What If Malcolm X Were Alive Today? (with no mention of Islam)

Picture of Malcolm XWhat If Malcolm X Were Alive Today? - Jack & Jill Politics

This article was published on 20th February, but I only noticed it when it was linked off the Womanist Musings weekly link list. The article examines the history of other leaders of the Civil Rights era including Edridge Cleaver who subsequently became “a cheerleader for the very American way of life he once despised” and was a Republican at the time of his death. The author said he had interviewed Malcolm’s brother who told him that, contrary to popular misconception that he was an “integrationist”, he was in fact a “Black nationalist” and that “Malcolm knew that the ideal is certainly for all of us to get along—King’s Beloved Community, in fact—but that blacks needed to take care of that nagging problem of their powerlessness before mingling with anyone else—or not to lose sight of that goal in their mingling”.

The piece nowhere mentions the role Islam was playing in Malcolm X’s life, and the fact that he had specifically converted from the race-based sect run by Elijah Muhammad to mainstream Islam which shuns racial exclusivity, after seeing pilgrims of different races and classes mingling while wearing the same simple clothing (this is, of course, not true in much of the Muslim world, but was true enough during the Hajj, particularly at that time before all the luxury hotels had been built). This is a huge oversight in examining what route his life, and politics, would have taken had he not been murdered. Quite apart from anything else, if his assassins (generally believed to have been from the Nation of Islam) had failed in their mission, Malcolm X’s position would have been strengthened and theirs drastically weakened.

It is entirely possible that Malcolm’s, or Malik’s, subsequent path would have had more to do with Islam than with race. These days he has a lot of admirers in the Muslim community and many converts to Islam of all races (including myself) were influenced by reading his autobiography, although I did many years before I did convert. I’ve heard Hamza Yusuf (an imam in California, who is white) refer to him quite a lot, and once said that at the time of Malik’s death, he was planning to bring scholars from Sudan to serve his community. Of course, what Muslims admire now is the Malcolm X of the brief period between his pilgrimage and his murder; nobody knows what would have happened if he had lived, because it did not happen.

If he had retained a position of leadership in a mainstream Islamic community, he would have had people attending who were of every race as no mosque is racially exclusive (some have rules that restrict “membership” and voting rights to specific religious movements that only exist in specific places and their diasporas, but never, to my knowledge, explicit racial exclusivity). So, all kinds of people would have been coming to him for advice and having him officiating at their weddings and family funerals, etc., and he would have had to get over any hostility towards the people coming to the mosque he ran. I know there are a number of Muslims who believe that the course of American Muslim history would have been very different had Malcolm X remained in the picture, in particular, the “Hanafi Muslims” versus “Nation of Islam” bloodshed in the late 1970s and the acrimony in the “salafi” Muslim community in the mid 1990s. But this is all speculation; the fact remains that Malcolm X was shot, and what would otherwise have happened never was going to happen. It makes even less sense, though, to consider the possibility of Malcolm X not dying in 1965 and totally ignore his dedication to Islam.

Image source: Wikimedia.

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