Nation of Islam (NOI) leader Louis Farrakhan’s last minute absence from the 2013 Holy Day of Atonement event in Tuskegee, Alabama, on October 20, may shed light on the future direction of the group’s leadership.
Farrakhan was not able to give his annual keynote address due to hospitalization for “an infection,” according to his daughter Donna. In previous years, his Holy Day of Atonement addresses have been marked by his notoriously anti-Semitic worldview, including his two-part keynote address last year in Chicago and Charlotte.
Ishmael Muhammad, assistant minister at Mosque Maryam, the NOI’s flagship mosque in Chicago, and son of former NOI leader Elijah Muhammad, gave the keynote address in Farrakhan’s absence.
Muhammad was introduced by Tuskegee Mayor Johnny Ford as one of the “new leaders of the Nation of Islam” and as “a new beginning.” In Muhammad address, he delivered “the message that [Farrakhan] gave to [him],” prolifically praising Farrakhan, and announcing the NOI’s new “economic blueprint.”
The day after Muhammad’s speech, he tweeted, “We showed the world on Sunday that the Nation is not just Louis Farrakhan, it is Allah’s!!!”
Muhammad has long been regarded as the most likely successor to Farrakhan. His public role grew in 1999 when Farrakhan was seriously ill with complications from treatment for prostate cancer. And in 2006, when Farrakhan issued an open letter saying that he was relinquishing his leadership role with the group after nearly 30 years due to illness, Muhammad continued to play a central role in most major NOI events.
In 2007, W.D. Mohammed, another son of former NOI leader Elijah Muhammad, who rejected his father's racist ideology and steered a new course away from hatred, reiterated the widely held belief that Ishmael Muhammad is the most likely contender for NOI leadership. During a lecture at the Clinton Presidential Library in Arkansas, W.D. said Ishmael is poised to “clear up the destruction of the religion in the Nation of Islam.”
Unlike Farrakhan, Muhammad does not have an extensive public record of anti-Semitism or bigotry, but he has frequently defended Farrakhan’s blatantly hateful messages.
While Muhammad has discussed his reluctance to take on the leadership of the NOI on several occasions over the years, he continues to fill in for Farrakhan at the most critical moments.