Rival U.S. Black Muslim Groups Reconcile

By William Claiborne, Washington Post, Saturday 26 February 2000 ; A02

CHICAGO, Feb. 25—Appearing together in public for the first time in 25 years, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and his onetime bitter enemy, Muslim American Society leader Wallace Deen Mohammed, today celebrated a symbolic reunification of their rival black Muslim factions.

Also attending the reconciliation ceremony, in a clear signal that mainstream Muslims are moving closer to embracing the controversial group led by Farrakhan, was Sayyid Syeed, secretary-general of the Islamic Society of North America, which claims 4 million members and is the major umbrella group for U.S. immigrants who follow orthodox Islam.

Syeed’s unprecedented appearance with Farrakhan appeared certain to give Farrakhan, once known for his incendiary anti-white and anti-Jewish rhetoric, a major boost in his efforts to achieve mainstream orthodox Muslim legitimacy after his self-described near death experience last year with prostate cancer.

The reconciliation of the rival religious leaders after prayer services at the Nation of Islam’s annual Saviours’ Day conference here was marked by emotional words of praise for one another by Farrakhan and Mohammed, who embraced warmly before thousands of Farrakhan’s kneeling followers and pledged their loyalty to each other.

To the worshipers’ shouts of Imam, Imam! Mohammed declared, Dear Muslim brothers and sisters, it’s not difficult for Minister Farrakhan and Wallace Deen Mohammed to embrace each other . . . for this is too big a cause for personal differences.

Calling Farrakhan a great leader, Mohammed said he had done a little calculation and determined that the Nation of Islam had made much progress under Farrakhan’s leadership and that whatever has troubled us in the past, I think we can bury it now and never look back.

For his part, Farrakhan noted that today is the 25th anniversary of Elijah Muhammad’s death and, addressing his rival, declared, After 25 years, you and I can walk together as brothers.

Twenty-five years later, I know that your father wanted this, Farrakhan said. From this day forward, the Imam Mohammed and I, no matter what our little problems are, will work them out for the glory of Allah.

Significantly, because it represented a departure from a doctrine he has espoused since he reconstituted the Nation of Islam in 1978, Farrakhan declared, We bear witness that there is no prophet after the prophet Mohammed.

Deen Mohammed, the son of Elijah Muhammad, left the nation after his father’s death 25 years ago today and founded the rival Muslim American Society, which is the largest African American orthodox Muslim ministry in the United States.

His father had led the Nation of Islam for decades, propounding teachings not recognized by orthodox Islam around the world, including the doctrine that blacks were the chosen race and whites are devils.

The Nation of Islam, whose membership is estimated at 200,000, also has held its own unique interpretation of the Muslim creed, There is no god but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet. According to the Nation of Islam’s doctrine, an American named W.D. Fard, Elijah Muhammad’s teacher, was God incarnate and Muhammad is the final prophet to mankind, not Mohammed of Mecca, who founded Islam in the 7th century.

Since recovering from prostate cancer and complications caused by a radiation-related ulcer that has not healed fully, Farrakhan has sought to distance himself from the kind of inflammatory racial rhetoric that for years characterized his leadership of the Nation of Islam.

At one time, in a 1984 radio broadcast, he called Adolf Hitler a very great man and inveighed against Israel for thievery, lying and deceit and using the name of God to shield your gutter religion under His holy and righteous name.

However, in December, after what he said was a close brush with death, Farrakhan, 66, declared he was a new man with a new message. Standing alongside priests, rabbis and Muslim clerics at a news conference here, he called on all people of the world to try to end the cycle of violence and the cycle of hatred. He also pledged to spend the rest of my days working to uplift a fallen humanity, regardless of their color, their race or their creed.

His critics, however, recalled previous occasions, in 1990 and 1997, in which Farrakhan proclaimed himself in favor of moderate, mainstream Islamic beliefs, only to lapse into the Nation of Islam’s then racist and separatist doctrines.

But Syeed, whose Islamic Society is based in Plainfield, Ind., has said recently that he believes Farrakhan has dramatically changed his views as evidenced by acceptance of orthodox Islamic practices, including fasting during the Ramadan holy period and the recognition of Friday prayer as the central religious gathering of the week.

Syeed, who said he plans to appear on stage with Farrakhan when he gives his Saviours’ Day address Sunday at the close of the Nation of Islam’s 2nd International Islamic Conference, said he was convinced of Farrakhan’s sincerity when he and several of the Islamic Society’s directors met privately with Farrakhan here.

Mohammed said he, too, had noticed changes during a two-hour meeting with Farrakhan at the Nation of Islam leader’s Michigan home last month.

I don’t know if it was his fear of dying or a combination of things . . . that have really caused him to be very sincere about the unity of Muslims, Mohammed said. At least one voice, a language of unity that does not conflict the picture of Muslims in America.

Syeed has stressed that there should be some firm commitment on the part of the Nation of Islam to join an Islamic alliance in the United States with other mainstream Muslim ministries. However, he and Mohammed have indicated that reconciliation would not mean unifying the three competing Islamic groups, but instead would be based on an attempt to move their doctrines closer to harmony and establish more cooperation among the groups.