http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/...00.story?coll=chi-news-hed&ctrack=1&cset=true Nation of Islam leader calls illness 'serious' By Margaret Ramirez Tribune religion writer Published September 22, 2006, 9:52 PM CDT Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan released a letter Friday urging the organization's executive board to solve the group's problems without him while he is being treated for "serious infection and inflammation." In a letter dated Sept. 11 and published in the current edition of the Nation of Islam's newspaper, The Final Call, Farrakhan said he has been in pain since earlier this year and has symptoms similar to those he experienced during his 1998 battle with prostate cancer. Nation of Islam officials did not return calls for comment. But some religious leaders and others familiar with the organization said they don't think the announcement signals that he is about to step down from leadership of the group after almost 30 years. "I will be available to give guidance in any major situation that may arise, but I would prefer that the Executive Board of the Nation of Islam help to solve the problems of the Nation, without asking me," Farrakhan wrote. Farrakhan, 73, was treated by his doctors at Howard University Hospital in Washington, D.C., and is now recuperating at his home in Michigan. On a trip to Cuba in March, Farrakhan visited doctors who discovered an ulcer in the anal area. He describes his illness in the letter as a test for himself and the organization. "In this period of testing, you can prove to the world that the Nation of Islam is more than the charisma, eloquence and personality of Louis Farrakhan," he wrote, "... and that it will live long after I and we have gone." Islamic expert Aminah McCloud, a religious studies professor at DePaul University who has studied the Nation of Islam, said the tone of the letter was similar to his correspondence when his cancer brought him close to death. "When he was put in the hospital and diagnosed, his communication to the community was equally somber and serious," she said. "The direction of the Nation is one of moving forward and I assume that is what they will do. By moving forward, I mean that they are avid students of Islam without any cultural overlays and they still have at the core of their movement, a focus on bettering the black community." Muslim leaders like Imam Gha-is Askia expressed concern. Askia said religious leaders have been invited to an upcoming prayer vigil at Farrakhan's Michigan residence. But Askia said he was not alarmed that Farrakhan had handed over the reins during his recovery and did not see it as a step toward succession. "When you're going to be sick for a while, the show goes on," Askia said. Farrakhan was born May 11, 1933, in the Bronx, New York, only three years after the start of the religious movement he would eventually lead. The Nation of Islam was founded in 1930 by Wallace D. Fard, an Arab man who preached in Detroit about the link between black nationalism and the Islamic faith. His most dedicated student, Elijah Muhammad, assumed leadership of the movement in 1934, taking it to national prominence. In 1955, Farrakhan joined the Nation of Islam. When Muhammad died in 1975, he was succeeded by his son, W.D. Mohammed, who moved away from black nationalism toward traditional Islam. Farrakhan separated from the group in September 1977 and announced that he was re-creating the Nation of Islam based on the original teachings of Elijah Muhammad.