Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan was greeted by cheers, tears and chants from tens of thousands as he returned to the public eye just long enough to say he would be leaving it soon.
Farrakhan, who ceded leadership duties last year because of illness, spoke for nearly two hours Sunday. Looking healthy and fit, he credited the prayers of millions from all walks of life for allowing him to take the stage at Detroit's Ford Field.
His vitality seemed at odds with his message, that his time left in the spotlight was short.
"My time is up," the 73-year-old Farrakhan said, describing his exit from leadership. "I believe...that my time to be with my spiritual father and his sender has come. And your time to go through serious trial has come."
The topic of the speech was "One Nation Under God." But Farrakhan said the world is at war because Christians, Muslims and people of other faiths are divided.
Farrakhan said 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 leader of 1995's Million Man March said he is leaving at a time of great conflict, citing the war in Iraq specifically, and he believes God is angry with leaders who are putting politics and greed above service to others. He predicted "the fall of the great Babylon, the United States of America."
He said President Bush should be impeached or at least censured for his "wicked policies," and urged young people to avoid joining a military that will have them "leave one way and come back another."
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.
The downtown venue was not filled to capacity, but seats on the field and in the lower levels of the 65,000-seat stadium were packed.
Anita Baker performed two songs before Farrakhan took the stage and speakers from various religious and ethnic groups welcomed him. Among those on the stage behind him were U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich.; Russell Simmons, hip-hop pioneer and entrepreneur; and Joe Shirley Jr., Navajo Nation president.
The annual convention, usually held in Chicago, honors Nation founder Wallace D. Fard, who attracted black Detroiters on the margins of society with a message of self-improvement and separation from whites. Fard said whites 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 became notorious for calling Judaism a "gutter religion" and suggesting crack cocaine might have been a CIA plot to enslave blacks. He met with foreign leaders at odds with the United States—Moammar Gadhafi, Fidel Castro and Saddam Hussein—prompting the State Department in 1996 to accuse him of "cavorting with dictators."
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.
Detroiter Che-Lin Aldridge, who described herself as spiritual but not a member of the Nation, welcomed Farrakhan and what he had to say.
"This message is something everybody needs to hear—a message that's universal," Aldridge said. "What he said was critical for our lives today."
Farrakhan recalled the story of the final message delivered by the Prophet Muhammad, who was dying at the time. "Within 80 days . . . he expired," Farrakhan said.
"I don't see expiration for me," he said, "but I do see exaltation."