Born as Malcolm Little in Omaha in 1925, Malcolm X’s childhood and life as a young adult was contrastingly different to his adulthood. Moving from a foster home to reform school, he eventually ended up working as a waiter in Harlem. It was during this time that he began selling marijuana, became addicted to cocaine and eventually ended up in prison for ten years.
This is where Malcolm X had his opening. Becoming a disciple of Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X transformed very quickly into a moral and ethical individual. In this article, we present to you excerpts from the Autobiography of Malcolm X, in an attempt to commemorate the remarkable life of an individual who gave his life for racial and social justice.
Take One Step Toward Allah
In a chapter titled ‘Satan’ in his autobiography, Malcolm X makes mention of giving up pork meat. A friend of his had sent him a letter informing him that giving up pork and smoking was the quickest and best way to get out of prison. His friend had joined the Nation of Islam and believed that making small changes such as these would acquit Malcolm X from his long sentence.
Malcolm took these instructions seriously and on one occasion when he was served pork meat, he immediately pushed the tray to another inmate. At this point he mentioned:
“It made me very proud, in some odd way. One of the universal images of the Negro, in prison and out, was that he couldn’t do without pork. It made me feel good to see that my not eating it had especially startled the white convicts. Later I would learn, when I had read and studied Islam a good deal, that, unconsciously, my first pre-Islamic submission had been manifested. I had experienced, for the first time, the Muslim teaching, ‘If you will take one step toward Allah – Allah will take two steps toward you’.”
Evil Does Not Bend Its Knees
Throughout his time in prison, Malcolm received many letters telling him to start praying towards the East and to turn to Allah. But there was something innately that prevented him from doing so. He writes:
“I had to force myself to bend my knees. And waves of shame and embarrassment would force me back up. For evil to bend its knees, admitting its guilt, to implode the forgiveness of God, is the hardest thing in the world. It’s easy for me to see and to say that now. But then, when I was the personification of evil, I was going through it. Again, again, I would force myself back down into the praying-to-Allah posture. When finally I was able to make myself stay down – I didn’t know what to say to Allah.”
We all know that humans dislike accepting their own flaws, let alone professing them. Despite being in prison, Malcolm X knew deep down that he had a spiritual bruise that required attending. Admitting to this condition must have been a difficult thing to do, yet it also made him realise his one and only problem; his ugly state. Through these words, we realise the importance of accepting and realising that before we make any changes, we need to diagnose any spiritual ailments.
Eagerness to Learn
Malcolm didn’t start off as a studious person. Initially, he could barely write well and would often struggle with a wide word base. It was when he began writing often to his friends and family, that he thought about expanding his vocabulary. There was something bugging him about knowing only a few words. He therefore took advantage of the wide range of books available in the library and began reading, writing and memorising.
“I saw that the best thing I could do was get hold of a dictionary – to study, to learn some words. It was sad. I couldn’t even write in a straight line. I was so fascinated that I went on – I copied the dictionary’s next page. And the same experience came when I studied that. I suppose it was inevitable that as my word-base broadened, I could for the first time pick up a book and read and now begin to understand what the book was saying. Anyone who has read a great deal can imagine the new world that opened. Let me tell you something: from then until I left that prison, in every free moment I had, if I was not reading in the library, I was reading on my bunk. You couldn’t have gotten me out of books with a wedge. …I never had been so truly free in my life.”
The Hajj of Malcolm X
During his Hajj, Malcolm wrote several letters to various people with vivid descriptions of his pilgrimage. Thanks to his powerful and truthful confessions, Muslims to this day commemorate his words. Below we present parts of his letter:
“Never have I witnessed such sincere hospitality and the overwhelming spirit of true brotherhood as is practised by people of all colours and races here in this ancient Holy Land, the home of Abraham, Muhammad [PBUH], and all the other prophets of the Holy Scriptures. For the past week, I have been utterly speechless and spellbound by the graciousness I see displayed all around me by people of all colours.
There were tens of thousands of pilgrims, from all over the world. They were of all colors, from blue-eyed blonds to black-skinned Africans. But we were all participating in the same ritual, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe never could exist between the white and the non-white.
America needs to understand Islam because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem. Throughout my travels in the Muslim world, I have met, talked to, and even eaten with people who in America would have been considered “white” – but the ‘white’ attitude was removed from their minds by the religion of Islam. I have never before seen sincere and true brotherhood practised by all colors together, irrespective of their color.
Juber Ahmed is our Digital Editor and travel enthusiast with a keen interest in Islamic history and heritage. He travels with his wife to various places around the world and writes about his experiences.
Juber's favourite Quote...
"The World Is a Book and Those Who Do Not Travel Read Only One Page" [Saint Augustine]