His Life Was a Series of Changes
From Malcolm Little to Malcolm X to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabbaz
By Muneeb Baig
Posted: 7 Zul-Hijjah 1423, 9 February 2003
“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…..”, so began the letter written by El-Hajj Malik El-Shabbaz, formerly Malcolm X, on his Hajj trip in 1964. He continued, “…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…”
Malcolm X’s life had been a series of changes. He was born Malcolm Little on May 19, 1925. After his father’s violent murder in 1931, Malcolm’s family was left poor and destitute. They were forced to accept support from the state Welfare people, who kept their pressure on them, especially on Malcolm’s mother, until she suffered a complete breakdown and was institutionalized. The family was torn apart, with children placed in separate households.
Malcolm attended school until the eighth grade. A white teacher’s remark concerning his desire to become a lawyer (“A lawyer – that’s no realistic goal for a nigger.”) hurt him deeply and he became disillusioned with school.
Malcolm left Lansing and moved to live with his half-sister, Ella, in Boston. There he began to explore the streets and quickly caught on the slang and ways of the street. After getting a job on the train, he visited Harlem and became enchanted. He moved there in 1942, at the age of seventeen.
Malcolm became a hustler, dope peddler, and gambler and was nicknamed “Detroit Red.” After becoming involved in a fight with another hustler, he escaped to New York, where he became involved in armed robbery. He was addicted to drugs, which he used as an escape from the worries and strains of the street. In February 1946, he was caught and charged with burglary and sentenced to ten years in prison.
Prison changed Malcolm greatly. He started to reform. A fellow inmate called “Bimbi” made a positive impression on Malcolm and urged him to take prison correspondence courses and use the library. Malcolm, who had lost all of his eighth-grade education on the streets, began to study seriously and his grammar and penmanship improved. He also started to learn Latin.
In 1948, Malcolm’s siblings introduced him to the Nation of Islam and urged him to accept its teachings. Though at first hostile to religion, Malcolm became more interested when his brother Reginald sent a letter saying, “Malcolm, don’t eat any more pork, and don’t smoke cigarettes. I’ll show you how to get out of prison.” Malcolm was interested and gave abstinence a try. His actions made him feel proud, especially when he startled his fellow convicts with his refusal to eat pork.
Malcolm began to learn the teachings of the Nation of Islam. Original man was black, who built great empires and civilizations, while the “devil white man”, was created by a mad scientist, called Mr. Yacub, and had pillaged, murdered, and exploited every race of man not white. This white man had “whitened” history and brainwashed the black man so much so that he did not know his own name, language, culture, religion, or ancestry. Christianity was the white man’s religion, used to subjugate the blacks by promising them heaven after death, while enjoying his heaven right here on earth.
According to the Nation of Islam, a man named Wallace D. Fard had appeared on Earth and was “God in person.” He appointed Elijah Muhammad as his messenger to the “lost-found Nation of Islam here in this wilderness of North America.”
Malcolm was fascinated. He began to read history and read about the horrors that the white race perpetrated on members of other races all over the world throughout history and how this race has always been haughty and proud.
After his release from prison, Malcolm became an active member of the Nation of Islam. He would go out on the streets, “fishing” for more converts. His efforts and dedication pleased Elijah Muhammad and he was appointed minister of Temple Seven in New York City in June 1954.
Publicity came slowly at first and then rapidly increased. In 1957, a police brutality event and its reaction brought the Nation of Islam to the headlines. Then in 1959, the Nation was catapulted to mainstream news. The television program “The Hate that Hate Produced” was aired, producing sudden interest in the Nation of Islam. Newspapers began to run series of stories on the Nation. Magazines increased their coverage. Radio and television people soon began to request Malcolm X to defend the Nation of Islam in panel discussions and debates. Malcolm X’s publicity increased. But, publicity caused jealousy and by 1961, Malcolm began to hear negative remarks from members of the Nation of Islam regarding him.
Rumors concerning Elijah’s extreme immorality surfaced. Elijah and his family considered Malcolm as a man dangerous to Elijah’s authority and began to plot to get rid of him.
On November 22, 1963, John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Malcolm commented on it as a case of “chickens coming home to roost.” He was immediately silenced and isolated for ninety days. The machinery for eliminating him was set into place. The event was made to look like Malcolm had rebelled. He started receiving death threats.
Malcolm, though shocked at his expulsion from an organization that he had worked so hard and long to build and strengthen and whose leader he nearly worshiped, kept his determination to continue the struggle for the black man.
In 1964, Malcolm, along with other brothers who broke with the Nation of Islam, founded Muslim Mosque Inc. He decided that this organization was to open to all blacks, regardless of faith. On April 13, 1964, Malcolm left for Hajj, the pilgrimage to Makkah under the name of Malik El-Shabazz. It was at the Hajj when Malcolm was to undergo another radical change.
Until now, Malcolm could be considered a black racist. He attacked whites based on the color of their skin and stated that their race was the devil race, which could never do any good. Now, at the greatest religious gathering on the face of this Earth, he realized that color does not determine character, but deeds do.
He experienced great hospitality and brotherhood in the Holy Land from people of all colors, races, and nationalities. The idea that white man is the devil began to fade as he saw the color-blindness that Islam brought to society. His ideas changed as he saw that the cure to racism was neither white-supremacy nor black-supremacy, but Islam, which united people of all origins under the belief in the Oneness of God and made them cease to measure each other based on the color of the skin.
He himself stated, “I am not a racist. I am against every form of racism and segregation, every form of discrimination. I believe in human beings, and that all human beings should be respected as such, regardless of their color.”
Malcolm saw that the solution to the racial problem in America lay in the mutual cooperation of both sincere whites and blacks in educating and eliminating racism from their peoples. He called for blacks to reevaluate themselves, to get rid of the “Negro” image, to consider themselves not as Americans but as Africans in America, and to unite in removing the vices rampant in their communities as well as take control of the economies in their communities so the white man does not continue to get rich off the poor black man.
He was against passive nonviolence, saying that it accomplished nothing and was a method of delaying the solution. He did not advocate violence, but said that active self defense was necessary for blacks to attain human rights in America.
Malcolm was faced with many enemies. The Nation of Islam made no secret of its animosity towards him, whom they considered an apostate. White supremacists who were threatened by his calls for awakening in the black communities also kept their pressure on him. By the end of 1964, he realized that his end was close. He considered every day “another borrowed day.”
In January 1965, harassment was reaching its peak. Members of the Nation of Islam kept following Malcolm wherever he went, trying to find an opportunity to kill him. In the early morning of February 14, his house was firebombed. Though his family escaped bodily harm, the home was severely damaged.
The next weekend, on February 21, at the age of 39, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz was gunned down as he began to speak at the Audobon Ballroom. He was buried in Ferncliff Cemetery, Hartsdale on February 27, 1965. For millions of people around the world, both black and white, he was a hero who had fought for the rights of his people and was martyred in the process.