Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Farrakhan takes podium once more

Farrakhan takes podium once more

DETROIT -- Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan is heading into what's billed as his final major address Sunday, and some Muslims are wondering if the fiery orator - now slowed by poor health - will try to repair old divisions between his movement and mainstream Islam.

Farrakhan's scheduled appearance at Ford Field, home of the NFL's Detroit Lions, will be his first since ceding leadership last year to an executive board because of illness.

The 73-year-old Farrakhan was released last month from the hospital after undergoing a 12-hour abdominal operation to correct damage caused by treatment for prostate cancer. A statement from the Nation at the time said Farrakhan "doesn't see himself coming before the public on such a major stage as we are preparing in Detroit." He might, however, honor lesser engagements.

The event will be a homecoming of sorts for the Nation of Islam movement, which promotes black empowerment and nationalism. It was founded in Detroit by Wallace D. Fard in 1930.

Fard attracted black Detroiters on the margins of society with a message of self-improvement and separation from whites, who he said were inherently evil because of their enslavement of blacks.

Farrakhan rebuilt the movement in the late 1970s after W.D. Mohammed, the son of longtime nation leader Elijah Muhammad, moved his followers toward mainstream Islam.

Farrakhan angered many Americans in the process.

He became notorious for his provocative comments, calling Judaism a "gutter religion" and suggesting crack cocaine might have been a CIA plot to enslave blacks. He met with foreign leaders at odds with the United States - Moammar Gadhafi, Fidel Castro and Saddam Hussein - prompting the State Department in 1996 to accuse him of "cavorting with dictators."

His closest brush with the political mainstream probably came in 1995, when he attracted hundreds of thousands of black men to Washington for the Million Man March.
Now, back in the Nation's birthplace, there's speculation about what Farrakhan's last major address could tackle. The topic of Sunday's speech, capping a series of meeting that start Friday, is "One Nation Under God."

"We have been told that Minister Farrakhan is going to be making a big announcement at this meeting," though it's not known what he will say, said Dawud Walid, executive director of the Michigan branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

The Nation and orthodox Islam diverge on several key beliefs. While mainstream Islam holds that Muhammad was God's last prophet, Nation of Islam had taught that God came in the form of Fard decades ago in Detroit.

Farrakhan has downplayed many of those teachings in recent years, adopting some mainstream Muslim traditions and embracing W. D. Mohammed on stage in 2000 after years of discord. Mohammed also visited Farrakhan recently during his recovery, a Nation of Islam official said.(MORE)

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