- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 21, 2007

DETROIT (AP) — 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.

Mr. 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.

Mr. Farrakhan, 73, was released last month from a hospital after undergoing a 12-hour abdominal operation to correct damage caused by treatment for prostate cancer. The Nation of Islam said at the time that Mr. 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, with a message of self-improvement and separation from whites, who he said were inherently evil because of their enslavement of blacks.

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

Mr. Farrakhan angered many Americans by calling Judaism a “gutter religion” and suggesting crack cocaine might have been a CIA plot to enslave blacks. He has met with foreign dictators hostile to the United States: Moammar Gadhafi, Fidel Castro and Saddam Hussein.

In 1995, he attracted hundreds of thousands of black men to Washington for the Million Man March.

Now, back in the Nation of Islam’s birthplace, there is speculation about what Mr. Farrakhan’s last major address could tackle. The topic of Sunday’s speech, capping a series of meetings that start tomorrow, 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, the Nation of Islam had taught that God came in the form of Fard decades ago in Detroit.

Mr. 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. Mr. Farrakhan has credited his mollified outlook to what he called a “near death” experience related to his prostate cancer, which he began battling in 1991.

Nation leaders won’t say how many members the movement, now based in Chicago, has locally or nationally. The Council on American-Islamic Relations and others have estimated it has 10,000 to 50,000 followers in the United States and no more than 1,000 in southeastern Michigan, said Sally Howell, a University of Michigan researcher who specializes in the local Islamic and Arab-American communities.

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