Farrakhan Using Libyan Crisis to Bolster His Nation of Islam

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When Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Chicago-based Nation of Islam, staunchly defended Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi recently, he seized headlines for an organization that has made little news in recent years.

In an often-fiery speech on March 31 at Mosque Maryam, the group’s South Side headquarters, Mr. Farrakhan recalled the decades of friendship and millions of dollars Colonel Qaddafi had lent the Nation of Islam over the years.

“What kind of brother would I be if a man has been that way to me, and to us, and when he’s in trouble I refuse to raise my voice in his defense?” Mr. Farrakhan said to cheers and applause from hundreds of the faithful gathered at the mosque.

Mr. Farrakhan, 77, sounded sincere in his efforts to come to the aid of the embattled Libyan leader. But amid a significant drop in Nation of Islam membership, waning popular interest in the movement he leads and growing concerns over succession, Mr. Farrakhan may also be using the conflict in Libya as an effort to return to relevance.

Nation of Islam membership has fallen by as much as half from its estimated peak of 100,000 in 1995, when Mr. Farrakhan rallied nearly a million men, most of them black, to the Million Man March in Washington, according to Lawrence H. Mamiya, professor of religion and Africana studies at Vassar College. (The Nation of Islam does not give out membership numbers.)...

The Nation of Islam, which was founded in Detroit in 1930 by W. D. Fard, is both a black separatist movement and a unique religion. Its theology spurns traditional Islam, and its organizational goals — compiled by Elijah Muhammad, its leader from the mid-’30s — include freedom, equality and a separate nation for blacks.

That message struck a chord during the civil rights era, and celebrity converts like Malcolm X, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Muhammad Ali further raised the group’s profile.

Chief among its beliefs is that Mr. Fard was an incarnation of God and that Elijah Muhammad was his prophet. The foundation of the Muslim faith is the incantation, “There is no god but Allah, and Mohammed is his messenger.”...

The Nation of Islam under Mr. Farrakhan has other practices that set it apart. It does not follow sharia law, the sacred rules of Islam based on the Koran and the Sunnah, or sayings of the Prophet. Further, it teaches that black scientists created the universe and the Koran, that Earth is over 76 trillion years old and that a great U.F.O. called the Mother Plane will come to destroy the United States....

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