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25 February 2008

Farrakhan praises Obama at Nation of Islam convention in Chicago

eaf98519c5d2941c3652474e313d933a.jpgSpeaking to thousands of members of the Nation of Islam in Chicago at their annual convention, Minister Louis Farrakhan on Sunday praised presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama as

the only hope for healing America's racial divisions.

Farrakhan spoke about the war in Iraq, the nation's ailing economy and the increase in natural disasters, saying the world was in a perilous state and Obama could help it recover.

"We are witnessing the phenomenal rise of a man of color in a country that has persecuted us because of our color," he said.

"If you look at Barack Obama's [diverse] audiences and look at the effect of his words, those people are being transformed from what they were," Farrakhan said. "This young man is the hope of the entire world that America will change and be a better place."

The speech, titled "The Gods At War—The Future is All About Y.O.U.th," closed the Nation of Islam's annual Saviours' Day Convention, which commemorates the birth of the movement's founder, Wallace D. Fard Muhammad.

Five months later, in February 2007, Farrakhan appeared at Ford Field in Detroit, suggesting it was time for a new era.

The Sunday speech at McCormick Place convention center again contradicted statements that Farrakhan's speech in Detroit last year was his final public address. Speculation arose about a potential successor to the controversial 74-year-old Muslim leader after September 2006, when an ailing Farrakhan handed leadership of the Nation over to an executive board.

"My time is up," Farrakhan said then. "The Final Call can't last forever."

Obama spokesman Bill Burton said that "Senator Obama has been clear in his objections to Minister Farrakhan's past pronouncements and has not solicited the minister's support."

But Farrakhan spoke last May before the predominantly black congregation at St. Sabina Roman Catholic Church in Chicago, and in the fall he spoke to a crowd of 5,000 in Atlanta on the 12th anniversary of the Million Man March he led in Washington.

Zaheer Ali, a Columbia University researcher who is compiling an oral history of the Nation of Islam, said that although Farrakhan has continued to speak, his statements have focused on concerns of African-Americans and Muslims, as opposed to sweeping statements on U.S. politics and foreign policy.

"Most of his lectures have been confined to the mosque setting and focused primarily on the internal organizational and spiritual concerns of his community," Ali said. "His continuing to teach in whatever capacity—to small or large audiences—is probably welcome by the members of his community as well as members of the larger black community who welcome his as a much-needed voice in a critical time for Muslims and black people, and America in general."

The history of the Nation of Islam dates to 1930 in Detroit, when Fard Muhammad began preaching a new religious message merging the Islamic faith with black nationalism. Elijah Muhammad took over the movement four years later and oversaw its rapid expansion.

After Elijah Muhammad's death in 1975, his son, W.D. Mohammed broke away and moved his followers to mainstream Islam. In 1977, Farrakhan separated from W.D. Mohammed and rebuilt the Nation. On Sunday, Mohammed gave his own Saviours' Day speech at the Regal Theater.

POSTED BY /  http://www.chicagotribune.com

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