DETROIT – Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan stressed religious unity Sunday during his final major speech, saying the world is at war because Christians, Muslims and people of other faiths are divided.
The 73-year-old Farrakhan told the thousands at Detroit's Ford Field that Jesus Christ and the Prophet Muhammad would embrace each other with love if they were on the stage behind him.
"Our lips are full of praise, but our hearts are far removed from the prophets we all claim," he said. "That's why the world is in the shape that it's in."
The fiery orator spoke for the first time since ceding leadership of the movement last year because of illness. The speech at the home of the National Football League's Detroit Lions capped the Nation's three-day convention in the city where it was founded in 1930.
"My time is up," Farrakhan said in describing his exit from the leadership stage. "The Final Call can't last forever."
The controversial figure said that he is leaving at a time of great conflict in the world and that he believes God is angry with leaders who are putting politics and greed above serving their fellow man.
The downtown venue was not filled to capacity, but seats on the field and in the lower levels were packed. There were empty seats in the upper levels of the stadium.
Anita Baker performed two songs before Farrakhan took the stage and speakers from various religious groups welcomed him.
Nation founder Wallace D. Fard attracted black Detroiters on the margins of society with a message of self-improvement and separation from whites, who he said were inherently evil because of their enslavement of blacks.
The Nation of Islam, which promotes black empowerment and nationalism, was rebuilt by Farrakhan in the late 1970s after W.D. Mohammed, the son of longtime leader Elijah Mohammed, moved his followers toward mainstream Islam.
Farrakhan, who embraced W.D. Mohammed on stage in 2000 after years of discord, has credited his steps toward reconciliation to what he called a "near death" experience related to prostate cancer, which he began battling in 1991.
Wayne Bryant of Chicago has been attending Nation of Islam gatherings for the past 20 years.
"I think the minister delivers a very powerful message about self-determination," he said before Farrakhan spoke. "I really wanted to enjoy the moment, the magnetism the minister brings to me personally and the crowd."