Exclusive Interview with Al Jazeera host Riz Khan
[Editor’s note: On November 13, approximately 130 million people from around the world viewed Al Jazeera host Riz Khan’s exclusive interview with the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan about his perspective on U.S. President-Elect Barack Obama’s win and what it means for America and the world.
Minister Farrakhan also took questions from the international community representing the countries of the United Kingdom, Germany, Malawi, the United States, Iran, Norway and Saudi Arabia, via live call-in and AlJazeera.net’s online chat room. The following article contains excerpts from that interview. Click here to view web video of interview.]
In The Name of Allah, The Beneficent, The Merciful.
Al Jazeera Interviewer Riz Khan (RK): Minister welcome! Good to speak with you!
The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan (HMLF): Thank you very much. I’m honored to be apart of your show.
RK: Thank you sir. I know you described the task that President-Elect Barack Obama has in leading America as a “horrible burden.” In what way, sir?
HMLF: In the Qur’an, it is written that “Allah never lays on a soul a burden beyond its scope.” “Scope” actually means “mental capacity,” and we believe that after looking at Barack Obama, who just four years ago spoke at the Democratic Convention and was hardly known; four years later, he has had a meteoric rise to become the President-Elect of the United States of America.
We believe that Almighty God, Allah, had a hand in his rise, and therefore we say that God has laid on him a burden. He has the mental capacity to cope with that burden, but what he needs is a united Congress; a united people to help him get America up out of the mess that America is presently in.
RK: Now Minister, when we announced you were coming on the show, we had many e-mails, and no doubt the phone calls will also start. But let’s get an e-mail in to you that came in from Nigeria … from “Hamza” who [asks]: “What challenges do you think Obama faces ahead as president of the world’s strongest country?”
HMLF: First, the challenge is to remain alive. With 57 million Americans voting for Senator McCain, most of those Americans that voted for him were mainly in the South. The attitudes of southern Whites are different from the attitudes of those that voted for Barack Obama; and there is a significant group within that group that might not want to see Barack Obama take the Oath of Office on the 20th of January.
Our hope is that the Secret Service will be on their watch, and that the American people who hope for change in him will be watchful so that this young man might do for America and the world that which America and the world hope for.
RK: Minister, we already have the phones ringing: “Hilary” is on the line from the UK. Hilary, what would you like to ask?
Hilary Egrauagu: Could you please tell me what you think in terms of what starts the problem? Who are those who don’t want Obama to be president? I mean, people voted for him. Why wouldn’t someone allow him to take the Oath of Office? Why would someone want to stop him? Can you tell us that? Thank you very much.
HMLF: Evidently, sir, you are not familiar with the racial problem that exists in America. While much progress has been made, there is no one–Black or White–who doesn’t agree that much more progress needs to be made. And his election is a sign of change in America that is good for America and the world.
However, we yet have a big burden on our shoulders because the Black masses in America really are the “Achilles Heel” of this nation. And even though Barack Obama has ascended to the highest office in the land, it does not relieve Black leaders, Black teachers, Black activists, Black preachers of the burden of raising our people up from where they are, that whatever opportunities Barack Obama might create for the American people, we would be able to take advantage of some of those opportunities.
RK: Minister, I’ll get back to the theme in a second, but we have a chat room that runs live as we go live on the air, and there is some great discussion going on in there right now. “[Mr.] Thomas” from Germany [asks]: “Can Obama function as a bridge between White and Black people, as well as the Muslim and Western world?”
HMLF: Absolutely. The very fact that Barack Obama has a White mother and an African father, and he grew up in Hawaii; and even though his African father left him at two years old, his mother married an Indonesian, and moved him to Indonesia where he spent four or five years growing up, again, in a Muslim country.
Although he is a Christian, he has great depth of understanding of the Muslim world. He has grown up in a multi-cultural and multi-racial setting, so who is better to build a bridge between Black and White? Between religious differences and different ethnicities?
We thank God for this young man, and I hope that the American people will realize that he is a mercy from God to the United States of America, to help America come up out of the condition that America’s leadership has placed the American people in.
RK: Now Minister, I know you always advocated against mixed marriages, and of course, it’s ironic that Barack Obama is a product of an interracial marriage. How does that sit with you? Doesn’t that go against your core values?
HMLF: So is the Founder of the Nation of Islam, Fard Muhammad–He had a Black father and a White mother, as well. The only reason that we are against interracial marriage is because the Black woman is really in need of a strong Black man. But love exalts us beyond race or ethnicities; even though we would prefer that a Black man marry a Black woman, what can we say when love enters the picture?
RK: Let’s get a couple of phone calls in. “Wahhab” in Malawi: Your question, please.
Wahhab: I would like to ask do you see any similarity between Barack Obama and Bill Clinton?
HMLF: In one sense, yes: They’re both Democrats. But in another sense: No indeed.
Barack Obama is very, very unique. As you know, when he traveled to Kenya to meet his paternal grandmother, look at the outpouring of love for him in Kenya and throughout Africa. Look at the congratulatory messages that have come in for him from all over the world.
This young man represents hope for Africa, hope for the Caribbean, hope for Central and South America, hope for Asia; and hopefully, he represents hope for Europe and America as well.
RK: “Shafi” is on the line from Washington. Shafi, what would you like to ask?
Shafi: I have a question for Louis Farrakhan about Islam: Do you believe that Muhammad, ‘salla Allaahu ‘alayhi wa salaam (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) is the last and final messenger of Allah? If that’s so, then why do you keep the Nation of Islam separate from mainstream of Islam, because we should all be one nation, should we not?
HMLF: Yes, we are one nation. And yes, we do believe that Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, is the end of the prophets. However, we also believe that the Black man of America is in a very unique position and condition; and, as Allah has said in the Qur’an, He has raised a messenger in every nation.
America is the greatest nation on earth; and is, unfortunately, guilty of some of the sins that Sodom and Gomorrah, Ancient Babylon, Ancient Rome, Ancient Egypt was guilty of. So, America, too, needs a Warner and a Messenger to guide [her] back to the Straight Path of God, and we believe that the Honorable Elijah Muhammad is that Warner.
We are not trying to stay away from the Muslim world; we love the Muslim world, and we are trying our best to link up with Muslims all over the world, for we share a common faith; a common practice. And also today, in a world that, in the West, is increasingly becoming anti-Islam, we face common threats.
RK: “Pejay” is on the line from Iran. Good to hear from Iran. What would you like to ask?
Pejay: In Sharia (Islamic law), the Muslims are not supposed to choose a leader [who is in] Islam, and converts to a different religion. Do you think it’s going to be quite an obstacle for President-Elect Obama … to link Muslims in the United States?
HMLF: No, I don’t believe that. I believe that as Allah has said in the Qur’an, “Those who are Christians, those who are Jews, those who are Sabians, those who believe in Allah and the last day, they have their reward from their Lord.”
Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, was very clear in his respect for Christians and the Injil (The Gospel); in his respect for Jews and The Torah; and so, we find in Barack Obama his universal, cosmopolitan understanding of religion will allow him to do so much better for the Islamic and Muslim world. And I believe he will have a better chance of solving the problem between the Israelis and the Palestinians more so than any of his predecessors.
RK: Minister Farrakhan, I mentioned in the beginning of the show how you intended to stay away from the campaign because you were worried any kind of endorsement you made might be taken the wrong way. What was your biggest fear?
HMLF: In The Washington Post, a writer said, “We ought to give Barack Obama the ‘Farrakhan Litmus Test.’” A few days later, Mr. Abe Foxman of the ADL (Anti-Defamation League) issued that “test” to Barack Obama; and, of course, his campaign said, “We are against all forms of bigotry, racism, anti-Semitism.” But that didn’t go far enough for the Anti-Defamation League.
And so, at my Saviours’ Day message [February 2008], in front of 20,000 people, I spoke highly of Barack Obama, but I did not give an endorsement. And a few days later at a debate, he was forced to renounce my kind words toward him.
I did not mind, because I understand the bigger picture. So I decided that if I wanted to help Barack Obama, I needed to be quiet, and not be drawn into the controversy because Fox News and others kept trying to bring Farrakhan into the controversy with Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright, Father Michael Pfleger and others. So I just remained quiet. Now that he is where we hoped he would be, I am much freer to say about him the things that I believe; and the hope that we have that he can help America to change.
I believe he can help change America’s domestic policy, and help America change her foreign policy. Eighty percent of the American people are against the present government; and nearly 90 percent of the American people are against the present Congress. The outside world has “tanked” in terms of their respect for the United States of America, and this is why America hopes that Barack Obama will restore America’s image at home and abroad.
RK: Norway [is] next, and “Kazeem” is on the line with a question. Kazeem, what would you like to ask?
Kazeem: I just want to ask Dr. Farrakhan, you know that a lot of African people were so happy when Barack Obama won the election; so, I’m just wondering, maybe they’re going to get disappointed because I don’t really know what they are hoping from Barack Obama?
RK: That’s actually a good question, Kazeem; let me put that to Minister Farrakhan: Everyone seems to be claiming, obviously, some kind of victory with the election of Barack Obama. Libya, even: Muammar Ghadafi has said that this represents something very big.
What is the expectation? How is it going to be met? It’s a lot of burden on his shoulders.
HMLF: I don’t think we should put too much on him more than what he has.
The American economy is in bad shape. There are 10 million Americans out of work. Three hundred thousand (300,000) American homes were foreclosed on last August, and it is expected that 2.8 million will be foreclosed on by next year.
With factories closing, and people being out of work–and suffering–the hope is that Barack Obama, with the help of Congress; with the help of a strong Cabinet; and with the help of the American people, might be able to solve some of these problems. But it will be difficult for him because America, as I understand it, is possibly going to lose her “AAA Standing” in the world in terms of her country. She is almost bankrupt; or, she might very well be. She is $10 trillion in debt, and when you count Medicare, Medicaid [and] Social Security, it mounts up to $60 trillion.
In the last two months, America has borrowed $550 billion, and over a $1 trillion this year so far. Where is America getting this money? The Federal Reserve? Foreign governments? Half of everything that America gets in taxes has to be paid to foreign governments to service the debt that foreign governments have lent to America. Our hope is that we can turn this around.
RK: Let’s get a call infrom Saudi Arabia. “Saud” has a question.
Saud: Because you sound very optimistic regarding Barack Obama trying to help solve the problems in the Middle East in respect to Palestine, or the Palestinians, I waswondering where is that [optimism] coming from?
RK: That’s one big issue: That the people are worried that he’ll be manacled to the lobbies; to the big business; corporate business in America. How can Barack Obama get free of those manacles, and actually be his own man?
HMLF: Well, you know that he has some manacles, and that might limit him. However, he’s the first American president to raise $600 million for his campaign. That frees him from lobbyists; it frees him from special interests, and it could free him from those who would manipulate him.
If he is going to solve the problem, he has to be free enough to solve the problem between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
RK: Minister Louis Farrakhan, thank you very much for being with us. We’re unfortunately out of time, but, thank you very much for sharing your views.
HMLF: Thank you for having me.