The recent Netflix series Who Killed Malcolm X, renewed my interest in the death of Malcolm X (1925-1965) and the Nation of Islam (“NOI”) under the guidance of Elijah Muhammad (1897-1975). Malcolm’s death is still revisited as one of the darkest moments in the Civil Rights Movement. Muhammad and his star pupil had long fallen out of favor after Malcolm’s death, rumors swirled that the leader of the NOI had ordered the assassination. No proof ever surfaced of it and whatever Muhammad did know, he took with him to his grave. He left behind a trove of writings, speeches and statements from public appearances that shed light on his thoughts regarding Islam, race and the future of America. In 1965, this book was published as Muhammad’s message to the black men of the United States.
Although I am not Muslim, I was curious to see what Muhammad had to say and if it would be relevant to me being a black American. I am familiar with some of the rhetoric from the NOI which Malcolm later sought to distance himself from. But the fact remains that Malcolm did receive from Muhammad many of the teachings that guided him as his responsibilties in the NOI continued to increase and hecame its brightest star. If there was one thing I was sure before starting the book, it was that Muhammad would not mince words. In fact, no one in the NOI minced words and their belief in full freedom and equality for black people is well-known and documented. But this is Muhammad’s show and he waste no time in getting his points across.
From the start, Muhammad directs his attention to Christianity and its role during slavery in America. Those who are devout Christians may find this argument to be difficult to read but it is imperative to remember these are his thoughts only and it is up to you to decide which religion is right for you. Further, he is speaking from the point of view of a member of the Islamic faith and there is no doubt that he believes in Allah as the savior for black people. He does make compelling arguments and in fact, uses scriptures from both the bible and Quran to make his case. However, the rhetoric is strong and the use of the term “devils” for white Americans and Europeans will undoubtedly be unsettling. I had to remind myself that today we would not see anything like this but in Muhammad’s era, the United States was a very different and violatile place. And perhaps if I had been born at the same time as Muhammad, I myself may have felt the same way. In end, some who read the book might decide to convert to Islam while others accept his argument and continue on with their lives as things are.
By far, the part of the book which seemed the most outlandish is the section about a scientist named Yakub, who apparently “created” the white race. I have never seen any documented evidence of such a person or evidence of notes, test, etc. I am inclined to believe that the story of Yakub is nothing more than a myth that continues to endure. Followers of the NOI may feel differently and I say to each his own. However, this theory of Yakub, forms the base of Muhammad’s arguments about the nature of the “white devils”. Some readers will surely roll their eyes at this part of the book.
Muhammad was a very sharp thinker but it is apparent in the book, that his voice is also laced with fierce emotion. It is almost as if you can feel him raising his voice as the book progresses. At one point, he does bring up the issue of the black woman which I found to be interesting and mystifying considering Muhammad’s well-known philandering. Much of it has flown under the public radar but I recommend Manning Marable’s Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention for a thorough discussion of what exactly did happen between Muhammad and the multiple secretaries he procreated with that helped cause the eventuall split with Malcolm. I could not help but feel that it was quite hypocritical for Muhammad to preach about taking care of the black woman while stepping out on his own wife Clara Muhammad (1899-1972).
In spite of the heavy rhetoric that relies on shock value, Muhammad does make a very good argument in his belief of black people not waiting for help from anyone but instead, going out and doing. Of all of the topics in the book, I firmly agree with him on this one in particular. His message about self-sustainability and actual progress is spot on and can be used by anyone regardless of race. His words about changing the future of black people are still relevant today and many more people should hear this argument. It is clear that he truly wanted the best for all black people. However, I do not agree with his views on integration. But again, I did not live in America in 1965 and did not experience the racism that black people faced on a daily basis. If I had, perhaps I would agree with Muhammad.
Today we can see in hindsight that Elijah Muhammad was right about some things but wrong on others. His prediction of America meeting its doom did not come to pass. And his argument against interracial marriage is still believed by some but interracial marriage continues to increase as more people turn to online dating and long-distance romance. The world that he knew is far different today and will be even more different by the time I reach my senior years. But Muhammad has his view and explains his position. It is up to the reader to accept or deny the argument.
Overall, the book is a mixed bag. Within its pages is truth, rhetoric, religious arguments and even outlandish theories. But Muhammad was not just an ordinary person. The NOI remains today but its public presence is scaled down considerably. But at one time, it was the focus of many Americans, seen as a group of black Muslims who were no longer accepting any excuses for the advancement of black people and other minorities. These are the words of its most famous leader for audiences of all types.