in stages. The Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad and the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan are growing into greater understanding as they work this Mission. When we are honest we not pretending.
EM: Thank you for sharing that very powerful point! For those who may have some trepidation about what their life/role will be like after the ministry, how can they continue to serve, be great helpers and feel as though they are still of use away from the rostrum?
WM: Many of these brothers possess skills that can still benefit our Nation. So when that time comes, they do not have to be afraid because the harvest is still plenty and the laborers are still few. We have to keep in mind that being a minister is just one small aspect of building a Nation. There are student ministers who are principals, urban planners, bankers, educators, doctors and much more. We have plenty of work. What we need to work on is determining how we will honor and treat those who gave decades of their life in such positions. Will we cast them to the side because they are not “Student Minister so and so” anymore? Or will we thank them for their contributions?
EM: You are spearheading the Conflict Resolution Training for the Nation of Islam. You have successfully mediated over 30 conflicts that may have resulted in fatalities otherwise. There was also the recent shooting of Alton Sterling that gained national coverage in Baton Rouge, a neighboring city to New Orleans where you reside. In cases such as police shootings or any fatality involving our people, what is the role of the student minister to that community, to the body of believers as a voice of leadership on behalf of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan? In what ways can student ministers lend themselves before, during and after such tragedies?
WM: By Allah’s Grace we are at 37 resolved conflicts at the time of this interview. We have to get involved. Simply put. If we have been active in our city before these tragedies take place, we would have already established relationships with many activists and groups that will be involved in the fight for justice.
We have student ministers in our Nation who have gained experience from some of the incidents that have grabbed the country’s attention. We have Brother Keith in Oakland (Oscar Grant), Brother Christopher in San Francisco (Mario Woods), Brother Donald (Michael Brown) and Brother Carlos in Baltimore (Freddie Gray). Shouldn’t we contact them and learn from their experience so brothers in different cities do not have to reinvent the wheel?
Well when we saw the loss of Alton Sterling, which propelled Baton Rouge into the spotlight, I reached out to Brother Rasheed, the Student Minister in Baton Rouge about us doing a phone conference with all of the brothers I mentioned so we could benefit from their experience along with that of our Regional Minister here in the Southwest Region. The call was very good and informative, and from that we created an informal document that has some best practices that one can follow.
EM: If you don’t mind sharing one, what hurdle did you have to overcome to experience a significant growth that may have been life saving for you in the ministry?
WM: Good question. I don’t mind sharing. First, I had to become comfortable in being Brother Willie. I followed three magnificent powerhouses who served as ministers in this city. Each was dynamic in their own way and had their visions, goals and plans for the city. But I could not be them. I took the best of what they had to offer along with the ideas I had and got to work.
I also had to learn how to not devout a large amount of energy engaging in petty squabbles with people whose motives were not sincere, those who thought they should be in the position instead of me. When we devout large amounts of our time and energy doing so, it takes away from the real work which is outside of the four walls. I read a quote that said, “You can never reach your destination if you stop to throw rocks at every dog that barks at you while you are on the road.” So I would address issues that someone had, but I would not allow it to become my focus.
I would also add believing that I could actually do this. I never had a desire to be a minister of a mosque. I was happy just being a soldier. I was asked to be an FOI Captain. A year later I was selected to serve as the interim minister. I sat in the Believers meeting held at our mosque and Brother Dr. Robert Muhammad in the middle of his talk said, “I’m making Brother Willie the interim minister.” I was shocked. From the time he announced that I had a discussion within myself. The first thought was like, “What! I can’t do this!” My mind was flooded with so many thoughts about why I couldn’t do it and how others could. Then I had the following thoughts, “You say you love the Minister and want to help him. Well, dammit he needs your help. What in the hell you are going to do?” I made the decision that I wanted to help the man I said I love. Here we are thirteen years later.
EM: What do you attribute to your success in being able to overcome it?
WM: I felt comfortable in being who I sincerely am. I know I had achieved that when I heard the great Nation of Islam soldier, teacher, brother and a mentor to me, Brother Jamil Muhammad. While talking to someone about me in my presence he said to them the very same thing I said above. He said, “Brother Willie is not trying to be anyone other than himself. He is not trying to be a mini version of those who served in this city before him.” I guess that was confirmation.
In addition to that I would add the following principles I try to live by: 1) Keep the work up and the BS down. 2) Always work to be properly motivated and treat everyone with respect, decency and fairness. 3) Follow the example of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, his love, his spirit and his character. 4) Do more working than talking and 5) be a servant.
I may have rubbed a few people wrong during my tenure. If I did it was not my intention.
EM: Based on where the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan is regarding his desire and vision for his Student ministers and with our overall mission, what words or piece of counsel would you offer to the current student ministers as we prepare for Minister Farrakhan taking leave? How critical is/will their role be to his flock (internally + externally) while he is away and upon his return? What words would you offer the upcoming student ministers?
WM: We NEED to understand that we are the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan’s hands and feet. He gives the ideas and inspiration and we must go to work to make them realities. The Minister, while in Houston at the dinner table in his hotel suite, shared how he is often used by Allah to be the instrument that Allah reveals ideas through that are for the benefit of our people and Nation. He said, however, many of them just remain as ideas, because they are not picked up by us and others to make them reality. Let’s strive to really be helpers.
EM: You were faced with enduring the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the grief of the community, injustices and also rebuilding the mosque both physically and spiritually. What was that time period like for you as a student minister? Looking back, what qualities did it bring out of you that you were unaware of? What would you share with other student ministers who, because of the time we’re in, may have to endure similar events as well?
WM: That was one of the toughest moments during my time in this position. It was a great trial. Many believers were in different cities, not knowing if they were going to come back. I had to live in Baton Rouge for half of the year and would come to the city during the weekend. For some years we did not have a place to hold meetings. We began to hold FOI & MGT class in the homes of Believers. We would watch Sunday webcast at a believer’s home and Friday Study group.
When we finally got a place to hold our Sunday meeting, it was in a hotel that was frequented by people who barely had enough money to get by, as well as dope dealers, prostitutes, drug addicts and more. We were meeting at the top floor in a ballroom. We had to go in there and do some touch ups to make it a decent place to use. The FOI would arrive early so the elevator could be cleaned out. We would have an FOI assigned to travel up and down on the elevator with MGT and guests. It was a rough time. It was the only place at that time that we could find to meet.
We eventually found a venue we rented from a pastor. We were going to have one more meeting at the hotel before moving to the new spot, when the brothers arrived there early, they found that the building had been labeled as condemned and was closed down. We just continued to work and the more we did, the more things came together.
I had some dark moments during this time though. What I mean by dark moments, is that I had to fight against falling into bitterness. I learned during this time that not everyone had the same spirit of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan when it came to actually doing something to help us. People talked about it, but did otherwise. Some never called to even check on us.
One thing I learned from this time period in our history is the powerful impact of just making a phone call to someone who has experienced great lost to just let them know, “Hey we are praying and rooting for you.”
I’ll share this surreal moment with you that I experienced as I was at the door of bitterness. I laugh about it now, but I was in my feelings and at the door of disappointment. I and the current Student Captain traveled to the Deliberative Dialogue conference that was held on the farm in Michigan. I asked someone who was involved with the program if a moment could be taken to inform those in attendance about our efforts to raise money to rebuild. The person responded in a way that did not reflect nor show any compassion for our predicament, and they basically said no and walked off. I was hot!
A lot of talk was being said about helping those impacted by Katrina. It was coming from people who never even made a personal call to see how their own brothers and sisters were doing. I can’t lie, I was becoming bitter and angry at folks. The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan was scheduled to speak on that Sunday. I, along with the several hundred who attended, awaited the coming of the Minister to the podium. As I sat there in a mental and spiritual funk, I heard a voice inside my own head that said, “Get focus the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan is about to call you.” Of course, I was a little stunned and puzzled. While I tried to understand what I heard, the Minister arrived onto the stage. He had a serious look on his face. After he opened up he said, “Where is my Minister from New Orleans?” I was shocked, all of this is on video, meaning him asking for me. I stood up, and the Minister began teaching on how if we as a people and as a Nation were more organized we could have done more to help those impacted by Katrina.
After that conference I returned to the city with a clearer understanding of what we had to do. We went to work. If I can say what it showed me about myself: I was stronger than what I thought I was, and we had a good core of Believers who were serious about shouldering the responsibility of rebuilding our mosque. So many lessons came from that experience, so many.
As it relates to upcoming student ministers, I would say continue to study the example of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan. Sit with pioneers and previous laborers and learn from their experience. Continue to work on yourself and avoid vanity. Learn from the mistakes of others. Understand that you represent a man of great character, so let’s act accordingly. Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box, but within the circumference of the example, ideas and desires of the Honorable Louis Farrakhan. Be your authentic self. Develop a true spirit of humility. What I mean by a true spirit is to not become arrogant, but also do not think of ourselves as lesser than what God says we are.
EM: Allah U Akbar! Thank you dear brother for sharing what Allah has blessed you through as a Believer and Student Minister of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan! Truly inspiring! May Allah continue to bless and strengthen you!
WM: Thank you sister for this interview, I pray it helps and inspires all who reads it.
(Student Minister Willie Muhammad is the New Orleans Representative of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and Nation of Islam at Muhammad Mosque No. 46.)