By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
In October, Conrad had showed up in Boston, where Farrakhan was speaking. It was there, the source said, that Farrakhan humiliated Conrad by asking that he follow him to New York to participate in the installation of Benjamin F. Muhammad as the NOI's new eastern regional minister and Farrakhan's New York representative overseeing Mosque No. 7. Benjamin is the former Ben Chavis, who was fired as executive director of the NAACP in 1994 after using $332,400 of the organization's money to settle a sex discrimination lawsuit.
At a rally in November to announce a shakeup in the NOI's leadership, Farrakhan announced that Conrad would assume the post of national youth minister. Friends say Conrad felt insulted. Despite the high-flown title, it was a low-level position -- a slight grade above the post of national student representative that Conrad had held before he was appointed minister at Mosque No 7. "He never really left that job," the source says. "He earned the title of hip hop minister because he had been dealing with the nation's black youth."
In the ensuing months, Chicago reportedly shunned Conrad. Farrakhan did not return his calls. "It became clear that the Nation didn't want to have anything more to do with Brother Conrad," the source said. "People had moved on Brother Conrad, shaping Minister Farrakhan's view of him. They decided they were not going to let him rise. They were going to hold him back. That's what it boils down to. Conrad Muhammad is a victim of his own success."
After 10 months of Benjamin Muhammad's leadership, Mosque No. 7 continues to founder. The Nation still does not own the building on West 127th Street, and the mosque is still heavily in debt. Conrad's administration, according to a source knowledgeable about the deal with the Masonic lodge that owns the property, "was slow in completing the process of purchasing it." The Masons are asking for $350,000, and officials at the mosque are about $40,000 short of paying off on the initial down payment of $120,000. (Minister Benjamin did not return Voice phone calls.)
Conrad's supporters at the mosque leap to his defense. "There was only 40 grand remaining when he left," one maintained. "Brother Conrad led us from a loft on Fifth Avenue and 125th Street to a new building, completed most of the payment, and at the same time was a major contributor to Chicago." Another supporter was more open about Chicago's treatment of Conrad, claiming that for three years, while Conrad was trying to close on the mosque, the "hip hop minister" showed up at Saviour's Day celebrations to promote other massive fundraising drives launched by Farrakhan.
"They put pressure on us to help them," the supporter says. "In the middle of trying to raise a Saviour's Day gift for Minister Farrakhan, we were expected to give the biggest amount." One of the saddest chapters in the mosque's history is the closing of Muhammad University of Islam, the Muslim school Conrad started during the campaign.
Conrad Muhammad represented the lone star beside the crescent moon -- the Muslim symbol that stands for justice, freedom, and equality, as well as Islam. Even as a militant student leader at Wellesley College in Connecticut during the 1980s, the former Conrad Tillard seemed to have it all.
"I remember we went to Connecticut with Minister Farrakhan some years ago, and there was a young brother there . . . who told me about a brother named Conrad, who was kickin', slam-butt, up there at Wellesley College," Eric Muhammad, executive director of the Black African Holocaust Council, recalled in a 1994 speech. "And they wanted to expel him... because of his anti-Semitic -- his pro-black stand. He supported Brother Jackson's Rainbow Coalition -- a whole litany of stuff."
Conrad studied under men like Khallid Muhammad. "Brother Khallid is... one of my teachers," he would later acknowledge. "He was one of the first brothers to teach me into the knowledge of Islam. I was one of those students right by Brother Khallid's side... because I saw in him... a man that loves black people."
Eric remembers that he and Conrad toured the nation's college campuses together. Conrad, delivering fiery speeches in his bootlegged Farrakhan accent, recruited young black radicals who saw no future at their "institutions of lower learning." In 1985, the team helped organize Farrakhan's controversial appearance at Madison Square Garden. Conrad then went to the University of Pennsylvania, but left shortly after and joined Temple No. 7, where he became national student representative.
In 1990, Farrakhan passed over Conrad and appointed Khallid as minister of Mosque No. 7. Both Conrad and Kevin Muhammad, who was the interim minister, had campaigned for the post.
"This is not a demotion for Brother Kevin, and it is not a demotion for Brother Conrad," Farrakhan said as he introduced the new leader. "It gives to them a more mature, experienced guide to speed up their development."
In 1991, when Khallid was promoted to national assistant to Farrakhan, Conrad replaced him as head of Mosque No. 7. Finally in the seat he'd long coveted, Conrad reached out to Harlem's black elected officials, who admired the always-polite NOI official dressed in the dark suit, crisp white shirt, and signature bow tie. When Conrad persuaded two Harlem Democrats to support an NOI fundraiser, it laid the groundwork for the formation of black political empowerment groups such as the influential African-American Leadership Conference.