Thought for the Week – 25.11.19

“Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today”

MALCOLM X (1925-1965)

El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (May 19, 1925 – February 21, 1965), better known as Malcolm X, was an American Muslim minister and human rights activist who was a popular figure during the civil rights movement. He is best known for his controversial advocacy for the rights of black citizens; some consider him a man who indicted white America in the harshest terms for its crimes against black Americans, while others accused him of preaching racism and violence. He has been called one of the greatest and most influential African Americans in history.

Born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska, he spent his teenage years living in a series of foster homes following his father’s death and his mother’s hospitalisation. Little engaged in several illicit activities, and was eventually sentenced to ten years in prison in 1946 for larceny and breaking and entering. In prison, he joined the Nation of Islam (NOI) and changed his name to Malcolm X because, he later wrote, Little was the name that “the white slave-master … had imposed upon [his] paternal forebears”. After being paroled in 1952, he quickly became one of the organisation’s most influential leaders.

During the civil rights movement, Malcolm X served as the public face of the controversial group for a dozen years, where he advocated for black supremacy, the separation of black and white Americans, and rejected the notion of the civil rights movement for its emphasis on racial integration. He also expressed pride in some of the social achievements he made with the Nation, particularly its free drug rehabilitation program. In the 1950s, Malcolm X endured surveillance from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for the Nation’s supposed links to Communism.

In the 1960s, Malcolm X began to grow disillusioned with the Nation of Islam, and in particular, with its leader Elijah Muhammad. Expressing many regrets about his time with them, which he had come to regard as largely wasted, he instead embraced Sunni Islam. Malcolm X then began to advocate for racial integration and disavowed racism after completing Hajj, whereby he also became known as el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz. After a brief period of travel across Africa, he notably repudiated the NOI, and founded Muslim Mosque, Inc. (MMI) and the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU) to emphasize Pan-Africanism.

Throughout 1964, his conflict with the NOI intensified, and on February 21, 1965, he was assassinated by three of its members. Malcolm X Day is celebrated in various cities and countries worldwide, and hundreds of streets and schools in the U.S. are named in his honour.