With the Name of Allah, the extremely Merciful at this very moment, and the extremely Merciful at all times.
On Feb. 21, 1965, assassins charged the Audubon Ballroom in the Washington Heights district of NYC and shot an innocent man on stage.
Such was the end to the short life of Malcolm X.
Malcolm X- born Malcolm Little- was anything but “little.” The impact he had while he was alive and continues to have after his death is a testament to the power of intelligence, sincerity, and purpose.
One could write many posts about Malcolm X- articulate and charismatic, truthful and courageous, a man of purpose, a life of redemption, insightful and reflective; the list goes on.
Similarly, there are many lessons we can learn from the life of Malcolm X. The few that I have listed here are what come to my mind immediately.
A Self Taught Man
Perhaps the most intriguing part about Malcolm’s life was his time in prison, a time of introspection and discovering purpose. His unabashed sense to seek knowledge from every corner, his unwillingness to give up when he had difficulty reading and understanding Emerson and Thoreau, his stubbornness to continue to read from the small prison lamp during “lights out,” (which he later developed an astigmatism from); Malcolm X is a sign for us. Whatever we want to learn about, we should cut the excuses and go learn about it.
Many of us in the Muslim community feel handicapped because we don’t have the ability to sit at the feet of the scholars in Madinah and Azhar or other institutions and learn our religion from the best of sources. So as an excuse, we leave seeking knowledge all together.
While it’s true we may never be like Nouman Ali Khan and be able to pick apart verses from the Qur’an grammatically and seamlessly blend it into our lives, we can do our part and familiarize ourselves with basic tenets of the faith. We should be engaging the Qur’an and trying to understand it. We should be reading about the life of the Prophet (saw) and trying to implement his example. In the age of YouTube and widespread availability of books, there are many scholars to listen to and topics to read about that enable us to receive an informal education on Islam. We should be self teaching ourselves as much as possible when a teacher isn’t available so that we may make a difference in our lives and the lives of others.
I’m not claiming someone can become a scholar by self teaching. This only occurs when a person sits with the scholars in our distinguished institutions. But we should all know enough about our religion to feel comfortable believing in it as truth and enough to build a meaningful relationship with Allah. To self study the religion takes hard work and discipline, but with sincerity, we may be surprised with how much we can learn.
Nevertheless, Malcolm X is proof that anyone can make leaps and bounds in their intellect and understanding if they are sincere and devoted to learning. He transformed himself from a hustler to an intellectual who captivated the minds of his people and struck fear into the hearts of his enemies- not by a physically intimidating presence, but by self teaching and carefully chosen words.
“My alma mater was books, a good library…. I could spend the rest of my life reading, just satisfying my curiosity.” – Malcolm X
Malcolm X never studied formally at an Islamic University. He didn’t memorize the Qur’an. And he didn’t live long enough to have years of prayers under his belt. But he is still a hero to Muslims; partly because he was sincere. When he learned the ropes of being a hustler, he put great effort into being the best at his craft. As soon as he joined the Nation of Islam, he put his heart into making it succeed as Minister. When he went to Hajj, and soon after learned the true nature of Islam, he again changed his mind and became sincere in correcting his wrongs and changing his platform to further advance his cause.
Some people may look at this career and say he’s a “flip flop” and changes his opinion on a whim. I call it maturity. A “flip flop” would change his opinion to suit the desires of the people and protect himself from backlash. Malcolm did the opposite, whenever he changed his opinion he received backlash. A truly mature individual is an individual who admits he is wrong when he is wrong and changes an incorrect position to the correct position, and a sincere individual is an individual who gives his full effort to see what he believes as truth succeed, even if it comes at the expense of popularity. Malcolm X exhibited both maturity and sincerity as a member of the Nation and when he left the Nation; and truthfully, his entire life.
Likewise,we shouldn’t be afraid to change our position when the correct position is proven to us, and we should work sincerely towards achieving goals that we have set out for ourselves, even if we become unpopular in the process.
A Life of Purpose
In the introduction of Malcolm X’s autobiography, M.S. Handler writes:
“Although many could not share his Muslim religious beliefs, they found in Malcolm’s puritanism a standing reproach to their own lives. Malcolm had purged himself of all the ills that afflict the depressed Negro mass: drugs, alcohol, tobacco, not to speak of criminal pursuits. His personal life was impeccable-of a puritanism unattainable for the mass. Human redemption-Malcolm had achieved it in his own lifetime, and this was known to the Negro community.”
Malcolm X is a role model to anyone who wants to stand up for the truth. He is a role model to those struggling with addiction, whether its drugs, alcohol, tobacco, or anything else. Because he was able to rise above societal ills that are present even today, he remains a symbol of hope for those who have forsaken hope. He became a different person- he feared for his life when he was a hustler, but expected to die in the line of duty as a civil rights leader. What changed?
For one, he started to live a purposeful life- a life devoted to Allah and the service of his people, then to a nation, and then to the hearts of the people of the world. He learned the hard way that a life devoid of purpose is a life of temporary pleasure, and he learned that a life lived in the service of Allah and the greater good was a purpose worth living for.
I’m no expert on the life of Malcolm X. From my limited study, I find a sincere self taught man that lived a life of purpose, an excellent role model for anyone- and especially Muslims- to follow.
For Muslims, we have examples from the past and present. Every Prophet is a role model and the best example. The companions of the Prophet (saw) are also beautiful examples. But since they are either Prophets or lived around the Prophet (saw), people sometimes find it hard to emulate them. So we have the examples of those who came after, the great Imam’s- Abu Hanifah, Ahmad, Malik, Shafiee, Bukhari- and heroes of history like Salahuddin Ayyubi. But they were from the past, and some people may still have trouble relating to them.
So we move to the modern age, and among its heroes is Malcolm X; a man people can relate to, a hero people can look up to.
On Feb. 21, 1965, assassins charged the Audubon Ballroom in the Washington Heights district of NYC and shot Malcolm X on stage.
And 47 years later, his legacy has not been forgotten, and the struggle continues.
May Allah forgive his shortcomings, amplify his good deeds, and grant him mercy and paradise, ameen.