Alternative names on record are numerous, among them W.D. Fard, David Ford-el, Wali Farad, Farrad Mohammed and F. Mohammed Ali. Within the NOI he is generally known as Master Fard Muhammad.
According to FBI records, Fard (pronounced fuh-RAHD) Muhammad is identical to Wallace Dodd Ford, also known as Wallace Dodd, whose birth is recorded by the FBI as February 25 1891, of mixed European and Polynesian parentage. There is much uncertainty about his origins. It has been claimed that he was born in New Zealand or in Portland, Oregon, of parents who came from Hawaii. A recent researcher believes that Dodd was a New Zealander of half-Indian descent, born in 1893. He has also been said to be of "Turko-Persian" descent.
On a World War I Draft registration card for Wallie Dodd Fard (Ford) from 1917, he is living in Los Angeles, unmarried, as a restaurant owner, and reports that he was born in Shinka, Afghanistan on February 26, 1893. He is described as being of medium height and build with brown eyes and black hair.
As of 1920, he was still living in Los Angeles, as 26 year-old Wallie D. Ford, with his 25 year-old wife, Hazel. He provides his occupation as proprietor of a restaurant, and gives his place of birth as New Zealand. He provides no known place of birth for his parents, nor his date of immigration.
Dodd was arrested and imprisoned for drug offenses, serving three years in San Quentin between 1926 and 1929. Photographs and fingerprints of both men exist.
The NOI rejects this identification of Wallace Dodd with Wallace Fard Muhammad, interpreting it as part of a smear campaign. They also say that he was born in 1877 (which would put him in his 50s when photographed), and that he came from Mecca. Elijah Muhammad—Fard Muhammad's student and successor—had this to say about his teacher, in his book Message to the Blackman:
Allah (God) came to us from the Holy City Mecca, Arabia, in 1930. He used the name Wallace D. Fard, often signing it W.D. Fard. In the third year (1933), He signed His name W.F. Muhammad, which stands for Wallace Fard Muhammad. He came alone. He began teaching us the knowledge of ourselves, of God and the devil, of the measurement of the earth, of other planets, and of the civilizations of some of the planets other than earth.
Elijah Muhammad also challenged the Hearst press, which had publicized the story, and offered US$100,000 to anyone who could prove Wallace Fard was an alias of Wallace Dodd Ford. Wallace Dodd's former common-law wife, Hazel Dodd, stepped forward with what she claimed was proof that Fard and Dodd were indeed the same person. She also claimed to have a child fathered by Dodd/Fard. The money was never placed in escrow and Hazel Dodd was never paid the money.
While the question of Fard's identity is controversial, the current NOI lead minister, Louis Farrakhan, does accept that Fard was imprisoned, insisting that this was because his preaching threatened the racial status quo, not because of any criminal acts. However, the most zealous followers of these movements refuse to even consider this possibility.
Fard's activities were brought to wider public notice after a major scandal erupted involving an apparent ritual murder in November 1932, reportedly committed by one of Fard's early followers, Robert Karriem. He later said he had committed the murder "to bring himself closer to Allah." Karriem had quoted from Fard's booklet titled Secret Rituals of the Lost-Found Nation of Islam: "The unbeliever must be stabbed through the heart." This quotation, as well as stating that "every son of Islam must gain a victory from the devil. Four victories and the son will attain his reward," convinced the Detroit police to seek out Fard in connection with the murder.
Although not charged with any crime, Fard was asked to leave town in early 1933 and to never return. Fard complied, but returned secretly to Detroit the next year. Fard was arrested and again asked to leave Detroit.
One of Fard's first followers had been Elijah Poole, who later changed his name to Elijah Muhammad. Elijah began preaching that Wallace Fard Muhammad was the Mahdi and even deified Fard as the True and Living God. Shortly before he departed Detroit for the last time, Fard had conferred leadership of the Nation of Islam on Elijah Muhammad.
There is some evidence that Fard lived at least until the 1960s; his alleged lover stated that he had returned to New Zealand. The FBI maintained an open file on Fard Muhammad up until as late as 1960, according to documents published through the Freedom of Information Act.
In 1981 Pakistani scholar Z.I. Alsari researched Fard's life and claimed that Fard was identical with Muhammad Abdullah, a Pakistani Ahmadiyya Muslim who had been an adviser of Elijah Muhammad since the late 1950s and who was the tutor of his son and successor Warith Deen Mohammed. After Elijah's death Warith Deen appointed Abdullah imam of Mosque #77 in Oakland, California. The November 26 1976 issue of the NOI journal Bilalian News reports Muhammad Abdullah's first khutbah at the mosque and shows a photo. Abdullah himself denied that he was Fard, saying "It is all right to say I am Fard Muhammad for Wallace [Warith] D. Muhammad. I taught him some lessons. But I am not the same person who taught Elijah Muhammad and I am not God.
The idea that Islam is the original true religion is derived from mainstream Islamic theology, which claims that Judaism and Christianity are corrupted forms of God's original message that Muhammad merely reaffirmed. The presence of Islam in eastern countries such as Indonesia and the Middle East may have led Fard to conclude that it was the historical faith of Asian peoples as a whole. This theory was directly influenced by Drew, who had claimed that all non-Europeans are in fact part of a unified Asian race, which he called Moorish.
Christian missionary activity under imperialism may also have contributed to Fard's association of white supremacy with the attempted imposition of corrupted religious ideas. The figure of Yakub is derived from the Biblical Jacob (Yaqub in the Qur'an), while his activities on Patmos recall St. John's revelations. Thus, he combined central figures in the founding of Judaism and Christianity.
Fard's racialization of Islamic beliefs is part of the widespread preoccupation with racial theory and eugenics among many people from various backgrounds at the time. The common white supremacist idea that Black people were somehow less evolved than whites was turned around so that Black people become the original uncorrupted peoples of the world and whites were defined as a degenerate offshoot. According to Fard, Yakub's progeny were destined to dominate the world for 6,000 years before the original Black peoples once again assumed power. Fard said this process had begun in 1914, while his followers said he had been sent to proclaim it.
The narrator in Charles Portis' novel, The Dog of the South mentions "Wallace Fard" among the aliases used by another character (who has run off with the narrator's wife) when signing fraudulent credit card receipts.