Image: Mosque Maryam
Charles Rex Arbogast  /  AP file
Chicago's Mosque Maryam, headquarters of the Nation of Islam, is seen in this Sept. 28, 2006, file photo. Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan rededicated the mosque on Sunday.
updated 10/19/2008 9:50:48 PM ET 2008-10-20T01:50:48

Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan stressed unity among religions, while still preaching a message of black empowerment, at a rare public event Sunday deemed "a new beginning" for the Chicago-based movement.

In the nearly two-hour speech, Farrakhan covered topics including immigration, public schools, violence and morality. He vaguely referred to the presidential election but did not specifically mention any candidates.

"We are all in a journey to become complete human beings," the 75-year-old Farrakhan told the crowd of thousands gathered inside Mosque Maryam and in white tents outside.

Farrakhan renewed a call for many to get back to the basic tenants of Islam, while still encouraging black pride.

"Black people must stop seeing themselves as inferior, and whites must stop seeing themselves as superior," he said, adding that black Muslims "have to keep going our own way."

Though other religious leaders and non-Muslims were invited to the public event, most of those in attendance were Nation of Islam followers.

Farrakhan did not lay out any specific plans for the "new beginning," but he offered his opinion on many topics and made a plea for understanding with immigrants south of U.S. borders.

"Our brothers and sisters from South America are not trying to take your jobs. They are trying to survive," Farrakhan said.

He noted the theme of "change" in the presidential election and said change must also come through religious communities.

In February, Farrakhan appeared at an annual Saviours' Day event in Chicago and called Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama the "hope of the entire world" that the U.S. will change for the better.

The Obama campaign quickly denounced Farrakhan's support because he has made comments in the past widely viewed as being anti-Semitic. Nation of Islam officials said Farrakhan's statements are often taken out of context.

Sunday's event was a rededication to the historic 1948 building. The mosque, once a Greek Orthodox church, has undergone major renovations, including getting new marble floors, since it was bought by the Nation in 1972.

It also wrapped up a week of commemoration of the 13th anniversary of the Million Man March, a political gathering in Washington that encouraged the empowerment of blacks and that Farrakhan spearheaded in 1995.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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