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Daily News Analysis

El Haj Malik El Shabazz (aka Malcolm X): His life, struggle and contribution

Mohamed Bokreta

(Today, Sunday February 21, 2021, marks exactly 56 years to the day when El Haj Malik El Shabazz was gunned down at the Audubon ballroom in Harlem, New York where he had just begun to speak. It was a cold Sunday February 21, 1965 afternoon. He was only 39 but even during his very brief life, he left an indelible mark not only on the US but the world at large. Mohamed Bokreta, the Algerian writer and social activist, pays tribute to this great revolutionary)

The late Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little on May 19,1925 in Omaha, Nebraska. His father, a Baptist Minister, was an outspoken follower of Marcus Garvey, the Black Nationalist leader of the 1920s who advocated a “Back to Africa” movement for African Americans.

During Malcolm’s early years, his family had to move several times because of the Ku Klux Klansmen’s (KKK) continued threats.

As a result of these threats, his home was burned down in Lansing, Michigan.

When Malcolm was only six years old, his father was murdered, thrown on a streetcar track, almost certainly by the KKK, although officially it was listed as “suicide” (the insurance company refused to pay his mother Louise.)

In the aftermath of this tragedy, his mother became mentally ill and remained in a mental institution for about 26 years.

Malcolm was sent to a foster home and his 10 siblings were divided among several families.

Malcolm lived in various state institutions and boarding houses. He dropped out of school at age 15 when a white teacher told him law was not a profession for a “Negro”, that Malcolm had wanted to be.

Malcolm went on to live with his sister in Boston, while working as a shoeshine boy, soda jerk, busboy, waiter and railroad dining car waiter.

At this very crucial time in his life, he began to indulge in crime that included gambling, selling drugs, burglary and hustling.

In 1946, Malcolm was sentenced to ten years for burglary.

He used his prison term to change his life.

During family visits, he came to know about the Black Muslim religious movement in fact the Black Muslims’ official name was the lost-found Nation of Islam, and the spiritual leader was Elijah Mohammed, with national headquarters in Chicago.

In prison, Malcolm began to study Elijah’s teachings and to practice his version of Islam faithfully.

He also busied himself enlarging his vocabulary by copying words from the dictionary beginning with A and going through to Z.

Further, he began assimilating the racial teachings of his “new religion”.

It preached that the white man is evil and doomed by Allah for destruction.

The best course for Black People is to separate themselves from Western white civilization in the cultural, political, physical and psychological fields.

In 1952, Malcolm was released from prison and went to Chicago to meet Elijah Mohammed.

Once accepted in the movement and given the name of Malcolm X (the ‘X’ standing for the unknown original African name that was obliterated by the white man), he became assistant Minister of the Detroit Mosque.

The following year he returned to Chicago to study personally under Elijah and shortly thereafter was sent to organize a Mosque in Philadelphia.

In 1954, Malcolm went to lead the Mosque in Harlem and quickly became the most prominent national spokesman for Black Muslims.

He was widely sought as a speaker. His debating skills and talents against white and black opponents helped spread the movement’s message.

In the US, there was a major thrust for racial integration at that time.

Malcolm and the Black Muslims, however, were calling for racial separation.

He urged Black people to give up Christianity, reject integration and to clearly understand that the high crime rate in Black communities was essentially the result of African Americans following the decadent life style of western white society.

On December 1, 1963, Malcolm said that he saw President John F. Kennedy’s assassination as a case of “the chickens coming home to roost” (Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963).

Soon thereafter, Elijah suspended Malcolm and ordered him not to speak for the movement for 90 days as a result of this controversy.

Malcolm publicly announced on March 8, 1964 that he was leaving the Nation of Islam and starting two new organisations: the Muslim Mosque and the Organisation of Afro-American Unity.

He made several trips to Africa and Europe.

His most important trip was to Makkah for Hajj in April 1964 that transformed his life.

It was the culmination and the great change that enormously affected him.

In a letter sent to his assistants and to his wife at the conclusion of his Pilgrimage to Makkah as reported by Alex Haley in the Autobiography of Malcolm X:

“Never have I witnessed such sincere hospitality and the overwhelming spirit of true Brotherhood as practiced by the people of all colours and races here in the ancient holy land, the home of Abraham, Mohammed and all 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 colours.”

In the same letter he added: “There were tens of thousands of pilgrims, from all over the world; they were of all colours, from blue eyed blonds to black skin Africans, but we were all participating in the same rituals, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experience in America had led me to believe never could exist between the white and non-white.”

And in this metamorphosis, he declared:

“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 be 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 colours together, irrespective of their colour. You may be shocked by these words coming from me, but on this pilgrimage what I have seen and experienced has forced me to re-arrange 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 experiences and new knowledge unfolds. I have always kept an open mind, which is necessary to the flexibility that must go hand in hand with every form of intelligent search for truth.”

Thus said this great man of faith and genuine truth-seeker, in such perennial and heartfelt emotions! The man who once said:

“I know that any moment of any day or any night, could bring me death, to speculate about dying does not disturb me as it might some people, and I never have felt that I would live to become an old man.”

At the age of 39, on a Sunday afternoon, February 21, 1965 as he began to address one such meeting, Malcolm was assassinated and therefore granted the higher status of a True Martyr for the cause of his faith.

Surely Malcolm was one of the most fiery and controversial people of the 20th century, born as a Christian and passed away as a Muslim.

It is only a modest tribute to this great man through my historic diary and it is he who said about history:

“History is a people’s memory and without memory, man is demoted to the lower of animals.”

No wonder he left such a huge legacy worldwide.

Malcolm’s influence on the political and social thought of African Americans as well as of Muslims throughout the globe has been enormous.

Literature about his struggle has proliferated.

The monumental film by Spike Lee based on his autobiography in 1992 (brilliantly portrayed by Denzel Washington) and the ever-growing number of internet sites about this “common heritage” are but one more testimony to the greatness of this man.

True, he died 56 years ago but his spirit lives on!!!

For that, Haj Malik El Shabazz certainly belongs to the higher class of Allah’s servants who have attained the best of both worlds:

“We gave him his reward in this world, and in the world to come [too], he shall be among the righteous” -- The noble Qur’an 29:27.

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