"I'm for truth, no matter who tells it. I'm for justice, no matter who it is for or against. I'm a human being, first and foremost, and as such I'm for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole."
Forty-seven years after his assassination, Malcolm X's words still electrify us. On February 21, 1965 an assassin's bullet cut short a life that was embarking on finding a cure for the societal cancer called racism in our country.
As we come to the end of the Black History Month, the story of El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz must be told. Although his journey from Malcolm Little to Malcolm X is often told, the world knows very little about his journey from Malcolm X to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz.
Without knowing what El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz stood and died for, one cannot really claim to know much about one of the greatest African American leaders ever to walk on this land.
Malcolm Little's childhood was tumultuous and torturous that reeled under relentless racism. He found himself in prison where people saw him as Satan incarnate. What they failed to notice was that Malcolm was human and, on account of this, he possessed the potential to rise even above the stature of angels.
In prison, Malcolm Little transformed to Malcolm X after joining the Nation of Islam (NOI) under the leadership of Elijah Muhammad. The Nation of Islam was one of the proto-Islamic movements of the 20th century. While its core beliefs pitted it against orthodox Islamic beliefs, it nevertheless provided a solid platform for the African Americans to rediscover their sense of identity, dignity, and confidence. While it used Islamic terminology, there was a chasm in how it dealt with the race relations which was in sharp contrast to orthodox Islam's teachings.
Malcolm X undertook with fervor the cause of Black Nationalism that NOI espoused. So strong was his conviction, sincerity, and will-power that within a short period, he transformed NOI from a fringe organization to a force to reckon with and garnered an exploding membership running into the hundreds of thousands.
However, Malcolm's journey was still to continue. Great men never stop learning. In 1964, Malcolm undertook a journey to Mecca for the annual pilgrimage called the Hajj. This paved the way for his transformation from Malcolm X to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. His letter from Mecca tells us of this spiritual transformation.
"Never have I witnessed such sincere hospitality and the overwhelming spirit of true brotherhood as practiced by people of all colors and races here in this Ancient Holy Land, the home of Abraham, Muhammad and all 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 colors.
There were tens of thousands of pilgrims, from all over the world. They were of all colors, from blue eyed blonds to black skin Africans. But we were all participating in the same rituals, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe never could exist between the white and 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 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 practiced by all colors together, irrespective of their color.
You may be shocked by these words coming from me. But on this pilgrimage, what I have seen, and experienced, has forced me to re-arrange much of my thought patterns previously held, and to toss aside some of my previous conclusions. This was not too difficult for me. Despite my firm convictions, I have always been a man who tries to face facts, and to accept the reality of life as new experiences and new knowledge unfolds it. I have always kept an open mind, which is necessary to the flexibility that must go hand in hand with every form of intelligent search for truth."
A transformed Malcolm returned to America to face a mortal challenge to his new call to work for eradicating racism from our midst. After it became clear that he was a marked man, targeted by more than one power base, he wrote the following:
"If I can die having brought any light, having exposed any meaningful truth that will help destroy the cancer of racism that is malignant in the body of America - then, all the credit is due to God. Only the mistakes have been mine."
His life gave hope to millions and spurred on countless others to continue on the path he blazed.
As we come to the end of the Black History Month, the story of El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz must be told and re-told.