When history is discussed in American schools, a figure seldom mentioned is Al-Hajj Malik Al-Shabazz, more widely known as the great American Muslim leader, Malcolm X; Malcolm gets lost in the pages of history books amongst such names as Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, the individuals who seem 'less threatening' to America's traditional values. During my years in junior and senior high school, I always remember finding Malcolm's picture at the bottom of pages in history textbooks, with a small caption, usually alerting the reader that he was a Civil Rights leader who advocated 'a violent uprising against whites' - maybe not in the same words, but at least ones that leave the same negative impression.
In the early nineties American capitalism spawned lines of clothing sporting the 'X,' logo, worn by black youth throughout the country, which, while it informed many about his life, sadly made Malcolm into more of a commodity than revolutionary; the media found new interest in the sixties leader, and Spike Lee directed a movie about his life. Unfortunately, Malcolm's newfound fame tended to emphasize his violent past, not the transformation he experienced after his return from Arabia. It's hard to believe that Malcolm's modern portrayal is merely coincidence; while his formally anti-white ideology may appeal to some African Americans, its overemphasis is actually used by racist America to prevent people from getting to know the real Malcolm; the Malcolm that returned from Arabia not preaching that the white man is the devil, but that racial unity could be achieved, namely through the introduction of Islam to the American masses.
Why did America choose to forget the reformed Orthodox Muslim Malcolm, who was a supporter of equality just as much, if not more than King, and remember the prejudiced Malcolm? When discussing Malcolm X, many people have become so interested in the fury of his speech that they forget to look at the other side, and subsequently fail to see why he was really a threat to America, and the true reason he was assassinated.
If you mention the murder of Malcolm X to a common individual, someone who has simply heard of him and his beliefs, and inquire to him or her about its cause and who the perpetrators were, they would most likely say it was merely a quarrel between Malcolm and his former teacher, Elijah Muhammad, and that the perpetrators were three disgruntled members of the Nation of Islam, who were simply zealous defenders of Mr. Muhammad. But the death of Malcolm is much more complicated, and whether or not the N.O.I. was responsible for Malcolm's death, as we will discover later on, is really irrelevant; the cause of Malcolm's death was not his dissatisfaction and public criticisms of Elijah Muhammad, nor his heated approach to politics, exemplified in fiery speeches such as "The Ballot or the Bullet." The pre-Orthodox Islamic Malcolm, preaching that the black man is God and the white man the devil was not a threat, not even to the whites he was attacking. Malcolm X as a divider was nothing for white America to fear. What the white establishment feared, and even fears today, is Malcolm X the unifier; the Malcolm X who said, "The worst form of human being, I believe, is one who judges another human being by the color of his skin," and knew that there was a conspiracy to kill him, not because he proposed self-defense, but because he believed, "the only way to help the Black man in this country is unity among Black people and white people." [Clark 67, 181]
Before beginning to discuss why Malcolm was a threat, I think it's important to outline the history of Islam in America, and the role that quasi-Islamic groups played in distorting the religion's image here. While many movements completely deviated from traditional Islam, in some cases only resembling Islamic belief in that they call their deity Allah, Islamic movements have existed in America for almost one hundred years. Although there were cases of individuals accepting Islam (notably Muhammad Alexander Russel Webb), the first Islamic movement to appear in the United States was in the 1920's, headed by the Noble Drew 'Ali, formally Timothy Drew. [Webb 1]
'Ali was born in 1886, and raised by a Cherokee Indian tribe. Highly interested in magic, at age sixteen he traveled to Egypt where he supposedly, " ... received self knowledge and direction from a priest, the last of a cult of High Magic practiced for centuries in the pyramid of Cheops," which later revealed to him, "The Circle Seven Koran." After returning to America, 'Ali claimed to have had a dream to create a new religion, " ... for the uplifting of fallen mankind." The Moorish Science Temple (MST) laid the groundwork for what would become, after 'Ali's death, the Nation of Islam. While Elijah Muhammad claimed to be a prophet of Allah, many of his ideas were borrowed directly from the MST, which is not coincidental since he was a former member. 'Ali taught his followers that blacks were "Moabites or Moors," a group of "oppressed sufferers" which are of an Asiatic race. Even given his racial theories, 'Ali still did not teach the racist theories his successor Elijah would; whites that joined the temple were simply referred to as Persians, and seen as spiritual equals with their black brethren. The Noble Drew 'Ali died in 1929 and the MST broke into several different fractions, the most notable of which was headed by Elijah Muhammad. [Selim 1-6]
Unfortunately, until Malcolm X's conversation to Sunni Islam, America's native population had no exposure to true Islam. By true Islam I'm referring to anything slightly within the folds of orthodoxy; even extremely liberal Muslims today would find fault in The Noble Drew 'Ali's version of Islam, which alongside its rejection of monotheistic belief (the basis of Islam itself,) rejected the Qur'an and also the finality of Prophet Muhammad. The MST was the first in a line of pseudo-Islamic groups put in America to intentionally deceive gullible would-be Muslims, who sincerely wanted to learn about the religion of Islam. 'Ali's story of enlightenment, which allegedly occurred in Egypt is far from believable, and reads like an Eastern tale not actual fact; one may wonder if 'Ali had actually ever been to Egypt. The shaky foundations laid for Islam in America were far from coincidental, and groups such as the MST and Nation of Islam were created by, if not government agencies, at least by staunch opponents of Islam to destroy its image in America amongst its common people. Although it may seem far-fetched, governments in the past have created religious movements in order to achieve a political means; the N.O.I. shares many characteristics with the Ahmadiyya sect, which was founded by Mirza Ghulam Qadiani in India. Mirza's family was connected to the British government, and interested in helping them maintain their colonial interests in the land; frightened by increasingly anti-British sentiments in India, Britain ordered that an, "Apostolic Prophet" be created that would, "subdue the spirit of Jihad in Muslims." Ironically enough, after Malcolm expressed his displeasure with Elijah Muhammad, a Pakistani named 'Abdul-Basit Naim, from the same Indian movement appeared speaking against him; even today the N.O.I. still uses the same Qadiani English translation of the Qur'an, and shares many beliefs with the Ahmadiyya movement, such as their disbelief in the finality of Prophethood. [Character 1, 3]
While the Noble Drew 'Ali's story of revelation only seems false, there is actual evidence to prove the illegitimate origins of the N.O.I. In his book Message to the Blackman, Elijah Muhammad claimed that:
Allah came to us from the Holy City Makkah, Arabia, in 1930. He used the name Wallace D. Fard, often signing it W. D. Fard, in the third year (1933). He signed his name W. F. Muhammad which stands for Wallace Fard Muhammad. He came alone. He began teaching us the knowledge of ourselves, of God and the devil, of the measurement of the earth, of other planets, and of the civilization of some of the planets other than earth. [Muhammad 5]
N.O.I. myth teaches its followers that W.D. Fard was the son of an Arab father named Alfonso, and a Jewish mother named Baby G; the N.O.I. believes that Fard was Allah in the human form on planet earth and that by his meetings with Elijah Muhammad, Elijah was therefore the "Messenger of Allah." The MST's belief in an Asiatic and non-Asiatic race is extended further by Elijah, who claims that Fard taught him that all non-White people on planet were black and dually coined Asiatic; white people were said to have been created by a mad black scientist named Yacub, and inherently evil. The theory that all non-Whites were actually black helped Elijah justify the extremely light complexion of Fard, who in actuality was a white man himself. An FBI report about Fard (real name Wallace Ford) contains his criminal record from 1926 when he was arrested for assault with a deadly weapon, violating prohibition laws, and the sale of drugs. Also included in the report is his race listed as white, stating his place of birth as Portland Oregon, and the birthplace of his parents as Hawaii. [Wallace 4]
One might ask, why would the government or some agency desire to distort the image of Islam in America? Islam, unlike Christianity, is a detailed system that not only encompasses spirituality, but economics, politics, and nearly every facet of life. Black people, as Malcolm emphasized in speeches such as the "Ballot or the Bullet," were not actually seen as citizens in the United States; at least they were not granted the rights of American citizens. Islam provides a means by which an oppressed individual can counteract the system in which her or she lives; if the white man has his system, then the black man can implement his own system. So accepting Islam for the African American is not only a way of forming a unique spiritual identity, but a way to form social independence. Since many African slaves were Muslims before their arrival in America, an African American attraction to Islam, even as early as the 1900's was quite conceivable. Even before Malcolm and before the N.O.I., America had a reason to fear Islam; if black people were to become socially independent and accept an ideology that truly separated them from Western civilization, whites could no longer exploit blacks. One of the points in the "Ballot or the Bullet" was that segregation was beneficial to the white man, since it was not truly separated; blacks and whites were living in different neighborhoods, but it was the white man who controlled the economics of the "segregated" areas; it was whites who were still the authorities. Islam, if implemented, would have a community self sufficient, not only economically but judicially. In some Southern states the number of blacks outnumbered that of whites; if independence were achieved in these areas perhaps separate black states could have been formed. America feared true Islam amongst blacks because they feared losing control; inserting fake Islamic ideologies was a means to quench an African-American thirst for knowledge, but at the same time dilute Islam so that it was not too powerful.
The N.O.I. was not an enemy to America; it was to America what the Ahmadiyya were to the British - a means to tame a potentially serious problem. Elijah's organization achieved two goals for the US government; first, it put a falsified version of Islam into the black community, which even after traditional Islam arrived would always be present to create conflict, making it more difficult for unification to occur. Second, the Nation made Islam appear as the "black only" religion, and scared whites away. Malcolm didn't die because of his disagreement with Elijah alone, but because by his acceptance and propagation of Sunni Islam, he counteracted two goals the N.O.I. hoped to achieve. With his popularity and rhetorical skills, he was able to attempt undoing the damage Elijah had done to the image of Islam in the US; and by denouncing the N.O.I.'s racist ideologies, separating them completely from Islam, he would potentially be able to not only unite blacks under Islam, but good-spirited whites as well, especially the younger generation of the 60's who were more accepting of new and different ideas. Concerning his acceptance of whites in his newly formed Muslim Mosque Inc. organization, Malcolm said that it was open to people of all ethnicities, but the problem was, "we haven't found any white people who want to be Muslims." [Clark 182] In another interview with Milton Henry, Malcolm advised him to make blacks aware of orthodox mosques in the Detroit area, emphasizing that Islam could bring "racial harmony and unity" between blacks and whites, if only they would seek Islam in its true form. [Quoted in Decaro 264]
By accepting Orthodox Islam, Malcolm instantly won the support of Muslims not only in the United States, but also around the world. This further made Malcolm a threat to the US government since he was no longer only a black man preaching in Harlem, but a person with worldly influence. In a letter from Cairo, Malcolm emphasized that his being in Africa was a "direct threat to the entire international system of racist exploitation" and that by internationalizing the African American struggle a foundation was being firmly set, "and no one can hardly undo it." [Quoted in Decaro 264] As early as 1956 Malcolm understood the importance of diplomacy when he stated, "A new world order is in the making, and it is up to us to prepare ourselves that we may take our rightful place in it." [Quoted in Gallen 95]
Malcolm appeared to be aware of the plot to distort the image of Islam in America; in an interview with a Saudi magazine, Malcolm expressed sharp criticism of the N.O.I., as well as Zionists in America, that were "hindering the presentation of true Islam to the African American community in their distinctive ways." Malcolm labeled the N.O.I. as a "racist philosophy," deceptively labeled as Islamic in order "to fool and misuse gullible people," stating that Elijah " ... hates Negroes and he wants to see them spill each other's blood, even kill each other." [Quoted in Decaro 240, Clark 183]
About the same time as Malcolm's travels around the world, the Ahmadiyya Pakistani 'Abdul-Basit Naim began speaking out against Malcolm in the Nation's newspaper, Muhammad Speaks. Naim advised members of the Nation not to make Hajj (the Muslim pilgrimage that Malcolm had just completed,) stating that only Elijah Muhammad, Islam's "rightful leader" can advise "whether or not they should take adequate interest in the ... ritual at this time. The venerable Messenger alone, again, should have the privilege of scrutinizing and passing judgment on qualifications of the intending pilgrims, if any." Apparently fears were beginning to grow that after visits to Arabia, other members of the Nation would see the falsehoods in Elijah's doctrine, and begin to experience true Islam as Malcolm had. Naim goes on to advise Muslims that being confronted with certain "peculiarities" in the "old" world of Islam will only confuse and perplex them. [Naim 1, 10] Naim's strong support of the N.O.I., as a Pakistani, and not to mention his religious affiliation, which is that of the Ahmadiyya, could cause one to ponder if he was not a funded agent of some group himself. In another article, Naim even goes as far to say about Malcolm, " ... having studied his motives, moods and moves as carefully and closely as circumstances permitted me during the past thirteen months, I find him positively undeserving of and unfit for the role of a Muslim leader in America." [Naim 7]
Sadly, America seems to want to forget Malcolm X; except for his short-lived fame a few years ago, popular culture deemed him not important enough anymore. The American monster grins because instead of reading about Malcolm, young children are indulged in the lives of Martin Luther King or Rosa Parks at school. If America is truly about self-made-men, then I don't know what individual could be more worthy of the title than Malcolm X; a person who gave himself what many would consider the equivalent of a Ph.D. in a jail cell, with no professor or guide, and whose speeches were filled with fact and emotion.
There's always existed a debate concerning who killed Malcolm: the Nation, or the US government? That's an erroneous question; the N.O.I. killed Malcolm for the government, and the government killed Malcolm because they hated its people too much to let them live beautifully, with the guidance of someone as great as Malcolm X, who if alive today wouldn't even be called Malcolm, only Khalif Malik: leader of the Islamic Republic of America.
- The Character of Mirza Ghulam Qadiani (the founder of the Ahmadiyya Cult) <http://irshad.org/idara/qadiani/mirzachr.htm> (18 April 2001)
- Clark, Steven, ed. February 1965: The Final Speeches. New York: Pathfinder Press, 1992.
- Decaro, Louis A. Jr. On the Side of My People: A Religious Life of Malcolm X. New York: New York University Press, 1996.
- Gallen, David. Malcolm A to X: The Man and His Ideas. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc., 1992.
- Muhammad, Elijah. "The Coming of God and the Gathering Together of his People." Message to the Blackman.
- Naim, 'Abdul-Basit. "Thinks U.S. Muslims Should Aid Islam at Home Before Pilgrimage to Mecca." Muhammad Speaks 14 April 1967.
- Naim, 'Abdul-Basit. "Pakistan Muslim Advises: March On Under the Messenger's Banner!" Muhammad Speaks 5 February 1965.
- Selim, Ustad, and Arif Hussein Al-Camaysar. "History & Catechism of the Moorish Orthodox Church of America." 1992.
- "Wallace D. Fard." Federal Bureau of Investigation <http://foia.fbi.gov/fard/fard1.pdf> (18 April 2001).
- Webb, Alexander Russel. "Islam in America, 1893." Islam in America <http://salam.muslimsonline.com/~azahoor/webbamer.htm> (18 April 2001).