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An International Islamic Conference  

 by Ibrahim B. Syed, Ph. D. 
Islamic Research Foundation International, Inc.
7102 W. Shefford Lane
Louisville, KY 40242-6462, USA



One day I was contacted over the phone by Sheikh Ahmed Tijani Ben Omar of Chicago inviting me to An International Islamic Conference (also called Islam in the 21st Century) to be held in Chicago, Illinois at the Chicago Hilton and Towers Hotel, from July 3 to 6, 1997. This Conference was hosted by the Nation of Islam (NOI) in conjunction with the World Islamic People’s Leadership Conference whose president is the Libyan Leader Col. Muammar Qaddafi and the vice president is the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan. Later on I received a written invitation signed by the Honorable Minster Louis Farrakhan, the Leader of the Nation of Islam.  

Minister Farrakhan ( born in the Bronx, New York, on May 11, 1933) was the Chief organizer of the Million Man March on Washington, D.C. (October 16, 1995).  He found begrudging recognition and admiration even among his longtime critics. While many thousands said they attended the March for black people, not for Farrakhan, still Minister Farrakhan's ability to organize the March, gathering close to one million peaceful black men, gave him a unique position in the eyes of black America. Long before the March, Louis Farrakhan had become established as a role model for tens of thousands of Afro-Americans. His dynamic preaching and his stance for a drug-free society, moral fidelity, black potential, and for Afro-Americans to share their material and moral gains with their fellow Afro-Americans-all positive and commendable individually-served to give him credibility and moral leverage.  

What makes the Nation of Islam click?  

 What makes young Afro-Americans  to become members of the Nation of Islam? NOI offers positive social programs to the community. Its members are active in jails and prisons, recruiting men behind bars and dissuading them from a life of crime. They have a strong emphasis against drugs, against prostitution and pimping, and against violence and gang involvement. They urge blacks to set up black-owned and black-operated businesses, thus working to raise the standard of living in poor neighborhoods. They also look with disfavor on black reliance on the government welfare system, which they perceive as often perpetuating the cycle of poverty (Cornerstone, vol. 26, issue 111 (1997), p. 10-16, 20). 

The Nation of Islam has invested in restaurants and food service industry as one focus for economic growth. The Nation of Islam owns thousands of acres of Georgia farmland, and has operated countless restaurants, bakeries, clothing stores, bookstores, hair care shops, and other enterprises. In 1995, the NOI opened the Salaam Restaurant and Bakery on the south side of Chicago, at a cost of five million dollars. The delegates were entertained to dinner at the Salaam Restaurant and Bakery. Their fundamental ideology is to avoid reliance on government subsidies or white business partnerships and to "Do For Self."

Perhaps their most successful venture has been in providing building security at apartments and housing projects across the nation. Since 1991, the federal government has paid over twenty million dollars to NOI security teams in cities such as Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Chicago, and Los Angeles. The U.S. News & World Report acknowledges that in some places, such as Baltimore and Washington, D.C., hiring of the NOI Security Agency by the Department of Housing and Urban Development was an unqualified success for the tenants.  NOI security guards will also hawk newspapers or proselytize for Minister Farrakhan while on duty. Still, NOI security teams, which do not carry guns, are looked on with favor and have been generally effective at reducing crime and increasing tenant safety.  The Nation of Islam also emphasizes mentoring, taking a younger person under one's wing to model moral principles. Its members do not (or are not supposed to) use drugs, drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, or eat pork. They emphasize fidelity to one's spouse, and have built self-esteem and self-confidence among people badly in need both.

Black men are attracted to the Nation of Islam over against the black church because of the preponderance of black men in the movement. In the average black church, over 60 percent of the congregation is female whereas for the young black men looking for strong male leadership, the Nation of Islam is more attractive, with about 80 percent of its followers  being male.

Two other things make the Nation of Islam attractive: the discipline, and the power they have to externally "clean up" a neighborhood. In an NOI mosque, members are told very strongly that they have to abide by the rules of the mosque. Infractions could be dealt with by public tongue-lashing before the Muslim congregation. A Muslim who has sex out of wedlock may find himself and his girlfriend hauled before the congregation and publicly rebuked for disgracing Islam before the world.


 In a white, Christian setting, much lighter "church discipline" has been instant grounds for a lawsuit against the church and its pastor; whereas in a black Muslim setting, severe public corrections are looked on with favor as positive discipline.

The NOI "cleaned up" a neighborhood dominated by the pimps and drug pushers in a two-block region, forcing gang activity and prostitution to entirely leave. Area residents were thrilled with the results, which the Christian churches had not able to accomplish in years of prayer and low-key "witness." The Nation of Islam had a much more aggressive approach, and was under no obligation to turn the other cheek if attacked for their deeds. They got credit for the results. This illustrates the vast difference between Christian and Muslim ethics. Finally, many blacks can relate to the Nation of Islam for some of the reasons mentioned by Malcolm X in his Autobiography. Many blacks feel targeted by white society or by law enforcement. Current U.S. statistics say that by the age of twenty-nine, 30 percent of American black men will either have been under court supervision or been sentenced in a criminal case: drugs, theft, rape, violent crime (Ted Gest, "A Shocking Look at Blacks and Crime," U.S. News & World Report, 16 Oct. 1995, 53-54.).  This percentage is far higher than that of white men under twenty-nine; so many blacks are more receptive to Minister Farrakhan's rhetoric of a white conspiracy against them.  

Topics of the Conference  

I asked Sheikh Ahmed Tijani as to how he came to know about me. He did not answer me specifically. Later on I came to know a mutual friend recommended my name. I accepted the invitation to attend and speak in several sessions, such as the two plenary sessions on “The Oneness of Allah and the Oneness of His Community”, and two workshops on “Islamic Science and Technology”, “Islamic Health”, and one workshop on “Modern Methods of Propagation for the New Century” and I was assigned the job of a Moderator on a session on “Islamic Science, Technology and Communication Systems for the New Century.” Other interesting and timely workshops that were conducted were “The Need to Return to Moral Excellence”, “Islamic Education in the New Century”, “Islamic Family Life. Courtship and Preparation for Marriage. Strengthening Family and Home Life”, “Islamic Law in the New Century”, “Islamic Economics and Banking in the New Century”, “Conflict Resolution Among Muslims”, “The Role of Women in Islam”, “The Place of Architecture, Art, and Culture in Islam”, “Advancement of Muslims Socially, Politically, and Economically in Western Society, and in other Countries” and Plenary Sessions on “Inter-Faith Dialogue.” I accepted the invitation for two reasons, one to share my humble knowledge and secondly to observe first-hand the activities of the controversial organization “The Nation of Islam.”  

This International Islamic Conference is one of the best I have ever attended in North America or anywhere in the world. It was well organized and executed. Many scholars came from many parts of the world, such as Canada, Mexico, Panama, Trinidad, Sri Lanka, Great Britain, Philippines, Dagestan (Russia), South Africa, Nigeria, Morocco, Gambia, Uganda, Senegal, Ghana, Greek Cyprus, Egypt, Jordon, Palestine, Lebanon, Yemen, United Arab Emirates, and of course from many cities in USA.  

The attenders were kept busy from morning till late in the night. I attended the Jumuah prayers at the Mosque Maryam, where we also prayed Maghrib and Isha prayers. The Zuhr and Asr prayers were conducted at the Hilton Inn and Towers. I saw the Hon. Minister Louis Farrakhan praying with us like an Orthodox Muslim or mainstream Muslim. The Muslims in the Community of the Nation of Islam both men and women behaved extremely well and were well dressed. I was impressed with them, as they are a good role model for other Muslims.  

The Nation of Islam identifies itself as Islamic. Members call God "Allah," they call themselves Muslims, they teach and worship in mosques, they appeal to the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), they recite the Muslim creed, and they view the Qur'an as inspired Scripture.  The chief leaders of the NOI (Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X, and Minister Farrakhan) have all made pilgrimages to Mecca, and at the present time NOI members are instructed to fast during the Muslim month of Ramadan and to consult the hadith or traditions ascribed to Prophet  Muhammad (pbuh) to determine proper conduct and doctrine. Thus, for broad purposes of classification, it seems reasonable to place the NOI somewhere within the Islamic camp.  

I did not witness any controversial thing during my five days of association with them. The final session ended at the McCormick Place where Col. Muammar Qaddafi, the Libyan Leader spoke to the participants by satellite T.V. Also this session was televised all over the Muslim World. The finale of the International Conference was when Imam Farrakhan spoke to the audience for almost two years with his remarkable ability to spellbind and charm the audience. At the end of the session Mr. Jerry Thomas of the Chicago Tribune interviewed me, as others appeared to be reluctant to the interview. In my interview with reference to the Nation of Islam, I told what I witnessed . . . . “They were first identified as black Muslims. That barrier has been removed. They are now just Muslims, like any other Muslims in the world.”  

On that final day evening, I received a dinner invitation at the home (Palace or official residence) of the Leader of the Nation of Islam along with all the foreign delegates and a few American delegates. Imam Farrakhan was a gracious host and everyone enjoyed the delicious dishes and a sumptuous dinner. That memorable night was concluded with an individual photo session with the Imam or the Leader of the Nation of Islam.  

The Controversy  

This Conference generated a lot of controversy. Although invitations were sent to the Muslim leaders in Chicago and in the U.S. but almost all of them declined, and hence they did not have the first hand opportunity to observe and clarify their doubts. Several Muslims made critical remarks on the Honorable Farrakhan. For one thing he was declared as an “Imam” which means prayer leader or leader of the community and one of the Visiting scholars put a white turban on the head of Hon. Farrakhan to symbolize the recognition. I did not hear that he was proclaimed as the leader of the American Muslims or the whole world Muslim Ummah. It is a fact that he is the “Imam” or Leader of the Nation of Islam. Hence there is no need to get upset over this. Some Chicago Muslims such as Mustafa Ali, Moin “Moon” Khan (the media relations coordinator for the Council of Islamic Organization in Illinois) and Dr. Amir Ali the Managing Director of the Institute of Islamic Information and Education (IIIE) have rightly criticized with regard to the concept of Allah in the Nation of Islam. One of the participants in the Conference, Syed S. Khundmiri who is the Executive Director of Geo­Political Academy, Burbank, California interviewed the Leader of the Nation of Islam and his exclusive interview was published in the PAKISTAN LINK of August 1, 1997 pp. 26-27.  

 When attention was drawn to a reference in the Final Call (the weekly published by the Nation of Islam), inside last page, to Item 12 which reads “We believe that Allah (God) appeared in the person of Master W.D. Fard Muhammad in July 1930, the long awaited Messiah of the Christians and the Mehdi of the Muslims.” To this the Minister Farrakhan replied “To us Honorable W.D. Fard Muhammad was an Arab, born to a Black man and a White woman in 1887 in Makkah. Honorable Fard Muhammed came to us from Makkah, taught us about Islam. He informed us about our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) who was the last messenger of Allah on whom the Holy Qur’an was revealed which teaches us the right path of Allah. The reference of item No. 12 and other references in the (NOI) literature, are nothing but to say that he was our Savior, our messiah, our Mehdi (Arabic, the guided one), not the god. He never asked us to keep his picture. He prayed in the name of Allah and taught us how to pray.”  

In the Conference Minister Farrakhan pointed out that Master Fard Muhammad was “a man” born on February 26, 1887 in Makkah. He taught Islam to the Hon. Elijah Muhammad, who in turn taught to Minister Farrakhan. The Hon. Elijah Muhammad taught about the Qur’an and the magnificent life of the Prophet Muhammad ibn Abdullah (peace be upon him). Minister Farrakhan said “the Sunnah, the way of Muhammad ibn Abdullah (peace be upon him) is the only way for the Muslims. Only his Sunnah, only his way, only his practice will lead us to success in establishing Islam in America and reviving the spirit of Islam in Muslims throughout the world.”


 A review of the introductory words used by Minister Farrakhan each Saviour's Day since 1973 reveals a progressive abandonment of references to Fard as Allah and to Elijah Muhammad as the Last Messenger of Allah, and (by the 1990s) a shift to introductions acceptable to orthodox Muslims.  (Mattias Gardell, In the Name of Elijah Muhammad: Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1996), 192, 193).


Unity and Harmony


Muslims who still have doubts and upset should have a dialogue with the Nation of Islam. Alhamdulillah, Muslims are doing very well in Inter-Faith dialogues with Christians and Jews. Why not we have dialogues with the Nation of Islam? I personally believe we must interact with the Nation of Islam with Hikmah (wisdom) and Sabr (patience) in the model of our Rasoolallah (SAS). I completely agree with the sentiments expressed by the popular and well-known Muslim journalist, Mom “Moon” Khan, that “it is time for healing, a time for moving ahead, understanding each other and respecting each other. It is not the time of dividing people and isolating people in a community and putting other communities ahead of each other.”


The late Malcolm X (Shaheed Al-Hajj Malik Al-Shabazz) broke away in the early 1960s with the then teachings of the Nation of Islam and followed the path of orthodox/main stream/Sunni Islam.


Like wise Imam W. Deen Muhammad, 7th son of Hon. Elijah and Clara Muhammad renounced the political leadership of the Nation of Islam on Feb. 26, 1975-22 years ago, and he and his 2.5 million follow­ers, called themselves the Muslim Community in the West (and now called the Muslim American Society), became the Sunni Muslims (followers of the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and the reve­lations of the Qur’an). To break away from the teachings of one’s own father is highly commendable on the part of Imam W.D. Muhammad.


Muslims of North America will derive immense benefits and rewards by uniting with the Nation of Islam and by welcoming them as our brothers and sisters in Islam. It is highly gratifying to know that the Nation of Islam and the Ministry of Imam Wartih Deen Mohammed have united to advance the cause of Islam and the Muslims in North America. May Allah (SWT) guide us and show us the right path and bring us from darkness unto light. Ameen!  


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