Should we Honor Malcolm X as we Celebrate “I have a Dream,” Speech?

Epigraph

O mankind, We have created you from a male and a female; and We have made you into tribes and sub-tribes that you may recognize one another. Verily, the most honorable among you, in the sight of Allah, is he who is the most righteous among you. Surely, Allah is All-knowing, All-Aware. (Al Quran 49:14)

Malcolm X and Martin Luther King in 1964

Malcolm X and Martin Luther King in 1964

Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times

Malcolm X, original name Malcolm Little, Muslim name el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz   (born May 19, 1925, Omaha, Nebraska, U.S.—died February 21, 1965, New York), was an African American leader and a prominent figure in the Nation of Islam, who later became a Sunni Muslim and articulated concepts of race pride and black nationalism in the early 1960s.

He is perhaps the best example of repentance and reformation, within a short life time, from the depths of depravity to the heights of service to others and devotion to a higher calling, beyond ones personal pursuits.

After his assassination, the widespread distribution of his life story—The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965)—made him an ideological hero, especially among black youth.

Millions of American schoolchildren who never experienced Jim Crow, in the United States enacted between 1876 and 1965, which mandated racial segregation in all public facilities in Southern states of the former Confederacy or whites-only water fountains, know the phrase “I have a dream.”

On 28 August 1963, more than 200,000 Americans joined a march on Washington demanding equal justice for all citizens under the law.  It may be the most famous speech of the 20th century.

On that day, the inter-racial crowd heard Martin Luther King deliver his famous speech, wishing a time when freedom and equality for all would become a reality in the US.

As the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington approaches Wednesday (Aug. 28), many Americans will participate in a series of events, including a commemorative march on Saturday.

To many in this country, “I have a dream” has a place of honor next to the Declaration of Independence, the Emancipation Proclamation and the Gettysburg Address. It celebrates the lofty ideals of freedom.

Both Malcolm X and Martin Luther King were very effective civil rights leaders and both were martyred in their cause.

Dr King’s legacy of personal sacrifice, unyielding courage and service to others, was equally shared by Malcolm X.

If we look beneath the tough rhetoric of Malcolm X, his goals were the same as of Martin Luther King, to secure God given rights for the Afro-Americans.

Malcolm was never violent during his long ministry and never provoked actual violence.

In April 1964, Malcolm X began his Hajj (the pilgrimage to Mecca required of every Muslim who is able) by flying to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, but he was delayed there when his US citizenship and inability to speak Arabic caused his status as a Muslim to be questioned.[120][121] He contacted Abdul Rahman Hassan Azzam.  Who not only arranged for Malcolm X’s release but also lent Malcolm X his personal hotel suite. The next morning Malcolm X learned that Prince Faisal had designated him a state guest.[122]

Malcolm X later said that seeing Muslims of “all colors, from blue-eyed blonds to black-skinned Africans,” interacting as equals led him to see Islam as a means by which racial problems could be overcome.[124]

In the time of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him, Bilal a former slave became the first Muezzin, the person who would announce the call to prayer aloud, five times a day.  In Islamic society children of slaves could rise to the highest station in life within a generation.  The Prophet Muhammad, himself appointed son of a slave to lead an army, which had many companions held in the highest esteem, joining under his command.  Numerous incentives were given in Islam to liberate slaves and to treat them as ones equals.

Never in the Muslim world did they experience Jim Crow that lasted almost a century after the emancipation of slaves, after the civil war, in USA.

The extinction of race consciousness as between Muslims is one of the outstanding moral achievements of Islam, and in the contemporary world there is, as it happens, a crying need for the propagation of this Islamic virtue. (Famous historian: Arnold Joseph Toynbee)

The extinction of race consciousness as between Muslims is one of the outstanding moral achievements of Islam, and in the contemporary world there is, as it happens, a crying need for the propagation of this Islamic virtue. (Famous historian: Arnold Joseph Toynbee)

Arnold Joseph Toynbee (April 14, 1889 – October 22, 1975) was a British historian whose twelve-volume analysis of the rise and fall of civilizations, A Study of History, 1934-1961, was a synthesis of world history, a meta-history based on universal rhythms of rise, flowering and decline, which examined history from a global perspective.  He writes in his book, Civilization on Trial, published by Oxford University Press 1948, about race relations in Islam:

The extinction of race consciousness as between Muslims is one of the outstanding moral achievements of Islam, and in the contemporary world there is, as it happens, a crying need for the propagation of this Islamic virtue; for, although the record of history would seem on the whole to show that race consciousness has been the exception and not the rule in the constant interbreeding of the human species, it is a fatality of the present situation that this consciousness is felt-and felt strongly-by the very peoples which, in the competition of the last four centuries between several Western powers, have won-at least for the moment-the lion’s share of the inheritance of the Earth.
Though in certain other respects the triumph of the English-speaking peoples may be judged, in retrospect, to have been a blessing to mankind, in this perilous matter of race feeling it can hardly be denied that it has been a misfortune. The English-speaking nations that have established themselves in the New World overseas have not, on the whole, been ‘good mixers.’ They have mostly swept away their primitive predecessors; and, where they have either allowed a primitive population to survive, as in South Africa, or have imported primitive ‘man-power’ from elsewhere, as in North America, they have developed the rudiments of that paralyzing institution which in India — where in the course of many centuries it has grown to its full stature-we have learnt to deplore under the name of ‘caste.’ Moreover, the alternative to extermination or segregation has been exclusion-a policy which averts the danger of internal schism in the life of the community which practices it, but does so at the price of producing a not less dangerous state of international tension between the excluding and the excluded races-especially when this policy is applied to representatives of alien races who are not primitive but civilized, like the Hindus and Chinese and Japanese. In this respect, then, the triumph of the English-speaking peoples has imposed on mankind a ‘race question’ which would hardly have arisen, or at least hardly in such an acute form and over so wide an area, if the French, for example, and not the English, had been victorious in the eighteenth-century struggle for the possession of India and North America.

Malcolm X had visited the United Arab Republic, Sudan, Nigeria, and Ghana in 1959 to make arrangements for a tour by Elijah Muhammad.[125] After Mecca he visited Africa a second time, returned to the United States in late May,[126] then flew to Africa again in July.[127] During these visits he met officials, gave interviews, and spoke on television and radio in Egypt, Ethiopia, Tanganyika, Nigeria, Ghana, Guinea, Sudan, Senegal, Liberia, Algeria, and Morocco.[128] In Cairo, he attended the second meeting of the Organization of African Unity as a representative of the Organization of Afro-American Unity.[129] Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, and Ahmed Ben Bella of Algeria invited Malcolm X to serve in their governments.[130] Following a speech at the University of Ibadan, the Nigerian Muslim Students Association bestowed on him the honorary Yoruba name Omowale (“the son who has come home”);[131] he later called this his most treasured honor.[132] By the time Malcolm X left Africa he had met with essentially all its prominent leaders.[130]

According to Encyclopedia Britannica:

Malcolm left the Nation in March 1964 and in the next month founded Muslim Mosque, Inc. During his pilgrimage to Mecca that same year, he experienced a second conversion and embraced Sunni Islam, adopting the Muslim name el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz.  Renouncing the separatist beliefs of the Nation, he claimed that the solution to racial problems in the United States lay in orthodox Islam. On the second of two visits to Africa in 1964, he addressed the Organization of African Unity (known as the African Union since 2002), an intergovernmental group established to promote African unity, international cooperation, and economic development. In 1965 he founded the Organization of Afro-American Unity as a secular vehicle to internationalize the plight of black Americans and to make common cause with the people of the developing world—to move from civil rights to human rights.

Malcolm X was right in finding African liberation in human rights and those rights in Orthodox Islam.

After his death, a public viewing for Malcolm X was held at Harlem’s Unity Funeral Home from February 23 through February 26, and it was estimated that between 14,000 and 30,000 mourners attended.[173] The funeral was held on February 27 at the Faith Temple Church of God in Christ in Harlem. The church was filled to capacity with more than 1,000 people.[174] Loudspeakers were set up outside the Temple so the overflowing crowd could listen[175] and a local television station broadcast the funeral live.[176]

Among the civil rights leaders attending were John Lewis, Bayard Rustin, James Forman, James Farmer, Jesse Gray, and Andrew Young.[174][177] Actor and activist Ossie Davis delivered the eulogy, describing Malcolm X as “our shining black prince”.

There are those who will consider it their duty, as friends of the Negro people, to tell us to revile him, to flee, even from the presence of his memory, to save ourselves by writing him out of the history of our turbulent times. Many will ask what Harlem finds to honor in this stormy, controversial and bold young captain—and we will smile. Many will say turn away—away from this man, for he is not a man but a demon, a monster, a subverter and an enemy of the black man—and we will smile. They will say that he is of hate—a fanatic, a racist—who can only bring evil to the cause for which you struggle! And we will answer and say to them: Did you ever talk to Brother Malcolm? Did you ever touch him, or have him smile at you? Did you ever really listen to him? Did he ever do a mean thing? Was he ever himself associated with violence or any public disturbance? For if you did you would know him. And if you knew him you would know why we must honor him.[178]

To read rest of the eulogy, click here.

Malcolm X was buried at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York.[176] At the gravesite after the ceremony, friends took the shovels from the waiting gravediggers and completed the burial themselves.[179] Actor and activist Ruby Dee (wife of Ossie Davis) and Juanita Poitier (wife of Sidney Poitier) established the Committee of Concerned Mothers to raise funds to buy a house and pay educational expenses for Malcolm X’s family.[180]

Reactions to Malcolm X’s assassination were varied. Martin Luther King, Jr. sent a telegram to Betty Shabazz, expressing his sadness over “the shocking and tragic assassination of your husband.”

While we did not always see eye to eye on methods to solve the race problem, I always had a deep affection for Malcolm and felt that he had a great ability to put his finger on the existence and root of the problem. He was an eloquent spokesman for his point of view and no one can honestly doubt that Malcolm had a great concern for the problems that we face as a race.[181]

The New York Post wrote that “even his sharpest critics recognized his brilliance—often wild, unpredictable and eccentric, but nevertheless possessing promise that must now remain unrealized.”[185]

The international press, particularly that of Africa, was sympathetic.[186] The Daily Times of Nigeria wrote that Malcolm X “will have a place in the palace of martyrs.”[187] The Ghanaian Times likened him to John Brown and Patrice Lumumba among “a host of Africans and Americans who were martyred in freedom’s cause”.[188] Guangming Daily, published in Beijing, stated that “Malcolm was murdered because he fought for freedom and equal rights”,[189] while in Cuba, El Mundo described the assassination as “another racist crime to eradicate by violence the struggle against discrimination”.[186]

Epilogue

Biography of Malcolm X and his life’s struggle and contributions towards human equality were not much different from Martin Luther King, but as he belonged to a small Muslim minority in USA, when Christianity had a much greater influence on hearts and minds, he was not elevated on a pedestal.

But, now is the time to appreciate the contributions of Malcolm X,  the greatest of which was that his life long search led him to find the proper grounding of his struggle for racial equality, in human rights and in Islam.

Now is the time to realize that King’s dream is still not fulfilled, 50 years after his speech, as we recently witnessed in the Traevon Martin’s death and legal proceeding in Florida, just a few months ago.

Now is the time to acknowledge that King’s dream, would be only empty rhetoric unless founded in the human equality, given to us by the Creator. 

Now is the time to recognize that when the USA constitution talks about human equality, its best parallel is in the Quranic teachings and we certainly need to applaud the Quranic vision as it precedes it by more than 1200 years.

Now is the time to read a short article, linking human rights and Islam: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Islam!

Now is the time to read a short book, by Sir Zafrulla Khan, Islam and Human Rights, if we are to have proper grounding of universal brotherhood and sisterhood, enshrined in the 30 articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

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Categories: Americas, Racism, Universal Brotherhood

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