The Last Temptation of Minister Benjamin

Inside the Sex Scandal at Nation of Islam Mosque No. 7

Now Minister Farrakhan, I am not coming to you acting as though I am some saint trying to throw stones at someone else. But I'm sorry; there is a real difference between someone making mistakes in their striving to become one with Allah versus somebody striving to win first runner up in the Mac Daddy of the Millennium contest. I mean I truly need to understand this. Why were we left in the trusted care of someone who is acting like a canine in heat? You asked the believers here in New York to help him. But when I tried to help him, he tried to dog me. I am hurt and I don't understand anymore.
—From a confidential letter by alleged sex-harassment victim Anita Williams to Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan complaining about Minister Benjamin Muhammad

On the evening of July 10, on the verge of giving birth to her fourth child, Anita Williams paused in front of Nation of Islam Mosque No. 7 on 127th Street in Harlem. Her stomach heaved as if the wind had been knocked out of her. Between gasps, the "Muslim girl in training" (MGTs, as NOI women call themselves) reflected on her broken marriage, wondering whether a trial separation with her husband, Kenya Brown, might have worked out had the mosque's former chief minister, Benjamin F. Muhammad, not interfered.

illustration: Max Grafe

Then it all came rushing back, an avalanche of emotions involving sex, lies, abuse of power, and betrayal in the Nation. Williams, a bonny 30-year-old fashion designer, began to mull over a confidential letter she had written to NOI leader Louis Farrakhan and her landmark $140 million sex-harassment lawsuit against Minister Benjamin, the former Ben Chavis, who was fired as head of the NAACP in 1994 for quietly diverting more than $300,000 of the organization's funds to settle a sex-harassment claim against him. "He," writes Williams, referring to the handsome, charismatic Minister Benjamin in the never-before-made-public letter obtained by the Voice, "told me that he was in the process of divorcing [his wife] Martha because she did not want to settle down and become a Muslim woman. . . . He said that Allah ordained our future together because he needed to be married to a good MGT. He said that he had a lot of enemies in the Nation and that he did not know how to handle the divorce." Williams mentions other alleged victims of Minister Benjamin who, the Voice confirms, are afraid to come forward. "He has stepped to at least three sisters here on Staten Island alone," she complains to Minister Farrakhan. "All three of us were going through marital problems. All live within minutes of each other. I mean, I cannot believe that he even attempted something like that in the Nation."

Williams's mind flashed back to her recently amended lawsuit, which alleges that after Minister Benjamin failed to lure her into an illicit affair, he "stalked, sexually assaulted, battered, molested, threatened, intimidated and sexually harassed" her from November 1998 until June of this year. Now as she pondered her next move—a showdown that her friends had advised her not to pursue—she felt like the time bomb kicking inside her had been rigged to implode. She prayed that her baby would not be born at the doorstep of Mosque No. 7, this place that was once hailed as the holiest temple in the black Muslim theocracy but now, according to insiders, had been condemned as "a little brothel" by Minister Farrakhan.

Catching her breath, Williams straightened her brown Islamic shawl and gingerly climbed a flight of stairs to the mosque where she had worshiped for four years. Although she expected to be treated like public enemy number one, she was not prepared for the encounter that followed. A top MGT lieutenant rushed menacingly toward the petite visitor. The official seemed more perplexed than aghast: To her and the other gossip-mongers at Mosque No. 7, explains one insider, the identity of the father of Williams's unborn child has been veiled in mystery. What, in the name of Allah, was Williams—viewed by these hard-liners as a vengeful woman scorned—doing?

Observing all of this were two stern-faced members of the Fruit of Islam, the NOI's elite guard. In the old days, according to NOI legend, the FOI, who used to "go out and whip Lost-Founds with pipes," might not have been so restrained: Williams would have been whisked away by the "pipe squad"—never to be heard from again. On this awkward occasion, however, one shovel-nosed sentry, apparently thinking that Williams had come to engage Minister Benjamin in "a baby-mama drama," protested loudly that she should not be allowed near the temple. But Williams was not there to confront Minister Benjamin with some shocking truth. She told the MGT lieutenant she had heard that Minister Farrakhan was at the mosque and wanted to see him. "Wait in the street, sister!" the lieutenant ordered, shooing away the pregnant woman.

"I'm not waiting on no damn sidewalk!" Williams remembers retorting.

"You should have gotten clearance," the lieutenant said.

"Clearance for what? Why?" asked the outcast. According to Williams, the lieutenant said it was NOI policy not to allow pregnant women into the mosque, but that the main reason she was being barred was because of her pending lawsuit. "You are not allowed inside the mosque until this situation is resolved," the lieutenant reportedly said. And when the official emphasized that directive meant that Williams was in "bad standing," Williams asked why her alleged harasser, Minister Benjamin, was allowed to stay. Eventually, another MGT told Williams that Minister Farrakhan was not at the mosque.

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