By Erick Johnson, Chicago Crusader
Everyone in Chicago knows Munir Muhammad.
As the longtime host of the online show, “C.R.O.E. TV,” Muhammad has interviewed every sitting governor, except Gov. Bruce Rauner. Politicians, activists, business executives and ministers have sat on a leather sofa in a small studio in Marquette where Muhammad has entertained and educated viewers for two decades.
Both outspoken and affable, Muhammad has come a long way to get where he is today.
A member of the Nation of Islam, Muhammad is a success story in his own right; one that allows him to be a devout and proud follower of the late Honorable Elijah Muhammad. Twenty years after he launched his popular talk show, Munir remains one of the most recognizable figures in Chicago, who wears the beliefs and teachings of the man who founded the Nation of Islam. On the 20th anniversary of C.R.O.E., Munir is not only celebrating his show’s success, but his steadfast loyalty to his spiritual mentor, Elijah Muhammad.
Munir Muhammad spoke with the Chicago Crusader during two interviews in his tiny studio that’s connected to the headquarters of C.R.O.E. (The Coalition for the Remembrance of Elijah Muhammad).
The Honorable Elijah Muhammad has been deceased for 42 years, but his spirit not only lives on in the Nation’s current leader, Minister Louis Farrakhan, but also in Munir—a hard-core follower who has weathered persecution for expressing his beliefs.
Many viewers admire his convictions and appreciate his charm and charisma expressed in his program, but the real show takes place every day in his office where hundreds of photographs of prominent figures and celebrities grace the walls of the facility. The person who adorns the walls the most is the Nation’s founder, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad.
“I want people to get a chance to know him, especially those who didn’t know him,” Munir told the Crusader. “There’s no stronger voice than Louis Farrakhan, but many did not hear the voice of Elijah. For 40 years of history, Elijah was on the radio every day. He was a guy who was such a success and you don’t even check him out?”
Born in Birmingham, AL, Munir came to Chicago when he was just nine years old. It was summer and Chicago was everything Birmingham was not. With his older brother, Munir became captivated by big city life. He loved playing baseball at Franklin Park.
“I knew there was something special about Chicago, so I kept coming back,” Munir said.
“People in Chicago called us the freedom runners. I knew that this was going to be the place where I was going to be successful. There was [sic] a lot of people. I visited the West Side.”
The visit would be one of many escapes from the Deep South for Munir.
To Munir and thousands of Blacks, life in Birmingham in the 1950s was far different than Chicago. Segregation and lynchings were common. On May 26, 1968, more than one month after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, Munir finally moved to Chicago. The move was bittersweet. Munir’s father died just eight days prior. At 18, as a fresh high school graduate and after many visits to Chicago, Munir had his sights on moving. Nevertheless, Munir’s father’s death was difficult to accept.
“It broke my heart,” Munir said. “My daddy was very knowledgeable, but serious. He didn’t believe in an afterlife. He said, ‘When you’re gone, you’re gone.’ He had grown fed up with religion. I can’t believe my father was aware of Islam. He taught Sunday school, but he was always critical of preachers. He went to a Methodist church. The first church my mother went to was a Baptist church, but we went to church for decoration.
“My mother didn’t want me to move to Chicago. But I knew that once I finished high school, I wanted to go. You had sports teams. It was a big city. People left and they were going away to college, but I knew that I wasn’t going to college. I felt it was a waste of time. The kids I knew weren’t going to school. They were getting high in hotels and stuff.”
Munir said his mother died 10 years ago—years after joining the Nation of Islam, like her son.
After moving to Chicago in 1968, Munir worked for a year and half in shipping and receiving for DeMert & Dougherty, a hair care products and personal grooming supply company on the Southwest Side. At the age of 20, Munir married his wife, Aminah, on July 25, 1970. He then worked as an assistant code enforcer with the City of Chicago.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for Munir was his conversion to the Nation of Islam. At 22, Munir said a friend brought him to the mosque on Stony Island. Introduction to the teachings that empower Blacks as God’s chosen people was a life-changing experience for Munir.
“When I heard Honorable Elijah Muhammad that day, it took me by storm. I hadn’t heard any explanation that made so much sense. The message was profound. Yusef Shah was teaching. He was so down-to-earth. He was hip and street-oriented. The other guy was Dr. Abdul Salaam, an intellectual and a dentist by profession.”
It was the beginning of an enlightening, but difficult spiritual journey for Munir. He started studying in 1972 to join the Nation of Islam, but Munir said it wasn’t until 1974 that he became an official member at 22 years old.
“It was like passing a test. I had to write a letter to Allah and they rejected my letter. Rejected. It was not easy. I smoked cigarettes. I drank whiskey. I smoked marijuana. I was a person who thought I was hip. I was street-oriented. I did everything under the sun I could think of [sic]. I had a lot of women and was not thinking about marriage or anything like it. We wanted to convert to Islam, but we also wanted to keep smoking marijuana. Islam changes you.
“It was a thinking process. Always, Mr. Muhammad was trying to get you to think. The ultimate goal was to try to get you to love yourself first. It was difficult at first because we were made to hate ourselves. Everything that Blacks did was wrong. So, subliminally they had us. And though you look at your brother, you hate him because you hate yourself. And jealously and envy was something they (whites) set up. We are not these crazy people. We are divine, and sons of the Most High. I didn’t feel inferior anymore.”
The next year of Munir’s conversion, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad died.
“That affected me so much because I wanted people to get to know him.”
In 1997, Munir built the C.R.O.E. studio after years of persecution. He said he started the show because he was being excluded from other places as he expressed his feelings for
the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, whom he wanted to talk about.
“People always defined us,” Munir said. “After we started, we began to interview people from all over. Politicians started coming. Then an opportunity came that I can get my own studio and stream live the show all over the world. I’ve interviewed everybody and their mother. Farrakhan, Mayor (Rahm) Emanuel, (Richard M.) Daley, (Governor) Pat Quinn, (Governor) Rod Blagojevich, and (Governor) Jim Ryan.”
As far as modern times, Munir said, “We have a lot of people who are financially-sound, but they say if you got a man who’s wise, then keep him broke. Never let the two merge. That’s what’s missing with us. Those who got money have challenges trying to merge those two together because we turn around and give it back to the same people. We never build up our communities in our own neighborhoods.”