The Sunni Islamic Training And Mission Of El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz/Malcolm X
by Imam Al-Hajj Talib Abdur-Rashid
In spite of the words of the Star-Spangled Banner and other American odes to truth and justice, the real measuring stick for freedom in The United States of America was and is its treatment of African Americans, with regards to Social Justice matters. The most famous and influential champion of both Allah’s Cause of the establishment of Al-Islam, and the pursuit of social justice for his people, was El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X, may Allah’s Mercy and Favor be upon him).
The two major voices for Social Justice in America, at least during the latter half of the 20th Century, were El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz - a Muslim, and Dr. Martin Luther King - a Christian. The significance of Shabazz as a leader with a voice echoing a prophetic social justice dimension, has been written about often, by both non-Muslims and Muslims. Professor James Cone , author of Martin and Malcolm and America, describes the two men as “resources in the struggle for justice” . He wrote of them (pp. ix,x):
“Martin and Malcolm illuminate the two roads to freedom (i.e. “ the two main resistance traditions in African-American history and culture- integration and nationalism”) that meet in the African-Americans search for identity in the land of their birth.”
“The reason that sympathetic interpreters often miss the central role of religion in Malcolm’s thinking is that religion is commonly separated from struggles for justice. That was why Martin had such difficult time getting the white church involved in the civil rights movement, and why liberation theologians in the Third World are so controversial today.
“Many people think that religion has everything to do with an individual’s personal relationship with God and nothing to do with society and one’s fight for justice in it. When Malcolm X identified the fight for justice as the central religious act , his message was usually misunderstood. His friends often avoided the subject of religion and ignored the strict moral code he faithfully obeyed. Malcolm’s enemies accused him of using religion as a façade for fomenting hate and violence.”
“Even though Martin is generally and appropriately credited with deep religious commitment, a case could be made that Malcolm was more religious than Martin…I contend that the depth of any religious commitment should be judged by one’s commitment to justice for humanity, using the liberation activity of humans beings as the lens through which one sees God. By this criterion both Martin and Malcolm must be considered deeply religious persons.” :
Although Shabazz and King will be forever linked in American history, in truth the Muslim acted as a deliberate counter-point to his Noble Peace-Prize winning contemporary. In words that would electrify American society if publicly spoken during this, the “post 9-11 world”, he once stated:
“No, I’m not an American. I’m one of the 22 million black people who are the victims of democracy, nothing but disguised hypocrisy. So I’m not standing here speaking to you as an American, or a patriot, or a flag-saluter , or a flag-waver – no, not I. I’m speaking as a victim of this American system. And I see America through the eyes of the victim. I don’t see an American dream. I see an American nightmare.”
Amongst Muslims, Shabazz/Malcolm X has been written of by Dr. Yusuf Naim Kly Dr. Kly is the former Chairman of the Canadian branch of the second group founded by Malik Shabazz, the Organization of Afro-American Unity. He has written of the man who had been his leader :
“It is ironic that when most Americans think of Malcolm X, they think of him as un-American or anti-American. However, this is no doubt due to confusion between his being against certain government policies, as opposed to being anti-American. When we look unemotionally at he political philosophy of Malcolm X, there can be little doubt that Malcolm’s values represented a far greater integration into the American majority system than, say, the political philosophy of the honorable Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. While King’s absolute belief in non-self-defense or nonresistance against violent aggression reflected strong Hindu or Buddhist orientation, Malcolm’s philosophy was really about the same as any majority American would hold, given similar circumstances and grievances…”
El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz was the most effective American-based international voice for liberation of African people. During his July, 1964 stay in Cairo, he made the following recommendations to conferees st the Organization of African Unity Summit:
- Civil Rights organizations in the United States have accomplished the most they can hope for under the existing conditions.
- The time has come to internationalize the American Negro problem so as to accentuate the struggle.
- This can be done only by linking the fate of the new African states with that of American Negroes.
- This can be done by employing the racial situation in the United States as and instrument of attack in discussing international problems.
- Such a strategy would give the African states more leverage in dealing with the United States and would in turn give American Negroes more leverage in American society.
This level of analysis and organization created tremendous concern and opposition in the circles of the American government. Intelligence sources began to circulate memos discussing neutralizing Shabazz.
Further, the importance of Shabazz (Malcolm X) to the African American psyche has been cited by Eugene Victor Wolfenstein in his book The Victims of Democracy: Malcolm X and the Black Revolution, where-in he states:
“Taken as a whole, we may represent the development of Malcolm’s self-consciousness as the process through which he learned to think for himself, to recognize that his sincerity was his credentials, and to accept the responsibility for revolutionary leadership
“This process, which Malcolm’s autobiography so clearly reveals, is a moving and dramatic affirmation of the human spirit. But its significance is neither simply individual nor abstractly universal. As Malcolm’s speeches and the subsequent role played by The Autobiography of Malcolm X indicate, his experience became a medium for the reproduction of that experience in others. He became a mirror in which black people saw reflected their pain and rage, and he provided interpretations of that pain and rage which led to both insight and to action. His interpretation of the black American experience provided insight into the souls of black folk for black folk themselves and, by so doing, led toward organized black revolutionary action…In sum, Malcolm represented the interests and mobilized the emotional resources of the black masses and black people in general.”
Carew (author of Ghosts In Our Blood) writes (pg. 103) of Malcolm X:
“He was one of those rare speakers who always gave his best to his listeners, and through his discourse he took them into his confidence. He was at different times a teacher, a storyteller, and a griot. He could use words to distill he collective griefs of Black people and transform them into hard, crystalline calls for action. His was an eloquent exercise in Aristotle’s catharsis and purging and purging of the spirit as he shifted the collective mood deftly from the somber to the amused and from the indignant to the sad and the triumphant”.
In a masterfully ironic turn of history, Malik Shabazz furthered a struggle envisioned by his parents, both of whom were followers of the honorable Marcus Garvey. It is well-known that his father, who was a proud defender of his family and his people, was killed when Shabazz was a young boy. Although it is not known exactly what Earl Little (Malcolm X’s father) was doing on the night of his death, he was undoubtedly attacked and killed then by White Supremacists (the original American terrorists). According to Evanzz , this brave man had been generally gathering signatures on a petition being circulated by the followers of Garvey, on his instructions. The petition was designed to bring the grievances of people of African descent before the League of Nations; the forerunner of the United Nations.
This was never done, as the U.S. government itself conspired to exploit the weaknesses of Garvey’s nobly intended organization (the United Negro Improvement Association), destabilize it, and destroy both it and its leader. This campaign was led by a fledgling commander of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (the F.B.I.), named J. Edgar Hoover.
The great African American freedom fighter and world citizen Paul Robeson, took up this cause and along with another gallant activist named William Patterson, did in fact submit a petition requesting relief for African Americans in the denial of their human rights. When Malcolm X left the Nation of Islam and began his evolution into El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, the Sunni Muslim revolutionary and inheritor of the mantle of leadership embodied by his father, his father’s leader (Garvey), and Robeson, he took up that same struggle.
Not only did El-Shabazz/Malcolm X permanently etch the strategy or pursuit of human rights upon the consciousness of Americans of African descent, but he actually lobbied and gained support for the move amongst leaders in Africa and the Middle East. He did so during a time when the image of the United States as a defender of global freedoms was vulnerable.
Like Garvey and Robeson, Shabazz too was the object of covert intelligence operations carried out by the U.S. government on the orders of Hoover; who saw them as he later would see Dr. Martin Luther King, and all American strugglers for freedom, including Civil Rights and “Black Power” leaders and organizations, the Native American and
Puerto Rican Independence Movements, and the Anti-War Movement of the Vietnam Era. Hoover and those in power over him in the Executive Branch, considered these true patriots enemies of America, and acted accordingly by implementing COINTELPRO .
Nonetheless, Shabazz/Mallcolm X succeeded in firmly planting within the analytic and tactical manual of social struggle in America, the notion that it must be human rights and not just civil rights oriented. This is and continues to be a major point being pursued by American activists, as exhibited by the Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, held in Durban, South Africa, during then end of August and beginning of September,2001. It is exactly the type of forum that El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz helped bring into existence, with his ideas, influence, and vision. He would have reveled in its proceedings.
Post-Nation of Islam Work
The indefatigable work of Malcolm X in building the Nation of Islam is well known, as are the circumstances of his departure from Elijah Muhammad’s proto-Islamic organization. Not as well known to some people though, is the breadth of his vision, and the work he began after his departure from the so-called Nation of Islam, and acceptance of the authentic faith of Al-Islam.
While it is true that at first he and those of his followers who made hijra from the so-called Nation of Islam didn’t know a great deal about canonical Islam , none can deny that he was firmly on the True Path when he was martyred. His conversion was conscientious, and based upon knowledge-not just sincerity.
Beginning in early March, 1964 Malik Shabazz received almost nightly Islamic instructions for several weeks from Dr. Mahmoud Yussef Shawarbi; then director of the Islamic Center of New York (an institution that now shines on the corner of E. 96th Street and Third Avenue in Manhattan, New York City). On March 12, 1964 he held a press conference at the Park Sheraton hotel in New York City, during which he stated “I am going to organize and head a new mosque in New York City, known as the Muslim Mosque Inc. This gives us a religious base, and the spiritual force necessary to rid our people of the vices that destroy the moral fiber of our community”.
True to his word, on March 16, 1964, he and his followers who were ex-members of the so-called Nation of Islam, combined their efforts with other Sunni Muslim African-Americans, to legally incorporate the Muslim Mosque Inc.
George Breitman writes “Malcolm founded a religious organization first, because he and most of the people willing to work with him at that point wanted to remain Muslims although outside of the Nation of Islam.”
Their religious intent in forming the mosque is evident in their stated purpose, outlined in the seven points of their certificate of incorporation:
“To provide a suitable place of worship for its members and others in accordance with the Islamic Faith.
“ To maintain a house of study for the advancement of the Islamic Faith and Religion.
“To stimulate interest among the members in the formation, maintenance, and the teachings of the Islamic Faith.
“To publish textbooks, pamphlets, brochures, and to solicit, collect and in other manners raise funds for the hereinabove and hereinafter enumerated purposes..
“ To work for the imparting of the Islamic Faith and Islamic Religion in accordance with the accepted Islamic Religious principles.
“ To purchase, lease, acquire, sell and mortgage improved or unimproved real property and any interest therein.
“The foregoing clauses shall be considered both as objects and purposes, and it is hereby expressly provided that the foregoing enumerated specific objects and purposes shall not be held to limit or restrict in any manner the powers of this corporation, but that this corporation shall be entitled to enjoy all the powers that a religious corporation may have under and by virtue of the Laws of the State of New York.”
Thus it is clear that the stated intention and purpose of the Muslim Mosque Inc. encompassed the traditional areas of (Sunni) Islamic belief , doctrine and practice, namely ibaadat (worship), tarbiyya (religious education), da’wah (propogation of the Faith), ‘Aqeeda (traditional binding beliefs, understanding and actualizing Islam in accordance with “accepted Islamic principles”, and thus separating themselves from the NOI), and ‘iqaamatud-din (establishment of the faith through institutionalization).
El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz/Malcolm X departed the U.S. for hajj on April 13,1964. He completed his pilgrimage and then went on to visit Africa and the so-called Middle East. When he returned to the United States, Shabazz continued his mission of liberation of the oppressed African American masses.
The strategic plan formulated by him called for two-pronged leadership amongst his followers. He arranged for Koli Ahmad Tawfiq (founding Imam of The Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood Inc. ) to take the entrance exam to Al-Azhar University. When Tawfiq passed the exams he was dispatched to that esteemed institution as part of a plan that called for him to eventually become the first African-American Imam of the Muslim Mosque Inc, which never happened. At that time prayers were being led and guidance according to the Sunna was provided, by a Shaykh from the Sudan named Ahmad Hassoun. Shabazz continued to lead the Organization of Afro-American Unity – providing political leadership for the African American masses, while the M.M.I. was being built for provision of spiritual leadership.
Tawfiq began matriculation at Al-Azhar in September, 1964. At the same time Shabazz returned to Makka, to make Umra (the lesser hajj), having been in Cairo since July. Much attention has been made to Malik Shabazz’s political activities during this, his second tour of Africa and the so-called Middle East. His meetings with heads of state, observances of various political proceedings, and speeches before such august bodies as the Organization of African Unity were vitally important for his cause. They also brought him much attention and targeting by the U.S. government. At the same time though, he was also furthering his own religious training on the path of the Sunna (prophetic tradition of the Messenger of Allah, Prophet Muhammad Ibn Abdullah, may the Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him).
Sunni Muslim Training and Education
During a four month period of time from July through October of 1964, Shabazz studied Al-Islam under the supervision of the Supreme Council on Islamic Affairs in Cairo, Egypt and the Muslim World League in Saudi Arabia. His training and education was not designed to make him an imam or ‘alim, but rather to further correct his understanding of dinul-Islam and to strengthen his qualification as America’s most visible Sunni Muslim and potential da’ee (propagator of the faith of Al-Islam).
In Saudi Arabia, Shabazz/Malcolm X’s studies were supervised by Shaykh Muhammad Sarur As-Sabban, the Secretary-General of theMuslim World League . During this period of time, The University of Medina offered Shabazz 15 scholarships for young African Americans, to go along with those offered by Al-Azhar. Thus it is evident that those detractors who think that Malik Shabazz had no formal Islamic training according to the Sunna are clearly mistaken. In fact, his intensive training occupied five of the last eleven months of his life.
Both Decaro and Edward E. Curtis IV quote Richard Murphy, who was an American embassy official in Jedda, Saudi Arabia in 1964, as reporting an interview between Shabazz and a reporter that published in the Jeddan newspaper Al-Bilad. During it, Murphy wrote, “Malcolm X stressed his pleasure at his visits to Saudi Arabia and their benefit to his personal spiritual development. He took pain during this conversation to deprecate his reputation as a political activist and dwelt mainly on his interest in bringing sounder appreciation of Islam” to African Americans.
Further, it must be stated here that Shabazz envisioned a connection between Islam and Muslims in Africa and in America, as evidenced by the photograph that he took wearing the traditional turban and robes of the Jamaa’at of the esteemed Muslim leader, Imam, Shaykh, and reviver of The Faith, Uthman Ibn Fudi (Usuman Dan Fodiyo), in Nigeria (May Allah forgive the sins of the Shehu and reward him with Paradise, amin).
This has been clearly indicated by the Amir of that Jamaat in North America, Muhammad Shareef ibn Farid. The traditional African Muslim robes and turban were presented to Shabazz by a Nigerian government official, described by Peter Goldman as the “Nigerian High Commissioner”.
Dr. Yusuf Naim Kly, a Muslim who is former Chairman of the Canadian Branch of the Organization of Afro-American Unity (the political organization founded by El-Hajj Malik) and an internationally reknown scholar of International Law, verifies this desire as expessed by Malik Shabazz, in writing :
“…under the guidance of Dr. Mahmoud Youseff Shawabi, Imam of the New York Islamic Center, Hajji Malik El Shabazz accepted Sunni Islam as his personal faith, made the hajj to Mecca, and traveled to Africa wherein he became engaged with the following three major concerns that occupied the remainder of his attention until his untimely death in the Audubon Ballroom that winter Sunday of 1965:
- The introduction of the Islamic civilization into America . The introduction of the Afro-American question to the United Nations
- The organization of an authentic internationally-recognized Afro-American national liberation movement
- The replacement of the irresponsible traditional negro leadership, for without this no meaningful changes or new conceptualizations could reach the masses.”
This it is evident that Shabazz’s first priority was the establishment of Al-Islam in the West, and that his close second priority was the liberation of his people (African Americans) from oppression. He undoubtedly saw the former as essential to the latter. So sweeping and comprehensive was the scope of Shabazz’s work that after his passing it was taken up by several organizations, Muslim and non-Muslim, all of whom have built entire platforms of activity, work and action, around only various parts of the MMI program.
The threads of El-Hajj Malik’s life and work as a reflection of the history of Al-Islam in America, manifested themselves even in his passing. According to Shaykh Hajj Hesham Jaaber many of the Imams of that time (i.e. the mid- 1960s) in New York and New Jersey, either couldn’t or wouldn’t (mostly wouldn’t) officiate over Shabazz’s burial ( due no doubt to fear of reprisal from either the U.S. government or the so-called Nation of Islam). In the M.M.I., Tawfiq was still a student in Egypt. Many of the soldiers of the M.M.I. were in a state of both covert and overt warfare with the so-called Fruit of Islam (FOI) of the Nation. Besides, at that time the soldiers lacked the knowledge of the Sunna to conduct traditional burial services, even if they had been in the position to do so.
Thus the remains of Malik Shabazz were prepared in the traditional Islamic way (i.e. according to the Sunna) by Shaykh Hassoun. The Janaza prayers were courageously led by Shaykh Jaaber (whose roots lie in the Addeynu Allahu Universal Arabic Association – a pioneering Sunni Muslim community founded in 1930), and Sunni Muslim African Americans from Elizabeth, New Jersey, including Haj Muhammad Taleeb, Yahya Bashir, Wakeel Abdu-Nafi, Jamil Abdul-Aziz, Yusef Abdu-Razzak, and Ismael Abdu-Ghani.
Other African American Sunni Muslims from what was affectionately known in New York City as the Ansar House were also trying to be of assistance. This is evidenced by a letter that had been left at the New York Medical Examiner’s office by one of the Ansar House’s representatives, Sister Hajjah Jamillah Hassan. The letter was intercepted by the New York City Police Department, and it is not clear whether or not Sister Betty Bahiyyah Shabazz (Malcolm X’s widow, May Allah forgive her sins and reward her too, with Paradise, amin) ever saw it. At any rate, Shaykhs Hassoun and Jabber saw to it the Malik Shabazz was properly prepared and buried.
Shaykh Jaaber has written , “History has recorded my participation at the Janaza of Haj Malik, but few in history have ever reported or known that we were an indigenous community of Sunnah Muslims, born, raised and touched by Allah on the soil of the United States”.
Lastly, Al-Hajj K. Ahmad Tawfiq, the founding Imam and Shaykh –‘Allaamah of the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood Inc. (May Allah forgive his sins and have mercy upon him) wrote of his leader, “The Holy Qur’an (The Holy Book of the Muslims) reads in Sura 2:Ayyat 154: ‘And speak not of those who are slain in Allah’s Way as dead. Nay, they are alive, but you perceive not.’
“A Muslim is taught that the doors of Paradise are flung open for those who die fighting in the way of Allah. So, may it be remembered that our dear, beloved brother in Islam, Malik El-Shabazz, was a Muslim who died fighting in the Way of Allah. In that faith, he knows no sadness and is at this very moment enjoying the fruits of his labor. For surely we belong to Allah and to Him we will return. “
Imam Al-Hajj Talib ‘Abdur-Rashid is the Imam of the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood Inc. in Harlem, New York (USA). He is also the Amir of the Harlem Shura, a Deputy Amir (Vice President) of the Majlis Ash-Shura of New York, and the Deputy Amir of The Muslim Alliance in North America (MANA)
Let there arise out of you a band of people inviting to all that is good, enjoining what is right, and forbidding what is wrong: They are the ones to attain felicity.