An article Monday about Dr. Abdul Alim Muhammad failed to state that in a speech last year, Muhammad was paraphrasing another person's remarks when he talked about homosexuality, the distribution of condoms at schools and equating the acceptance of homosexuality with the acceptance of death. The other person was not a member of the Nations of Islam. (Published 9/29/93)

Dr. Abdul Alim Muhammad, director of the only black-run AIDS clinic in the District, greeted the gathered reporters in the name of Allah. Then he announced his ambition to expand his treatment program by wresting public funds from the area's preeminent AIDS center.

In that news conference last month, Muhammad underscored -- intentionally and not -- the very issues that make him an increasingly divisive figure in the gnarled politics of AIDS.

He invoked God.

He invoked the unproven drug he promotes.

And he invoked his growing clout. Not only is he a medical doctor; he is national spokesman and health minister for Minister Louis Farrakhan's Nation of Islam -- a platform he uses to condemn homosexuality and preach that white-led governments created the AIDS virus as part of a genocidal conspiracy against blacks.

Seven years ago, Muhammad and a local yoga master who had treated him for back pain founded Abundant Life Clinic as a shoestring operation offering alternative therapies. For most of its existence, it operated as a neighborhood center that shunned public funds.

But within the last year, and despite his accusations against the U.S. government, Muhammad has begun to solicit -- and get -- city and federal money for treatment subsidies, tax breaks and research.

Although his clinic promises to treat all who ask for help -- gay and straight, black and not -- controversy has begun to surround Muhammad's medical work, his beliefs and his efforts to attract government help.

Does Muhammad, as he contends, help black communities by delivering lifesaving medical aid that has been repressed by a hostile, white-dominated research establishment? Or is his work, as his critics say, false hope for people who are poor, vulnerable and living with a fatal disease, prescribed by a doctor who can't keep a supply of the drug he advocates and who fosters a divisive ideology?

Through this debate run the questions of whether Muhammad -- in his dual role as doctor and religious leader -- deserves government help, whether the drug he touts as the best hope against AIDS has any benefit and whether his political and religious clout, not his medical skill, is responsible for his success.

"I think he serves a purpose in the community," said Melissa Turner, an AIDS social worker at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Northwest Washington. "His holistic approach to care, his Afrocentric approach, is what my {clients} are looking for."

"You are talking about a man who . . . is one of the heirs apparent to Louis Farrakhan," said David C. Friedman, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, one of the Nation of Islam's most vigorous critics. "A leader steeped in bigotry shouldn't be getting paid out of the public checkbook."

This debate has escalated in light of the influence Muhammad has had on the National Institutes of Health.

The AIDS drug promoted by Muhammad is low-dose oral alpha interferon, commonly sold as Kemron or Immunex. Various medical centers in the United States, Canada, Germany and Uganda have tested alpha interferon and concluded that it has little value.

But researchers in Kenya -- whom Muhammad champions -- say interferon makes AIDS patients feel dramatically better and reverses AIDS symptoms in some of the patients they treat.

Seventeen months ago, NIH said interferon "in its various forms is not recommended for treatment of persons with HIV infection." Enough research had been done worldwide, a committee concluded, to show that it did not work.

By last October, NIH had reconsidered, after extensive coverage of Muhammad's claims for interferon in the Nation of Islam newspaper and a lobbying campaign, which Muhammad acknowledges organizing, by the oldest black medical society in the United States, the National Medical Association. A $500,000 to $1 million test of interferon on 500 to 800 AIDS patients nationwide is set to start late this year.

A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said the NIH decision was "political, but good political."

"The African American community is deeply suspicious of the research establishment -- with the Tuskegee experiments -- with good reason," the spokesman, Victor Zonana, said, referring to U.S. government researchers who, starting in the 1930s, deliberately failed to treat syphilis in black men in Alabama. "If the Kemron study does nothing else but build bridges, it is money well spent."

Even though most studies suggest the drug is ineffective, Zonana said, "what is the alternative -- say, 'We, the white scientists, know it is worthless,' and have a large segment of the African American community completely mistrust us?"

Muhammad's clinic almost certainly will be part of the NIH study, a step that would further raise the clinic's profile.

Muhammad already has won other government grants, including $213,000 in federal money awarded by the District last spring to provide medical care, nutritional advice and some housing for AIDS patients.

And he has assiduously pursued others. Muhammad's complaints to D.C. Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly about the handling of his clinic's application for a separate grant to run an AIDS education campaign led to the ouster in July of Caitlin Ryan, who was chief of the District's AIDS agency. Ryan improperly intervened, a city investigation found, when she said she did not believe Abundant Life Clinic had the expertise to run such a campaign. The grant was not awarded, and the city government plans to repeat the application process.

At the news conference last month, Muhammad announced he was forming a coalition that would compete for a grant held for a decade by the Whitman-Walker Clinic. The grant, now totaling $2 million, underwrites AIDS care and education and helped make Whitman-Walker the biggest AIDS center in the Washington area.

Muhammad said his emerging prominence is part of a plan to extend the interferon therapy to minorities with AIDS across the United States and in the third world. He said, "I am literally out to save the world."

'I Owe Everything . . . to the Nation'

Abundant Life Clinic occupies four units in Paradise Manor in Northeast Washington, one of two housing compounds targeted in a Nation of Islam drug sweep that Muhammad led in the late 1980s. He came to the District in 1981 to lead nearby Mosque No. 4. He also worked in the emergency room at Washington Hospital Center and later at Howard University Hospital.

Born Maurice E. Peters Jr., Muhammad grew up in York, Pa., and joined the Nation of Islam at Antioch College in Ohio. After graduating in 1971, he went to medical school at Cleveland's Case Western Reserve University, then studied general surgery at Harlem Hospital Center in New York.

Muhammad, 45, a D.C. resident, formerly was married to a nurse-anesthetist and has a son. He was an unsuccessful candidate for Congress in Prince George's County in 1990, the first year the Nation of Islam drafted a slate of candidates.

Farrakhan gave him his Muslim name in 1978. Muhammad said, "I owe everything in my personal and professional life to the nation."

His position as Farrakhan's national spokesman takes him to college campuses, where he delivers most of his speeches about AIDS. An electrifying orator, he has used barbed rhetoric to criticize white people and homosexuals.

"In the very nature of this people that we call Caucasian is a hatred for the black people and murder for them and a lust for their blood," he said in a speech last year.

He spoke of the challenges facing "devout Christians, devout Muslims" who send their children to schools where "you found out now they're passing out condoms right in the schoolyard. Homosexuals up on the schoolyard passing out condoms to your sons. . . . Now they have redefined your son's rectum as the equivalent of a vagina.

"They're trying to convince even intelligent people today that now there's three sexes. And when you accept that, you are accepting death."

Belief in a Genocide Conspiracy

Kemron was first developed in Texas, but Muhammad embraces it as "African" and extols its use against the "perfect" genocidal weapon manufactured by white governments: the AIDS virus.

In an interview, Muhammad said many black Americans share his belief that "there is a conspiracy to destroy us. . . . I don't think I'm a paranoid nut. I think I'm doing what any intelligent person would do to try to protect my own life and the lives of my people."

His critics, including the Anti-Defamation League, contend that Muhammad's speeches contain antisemitic slurs. The critics have provided evidence of such remarks made by Farrakhan but not by Muhammad. In his several taped speeches, Muhammad has named Israel among the countries in what he calls the genocidal AIDS conspiracy, but he does not single out Jews for criticism.

When he is not on the road, Muhammad sees patients at his clinic as many as four days a week, greeting them in a waiting room decorated with portraits of Farrakhan and Elijah Muhammad, founder of the Nation of Islam.

The Nation of Islam does not support the clinic financially but has given Muhammad's medical work, he said, "inspiration and moral support."

Abundant Life treats 300 to 400 HIV-infected patients, who account for three-fourths of the clinic's caseload, Muhammad said. About 95 percent of his AIDS patients are black, and half are homosexual or bisexual, he said.

Muhammad's influence extends beyond his own patients. Abundant Life has a branch in Harlem and a loose national network of 1,000 patients and their doctors who are trying alpha interferon. Muhammad also has gained visibility through coverage of his work in the Final Call, the Nation of Islam's newspaper.

In Washington, he has "such a high profile in the black community" that a growing number of black AIDS patients seeking care think of his clinic first, said Wayne Greaves, an infectious-disease specialist who runs the AIDS clinic at Howard University. "I would compare it to how gays see Whitman-Walker."

Muhammad and his drug treatment are gaining attention at a time when the epidemic is making greater inroads among African Americans. In the District, the proportion of black patients among reported AIDS cases has increased from 56 percent during the 1980s to nearly 75 percent since 1990.

D.C. Public Health Commissioner Mohammad N. Akhter said he realized how widespread the interest in Kemron was one night when he went to a grocery to buy milk. A cashier recognized him. In tears, she told him her son was HIV-infected and interested in Kemron. "She said, 'What should he do?' " Akhter recalled. "It chilled me through my spine. I thought, 'I don't know the answer. Let me find out.' "

Akhter inspected about a dozen patients' records at Abundant Life. They indicated that patients felt healthier while taking the drug, Akhter said, but it was unclear whether that was because of the drug, a placebo effect or going off AZT, another drug prescribed to AIDS patients.

He wrote to NIH officials, urging tests that would answer the questions he was hearing on the streets.

The interest in interferon made its way to black communities shortly after August 1991, when Muhammad made his first trip to visit Kenyan researchers working with the drug. He had heard about it from an AIDS patient.

With Farrakhan's blessing and accompanied by the Final Call's editor, Muhammad toured hospitals in Kenya and talked with researchers who contended that Kemron had cured a handful of AIDS patients.

"AIDS Treatment Found in Africa," the Final Call announced in an article. Advertisements for Abundant Life Clinic that ran in the paper asserted that the clinic had found a therapy that "reverses all clinical sign and symptoms in majority of cases."

Muhammad learned Kemron was in short supply but found a similar drug, Immunex, which he began to import.

Promoting an AIDS Treatment

The drug is central to his therapy. Muhammad said he has never been asked for and would not prescribe AZT, DDI or DDC, medications often used with AIDS patients. "I don't think it does any good," he said.

But supply problems nag the clinic. It has been nearly three months since his last shipment, Muhammad said, causing some patients to go without the drug.

When he has the drug, Muhammad charges more for it than does the area's only other source of alpha interferon, the Carl Vogel Foundation, a buyers club that procures -- but does not promote -- experimental therapies for AIDS patients eager to try anything that might offer hope.

The foundation charges $55 for a 30-day supply of oral alpha interferon, according to its director. Muhammad said he charged $250 for a 30-day supply of Immunex; $150 for the same amount of Kemron.

His higher prices, Muhammad said, are warranted because they subsidize research into his patients' progress. Muhammad acknowledged, however, that he has not analyzed the data on the majority of AIDS patients at his clinic.

Five patients who agreed to be interviewed -- including three homosexuals -- said they they did not believe Muhammad promoted religious values at his clinic. But they were divided over whether he offered valuable care.

Denise Price, 40, of Forestville, who is heterosexual, went to Abundant Life last fall looking for an alternative to the AZT she had been taking since she learned she has AIDS, three years ago. She left the clinic and went to Whitman-Walker when she found that Muhammad had missed a case of tuberculosis she developed, she said.

Muhammad declined to discuss Price's care. Her records, released by Whitman-Walker with her permission, show that her T-cell count, an indicator of how well the immune system is working, fell from 29 to 14 while she was on Immunex. A normal T-cell count is 800 to 1,200. "I don't think {Immunex} did much," she said, and the cost was "too high."

A 29-year-old Hyattsville man, who asked not to be identified and did not present medical records, said his T-cell count improved on Immunex. One of Muhammad's first patients to take the drug in 1991, he continued until June, he said, when his supply ran out.

With Immunex, he said, "I don't see death written for myself with AIDS. . . . It gets to a point where the virus is overthrown."

The clinic and his speaking engagements are the pillars of Muhammad's work, but he has laid other groundwork. The clinic is seeking tax-exempt status. Muhammad also has incorporated a fund-raising arm, which he hopes will one day help poor people with AIDS worldwide, and a for-profit laboratory, now existing only on paper, that he envisions manufacturing and distributing interferon.

Muhammad's work and plans have won him supporters who contend that AIDS dollars should follow the path of the disease, as it shifts from a primarily white and gay patient base to a more ethnically diverse, heterosexual community.

Yet even some doctors who agree that alpha interferon shows promise say they are uncomfortable with Muhammad's religious ties.

"I am very much against bringing the Bible to work -- or the Koran," said Wilbert Jordan, an infectious-disease specialist in Los Angeles who started the AIDS clinic at King-Drew Medical Center and believes that interferon has value. "He {Muhammad} greets you in the name of Allah. . . . You have the religious doctrine being pushed."

Muhammad said he deserves government subsidies because his clinic's "doors are open to anybody who desires to come through." According to a consultant hired by Muhammad to garner grants, Abundant Life would use the AIDS education subsidy to emphasize the disease's toll on families but would also mention condoms and homosexuality.

"If someone asks me do I think that using drugs is a good thing, or do I think that practicing homosexuality is a good thing to be recommended -- I don't think they are," Muhammad said. "But . . . {a} medical clinic is not a place for people to come to be judged."

And what will happen to the clinic if the NIH tests prove low-dose oral alpha interferon worthless?

Muhammad said he is not wedded to the drug in "some mystical way." If Kemron fails as a weapon, "then we should drop that and pick up another," he said. "But given a chance, I think that . . . it will prove itself."

Staff writer Brooke A. Masters contributed to this report.