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Black History Month: Reflections on Malcolm X

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Malcolm X, El Hajj Malik El Shabazz, is an important figure in the history of African Americans for many reasons: for his pursuit of social justice, for his bravery in the face of adversity, for his intelligence, for his unwavering love for his people and the list goes on. For Muslims, however, and especially for African American Muslims, the embodiment and articulation of his faith is what makes El Hajj Malik El Shabazz a man worth reading about and his life worth learning from. African Americans are faced with a unique set of challenges when traversing this modern world and not everyone gets that, but Malcolm X did.

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In an excerpt from Michael Eric Dyson's book, Making Malcolm: The Myth & Meaning of Malcolm X, there is a quote from Malcolm X which reads:

First, I don't profess to be anybody's leader. I'm one of the 22 million Afro-Americans, all of whom have suffered the same things. And I probably cry out a little louder against the suffering than most others and therefore, perhaps, I'm better known. I don't profess to have a political, economic, or social solution to a problem as complicated as the one which our people face in the States, but I am one of those who is willing to try any means necessary to bring an end to the injustices that our people suffer.

In Islam, there is a saying of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, that states:

On the authority of Abu Saeed al-Khudri (may Allah be pleased with him) who said: I heard the Messenger of Allah say, “Whoever of you sees an evil must then change it with his hand. If he is not able to do so, then [he must change it ] with his tongue. And if he is not able to do so, then [he must change it] with his heart. And that is the slightest [effect of] faith.” (Recorded in Sahih Muslim)

Malcolm X embodied the instructions of the hadith above. His autobiography entitled The Autobiography of Malcolm X, reveals much about the inner reflections and changes that he went through during his short time on this earth. In one passage where he recounts his experiences while traveling to Mecca for the Hajj he states:

"My excitement, sitting here, waiting to go before the Hajj Committee, is indescribable. My window faces to the sea westward. The streets are filled with the incoming pilgrims from all over the world. The prayers are to Allah and verses from the Quran are on the lips of everyone. Never have I seen such a beautiful sight, nor witnessed such a scene, nor felt such an atmosphere. Although I am excited, I feel safe and secure, thousands of miles from the totally different life that I have known."

Malcolm X is most popularly known as the fiery public figure of the civil rights movement here in America that gave voice to the teachings of Elijah Muhammad, the founder of the Nation of Islam, but less known is the evolution that took place in Malcolm X's life as he came to understand the truth of Islam as established over 1400 years ago by the Prophet Muhammad of Arabia, may peace and blessings be upon him. Malcolm completed the hajj, a transformative experience for him, and traveled to foreign countries which allowed him to see the plight of humans who were being oppressed in other nations just as he had witnessed African Americans being oppressed in the U.S. Although his life was cut short before we could realize the fullness of the positive impact that his voice could have had upon society, the example that he set as a Muslim man, husband, father, intellectual, political activist, and humanitarian is something that reverberates through time and should be remembered.