A Thin Green Line
It won't be easy for Louis Farrakhan to move toward orthodox Islam while retaining his Nation of Islam following.
Particularly interesting was what Farrakhan said about divine covenants, given that just a few years ago Farrakhan said that the suffering blacks endured in slavery had made them the Chosen People, displacing Jews who insufficiently helped blacks. Sunday, he said both peoples had covenants that remain intact as long as they are faithful to it.
Farrakhan's speech capped a three-day International Islamic Conference sponsored by the Nation. The subtext of the conference was that, on Sunday, a more moderate Farrakhan would be unveiled in his equivalent of the Nation of Islam's State of the Union address.
On Thursday, in fact, the first day of the conference, he told those on hand, most of whom had come from the Middle East, that he no longer believed that Fard Muhammad was Allah, a position which has appalled traditional Muslims because it counters the Koran's teaching that Allah can have no bodily form.
But the real test, these orthodox Muslims knew, would come on Sunday, when Farrakhan would speak to his own people. There have often been major discrepancies between what Farrakhan tells NOI members and what he says to the rest of the Islamic world.
Sayyid M. Syeed, for instance, the secretary general of the influential Islamic Society of North America, was pleased in 1990 when Farrakhan professed his belief in the oneness of Allah and in Muhammad being the last prophet--only to discover that the NOI's newspaper, The Final Call, continued to publish a theological platform that other Muslims deemed heresy.
This time, however, Syeed was convinced that Farrakhan's near-death "conversion" to true Islam had steeled him to bring the NOI into the broader ummah, or Islamic community.
Also convinced was Imam Warith Deen Mohammed, the son of Elijah Muhammad (father and son spelled their name differently). Imam Mohammed disbanded the original Nation of Islam after his father's death in 1975 and took its members into orthodox Sunni Islam. Initially, Farrakhan went along with him, saying that Mohammed, "realizing that blackness, if taken to the extreme, would...become self-destructive, brought to us the universal message of the Prophet Muhammad...(and) the Koran, which elevated the community from a nationalist standpoint to the universal creed of Islam." But two years later, Farrakhan broke with Warith Mohammed and reconstituted the NOI and its race-based theology, saying that he had "begun to hate religion...I couldn't preach for the father and the son at the same time...It was killing me."