AMERICA'S BLACK MUSLIMS
New York — In most large metropolitan areas of the United States there are groups of Islamic worshipers that are neither evangelized, converted, nor recruited by any orthodox branch of Islam.
Black city folklore holds that the Black Muslim movement was born in Detroit in the early 1930s. Its message is said to have been delivered by Fard Muhammad, who claimed to be Allah (God). Fard Muhammad revealed himself to a man known as Elijah Poole. Mr. Poole then became the Hon. Elijah Muhammad, the ''last messenger'' of Allah.
With the disappearance of Fard Muhammad in the early '30s, Elijah Muhammad left Detroit for Chicago with the members of his small ''Nation of Islam.''
Over the years the movement grew to some 100,000 to 200,000 members.
Today, Louis Farrakhan, minister of the Lost-Found Nation of Islam, claims to be national representative of the Hon. Elijah Muhammad. But Minister Farrakhan is a rebel. His Nation of Islam is only seven years old, a split from Elijah Muhammad's original Nation of Islam, which today is called the American Muslim Mission.
Nonetheless, Minister Farrakhan is reviving the fundamentals of the original Nation of Islam. He echoes Malcolm X, Elijah Muhammad's national representative in the glory days of the 1950s and 1960s:
''If we cannot get the three essentials of life, freedom, justice, and equality, within the framework of the American political and social system, then we ask that we be separated in a state or territory of our own, that we may build a nation independent for our own,'' Farrakhan says.
''Separation is the final option,'' Farrakhan states, repeating a basic goal of Elijah Muhammad, who died in 1975. Elijah Muhammad had demanded separation from the United States, asking that black people be given five southern states where they would have a nation of their own, the Nation of Islam.
Although the Black Muslims - Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad denounced this name for their movement - called themselves a religious movement that studied the Qu'ran (or Koran), their goals were to establish their own businesses, build their own schools and educational system, and create their independent nation.
The philosophy of Mr. Muhammad is reasserted in today's political arena by Farrakhan in his uncompromising support of the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson for president of the United States, a backing that startled and sometimes frightened many Americans during the recent Democratic Party primary campaigns.
Farrakhan once warned that if the Democratic Party dared ''lock Reverend Jackson out'' of its recent nominating convention in San Francisco: ''I pledge to you that I will lead an army of black men and women to Washington, D.C., and we will sit down with the President, whomever he may be, and we will negotiate for a separate state or territory of our own.''
That necessity did not arise.
The actual ordained leader of the American Muslim Misson is Imam Warith Deen Muhammad (born Wallace Dean), son of the Hon. Elijah Muhammad. He has led his father's movement since 1975 but has dropped many of the group's traditions and rules (which Farrakhan, however, still practices).
Imam Muhammad, for example, does not wear the traditional dark suit and bow tie. He often preaches in his shirt-sleeves. Worshippers are no longer searched thoroughly as they enter a mosque. In fact, the mosque or temple has been renamed masjid. No longer do the men limit their attire to dark suits and bow ties. No longer does the crisp, strictly disciplined Fruit of Islam, the dreaded security force of the original movement, sternly maintain law and order. There are other changes:
* Whites may become members. Few, however, have joined.
* The strict dress code has been relaxed for women as well as men. Women still cover their heads in public, but otherwise have flexibility in choice of clothing.
* Mosques are carpeted and people sit on the floor, instead of in Western-style pews as in the past. Congregations are still segregated by sex, men in front, women and children in the rear.
* Black Muslims may engage in political and community activity. Under Elijah Muhammad they were isolated from outside programs.
* The American Muslim Mission leans toward traditional Islam.
Imam Muhammad harshly criticize Farrakhan, who first supported the changes, then dropped out of the American Muslim Mission in 1977.
''Minister Farrakhan is behind the times, still tied too much to the philosophy of my father,'' Imam Muhammad says.
Farrakhan says of his rebellion: ''Our efforts have had Allah's blessings. We started from literally nothing - two followers and no temples. Today we have temples and study groups in 71 cities.
Both groups have headquarters in Chicago, but the parent American Muslim Mission is the larger. Neither group announces numbers, however. Their influence reaches beyond their membership to the millions of American blacks willing to listen to them and support them.