Farrankhan “New Beginning”

Farrakhan says ‘new beginning’ for Nation of Islam



Published: Saturday, October 18, 2008 at 7:37 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, October 18, 2008 at 7:37 a.m.

CHICAGO – The Nation of Islam, a secretive movement generally
closed to outsiders, has planned a rare open-to-the public event at its
Chicago-based headquarters in what the Minister Louis Farrakhan deemed
a “new beginning” for the group.


Hundreds of religious leaders of different faiths have been invited
to the event planned for Sunday, a rededication of the group’s historic
Mosque Maryam on the city’s South Side. Farrakhan is scheduled to speak.

“We
have restored Mosque Maryam completely, and we will dedicate it to the
universal message of Islam, and the universal aspect of the teachings
of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad,” Farrakhan said in an invitation
letter. “It represents for the Nation of Islam, a new beginning.”

The
event comes just weeks after the death of Imam W.D. Mohammed, the son
of Nation founder Elijah Muhammad, who broke with the group and moved
thousands of African-Americans toward mainstream Islam.

The
Nation purchased the mosque, a former Greek Orthodox church, in 1972
and has since been making renovations. The stately 1948 structure,
embellished with a golden dome and topped with an Islamic crescent
moon, is adorned with Quranic verses in Arabic.

Experts say opening the mosque’s doors to the public is a calculated move.

“It
is a very conscious effort to open the mosque up to the community and
to rededicate the community to learning about Islam,” said Aminah
McCloud, a professor of Islamic studies at DePaul University.
“Previously, the Nation has been open to people coming to visit it, but
its members don’t generally go anywhere else … now there is a
concerted effort.”

While the Nation has espoused black
nationalism and self-reliance since it was founded in the 1930s, in
recent years members have reached out to other groups. For instance,
the Nation has a Latino liaison and has become involved in immigrant
rights rallies and marches. Also, the Minister Ishmael Muhammad, a top
assisting minister at the mosque and widely thought to be a potential
successor to Farrakhan, has talked about unity between all people, at
times speaking in Spanish.

Farrakhan, 75, has haltingly tried to
move the Nation toward traditional Islam, which considers the American
movement heretical because of its view of Elijah Muhammad as a prophet
– among other novel teachings. Orthodox Islam teaches that there has
been no prophet after Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century.

He’s
also played down some of the group’s more controversial beliefs. The
Nation of Islam has taught that whites are descended from the devil and
that blacks are the chosen people of Allah.

The event on Sunday
also wraps up a week of events marking the 13th anniversary of the
Million Man March, which Farrakhan began in 1995. That year, hundreds
of thousands of people traveled to Washington, D.C. to participate.

On
Thursday, Farrakhan spoke to inmates at Cook County jail urging self
improvement, atonement and reconciliation, principles the Million Man
March promoted.

Those values “can help reduce violence and
anti-social behavior … and have universal significance and will
benefit those willing to listen,” according to a statement from the
Nation.

Farrakhan’s Sunday speech will mark his second major
public address this year and is among several smaller community and
religious events he has attended.

His public appearances have
surprised many since in 2006, he seceded leadership to an executive
board while recuperating from serious complications from prostate
cancer.

In February, Farrakhan appeared at an annual Saviours’
Day event in Chicago and called Democratic presidential candidate
Barack Obama the “hope of the entire world” that the U.S. will change
for the better. The Obama campaign quickly denounced Farrakhan’s
support, because of past comments about Jews that many have called
offensive.

In the past months, Farrakhan has attended funeral
services of W.D. Mohammed and Jabir Herbert Muhammad, both sons of the
late Elijah Muhammad.

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