Malcolm X is one of the most important Muslim figures of the 20th century, leaving behind a profound legacy Inspiring Muslims until today to stand up for their rights all around the world.
Born in Omaha, Nebraska in 1925 as ‘Malcolm Little’, Malcom X was the son of a Baptist preacher who preached black nationalists ideals that did not sit well with white supremacist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan. After continuous threats from the clan, Malcom’s father was believed to be brutally murdered and the authorities refused to prosecute those responsible. His mother was administered into a mental institution and her children, including Malcolm, were taken away by welfare to be sent to foster homes.
Malcolm became a high school dropout and moved to Harlem, New York to turn to a life of crime. He engaged in drug dealing, gambling, racketeering and robbery and by the age of 21 he was convicted of burglary and sent to 10 years of imprisonment. It was in prison where he encountered some of the teachings Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam. When he wanted to write letters to Elijah Muhammad, he notcied that he couldn’t read his own writing because of his poor grammar and spelling and so he began his self-education.
Malcolm began with the dictionary. Everyday he would copy one page of the dictionary and read it back aloud. This enriched his vocabulary and allowed him to understand meanings of words he otherwise wouldn’t have known. Malcolm was now able to read books and understand what they are actually saying. He would spend his days in prison in the library reading books learning about people, animals, places, history, philosophy and science.
Through his readings, Malcolm learned about the atrocities committed against black slaves and the subsequent degredation of the black people after slavery. Malcolm dropped his last name and replaced it with “X” to symbolise his stolen African identity. After Malcolm was released from prison, he became a loyal and effective minister of the Nation of Islam in Harlem, New York. He advocated for self-defense and the liberation of African Americans ”by any means necessary”, in contrast with other civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. Malcolm was deeply admired by the African American community for his ability to speak out on issues that others were too afraid to even mention. His ability to capture the hearts of many with his spirited orator skills and persuasive voice drew crowds from all over to attend his sermons and gatherings. Malcolm X was largely credited with the increase of memebrs in the Nation of Islam. From 1952 to 1963, the Nation of Islam’s membership grew from 500 to 30,000.
This new found fame and public work led the FBI to closely monitor Malcolm and the Nation of Islam. Malcolm X often involved himself and the Nation of Islam into politics which brought about some contreversy. In December 1963, Malcolm attributed the assasination of the president of the United States, John F. Kennedy, to the hate and violence produced by society that whites themselves have created. This comment drove Elijah to suspend Malcolm X and subsequently after that expel him completely. In 1964, Malcolm X had officially left the Nation of Islam.
Later on in that year, Malcolm embarked on a spiritual journey to leave the United States and visit the Middle East and West Africa. It was when he performed Hajj that he had his second life changing moment and realised what Islam truely taught about brotherhood. His experiences during the pilgrimage to Mecca allowed him to learn about the unity of Islam and how he infront of the Creator he felt like a comp[lete human being. This pilgrimage changed Malcolm’s worldview for the remainder of his life. No longer did he view whites as exclusively evil or devils, no longer did he advocate for black separatism.
Upon his return to the United States he continued to champion for the rights of African Amercians as well as people from different backgrounds from all around the world. Malcolm was now willing to work with white people to change the situation in his country. However tensions grew between the Nation of Islam and Malcolm X as death threats and open violence against Malcolm and his family. In 1965, Malcolm X was shot while delivering a lecture at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem. Fifteen minutes later, Malcolm X was pronounced dead and three members of the Nation of Islam were convicted of the murder.
Malcolm X left behind a legacy that spoke to Muslims and Non-Muslims alike. His enthusiasm to bring about change in a dark world he was brought up in, would inspire many even until today. May Allah have mercy on our brother ‘el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz’.