Malcolm X, the most influential Black Muslim leader, was a man whose views and personality underwent so many changes that the final version of him bore little or no resemblance to the original one. In the book, 'Autobiography of Malcolm X', Alex Haley has highlighted all the changes that his political and social ideologies encountered and this helps us understand the complex multi-faceted personality of the man who had a profound impact on Black Muslims in America. The paper covers all the changes and carefully analyzes the events and incidents that caused those changes.
Malcolm X is probably one of the most controversial Muslim leaders of America because there are so many shades to his personality that it takes some time to figure out who the real Malcolm X was and what was it that he actually stood for. It is important to understand that during the course of his life, the man went through many prominent and profound experiences which brought about significant changes in his personality and beliefs and thus the 'final Malcolm' was starkly different from the 'original Malcolm'. We need to focus on those experiences and the changes they introduced in his beliefs in order to discover the real Malcolm X or Malcolm X as he was in his final days. In the book, 'The Autobiography of Malcolm X' by Alex Haley, the subject admits that, "My whole life had been a chronology of changes...." (Haley, 404). Though we can never be certain of the validity of the facts contained in this book, still many feel that this book is the most authentic and original account of Malcolm X's life because it is based on genuine interviews with the man himself.
In the early days of Malcolm's life, when he was still a young child, it was not the religion or religious beliefs that he was interested in but it was the racial hatred and segregation that existed in the American society that he sought to highlight and eliminate. Thus during the early period of his life, Malcolm was more concerned about racism that plagued American society and religion was only a matter of personal choice. He was Roman Catholic by birth and thus Christianity was the only religion he knew anything about until one significant period introduced him to the world of Islam. It is important to know that in order to understand the changes that Malcolm X's personality and beliefs underwent, we need to study each important event and incident in his life separately in order to assess the magnitude of change that resulted from that experience.
When Malcolm was a young child, he was introduced to the concept of black pride by his father who wanted him to grow up as an individual and not merely an imitator or follower of the white race. Malcolm repeatedly encountered racial segregation in Michigan and this is what turned him against the white society and its so-called superiority complex. When he moved to Boston to stay with his sister, Malcolm ran into a young street hustler who introduced him to the evils that existed in the Harlem society. In order to protect himself from the white racist attacks, he sought a different kind of strength, one that originated from the world of crime. It is quite incredible that a man who was once known for his anti-social activities turned into one of America's most influential Black Muslim leader and inspired millions towards a life of peace and non-violent resistance.
During these days, his views were all connected with one central notion: white man was the devil and thus he must be eliminated from the society. Due to his underworld activities during the Harlem period, Malcolm was sent to jail for seven years. This was another important period of his life in which he came to the realization that crime was the not the right path towards self-discovery. And thus he not only gave up the criminal activities but was also sought knowledge that eventually exposed him to completely new and more profound set of religious beliefs.
Kim Gaines writes about this experience and its impact on Malcolm's life, "This imprisonment would, ironically, be the beginning of a new kind of freedom for Malcolm X While in prison, Malcolm experienced a renewed interest in education, and studied intently. It was also during this period that he embraced the teachings of Elijah Muhammad, "The Messenger," and leader of the Nation of Islam, whose philosophies on black power and aggressive social change rang familiar to Malcolm. When he left prison in August 1952, he left as a new man." (5)
The changes that occurred in his personality after the jail experience were not limited to religious beliefs only, Malcolm found himself with completely new set of political and social views. He advocated 'black pride' and urged black men and women to treat white people as evil elements of the society. This was one significant political and social view that he cultivated during his time in prison but fortunately for him and the black race, this view was soon discarded but that took another important event which can be termed as the life-altering moment for Malcolm X But before this experience and related observations took place, Malcolm was actively advocating black superiority and somehow made his people believe that theirs was the chosen race. It was during these days, that Malcolm was accused of being a racist and an anti-Semitic and many viewed his activities as violent. He openly advocated mob violence for self-defense purposes and maintained that this was the only political tactic that could help eliminate the 'devil's influence'.
During a speech In November 1963, the support for violence was evident when Malcolm interpreted the message contained in Muslim Holy book, the Koran, in these words; "There is nothing in our book, the Koran, that teaches us to suffer peacefully. Our religion teaches us to be intelligent. Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery. That's a good religion." ("Message to the Grass Roots," speech, Nov. 1963, Detroit)
Violence or active action was his way of conveying his message of black superiority to the American society and thus he was obviously not a big supporter of King Luther's passive action philosophy. To Malcolm X, white race was the problem while Luther held slightly different views and therefore while the former advocated violence, the latter condemned it. During this time, Malcolm X also demonstrated a ferociously independent spirit when he announced separation from Nation of Islam, an institution that was run by Elijah Mohammed. He decided to build the Muslim Mosque Inc., which was meant to be the gathering place for all Muslims regardless of their political views.
During an interview for Monthly Review in 1964, this is what Malcolm X said in connection with his split with the Nation of Islam, "Well, I did encounter opposition within the Nation of Islam. Many obstacles were placed in my path...I felt that I could best circumvent these obstacles and expedite his program better by remaining out of the Nation of Islam and establishing a Muslim group that is an action group designed to eliminate the same ills that the teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad have made so manifest in this country."
This was an important event in his life because it gave birth to the side of Malcolm X, which was absolutely independent and fearless. The Muslim leader was now no longer afraid to preach Islam on his own without constant backing and support of his mentor. The student turned into the most influential teacher and the split was an important sign of the change.
With the pilgrimage to Mecca, Malcolm X entered the final and most significant phase of 'change', one that gave new meaning and dimension to his political and social ideologies. It was the Hajj, as the pilgrimage is known as in the Muslim world, that had the most profound impact on Malcolm X's personality. Change that occurred during the journey was not limited to his name alone, it penetrated his soul and affected his political stand on the subject of racism and violence. During his journey, he found himself among Muslims from various countries of the world who stood together for the sake of religion and who were simply unaware of any kind of racial superiority or inferiority. This kind of casual indifference to racial matters was the one thing that taught Malcolm X the greatest lesson of his life. And for the first time he realized that race was the not the problem but it was the 'specific attitudes and actions toward the black man, and toward all other non-white men' (Haley, 333) that had resulted in a social system in America which was highly prejudiced and completely racist.
After Hajj, Malcolm X or El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz as he preferred to be called then, was a completely different…