His Life Was a Series of Changes
From Malcolm Little to Malcolm X to El-Hajj Malik
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.