Nation of Islam Leader Turns Over Reins of Power

Black Separatists

Suffering with severe swelling of the prostate, Minister Louis Farrakhan has relinquished control of the black separatist Nation of Islam, raising the possibility that the group's racist ideology could moderate under new leadership.

Farrakhan, who fought a bout with prostate cancer in 1998, announced in September that he was turning over day-to-day operations of the Nation to a panel that includes his medical adviser, chief of staff, and one son, Mustafa Farrakhan. He said he had lost 30 pounds, was dehydrated, and suffered from serious pain.

Farrakhan has led the Nation since the late 1970s, when he wrested control of the organization away from Wallace D. Mohammed, a son of long-time Nation leader Elijah Muhammad. Although Mohammed had wanted to turn the Nation to orthodox Muslim teaching, Farrakhan stuck to the ideology propounded by Elijah Muhammad -- a belief system that includes the idea that a black scientist named Yacub created whites, seen as inherently evil "blue-eyed devils," in a test tube 6,600 years ago. Farrakhan was also known for his anti-Semitic and anti-gay remarks.

Eight years ago, during his first encounter with prostate cancer, Farrakhan announced that he was moderating his views and returning to orthodox Islam. But he failed to follow up on that promise, continuing to attack whites, gays and, especially, Jews. Just last February, he told his followers in a speech to commemorate the Nation's Savior's Day holiday that "false Jews promote the filth of Hollywood."