— In the summer of 1930, a man from Asia named Wallace Fard Muhammad arrived in Detroit and started preaching in African-American neighborhoods such as Black Bottom, saying that black people were part of a superior race.
From his teachings came the beginnings of the Nation of Islam, a group founded in Detroit that grew into the biggest black nationalist organization in the U.S. still existing today.
Now based in Chicago and led by Minister Louis Farrakhan, the group is holding its annual convention this year in Detroit, from Friday through Sunday, when Farrakhan is expected to address up to 16,000 people at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.
The annual meeting — expected to gather up to 25,000 over its three days — is usually held in Chicago, but was held in Detroit in 2014 and will be again this weekend. Known as Saviours’ Day, it celebrates the birthday of its founder, Wallace Muhammad, seen as God in the flesh, according to the Nation of Islam.
“Detroit is the Nation of Islam’s Mecca,” said student Minister Troy Muhammad, who leads the Detroit chapter of the Nation of Islam, one of the most active in the U.S. “This is a very significant convention for the Nation of Islam, to have it in Detroit twice in three years, showing the minister’s commitment to the city of Detroit.”
Farrakhan, 82, has been encouraging Nation of Islam members and others to move to Detroit and invest in the city, whose population is 79% African American. Farrakhan’s message of black self-empowerment resonates with many in the city, attracting crowds that go well beyond his Muslim base. His talks in churches and arenas in Detroit are often standing-room only.
The upcoming convention will attract people from “all over the country and world,” Muhammad said. It will include a range of workshops and discussions, including town hall meetings on the Flint water crisis and on challenges facing Detroit such as education and crime, including two recent assaults of elderly people that have outraged many, Muhammad said. It also will feature concerts, historical exhibits, and hundreds of vendor booths promoting black-owned businesses.
Farrakhan has been encouraging African Americans to form “10,000 fearless men” who can help reduce crime and keep peace in cities. In October, Farrakhan led the “Justice or Else” event in Washington, D.C., marking the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March.
This year, Farrakhan has drawn notice for his interview in January with controversial radio host Alex Jones in which he said he understood Donald Trump’s call to vet Muslim refugees. He visited Iran last week, meeting with Iran’s former foreign minister and praising the Islamic Revolution in Iran.
The title of Farrakhan’s Detroit speech is “Divine Instructions: Commands for 2016.” In his Detroit convention speech in 2014, he called for African Americans to form their own courts if they can’t find justice in American courts.
Farrakhan said in a recent interview that he wants to offer actions to take, according to a recent issue of the Nation’s newspaper, The Final Call.
Farrakhan said: “There are a lot of people that have listened to me for generations and some of them have been bold enough to say ‘We’re tired of speeches, Farrakhan. I don’t want to hear one more speech.’ As I heard such criticism and thoughts, I said, ‘You know everything that needs to be said, I have really said it. It’s now not things to say, it is things to do.’ ”
There’s been speculation among observers about what will happen to the Nation of Islam after Farrakhan dies or steps down, but for now, he appears healthy and still speaks often.
For Troy Muhammad and other members, the convention is a way to reconnect the past to the present. Fard Muhammad’s chief disciple was Elijah Poole, later renamed Elijah Muhammad, who went on to lead the Nation of Islam from 1934 to 1975. The first Nation of Islam temple was in Detroit and today it’s located on Detroit’s west side, Muhammad’s Mosque No. 1.
“Master Fard Muhammad met Elijah Muhammad and out of that meeting, you have Malcolm X, you have a Muhammad Ali, you have the Million Man March, you have a Minister Farrakhan,” said Troy Muhammad. “All these significant people came out of that meeting in 1930. So that’s why we call Detroit our Mecca.”
(Niraj Warikoo reports for the Detroit Free Press)