DETROIT – Mixing scripture from the Quran and the Bible with foreign policy, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan issued a call for worldwide religious unity Sunday during his farewell address, urging Christians, Muslims and Jews to work toward peace.

Thousands of followers of the Nation of Islam as well as African-Americans of all faiths gathered for the event, possibly the last chance to see and hear Farrakhan, considered one of the most charismatic and controversial religious figures of modern time.

The two-hour speech marked the first time the ailing Farrakhan, 73, had addressed the public in nearly seven months since ceding control to the group’s executive board.

Walking onto the stage at Ford Field to thunderous applause, Farrakhan thanked those who had prayed for his recovery.

Then he spoke of the need for religious unity. He lamented Muslims fighting each other, Sunni against Shiite. He talked of the similarity found in the teachings of Jesus and the Prophet Muhammad, saying that if Christians and Muslims followed those directions, the world would be far less troubled.

“Jesus and Muhammad gave followers directions. If Muslims lived the life Muhammad taught, we would not be in the shape we are today,” he said. “We like to praise the prophet, but not follow the prophet.”

“If Jesus and Muhammad were on this stage right now, they would embrace each other,” Farrakhan said.

“How come we the people of God cannot embrace each other in the love of God and the love of the prophets that we praise?”

Farrakhan also criticized the Bush administration for the war in Iraq.

As he spoke about his opposition to the Iraq war, Farrakhan repeated the mantra, “God is angry,” and “God is not mocked.”

But the crowd applauded loudest when he called for the impeachment of President Bush.

“Look at our government, our president. The deception, the outright lies,” he said. “If they wrote articles of impeachment for Bill Clinton … what should they do about a man lying to the American people?”

In September, the Muslim leader issued a letter detailing his failing health – he had suffered complications from cancer treatment – and handed leadership of the Nation of Islam to an executive board. Last month, Farrakhan had a 12-hour abdominal operation that left him hospitalized for five weeks.

The executive board and subsequent hospitalization led many observers to speculate whether Farrakhan might appoint a successor.

Although Farrakhan did not name a successor, he left no doubt it was time for a new era of leadership.

“My time is up,” Farrakhan said. “The Final Call can’t last forever.”

Farrakhan also urged the black community to focus on educating their children and setting up a ministry of education. He blasted music producers and hip-hop artists who send negative messages to youth.

“We need to set up a ministry of defense to talk to our gang bangers and drug pushers to get back to being protectors of our community and not destroyers of our community,” he said.

After the speech, members of the Nation of Islam, like Duke Muhammad, of Las Vegas, praised Farrakhan for speaking about current affairs and inspiring them to seek change.

“It was very powerful, very inspiring. He helped us to see the seriousness of this hour and accept responsibility to do what we can to make things right.”

Abdullah Muhammad, of Columbus, Ohio, who is Muslim, but not a member of the Nation, said he believes Farrakhan spoke about common issues as a way of bringing people together.

“It was truthful. All the things he said about foreign policy and getting us into a war under false pretense. Those are issues everyone can relate to,” he said. “We need to find what we have in common so we can work out the problems.”

Farrakhan’s Sunday address marked the closing event of the Nation of Islam’s annual Saviours’ Day Convention, which commemorates the birth of Wallace D. Fard, who founded the movement in Detroit.

In past years, the Saviours’ Day gatherings have usually been held at Mosque Maryam in Chicago, where the Nation of Islam is based. However, leaders chose Detroit this year as a homecoming for the movement and an appropriate stage for Farrakhan to take his final bow.

It was in 1930 in the streets of Detroit that an Arab man, known as Master Fard, began preaching a new religious message merging the Islamic faith with Black Nationalism.

Elijah Muhammad took over the Nation four years later, moved the movement to Chicago and oversaw its rapid expansion.

After Muhammad’s death in 1975, his son broke away and moved his followers to mainstream Islam, while Farrakhan rebuilt the Nation and emerged as its leader in the late 1970s.

Farrakhan has often sparked outrage with controversial comments, including harsh anti-Semitic statements.

In his speech, Farrakhan denied that he is anti-Semitic, saying those charges were used to turn people against him.

“I am grateful to Allah for guiding me, because all of you know that I have been guided through the storm of hatred. Calling me anti-Semitic, anti-white, anti-gay, anti-American, none of this which I am.

“All of this evil spoken of me, to turn people against me, in hopes that somebody would rise up to kill me. But God has guided me … and he has brought us thus far, safely through the storm.”

But in recent years, most significantly after his battles with prostate cancer in the 1990s, he has tried to strike a more conciliatory tone.

His popularity among young black Americans grew after the 1995 Million Man March, a spiritually uplifting gathering held on the Washington Mall.

While some have expressed concern about the Nation of Islam after Farrakhan, other members said they felt confident the movement would survive after Farrakhan, regardless of who becomes the next leader.

“I love him. He is the father I never had. But, Minster Farrakhan has taught us not to depend on one personality. When people ask who’s the next leader, each of us should say, “Me.’ We’re all the next leader,” said Dedra Muhammad, of Huntsville, Ala.

“He has blessed us with enough gifts so that we are ready to go forward without him,” said Tracy Eaddy, of Baltimore.

Added Kevin A. Muhammad, of Wilmington, Del., “It’s the maturing of the Nation of Islam.

“I think everyone feels like it’s time to stop letting daddy do everything for us. It’s time for us to grow up.”


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