While growing up in the streets of Baltimore, Maryland, Carlos Muhammad loved to collect things.
“I loved collecting things and I was very attracted to things that had historical context of the kind of information found in encyclopedias,” he said.
Although he had such a passion for history, becoming a historian or archivist never even occurred to him. Instead, his mind was on many of the things he and his peers were doing — drug dealing and hanging out in the streets.
Carlos Muhammad serves as the national archivist for the Nation of Islam. On top of being the Student Minister over Mosque #6 in Baltimore, he spends much of his time gathering and curating historical content, then touring the country to educate the masses.
Little did he know that his passion for history would come full circle in such a position.
Meet Carlos Muhammad.
Many young Black men who grew up during a certain time have a similar story.
“The schools had become like killing fields and teachers were telling me I wouldn’t really amount to anything,” Carlos said.
During his first year of high school, he began getting into the Black Power Movement.
“I was in the barber shop one time and one brother in the neighborhood, he came back in and asked the owner [if he] could leave two newspapers, and these two papers were Final Call Newspapers and on the front, it was celebrating the rededication to Mosque Maryam,” he said.
Popular rappers at that time were pictured on the cover of the paper.
“I basically stole the newspapers and took them home because I was interested in the rappers on the front page,” Carlos laughed. “I saw a piece on Malcolm X, who I was familiar with. Though I was seeing images of the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad and the Minister, I still didn’t make the connections.”
As he continued to study the paper and other books, he grew an affinity for the different leaders he was reading about. Still, he didn’t completely know all about them. He pasted some of their pictures onto the cover of his notebook, and a friend at school recognized the faces.
“One of my friends asked me, ‘why you got Farrakhan on your notebook’ and he said ‘he don’t like no white people.’ I couldn’t wait to go home and find the rest of that newspaper because now I wanted to learn more about this man I was carrying on my notebook,” he said. “I went back to the paper and put the pieces together and went to the library to find the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad.”
He went to his first mosque meeting in the tenth grade at the age of 15, along with his friend.
“When we left, my friend was kind of in a hurry to get out of there, but in my heart I wanted to stay,” he said. “When we went away from the building, I was thoroughly moved by what I heard and I broke down crying.”
He got registered into the Nation of Islam when he turned 16.
“Then the same young man who said he wouldn’t come back, he saw the change in me and got registered,” he said.
Life in the NOI
Carlos Muhammad’s first encounter with a historical item in the Nation of Islam occurred while he was at an event the believers hosted at the mosque.
“We invited Brother Student Minister Akbar Muhammad out, who was at that time, basically known to be the historian for the Nation,” he said. “He had made a series of tapes in 1982 called the History of the Nation of Islam that I learned a lot from. He came to the city and did a historical presentation on Africa because he had gone back and forth. He also was a collector and had artifacts and he decided to auction them.”
One of the items being auctioned that day was a mint condition tape of a lecture Minister Farrakhan had done during Black Family Day.
“What caught me along with the fact that it was the Minister was that the date that was on the record, very bold letters, was May 27, 1974. I had turned 1 years old when Minister Farrakhan made that speech and so I just had to have it and I ended up paying a little over $300 for that record,” he said.
After that, his collecting continued during his first Saviours’ Day in 1991.
“A brother from San Francisco had a table full of Muhammad Speaks newspapers and I purchased a few copies then stayed in contact with him. Then, whenever Saviours’ Day came around, Allah blessed me with the finances to get more and more. As time went, believers began to give me things because of my interest,” he said.
At 19-years-old, he entered the ministry class after having to speak unexpectedly. From there, he began teaching on current events during FOI Class. Brother Jamil, the minister over the city at that time, asked him if he’d go into the ministry class fully. A year and a few months afterwards, Minister Farrakhan moved Brother Jamil to Atlanta, and assigned Carlos Muhammad as the minister over the mosque.
While there, he earned the title “hip-hop minister.”
“As you can imagine, when a beautiful man like Minister Farrakhan takes a little boy and puts him over such a progressive mosque—looking back, that’s what it was,” he said. “He put a little boy over those followers. I didn’t have any life experience. I had just gotten married myself, so I didn’t have enough experience in marriage to counsel anybody. So naturally, being young, the older ones looked at me like, ‘Man, this little boy can’t run no mosque.’ After the mosque meetings after I taught, I would go in the office and play videogames with the other junior brothers. Because I was 20.”
When he wasn’t in his suit and bowtie, he was in baggy jeans, Timberlands and a baseball cap.
“That bothered a lot of the believers,” he said. “That bothered some of my helpers. This was not representative of the Minister and this is not what a minister should be like. When I would pull up to the mosque in my car, I would have hip-hop on. I remember having Wu Tang Clan and Nas playing in the car.”
Believers in the mosque wrote the Minister about his behavior constantly, till the Minister finally put an end to it.
“We had a regional meeting when I was like 22-years-old in the Mid-Atlantic, and the Minister, after receiving all of these letters and things, he actually calls me out and asks them, ‘Do you know my minister from Baltimore?’ And everybody’s like, ‘Yes sir.’ Keep in mind, even regionally I’ve been in the Nation since I was 15, so pretty much everybody knew me as a young brother that had come up in the ranks. He said, ‘No you don’t. You don’t know him. This is my hip-hop minister. He can reach people you can’t. Just be patient and give him time to grow.’”
Community Involvement, Advice and Salvation
As a student minister, Carlos Muhammad has been and is involved in numerous community outreach programs.
He was invited to speak the message of Islam to 10-20 year olds housed and incarcerated inside of the Baltimore Juvenile Detention Center. He accepted the proposal to speak, but in 2009, he was approached again and asked if he could be a part of a team to mentor the young men.
“Well, I would have to first check with the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and see if that would be something I could do,” he told the person that asked him.
At the time, he worked full-time for the Nation. When he presented the idea to Minister Farrakhan, the Minister said to him, “That is a part of your work. You would be more of a minister to those young men than you are to the people at the mosque, because they’re open. Go on and do your work.”
And Carlos did just that. In 2015, Allah showed him the fruits of his work when the Baltimore uprising occurred following the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old Black man who was being transported in police custody when he fell into a coma and later died.
“Who were the ones out there throwing the bricks? Throwing the bottles? Lighting the fires? Acting out their anger and frustration to injustice? It was our little brothers from the jail,” Carlos said. “When they saw me and when they saw some of the other brothers that worked there, they said, ‘Brother Muhammad, what do you want us to do?’ I said, ‘Well, you put those things down and come with us and help us get control and get the women and children off the streets.’”
Carlos describes that incident as one of the biggest moments in his ministry, but community involvement can only go so far. It’s important for the people within the community to have a solid grasp on their history.
“We look in our past to see what are those things that continue to plague us that need change, maybe evolution or redevelopment. The Honorable Elijah Muhammad said anyone who has a proper understanding of past events and circumstances can also have the gift of prophecy to see what can happen,” Carlos said.
He urges people to take the good of the past and learn from the bad in order to actualize a better outcome for unborn future generations. He also sees a connection between a people’s history and their salvation.
We as Black people did not understand why God permitted 400 years of slavery and suffering, but it set up the right circumstances for Him to make Himself known on July 4, 1930, the declaration of independence for the Black man and woman, Carlos said.
“This is the beautiful part, when you connect history unto salvation, because had that not happened, we wouldn’t be on the phone right now. Had Master Fard Muhammad not come, we wouldn’t be having this interview. That’s how serious looking back on a historical timeline is,” he said.
Carlos encourages people that want to get into documenting history to start with their families the old-fashioned way: through oral tradition and tangible artifacts.
“When we want to know something, we go to Google or we go to YouTube or we go to these platforms, Wikipedia, these kinds of things today, and we get information and dip. So the thing we have to do to preserve our legacy is not allow oral tradition and the tangible tradition to lose its way,” he said.
He describes going to grandma’s house and seeing the photo album and looking through it.
“If you can get to the oldest one in your family line, start to ask them, ‘When were you born? What were the conditions like at the time? And, after they get done with the oral part, ask them, ‘Do you have any pictures? Do you have this or that?’ Have them go over these pictures and images,” he said.
After you start in your own household, you should start with the pioneers in the mosque.
“They could share some of their historical content and artifacts,” Carlos said.
Business and Future Endeavors
Outside of documenting history and collecting artifacts, Carlos Muhammad has a related passion: shoe collection. He owns 2,700 pairs of shoes, and the entirety of the collection is worth a little over $750,000.
“I love wearing them, but I rarely get the chance to because I’m usually in a suit and tie. Technically, at this time, I could wear a brand new pair of sneakers for the next four and a half years,” he said.
He turned his sneaker collection into a business, and he has been buying and selling since 2006.
“One I sold that I paid $160, I sold for $8,000 to help my daughter with her college tuition. Today, it runs from $15 to $25,000,” he said.
He doesn’t let his passion for collecting sneakers get in the way of his main passion of helping the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan.
Carlos is working on putting together a historical reference book for the Nation of Islam, which would act as an encyclopedia. He wants it to include not only information about notable people such as Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali and Master Fard, but unsung heroes that answer questions such as: how did drill begin, who was Master Fard Muhammad’s secretary and who was the first Supreme Captain?
Another thing he is working on is the preservation of historical film footage of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan prior to 1975.
One last thing he is working on is a historical curriculum of the Nation of Islam.
“When we look at the beauty of being a part of such a glorious history, 88 years and we’re 12 years short of the centennial, then yeah, there’s absolutely a connection between past/current events as it relates to a salvation of a people going into the future,” he said.
You can follow Carlos Muhammad on Instagram @noiarchives.