The Last Temptation of Minister Benjamin

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

Williams agonized over the imbroglio during the bumpy ferry ride back to Staten Island. She told the Voice that she had considered "reconciling" with Minister Farrakhan and had gone to the mosque to assure him that, despite what he'd been told about her, she was not an FBI agent, the weapon his enemies would use to derail the Million Family March. The October 16 rally in Washington, D.C., commemorates the fifth anniversary of the historic Million Man March. "I am truly ashamed that after all that you have taught me since I have been in the Nation of Islam, that I could be so naive and foolish," she confesses to Minister Farrakhan in the letter. Through an aide, Minister Benjamin has consistently denied Williams's charges. Joseph Fleming, a lawyer for Minister Benjamin, suggests in one court document that Williams is not the hapless victim she portrays herself to be. "Any harm or injury suffered by [her] was a result of her own culpable conduct, not the result of any act of [Minister Benjamin]," he argues.

On July 15, 1993, Anita Williams became a card-carrying member of the Lost-Found Nation of Islam. As a Muslim girl in training, she encouraged other young women to join the organization and religiously attended services and meetings at Mosque No. 7. Five years later, the happily married Williams and her husband would work to establish the Staten Island Study Group, an unchartered branch of the NOI. Their goal was to register enough members to convert the study group into a full-fledged congregation entitled to its own mosque.

illustration: Max Grafe

Their efforts paid off on October 1, 1998, when Williams was appointed volunteer recording secretary of the study group, according to Williams's lawsuit. The appointment required that she "work closely" with Minister Benjamin, who at the time was the chief minister at Mosque No. 7 and the highest-ranking NOI leader on the East Coast. In court papers, Minister Benjamin "denies that [Williams] was appointed to any position or that her volunteer activities . . . required that she work closely with [him]." Williams, in her lawsuit, asserts that she "respected and admired" Minister Benjamin, the former Christian preacher who had beat the odds, rebounding from the sex-harassment scandal in the NAACP and gone on, by the mercy of Minister Farrakhan, to organize the Million Man March.

During their first alleged meeting, on November 30, 1998, Williams and Minister Benjamin discussed plans for the Staten Island mosque. But the conversation changed rapidly from religion to inquiries into Williams's private life. "Rather than remaining behind his desk and retaining the space customary between a man and woman, as is dictated by the Muslim faith, [Minister Benjamin] came and sat in close proximity to [Williams] during the course of this meeting," the lawsuit contends.

Williams recalls Minister Benjamin cooing, "You're a very beautiful woman." In her letterto Minister Farrakhan, Williams claims that Minister Benjamin bragged that he could help launch her fashion career. "[He] promised me that he would find a financial backer to put my line of clothing into production," Williams writes. The conversation shifted again. "During this meeting, he said that since he prayed so much . . . he was able to sense I was having serious personal problems." But like a faith-healing charlatan who bamboozles his victim, Minister Benjamin allegedly already knew that her marriage to Brother Kenya was on the rocks.

"I told him that my husband and I were on the verge of separation," she writes, adding that she later found out that someone had leaked this information to Minister Benjamin. "He asked me if I wanted to receive marriage counseling from him and I said yes," Williams continues. "Immediately, he began to call me at least every other day to see if everything was okay. I didn't think anything of this. In fact, initially, I thought he was God-sent because I was going through one of the most traumatic times of my life. I told him that I was at a very vulnerable state and even felt like just giving up on everything."

After Minister Benjamin allegedly placed a spate of phone calls to Williams, her "husband became annoyed." But as Williams reasons in her letter, "At the time he was doing what I thought a minister was supposed to do." Williams held on to her lifeline. "The more problems I went through, the more I began to become dependent emotionally on Minister Ben," she writes. "I believed that he was genuinely helping me. I began to completely trust him. I guess you can say, to some degree, he trusted me the same way because he began to treat me like a close friend, telling me a lot about himself and his good and bad experiences in the Nation."

In January 1999, with the sex-harassment scandal at the NAACP still an issue among Minister Benjamin's critics in the NOI, Minister Farrakhan did the unthinkable: He broke with tradition and invited Minister Benjamin to participate in MGT classes at Mosque No. 7. "The next time I spoke to the minister, I explained to him that it was an honor for him to be allowed into our class." Meanwhile, at home, Williams and her husband remained at each other's throats. "At one point, my marriage deteriorated so badly that my husband and I decided that, for the sanity of us both, he would have to . . . leave the house." Brother Kenya moved upstate.

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