Amazing Grace

Why Louis Farrakhan is Desperate to Meet Joe Lieberman

According to some current and former members, Farrakhan no longer teaches that Farad Muhammad, the white man who founded the NOI, is God. "That is major," says one former NOI minister, who is now with Wallace's group. "Farad is no longer God? He is saying that Prophet Mohammed is the last Messenger. So he's made a major theological break. The linchpin of his power in the NOI was that he would adhere to the theology of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad after denouncing Imam Mohammed for making that change. How, then, do you come 23 years later and say that you were wrong? In his Saviour's Day address, you see that he's come full circle, saying that Imam Mohammed was right."

The lurch toward Orthodox Islam and Wallace infuriated hard-liners both inside and outside of the NOI. "Of course people in Imam Mohammed's organization don't like it at all," says one member of the Wallace faction. "And most people in Farrakhan's organization don't like it either." Shortly after Saviour's Day in February, two of Farrakhan's ministers bolted in protest. Bashir Muhammad Akinyele, formerly of the Newark mosque, told the Voice that Keith Muhammad, who presided over the mosque in Plainfield, New Jersey, and Robert Muhammad, who headed the Camden, New Jersey, mosque, resigned "because they disagreed with the direction Minister Farrakhan was going. They feel as though Minister Farrakhan has deviated from the teachings of the most Honorable Elijah Muhammad." Neither Minister Keith nor Minister Robert could be reached for comment. Earlier this year, Farrakhan allegedly thwarted a coup after learning that disaffected members of the Fruit of Islam, the NOI's paramilitary wing, had balked at the changes.

Farrakhan removed Sharrieff Muhammad as Supreme Captain of the FOI and installed his doting son, Mustapha. "I suspect that Farrakhan wants the FOI closer to him," says an insider. "You always want the military close to you." But the more Farrakhan gravitates toward Orthodox Islam, the more once loyal supporters distance themselves from his inner circle.

Among those who appear uncomfortable with Farrakhan's new direction are some of his most trusted advisers who are Islamic scholars. "These people are still teaching the traditional philosophy and are suddenly bucking, too," claims an associate who spoke on condition of anonymity. "They are not going along with Farrakhan. If you read between the lines, they are still advocating the God-in-person-Farad concept and Honorable Elijah Muhammad as the Messenger."

If Farrakhan is sincere about abandoning the old teachings, he will become more dependent on Wallace for help with the transition. But sources in the Society of Muslim Americans say Wallace is not keen on rushing to the rescue of his old nemesis. "Farrakhan comes with lots of baggage and he probably wants to unite with Imam Mohammed more than Imam Mohammed wants a unification with him," declares a Wallace loyalist. "Imam Mohammed was sort of obligated to support Farrakhan because of the fact that Farrakhan has made this theological change."

Sex scandals are unraveling the once unquestioned moral fiber of Louis Farrakhan's Nation. Bashir Muhammad Akinyele says one of his reasons for leaving the NOI is the blatant adultery he has witnessed at Mosque No. 25. "Some of the officials in the Nation of Islam were doing things that were against what the Nation had stood for," he claims. "There was even adultery at Mosque No. 25, and there were many of us who disapproved, and spoke out against it."

On October 16, in Washington, D.C., Farrakhan will spearhead the Million Family March. On that day, he also plans to "remarry" or wed for the first time 10,000 couples of all races. But some are wondering whether Farrakhan will deal with the thorny issues of domestic abuse and sexual harassment within his own Nation. Both concerns hit home recently. Farrakhan's son, Louis Farrakhan Jr., was sentenced to 18 months' probation last February for striking his pregnant wife. And in March, Anita Williams, the volunteer recording secretary of an NOI study group in Staten Island, filed a $140 million sexual-harassment suit against Minister Benjamin F. Muhammad, the national director of the Million Family March. In court papers filed in June, Minister Benjamin denied all of the charges.

Williams also is suing Mosque No. 7, whose leaders, the federal lawsuit charges, "created and maintained an environment which was permeated with discriminatory intimidation and sexual harassment." For the most part, Farrakhan shies away from the controversy, saying the case is still being litigated. That's what bothers Williams, a 30-year-old mother of four who wrote two letters to Farrakhan pleading with him to investigate charges that Minister Benjamin (the disgraced former NAACP leader Ben Chavis) sexually molested and intimidated her over an 18-month period after she had gone to him for marriage counseling. In her lawsuit, Williams claims that former Supreme Captain Sharrieff Muhammad, whom Farrakhan assigned to look into her allegations, shunned her and tried to resolve the case in Minister Benjamin's favor.

In one of Williams's strongly worded letters obtained by the Voice, she alleges that Farrakhan was not concerned with her well-being and that he chastised her for going public. "The verses that you sent me said that believers are wrong for going against the Messages of Allah to seek judgement from the devils," she writes in a November 30, 1999, missive. "Nowhere in the Holy Quran or the teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad does it condone the disrespect of women or for us to take disrespect in his name. I know that you say that you trust these people, but I am sorry, I do not. I would be a hypocrite to say that I do. I was unfairly mishandled and the evidence is clear. [As] far as I see it, they used Allah's name to shield their dirty religion, which is the abuse and disrespect of women and disregard of our God-given rights as believers in his Nation." Williams tells Farrakhan she has enrolled in a support group that helps victims of alleged sexual misconduct. "It is obvious that no one [in the NOI] understands how this situation has truly devastated my family and myself," she writes.

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