The Supreme Wisdom Lessons and Problem Book
Michael Muhammad Knight
This article examines the Supreme Wisdom Lessons, a neglected but foundational text in American Muslim histories. The Supreme Wisdom Lessons appear in Nation of Islam tradition as a series of question-and-answer examinations between Nation founder Fard Muhammad and his student, Elijah Muhammad. The Lessons were used as a process of initiation for new members, who committed excerpts to memory before receiving more of the text, eventually memorizing the entire document. As Nation tradition developed across the later twentieth century, the Lessons remained salient for diverse ends, including the “orthodox” reforms of Elijah’s son Warith Deen Mohammed, who relied on his personal mastery of the Lessons as authorization to lead the Nation away from his father’s teachings; Louis Farrakhan’s Nation revival, which broke from Warith Deen Mohammed and sought to preserve the Nation as conceived under Elijah’s forty years of leadership; and the Five Percenter community, whose members did not self-identity as Muslims but nonetheless maintained compelling investments in the Lessons for their own tradition.
The discussion that follows gives attention to the Lessons and a significant supplementary text, the Problem Book, within their context of 1930s U.S. esoteric movements, thinkers, and themes, demonstrating that these materials warrant more careful consideration not only within Islamic studies at large but also the study of Western esotericism.