For the second year in a row, the Nation of Islam is holding its annual national convention in Detroit as the group seeks to deepen its presence in the city where it began in 1930.
Up to 30,000 are expected to attend the four-day gathering of the Nation of Islam starting Thursday at Cobo Center and concluding at 2 p.m. Sunday with an address at Joe Louis Arena by Minister Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the African-American group.
Known as Saviours’ Day, the gathering commemorates the birthday of Master Fard Muhammad, who started the group 87 years ago in the Black Bottom area of Detroit. The Nation is now headquartered in Chicago, where it usually holds its convention, but this will be the fourth time it has held its convention in Detroit in the past 10 years.
Titled “The Ultimate Challenge: Survival of the Black Nation,” this year’s convention comes at a politically tense time in the U.S., with a new administration after eight years in office of the first African-American president. But Muhammad said the focus of the Nation of Islam remains the same regardless of politics: being self-sufficient economically and socially.
Farrakhan’s message on Sunday is titled “Have No Fear For The Future: The Future is Ours.”
Farrakhan “has always called on us to get ourselves together,” said Student Minister Troy Muhammad, who leads the Detroit chapter of the Nation of Islam. “His biggest plea is for us doing something for ourselves, because that’s our responsibility. No one is going to do it for us. Many thought that if Hillary Clinton wins, she would do it for us. Some thought, if Donald Trump wins, he would. But at the end of the day, no politician can do it. We have to do it for ourselves.”
The Nation’s message resonates for many in Detroit, which is 79% African American and where the Nation’s themes of black self-empowerment are popular. Farrakhan’s Detroit lectures draw packed crowds, including at Joe Louis Arena in recent years.
Farrakhan has called in recent years for members of the Nation of Islam to invest in Detroit and buy property in the city.
“Detroit is very special to the Nation of Islam,” said Muhammad. “A few years ago, Minister Farrakhan asked the members to invest in the city of Detroit, move to Detroit, and do business in the city … the perfect city to rebuild. He wanted us to be involved in that rebuilding, to help build the city of Detroit in all its aspects.”
Many who attend Nation of Islam events are not Muslim and of different racial and ethnic backgrounds.
“As a child growing up … the Nation of Islam has always been a steadfast force of positive inspiration for me, a lifelong Baptist,” said Sam Riddle, a Detroit activist and political consultant. “Role models embodying self-respect and self-love will fill downtown Detroit, making Saviours’ Day a profound good news story.”
Open to all, the workshops at the convention include discussions about housing, marriage and family, civic participation, agriculture, and emergency preparation. It will include a special session at 10 a.m. Saturday in Cobo titled “The War on Islam,” which will address what it sees as growing attacks on Islam, such as the recent travel ban aimed at Muslim-majority countries. And there will be a Children’s Village with activities and games for kids.
The Nation of Islam is believed to be the oldest, continuously operating black nationalist group in the U.S. It believes that one day, African-Americans should form their own nation, but in practice, stresses a conservative message of self-help.
“We have to continue to work hard and be the best we can be, to build our communities and make them safe places to be,” Muhammad said. “We have to continue to work on black on black violence and crime in the city, and don’t worry about some of the things we’re seeing or hearing, because we have a responsibility to do something for ourselves.”
Maria Muhammad, a member of the Nation of Islam in Detroit, says the group has helped many locally. When Fard Muhammad arrived in Detroit, his message appealed to many African-Americans in the middle of an economic depression and racism in the job market and housing.
“Islam is a way of life and so it teaches us … a knowledge of ourselves, which was taken away from black people in America when we were taken from our homeland and brought here and enslaved,” she said. “The knowledge of self is one of the main components that our people get in the Nation of Islam. … If you know who you are, you’re able to better know your purpose in life.”
The convention is also a way for people to reunite across generations, said Maria Muhammad.
“We have people of many generations who were touched by Islam,” she said. “Some are bringing their grandchildren and great-grandchildren, to give them a reintroduction to a way of life.”
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