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The Legacy of Malik Shabazz:
Reassurance for seekers of Truth

By Ama F. Shabazz

 

 

"I believe that it would be almost impossible to find anywhere in America a black man who has lived further down in the mud of human society than I have; or a black man who has been any more ignorant than I have; or a black man who has suffered more anguish during his life than I have. But it is only after the deepest darkness that the greatest joy can come; it is only after slavery and prison that the sweetest appreciation of freedom can come."

(Quote from the final chapter of the autobiography of Br. Malik Shabazz)

 

Glorify the name of thy Guardian Rabb, Most High, Who has created and further given order and proportion; Who has ordained laws and granted guidance. (Qur'an 87:1-3)

There is much we can learn from studying the life of Brother Malik Shabazz (formerly known as Malcolm X). A brief glimpse at his spiritual journey provides inspiration and important lessons for Muslims everywhere.

Born on May 19, 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska, the son of J. Early Little and Louise Norton Little, young Malcolm spent much of his childhood in Lansing, Michigan. His father, a political activist, frequented black churches to urge the congregations to follow Marcus Garvey's United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), an organization seeking liberation against racism. The Autobiography of Malcolm X indicates that young Malcolm accompanied his father to the churches, viewed the emotions and frenzy in Christian church services, and felt "confused and amazed" by it. He also called characterized the "Holy-Roller" Pentecostal churches as "spooky." Because of his father's activism, Malcolm's family endured persecution by the Klan- like "Black Legion" which was known for its bombings and murders. The Little home was burned. Then, after J. Early Little was brutally attacked, he was left on streetcar tracks to be run over, and he died as a result of the injuries he sustained.

Louis A. DeCaro, Jr.'s well-researched study entitled, On The Side Of My People, A Religious Life of Malcolm X, provides much insight from interviews with Malcolm's siblings, as well as other relatives and acquaintances. DeCaro explains that Malcolm's widowed mother, overcome by grief and the struggle to raise her children alone did eventually succumb to a nervous breakdown. Then young Malcolm was sent to live with various relatives, and, without direction, hope, or a sense of purpose in life, turned to drugs and a life of petty crimes. Inevitably imprisoned for those crimes, the inmate Malcolm would brag about his atheism and receive the nickname "Satan." Later, in an interview with Douglass G. Bridson of the British Broadcasting Company, in London in December of 1964, Malik Shabazz commented on that period of his life: "As an atheist, my atheism was a rejection of all that I had heard about religion up to that point. Religion didn't follow what to me was a logical pattern. Plus, all of those who belonged to one of these different religions, I got to know them intimately and personally, and I didn't see anybody living according to the religions that they were teaching about, so it lost its appeal to me."

 

"They accused him of violence and he was never involved in any violence, private or public, overt or covert. They accused him of preaching segregation and being a racist, and he never advocated any of this since his return from the pilgrimage to Mecca. Yes, of what race, color, land he was I care not. But this much I care, he was my brother."

(Quote of Br. Omar Osman from Dartmouth College)

 

Though he had dropped out of school in the ninth grade, in prison Malcolm read and studied everything he could get his hands on. Years later, in the Sunday Gleaner Magazine, July 12, 1964, "No Peaceful Solution to Racism, An Exclusive Interview with Malcolm X," Malcolm talked about factors that influenced his initial acceptance of the teachings of Elijah Muahmmad which he mistakenly thought were true Islam:

"...I read where on the African continent the predominant religion that existed at the time slavery was instituted was the religion of Islam. It prevailed in that entire area. So I accepted it because I believed not only that it was the right religion, but also because of the historic part it played in the culture of the African continent."

For twelve years, from the moment that he joined the Nation of Islam, the former Malcolm Little, sincerely committed himself to Islamic discipline: not eating pork, refraining from intoxicants, and being chaste. A gifted speaker, passionate in his commitment, he became famous and was sought as a guest speaker in colleges and spoke at Nation of Islam mosques throughout the U.S. Malcolm X rose to fame as a minister of the Nation of Islam.

 


"I could not help but be impressed by his desire to learn about Islam. Sometimes he would even cry while passages of the Holy Qur'an were being read."

(Dr. Shawarbi on our Br. Malcolm X)

 

Yet, in His Infinite Wisdom and Mercy, Allah (SWT), extended further guidance to give to this man. In December of 1962, from the audience at Mosque Number 7, Omar Osman, a Sudanese college student, hearing the then Malcolm X espousing the teachings of the Nation of Islam, confronted him and challenged the distorted version of true Islam. After this brief and angry encounter, Osman began writing letters to Malcolm X and sending him literature published by the Islamic Centre of Geneva, Switzerland. The letters were appreciated, and Malcolm X requested more literature as well as tafseer (Qur'anic commentary). As the correspondence continued, a genuine friendship and mutual respect developed. Osman urged Malcolm X to contact Dr. Mahmoud Youssef Shawarbi from Egypt who was serving as director of the Islamic Foundation in New York. These two men who had actually first met in November of 1960 at a special function of the Nation of Islam, but at that time, Malcolm's loyalty to Elijah Muhammad would not permit them to do more than exchange pleasantries. But in 1964, after Malcolm had been ousted from the Nation of Islam, allegedly for his remarks about the assassination of President Kennedy, a newspaperman reintroduce him to Dr. Shawarbi, inadvertently sparking a series of instructional sessions in which Malcolm sought to deepen his knowledge of Sunni Islam. Shawarbi would later recall those private sessions, saying: "I could not help but be impressed by his desire to learn about Islam. Sometimes he would even cry while passages of the Holy Qur'an were being read." Finally Shawarbi convinced Malcolm to make the Hajj and helped him obtain the permission to do so in April of 1964.

During the Hajj, the spiritual metamorphosis continued, as Malcolm X became El Hajj Malik Shabazz and wrote to Omar Osman: "For the past week I have been utterly speechless and spellbound by the graciousness I see displayed around me by people of all colors." The Hajji would also write in his autobiography, "In my thirty- nine years on this earth, the Holy City of Mecca had been the first time I had ever stood before the Creator of all and felt like a complete human being."

Like our dear brother, Malik El Shabazz, we all go through changes in our spiritual evolution. Obviously, those who revert to Islam, after being raised by non- Muslim parents in a society hostile to Islam, consciously seek guidance. Likewise, those who come from families which have claimed Islam for many generations must also search to confirm this faith within their own hearts. Many Muslims migrating to America learn that the version of Islam practiced back in their homelands was full of innovations, superstitions, and un-Islamic practices that were actually remnants of tribal or regional, pre-Islamic customs. In addition, colonial secularist influences permeating those societies and their educational systems often worked to undermine their deen. To further complicate matters, many groups and organizations in America purporting to be Muslim are actually misleading people and propagating faulty teachings. How does one come to terms with the various brands of so-called Islam that are presented. How does one find The Truth?

 

"For the past week I have been utterly speechless and spellbound by the graciousness I see displayed around me by people of all colors." The Hajji would also write in his autobiography, "In my thirty- nine years on this earth, the Holy City of Mecca had been the first time I had ever stood before the Creator of all and felt like a complete human being."

(Transformation of Malcolm X to El Hajj Malik Shabazz during Pilgrimage)

Yearning for The Truth and for proper connection with Allah (SWT) has always been an inherent characteristic of the human soul. Malik Shabazz went through many changes on his path toward true Islam, but Allah (SWT) showered His Mercy on this modem-day American orphan, in a way that inevitably reminds us of a very special orphan in Arabia fourteen centuries ago. Biographers report that until he received the first revelation, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) frequently sought to discover the truth by going to the cave of Hira and meditating.

Did He not find you an orphan and give you shelter and care? And He found you wandering and He gave you guidance. And He found you in need and made you independent. (Quran 93:6-8)

Certainly, the first step is to ask Allah (SWT) through salaat, dua, and fasting to help us to find pure Islam. Allah (SWT) has promised that if we strive for Him, He will give us the gift of His Guidance:

And the ones who strive for Us, We will definitely guide them to Our Path for, in- deed, Allah is with those who do right. (Qur'an 29.- 69)

Like Brother Malik Shabazz, if we discover that the version of Islam that we have been practicing is faulty, we must have the courage to change, and like Prophet Ibrahim, we must make taubah (repent) and ask Allah (SWT) to protect us from further error. The Quran tells us that Prophet Ibrahim (as) exemplified this yearning and determination to find The Truth:

"So also did We show Ibrahim the power and the laws of the heavens and the earth, that he might with understanding have certitude. When the night covered him over, he saw a star.- he said.- "This is my Rabb. But when it set, he said, I love not those that set." When he saw the moon rising in splendor, he said, "This is my Rabb," but when the moon set, he said, "Unless my Rabb guides me, I shall surely be among those who go astray. When he saw the sun rising in splendor He said.- This is my Lord, this is the greatest of all, but when the sun set, he said, "O my people! I am indeed free from your guilt of giving partners to Allah. For me I have set my face firmly and truly towards Him Who created the heavens and the earth. And never shall I give partners to Allah." (Quran 6.- 75- 79)

 


"To come right down to it, if I take the kind of things in which I believe, then add to that the kind of temperament that I have, plus the one hundred per cent dedication that I have to whatever I believe in- these are ingredients which make it just about impossible for me to die of old age ... I know that societies have often killed the people who have helped to change those societies. And if I can die having brought any light, having exposed any meaningful truth that will help to destroy the racist cancer that is malignant in America - then, all of the credit is due to Allah. Only the mistakes have been mine."

(Conclusion of the autobiography of Malcolm X)

 


What criteria should we use as we select a Muslim community or Muslim organization to join? The advice of the Prophet (pbuh) is clear; we should make certain that whatever we do conforms to the guidelines stipulated in the Quran Kareem and in the example, sayings and traditions of Prophet Muhammad Ibn Abdullah of Arabia of fourteen centuries ago. It has been narrated in the collections of hadith by At-Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah, and Abu Da'ud that the Prophet (pbuh) said: "The Jews and the Christians will be divided into seventy-one or seventy- two religious sects, and this nation will divide into seventy-three religious sects, - all in Hell, except one, and that one is the one on which I and my companions are today, i.e., following the Qur'an and the Prophet's Sunna."

Make no mistake, the path toward Truth is not an easy one. As we continue on our journey to reach the high standard of spiritual purity and total submission to Allah, we will be tested. In the final chapter of his autobiography, Malik Shabazz wrote:

"I believe that it would be almost impossible to find anywhere in America a black man who has lived further down in the mud of human society than I have; or a black man who has been any more ignorant than I have; or a black man who has suffered more anguish during his life than I have. But it is only after the deepest darkness that the greatest joy can come; it is only after slavery and prison that the sweetest appreciation of freedom can come."

Indeed, it is only through the Mercy and Guidance of Allah (SWT) that we become Muslims. Yet, we must not be complacent about our Iman. It requires constant cultivation and fine-tuning. Our spiritual development should progress along a continuum from ignorance to certainty of The Truth. The quality of our Iman should constantly advance from the shahadatain on our lips to a strong taqwa in our hearts. Allah (SWT) warns us: Do people think they will be left because they say, "We believe, and they will not be put to the test? We certainly tested the ones before them. (Quran 29:2). It is no coincidence that the Arabic word for martyr (shaheed) has the same root as the word for the declaration of faith (shahadah). For it is through martyrdom that one makes the ultimate declaration of faith. Malik Shabazz leaves us the legacy of an unapologetic, unwavering commitment to make his shahadah genuine. Ironically, Brother Malik Shabazz predicted his own martyrdom. In fact, he concluded his autobiography by saying:

"To come right down to it, if I take the kind of things in which I believe, then add to that the kind of temperament that I have, plus the one hundred per cent dedication that I have to whatever I believe in- these are ingredients which make it just about impossible for me to die of old age ... I know that societies have often killed the people who have helped to change those societies. And if I can die having brought any light, having exposed any meaningful truth that will help to destroy the racist cancer that is malignant in America - then, all of the credit is due to Allah. Only the mistakes have been mine."

 


"...I read where on the African continent the predominant religion that existed at the time slavery was instituted was the religion of Islam. It prevailed in that entire area. So I accepted it because I believed not only that it was the right religion, but also because of the historic part it played in the culture of the African continent."

(Br. Malcolm X on why he initially accepted the teachings of Elijah Muhammad)

 

Shaykh Ahmed Hassoun, the Sudanese scholar, had been sent to New York by the Muslim World League to assist the work of the Muslim Mosque, Incorporated that Malik Shabazz had established. After the assassination of Brother Malik Shabazz on February 21, 1965, Shaykh Ahmed Hassoun performed the final ghusl for him and wrapped his remains in Islamic burial shroud, Kafan. Then Brother Omar Osman, speaking on behalf of the Islamic Centre in Genevea, Switzerland, acknowledged that the Muslim world recognized Malik Shabazz as a 'blood brother and a hero who had died on the battlefield of faith in Islam." He would later write in the Dartmouth College newspaper: "They accused him of violence and he was never involved in any violence, private or public, overt or covert. They accused him of preaching segregation and being a racist, and he never advocated any of this since his return from the pilgrimage to Mecca. Yes, of what race, color, land he was I care not. But this much I care, he was my brother." The consolation we can all take from the example of Malik Shabazz is that he is now honored as a martyr. The question we must ask ourselves is are we equally prepared and committed to serve Allah (SWT) at all costs?

Think not of those who are martyred in Allah's Cause as dead. Nay, they live, finding their sustenance in the Presence of their Rabb. (Qur'an 3: 169)

 

September / October 1996

 

http://www.messageonline.org/malcolmx/cover1.htm

 

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