Many African-Americans from inner-cities have converted to Islam after reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X. They are inspired by his story of transformation, his willingness to stand up to the seemingly insurmountable powers that oppressed Black people, and his unwavering quest for justice for Black people. Brother Malcolm X was as Ossie Davis eulogized “our manhood, our living, black manhood! This was his meaning to his people. In honoring him, we honor the best in ourselves.” The question then arises: How do we as Muslims honor him?
Malcolm X’s focus was on the plight of Black people who were at the bottom of society. Ghettos were not simply the consequence of poverty but ghettos, poverty, mass-incarceration, and crime were a product of White American social policies aimed at oppressing Black people. He stated that “In the ghettos, the white man has built for us, he has forced us not to aspire to greater things, but to view everyday living as survival…” In Malcom X’s eyes, life in the ghetto was demoralizing causing many Black people to abandon nobler aspirations and virtues in pursuit of survival. Malcolm X himself had once been ensnared by its traps. Is there a system designed to undermine black people? The events in Malcolm X’s own life led him to the answer yes.
Malcolm X’s father, Earl Little, was murdered by the Ku Klux Klan. His mother, Louise Little, became traumatized. The fact that her husband’s murder was deliberately unsolved and that the foster care system maliciously hoovered over her fledgling household like vultures only to eventually take away her children was an excruciating burden that drove her insane. In foster care young Malcolm X would learn that America was pervasively racist. Though he excelled in school he had an eye opening experience. His white teacher asked the students what they wanted to be when they grew up. This simple question celebrates the innocence of children who are free from the cynicism of adults. When it was Malcolm X’s turn to answer he told his teacher that he wanted to be a lawyer. In cases where the answer seems impractical, it is human to let the child have their dreams but the teacher used the occasion to set straight the one black student in the class. He told him “that was no realistic goal for a nigger.”
This was the racist system that transformed an innocent child who aspired to be a lawyer into Detroit Red, a name Malcolm Little acquired in the streets. Detroit Red became a hustler, a thief, and a pimp. While in prison, Detroit Red earned an even worse nickname: Satan because of his anti-theist statements and behavior. Malcolm X aptly noted that one of the most enduring consequences of structural racism upon inner-city Black America was the loss of potential. He stated “All of us – who might have probed space, or cured cancer, or built industries – were, instead, black victims of the white man’s American social system.”(IbAl is not lost. Those in power are not all-powerful, all-seeing, or all-knowing. The individual, while socially surrounded by an unjust system, is not completely powerless. This is what the religion of Islam teaches: that by plugging into a source greater than yourself and your circumstances, the individual can transform themselves and others. This is what Malcolm learned. It was the religion of Islam that elevated him above the strictures of America’s ghettos. Malcolm X stated “I had sunk to the very bottom of the American white man’s society when-soon now, in prison-I found Allah and the religion of Islam and it completely transformed my life.” Malcolm transformed himself through practical spirituality. He stopped bad habits, became passionately curious about the world, exercised discipline, and organized men into forces of community improvement. He was a husband, father, leader of his people and a devout Muslim.
Recognizing the debt that he owed to Islam, he became a daee the Arabic word for a caller to Islam, as well as the most relentless and pensive critic of the white American power structure.
The Muslim Guide For Understanding Structural Racism and Its Impact on Black America aims to continue the legacy of Malcolm X in the fight against anti-black racism. This book was written specifically with the African-American Muslim convert in mind. It is a request for African-Americans who heeded the call of Islam to assume the mantle of striving against racial injustices; to take up the struggle that began with the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, and crystallized in the life and work of our brother Malcolm. We want to continue Malcolm X’s quest to rectify the Black plight and fight against the institutionalized forms of racism and its effects. This book is a step towards restoring the historic role of African-American Muslims in being leaders in raising the political consciousness of ordinary Black America; to convey to them what is happening around them and within their own communities; and to show to the broader Black community that African-American Muslims love and support their people.
Excerpt from the book The Muslim Guide For Understanding Structural Racism and Its Impact on Black America.