Amazing Grace

Why Louis Farrakhan is Desperate to Meet Joe Lieberman

Farrakhan and Wallace, the son of NOI patriarch Elijah Muhammad, battled for control of the organization after the death of Elijah in 1975. "I think Qaddafi feels he can no longer use Farrakhan for what he wants to use him for," the source speculates. "I think he is pissed with Farrakhan, who was viewed by Qaddafi as progressive, whatever the hell progressive means. But Qaddafi's anger has nothing to do with Islam; it's more about politics. Imam Mohammed does not run the anti-American rhetoric and that's what Qaddafi wants. He wants the anti-Zionist, anti-Jewish rhetoric."

Strapped for cash, the NOI has jettisoned some of its much ballyhooed businesses, including the multimillion-dollar Salaam Restaurant and Bakery Complex in Chicago. "It was closed for financial reasons," a source says. (One NOI member insists it was closed for renovations.) In addition, Mosque No. 2, the Chicago-based headquarters of the group, is in financial straits. "They might be losing the temple; they might lose practically everything," the source adds. In New York City, Harlem's historic Mosque No. 7 also is struggling to pay its bills. And Mosque No. 25 in Newark, New Jersey, a key temple in East Coast recruiting efforts and sales of The Final Call, the NOI's newspaper, is crumbling under the weight of its own financial burdens and allegations of squandered funds. Akinyele told the Voice he became suspicious of "arbitrary" fundraising drives when Mosque No. 25 officials failed on several occasions to purchase the building in which the temple was housed or bail it out of chronic debt. "We would raise all this money, tens of thousands of dollars, and the money would go to Chicago or to the leadership in the mosque [who] would have better cars, nicer cars, new cars," Akinyele charges.

In 1997, during his annual Saviour's Day celebration in Chicago, Farrakhan blamed the U.S. Treasury Department for the NOI's financial woes. "They are trying to close us off from all funds," he said, referring to repeated denials of his requests for permission to receive the $1 billion award from Qaddafi. At the celebration, Farrakhan was reduced to begging. He called on one million people to make $50 donations and another million to make $1000 donations toward his "billion-dollar economic development plan." Previous donations enabled construction of the Salaam Restaurant. "If you have noticed, in all my years you have heard me teach, I never ask for money," said Farrakhan. "I have to ask because if you don't help me, they won't help me, and they don't want my brother overseas to help me."

In a 1995 exposé, the Chicago Tribune reported that the Internal Revenue Service had filed $354,588 in liens against a Nation-linked security company based in Washington, D.C. The IRS also was trying to collect $93,000 in taxes from a Nation-linked soap-distribution company, which, the Tribune said, also owed $15,000 to creditors. Furthermore, Farrakhan owes more than $1 million in property taxes on the Chicago structure that he calls his Sales and Office Building, and three other Chicago buildings carry a total of $50,000 in unpaid property taxes, the newspaper reported. It also disclosed that the NOI shared at least five separate financial accounts and has ties with a half-dozen other private-security firms, three companies that sell soap and cosmetics, a publishing company, and two clothing firms. Despite the NOI's financial problems, Farrakhan and some of his relatives live lavishly, the Tribune pointed out. "The Minister has turned the Nation into a money-generating machine that benefits only a few while the other believers are constantly being pressed to give more and more and more," Abass Rassoull, a leader in the United Nation of Islam, a splinter group, has charged. But during his fundraising pitch, which also ran as an advertisement in The Final Call in March 1999, Farrakhan pledged that none of the money he receives "will be used for the personal aggrandizement of anybody."

On Kiss-FM's Open Line three weeks ago, Farrakhan berated a caller who asked for an accounting of money collected at the Million Man March. On October 1, in a follow-up interview on the station, Farrakhan said he had "detected . . . in the attitude of the question some distrust and even disrespect." The minister asserted that the NOI was being singled out because no other groups that raise money at events are placed under similar scrutiny. "It was I who promised an audit," added Farrakhan. "No one asked me to do that. I promised an audit. And so the media, knowing how much we distrust each other when it comes to dollars—when they saw the young men waving those dollars over their heads—raised the question as to where the money was going." He said that "three very prominent CPA firms" conducted a three-month audit, and he directed critics to log onto the Web site for the Million Family March if they wished to read it and see "exactly where every nickel, every dime, and every dollar went."

Farrakhan is not as forthcoming about reports of internal strife involving the ideological direction of the Nation of Islam. NOI philosophy is based on black separatism and a view of whites as unredeemable oppressors. That apparently is no longer Farrakhan's way of thinking. For several years, Farrakhan has been toying with Orthodox Islam and made strides toward fundamentalism last February in a public rapprochement with Imam Wallace.

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