Mohammed also began dismantling his father's empire. He sold off the businesses that had been highly profitable examples of black entrepreneurship and self-reliance. He decentralized the mosques, calling himself an Imam--"model"--rather than Supreme Minister. He preached that people should be judged only by their piety, not their race. He repealed the clothing requirements: dark suits and natty bow ties for men, gowns and veils for women. He changed his name, and his organization's several times.
Within two years, Farrakhan informed Mohammed that he would strike out on his own to form a new Nation of Islam. Recalls Mohammed: "He said, 'You have discredited your father.' I'm sure he said, 'You've slandered your father. We're losing a lot of your young Muslims.' "
Mohammed heard another message: "I feel the real reason was he was not enjoying the attention, the popularity, the money that he had enjoyed before." He hints that Farrakhan does not himself believe the words he and his top aides hurl before their vast audiences. "He saw a following out there," Mohammed says.
The split has affected both men's lives in private as well as in public, and the lives of those who love them. Mohammed's daughter, Laila, says she and a son of Farrakhan were close friends as teen-agers and still see each other at family reunions, but "we don't drop by each other's house like we did." They are extremely careful to observe the old rule of etiquette prohibiting discussion of politics or religion.
The two men do not seek each other out, but they also have crossed paths in the intervening years. They even embraced after Farrakhan professed his faith in Islam at a 1990 luncheon.
Now, Mohammed says he wants to tell his onetime colleague: "Come the rest of the way."
He expects no immediate result other than "a warm rush of blood to his heart." Whether it will be a rush of joy or anger, Mohammed doesn't say. In "American Jihad: Islam After Malcolm X," published in January, Farrakhan tells Barboza: "I wouldn't care and don't care if none of you believe that I am a Muslim. You are not my judge."
But Mohammed says he still has hope that Farrakhan "will himself work out a plan for real changes."
There are risks to this strategy. Perhaps the old legacy of bloodshed has not completely disappeared. The May shooting of Farrakhan's former aide, Khallid Muhammad, bred countless conspiracy theories, although all may be groundless. "I don't fear for my life," Mohammed says. "I fear for these youngsters' lives. . . . They might make an attempt to hurt me, but their life is in more danger than mine."
More likely, Mohammed will be tagged as a tool of the whites. He knows that. "You can't be worried," he says, "that people will call you Uncle Tom, a patsy. You reach a point where you really can't waste any time. If they want to charge me with selling out, then I'll just have to live with that."