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Muhammad, the group's spiritual leader for over 40 years, died in 1975 at the age of 78. But Abass Rassoull, Muhammad's national secretary, now a leader of the United Nation of Islam, maintains that Muhammad "will speak to and be reunited with his faithful followers" on October 26--the day after the Farrakhan-backed Million Woman March in Philadelphia and 10 days after the second anniversary of the Million Man March on Washington.
Early last month, Rassoull, whose splinter group has chapters in Maryland and Kansas, issued a call to "all Muslims and true believers" who converted to black Islam before Muhammad died to flock to the Regal Theater in Chicago on October 26 because Muhammad's "promise to return has been fulfilled."
"This is for real," insists Rassoull, whose appeal for collective leadership of the Nation has been ignored by Farrakhan--by far the most popular black Muslim leader. Rassoull's latest attempt to upstage Farrakhan is certain to intensify the often bellicose power struggle going on within the black separatist theocracy.
Farrakhan's followers have long held that Elijah Muhammad did not die, but escaped a death plot, was restored to health, and--as Nation of Islam belief has it--is aboard "that huge wheel-like plane that is even now flying over our heads." Among Muhammad's passengers on the so-called "Mother Wheel" is the mysterious figure named W.D. Fard, a light-skinned man who Muhammad said came from the Middle East and told him he was Allah. Farrakhan's followers believe that Muhammad is "the Last Messenger of Allah" and will soon return and lead them to redemption.
Muhammad left no designated successor, and for years officials within Farrakhan's sect have rebuffed questions about who would succeed Farrakhan. But since 1992 Rassoull has been circulating "A Letter of Truth" claiming that in preparation for Muhammad's return, Farrakhan was to cede leadership of his Nation to "Solomon," a former long-distance truck driver under Muhammad who now heads the United Nation of Islam. Rassoull proclaims that Solomon is "Allah in Person," and will be the one who will reunite the followers with Muhammad. (If Elijah Muhammad is "the Last Messenger of Allah, who came in the person"of W.D. Fard, then why does Solomon refer to himself as "Allah in Person"? Has Fard morphed into Solomon?)
The ongoing power struggle is rooted in the complex evolution of the NOI, as well as its complicated Bible code and theology of succession. According to Rassoull, Farrakhan had the role of reminding believers of Muhammad's return to finish rebuilding the Nation by 2000. Farrakhan is supposed to be "the reminder," he says, not "the rebuilder."
Rassoull alleges that in the 19 years Farrakhan has been "sitting in the Messenger's chair," he "has changed many things" in defiance of Muhammad's wishes. Farrakhan, he says, has been celebrating Muhammad's birthday as "Saviour's Day," charging attendance at the ceremony, and encouraging disciples to address him with titles such as "Leader," "Teacher," "Apostle," "Messiah," and "Messenger" when "he knows that he is none of those."
According to United Nation of Islam prophecy, upon Muhammad's return, Farrakhan and Muhammad "will spend approximately one year together, away from the masses, in order for the Minister to be absolutely certain that the Person is indeed the Honorable Elijah Muhammad."
"My mission, my purpose in life, is to make the Jesus known before he makes himself known," said Farrakhan, who has not responded to an invitation from the United Nation of Islam to attend Muhammad's homecoming.
Rassoull claims that on September 30, 1989, Muhammad "in His new form" appeared before Farrakhan at NOI headquarters in Chicago and tried to hold a discussion with Farrakhan. According to Rassoull, Farrakhan either failed to recognize or refused to accept that it was Muhammad. He was "properly relieved of the responsibility that accompanies the seat," but allowed to remain as Muhammad's national representative. Muhammad came back on two other occasions, but Farrakhan, Rassoull declares, "refused to accept what was shared with him." He says Farrakhan was told of a third meeting, at which he was to turn over control of his Nation to Solomon.
Elijah Muhammad, born Elijah Poole on October 7, 1897, in Sandersville, Georgia, founded the Nation of Islam in 1934 after meeting W.D. Fard in Detroit. His Islam for black Americans preached separatism, and the superiority of blacks over whites. Fard disappeared a few years later, and for the next four decades, Muhammad, who said he was God's prophet, rebuilt the sect into a major force in black America.
In its heyday, the Nation was one of the most feared and respected black groups. By the 1950s its notoriety caused J.B. Stoner, imperial wizard of the Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, to complain, "Those Muslims are the meanest niggers in the world."
Stoner, as well as the FBI, was concerned about the spread of black Islam and wanted to, in Stoner's words, "put the Muslims out of business." Instead of using "nigger FBI pimps" to stir up violence and blame it on the Muslims, Stoner suggested, in a 1959 letter to the New York City police commissioner, that he use "the White Christian methods that have worked so well in the South." Stoner said he "would enjoy seeing Muhammad hanged from a Harlem lamp post." In order to "put the niggers in their place," to stop Muhammad from giving the commissioner's job to "a nigger," and installing "a nigger as mayor," Stoner offered the services of 5000 of his Klansmen.