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

"They really did a job and they put in me about 238 radiated seeds," he recalled. After another "cutting-edge test," Farrakhan was fitted with a radioactive isotope, which, he said, "attaches itself to these antigens" and "everywhere there is cancer [in your body] you just light up."

The tests produced good and bad news. "Something lit up around the aorta, man, and my doctor was nervous, frightened," Farrakhan said.

Undaunted, Farrakhan embarked on the African leg of his tour with Dr. Abdul Alim Muhammad, never dismissing the fact that he "would have to deal with this ugly fella, cancer, because it's like death is in your body and you can't play with it; it's like a thief in your house with a gun in his hand."

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

Despite his will to live, Farrakhan felt he would die in Africa.

He began to think about Kwame Ture's own struggle with prostate cancer and how "one of the most marvelous human beings that we have" had "beaten the hell outta death" by continuing to travel, still advocating the Black Power ideology he had championed so forcefully during the 1960s. "Well, I got strength from him, you know, I said, 'Hell, if I gotta go, I'm going out swinging,' " he reminisced.

What happened next in this modern-day allegory, as interpreted by Farrakhan, further convinced the devout Muslim that Allah had found a way to assure him that his life would be spared, at least on the Africa trip.

Upon arriving in the Republic of Mali, a mostly Islamic West African country, president Alpha Konare summoned Farrakhan and his delegation to his palace for dinner. Farrakhan said that Konare unexpectedly excused himself from the dinner table and returned with a bowl of kola nuts and a bleating white ram.

"This is the way we honor our great personalities who come to visit," Farrakhan quoted the African leader as saying. "We give them kola nuts and . . . our prized ram."

The ram was tied to a tree outside the guest house where Farrakhan was staying. "Every morning," he recalled, "I would go and talk to my ram. It's true. I have sheep at my li'l farm and I love my sheep; I will never eat them. Never. Never. Never," he joked.

After meeting the next day with officials and other public figures, Farrakhan eagerly returned to his guest house to talk to the ram, "hold him, pet him, and [then] go to sleep."

On the eve of his departure, a woman approached Farrakhan. "Minister Farrakhan, I'm going to slaughter the [ram]," he recalled her saying.

"No, you can't slaughter the [ram]," Farrakhan pleaded. "Can't you give it away to somebody?"

"Oh no," the woman cautioned, "it was already given by the president to you. So [either] you slaughter the [ram] or you have to take it with you."

"I can't take the ram on this big chartered jet," Farrakhan argued.

Reluctantly, the Minister released the ram. According to the ritual, "they're supposed to slaughter it in your face, but my face [couldn't] take it," Farrakhan recalled.

"So they took my ram out of my sight and slaughtered it," he added. "That afternoon, there was my ram on the table. And my wife and the delegation tore that ram up. I couldn't eat one bit of that ram."

As Farrakhan departed Mali, bearing gifts from government officials, he remarked that of all the gifts he had received the most cherished was "the gift of the life of my ram." Farrakhan broke down crying.

"Big man crying over a ram," he chuckled. "Supposed to be a tough guy, you know. But I began to think spiritually of Abraham and his son and how the son was willing to die if it pleases God," Farrakhan explained. "I went to Africa thinking that it would be the last time that I would see Africa and maybe I didn't have much longer to live. But I just wanted to be sure that we [African Americans] would be alright. And because I was willing to die, as it was in the story of Abraham and the ram, God at the last minute took Ishmael off the altar and placed the ram on the altar in his place."

As the tears gushed out and cascaded down his face, Farrakhan told his Malian friends, "The ram died in my place that I might live to continue to do this work."

Additional reporting by Karen Mahabir

The Pretenders

Several members of the Nation of Islam hierarchy are being rumored as possible successors to Minister Louis Farrakhan in the event of his demise. Among the front-runners are:

Mustapha Farrakhan, the minister's son, who is assistant supreme captain of the Fruit of Islam. A former military adviser to Farrakhan says that Mustapha, a handsome, poker-faced soldier who shadows his father's every move during lectures, "is ambitious enough" to aspire to the leadership. "Although he is the assistant supreme captain, the supreme captain really is his assistant," the ex-adviser claims. "He does not have the depth of knowledge but he's stood next to his father long enough," the adviser adds. In a power struggle, Mustapha would command the support of the supreme captain, Abdul Sharrieff Muhammad, who is a loyal friend.

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