FROM KKK TO ISLAM: AN INTERVIEW WITH AN EX-RACIST
Few topics touch a raw nerve in the United States like race and racism in America. Given the deeply embedded psychology and history of racism found in American society, it is often surprising to discover individuals who have truly fought against racial hatred with not just their words and actions, but in the two most important battlegrounds: their hearts and minds.
Abdussalam Sipes is one example of this. Sipes is currently chief of security at a masjid. His calm, frank discussion of his journey from being a member of the virulently racist American white supremacist group Ku Klux Klan (KKK) to his decision to leave racial hatred, and then his acceptance of Islam will make you not only see one individual’s courage to change paths and “see the light” -it will also bring tears to your eyes.
Sound Vision interviewed Sipes about his former racism, what brought about his change and why he ultimately chose Islam. This is an edited version of that interview:
SV: What exactly was your connection to racism before your conversion?
AS: “I was a member of the Ku Klux Klan and before that I was a member of other (white supremacist organizations) too. I was originally just a card-carrying member and I grew up in their ranks. I started with them when I was 14 years old and by the time I was 21, I was a high-ranking official in the Klan organization. I was involved with major recruiting efforts. I was the main organizer of most of the activities in my region. I was in charge of a large geographical region of Klan chapters in the northern district of California. My activities involved everything from media interviews, recruitment drives to literature leaf letting to criminal activities [and went] as far as assaults on people, violent crimes, intimidation. I’ve spent most of my life in prison, over 13 years.”
SV: What factors in your childhood or personal experiences made you adopt racist views?
AS: “Just being around the people I grew up around who were racist. I grew up in a predominately white California suburb. All of my family used the word “n*****” (a racial slur against African-Americans) and referred to black people as parasites on society, kind of like cockroaches, just violent and bad in nature. They just [reaffirmed] the stereotypes that white America has of people of color. I went to prison for armed robbery and attempted murder. I was 15 at the time. I was involved with a group that was a paramilitary organization and their activities were intimidating blacks in the town that we lived in. We used to [commit] a lot of violent crimes against people. This particular crime was not race-motivated but we had particular views that were racist. In prison, things [are racially] segregated. You’ve got the blacks, Mexicans and whites. Of course I gravitated towards the white organization. In every subculture, you have organizations and you have groups and individuals. You have a rank and file and you fall into that rank you feel is part of your culture. People that you share a lot in common with culturally.”
SV: What triggered you to change your racist views?
AS: “I eventually came to question some of my actions and some of my beliefs through my search and study of genealogy and the origins of man. The racism drove me to study to find out proof and evidence and to find out the origin of my own people (Europeans). The deeper and deeper I got into the subject I began to find evidence that revealed that all human beings have the same origin. So I began to doubt the validity of the supreme, pure race of people anywhere in the world, let alone Europeans of Aryan race. The other element [of my change] was [that] when you hate somebody so passionately and you just live and just consume the hatred everyday, it starts to deteriorate. It’s like a cancer because it destroys your personality, it distorts your soul, and it destroys [those] close to you because it wears off on other people. I was inflicting more harm on myself than the people I hated. I was basically destroying my family and anyone else who had contact with me. Hatred and racism will manifest itself in any people in the world and that’s the interesting thing as far as the world is concerned. Everyone looks at America because of the recent slave trade, because we have the most recent history of slavery. [But] when we look at what the Serbs do to the Albanian or Bosnian Muslims, for some reason because it’s European versus European, we overlook the fact that it’s blatant racism.”
SV: What made you consider converting to Islam, and did it have something to do with your previous views on race?
AS: “I made a decision to get out of the white supremacist movement. Unfortunately, I was still living my life without guidance. I ended up going back to prison. I was in the federal penitentiary for possession of Semtax explosives (a solid form of plastic explosives). With the hatred and burden of hate off my shoulders I was able to think, contemplate. My heart was a little more open to spirituality so I knew I was tired of the life I was living, tired of going to prison. I just felt that I hit a plateau in my life where I wanted to make some serious changes again, but I didn’t know which direction to go. I think all sincerely decent, kind, caring, loving human beings always gravitate to whatever is most near to them in their subculture. My interactions with people (Christians) were always pleasant. I would sometimes gravitate towards the church but their way of believing in God, the words in the Bible, their basic beliefs, I just couldn’t grasp it, I never could develop any real belief based on the Christian view of God. The turning point was when I got to federal penitentiary in Pekin, Illinois. At that point, I had given up being racist, the guards came and asked me if I had any problem having black roommates (they interview you to see where they can place you because you have three to four roommates in one prison cell). I said I didn’t care. They usually take advantage of that because most people want to be with their own kind. I got one black roommate. This person had a friend named Fareed who was Muslim. When Fareed came to the cell, [he] noticed I had nothing-no cosmetic items, stamps to write my family, or money.
One day he came to my cell and he asked me: ‘don’t you have any money or anything like that. I said I didn’t ’have any. He said you want some?
I said no.
About 15 minutes later, he came back and he had a bag in his hands.
He said ‘here’ [giving it to Sipes-it contained some basic items he needed].
I said I don’t want it, I didn’t ask for anything. I said don’t come to me next week saying I owe you something. He said it’s not like that at all, its just part of my religion.
I just kind of smiled and laughed and said what religion is that? He said Islam; I’m a Muslim. At that point, I said ‘yeah right’. Now I was convinced this guy is going to give me problems. He’ll be back saying I owe him something, I’m going to have to look for [a] knife or some weapon to allow me to eliminate this problem that he’s going to bring to me later. At this time, my understanding of Islam was that it was a black, racist religion [with] their teaching that the white man was the devil. I knew this from run-ins with the Nation of Islam [an African-American nationalist and spiritual movement].
He [Fareed] came back later. I said why don’t you give me something about your religion, because I was thinking I ‘m going to catch this guy in a lie. I was going to get a hold of some of his literature and ask him ‘how can you believe the white man is the devil and you’re going out of your way to help me? How do you explain yourself? How are you going to share with the devil (me)? He came back with some literature. It was an introduction to Islam. It was just really different from what I had thought it would be. It was something that I was not expecting to find and at the same time it was something that I needed to find. This was a real religion based on truth and that’s basically what I was hungry for and what I was searching for. I found out how simple it was, that there’s no intermediary between man and God, [that] you had a direct link to God. I felt that this is a religion where you can practice without the help of outsiders, putting partners with God.
Allah created Islam with a purity that could not be rivaled with. I finally got a hold of the Quran. Every page I read I broke down crying because I felt that as I was reading the Quran, in a way my soul was cleansing itself of all the poison. The Ayat (verses) that I was reading, they compared to Christianity, but there were a lot of things that sound so much more believable [in the Quran than the Bible]. [It] sounds so pure. When I read [most of] the first two Surahs of the Quran, that was enough for me. I was convinced the Quran was a miracle and it was the Divine word of God. I couldn’t find anything wrong with the Quran. I felt in my heart that this was the true religion Allah had created for us. I was convinced at that point.
After I took my Shahada, I read more [in the Quran about] how Allah keeps those people in ignorance and He brings people out of ignorance as He wishes. He had a plan for me to become a Muslim. At this stage in my life, Alhamdolillah, since I took Shahada, everything has been in a Positive direction in my life. Everything keeps getting better.”
SV: What was your reaction when you read verse 13 of Surah number 49, given your background as a former racist?
AS: “I broke down and cried. I just wanted to be part of a world religion where there is no racism involved, where everybody’s created equally in the eyes of God. I wanted to be part of a religion in which God did not favor anyone other than those who were most pious. When I read that particular Ayah, it really validated this religion for me because that told me that Islam is the sworn enemy of racism. This is one Ayah of many that jumped out at me. The Quran was answering questions for me. That was a very powerful Ayah for me because of my past. It was proof for me that I could go ahead and be a Muslim because God was saying how mankind should be towards one another. That was complete harmony [and] that was a beautiful, beautiful thing.”
SV: What would you advise Muslims seeking to rid themselves of racial hatred?
AS: “Basically, people to have to work on strengthening their Iman (faith) because when you lose your Deen, when you lose your prayer, Shaitan steps in and then he takes over. And then it’s all Fitna (trials and temptations) after that. Other than prejudice in our Ummah, we’re plagued with many other problems. The answer to all of those problems is that we need to start practicing the Deen and becoming better Muslims in our Ibadah (worship). When we lose our Deen, when we lose our prayer, we lose His (Allah’s) favor; we lose His protection from the Shaitan. People don’t realize the power of Shaitan, he gets between people. He manifests the divisions between us. As Muslims, we should have no real difference. Yet if Shaitan gets in there, he’ll make some reason not to get along. That’s my understanding. Every Muslim knows this is a fundamental belief that there is no racism in Islam and everybody knows its Haram (forbidden) but they just take it like any other subject that they know is Haram because the Iman is so weak, the Taqwa (fear of Allah) is [in] such a low state that they continue to commit acts and they get worse. The farther away you get from Islam [the worse its going to be].”
ISLAM”S MANIFESTO OF UNIVERSAL BROTHERHOOD OF HUMAN BEINGS: QURAN AND SUNNAH ABOUT RACISM AND PREJUDICE
By Abdul Malik Mujahid
From the Quran: “O Mankind, We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other. Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is he who is the most righteous of you” (49:13).
Explanation: There are several principles, which this verse presents: This message is not just for Muslims only because Allah is addressing all of humanity. While Muslims are one brotherhood, this is part of a larger brotherhood of humanity. Allah is telling us that He has created us. Therefore He knows the best about us. He says that He created us from one man and one woman meaning then that we are all the same. It also means that all human beings are created through the same process, not in a manner in which some are created with a better mechanism than others.
Allah is the One who made human beings into different groups and people. These differences are not wrong, rather a sign from Allah (“And among His Signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the difference of your languages and colors. Verily, in that are indeed signs for those who know” [Quran 30:22]).
Note that no word equivalent to race is used in this ayah or any other verse of the Quran. Islam, however, limits the purpose of these distinctions to differentiation and knowing each other. This is not meant to be a source of beating each other down with an attitude of my group is better than your group or false pride as is the case with tribalism, nationalism, colonialism, and racism. The only source of preference or greatness among human beings is not on a national or group level, but it is at the individual level. One individual who is (higher in Taqwa), more conscious of his Creator and is staying away from the bad and doing the good is better, no matter what nation, country or caste he is part of. Individual piety is the only thing that makes a person better and greater than the other one.
However, the only criterion of preference, Taqwa, is not measurable by human beings. Indeed Allah is the One Who knows and is aware of everything so we should leave even this criterion to Allah to decide instead of human beings judging each other. These are the deeply embedded ideals of Islam which still bring people to this way of life even though Muslims are not on the best level of Iman today. This is what changed the heart of a racist Malcolm X when he performed Hajj in Makkah. This is the power that brought Muhammad Ali to Islam. This is what still attracts the Untouchables of India towards Islam. This is the theory which convinced noted historian Professor A.J. Toynbee in 1948 to say that: “The extinction of race consciousness as between Muslims is one of the outstanding achievements of Islam, and in the contemporary world there is, as it happens, a crying need for the propagation of this Islamic virtue.”
Let’s ask ourselves if the Muslim Ummah today, in its individual and collective behavior is striving to adopt and promote these Islamic ideals?
From the Sunnah
1. Prophet’s response to racist comments: A man once visited the Prophets mosque in Madinah. There he saw a group of people sitting and discussing their faith together. Among them were Salman (who came from Persia), Suhayb who grew up in the Eastern Roman empire and was regarded as a Greek, and Bilal who was an African. The man then said: “If the (Madinan) tribes of Aws and Khazraj support Muhammad, they are his people (that is, Arabs like him). But what are these people doing here?” The Prophet became very angry when this was reported to him. Straightaway, he went to the mosque and summoned people to a Salat. He then addressed them saying: “O people, know that the Lord and Sustainer is One. Your ancestor is one, your faith is one. The Arabism of anyone of you is not from your mother or father. It is no more than a tongue (language). Whoever speaks Arabic is an Arab.” (As quoted in Islam The Natural Way by Abdul Wahid Hamid p. 125)
2. Statement of the universal brotherhood in the last Sermon: O people, Remember that your Lord is One. An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a black has no superiority over white, nor a white has any superiority over black, except by piety and good action (Taqwa). Indeed the best among you is the one with the best character (Taqwa). Listen to me. Did I convey this to you properly? People responded, Yes. O messenger of Allah, The Prophet then said, then each one of you who is there must convey this to everyone not present. (Excerpt from the Prophets Last Sermon as in Baihiqi)
3. Don’t take pride in ancestry: The Prophet said: Let people stop boasting about their ancestors. One is only a pious believer or a miserable sinner. All men are sons of Adam, and Adam came from dust (Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi).
4. Looking down upon other people will stop you from entering the Jannah: The Prophet said: Whoever has pride in his heart equal to the weight of an atom shall not enter Paradise. A man inquired about a person who likes to wear beautiful clothes and fine shoes, and he answered: Allah is beautiful and likes beauty. Then he explained pride means rejecting the truth because of self-esteem and looking down on other people (Muslim).
5. The Prophet condemnation of Arab racial pride: There are many hadith, which repeatedly strike on the Arab pride of jahiliyyah. Arabs before Islam used to look down upon others specially blacks. The Prophet repeatedly contrasted the believing Africans versus non-believing Arab nobles. The Prophet said: You should listen to and obey your ruler even if he was an Ethiopian slave whose head looked like a raisin (Bukhari).
MALCOM X – AN ISLAMIC PERSPECTIVE
Adapted from the pamphlet Malcolm X: Why I Embraced Islam by Yusuf Siddiqui.
Quotes taken from The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley.
Source: http://al-sunnah.com/call_to_islam/articles/malcolm_x.html (Call to Islam Website)
Malcolm X Timeline:
May 19, 1925 – Born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska
1940 – Drops out of school at age 15
1946 – Convicted of burglary and sent to prison
1949 – 1951 – Studies the Nation of Islam
1952 – Leaves prison, dedicates himself to Nation of Islam, changes name to Malcolm X
Jan. 14, 1958 – Marries Betty X
Dec. 4, 1963 – Suspended from the Nation of Islam
March 1964 – Leaves Nation of Islam, starts the Muslim Mosque, Inc.
Apr. 22, 1964 – Makes his Hajj and becomes El-Hajj Malik al-Shabazz
Jun. 28, 1964 – Forms the Organization of Afro-American Unity
Jul. 17, 1964 – Speaks at the Organization of African Unity in Cairo
Aug. 13, 1964 – U.S. State and Justice Departments take notice of his influence on African leaders at the U.N.
Feb 21, 1965 – Al Hajj Malik assassinated in New York
On May 19, 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska, Malcolm Little was born to Reverend Earl and Louise Little. Rev. Little, who believed in self-determination and worked for the unity of black people. Malcolm was raised in a background of ethnic awareness and dignity, but violence was sparked by white racists trying to stop black people such as Rev. Little from preaching the black cause.
The history of Malcolm’s dedication to black people, like that of his father, may have been motivated by a long history of oppression of his family. As a young child, Malcolm, his parents, brothers, and sisters were shot at, burned out of their home, harassed, and threatened. This culminated in the murder of his father by white racists when Malcolm was six.
Malcolm became a drop-out from school at the age of fifteen. Learning the ways of the streets, Malcolm became acquainted with hoodlums, thieves, dope peddlers, and pimps. Convicted of burglary at twenty, he remained in prison until the age of twenty-seven. During his prison stay he attempted to educate himself. In addition, during his period in prison he learned about and joined the Nation of Islam, studying the teachings of Elijah Muhammed fully. He was released, a changed man, in 1952.
The Nation of Islam
Upon his release, Malcolm went to Detroit, joined the daily activities of the sect, and was given instruction by Elijah Muhammad himself. Malcolm’s personal commitment helped build the organization nation-wide, while making him an international figure. He was interviewed on major television programs and by magazines, and spoke across the country at various universities and other forums. His power was in his words, which so vividly described the plight of blacks and vehemently incriminated whites. When a white person referred to the fact that some Southern university had enrolled black freshmen without bayonets, Malcolm reacted with scorn:
When I “slipped,” the program host would leap on the bait: “Ahhh! Indeed, Mr. Malcolm X — you can’t deny that’s an advance for your race!”
I’d jerk the pole then. “I can’t turn around without hearing about some ‘civil rights advance’! White people seem to think the black man ought to be shouting ‘hallelujah’! Four hundred years the white man has had his foot-long knife in the black man’s back — and now the whit man starts to wiggle the knife out, maybe six inches! The black man’s supposed to be grateful? Why, if the white man jerked the knife out, it’s still going to leave a scar!
Although Malcolm words often stung with the injustices against blacks in America, the equally racist views of the Nation of Islam kept him from accepting any whites as sincere or capable of helping the situation. For twelve years he preached that the white man was the devil and the “Honorable Elijah Muhammad” was God’s messenger. Unfortunately, most images of Malcolm today focus on this period of his life, although the transformation he was about to undergo would give him a completely different, and more important, message for the American people.
The Change to True Islam
On March 12, 1964, impelled by internal jealousy within the Nation of Islam and revelations of Elijah Muhammad’s sexual immorality, Malcolm left the Nation of Islam with the intention of starting his own organization:
I feel like a man who has been asleep somewhat and under someone else’s control. I feel what I’m thinking and saying now is for myself. Before, it was for and by guidance of another, now I think with my own mind.
Malcolm was thirty-eight years old when he left Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam. Reflecting on reflects that occurred prior to leaving, he said:
At one or another college or university, usually in the informal gatherings after I had spoken, perhaps a dozen generally white-complexioned people would come up to me, identifying themselves as Arabian, Middle Eastern or North African Muslims who happened to be visiting, studying, or living in the United States. They had said to me that, my white-indicting statements notwithstanding, they felt I was sincere in considering myself a Muslim — and they felt if I was exposed to what they always called “true Islam,” I would “understand it, and embrace it.” Automatically, as a follower of Elijah, I had bridled whenever this was said. But in the privacy of my own thoughts after several of these experiences, I did question myself: if one was sincere in professing a religion, why should he balk at broadening his knowledge of that religion?
Those orthodox Muslims whom I had met, one after another, had urged me to meet and talk with a Dr. Mahmoud Youssef Shawarbi. . . . Then one day Dr. Shawarbi and I were introduced by a newspaperman. He was cordial. He said he had followed me in the press; I said I had been told of him, and we talked for fifteen or twenty minutes. We both had to leave to make appointments we had, when he dropped on me something whose logic never would get out of my head. He said, “No man has believed perfectly until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.”
The Effect of the Pilgrimage
Malcolm further continues about the Hajj:
The pilgrimage to Mecca, known as the Hajj, is a religious obligation that every orthodox Muslim fulfils, if able, at least once in his or her lifetime.
The Holy Quran says it, “Pilgrimage to the House [of God built by the prophet Abraham] is a duty men owe to God; those who are able, make the journey.” (3:97)
Allah said: “And proclaim the pilgrimage among men; they will come to you on foot and upon each lean camel, they will come from every deep ravine” (22:27).
Every one of the thousands at the airport, about to leave for Jeddah, was dressed this way. You could be a king or a peasant and no one would know. Some powerful personages, who were discreetly pointed out to me, had on the same thing I had on. Once thus dressed, we all had begun intermittently calling out “Labbayka! (Allahumma) Labbayka!” (Here I come, O Lord!) Packed in the plane were white, black, brown, red, and yellow people, blue eyes and blond hair, and my kinky red hair — all together, brothers! All honoring the same God, all in turn giving equal honor to each other. . . .
That is when I first began to reappraise the “white man.” It was when I first began to perceive that “white man,” as commonly used, means complexion only secondarily; primarily it described attitudes and actions. In America,”white man” meant specific attitudes and actions toward the black man, and toward all other non-white men. But in the Muslim world, I had seen that men with white complexions were more genuinely brotherly than anyone else had ever been. That morning was the start of a radical alteration in my whole outlook about “white” men.
There were tens of thousands of pilgrims, from all over the world. They were of all colors, from blue-eyed blonds to black-skinned Africans. But we were all participating in the same ritual displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe never could exist between the white an d the non-white…America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem. Throughout my travels in the Muslim world, I have met, talked to, and even eaten with people who in America would have been considered white — but the “white” attitude was removed from their minds by the religion of Islam. I have never before seen sincere and true brotherhood practiced by all colors together, irrespective of their color.
Malcolm’s New Vision of America
Each hour here in the Holy Land enables me to have greater spiritual insights into what is happening in America between black and white. The American Negro never can be blamed for his racial animosities — he is only reacting to four hundred years of the conscious racism of the American whites. But as racism leads America up the suicide path I do believe, from the experiences that I have had with them, that the whites of the younger generation, in the colleges and universities, will see the handwriting on the wall and many of them will turn to the spiritual path of truth — the only way left to America to ward off the disaster that racism inevitably must lead to. . . .
I believe that God now is giving the world’s so-called ‘Christian’ white society its last opportunity to repent and atone for the crimes of exploiting and enslaving the world’s non-white peoples. It is exactly as when God gave Pharaoh a chance to repent. But Pharaoh persisted in his refusal to give justice to those who he oppressed. And, we know, God finally destroyed Pharaoh.
I will never forget the dinner at the Azzam home with Dr. Azzam. The more we talked, the more his vast reservoir of knowledge and its variety seemed unlimited. He spoke of the racial lineage of the descendants of Muhammad (PBUH) the Prophet, and he showed how they were both black and white. He also pointed out how color, and the problems of color which exist in the Muslim world, exist only where, and to the extent that, that area of the Muslim world has been influenced by the West. He said that if on encountered any differences based on attitude toward color, this directly reflected the degree of Western influence.
The Oneness of Man Under One God
It was during his pilgrimage that he began to write some letters to his loyal assistants at the newly formed Muslim Mosque in Harlem. He asked that his letter be duplicated and distributed to the press:
Never have I witnessed such sincere hospitality and the overwhelming spirit of true brotherhood as is practiced by people of all colors and races here in this ancient Holy Land, the House of Abraham, Muhammad, and all the other Prophets of the Holy Scriptures. For the past week, I have been utterly speechless and spellbound by the graciousness I see displayed all around me by people of all colors. . . .
You may be shocked by these words coming from me. But on this pilgrimage, what I have seen, and experienced, has forced me to rearrange much of my thought-patterns previously held, and to toss aside some of my previous conclusions. This was not too difficult for me. Despite my firm convictions, I have always been a man who tries to face facts, and to accept the reality of life as new experience and new knowledge unfolds it. I have always kept an open mind, which necessary to the flexibility that must go hand in hand with every form of intelligent search for truth.
During the past eleven days here in the Muslim world, I have eaten from the same plate, drunk from the same glass, and slept in the same bed (or on the same rug) — while praying to the same God — with fellow Muslims, whose eyes were the bluest of blue, whose hair was the blondest of blond, and whose skin was the whitest of white. And in the words and in the actions and in the deeds of the “white” Muslims, I felt the same sincerity that I felt among the black African Muslims of Nigeria, Sudan, and Ghana.
We were truly all the same (brothers) — because their belief in one God had removed the “white” from their minds, the ‘white’ from their behavior, and the ‘white’ from their attitude.
I could see from this, that perhaps if white Americans could accept the Oneness of God, then perhaps, too, they could accept in reality the Oneness of Man — and cease to measure, and hinder, and harm others in terms of their “differences” in color.
With racism plaguing America like an incurable cancer, the so-called “Christian” white American heart should be more receptive to a proven solution to such a destructive problem. Perhaps it could be in time to save America from imminent disaster — the same destruction brought upon Germany by racism that eventually destroyed the Germans themselves.
They asked me what about the Hajj had impressed me the most. . . . I said, “The brotherhood! The people of all races, color, from all over the world coming together as one! It has proved to me the power of the One God. . . . All ate as one, and slept as one. Everything about the pilgrimage atmosphere accented the Oneness of Man under One God.
Malcolm returned from the pilgrimage as El-Hajj Malik al-Shabazz. He was afire with new spiritual insight. For him, the struggle had evolved from the civil rights struggle of a nationalist to the human rights struggle of an internationalist and humanitarian.
After the Pilgrimage
White reporters and others were eager to learn about El-Hajj Malik’s newly-formed opinions concerning themselves. They hardly believed that the man who had preached against them for so many years could suddenly turn around and call them brothers. To these people El-Hajj Malik had this to say:
You’re asking me “Didn’t you say that now you accept white men as brothers?” Well, my answer is that in the Muslim world, I saw, I felt, and I wrote home how my thinking was broadened! Just as I wrote, I shared true, brotherly love with many white-complexioned Muslims who never gave a single thought to the race, or to the complexion, of another Muslim.
My pilgrimage broadened my scope. It blessed me with a new insight. In two weeks in the Holy Land, I saw what I never had seen in thirty-nine years here in America. I saw all races, all colors, — blue-eyed blonds to black-skinned Africans — in true brotherhood! In unity! Living as one! Worshipping as one! No segregationists — no liberals; they would not have known how to interpret the meaning of those words.
In the past, yes, I have made sweeping indictments of all white people. I will never be guilty of that again — as I know now that some white people are truly sincere, that some truly are capable of being brotherly toward a black man. The true Islam has shown me that a blanket indictment of all white people is as wrong as when whites make blanket indictments against blacks.
To the blacks who increasingly looked to him as a leader, El-Hajj Malik preached a new message, quite the opposite of what he had been preaching as a minister in the Nation of Islam:
True Islam taught me that it takes all of the religious, political, economic, psychological, and racial ingredients, or characteristics, to make the Human Family and the Human Society complete.
Since I learned the truth in Mecca, my dearest friends have come to include all kinds — some Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, agnostics, and even atheists! I have friends who are called capitalists, Socialists, and Communists! Some of my friends are moderates, conservatives, extremists — some are even Uncle Toms! My friends today are black, brown, red, yellow, and white!
I said to my Harlem street audiences that only when mankind would submit to the One God who created all — only then would mankind even approach the “peace” of which so much talk could be heard…but toward which so little action was seen.
Too Dangerous to Last
El-Hajj Malik’s new universalistic message was the U.S. establishment’s worst nightmare. Not only was he appealing to the black masses, but to intellectuals of all races and colors. Now he was consistently demonized by the press as “advocating violence” and being “militant,” although in actuality he and Dr. Martin Luther King were moving closer together in outlook:
The goal has always been the same, with the approaches to it as different as mine and Dr. Martin Luther King’s non-violent marching, that dramatizes the brutality and the evil of the white man against defenseless blacks. And in the racial climate of this country today, it is anybody’s guess which of the “extremes” in approach to the black man’s problems might personally meet a fatal catastrophe first — “non-violent” Dr. King, or so-called “violent” me.”
El-Hajj Malik knew full well that he was a target of many groups. In spite of this, he was never afraid to say what he had to say when he had to say it. As a sort of epitaph at the end of his autobiography, he says:
I know that societies often have 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 the body of America — then, all of the credit is due to Allah. Only the mistakes have been mine.
The Legacy of Malcolm X
Although El-Hajj Malik knew that he was a target for assassination, he accepted this fact without requesting police protection. On February 21, 1965, while preparing to give a speech at a New York hotel, he was shot by three black men. He was three months short of forty, the age of maturity according to the Qur’an. While it is clear that the Nation of Islam had something to do with the assassination, many people believe there was more than one organization involved. The FBI, known for its anti-black movement tendency, has been suggested as an accomplice. We may never know for sure who was behind El-Hajj Malik’s murder, or, for that matter, the murder of other national leaders in the early 1960s.
Malcolm X’s life has affected Americans in many important ways. His conversion must have had an influence on Elijah Muhammad’s son, Wallace Muhammad, who, after his father’s death, led the Nation of Islam’s followers into orthodox Islam. African-Americans’ interest in their Islamic roots has flourished since El-Hajj Malik’s death. Alex Haley, who wrote Malcolm’s autobiography, later wrote the epic Roots about an African Muslim family’s experience with slavery. More and more African-Americans are becoming Muslim, adopting Muslim names, or exploring African culture. Interest in Malcolm X has seen a surge recently due to Spike Lee’s movie, X. El-Hajj Malik is a source of pride for African-Americans, Muslims, and Americans in general. His message is simple and clear:
I am not a racist in any form whatever. I don’t believe in any form of racism. I don’t believe in any form of discrimination or segregation. I believe in Islam.
WHY AMERICA HATED MALCOLM X
When history is discussed in American schools, a figure seldom mentioned is El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, more widely known as the great American Muslim leader, Malcolm X; Malcolm gets lost in the pages of history books amongst such names as Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, the individuals who seem ‘less threatening’ to America’s traditional values …
During my years in junior and senior high school, I always remember finding Malcolm’s picture at the bottom of pages in history textbooks, with a small caption, usually alerting the reader that he was a Civil Rights leader who advocated ‘a violent uprising against whites’ – maybe not in the same words, but at least ones that leave the same negative impression.
In the early nineties American capitalism spawned lines of clothing sporting the ‘X,’ logo, worn by black youth throughout the country, which, while it informed many about his life, sadly made Malcolm into more of a commodity than revolutionary; the media found new interest in the sixties leader, and Spike Lee directed a movie about his life. Unfortunately, Malcolm’s newfound fame tended to emphasize his violent past, not the transformation he experienced after his return from Arabia. It’s hard to believe that Malcolm’s modern portrayal is merely coincidence; while his formally anti-white ideology may appeal to some African Americans, its overemphasis is actually used by racist America to prevent people from getting to know the real Malcolm; the Malcolm that returned from Arabia not preaching that the white man is the devil, but that racial unity could be achieved, namely through the introduction of Islam to the American masses.
Why did America choose to forget the reformed Orthodox Muslim Malcolm, who was a supporter of equality just as much, if not more than King, and remember the prejudiced Malcolm? When discussing Malcolm X, many people have become so interested in the fury of his speech that they forget to look at the other side, and subsequently fail to see why he was really a threat to America, and the true reason he was assassinated.
If you mention the murder of Malcolm X to a common individual, someone who has simply heard of him and his beliefs, and inquire to him or her about its cause and who the perpetrators were, they would most likely say it was merely a quarrel between Malcolm and his former teacher, Elijah Muhammad, and that the perpetrators were three disgruntled members of the Nation of Islam, who were simply zealous defenders of Mr. Muhammad. But the death of Malcolm is much more complicated, and whether or not the NOI was responsible for Malcolm’s death, as we will discover later on, is really irrelevant; the cause of Malcolm’s death was not his dissatisfaction and public criticisms of Elijah Muhammad, nor his heated approach to politics, exemplified in fiery speeches such as “The Ballot or the Bullet.” The pre-Orthodox Islam Malcolm, preaching that the black man is God and the white man the devil was not a threat, not even to the whites he was attacking. Malcolm X as a divider was nothing for white America to fear. What the white establishment feared, and even fears today, is Malcolm X the unifier; the Malcolm X who said, “The worst form of human being, I believe, is one who judges another human being by the color of his skin,” and knew that there was a conspiracy to kill him, not because he proposed self-defense, but because he believed “the only way to help the Black man in this country is unity among Black people and white people” (Clark 67, 181).
Before beginning to discuss why Malcolm was a threat, I think it’s important to outline the history of Islam in America, and the role that quasi-Islamic groups played in distorting the religion’s image here. While many movements completely deviated from traditional Islam, in some cases only resembling Islamic belief in that they call their deity Allah, Islamic movements have existed in America for almost one hundred years. Although there were cases of individuals accepting Islam (notably Muhammad Alexander Russel Webb,) the first Islamic movement to appear in the United States was in the 1920’s, headed by the Noble Drew Ali, formally Timothy Drew (Webb 1).
Ali was born in 1886, and raised by a Cherokee Indian tribe. Highly interested in magic, at age sixteen he traveled to Egypt where he supposedly: “received self knowledge and direction from a priest, the last of a cult of High Magic practiced for centuries in the pyramid of Cheops” which later revealed to him, “The Circle Seven Koran.” After returning to America, Ali claimed to have had a dream to create a new religion “for the uplifting of fallen mankind.” The Moorish Science Temple (MST) laid the groundwork for what would become, after Ali’s death, the Nation of Islam. While Elijah Muhammad claimed to be a prophet of Allah, many of his ideas were borrowed directly from the MST, which is not coincidental since he was a former member. Ali taught his followers that blacks were “Moabites or Moors,” a group of “oppressed sufferers” which are of an Asiatic race. Even given his racial theories, Ali still did not teach the racist theories his successor Elijah would; whites that joined the temple were simply referred to as Persians, and seen as spiritual equals with their black brethren. The Noble Drew Ali died in 1929 and the MST broke into several different fractions, the most notable of which was headed by Elijah Muhammad (Selim 1-6).
Unfortunately, until Malcolm X’s conversation to Sunni Islam, America’s native population had no exposure to true Islam. By true Islam I’m referring to anything slightly within the folds of orthodoxy; even extremely liberal Muslims today would find fault in The Noble Drew Ali’s version of Islam, which alongside its rejection of monotheistic belief (the basis of Islam itself,) rejected the Qur’an and also the finality of Prophet Muhammad.. The MST was the first in a line of pseudo-Islamic groups put in America to intentionally deceive gullible would-be Muslims, who sincerely wanted to learn about the religion of Islam. Ali’s story of enlightenment, which allegedly occurred in Egypt is far from believable, and reads like an Eastern tale not actual fact; one may wonder if Ali had actually ever been to Egypt. The shaky foundations laid for Islam in America were far from coincidental, and groups such as the MST and Nation of Islam were created by if not government agencies, at least by staunch opponents of Islam to destroy its image in America amongst its common people. Although it may seem far-fetched, governments in the past have created religious movements in order to achieve a political means; the NOI shares many characteristics with the Ahmadiyya sect, which was founded by Mirza Ghulam Qadiani in India. Mirza’s family was connected to the British government, and interested in helping them maintain their colonial interests in the land; frightened by increasingly anti-British sentiments in India, Britain ordered that an, “Apostolic Prophet” be created that would, “subdue the spirit of Jihad in Muslims.” Ironically enough, after Malcolm expressed his displeasure with Elijah Muhammad, a Pakistani named Abdul Basit Naeem from the same Indian movement appeared speaking against him; even today the NOI still uses the same Qadiani English translation of the Qur’an, and shares many beliefs with the Ahmadiyya movement, such as their disbelief in the finality of prophethood (Character 1, 3).
While the Noble Drew Ali’s story of revelation only seems false, there is actual evidence to prove the illegitimate origins of the NOI. In his book Message to the Blackman, Elijah Muhammad claimed that: Allah came to us from the Holy City Mecca, Arabia, in 1930. He used the name Wallace D. Fard, often signing it W. D. Fard, in the third year (1933). He signed his name W. F. Muhammad which stands for Wallace Fard Muhammad. He came alone. He began teaching us the knowledge of ourselves, of God and the devil, of the measurement of the earth, of other planets, and of the civilization of some of the planets other than earth (Muhammad 5).
NOI myth teaches its followers that W.D. Fard was the son of an Arab father named Alfonso, and a Jewish mother named Baby G; the NOI believes that Fard was Allah in the human form on planet earth and that by his meetings with Elijah Muhammad, Elijah was therefore the “Messenger of Allah.” The MST’s belief in an Asiatic and non-Asiatic race is extended further by Elijah, who claims that Fard taught him that all non-White people on planet were black and dually coined Asiatic; white people were said to have been created by a mad black scientist named Yacub, and inherently evil. The theory that all non-Whites were actually black helped Elijah justify the extremely light complexion of Fard, who in actuality was a white man himself. An FBI report about Fard (real name Wallace Ford) contains his criminal record from 1926 when he was arrested for assault with a deadly weapon, violating prohibition laws, and the sale of drugs. Also included in the report is his race listed as white, stating his place of birth as Portland Oregon, and the birthplace of his parents as Hawaii (Wallace 4).
One might ask, why would the government or some agency desire to distort the image of Islam in America? Islam, unlike Christianity, is a detailed system that not only encompasses spirituality, but economics, politics, and nearly every facet of life. Black people, as Malcolm emphasized in speeches such as the “Ballot or the Bullet,” were not actually seen as citizens in the United States; at least they were not granted the rights of American citizens. Islam provides a means by which an oppressed individual can counteract the system in which her or she lives; if the white man has his system, then the black man can implement his own system. So accepting Islam for the African American is not only a way of forming a unique spiritual identity, but a way to form social independence. Since many African slaves were Muslims before their arrival in America, an African American attraction to Islam, even as early as the 1900’s was quite conceivable. Even before Malcolm and before the NOI, America had a reason to fear Islam; if black people were to become socially independent and accept an ideology that truly separated them from Western civilization, whites could no longer exploit blacks. One of the points in the “Ballot or the Bullet” was that segregation was beneficial to the white man, since it was not truly separated; blacks and whites were living in different neighborhoods, but it was the white man who controlled the economics of the “segregated” areas; it was whites who were still the authorities. Islam, if implemented, would have a community self sufficient, not only economically but judicially. In some Southern states the number of blacks outnumbered that of whites; if independence were achieved in these areas perhaps separate black states could have been formed. America feared true Islam amongst blacks because they feared losing control; inserting fake Islamic ideologies was a means to quench an African-American thirst for knowledge, but at the same time dilute Islam so that it was not too powerful.
The NOI was not an enemy to America; it was to America what the Ahmadiyya were to the British – a means to tame a potentially serious problem. Elijah’s organization achieved two goals for the US government; first, it put a falsified version of Islam into the black community, which even after traditional Islam arrived would always be present to create conflict, making it more difficult for unification to occur. Second, the Nation made Islam appear as the “black only” religion, and scared whites away. Malcolm didn’t die because of his disagreement with Elijah alone, but because by his acceptance and propagation of Sunni Islam, he counteracted two goals the NOI hoped to achieve. With his popularity and rhetorical skills, he was able to attempt undoing the damage Elijah had done to the image of Islam in the US; and by denouncing the NOI’s racist ideologies, separating them completely from Islam, he would potentially be able to not only unite blacks under Islam, but good-spirited whites as well, especially the younger generation of the 60’s who were more accepting of new and different ideas. Concerning his acceptance of whites in his newly formed Muslim Mosque Inc. organization, Malcolm said that it was open to people of all ethnicities, but the problem was, “we haven’t found any white people who want to be Muslims” (Clark 182). In another interview with Milton Henry, Malcolm advised him to make blacks aware of orthodox mosques in the Detroit area, emphasizing that Islam could bring “racial harmony and unity” between blacks and whites, if only they would seek Islam in its true form (quoted in Decaro 264).
By accepting Orthodox Islam, Malcolm instantly won the support of Muslims not only in the United States, but also around the world. This further made Malcolm a threat to the US government since he was no longer only a black man preaching in Harlem, but a person with worldly influence. In a letter from Cairo, Malcolm emphasized that his being in Africa was a “direct threat to the entire international system of racist exploitation” and that by internationalizing the African American struggle a foundation was being firmly set, “and no one can hardly undo it” (quoted in Decaro 264). As early as 1956 Malcolm understood the importance of diplomacy when he stated, “A new world order is in the making, and it is up to us to prepare ourselves that we may take our rightful place in it” (quoted in Gallen 95).
Malcolm appeared to be aware of the plot to distort the image of Islam in America; in an interview with a Saudi magazine, Malcolm expressed sharp criticism of the NOI, as well as Zionists in America, that were “hindering the presentation of true Islam to the African American community in their distinctive ways.” Malcolm labeled the NOI as a “racist philosophy,” deceptively labeled as Islamic in order “to fool and misuse gullible people,” stating that Elijah “Elijah hates Negroes and he wants to see them spill each other’s blood, even kill each other” (quoted in Decaro 240, Clark 183).
About the same time as Malcolm’s travels around the world, the Ahmadiyya Pakistani Abdul Basit Naeem began speaking out against Malcolm in the Nation’s newspaper, Muhammad Speaks. Naeem advised members of the Nation not to make Hajj (the Muslim pilgrimage that Malcolm had just completed,) stating that only Elijah Muhammad, Islam’s “rightful leader” can advise “whether or not they should take adequate interest in the . . . ritual at this time. The venerable Messenger alone, again, should have the privilege of scrutinizing and passing judgment on qualifications of the intending pilgrims, if any.” Apparently fears were beginning to grow that after visits to Arabia, other members of the Nation would see the falsehoods in Elijah’s doctrine, and begin to experience true Islam as Malcolm had. Naeem goes on to advise Muslims that being confronted with certain “peculiarities” in the “old” world of Islam will only confuse and perplex them (Naeem 1, 10). Naeem’s strong support of the NOI, as a Pakistani, and not to mention his religious affiliation, which is that of the Ahmadiyya, could cause one to ponder if he was not a funded agent of some group himself. In another article, Naeem even goes as far to say about Malcolm, “having studied his motives, moods and moves as carefully and closely as circumstances permitted me during the past thirteen months, I find him positively undeserving of and unfit for the role of a Muslim leader in America” (Naeem 7).
Sadly, America seems to want to forget Malcolm X; except for his short-lived fame a few years ago, popular culture deemed him not important enough anymore. The American monster grins because instead of reading about Malcolm, young children are indulged in the lives of Martin Luther King or Rosa Parks at school. If America is truly about self-made-men, then I don’t know what individual could be more worthy of the title than Malcolm X; a person who gave himself what many would consider the equivalent of a Ph.D. in a jail cell, with no professor or guide, and whose speeches were filled with fact and emotion.
There’s always existed a debate concerning who killed Malcolm: the Nation, or the US government? That’s an erroneous question; the NOI killed Malcolm for the government, and the government killed Malcolm because they hated its people too much to let them live beautifully, with the guidance of someone as great as Malcolm X, who if alive today wouldn’t even be called Malcolm, only Khalif Malik: leader of the Islamic Republic of America.
The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.
As we know, we see discrimination in some form or another almost every day and often times it leaves a sour taste in our mouths. I applaud British Airways for their action in this situation on a British Airways flight from Johannesburg. A middle-aged, well-off white South African Lady has found herself sitting next to a black man. She called the cabin crew attendant over to complain about her seating.
“What seems to be the problem Madam?” asked the attendant. “Can’t you see?” she said ” You’ve sat me next to this filthy man. I can’t possibly sit next to this disgusting human. Find me another seat!” “Please calm down Madam.” the stewardess replied. “The flight is very full today, but I’ll tell you what I’ll do-I’ll go and check to see if we have any seats available in club or first class.” The woman cocks a snooty look at the outraged black man beside her (not to mention many of the surrounding passengers).
A few minutes later the stewardess returns with the good news, which she delivers to the lady, who cannot help but look at the people around her with a smug and self satisfied grin: “Madam, unfortunately, as I suspected, economy is full. I’ve spoken to the cabin services director, and club is also full. However, we do have one seat in first class. It is most extraordinary to make this kind of upgrade, however, and I have had to get special permission from the captain. But, given the circumstances, the captain felt that it was outrageous that someone be forced to sit next to such an obnoxious person.” With which, she turned to the black man sitting next to the woman, and said: “So if you’d like to get your things, sir, I have your seat ready for you…” At which point, the surrounding passengers stood and gave a standing ovation while the black guy walks up to the front of the plane.
… people will forget what you said ….
… people will forget what you did ….
… but people will never forget how you made them feel…