Malcolm X’s experiences at Hajj

Developing Just Leadership

Raziuddin Syed

Jumada' al-Ula' 21, 1437 2016-03-01

Islamic Movement

by Raziuddin Syed (Islamic Movement, Crescent International Vol. 45, No. 1, Jumada' al-Ula', 1437)

Malcolm X, born Malcolm Little into a Christian Baptist family (his father Earl Little was a Baptist preacher who was murdered by the Ku Klux Klan in 1931 and his body dumped on the tram track to make it appear like suicide), converted to Islam upon joining Elijah Muhammad’s movement, the Nation of Islam. His introduction to Elijah Muhammad’s teachings had come by way of his brother, Reginald, who had already joined the movement. Once out of prison, Malcolm became the most passionate and articulate advocate of the movement, opening numerous chapters in several states across the US. The two parted company in 1963 when Malcolm discovered that Elijah Muhammad had been involved in numerous indecent acts, fathering illegitimate children while preaching fidelity to his followers.

The break, however, proved beneficial for Malcolm for he got an opportunity to perform Hajj the following year. It led to his discovery of Qur’anic Islam far removed from the race-based, distorted teachings of Elijah Muhammad. While at Hajj, Malcolm sent detailed letters to friends and family outlining his experiences and the excitement he felt at being so readily accepted by people of all colors and backgrounds. Throughout his life, he had only experienced racism and hatred at the hands of white people in the US and thus had come to hate all white people. Hajj was a transformational experience for him — as it should be for all Muslims if performed with sincere intentions and total devotion.

Malcolm’s experiences of what he saw at Hajj were later published in a book that came out posthumously (he was assassinated on February 21, 1965 at the relatively young age of 39). Below are some excerpts from his narrative that were included in Michael Wolfe’s voluminous book, One Thousand Roads to Mecca, published in the US in 1997 (Michael Wolfe also converted to Islam).

Malcolm X, who adopted the name el-Haj Malik el-Shabazz wrote,

I was nervous. I had an apprehensive feeling: I am in the Muslim world, right at the fountain. I am handing them the American passport which signifies the exact opposite of what Islam stands for. I was so nervous that when I turned the key in my bag, and it did not work, I broke the bag fearing that they might think I had something in the bag that I shouldn’t have.

Then the clerk held the passport, looked at me and said something in Arabic. My friends around me began speaking rapid Arabic, gesturing and pointing, trying to intercede for me. The judge asked me in English for my letter from Dr. Shawarbi, and thrust it at the clerk. He gave the letter back. An argument was going on about me. I felt like a stupid fool, to say a word. I couldn’t even understand what was being said. But finally, sadly, the judge turned to me.

I had to go before the Mahag[k]ma Sharia, he explained. It was the Muslim high court which examined all possibly non-authentic converts to the Islamic religion seeking to enter Mecca. It was absolute that no non-Muslim could enter Mecca. No courts will be held on Friday, I would have to wait until Saturday, at least.

I tried to do what he [my fellow man] did. I knew I wasn’t doing the prayer right. I could feel the other Muslims’ eyes on me. Westerners’ ankles won’t do what Muslim ankles have done for a lifetime. Asians squat when they sit; Westerners sit upright in chairs. When my guide was down in a posture, I tried everything to get down as he was, but there I was, sticking up. After about an hour, my guide left, indicating that he would return later.

One of the Egyptian Muslims, particularly, kept watching me out of the corner of his eye. I smiled at him. He got up and came over to me. “Hello,” he said. It sounded like Gettysburg Address. I beamed at him. I asked his name. “Name? Name?” He was trying hard, but didn’t get it. We tried some words on each other. I’d guess his English vocabulary spanned maybe twenty words. Then an amazing thing happened. I said, “Muhammad Ali Clay...” All of the Muslims listening lighted up like a Christmas tree. “You, you”? My friend was pointing at me. I shook my head, “No, no, Muhammad Ali Clay my friend…friend!” They half-understood me. Some of them didn’t understand, and that’s how it began to get around that I was Cassius Clay, world heavyweight champion. I was later to learn that apparently every man, woman, and child in the Muslim world had heard how Sonny Liston had been beaten in Goliath-David fashioned by Cassius Clay, who then had told the world that his name was Muhammad Ali and his religion was Islam, and Allah has given him his victory.

Now the others began smiling steadily. They came closer; they were frankly looking me up and down. Inspecting me. Very friendly! I was a man like a man from Mars.

The Mutawwif’s aide returned, indicating that I should go with him. He pointed from our tier down at the mosque, and I knew that he had come to take me to make the morning prayers, always before sunrise. I followed him down, and we passed pilgrims by the thousands, babbling languages, everything but English. I was angry with myself for not having taken the time to learn more of orthodox prayer rituals before leaving America. In Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam, we hadn’t prayed in Arabic. About a dozen or more years before when I was in prison, a member of the orthodox Muslim movement in Boston, named Abdul Hamid, had visited me and invited me, and had later sent me prayers in Arabic. At that time, I had learned those prayers phonetically. But I hadn’t used them since.

I made up my mind to let the guide do everything first and I would watch him. Just outside the mosque, there was a long trough with rows of faucets. Ablutions had to precede praying. I knew that. Even watching the Mutawwif’s helper, I didn’t get it right. There’s an exact way that an orthodox Muslim washes, and the exact way is very important.

[We] all ate as one, and slept as one. Everything about the pilgrimage atmosphere accented the Onness of Man under One God.

I asked the English-speaking one if he would please do me the favor of telephoning Dr. Omar Azzam at the number I had. He was glad to do it. He got someone on the phone and conversed in Arabic. Dr. Omar Azzam came straight to the airport. With the four officials beaming, he wrung my hand in welcome, a young, tall, powerfully built man. I’d say he was six-foot, three. He had an extremely polished manner. In America, he would have been called a white man, but — it struck me, hard and instantly — from the way he acted. I had no feeling of him being a white man. “Why didn’t you call before?” he demanded of me. He showed some identification to the four officials, and he used their phone. Speaking in Arabic, he was talking with some airport officials. “Come,” he said.

[After completing the Hajj rites] the [wearing of] ihram had ended. Some had their hair and beards cut. I decided that I was going to let my beard remain. I wondered what my wife, Betty, and our little daughters were going to say when they saw me with a beard. New York seemed a million miles away. I hadn’t seen a newspaper that I could read since I left New York. I had no idea what was happening there. A negro [sic] rifle club that had been in existence for over twelve years in Harlem [city] had been “discovered” by the police; it was being trumpted that I was “behind” it. Elijah Mohammad’s Nation of Islam had a lawsuit going against me, to force me and my wife to vacate the house in which we lived on Long Island.

A local newspaper had printed a photograph of Cassius and me together at the United Nations. At that moment in young Cassius’s career, he had captured the imagination and the support of the entire dark [black] world.

My hands now readily plucked up food from a common dish shared with brother Muslims; I was drinking without hesitation from the same glass as others; I was washing from the same little pitcher of water; sleeping with eight or ten others on a mat in the open. [This was impossible then for blacks in the US]. I tucked it into my mind that when I returned home I would tell Americans this observation; that where there was no “superiority” complex, no “inferiority” complex — then voluntarily, naturally, people of the same kind felt drawn together by that which they had in common. I was astonished at the degree to which the major single image of America seemed to be discrimination. Through my interpreter, I lost no opportunity to advertise the American black man’s real plight. I preached it on the mountain at ‘Arafat, I preached it in the lobby of the Jidda Palace Hotel. I would point out one after another — to bring it closer to home; “you… you… you, because of your dark skin, in America, you too, would be called ‘Negro.’ You could be bombed and shot and cattle-prodded and fire-hosed and beaten because of your complexions.”

“That’s good,” Prince Faisal [later the king] said, pointing out that there was an abundance of English translations — literature about Islam — so that there was no excuse for ignorance, and no reason for sincere people to allow themselves to be misled.

It is noteworthy that Malcolm X’s autobiography appeared only after he was martyred in February 1965.

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