Malcolm X

Posted: November 26, 2011 in Converts to Islam
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“One of the first things I think young people, especially nowadays, should learn is how to see for yourself and listen for yourself and think for yourself. Then you can come to an intelligent decision for yourself.”

                                ~ Malcolm X talking to young civil rights fighters from Mississippi (1965).


“Even his sharpest critics recognized his brilliance — often wild, unpredictable and eccentric . . .”

~ Comment about Malcolm X by The New York Post


Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little on May 19, 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska. His father, Earl Little, was an outspoken Baptist minister and avid supporter of Black Nationalist leader Marcus Garvey. Malcolm X was raised in the Seventh-Day Adventist faith by his mother.

Malcolm X’s early life is coupled with dramatic moments. For instance, in 1929 their Lansing, Michigan house was burned down by a white hate group; he was six years old when his father died a violent death; his mother committed to a mental asylum; he went into a foster home; his teacher told him that his dream of becoming a lawyer was “no realistic goal for a nigger”; he dropped out of school, spent some time in Boston, Massachusetts working various odd jobs; his first real job was shoe shining;  he traveled to Harlem, New York where he committed petty crimes; by 1942, he was coordinating various narcotic, prostitution and gambling rings; in 1946, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for burglary.

Malcolm X furthered his education while in prison. It was in prison that he memorized the dictionary, read the bible and began studying – everything from archeology to genetics. While in prison, Malcolm adopted the Black Muslim faith and upon release he became an American Black Muslim minister and a spokesman for the Nation of Islam, a deviant ‘Islamic’ movement. He left the Nation of Islam in 1964 and founded Muslim Mosque, Inc., a religious organization, and the Organization of Afro-American Unity, a secular group that advocated Black Nationalism. However, several Sunni Muslims encouraged Malcolm X to learn about true Islam.  Malcolm X recalls the incidents that propelled him to abandon the Nation of Islam. He confessed:

At one or another college or university, usually in the informal gatherings after I had spoken, perhaps a dozen generally white-complexioned people would come up to me, identifying themselves as Arabian, Middle Eastern or North African Muslims who happened to be visiting, studying, or living in the United States. They had said to me that, my white-indicting statements notwithstanding, they felt I was sincere in considering myself a Muslim — and they felt if I was exposed to what they always called “true Islam,” I would “understand it, and embrace it.” Automatically, as a follower of Elijah, I had bridled whenever this was said. But in the privacy of my own thoughts after several of these experiences, I did question myself: if one was sincere in professing a religion, why should he balk at broadening his knowledge of that religion? . . . .

One of those altruistic Muslims was Dr. Mahmoud Youssef Shawarbi who driven by Prophet Muhammad’s maxim “None of you will have faith till he wishes for his (Muslim) brother what he likes for himself,”[1]advised Malcolm to embrace the Orthodox Islam. Malcolm made the pilgrimage to Mecca where he discovered a purer form of Islam hence becoming a Sunni Muslim and changed name to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. Malcolm was very happy about his Hajj saying he was the first American-born black person to make the Hajj (the pilgrimage).  The Hajj experience brought about a radical alteration in Malcolm’s outlook about white men. He said:

There were tens of thousands of pilgrims, from all over the world. They were of all colors, from blue-eyed blonds to black-skinned Africans. But we were all participating in the same ritual displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe never could exist between the white and the non-white . . . America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem. Throughout my travels in the Muslim world, I have met, talked to, and even eaten with people who in America would have been considered white — but the “white” attitude was removed from their minds by the religion of Islam. I have never before seen sincere and true brotherhood practiced by all colors together, irrespective of their color.

During the pilgrimage, he wrote some letters to his loyal assistants at the newly formed Muslim Mosque in Harlem asking that his letter be duplicated and distributed to the press. He wrote:

Never have I witnessed such sincere hospitality and the overwhelming spirit of true brotherhood as is practiced by people of all colors and races here in this ancient Holy Land, the House of Abraham, Muhammad, and all the other Prophets of the Holy Scriptures. For the past week, I have been utterly speechless and spellbound by the graciousness I see displayed all around me by people of all colors . . . . You may be shocked by these words coming from me. But on this pilgrimage, what I have seen, and experienced, has forced me to rearrange much of my thought-patterns previously held, and to toss aside some of my previous conclusions. This was not too difficult for me. Despite my firm convictions, I have always been a man who tries to face facts, and to accept the reality of life as new experience and new knowledge unfolds it. I have always kept an open mind, which necessary to the flexibility that must go hand in hand with every form of intelligent search for truth. During the past eleven days here in the Muslim world, I have eaten from the same plate, drunk from the same glass, and slept in the same bed (or on the same rug) — while praying to the same God — with fellow Muslims, whose eyes were the bluest of blue, whose hair was the blondest of blond, and whose skin was the whitest of white. And in the words and in the actions and in the deeds of the “white” Muslims, I felt the same sincerity that I felt among the black African Muslims of Nigeria, Sudan, and Ghana. We were truly all the same (brothers) — because their belief in one God had removed the “white” from their minds, the ‘white’ from their behavior, and the ‘white’ from their attitude. I could see from this, that perhaps if white Americans could accept the Oneness of God, then perhaps, too, they could accept in reality the Oneness of Man — and cease to measure, and hinder, and harm others in terms of their “differences” in color. With racism plaguing America like an incurable cancer, the so-called “Christian” white American heart should be more receptive to a proven solution to such a destructive problem. Perhaps it could be in time to save America from imminent disaster — the same destruction brought upon Germany by racism that eventually destroyed the Germans themselves. They asked me what about the Hajj had impressed me the most . . . . I said, “The brotherhood! The people of all races, color, from all over the world coming together as one! It has proved to me the power of the One God. . . . All ate as one, and slept as one. Everything about the pilgrimage atmosphere accented the Oneness of Man under One God.

Malcolm X came from Hajj a changed man; he had gone back to his natural disposition, just like a baby with no sin, without deviations, unless changed by the environment. The Prophet of Islam, Muhammad, indeed said, “He who came to this House (Ka’ba) (with the intention of performing Pilgrimage), and neither spoke indecently nor did he act wickedly, would return (free from sin) as on the (very first day) his mother bore him.”[2]The anti-white attitude of Malcolm X was wiped out after learning the true Islam. On December 27, 1964, Malcolm X said, “Well, this is why Islam is spreading. Islam has no color bar in it at all. There is nothing in Islam that teaches one to judge a man by the color of his skin. No matter what color you are in Islam, you are a Muslim – you are a brother.”

Malcolm X had the privilege of travelling to many places and meeting many prominent personalities. Among the countries he visited include: Saudi Arabia where he met Muhammad Faisal, the son of Prince Faisal; Ghana meeting Kwame Nkrumah; Egypt where he met Gamal Abdel Nasser; Algeria where he met Ahmed Ben Bella, principal leader of the Algerian War of Independence against France, Algerian first Prime Minister (1962 – 3) and first president of Algeria (1963 –5). Malcolm also visited Nigeria where he gave a speech at the University of Ibadan. Other countries are Ethiopia, Tanzania, Guinea, Sudan, Senegal, France, Liberia, and Morocco. On 21 September 1960, Malcolm X met with Fidel Castro in Hotel Theresa, Harlem. On 3 December 1964, Malcolm X was in the United Kingdom, participating in a debate at the Oxford Union. Malcolm X argued in the affirmative to the debate topic “Extremism in the Defense of Liberty is No Vice; Moderation in the Pursuit of Justice is No Virtue.” The debate was televised nationally by the BBC. In the debate Malcolm X outspokenly and proudly said, “Islam is my religion. I believe in Allah and I Believe in Muhammad.”

At a speaking engagement in the Manhattan’s Audubon Ballroom on February 21, 1965 three gunmen rushed to Malcolm onstage and shot him 15 times at close range. The 39-year-old Malcolm X was pronounced dead on arrival at New York’s Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. Malcolm X was buried at the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York. Ossie Davis (1917–2005), an American film actor, director, poet, playwright, writer, and giant of civil rights delivered the eulogy at the funeral of Malcolm X, a tribute for “our shining black prince”:

There are those who will consider it their duty, as friends of the Negro people, to tell us to revile him, to flee, even from the presence of his memory, to save ourselves by writing him out of the history of our turbulent times. Many will ask what Harlem finds to honor in this stormy, controversial and bold young captain — and we will smile. Many will say turn away — away from this man, for he is not a man but a demon, a monster, a subverter and an enemy of the black man — and we will smile. They will say that he is of hate — a fanatic, a racist — who can only bring evil to the cause for which you struggle! And we will answer and say to them: Did you ever talk to Brother Malcolm? Did you ever touch him, or have him smile at you? Did you ever really listen to him? Did he ever do a mean thing? Was he ever himself associated with violence or any public disturbance? For if you did you would know him. And if you knew him you would know why we must honor him.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shocked at the death of Malcolm X.  Martin wrote:

While we did not always see eye to eye on methods to solve the race problem, I always had a deep affection for Malcolm and felt that he had a great ability to put his finger on the existence and the root of the problem. He was an eloquent spokesman for his point of view and no one can honestly doubt that Malcolm had a great concern for the problems we face as a race.

The international press was sympathetic to the death of the greatest and most influential African American in history. For instance, The Daily Times of Lagos, Nigeria wrote that Malcolm X “. . . was a dedicated and consistent disciple of the movement for the emancipation of his brethren no one can doubt. . . . Malcolm X has fought and died for what he believed to be right. He will have a place in the palace of martyrs”.

Most Muslims will agree that the best eulogy for Malcolm X is no other than this verse from the Qur’an:

“ And say not of those who are killed in the Way of Allâh, “They are dead.” Nay, they are living, but you perceive (it) not.” [2:154].

In America, Malcolm’s image has been placed on a postal stamp. In addition, schools, streets, and boulevards have been named after him. There is Malcolm X Community College in Chicago; Malcolm X Liberation University in Durham, N.C.; the Malcolm X Society; Malcolm X Shabazz High School in Newark, New Jersey; Malcolm Shabazz City High School in Madison, Wisconsin; Reid Street in Brooklyn, New York, was changed to Malcolm X Boulevard; Oakland Avenue in Dallas, Texas, was renamed Malcolm X Boulevard; in 2005, Columbia University announced the opening of the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center. In Africa its common to see transport buses named Malcolm x and people wearing T-shirts with images of Malcolm X.  Above all, Malcolm X is responsible for the spread of Islam not only in the black community in the United States but to other races across the world. His conversion from the deviant Nation of Islam to Orthodox Islam must have had an influence on Elijah Muhammad’s son, Wallace Muhammad, who, after his father’s death, led the Nation of Islam’s followers into orthodox Islam. And indeed, Malcolm’s book “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” has inspired many towards Islam.

Malcolm X was married to Betty X (née Sanders) in Lansing, Michigan (1958).  They had six daughters together, Attallah Shabazz, born in November 1958; Qubilah Shabazz, born in 1960 December; Ilyasah Shabazz, born in July 1962; Gamilah Shabazz, born in July 1964; and twins, Malaak Shabazz and Malikah Shabazz, born after Malcolm’s death in September 1965.

Historian Robin D.G. Kelley wrote:

Malcolm X has been called many things: Pan-Africanist, father of Black Power, religious fanatic, closet conservative, incipient socialist, and a menace to society. The meaning of his public life — his politics and ideology — is contested in part because his entire body of work consists of a few dozen speeches and a collaborative autobiography whose veracity is challenged . . . . Malcolm has become a sort of tabula rasa, or blank slate, on which people of different positions can write their own interpretations of his politics and legacy. Chuck D of the rap group Public Enemy and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas can both declare Malcolm X their hero.


Some of his notable quotations include:


“A man who stands for nothing will fall for anything.”


“Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you’re a man, you take it.”


“The zionist argument to justify Israel’s present occupation of Arab Palestine has no intelligent or legal basis in history.”


“You’re not to be so blind with patriotism that you can’t face reality. Wrong is wrong, no matter who does it or says it.”


“My alma mater was books, a good library…. I could spend the rest of my life reading, just satisfying my curiosity.”


“Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.”


“Early in life I had learned that if you want something, you had better make some noise.”


“We are nonviolent with people who are nonviolent with us.”


“Our objective is complete freedom, justice and equality by any means necessary.”


“Truth is on the side of the oppressed.”


“You can’t separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom.”


“You don’t have to be a man to fight for freedom. All you have to do is to be an intelligent human being.”


“If you’re not ready to die for it, put the word ‘freedom’ out of your vocabulary.”


“The price of freedom is death.”


“I’m the man you think you are…. If you want to know what I’ll do, figure out what you’ll do. I’ll do the same thing — only more of it.”


“No matter how much respect, no matter how much recognition, whites show towards me, as far as I’m concerned, as long as it is not shown to every one of our people in this country, it doesn’t exist for me.”


“It doesn’t mean that I advocate violence, but at the same time, I am not against using violence in self-defense. I don’t call it violence when it’s self-defense, I call it intelligence.”


“How can you thank a man for giving you what’s already yours? How then can you thank him for giving you only part of what is yours?”


“It is a time for martyrs now, and if I am to be one, it will be for the cause of brotherhood. That’s the only thing that can save this country.”


“It is impossible for capitalism to survive, primarily because the system of capitalism needs some blood to suck. Capitalism used to be like an eagle, but now it’s more like a vulture. It used to be strong enough to go and suck anybody’s blood whether they were strong or not. But now it has become more cowardly, like the vulture, and it can only suck the blood of the helpless. As the nations of the world free themselves, the capitalism has less victims, less to suck, and it becomes weaker and weaker. It’s only a matter of time in my opinion before it will collapse completely.”


“A new world order is in the making, and it is up to us to prepare ourselves that we may take our rightful place in it.”


“I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it is for or against. I’m a human being, first and foremost, and as such I’m for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole.”


“I believe in a religion that believes in freedom. Any time I have to accept a religion that won’t let me fight a battle for my people, I say to hell with that religion.”


“I am a Muslim, because it’s a religion that teaches you an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. It teaches you to respect everybody, and treat everybody right. But it also teaches you if someone steps on your toe, chop off their foot. And I carry my religious axe with me all the time.”


“There is nothing in our book, the Qur’an, that teaches us to suffer peacefully. Our religion teaches us to be intelligent. Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone lays a hand on you, send him to the cemetery.”


“I am and always will be a Muslim. My religion is Islam.”


“It is not only America which needs to understand Islam, but rather the whole world.” 


“Anytime you see someone more successful than you are, they are doing something you aren’t.”


“Sitting at the table doesn’t make you a diner. You must be eating some of what’s on that plate. Being here in America doesn’t make you an American. Being born here in America doesn’t make you an American.”


“If I can die having brought any light, having exposed any meaningful truth that will help to destroy the racist cancer that is malignant in the body of America, then all credit is due to Allah. Only the mistakes have been mine.”


“By any means necessary.”


“All praise is due to Allah, the Lord of all the worlds.”


Perhaps we should ponder on one of Malcolm’s noteworthy speeches: The field Negro and the house Negro. Because as true as he said, people in the world (whatever color they are) are categorized in this two groups. At the end of the lecture, please ask yourself whether you are a field Negro or a House Negro? Now let us invite Malcolm X to speak:

There was two kind of slaves. There was the house negro and the field negro. The house Negro, they lived in the house, with master. They dressed pretty good. They ate good, cause they ate his food, what he left. They lived in the attic or the basement, but still they lived near their master, and they loved their master, more than their master loved himself. They would give their life to save their master’s house quicker than their master would. The house Negro, if the master said “we got a good house here” the house Negro say “yeah, we got a good house here”. Whenever the master would say we, he’d say we. That’s how you can tell a house Negro. If the master’s house caught on fire, the house Negro would fight harder to put the blaze out than the master would. If the master got sick, the house Negro would say “What’s the matter, boss, we sick” We sick! He identified himself with his master, more than the master identified with himself. And if you came to the house Negro and said “Let’s run away, Let’s escape, Let’s separate” the house Negro would look at you and say “Man, you crazy. What you mean separate? Where is there a better house than this? Where can I wear better clothes than this? Where can I eat better food than this?” There was that house Negro. In those days, he was called a house nigger. And that’s what we call him today, because we still got some house niggers runnin around here. This modern house Negro loves his master. He wants to live near him. He’ll pay three times as much as the house is worth just to live near his master, and then brag about “I’m the only negro out here. I’m the only one on my job. I’m the only one in this school.” “You’re nothing but a house Negro. And if someone come to you right now and say “Let’s separate.” you say the same thing that the house Negro said on the plantation. “What you mean separate? From America? This good white land? Where you gonna get a better job than you get here? I mean, this is what you say! “I di-I ain’t left nothing in Africa” That’s what you say. “Why, you left your mind in Africa”. On that same plantation, there was the field Negro. The field Negro, those were the masses. There was always more Negros in the field as there were Negros in the house. There Negro in the field caught hell. He ate leftovers. In the house, they ate high up on the hog. The Negro in the field didn’t get nothing but what was left in the insides of the hog. They call them chit’lins nowadays. In those days, they called them what they were, guts! That’s what you were, a gut-eater. And some of you are still gut-eaters. The field Negro was beaten, from morning til night. He lived in a shack, in a hut. He wore cast-off clothes. He hated his master. I say, he hated his master. He was intelligent. That house Negro loved his master. But that field Negro, remember, they were in the majority, and they hated their master. When the house caught on fire, he didn’t try to put it out, that field Negro prayed for a wind. For a breeze. When the master got sick, the field Negro prayed that he died. If someone come to the field Negro and said, “Let’s separate, let’s run.” He didn’t say “Where we going?” he said “Any place is better than here”. We got field Negros in America today. I’m a field Negro. The masses are the field Negros. When they see this man’s house on fire, we don’t hear these little Negros talkin bout “Our Government is in trouble. They say the Government is in trouble.” Imagine a Negro, “Our Government”. I even heard one say “Our astronauts.” They won’t even let him near the plant, and “Our astronauts”. “Our neighbors” That’s a Negro that’s out of his mind. That’s a Negro that’s out of his mind! Just cause the slave master in that day, used Tom, to keep the field Negroes in check. The same ol slavemaster today has Negros who are nothing but modern Uncle Toms. 20th century Uncle Toms to keep you and me in check. Keep us under control. Keep us passive and peaceful. And nonviolent. That’s Tom making you nonviolent. It’s like when you go to the dentist and the man is going to take your tooth. You’re going to fight him when he start pulling. So they squirt some stuff in your jaw called novocane, to make you think they’re not doing anything to you. So you sit there and because you got all that novocane in your jaw, you suffer peacefully. Hahahaha. There’s nothing in our book, the Qur’an, as you call it, Koran, that teaches us to suffer peacefully. Our religion teaches us to be intelligent. Be peaceful. Be courteous. Obey the law. Respect everyone. But if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery! That’s a good religion. In fact, that’s that old-time religion. That’s the one that ma and pa used to talk about. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth and a head for a head and a life for a life. That’s a good religion. And doesn’t anybody, no one resist that kind of religion being taught but a wolf who intends to make you his meal. This is the way it is with the white man in America. He’s a wolf and you’re his sheep. Anytime a shepherd, a pastor, teach you and me not to run from the white man, and at the same time teach us don’t fight the white man, he’s a traitor, to you and me. Don’t lay down our life all by itself, no, preserve your life. It’s the best thing you got. And if you got to give it up, let it be Even Steven….


[References: Malcolm X. The Autobiography Of Malcolm X. New York: Grove Press, 1966; Clarke, John Henrik. Malcolm X: the Man and His Times. New York: Macmillan, 1969; Decaro, Louis A. On The Side of My People: A Religious Life of Malcolm X. New York: New York University, 1996; Carson, Clayborne. Malcolm X: The FBI File. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 1991; Breitman, George. Malcolm X Speaks: Selected Speeches and Statements. New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1990; Breitman, George (ed). Malcolm X: By Any Means Necessary. New York: Pathfinder Press, 1998; Rickford, Russell J. “Betty Shabazz, Surviving Malcolm X,” Illinois: Sourcebooks, Inc., 2003; “Malcolm X.” The New York Times 22 Feb.  1965; Joe Auciello “Malcolm’s Advice to Young People: ‘Think for yourself.” Socialist Action 1 May 2005. v.23, n.5; The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Princeton, N.J.: Films for the Humanities & Sciences, 2001. (Video Tape, 53 min.); The Speeches of Malcolm X. Orland Park, IL: MPI Home Video, 1997. (Video Tape, 40 min.)]


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[1]. Bukhari Vol. 1, Bk. 2, No. 12.

[2]. Muslim Bk. 7, No. 3129. According to Bukhari Vol. 2, Bk. 26, No. 596, Prophet Muhammad said, “Whoever performs Hajj for Allah’s pleasure and does not have sexual relations with his wife, and does not do evil or sins then he will return (after Hajj free from all sins) as if he were born anew.”

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