Monday February 21 was the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X, the charismatic and controversial leader of the Nation of Islam. Despite the many things he said with which I do not necessarily agree, Al Hajj Malik Al Shabazz will forever be one of the most important African-American leaders in American history.
I read his autobiography twice, and each time I read it I could not put it down. On the anniversary of his assassination, I was on call at the hospital, and thanks be to God, it was quiet enough to allow me to watch a documentary on PBS entitled, “Malcolm X: Make it Plain.” It chronicled his life and death, and it was as enjoyable to watch as his autobiography was enjoyable to read. One of the people interviewed during the documentary said something that blew me away. He said that had the Honorable Elijah Muhammad brought an “Arab” form of Islam to the African-American people, it would have been largely rejected.
That got me thinking…he’s absolutely right. The Islam that the Honorable Elijah Muhammad brought to African-Americans did differ greatly from “mainstream” Islam, but it was an Islam that was appropriate for them at that time. The Islam brought by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad spoke to the African-American man and woman in a language he or she understood, and it gave them self-respect and a dignity heretofore elusive. After the Hon. Elijah Muhammad died, his son, Wallace D. Muhammad, brought most of the Nation of Islam into “mainstream” Islam.
I believe this was God’s plan from the beginning. Had the Honorable Elijah Muhammad brought some sort of “Arab” Islam to the African-American in the 1930s, we would not have 40-45% of the American Muslim community be African-American today. Thus, the Nation of Islam, as it existed in the time of Malcom X, was truly a blessing, in more ways than one.
Many Muslims in the immigrant community, I suspect, fail to see this point. They focus so much on the Nation’s previous teachings that the White Man was the Devil and that Elijah Muhammad was the Messenger of God, that they fail to see the big picture: that Imam W.D. Muhammad ultimately brought African-American Muslims into the fold of traditional Islam; that African-American Muslims are as Muslim as any other Muslim who immigrated to this country.
Islam is a process of evolution, and for African-Americans, that process of evolution started with the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam and ended with Imam W.D. Muhammad and the Muslim American Society. Thus, there should be no schism between the immigrant Muslim community and the African-American Muslim community. Yet, a schism there is, and it is most distressing.
If immigrant Muslims look down upon African-American Muslims because of the past history of the Nation of Islam, that is wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. Although many African-American Muslims came to Islam through the Nation, not all of them did, and whether or not they came from the Nation of Islam should be completely immaterial. If the schism between the two communities exists because of racism in the ranks of immigrant Muslims, that is also wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. Our Lord and His Prophet taught us that the color of one’s skin is immaterial in Islam: we are all part of one ummah, and the best of us is the one whose piety is the greatest.
Watching that documentary was truly eye-opening for me. Not only did it teach me things about Malcolm X’s life I heretofore did not know, not only did it allow me to see and hear Brother Minister Malcolm X once again, but it also taught me the proper understanding of the Nation of Islam and my African-American brothers and sisters. And I thank God ever so profusely for that.