In the Shadow of Death

A Mystery Virus Triggers Rumors of a Murder Plot Against the Cancer-Stricken Louis Farrakhan and Talk of a Power Struggle Inside His Nation Of Islam

"He couldn't find any of them," recalls the source. "He kept calling for them to join him on the stage." After the supreme captain and his men eventually took up positions alongside their leader, Farrakhan lashed out at them, charging that he was surrounded by hypocrites.

"He got that kind of talk from the Messenger [Elijah Muhammad], who often said, 'My ranks are honeycombed with hypocrites and disbelievers,' " the source says. "The Messenger would ask, 'How can we make progress with hypocrites on the panel?' And when he really got angry he would say, 'Right out of my own family Allah has made enemies for me among my wives and among my children.' "

The insider says that Farrakhan repeatedly expressed similar outrage to demonstrate his displeasure with errant followers. "He would get angry and just go off," the source says.

Will to live: Minister Farrakhan at last month's Saviours' Day celebration
Eric Ture Muhammad
Will to live: Minister Farrakhan at last month's Saviours' Day celebration

"Many times I heard him say, 'I am surrounded by hypocrites! My enemies are everywhere! In my family, you wanna see me dead because you want to take over! You want my position!' He would blast the Laborers and his own family every now and then."

Since Farrakhan allegedly is known for invoking Elijah Muhammad's tactics to ferret out political "hypocrites" within his inner circle, several former NOI members suspect that he might be feigning illness to determine who remains loyal to him. Farrakhan himself had told his followers stories about Elijah— who suffered from asthma and bronchitis— pretending to be near death to find out who was jockeying for position to replace him.

"He said on many occasions the Messenger would be lying there with his eyes closed, listening to different ones around him make plans," says a former military adviser to Farrakhan. "Some would say that he was too weak to make decisions. Suddenly he would get better and the ones who were plotting to take his place would begin to play innocent and loyal again, not knowing that he had seen them in a way that they could never imagine."

Farrakhan, according to the source, improved on his teacher's art of deception to the extent that he sometimes emerged from his act looking emaciated. "You never knew when the Minister's weight loss was due to illness," the source says. "There were times when he would go on a 21-day fast and he would be under the supervision of the elder nutritionist. He would lose 20 or more pounds during those periods and rumors would start flying."

Last month, in Chicago, Farrakhan, in an attempt to quell rumors that he had stepped down from the leadership of the Nation of Islam, seemed only to exacerbate fears among followers. The usually jovial, philosophical, and down-to-earth Farrakhan spoke of his absence in solemn tones.

"I have been ill now for . . . between six and seven weeks," he told a rapt audience of 25,000 at the McCormick Place Convention Center. "Although I am nearing 66 years of age, I have never been ill like this in my life. If it were, or is, a virus, several doctors that were working on me have not found that necessarily to be so. And if it is, it is an assumption."

Farrakhan fell short of airing allegations that he was poisoned. "This illness took me down so fast that I lost nearly 20 pounds in less than two weeks," he added, "and all the muscle mass that I have built in eight years of my weight training had turned to flab. This concerned me greatly. I had no appetite: night sweats, pain, bouts of insomnia. I was anemic, dehydrated, [suffering from] a loss of hemoglobin. But I thank Allah, the healer, for gradually returning my health and my strength back to me."

On this occasion, Farrakhan publicly praised his doctors, Abdul Alim Muhammad and Gregory Muhammad "and the members of my family who care for me studiously and compassionately looked after me."

On March 4, 1998, after returning from a grueling "World Friendship Tour III," during which he had crisscrossed the U.S. and Africa, Farrakhan broke a long tradition of secrecy over the health of Nation leaders, and bared the details of his efforts to combat his cancer.

"Now, I'm gonna say something to you that I haven't said publicly, but I am saying it now . . . because I think we have gotten past it," he told members of the media after a black leadership summit at the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building in Harlem. "You know Brother Farrakhan has been suffering from cancer and I learned that I had the prostate cancer in 1991. I fasted and I prayed, and I thought it went away. Then we discovered it coming back in 1993 or ['94] and I went to a very great doctor; had what they call the seed-implantation therapy, and took these hormones— the kinds of things that they do when you have prostate cancer."

He said that in 1997 a blood test showed that "specific antigens [had risen] beyond the point that is normal." Monthly follow-up blood tests indicated that the antigens had not dropped and Farrakhan grew worried.

After visiting 15 cities in the U.S., Farrakhan detoured to Washington, D.C., where, as he put it, "a great Greek doctor, along with my beautiful black doctors," conducted a series of tests and biopsies and discovered the cancer had spread to the seminal vesicles.

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