In his first major public address since a cancer crisis, Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan said Sunday that presidential candidate Barack Obama is the "hope of the entire world" that the U.S. will change for the better.
The 74-year-old Farrakhan, addressing an estimated crowd of 20,000 people at the annual Saviours' Day celebration, never outrightly endorsed Obama but spent most of the nearly two-hour speech praising the Illinois senator.
"This young man is the hope of the entire world that America will change and be made better," he said. "This young man is capturing audiences of black and brown and red and yellow. If you look at Barack Obama's audiences and look at the effect of his words, those people are being transformed."
Farrakhan compared Obama to the religion's founder, Fard Muhammad, who also had a white mother and black father.
"A black man with a white mother became a savior to us," he told the crowd of mostly followers. "A black man with a white mother could turn out to be one who can lift America from her fall."
Farrakhan also leveled small jabs at Hillary Rodham Clinton, Obama's rival for the Democratic nomination, suggesting that she represents the politics of the past and has been engaging in dirty politics.
Said Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton: "Sen. Obama has been clear in his objections to Minister Farrakhan's past pronouncements and has not solicited the minister's support."
Farrakhan rebuilt the Nation of Islam, which promotes black empowerment and nationalism, in the late 1970s after W.D. Mohammed, the son of longtime leader Elijah Mohammed, moved his followers toward mainstream Islam.
Farrakhan has drawn attention for calling Judaism a "gutter religion" and suggesting crack cocaine might have been a CIA plot to enslave blacks.
In recent years, however, officials with the Nation of Islam have promoted unity and tolerance among religions. Farrakhan now often quotes the texts of other religions, such as the Bible, in his speeches.
Farrakhan's keynote address at McCormick Place, the city's convention center, wrapped up three days of events geared at unifying followers and targeting youth.
It had a different tone from a year ago, when Farrakhan made what was called his final public address at a Saviours' Day event in Detroit. The 74-year-old was recovering from complications from prostate cancer and months earlier had temporarily passed on leadership duties of the organization's day-to-day activities to an executive board.