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Louis Farrakhan spoke last night to tens of thousands of members of the Nation of Islam. He was speaking in Detroit, the birthplace of the movement. The organization billed this speech as Farrakhan's last major address. He has been ill and has backed away from the leadership role that he's held for decades.
NPR's Rachel Martin was at the speech.
RACHEL MARTIN: The speech was titled "One Nation Under God," and while Farrakhan did spend time talking about building bridges among people of all faiths, he spent most of his speech lambasting the Bush administration and its supporters over U.S. foreign policy.
Minister LOUIS FARRAKHAN (Nation of Islam): God is angry because of the ideas of the neoconservatives. Many so-called Jews and Christians have accepted the philosophy of an imperialist America. And they believe it's right for America to strike any nation that they think would be an enemy, even without any aggression or provocation.
MARTIN: With all the drama and rhetorical flair his audiences expect, Farrakhan told the crowd to turn its back on the war in Iraq and what he calls the false promises of military recruiters.
Minister FARRAKHAN: We promise you education. We're going to give you money. I'm telling you, brothers and sisters, that would be the worse mistake that you made. You'll leave America in one way and you'd come back in another. I'm warning you.
MARTIN: Farrakhan recently underwent surgery for complications from prostate cancer. And even though many within the Nation were hesitant to call this a good-bye speech, Farrakhan himself, his voice quivering, said it was just that.
Minister FARRAKHAN: My time is up.
(Soundbite of clapping)
Minister FARRAKHAN: The final call can't last forever.
MARTIN: That's a difficult message for some loyal followers to hear like, Minister Jeffrey Muhammad. He's been a member of the Nation for 17 years and works in the group's Chicago offices. For him, and many people I spoke with here, Farrakhan represents much more than a spiritual leader.
Minister JEFFREY MUHAMMAD (Nation of Islam): Minister Farrakhan is a living example for me of how to be a father, of how to be a brother, of how to be a man, of how to be a man striving to live his life right.
MARTIN: Muhammad says it's that message that keeps attracting followers. It's hard to gauge membership in the group, which insiders describe as a religious movement with a political and economic agenda to improve the condition of blacks in America.
But many credit Farrakhan with breathing new life into the group in the early 1980s. Farrakhan's greatest public success was the Million Man March in 1995, when hundreds of thousands of African-American men flooded Washington, D.C. in a powerful act of solidarity. That never could have happened without Louis Farrakhan, says Arthur Magida, who has written one of the only biographies of the Nation's leader.
Mr. ARTHUR MAGIDA (Biographer): It has thrived, ever since its founding in the early '30s in Detroit by Elijah Muhammad, on a single charismatic authority, and there's nobody right now within the Nation who can muster that same kind of aura that Louis Farrakhan does. Nobody comes close.
MARTIN: And the big question really is, what happens to the Nation of Islam now that Farrakhan is stepping away?
Akbar Muhammad is Farrakhan's head of international affairs.
Mr. AKBAR MUHAMMAD (Nation of Islam): If the principles that he taught us from the Honorable Elijah Muhammad has been internalized by the brothers and sisters who make up the Nation of Islam, then when God takes him, this struggle will go on.
MARTIN: A successor to Farrakhan hasn't been named yet. But as he spoke for more than an hour on his feet in front of the crowd at Ford Field, the 73-year-old appeared in good health. In his final remarks he said he doesn't see, quote, "expiration in his future, but rather exultation."
Minister FARRAKHAN: Thank you for coming. Thank you for listening. Thank you for your prayers. Salaam alaikum.
MARTIN: Rachel Martin, NPR News, Detroit.