The Late Imam Al-Hajj Malik Shabazz (Malcolm X)
Malcolm X’s early life was marked by hardship, as he experienced a tumultuous upbringing after the death of his father and his mother’s hospitalization. Engaging in criminal activities, he was sentenced to a decade in prison for larceny and burglary in 1946. It was during his imprisonment that he found solace in the teachings of the Nation of Islam, adopting the name Malcolm X to reclaim his African heritage and reject the name given to him by his white oppressors. Upon his release in 1952, he swiftly rose to become one of the organization’s most influential leaders, advocating for Black empowerment and advocating for the separation of Black and White Americans. In his 12-year tenure as the public face of the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X criticized the mainstream civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King Jr., highlighting his disagreement with its nonviolent approach and emphasis on racial integration. However, he also took pride in the Nation’s social welfare accomplishments, such as its free drug rehabilitation program. Throughout the 1950s, Malcolm X was under constant surveillance by the FBI.
During his time with the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X established numerous temples along the East Coast, including Muhammad Mosque Number 40, which he founded in 1955. However, in the 1960s, he became disillusioned with the Nation of Islam and its leader, Elijah Muhammad. After completing the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, Malcolm X underwent a transformative experience and embraced Sunni Islam and the civil rights movement. He adopted the name “el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz,” signifying his spiritual journey and commitment to the struggle for racial justice. Following his travels across Africa, he publicly disavowed the Nation of Islam and founded the Islamic Muslim Mosque, Inc. (MMI) and the Pan-African Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU). In 1964, tensions with the Nation of Islam escalated, leading to multiple death threats against him. Tragically, on February 21, 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated in New York City. Three members of the Nation were charged with his murder and given life sentences, with two of the convictions being vacated in 2021. Speculation surrounding the assassination and potential involvement from higher-ranking members of the Nation or law enforcement agencies has persisted for decades.
Malcolm X remains a complex and polarizing figure, accused by some of promoting racism and violence. However, within African-American and Muslim American communities, he is widely revered for his unwavering pursuit of racial justice. His legacy is commemorated annually with Malcolm X Day in various cities across the United States. Numerous streets and schools have been renamed in his honor, and the Audubon Ballroom, the site of his assassination, was partially transformed in 2005 to accommodate the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center.