NOI followers believe they originate from a lost nation of African descent who were captured and exploited into slavery by white oppressors referred to as "devils." It fell to the hands of Fard and then Poole to lead African-Americans into a new self-awareness and self-independence.
This black nationalism, aimed at raising the stature of African-Americans, found a new leader in Louis Farrakhan in 1981. Farrakhan -- a former calypso singer, dancer and violinist -- has, through the years, stirred the pot of controversy with anti-Semitic rhetoric and statements promoting black superiority over whites.
It should be noted that the Nation of Islam (boasting up to 50,000 members), is not the same as the Islam religion (with nearly 2 billion worldwide followers). There are also several differences between NOI and core Islamic beliefs.
While Muslims believe in one God with no partners, Son or associates, the NOI says God appeared on Earth in the form of Fard, its founder. Its current leader, Farrakhan, has a history of anti-Jewish comments, and the NOI's main interest is in helping black people who were descended from slaves. Muslims, on the other hand, do not favor one race over another.
And on top of all that, UFOs are an important aspect of the teachings of the NOI. Elijah Muhammad gave detailed accounts of a gigantic Earth-orbiting "Mother Plane" equipped with many weapons, but it's never been clear what takes place on board this ship.
Seeking the divine in the skies is one of the core beliefs of NOI leaders and followers, which explains why so much of their literature tells of UFOs, or what they prefer to call airborne "wheels."
But it's not aliens flying around in these things, they say. Nation of Islam mythology teaches that the circular craft were somehow built by humans on Earth, many centuries ago, reportedly under the guidance of God.
According to the story, the original "wheel" was built by scientists on what is now the island of Japan, at a cost of $15 billion in gold. And, so the tale goes, these original UFOs were used to create mountains on Earth.
Part of the problem with all of this is that it raises more questions than it answers:
- Who really had the technological know-how millennia ago to make circular craft that could perform impossible aerial maneuvers?
- What happened to these ships? Are they the UFOs that are reported today?
- Why build these things just to make mountains?
Referring to the countless UFO stories over the decades that people have dared talk about, Farrakhan told a huge group in Chicago at the recent annual Nation of Islam Saviours' Day, "Many have died or have been killed to keep from sharing what they have seen."
He added that the NOI is "a community that is unafraid of any government interference. ... We will drive the government of the United States to open the files and make known to the American people the existence of this reality."
Flanked on stage by an invited group of international UFO investigators and researchers, Farrakhan offered gratitude for the information they shared with the NOI leaders and followers.
"They have in us allies. They have in us their protectors. They have in us those that will help them to gain the finance to keep up their research."
And yet, the NOI firmly believes UFOs will ultimately destroy the world on Judgment Day.
Elijah Muhammad taught this religious group about the biblical story of Ezekiel, a Hebrew prophet who wrote of an encounter he had with God, who reportedly appeared in the sky on a chariot of four wheels.
"Since the founding of the Nation of Islam, these wheel-like objects have been taught to us of their existence and their function," said Ishmael Muhammad, one of Elijah Muhammad's sons and the current national assistant minister of the religious organization.
"The founder of the Nation of Islam, Fard Muhammad, taught us about these objects that the world calls UFOs, and he gave us great details as to the materials that they were constructed of and that most of these objects come from this planet Earth," Ishmael Muhammad told AOL News.
"He also taught us of the existence of life on other planets, as well as a highly advanced civilization on the planet Mars. He taught us about the Mother Plane (UFO) and gave us the dimensions that it was a half mile by a half mile, human-made planet, one mile in height, and that this Mother Plane carried 1,500 smaller planes."
He added that, decades ago, when his father led the NOI, "continuing the work of restoration and redemption of black people," that the FBI raided their temple "and took all of the files that he had, including detailed diagrams on these UFOs -- they confiscated all of those documents and materials."
During a speech from last year's Saviours' Day convention in Chicago, Farrakhan spoke of a 1985 vision or encounter he claims to have had with "the wheel," or UFO. He told his followers how he'd been taken aboard the craft where he heard Elijah Muhammad talk to him.
At the recent Saviours' Day event, attended by nearly 10,000 followers, the weekend theme was scientific analysis. For three hours, the group of invited UFO experts presented their views on the subject.
"As long as Farrakhan has been the national leader of the Nation of Islam, I know he's been a very controversial figure and for me, the question came down to, do I want to be associated with something that might be political or religious?" said Donald Schmitt, one of Farrakhan's speakers. "I had to be assured that this was going to be strictly an opportunity to present a good case for UFOs."
Schmitt, the co-author of two best-selling books, "UFO Crash at Roswell" (Avon) and "The Truth About the UFO Crash at Roswell" (M. Evans), is one of the leading investigators in the UFO field.
The short presentation he gave to the NOI centered on the famous 1947 case of a reported UFO crash near Roswell, N.M.
Prior to his talk (to an audience of 5,000 in a main hall and another 4,000 in a nearby area), Schmitt and the other presenters met privately with Farrakhan, under extremely tight security.
"You would have sworn you were meeting with the president," Schmitt told AOL News."
"The entire discussion was about UFOs, and it didn't deviate. He kept talking about how heroic and brave we were in the face of worldwide skepticism and the media so often treating this at such a high level of ridicule. I was pleasantly surprised when he offered both emotional and financial support for our work, and he came across as very humble in our presence."
Ishmael Muhammad, 46, influential in the organization's important Mosque Maryam in Chicago, is one of the top ministers considered a potential successor to Farrakhan, 77, who has battled prostate cancer in recent years.
Ever since several videos of a UFO seen over the Islamic shrine known as the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem went viral at the end of January, UFO believers and skeptics alike have chimed in on any possible religious significance of the event.
"The most significant way that sighting can be interpreted is that the Dome of the Rock represents the third holiest site for Muslims, and Jerusalem is a holy place for Christians and Jews," said Ishmael Muhammad. "The fact that the wheel appeared over that sacred temple points to the fact that there's about to be a change on our planet and all of the religions are about to be brought into one universal religion."
So, at the very least, it appears the NOI is hoping that UFOs will unite the planet in a devout way.
"I believe that the recent release of UFO documents by the British government is very significant, along with other countries that have released their own," Ishmael Muhammad added.
"There's just too much overwhelming evidence, and they can't continue to tell the people that what they are seeing are weather balloons, and they have been monitoring the activity of these wheels for decades.
"I think it says that they know that contact is imminent."