As those inside the CNE Coliseum prayed in Arabic to Allah, latecomers lined up for a thorough body search.
“Sisters to the left, brothers to the right,” a clean-cut young man in snappy suit, white shirt and bow tie said politely. “Sorry for the inconvenience, sir.”
Louis Farrakhan, the charismatic and controversial Nation of Islam leader was in town – the last stop on a 53-nation friendship tour before returning to the U.S.
The former calypso singer and musician turned religious leader, who calls Libyan leader Moammar Gadafi his “brother and friend,” comes with a reputation for inflammatory rhetoric that targets whites, Jews and homosexuals.
Two years ago, before his first Toronto visit, Jewish groups unsuccessfully lobbied to have Mr. Farrakhan barred from Canada on the grounds that he was likely to violate the country’s anti-hate laws. A standing-room-only crowd of 2,600 turned up to hear him speak at the Toronto Convention Centre. Hundreds more were turned away.
Although Mr. Farrakhan’s speech was considered temperate, the Jewish community was concerned that some of the books sold outside the convention hall could be considered hate literature.
Members of the Toronto Police Service’s hate-crimes unit were reported to be on hand at the Coliseum event to monitor Mr. Farrakhan’s speech. No charges were laid. Nor did there appear to be any material on sale that could be construed as hate literature,
Mr. Farrakhan – his Christian surname was Wolcott – was born in New York City’s Bronx section to West Indian immigrants who were Episcopalian. He converted to Islam and joined the Nation of Islam in the 1950s.
Despite a record of crude comments directed at Jews and whites — he has called Judaism a “dirty” religion — Mr. Farrakhan says he is neither anti-Jewish nor anti-white. At a news conference before the Coliseum speech, he said he has serious criticism of members of the Jewish community, who are not above criticism, “but they can’t take it.”
Speaking to a crowd of roughly 2,000 – media estimates ranged from 1,500 to 3,000 – and quoting the Old and New Testaments, as well as the Koran, Mr. Farrakhan called Jud-aism the “mother of Christianity” and a herald of the Koran’s revelations. But by straying from God’s path, Christianity, Islam, Judaism and other world religions have become dysfunctional, he said, castigating “passive” Muslims, Jews and Christians for only paying lip-service to their faith while slaves remain enslaved and orphans unfed.
“What has happened to religion is that it has become the Number one tool in the hands of the wicked to enslave human beings,” Mr. Farrakhan said.
“Most government leaders don’t respect the religious community. They let them open meetings with prayer and then tell them to shut up and sit down.”
Calling for a religious united front to combat Satan, Mr. Farrakhan said only a spiritual revolution can rid the world of racism, drugs and other evils.
“Jesus was a revolutionary,” he said. “Jesus was not a sweet man, read your scriptures. Jesus transformed human beings who in turn transformed society.”
Michael McAteer is a freelance writer living in Toronto and former religion editor of the Toronto Star.