Is Louis Farrakhan Going Mainstream?

'Age and Circumstance Change Everything'

Continued from page 1

His initial public appearance came December 12, when he gave his first sermon since last January at the Nation's flagship mosque. Speaking at Mosque Maryam in Chicago before 1,200 people, he said, "Prophets get sick, messengers get sick. Leaders get sick. [The prophet] Job was very sick. It's a trial ... and trials purify."

Ten days later, at a press conference in Chicago, Farrakhan returned to the theme of purification: "When God acts to purify your heart, then your service after such a trial will be greater."

And in a possible effort to reassure Jews and other groups Farrakhan has offended in past years, he said that "only through acts of atonement can we be forgiven for what we have said or done to injure other human beings -- a member of another race or a member of another religious group, another nation or another ethnic group."

As recently as November, in fact, Farrakhan met with representatives of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish group at his Chicago mansion. Farrakhan explained that the meeting was "part of God's plan" to ease tensions between Jews and the Nation of Islam.

While it appears Farrakhan is attempting to heal his 16-year-old breach with the Jewish community, he also seems to be changing his views on Islam.

"Age and circumstance change everything," Akbar Muhammad, the Nation of Islam's international representative, recently told Beliefnet. "The minister is not the same man that he was when he joined the Nation of Islam in 1955."

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He said Farrakhan will address the issue in his February convention speech--and strongly hinted at a major doctrinal revamping. Anyone, he chided, "who says that change is a 'deviation' [from the Nation of Islam's traditional catechism] doesn't understand life."

Farrakhan now feels more free to shift course, according to Ahmed Tijani, an Islamic teacher from Ghana who lives in Chicago and is close to Farrakhan. Tijani explained that until recently Farrakhan's allegiance was torn between traditional Islam and black nationalism. But, Tijani says, Farrakhan reportedly now believes that nationalism--a staple of the group's beliefs since its founding in 1930--has enhanced blacks' pride to such an extent that it is time to accept the Qur'an's teachings of racial equality.

"Since I've known him," he said, "Farrakhan has helped African Americans gradually and systematically come to Islam. People have to understand that even the Prophet Muhammad did not cleanse his followers of all their impurities in a twinkle of an eye."

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