By JON GAMBRELL
The Associated Press
Friday, August 10, 2007; 7:14 PM
LITTLE ROCK -- Imam W. Deen Mohammed, who transformed how African-American Muslims practice their faith, condemned the "hate rhetoric" of Nation of Islam leaders and predicted the group would soon embrace mainstream Islamic teaching the way he did three decades ago.
"The time for those leaders who had that hate rhetoric has come and passed _ and they know it," Mohammed told reporters Friday, after speaking at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service. "For the last 10 years or more, they've just been selling wolf tickets to the white race and having fun while they collect money and have fancy lifestyles."
Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan has been fighting prostate cancer and last year stepped down from his post. A board currently oversees the secretive movement and has said nothing about who would succeed the ailing minister.
Mohammed, an African-American Sunni, said that his half brother Ishmael Muhammad and another man he would not identify are in the running to become the next leader of the Nation _ a sign, he said, that the group "had a strong desire to see religious change."
"These persons are already in position to clear up the destruction of the religion in the Nation of Islam," Mohammed said. He predicted the group would unite with his Muslim organization. "I think there's a merger coming," he said.
Mohammed and Farrakhan have a long and difficult history together.
Mohammed is the son of late Nation leader Elijah Muhammad, who was considered a prophet by his followers. When Elijah Muhammad died in 1975, W. Deen Mohammed was named his successor, but soon moved the Nation toward orthodox Islam, emphasizing its message of racial tolerance.
Farrakhan then broke with Mohammed and revived the old Nation of Islam and its teaching of black supremacy, which mainstream Muslims consider heretical.
But in recent years, Farrakhan haltingly tried to move the Nation toward traditional Islam. In 2000, he and Mohammed had a very public reconciliation, embracing each other with their followers and the media invited to watch. Since then, student Nation ministers have been studying the Quran with other orthodox Muslims, Mohammed said.
However, the change has not been complete and questions always remained about whether the two men had truly healed their rift.
Still, he said it was important to keep religion separate from political leadership.
"You know, in the United States when you become president, you take the oath on the sacred Scriptures, the Bible," Mohammed said. "I think all we need to do is make sure that our government's leaders touch, just touch it, that's all."