Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam

Introduction

Malcolm X was born on May 19th, 1925 to Earl and Louise Little in Omaha, Nebraska. His parents were active members of Marcus Garvey’s “Back to Africa” movement, as well as the association for Negro improvement (UNIA). Earl Little’s open defense of Garvey led the Ku Klux Klan to target his family, forcing them out of Nebraska to Lansing MI immediately after Malcolm’s birth. With his support for black unity, Earl Little caught the attention of “Black Legion,” a local Lansing group that advocated for white supremacy. Earl’s later gruesome death is suspected of having been the Black Legion’s plan. After Earl’s death, the Earl family had no breadwinner. The family suffered in poverty, with frequent visits from social workers, which was a difficult issue for Louise to handle (Sales, 1994). Louise had been raped by a white man, a fact that had a lasting effect on Malcolm. In 1939, authorities declared Malcolm’s mother legally insane, leading to a separation from the children. The state placed the siblings in different foster homes. All through his childhood and youth, Malcolm rejected authority and always acted out, especially in school.

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Malcolm was taken to court, which ordered him to attend a reform school. He later lived in a juvenile home run by the Swerleins. He describes his experience at the Swerlines’ home by commenting that the Swerlines always treated him as a pet, not as a human being. Malcolm’s caretakers at home openly talked about their failure to understand how black people could be so happy yet so poor. As Malcolm grew up, whites who were incapable of respecting his dignity as a human being surrounded him.

At the time Malcolm was staying with the Swerlines, he excelled in seventh grade, and even his teachers had the courage to make “nigger jokes”. Mr. Williams, his history teacher, laughed while reading the History of Slavery, saying the Negroes had been shiftless and dumb. Malcolm’s early childhood and youth experiences provided a strong base for his later animosities towards white people. His autobiography entails information regarding the alleged killing of his father, the harassments from other people, and the dehumanization from the state and school authorities (Natambu, 2002).

Hajj experience

For most Muslims in the world, the journey to Hajj gives an individual an opportunity to undergo various life-transforming experiences. This was the case for Malcolm when he visited Hajj in the year 1964. He got the whole truth of the real meaning of Islam through Hajj. As a leader of a black movement in the nation of Islam, he holds the idea that a white man is nothing less than a devil, and the black race is advanced. The journey to Hajj is what made him change his views on the white race and on racism fully. There are various events that Malcolm went through during Hajj that played an important role in transforming his thoughts. First, in Hajj there were thousands of people who came from various parts of the world for pilgrimage in Mecca. The people were of all colors, yet they were taking the same ritual in accordance with one of the five pillars of Islam. This was an act that showed unity and brotherhood between all people worldwide. This is an experience that, according to Malcolm’s thoughts, while living in America, it can never exist. He described the whites and the non-whites in America as two separate beings that can never interact. He says, in his letter, that this aspect of unity that he experiences in Mecca has pushed him to reorganize his thoughts and to put aside some of the conclusions he had made.

The other experience that led to his transformation was the fact that while on his journey to the Muslim world, he ate and drank communally with the other pilgrims while focussing on prayers to Allah. He describes the Muslims as the blue-eyed people, yet they shared the same meal (Clarke et al, 1969).

Malcolm’s speeches while still a member of the Nation of Islam reflected the organization’s principle of separation from whites. Malcolm, as well as other followers of the NOI believed that integration between whites and blacks meant their submission to the white race. In his speeches, he highlighted the “hypocrisy” and “evil” nature of whites. He also used his grandmother’s rape by a white man, which resulted to the birth of his biracial mother as an illustration of his own personal abuse. In his arguments, he also asserted that Christianity was a white man’s making to oppress blacks and deceive them into discounting their slavery to redemption beliefs. The NOI followers defied the arguments for the presence of an afterlife, arguing that they would only seek justice from whites in the present life (Clegg, 1997). In December 1962, Malcolm gave a notable sermon on the black’s history. He outlined the NOI’s dogmas, emphasizing on the fact that blacks occupied the earth long before whites and that whites were vengeful products of Yacub whose aim was to damn the black community.

With time, Malcolm extensively succeeded and commanded great influence, a fact that triggered resentment from Elijah Muhammad’s children. In addition to this, there were problems within the NOI following accusation of misuse of funds by Elijah’s family. These accusations increased concerns for the good of the NOI, which in turn interfered with the family’s private interests. Muhammad’s royal family had also been implicated in assault, armed robbery, drug dealing and other crimes. Beyond the Elijah family scandals and financial misuse within the NOI, rumors regarding Elijah’s adultery greatly traumatized Malcolm. However, he remained loyal to Elijah despite the dubious occurrences. After the JF Kennedy assassination, Elijah forbade Malcolm to teach or address the press for ninety days. This was the start of movements aimed at pushing Malcolm out of the NOI as well as threats to his life. Later, Elijah isolated Malcolm from the NOI casting him out of the organization without a formal hearing. Later Malcolm became a Sunni Muslim (Sagan,1997).

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During and after Malcolm’s break from the Nation of Islam, he redefined his racial and religious worldview. Later, on March 1964, Malcolm created his own religious association, Muslim Mosque Inc. (MMI). The objective of MMI was to serve the colored community as a conventional Muslim voice. Most previous members of the Nation of Islam who had been disaffected by Elijah Muhammad’s behaviors followed Malcolm into his new organization, the MMI. Prior to the formation of the MMI, Malcolm had given several considerations regarding racial plights that were present beyond America. Therefore, he sought to unite the greater Muslim community and preach the message of the sustained suppression of their “dark” brothers. Malcolm’s own changing religious and political worldview facilitated his pilgrimage to Mecca in 1964. There was a fundamental change within Malcolm after his conversion to Sunni Islam, which led to his Mecca pilgrimage (Little & Breitman, 1972).

Malcolm realized that his previous ignorance of Islam had been an obstacle between him and Allah. In the Hajj, Malcolm encountered people from divergent ethnic backgrounds and those of varying skin color. This made him realize that an individual’s faith made no physical difference within Saudi Arabia, the holy city of Hajj. Malcolm recounted his experiences and interactions with other pilgrims in Hajj saying that they show brotherhood. Their faith in one Allah/God eliminated the “white” from their being. With this change of attitude, Malcolm’s previous belief that whites were inherently evil disappeared and he later formed a belief that it is possible for blacks and whites to live mutually in the U.S. After his trip to Mecca, Malcolm founded a secular organization for Afro-American Unity. The organization’s objective was to address social issues facing African American. Therefore, he was moving past the political borders of speaking only to American black Muslims to addressing the world community. When Malcolm arrived back in the U.S, he had a commitment from African leaders who had promised to support efforts to make the U.S accountable for human rights violations. Despite his new attitude, Malcolm was not naïve to think that America too had a change of attitude towards blacks (Sales, 1994).

A majority of Malcolm X’s historical documentation greatly attributes his change of attitude to the Hajj visit. However, the apparent change in Malcolm’s attitude occurred before his Hajj visit and may have facilitated his separation with the Nation of Islam. As a leader of the Nation of Islam, Malcolm advocated for the complete separation of blacks from white, refusing any consideration for the integration of the two races. After his transformation he joined the fight for civil rights, advocating for equality. On March 1964, Malcolm met Martin Luther King Jr. after a press conference in Washington. They attended a meeting on civil rights bill. Despite being short, the meeting was fundamental in displaying Malcolm’s transformation. In April 1964, he gave a speech titled “The ballot or the bullet”. In his speech, Malcolm encouraged and advised African- Americans to vote wisely (X, & Haley, 1992). On December 1964, after his trip to Africa, Malcolm participated in a debate in the United Kingdom at the Oxford Union. The debate stated that being an extremist in the defense of liberty was not a vice while moderating the pursuit of justice is not a virtue. Malcolm agreed with the topic, hence, argued in the affirmative.

Malcolm’s change of attitude is visible through the speeches that he delivered later. In a dialogue with Gordon Parks in 1965, Malcolm said that listening to several leaders like Nkrumah among others awakened him to the dangers of racial discrimination. He realized that racism was not just a problem between whites and colored people because it led to bloodbaths in almost all nations on earth. After his separation with the Nation of Islam, X addressed many audiences in the U.S, especially during the regular MMI meetings, in college campuses, at the Afro-American unity organization as well as before political groups like the Militant Labor Forum. Meanwhile, tension between him and the NOI increased (Carson & Gallen,1991). Soon, the NOI started threatening Malcolm, both in private and public. On March 1964, Elijah Muhammad advised Louis X, Boston Minister to cut off the heads of hypocrites like Malcolm X. in June 1964, the NOI successfully sued to repossess Malcolm’s Queens Residence, which they allegedly owned. Malcolm appealed to postpone the eviction date. Malcolm’s family survived with no injuries and the state charged no one with any crime relating to the burnt house. On February 1965, Malcolm X began speaking to audiences of the Afro-American organization for union in the Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan when uproar occurred and in the commotion, some men appeared out of the multitude and shot him. The first man shot his chest once and other two men shot him sixteen times. The Columbian Presbyterian Hospital pronounced Malcolm X dead at three thirty on the same day.

Conclusion

Malcolm X’ tragic death following the animosity between him and the NOI reveals that he had differed with the organization’s principles, and the leaders were not pleased. This change began before Malcolm travelled to Mecca. Therefore, his pilgrimage to the Hajj was a consequence of his prior transformation. However, this visit had a fundamental effect on him, as he began seeing everyone as equal. In addition to this, his racial, religious and political views changed. This transformation and separation from the NOI seemed to have facilitated his different spiritual and political views (X, 1971). He started viewing white as his “brothers’ and defied hatred that separated the two races.

References

Carson, C., & Gallen, D. (1991). Malcolm X: the FBI file. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers.

Clarke, J. H., Bailey, P. & Earl, G. (1969). Malcolm X; the man and his times.. New York: Macmillan.

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Clegg, C. A.(1997). An original man: the life and times of Elijah Muhammad. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Little, M. & Brittman, G. (1972). By any means necessary. 1. ed. New York, N.Y.: Pathfinder Press.

Natambu, K. (2002).The life and work of Malcolm X. Indianapolis, IN: Alpha.

Sales, W. (1994). From civil rights to Black liberation: Malcolm X and the Organization of Afro-American Unity. Boston, Mass.: South End Press.

Sagan, M. (1997). Malcolm X. San Diego: Lucent Books.

X, M. (1971). The end of white world supremacy; four speeches. New York: Merlin House; distributed by Monthly Review Press.

X, M., & Haley, A. (1992). The autobiography of Malcolm X. New York: One World/Ballantine Books.

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