After the release of the film Malcolm X, the afrocentric and militant black movements that had claimed Malcolm X had another reason to put him forward as their chief advocate.
Shirts and logos that were already displaying his likeness became more popular, with the very symbols of American hegemony at times wearing them.
Young and dumb American children in Beverly Hills or Culver City sporting dread locks and droopy pants quoted him as their parents would quote the Iliad and the Odyssey.
Malcolm X, who had his own day in New York City, became hip in certain circles as was the case with Ernesto “Che” Guevara on the T-Shirts of the ‘60s up until now. English speaking Muslims, rather late to commercial culture, have now started to take him on as a symbol of their hopes and aspirations.
El-Hajj Malik El-Shabbazz, the transformed human being that Malcolm X later became, for a surety is worthy of being quoted as both an example and a lesson; but something more has occurred.
I recently witnessed a video tape of a Muslim standing in the graveyard where Shabbazz is interred, referring to him as “their shahid brother in Islam.”
He piously went on to mention him and even feign tearfulness while concluding his address, complete with non-English speaking entourage from the Arab would that would know more about French cuisine and the Zen of jet skiing than Malcolm X and the American circumstances that produced him.
Muslim brothers have now begun to put Malcolm X forward as a role model, a leader among Muslims and a pattern to be emulated and this is a categorical mistake for any intelligent person who considers.
We need to approach the matter carefully in order to understand what I am saying. Someone may say, “You would say this, because you’re an Arab and Shabbazz was black.” However before you come to such a conclusion, please consider what I am saying.
21 February 1965, El-Shabbazz was gunned down by members of the NOI with CIA backing while giving a speech in the Audubon Ballroom in New York City. Right after this, the two organisations that he had started, Organisation for Afro-American Unity and Muslim Mosques, Inc dissolved.
The OAAU had been the secular wing that Shabbazz had started to reach out to blacks in the grass roots that might disagree with his theology but still want to work together. Under the banner of this group, he was able to make numerous church visits and sit on panels with Christian ministers, then later the radical left and other reform elements in the United States.
Muslim Mosques Inc, was the more spiritual wing of the organisation that the brother wanted to start. Shaikh Muhammad Shwarbi had been consulted and the fiqh chosen for the brothers was that of the Shafi`ii madhhab, owing to El-Hajj’s trip to Egypt.
One of his students, who I met in Harlem in 2005, explained to me how the pattern had worked out. “Brother Abu Ja`far, Malcolm was teaching us the Arabic alphabet and Shafi`ii fiqh as far back as 1964. Some brothers, like Hamaas Yunus Khaalis, had been teaching us Hanafi fiqh; but after Malcolm came back, we found Shafi`ii fiqh more practical.”
I listened further as the brother explained and broke down a number of other points, some of the literature that Shabbazz had shipped back and how the people were to learn. This came to an abrupt end in 1965 when a hail of gunfire cut him down.
In the aftermath, revenge attacks and street wars that raged in the wake of his death, the two organisations that he had built had no successor and in the absence of any worthy successor and leadership, died a swift death.
Remember what Allah has said,
You who believe! Obey Allah, obey the Messenger and those in authority among you. And if you should differ in anything, then return it back to Allah and His Messenger, if you believe in Allah and the Last Day. And this is the best and most correct way. Surat un-Nisa’ (4), ayah 59
I cannot stress how important this ayah was and is in this short article. With no suitable alternative after the assassination of Shabbazz, some Muslim brothers drifted back into the NOI, some of them meandered on the landscape and a smaller number were able to delve deeper into Orthodox Islam with some assistance.
Elijah Muhammad, false prophet of the NOI, died in 1975 and another war of succession began. Wallace Muhammad took over and became Warith ud-Deen Muhammad and put in place a transformation that brought them closer to Muslim Orthodoxy (I say closer as they still have issues in their theology that would exclude them from Muslim Orthodoxy).
Minister Louis Farrakhan, unhappy with that change and the tumult it brought, reconstituted the NOI and became its’ minister. He is currently edging the NOI towards Orthodox Islam in some affairs (but they too are still not from Muslim Orthodoxy, let alone classed by many of our scholars as Muslims in total).
All of these things have the same thing in common: they had no leadership and adherence to Orthodox values. For all of his righteousness and fearless dedication, he was in the same camp with regards to Farrakhan, Warith ud-Deen and his father Elijah Muhammad: they were not the scholars or the people put in charge.
When one is lacking this crucial ingredient, there is no hope to move forward as the direction of the leadership is unknown. There is no plan to teach the people, to fortify them with religious knowledge or to give them the spiritual nourishment that is needed.
Again, this does not mean that Shabbazz was not a good Muslim or that he was not righteous. What this means is that he was not the one to be the leader and this explains the early demise and wandering in the wilderness of those around him after his death.
In his desire to move forward, he advocated downplaying Islam, working with liberal student groups and unions, leftists and other affairs. As he busied himself in these affairs, Islam as a force for change became more and more remote. Politically he was a force to be reckoned with; but as a Muslim he was a baby desperately in need of feeding.
If you look at the history of Islam, after its’ Prophets, peace be upon him, its’ Imams and Leaders of the Armed Services, the people were either commanded by the aforementioned or belonged to one of the categories.
Although the largest group in the United States in terms of Muslim demographics, blacks are still the most impoverished in this religion. This is precisely due to the crisis in leadership.
El-Hajj is not to blame for this and is not to be repudiated; but he does bear some responsibility for the vacuum created in his assassination and the events thereafter. It would have behoved him to have taken Shaikh Shwarbi on regularly and to have forged a link.
International affairs took El-Hajj Malik El-Shabbazz away from these affairs and focused the people under on him the matters that in the long run would harm him.
Catholics suffering under American secularism began to build a home school programme, militant church and parish societies and protected the spiritual affairs of their people and implemented practical steps.
Shabbazz did not do this…he could not do it. He didn’t know how. This is the situation then and now. Therefore, rather than make him a leader, let us remember him for who he was in reality.
El-Hajj Malik El-Shabbazz was a martyr, a righteous believer and a lover of Allah; but he was not among or one of the leaders of the Muslims. No, this judgement falls to the scholars. The Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said,
“The scholars are the inheritors of the prophets.” Collected by Imam Ahmad in his Musnad.
Those who give large amounts of charity or even die in the cause of Allah should remember who their spiritual masters are in truth. Listen to the words of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him:
“Those who gave large sums of charity shall come on the Day of Resurrection. Allah shall say to them, ‘And what did you do?’ This is although He knows better. They shall say, ‘We gave in charity.’ He shall say, ‘Enter the Paradise by My Mercy.’
The Mujahidin shall come and Allah will say to them, ‘And what did you do?’ They shall say, although He knows better, ‘We fought in the cause of Allah and died.’ He shall say to them, ‘Enter the Paradise by My Mercy.’
Then the scholars shall come and Allah will say, ‘And what did you do?’ They shall say, although He knows better, ‘We taught those people how to give in charity and ordered them to do so.
We taught those people to make jihad and ordered them to do so.’ Allah will say to them, ‘Enter the Paradise by My Mercy, for you are like My Angels.’ ” Collected by Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal in his Musnad and classified by him as authentic.
Remember that he, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, also said,
“The virtue of the scholar over the worshipper is like the virtue of myself over the least of you.” Collected by Imam as-Suyuti in al-Jami` us-Saghir and classified as authentic by him.
So in all of his brilliance, wisdom and sacrifice, it is still not sufficient to match that of what the scholars represent in this faith and the divine office of their leadership. We mean by this authentic scholars (obviously) and not those that have appeared after attendance in the ubiquitous “alim course.”
The writer clearly understands the amount of confusion and imposture that exists in the world out in the United States Muslim grass roots. However, the Muslims still need to choose their role models carefully.
Shabbazz is a role model for change, the saving model of the Salvation that Allah promised and how He may guide any He so Wills; but what Shabbazz is not is a model for leadership or the future.
The Muslims are not to join forces with the wicked designs of secularism or liberal alternatives in which the core values are compromised. The very battle between the scholars and the laymen that are secular worldly rulers has raged since the first laymen – Yazid ibn Mu`awiyah – ascended the throne and began slaughtering the scholars.
Since this time there has been the war between the scholars, who rule by divine right and are the successors of the prophets, peace be upon them, and the secular laymen ruling class, who are the opponents of the aforementioned.
Choose your leaders carefully and do not put yourselves to trial. Muslim brothers and sisters must not choose the symptom to find a cure, but to actual take the medicine. This Slave of Allah (Shabbazz) did not die as a trophy piece for people to pose in pictures next to him.
Rather, he died so that in the fall out of his cataclysmic assassination there might be some authentic leadership well attuned to guide and assist the other slaves of Allah. And may Allah give all of us the wisdom to be an asset and not a liability to the other believers.
brother in Islam,
Al-Hajj Abu Ja`far al-Hanbali