By Sajid Iqbal
What can be said about a man who has been called many things? He is known as a role model to Muslims. A religious fanatic. A father for black power. A menace to society. An inspirational leader and a legend.
Malcolm X was born in America in 1925, during a time when race relationships were strained. His mother was a housewife and his father was a Baptist Minister who was killed in a fire at a young age - which the family claimed was caused by a white supremacist organisation. After this, his mother had an emotional breakdown and was admitted to a mental institution and the children were split up and sent to various foster homes and orphanages. According to Malcolm, three of his father's brothers also died violently at the hands of white men, and one of his uncles had been lynched.
He was an intelligent student in school and was often at the top of his class. However, when one of his teachers told him that his dreams of becoming a lawyer were "no realistic goal for a nigger", he dropped out of school and became involved in petty crimes.
He was soon arrested for his crimes and spent seven years in prison reflecting and furthering his education. It was during this time that he received letters from his brother, telling him about the Nation of Islam, to which Malcolm converted. Malcolm X started to gain fame in prison, but the authorities were keen to stamp down on any revolutionary behaviour. Malcolm later reflected on his time in prison: "Months passed without me even thinking about being imprisoned. In fact, up to then, I had never been so truly free in my life."
Nation Of Islam
After Malcolm's release from prison he was appointed a minister and national spokesperson for the Nation of Islam. His charisma, drive and inspirational speeches caused the Nation of Islam to increase in members and also established new Mosques across America. It was also Malcolm X who inspired the boxer Cassius Clay to join the Nation Of Islam and to change his name to Muhammad Ali.
Malcolm X went through an angry, bitter period where he condemned all whites as "blue-eyed devils" who would burn in hell for eternity. He decreed that "the common enemy is the white man" - all beliefs held by Nation Of Islam.
This anger and hatred was a result of the injustice and inhumane treatment he had personally experienced because of his skin colour. He said in one of his talks:
"I've never seen a sincere white man, not when it comes to helping black people. Usually things like this are done by white people to benefit themselves. The white man's primary interest is not to elevate the thinking of black people, or to waken black people, or white people either. The white man is interested in the black man only to the extent that the black man is of use to him. The white man's interest is to make money, to exploit."
Twelve years into the Nation Of Islam movement, revelations of its leader Elijah Mohammad’s private life forced Malcolm to face the facts that the organisation he had helped form could not be represented as morally acceptable to the American public.
With this dilemma and the widespread public outcry of Malcolm’s own "Chickens coming home to roost" speech Malcolm X was forced to leave the Nation of Islam.
Afterwards Malcolm X was in contact with several orthodox Muslims, who encouraged him to learn about orthodox Islam. He soon converted to orthodox Islam, and as a result decided to make his pilgrimage to Mecca. He changed his name to Malik Al Shabazz. Like Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali too later left the Nation Of Islam and joined mainstream Islam.
Malcolm X’s trip to Mecca proved to be a life altering experience for him and he said,
"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 together, irrespective of their colour."
He returned to America with new hope for integration and a new message - instead of just preaching to the African Americans, he had a message for all races. His articulate, powerful speeches transformed the hearts of thousands of people.
After his Hajj pilgrimage we saw a new Malcolm X. It was a Malcolm without the racism and the hatred for the "white man". He said famously some time after the pilgrimage:
"I am not a racist… In the past I permitted myself to be used… to make sweeping indictments of all white people, the entire white race and these generalizations have caused injuries to some whites who perhaps did not deserve to be hurt. Because of the spiritual enlightenment which I was blessed to receive as a result of my recent pilgrimage to the Holy city of Mecca, I no longer subscribe to sweeping indictments of any one race. I am now striving to live the life of a true...Muslim. I must repeat that I am not a racist nor do I subscribe to the tenants of racism. I can state in all sincerity that I wish nothing but freedom, justice and equality, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all people."
Regarding the Nation of Islam and its leader Elijah Muhammad he said:
"For 12 long years I lived within the narrow-minded confines of the "straitjacket world" created by my strong belief that Elijah Muhammad was a messenger direct from God Himself, and my faith in what I now see to be a pseudo-religious philosophy that he preaches… I shall never rest until I have undone the harm I did to so many well-meaning, innocent Negroes who through my own evangelistic zeal now believe in him even more fanatically and more blindly than I did."
After he officially left Nation of Islam, the relationship between him and the organization became tense. After repeated attempts on his life, his enemies were finally successful in their ruthless attempt and Malcolm X was rushed by three masked gunmen during a talk and was shot 15 times at close range. He was pronounced dead on arrival at hospital. Fifteen hundred people attended his funeral and his assassins, who were members of the Nation of Islam, were convicted of first-degree murder.
This is how Malcolm X viewed his life and wished to be remembered:
"For the freedom of my 22 million black brothers and sisters here in America, I do believe that I have fought the best that I know how, and the best that I could, with the shortcomings that I have had… I know that societies often have killed people who have helped to change those societies. And if I can die having brought any light, having exposed any meaningful truth that will help destroy the racist cancer that is malignant in the body of America then, all of the credit is due to Allah. Only the mistakes have been mine."
Years down the line the legacy of Malcolm X has inspired numerous books, documentaries and movies. He has touched the lives of millions of people - black and white, Muslims and non-Muslims who consider him their role model. The Muslim youth today, need to appreciate Malcolm X's greatness. We need to keep his remembrance alive by fighting for freedom, speaking up against the injustices of oppressed people, fighting domination and exploitation and eliminating racism. There is a part of Malcolm X in all of us.