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MALCOLM X (May 19, 1925 – February 21, 1965), born Malcolm Little, also known as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz; African American Muslim leader, civil and human rights advocate, Pan-Africanist and Pan-Islamist. The life of America’s most conspicuous Muslim in the 1960s was shaped by resentment of white (European American) racism and a determination to improve the lives of African Americans. Malcolm was born in Omaha, Nebraska, to uneducated, poor, Christian, “black nationalist” (Garveyite) parents whose unfortunate destinies affected him throughout his life. He believed that whites had murdered his father and unjustly placed his mother in an insane asylum and himself and his siblings in different foster homes (Malcolm X and Alex Haley, Autobiography of Malcolm X, New York, 1965, pp. 2, I2-13, 1’718, 21, 22). At the age of fifteen, when Malcolm finished the eighth grade, he knew that he was disinclined toward formal education and established religion. He chose a life of vice and crime.

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Malcolm’s imprisonment for larceny (1946-1952) marked the beginning of his intellectual and social transformation. Prison was the “academy” where he read Western and Eastern philosophy and literature, works on Christianity, genetics, and American slavery, and improved his oral skills. The scope of his readings may have exceeded that of the average American undergraduate (Bruce Perry, Malcolm: The Life of a Man Who Changed Black America, Barrytown, N.Y., 1991, p. 118). His informal studies introduced him to Islamic precepts and Muslim heroic history.

Encouraged by his siblings and an inmate, Malcolm converted in 1948 to the doctrines of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad (d. 1975), leader of the Nation of Islam. Malcolm was attracted by Muhammad’s principal claims that God is a black man (often called Master W. F. Muhammad) who will liberate African Americans and destroy Satan, their white oppressors (Armageddon), and that Elijah Muhammad was his messenger. Malcolm was equally fascinated by Muhammad’s verbal boldness and his sanction of retaliatory, not aggressive, violence. Malcolm’s social experiences, intellectual accomplishments, and dedication to his leader qualified him for an ascendant position in the Nation.

Muhammad’s appointment of Malcolm X to the leadership of Temple Number Seven (mid-1954) in the Harlem district of New York City was crucial to his and the Nation’s fame. As Third World and American political activism expanded in the late 1950s and early 1960s Malcolm became increasingly brazen in his denunciation of racism, and publicly supportive of African American, African, and Muslim liberation. Some of his speeches tested his leader’s protective policies of political inaction and avoidance of unnecessary contact with Sunni Muslims. Nonetheless Muhammad recognized the benefits of giving him a margin of freedom, provided Malcolm’s loyalty was evident.

From 1959 onward, Malcolm allowed his eagerness for modification of Muhammad’s policies and his own popularity to make his loyalty questionable. His short visits to Saudi Arabia and African countries, as Muhammad’s emissary, and the national broadcast of “The Hate That Hate Produced” (1959), his most effective television interview, strengthened his political attraction. Malcolm was disappointed that Elijah Muhammad’s visit to Muslim countries (1959), and his performance of the Lesser Pilgrimage (`umrah), did not result in significant political changes in the Nation (Akbar Muhammad, in Yvonne Y. Haddad et al., eds., The Islamic Impact, Syracuse, 1984, p. 205).

Under the watchful eyes of envious officials of the Nation, Malcolm gradually modified his administration of Muhammad’s Mosque Number Seven. Although he continued to respond sharply to Sunni Muslim condemnation of the Nation’s theology, he instituted regular Arabic instruction and maintained close contact with Muslim diplomats. Furthermore, Malcolm deemphasized the Nation’s doctrine of “the satanic nature of whites” and instructed his assistant ministers in African and Asian cultures and current affairs (Malcolm X and Haley, 1965, p. 298; Benjamin Karim et al., Remembering Malcolm, New York, 1992, pp. 97, 98, 128, 146147). These modifications were indicative of the lessrestrained, sociopolitical activist role he wished to perform.

Malcolm provided his detractors in the Nation and Elijah Muhammad with an excuse to rid themselves of what they perceived as a threat to their power. Contrary to his leader’s directive not to comment on the murder of President John F. Kennedy (November 1963), Malcolm compared it to “chickens coming home to roost.” Although he claimed that his remark was inadvertent (Malcolm X and Haley, 1965, p. 305; Louis E. Lomax, 1968, pp. 126-127), it reflected his impatience with Muhammad’s political restrictions. Yet he was neither organizationally nor financially prepared for his suspension (December 1963). His withdrawal from the Nation (March 1964) represented his realization that he was not indispensable to Muhammad’s movement and his determination to be an effective political activist. His vindictive exposure of Muhammad’s immorality, about which he had heard in the 1950s (Malcolm X and Haley, 1965, P. 299; Peter Goldman, The Death and Life of Malcolm X, New York, 1973), did not augment much his meager following or his prestige.

Malcolm’s public confrontation with Muhammad was not essentially doctrinal. Months after his withdrawal from the Nation, he continually acknowledged Muhammad as his spiritual leader, and he asserted that their differences were primarily political and moral.

Among Malcolm’s most urgent concerns were his Islamic credibility, funds, and his racist image. He probably thought his conversion to Sunni Islam and his pilgrimage, (hajj) in 1964 would help to resolve these problems and reconcile him with Muslims internationally. Now known as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, his acts of piety, his celebrated letter from Mecca, and his meetings with Muslim heads of state and Islamic officials apparently were not given much laudatory coverage in the Arabic press. Malcolm knew that Muslim dignitaries wished him well and recognized the Islamic legitimacy of his sociopolitical concerns, but their belated and parsimonious response to his need for material and moral support negatively affected the growth of his short-lived Muslim Mosque, Inc., and Organization of AfroAmerican Unity (founded in March and June 1964, respectively, now apparently defunct).

Immigrant Muslims, whom Malcolm had charged two years earlier with deliberate disinclination toward proselytization among African Americans (Louis E. Lomax, When the Word is Given . . . , New York, 1963, pp. 140-141), were unconvinced of his Islamic sincerity. Most American Sunni Muslims were similarly unresponsive. Despite their admiration of his advocacy of civil and human rights, which the Organization of African Unity resolved to support in the United Nations, Malcolm’s recent past and his conversion attracted few of them to the Muslim Mosque, Inc.

It is debatable whether Malik completely abandoned the notion of an organic relationship between European and American whites and Satan. Malcolm had seen phenotypically white Muslims-and African Americansand accepted them as brothers long before his travels abroad. Minimally, his post-pilgrimage statements indicate his increased preparedness not to offend potential supporters.

The influence of Malcolm X, rather than El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, is most observable among nonMuslims and Muslims. Under pressure from mainly non-Muslim African Americans, New York City is to dedicate as a municipal monument part of the Audubon Ballroom, where assassins’ bullets cut short Malcolm’s last speech. His birthday and his assassination on 21 February 1965, by members of the Nation of Islam, with the apparent complicity of American authorities, are widely remembered. He was given a Muslim burial by an obscure African American Sunni organization (Heshaam Jaaber, The Final Chapter. . . . I Buried Malcolm (Haj Malik El-Shabazz), Jersey City, N.J., 1993, pp. 64-68, 8o-8i). The Sunni Muslim community was conspicuously underrepresented at his funeral, which was held in a church. He is immortalized by reprints of his best-selling Autobiography, his speeches, and biographies; streets, schools, and other buildings, including the former Mosque Number Seven, bear his name. Muslims reproach non-Muslims for their projection of El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz as an ethnocentric revolutionary whose primary concern was civil and human rights, not Islamic proselytization (da’wah).

Spike Lee’s internationally acclaimed film Malcolm X (1992), generated the most varied discussion of Malcolm since his death. Many immigrant and American Muslims, notably Imam Warith Deen Mohammed, have confirmed Malcolm’s Islamic genuineness. Minister Louis Farrakhan continues to speak ill of Malcolm’s attitude toward Elijah Muhammad’s immorality; he cautions that Lee’s film may cause further division in the present Nation of Islam, which he leads. Both Imam Mohammed and Minister Farrakhan claim to continue Malcolm’s social and political work. Although both “Malcolm X” and “El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz” are considered martyrs, the life of “Malik” was too brief, and thus his Islamic legacy too meager, to compete with “Malcolm” for an exalted place in the collective Muslim memory.

[See also Nation of Islam and the biography of Elijah Muhammad. ]

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Speeches and Interviews

Malcolm X. Malcolm X Speaks. Edited by George Breitman. New York, 1965. Useful collection of his post-Nation religious and political thought.

Malcolm X. The End of White World Supremacy: Four Speeches. Edited by Benjamin Goodman. New York, 1971. Rare representation of his doctrinal and social thought before his conversion to Sunni Islam.

Malcolm X. February 1965: The Final Speeches. New York, 1992. The latest and most useful compilation of Malcolm’s last presentations abroad.

Works about Malcolm X

Carson, Clayborne. Malcolm X: The FBI File. Edited by David Gallen. New York, 1991.

Clarke, John Henrik, ed. Malcolm X: The Man and His Times (1969). Trenton, N.J., 1993. The best collection to date of essays by persons who were associated with Malcolm in the United States and abroad, including his widow.

Cone, James H. Martin & Malcolm & America: A Dream or a Nightmare? Maryknoll, N.Y., 1991. Outstanding analysis by a renowned African American exponent of Christian liberation theology.

Evanzz, Karl. The Judas Factor: The Plot to Kill Malcolm X. New York, 1992. Ambitious, informative attempt to analyze the motives for Malcolm’s assassination.

Kly, Y. N., ed. The Black Book: The True Political Philosophy of Malcolm X (El Hajj Malik El Shabazz). Atlanta and Ottawa, 1986. A Muslim’s interpretation of Malcolm’s religio-social and political doctrines.

Lomax, Louis E. To Kill a Black Man. Los Angeles, 1968. The earliest and fullest comparative analysis of the thoughts of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King by a close associate of both men.

AKBAR MUHAMMAD

Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/malcolm-x/
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  • writerPosted On: August 2, 2014
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