Source: Religion & Politics
I fell in love with Malcolm when I was fifteen. He was eloquent, handsome and, most importantly, revolutionary. Among a litany of emotionally stunted fictional white men, the Caulfields and Gatsbys of the standard high school English syllabus, the central character in The Autobiography of Malcolm X stood apart. As the only Muslim in my English class, I was quietly convinced that I understood Malcolm in a way that no one else could.
As I approached Malcolm’s birthday this month on May 19, I reflected on why I was so quick to identify with his story as a teenager. I have not spent time in prison, I did not have an impoverished childhood, and I will never know the struggle of being African American in the United States. I remember being intrigued that his was not the Islam I saw caricatured by the media as I came of age post-9/11, nor was it the Islam of the foreign-born imams who I struggled to follow on the rare occasion that my dad took us to a mosque. To me, Malcolm X’s Islam was the unapologetic Islam of the streets. I was drawn to Malcolm because he was cool.
I was born to a second-generation Swedish American Lutheran mother and an immigrant Muslim Pakistani father. My mother did not want to convert, a decision my father respected, but she agreed to raise us as Muslims. Growing up in Brooklyn in what was then a black majority neighborhood, Islam acted as a passport of sorts—linking my visually out-of-place family to the Senegalese restaurant owner, the African American pharmacist who always closed for jummah (Friday prayers), and the Yemeni bodega owner. The local mosque issued the athan (call to prayer) four times a day, skipping only the predawn prayer out of respect for sleeping neighbors. Years later I was surprised by the controversy that followed Duke University’s attempt to issue the call to prayer from the campus’s chapel. Our neighborhood was by no means Muslim majority, but the significant Muslim presence made it clear that being Muslim was respected.