Minister Louis Farrakhan said in a letter to followers this month that he is seriously ill, and he asked the Nation of Islam's leaders to carry on in his absence to make sure the organization, founded by black American Muslims, "will live long after I and we have gone."
Farrakhan, 73, said he began suffering pain earlier this year similar to 1998, when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and underwent surgery. He said doctors discovered an ulcer in his anal area during a visit to Cuba in March.
Since then, he has dropped more than 20 pounds (9 kilograms) while battling "serious infection and inflammation," Farrakhan said in a letter dated Sept. 11 and published in the Nation of Islam's The Final Call newspaper.
Officials at Howard University Hospital did not return a phone call seeking comment on Farrakhan's condition. A man who answered the phone at the Nation of Islam headquarters in Chicago said the organization had no comment on Farrakhan's condition.
Farrakhan said he will work hard to recover "because I do not believe my earthly work is done." He said he asked his executive board to solve problems during his recovery.
Farrakhan likened his situation to that of Fidel Castro, who temporarily relinquished power because of illness.
"While many rejoiced - believing and thinking that if Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution expired they could move Cuba and the Revolution in a new direction - his absence from the helm only proved that Cuba will not fall apart over the absence or passing of their illustrious leader," Farrakhan wrote in the letter.
He also warned followers to be "ever watchful for any smart, crooked deceiver and hypocrite who would create confusion over my present condition."
Experts said Farrakhan's death could seriously alter the future of the group.
"Through the organization's history, the death of a leader has meant a number of divisions," said Lawrence Mamiya, a professor of religion and Africana studies at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York. "Whether members of the Nation will follow aboard is up for grabs."
After the death of Nation leader Elijah Muhammad in 1975, the organization split. Since then there have been several smaller divisions.