5 Lessons from Malcolm X Life

Malcolm X, one of the symbols of the black struggle in America, has become an icon of freedom and human rights for Americans, African Americans, and Muslim Americans. In this article, I share some reflections on the story of Malcolm from a personal perspective.

I refrained as much as I could from talking about Malcolm’s political and social impact because I am no reference on such an important subject. However, I believe the continuous struggle of African Americans and more specifically the Muslim part of it is a very important piece of history we should all learn.

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Stories are important

Stories are the best learning tool ever. It is not surprising that Allah made one third of His Book about stories. It is not surprising that He orders His Messenger (and subsequently all of us) to tell stories, {So tell stories for they may think and reflect.} (Al-A`raf 7:176)

When the stories are true, when they are full of challenges, struggle, and actions, they become the best tool of personal development. History is the place to examine in order to see the future. Life is nothing but a repeating pattern, except that it requires a little effort to discover it.

The story of Malcolm is very important. Malcolm is a person many of us can relate to. He did not live very far in history. The struggle he went through and the problems he faced are very similar to those we go through.

Malcolm in brief

Malcolm’s dad died when he was a preteen. He was killed in a racist crime. His mom spent the rest of her life in a mental hospital. He grew up in a series of foster homes. He lived a typical African American life at the time, facing discrimination and racism, going into crime, and ending up in jail.

In jail, he got introduced to the Nation of Islam, a black movement trying to liberate Black Americans through promoting black supremacy as an opposing concept to white supremacy.

Despite its name, it was quite different from the Islamic religion. After he had come out of jail, he became a very influential leader in the Nation and presented himself as one of its powerful ministers.

However, due to a little conflict with –and jealousy from– other leaders in the Nation, he was banned from public speaking due to comments he made to the press.

At that point of time, he was introduced to the mainstream Islam which he embraced. He then traveled to Makkah for Hajj, a trip in which he visited many places in the world and met with many Muslim leaders. The trip made him a completely different person.

Malcolm X continued his struggle for freedom and human rights for black Americans yet on a different value system other than that of the Nation. He was then assassinated by some members of the Nation with a lot of mystery about the involvement of government agencies in this assassination.

LESSON #1: Allah knows and you don’t

Malcolm started his life on a very difficult note. His father was killed in a racist crime; his mom was placed in a mental hospital; he grew up mostly in foster homes and he went to jail. This was a typical tough start for the average African American at the time. Yet, despite the challenge he went through, he ended his life as the figure we are talking about and many people look up to him and see inspiration in his endeavor.

One needs to reflect on the plans that Allah makes for people. He wouldn’t have become Malcolm that we know except through this specific journey that was bumpy and challenging. Racism against father led somehow to his awareness of the problem, and later to activism and struggle against it. Jail, one of the worst experiences one can go through, led to joining the Nation.

The Nation, although is not the ideology that we would support, led to Malcolm developing the plethora of skills in leadership, public speaking, and public organization. Disagreement and conflict with the Nation led to embracing Islam and transforming his whole life. Had these challenges never happened to him, he would have become a normal person.

We should not surrender to circumstances. One should not give in to bad experience or hard times. It may be Allah’s plan for us to change. It is our response to difficult experience that decides the outcome. Many people went through the same bad experience Malcolm went through but did not end up being heroes.

One should recall the tough experience Prophet Yusuf (peace be upon him) went through. No young boy wants to be hated or kidnapped by his own brothers. Certainly, no one wants to be enslaved. No one wants to be seduced. No one wants to go to jail.

However, going through the story again, it is every single step in it, although very bad, is what led to Yusuf being the leader that we know of. Again, one should not aim for bad experience. Rather, when it happens, we should see it as Allah’s plan to make us better. Is it really that? Our response decides.

LESSON #2: The end is what matters

You may think that the comparison of Malcolm and Yusuf does not hold. Yusuf never committed any crime. It was injustice that is committed against him by others. However –you can claim, Malcolm was originally a bad person. He is the one who engaged in bad actions: women, drugs, gangs, etc. He is the one who put himself in difficult times.

With this thought in mind, we can learn the second lesson from Malcolm’s story: it does not matter what you were. What matters is what you are going to be. `Umar Ibn Al-Khattab (May  Allah be pleased with him) was one of the toughest enemies to Islam. He used to torture Muslims in the streets of Makkah to force them to leave their religion. `Umar’s crime is way bigger than Malcolm’s.

However, when `Umar saw the truth, he transformed. He embraced Islam and Islam transformed his life. He lived a whole life striving for the sake of Allah, and died as a martyr for the sake of Allah. It does not matter much what `Umar was originally. What really mattered was how he ended his life.

`Ikrimah Ibn Abi Jahl lived his whole life fighting the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). When the Prophet went into Makkah victoriously, no one from the people of Makkah fought him except `Ikrimah and a few. The Prophet forgave the whole population of Makkah despite their track of enmity to him except a handful of criminals, `Ikrimah was one of them.

However, `Ikrimah’s wife was able to get him forgiveness from the Prophet. `Ikrimah spoke to the Prophet, saw the truth in Islam, embraced Islam, and committed himself to it. `Ikrimah ended his life as a martyr for the sake of Allah and we all remember him and ask Allah to be pleased with him and to have mercy on him.

One should note, however, that it is important to act upon moments of truth. Had Malcolm not changed, his name would have been written in the record of criminals as opposed to heroes. Had `Umar and `Ikrimah ignored the opportunity, they would have continued to be the toughest enemy to Islam and ended up being in Fire.

LESSON #3: The truth needs to be sought

Malcolm’s endeavor seeking the truth is really inspiring. Although it happened over a short period of time, it appeared as a long journey. He went to the Middle East, Africa, Europe, Asia and learned a lot in his journey. Allah Almighty said,

{Those who struggle for our sake, we will guide them our ways.}(Al-`Ankabut 29:69)

Malcolm’s journey reminds us of Salman, the young Persian who grew up worshipping fire. He was sent to look after the real estate of his father and on the way he met a Christian priest through whom he got to know Allah. Salman would travel between cities seeking the truth until the his last teacher told him to look for the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) in a land of palm trees.

He sold everything he has to be given a trip to this land and he was betrayed and sold as a slave. From a master to another, he ended up being enslaved in Madinah. He finally arrived at the destination he was looking for. He became Salman that we know of and who is called by Muslim historians, “the seeker of the truth.”

Finding the truth is a journey that we ask Allah every single prayer to {Guide us to the Straight Path!} (Al-Fatihah 1:6)

LESSON #4: The unsung heroes

What is really amazing in Malcolm’s story is those people who influenced his life. Reading a brief of his biography, I ask, “Who was able to convince this guy to consider Islam? Who had the ability to change Malcolm’s mind? Who met him during his trip to the Middle East? Whom did he meet in Europe and how were they able to change his mind?”

These people are more powerful than Malcolm. They are more valuable to Malcolm than he is to himself. A share of Malcolm’s effort and reward afterwards will go to them. They could have ignored him. Even they could have considered ‘Malcolm of the Nation’ an enemy, an intellectual and social enemy to say the least.

Instead, they, considered him a human who needs guidance. We should not underestimate a word of truth we say to someone even if we think this word is not going make a difference. Even the bedtime story you tell your own kids can be transformational to them. Who knows who will be the next hero?!

 LESSON #5: The Wisdom of Allah and the brilliance of Shari`ah

A transformational moment in Malcolm’s life was his trip to Hajj, pilgrimage to Makkah. Seeing people of different races, languages, nations, backgrounds get together in harmony and peace changed his mind . It shook him how people of color get together with white people to worship Allah. It was an awakening experience for him. This is one of the messages behind Hajj.

We sometimes wish that Hajj is less busy or spread throughout the year but Allah knows better. This gathering in its very nature has wisdom. This wisdom was able to change a black supremacy believer into one who believes that men are created equal and there is no preference of a white over black or otherwise except by piety and good action.

May Allah have mercy on Al-Hajj Malcolm and accept him among the martyrs! May Allah gather us with him in Paradise with our beloved Prophet and his Companions, amen!

Republished, with kind permission and with slight modifications, from the author’s Reflections and Thoughts.