A Great American Muslim
Without a doubt, Malcolm X is the most influential American-Muslim to have ever lived. His life and legacy have been an inspiration to thousands, if not millions, of people. Malcolm X represents not only a true American story, but a true Muslim American story. You may have seen Spike Lee’s movie Malcolm X which is based on his autobiography. The autobiography was co-authored by Alex Haley who also wrote the story Roots. But if you read The Autobiography of Malcolm X, you can see the development of a leader and a man who is willing to die for what he believes. Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska in 1925. He was the fourth of seven children. His father was a preacher who spoke out against the injustices committed against African-Americans. At this time, racial segregation and discrimination were legal in many parts of the United States. His father was killed by white racists when Malcolm was still a child. His mother eventually went insane with the strain of raising seven children. The children were put into foster care, and from there Malcolm soon wound up a street hoodlum. Like many African-American teenagers at the time, he eventually became involved in crime. Alcohol were rampant in black neighborhoods, and Malcolm became involved in them all. Malcolm Little started out as a small time criminal. He sold reefers (marijuana cigarettes) and shined shoes to make money. But eventually he graduated to more serious crimes. By his early twenties, Malcolm was selling (and using) cocaine and was a professional burglar. This life of crime almost got him killed by another criminal. As it turned out, Malcolm was arrested for burglary and sentenced to eight years in prison.
A New Life
At first, he was very resentful about being imprisoned and hated everything around him. He was so full of hate, he was known as Satan by the other prisoners. One day a fellow prisoner introduced him to a new way of life. This way of life would require him to leave pork, alcohol, and smoking behind. Malcolm would have to relearn everything he’d beent taught his entire life. And he would have to accept that a man in Detroit named Elijah Muhammad was a prophet of Allah. Malcolm was intrigued by this new religion and the organization propogating it known as The Nation of Islam. While still in prison, Malcolm Little joined the Nation of Islam (known simply as “The Nation”) and changed his name to Malcolm X. The X was to represent his true family name that was lost during slavery and the African diaspora.
The Nation taught a radical new belief. At this time in American history, blacks were treated as an inferior race to whites. Everything from the education system to the justice system to the political system indicated that blacks were a lesser creation. For example:
- There were far more blacks in prison than whites.
- Very little was taught about African history in the schools. But every child learned about the Romans and the Founding Fathers.
- Blacks were not allowed to vote throughout most of the country, despite the 15th Ammendment to the Constitution.
- Blacks were legally segregated throughout much of the United States, despite the 14th Ammendment to the Constitution.
- Crimes against blacks by whites were rarely punished, whereas crimes by blacks against whites, and blacks against blacks were punished to the fullest (and often even further) extent of the law.
These laws and practices created an atmosphere where most Americans (black and white) actually believed that blacks were inferior to whites. However, the Nation of Islam taught something totally different. The Nation of Islam taught:
- Not only were blacks equal to whites, they were actually superior.
- White people had hidden and distorted African history in order to keep blacks ignorant of their glorious past.
- Jesus was not white as most Christians taught and believed, but instead he was actually a black man.
- God’s chosen people were the Lost-Found Negros of America and He would lead them to victory over the white man.
- The white man was actually the Devil.
While these beliefs may seem radical to us now, Malcolm X and thousands of other African-Americans embraced them. They called themselves Muslims and believed their leader, Elijah Muhammad, was the prophet of Allah. The Nation of Islam did more than teach radical beliefs. The Nation took people who were considered the outcasts of society and remade them. People who were drug addicts, alcoholics, burglars, and prostitutes became upstanding citizens. This was primarily due to The Nation’s strict code of conduct. For example:
- Muslims could not smoke, drink alcohol, use drugs, or eat pork.
- Muslims should strive to own their own businesses and not depend on white people for anything.
- Muslims could not have sexual relations outside of marriage.
- Muslims had to learn self-defense and practiced marching drills.