Book Review: Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention

This work by Manning Marable is not the only text to deal with the life of the slain leader El-Hajj Malik ash-Shabazz; perhaps it is the only text that distils all the information on the topic into some eighteen chapters (if you include the prelude and epilogue among the 16 other chapters) and also offers some political insight into the subject under study.

It is the belief of Marable that the work possesses a lot of merit in terms of the layout and the assertions made. At the beginning of the book, Manning Marable begins by stating that Malcolm X is the most important black figure of the 20th century and he is seeking to take the smoke made around him by those that have lionised him in one move but also those who have classed him as a dangerous fanatic in another move.

He is honest about his designs and does inform the reader when he believes that a particular matter is disputed or unknown by prefacing it with, “It may be the case,” or “what appears to have occurred.”

In matters where he believes the assertion to be fact, he will quote a number of sources, in private and public interviews made by himself or located in other texts and then give his final historical position on the matter.

Although one may agree with his positions, what is just and fair-minded is that he balances them with evidence and states when they are merely his personal assumptions.

Malcolm X is also important for Marable, who with his Marxist leanings combined with a synthesis of black liberation theology (although more secular), sees the subject as a fine example of socialist – secularist principles at work, sort of a working model of how a black, upwardly mobile movement of social revolution would appear to an onlooker.

This point is absolutely crucial in understanding some of the underlying themes of the books if one wants to see the stronger message that Marable is trying to put across. Democracy, timocracy, full fledged capitalism and other systems are not sufficient to bring the change necessary to blacks starving to death in the ghettos;

but a populist (and decidedly non-religious) form of socialism packed for the blacks of the United States as the Cubans packed socialism for their own needs would fit the bill. If the reader keeps these points in mind, the rest of the book and its’ presentation will make sense.

Chapter 1: Up Ye Mighty Race

This opens with the lineage of Shabazz’s parents, Earl Little, Sr. (born in Reynolds, Georgia) and Louisa Langton Norton (from Granada, but may be the product of a rape committed against her mother by a white man) and covers the years 1925 – 1941.

Little had abandoned his first wife in the great migration north and later met Norton and they fell in love and married. They had children that were brought up under the black self reliance principles of Marcus Garvey and his Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League.

The Littles had joined the organisation in Montreal, NYC. They were greatly influenced by his do-for-self principles and followed them vigorously. Marcus Garvey arrived in New York on 24 March 1916 and stirred considerable attention. In the aftermath of his visit, he started a newspaper, the Negro World, dedicated to black issues in the United States and throughout the world.

Garvey’s UNIA was different to the NAACP (a strongly integrationist organisation that in the final analysis taught that if one integrated and become as much like the dominant class possible they would be accepted) in that its’ main focus was on the blacks that were in the slums and had not been able to move out or were working on the farms and menial labour with few prospects.

Just this aspect mentioned in the book is powerful enough to fly in the face of the mass media rumour or collective belief that before prison and discovering the NOI, Shabazz was ignorant of black nationalism and the other knowledge-of-self programmes.

Not only was Malcolm aware of this matter in his young adult years (as Marable demonstrates in later chapters), but on 19 May 1915, he was born into a household of Garveyites in Omaha University Hospital.

Chapter 2: The Legend of Detroit Red

 These chapters cover the years from 1941-1946, with Shabazz getting into trouble at an early age, he was taken on by his half sister Ella Collins, who cut an imposing five feet nine inches at 145 pounds.

She started out working at a clothing store floor walker and specialised in catching shoplifters; but realising her job was going nowhere she joined the ranks of these criminals and learned their tricks.

Malcolm was supposed to have gone to live with his half sister in order to have a more structured and disciplined upbringing. However the discipline needed in Boston was not present.

Rather he saw that the saw called middle class was just as bad off as the rest of the blacks, the only issue being that they had the dry rot below the surface (a treat they most likely learned from their former slave masters).

As his sister went from arrest to arrest and fell into petty and sometimes serious crimes more often, Malcolm came into contact with the man who would become one of his best friends, also from Lansing, Michigan like himself. He was Malcolm “Shorty” Jarvis. Coming from the same area of Michigan, they became fast friends and began moving in the streets with a case in mind: to make money.

The underworld of the ghettos around that area was intoxicating and Malcolm and Shorty quickly fell in with the different jet set crowds. Malcolm conked his hair (a not to different method from today’s West Coast jheri curl which utilises lye, eggs, oil and other moisturising agents) and bought a “zoot suit,” a clear imitation of the Latinos from the West Coast of the United States.

(It is from these same Latinos, particularly Chicanos, that lowriding, slicked back hair, cackie suits, g-nike shoes, hair nets, flannel button ups and the LA street gang would come and permeate the Arabs and the blacks; but we will not digress too far.)

Zoot suits were a rebellion against Americana and a symbol of people who would be avoiding the Second European Civil War (mistakenly called World War II today).

Add to this the hatred shared towards people such as Duke Ellington and what he “represented” with the Lindy Hopping, hustling, jazz swing and other matters that seemed down right anti establishment and you had Malcolm Little in perfect form.

Soon he linked up with a white girlfriend named Bea and their hustling and moves around the Boston area started to bring in some modest returns; but the second major milestone and move of Shabazz came when he arrived in Harlem. New York had been perceived by him to be heaven and in his own words, Harlem was “seventh heaven.”

His parents had mentioned to him more than once about the black Mecca and its’ attractions and how it was the key of what blackness should be. Upon arrival there, Malcolm decided in one breathe that he would never return to Boston. He had made it home.

Even though he was in New York, Malcolm quickly sought out the underworld and the criminal life and Shorty and Bea joined him. The Harlem years (which were him shuttling back and forth between Harlem and other cities along the East Coast, including his previous home in Boston) were absolutely crucial in shaping the black consciousness icon that Shabazz would later become;

but for right now he was in a criminal life that caused him to be busted for a string of robberies and other petty activities. The most severe of this was not the theft and grand larcenies, but rather the fact that he and Shorty had been sleeping with white woman.

The judge had goaded the women to testify that they had been raped but they refused. This saved Malcolm and Shorty from doing life behind bars. What they did do was to have a profound impact upon how Malcolm viewed whites. The white girlfriend Bea told the court that she was only a victim of Malcolm’s criminality and that both her and her girlfriend lived in “constant fear” of Malcolm.

This led to Bea having a reduced sentence of seven months, a far cry from the five years that she was facing. Malcolm had been double crossed and with the flair and gusto with which it had been done, he was shipped to Massachusetts State Prison.

Chapter 3: Becoming “X”

In prison, Shabazz was bitter and filled with rage at having been incarcerated. His drug habit had been slowed but not kicked. He instead resorted to heaping tea spoons of nutmeg in place of what else he would normally sniff or snort. His brother Philbert tried to reach out to him using religion but Malcolm railed against any use of religion as a catalyst for change.

Ella Collins visited him but he showed no signs of remorse for the criminality. Two former girlfriends, Jackie Mason and Evelyn Williams, also visited him and spent time discussing matters with him over long visits. Paul Lennon was another guest who Manning Marable believed had and at that time was still having homosexual liaisons with Malcolm.

Marable pieced this scenario together through a number of bits of history and connected events that would seem in his eyes to be circumstantial evidence. Without having done all the research myself or examining each piece, I will have to leave this for a separate research for a later time.

In 1948, Shabazz received a letter from his brother Philbert explaining that the entire family had left Christianity and converted to “Islam.” The points in the letter and the tone of the writing intrigued Malcolm but not enough to drop everything and join. He still harboured many reservations.

In spite of these reservations, Malcolm took Philbert’s advice from the letter and stopped smoking and eating pork. His sister Ella’s appeals to the state had proved successful and he was soon transferred to Norfolk Prison Colony. This was far better than the Charlestown State Prison where he had first been processed. Many restrictions were eased and the upkeep was better.

Religious classes in this prison colony were numerous, represented by sects and religions such as Roman Catholicism, Christian Scientists, Theosophists and “Hebrews.” A family member of Malcolm’s by the name of Reginald visited the more disciplined and now more clean cut prisoner.

Shabbaz was brought up to date about what was going on in Harlem and other places but Islam as a subject of discussion was introduced again. The NOI doctrine was a revelation to Malcolm and the main doctrine he stumbled on was the position that whites were all inherently evil.

More visits gave him exposure to the theory of Yacub’s History, a mad scientist who grafted the white man from the black man and the hybrid produced the most wicked race ever known: the white man. In just six thousand years, they had exploded across the world and sought to enslave all people of colour and to erase the original history.

This cocktail of Islam and black nationalism was well suited to the bowels of the prison system and readily pulled the brilliant and active Malcolm. Marable wisely points out that the NOI was not the only rip off of Islam at that time as the Moorish Science Temple and Ahmadiyyah Movement were also pregnant.

In fact, in many instances the NOI took wholesale from the Ahmadiyyah, especially the translation of the Qur’an made by Ahmadiyyah missionary Muhammad `Ali.

It is to the shame of Muslim Orthodoxy that most blacks were re-introduced (as most of them had been Muslims at the time of their being snatched by Americans) to Islam through Ahmadiyyah or the Moorish Science Temple (which borrowed generally from Ahmadiyyah in their claimed doctrines).

Manning Marable in this chapter sets the tone for the rise of the NOI, giving biographies on W.D. Fard and Elijah Poole.

The theology of the NOI was further explained to him and he also began further reading on black studies but also philosophers such as Plato, Socrates and the philosophers that would shape the thought of Hegel and Kant.

Malcolm had such a strong understanding of history and philosophy that he now began taking part in debate classes. He readily preached to the inmates about the Lost Tribe of Shabazz and his membership in it and the truth of black redemption.

On 7 August 1952, Malcolm Little had become Malcolm X and he was now released on parole to head back to Detroit.

Chapter 4: “They Don’t Come Like the Minister”

Malcolm was living with his brother Wilfred and his wife, Ruth. 4 May 1953 was the date of Shabazz’s discharge from parole and he wasted no time in spreading the NOI teachings. Converts became devoted and even fanatical with the FOI (Fruit of Islam, the military wing of the NOI) emphasis and Detroit was the first stop for Temple building.

After dedicated service on the road and in Detroit, he was appointed to Harlem’s Temple no.7. This was the Temple that was attended by a young Louis Walcott. He would later become Louis Farrakhan.

Due to the power and severity in Malcolm’s teaching, Farrakhan was at first afraid of Malcolm because he was “talking so bad about white folks, I was scared of him.”

Louis Farrakhan became one of a body of men called, “Malcolm’s Ministers.” These were true protégés of the Minister and were utterly devoted. Farrakhan crafted his style very carefully on that of his teacher, even the intonation and mannerisms. He was declared captain of the FOI at Boston’s Temple no.11.

In Boston and Harlem, the NOI encountered Orthodox Muslims and the fireworks kicked off. They were flatly told by members of Muslim Orthodoxy that what they were practicing was not Islam and that they needed to take the testimony of faith and follow the five pillars of Islam. Some followers were greatly hurt by the fact that the global Ummah rejected them and did not accept what the NOI called “Islam.”

The system of discipline in the NOI was clear and resolute. People who committed fornication or flouted the rules on smoking and other bans would be expelled. Some would be given a probationary period and after that would be expelled. Physical discipline was used as a science to deal with wayward followers. The NOI had taken off from a group of some 5-600 followers to building temples up and down the east coast of the United States.

Chapter 5: “Brother, A Minister Has to be Married”

 In this chapter, Manning Marable brings the reader up to date with all the strides that Malcolm had made since becoming the national minister over the temples of the NOI. He was allowed to use his “holy name” publicly as others had not been in the past. The holy name is given to followers after a period of time when they have been devout in their duties and promoted through the ranks.

Belonging to the Lost Tribe of Shabazz, to use this as a last name was permitted only to the initiated. During this time debates between Malcolm and other ideological rivals was gathering heat and the people loved them. He married Betty Sanders during these buoyant times and although the family of Betty did not approve of him, eventually the marriage went ahead.

According the dated NOI files from March of 1959, correspondence between Malcolm and Elijah Poole showed that they in fact had not been as compatible as show to the outside world. This was especially in the area of sex and private matters.

Chapter 6: “The Hate that Hate Produced”

Marable covers in this chapter how the NOI was perceived by outsides and why they still had barriers affecting black recruitment. To whites during the anti-communist era of the 1950s, the NOI were seen as communist agitators and nothing more; some sort of subversive element subsidised by chairman Mao.

More Sunni Muslims started to move against the ideology of the NOI and make their hatred for the cult known. One of them, Yusuf Ibrahim, an Algerian, counselled readers of the Courier newspaper not to confuse the NOI with Orthodox Islam as it had nothing to do with Islam. They had no legitimacy.

This was yet another blow to the NOI; but rather than convert to the true faith, they incorporated a few measly parts of what they thought was Islam. This included articles on great Muslim women in history, Muslim cookbook secrets and so forth.

A breakthrough came when the communist government of Egypt extended a greeting to Elijah Poole at their Saviour’s Day convention. Gamel Abdel Nasser later invited Poole to visit. The NOI messenger sent his national minister Malcolm ahead and he stayed in Egypt and then moved along to Arabia.

During this 1959 journey, Shabazz already saw cracks and contradictions in the theology of the NOI. The race based theories and other ideas were promptly smashed upon Malcolm arriving in the Muslim world and seeing that the Muslims ranged from very pale to dark.

In 1961, Malcolm’s daughter Qubilah was born, a name she was given after Kublai Khan, the Mongol emperor of history. At would be in the year 1961 in the month of January that Malcolm and Jeremiah X, another minister, would meet with KKK representatives.

The FBI, who by now had been collating a running file, kept the minutes from the meetings and could see that the two groups had met to discuss a possible alliance as they both wanted racial separation.

Chapter 7: “As Sure as God Made Green Apples”

It was not just the theology of the NOI that unravelled in this chapter, but also Malcolm’s unbending trust in Elijah Poole as the Messenger of Allah. His infidelities were now becoming well known and secretary after secretary that he had left pregnant without being married. They were then ostracised once they gave birth to their children.

Clara Poole, the NOI Messenger’s wife, tried to ignore the adulterous affairs but eventually could not and she began complaining to her closest confidants. Too busy to yet see the severity of what he was facing, Malcolm kept up his hectic schedule of debates and open speeches. These speeches and lectures had begun to worry ministers around Poole as he was mentioned less and people knew Malcolm more than his mentor.

In the year 1962, the NOI messenger had moved to Arizona with his women and retinue but the whispers were getting louder. More meetings requires his attention though. George Lincoln Rockwell, the one who introduced National Socialism to an intellectual audience, was invited to an NOI meeting of 8,000 people and spoke about the mutual interests they shared in common.

Many people were outraged that a Nazi and brazen white supremacist should be allowed into the meeting of blacks. It further tarnished the NOI reputation but Malcolm continued his speeches and lectures. One thing in evidence was Malcolm’s continued political evolution.

He had gone from speaking about complete separation to self improvement and addressing black issues. This was going outside of the parameters offered by the NOI. This sounded like politics, something that the NOI strenuously avoided.

It would be in this same year of 1962 that one of Malcolm’s ministers, Ronald Stokes, would be killed trying to defend a temple on the West Coast of the United States from police invasion. At first, Shabazz gathered a hit squad from Temple no.7’s elite FOI to kill the LAPD officers responsible.

Elijah Poole commanded him to step down and that such retribution would not be required. The NOI messenger commanded the entire FOI to stand down, which humiliated and relegated Malcolm at the same time. He was greatly disappointed and things would not be the same thereafter.

Chapter 8: From Prayer to Protest

Malcolm had entered new era. He was now going into a phase that left off waiting for “God to get on our side” and now moving into a pro-active mission of warning the United States of the coming conflagration that would be visited upon them by disaffected blacks who had waited far too long for the needed changes.

El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz continued to move around the world in whirlwind tours and debates but felt for the first time the direct influence of the FBI and other intelligence agencies when he was kept from entrance into France based upon false allegations on his passport and concerns for public safety.

Malcolm had a meeting in 1962 and after one of the lectures a Muslim brother from Sudan challenged him on his theology and roundly rebuked him, offering to bring proper Islamic literature. Shabazz was grateful for the gifts but still could not leave the NOI and come to Muslim Orthodoxy.

Saviour’s Day of 1963 brought tribulations that threatened to shake the NOI with some of the children of Elijah Poole at odds with Malcolm and Wallace Muhammad (the son and believed successor of Elijah Poole), who had been discussing with Shabazz some of the deep contradictions of faith that he had come across.

He would be the first person that Malcolm would meet that was close to Orthodox Islam. He also had answers to all of the doubts raised by the minister. The infidelities and sexual affairs of Poole had become so well known that the noise was now impossible to ignore. Malcolm approached the ailing leader at his residence to discuss what he now knew.

Chapter 9: “He Was Developing Too Fast”

 1 April 1963 saw Malcolm at the residence of his mentor. Through slippery and cunning means, his Messenger sought to convince him of the fact that what was occurring was nearly prophecy. They parted ways peaceably but the young man was devastated by what he had seen in his leader and the fact that he brazenly confirmed.

Problems continued as opposition to Malcolm in Harlem and other temples increased. Alex Haley approached him to speak about his life story and they began putting together a manuscript. This would be Malcolm’s testament to black liberation and nationalism and reflect the maturity of his thinking that had developed.

When Malcolm brought the adultery to the attention of Louis Farrakhan at a meeting set up by Wallace Muhammad, the situation turned sour. During the drive to the airport to drop off Farrakhan, they spoke again. At Malcolm’s request, it was agreed that Farrakhan would inform the Messenger of the NOI two weeks after the date to give Malcolm time to gather himself. When Elijah Poole was informed of his students behaviour, he never trusted Malcolm from that moment.

Chapter 10: “The Chickens Coming Home to Roost”

 22 November 1963, the President of the United States, John Fitzgerald Kennedy was gunned down. There was a be a lecture on “God’s Judgement of White America,” at the Manhattan Centre in midtown New York City on 1 December.

Strict instructions were given that no discussion or mention of Kennedy was to be made. The NOI messenger was not able to attend so Malcolm was sent in his stead; but Malcolm did make a quip about the death of the president being a case of “chickens coming home to roost.”

When the story was picked up by the papers, a wildfire of controversy resulted. On 2 December, at a visit with Poole at his Chicago headquarters, he was suspended from his duties due to the statement.

He was not to make any speeches or release any statements to the press until he was given permission. Malcolm agreed however the first day back in New York he broke the silence when answering a question from a reporter.

Elijah Poole, seeing that Malcolm would not only be a continued force to be reckoned with on the political stage but also within the NOI temples with the spreading of the news of his infidelities and false prophecies, kept Malcolm out of the limelight and replaced him with other ministers.

His suspension was not shocking but a great enough blow to loyal ministers to bring questions; but as per nation policy, they fell in line with what had been said by the Messenger of the NOI.

All that Malcolm had done was to be deconstructed. Even the fact that Cassius Clay, later Muhammad Ali, was brought into the NOI and introduced to its teachings through Shabazz, that was taken from him and he was required to stay away from Malcolm in order to remain in the nation.

This hurt Malcolm deeply but did not surprise him. There was a black out in the NOI against him and he was perceived as a direct enemy. It would be in 1963 that there would start to be considerations on how he should be silenced permanently. Death threats began to trickle.

Chapter 11: An Epiphany in the Hajj

Malcolm now began to study Orthodox Islam more intensely with Dr Shwarbi and planned to make hajj in order to properly understand Islam and follow all of that which was prescribed.

He continued to draw large crowds that listened to debates and lectures from him on various themes. He now began to counsel blacks and others to “leave religion in the closet.” Thus in one moment, Shabazz was gaining more knowledge of Islam and in the other he was downplaying it as a tool for social and spiritual movement. He was making the slow lurch towards secularism.

Even with this occurring, he was to make the hajj with money that he had secured from his sister Ella Collins, who had embraced Orthodox Islam. He made it to Cairo but almost missed the deadline for the hajj entrance. Dr Shwarbi had given him some contacts and they in turn introduced him to more people in Cairo.

It would be here that Malcolm would yet again have to relearn Islam, learning the testimony of faith and the other pillars that he knew nothing about while he was in the NOI and subscribing to its cult philosophy.

At the end of the hajj, Malcolm concluded that “our success in America will involve two circles, Black nationalism and Islam.” Malcolm also met some high ranking members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Please keep in mind that he would also later meet Muhammad Suroor, one of the influential people spreading the cult of Salafiyyah in the United States through what would later become WAMY.

I cannot say enough to the reader how great our failure was in preaching the Orthodox faith in the very beginning. As we shall see later in the book, this failure carried great consequences. If most of the Muslims in the United States are black and this is the condition of a great many of them, then the future is sure to be compromised.

Malcolm arrived back at the airport spiritually transformed but his followers still had some residuals of the NOI in them. Would they be able to understand what he was now trying to represent? After some time we would certainly see.

Chapter 12: “Do Something about Malcolm X”

The 2 organisations that Malcolm had formed, Muslim Mosques Incorporated (spiritual wing) and Organisation of Afro-American Unity (secular wing designed to catch more of the black middle class) held frequent meetings and Malcolm was keynote speaker. He was pouring more into the OAAU as he was headed in more of a secular direction.

The Autobiography that Malcolm X was preparing was still outstanding but he asked for $2,500 in advance money as from Double Day publishers as he required money at this time. The book would have to be re-written since he left the NOI and his beliefs had changed and his political outlook as well.

Alex Haley also inserted himself into the text of the Autobiography to assure white readers that the average black wanted integration and to resemble whites as much as possible and that Malcolm represented a minority and fringe position that would be the outcome of refusing to allow the blacks equal access to the same privileges enjoyed by whites.

Dr Mahmud Shwarbi was seen by many as the man who guided Malcolm X to the way of Muslim Orthodoxy; but many Orthodox Muslims, seeing Malcolm’s shift and that the change had not been quick enough, insisted that he was still not Muslim and not sincere.

This continued to be a sticking point for Shabazz who wanted to desperately be accepted by mainstream Muslims as an accredited example of Islam to blacks. The NOI took him to court as they were trying to evict him from the house that had been given to him by the organisation. Malcolm refused to vacate the property and it led to further court proceedings.

Malcolm was driving with some of his entourage one day when a car load of NOI members almost forced him off the road. It was a reminder that he was still very much in danger and that his life was not secure.

At another OAAU meeting, Malcolm praised the US Constitution, citing that it had in it “the principles in which we believe and these documents if put into practice represent the essence of mankind’s hopes and good intentions.”

As he began slumping further to the left, Malcolm’s crowds grew. His appeal became wider but those with him since the split with the NOI felt alienated and unsure of how to explain their teacher’s changes. Some fiqh books had been brought back and there were teachings in Arabic but this still did not have enough glue to hold everyone together.

Chapter 13: “In the Struggle for Dignity”

Malcolm flew out to Cairo again with the intent of shoring up more support and also gaining valuable contacts. While in Cairo and in other locations, Malcolm began to exhibit a hatred for “Zionist agenda” and show a distrust of the state of Israel. This would have been fine if they were his feelings.

However these statements and assertions seemed to have only come from the circle of people that he was around and the ideas that influenced him. For a man that was quite strong and focused on the goals he had set, he was also deeply impressionable and desired acceptance from his peers.

Muhammad Suroor as-Sabban and Saìd Ramadan, members of a new chic and technocratic form of Salafiyyah, began the process of influencing Malcolm and shaping his ideas. Once this could be done, he could be sent back to his people to implement the agenda that they planned for him.

In Geneva, Switzerland Malcolm went on a fact finding mission and he further established links with Dr Saìd Ramadan at the Islamic Centre located in the country. Around this time he had a visit in his hotel room with a woman named Fifi that was a Swiss diplomat. Manning Marable believes this may have been a sexual encounter but this is left to the reader to consider and decide.

However according to Malcolm’s own diaries, on 20 October 1964, Malcolm had wine with his dinner. This was not for any medicinal purposes or for any illness one might assume. Rather, it was surely for pleasure and to accompany the food that he had that night.

It was also during this time that Malcolm started to associate himself with the Pan-African, anti-pacifist movements throughout the African continent. To espouse non-violence in places such as Algeria, the Congo, sub-Saharan African was not only naïve but placing one’s life in danger.

Chapter 14: “Such a Man is Worthy of Death”

Malcolm returned from the African sojourn focused but still in need of spreading the principles that he had learned. He met Wallace Muhammad, who although still having differences of opinion with his father, Elijah Poole, nonetheless was held as heir apparent.

The men parted company after their meeting peaceably but Wallace was still not yet ready to come out fully and publicly against his father. Malcolm continued on and met James 67x, his loyal confident, at the headquarters. He confronted him about rumours that his wife had been committing adultery with Charles Kenyatta.

James 67X did not want to get in the middle of anything so he neither confirmed nor denied anything. Based upon insufficient proof, when assassins came to Malcolm for permission to take the life of Kenyatta, they were refused.

Just as rumours of adultery spread about Betty Shabazz in certain circles, some people also believed Malcolm was having an affair with Lynne Shifflett. If this was true and the story of Fifi in the diaries went further, this would be twice that Malcolm had been unfaithful to his wife.

Shabazz had lost the court case to remain in the house that the NOI had given him when he was in good graces with them. He was still refusing to go and this increased tensions between the two parties until a fire on 14 February 1965 burnt the property to the ground and left no doubt that Malcolm would have to relocate.

Malcolm had a speaking engagement in Detroit the following day and refused to cancel it in spite of the threat on his life. He later showed up for the interview the following day in clothes smelling of spoke.

Chapter 15: Death Comes On Time

In the days leading to his assassination, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz was on edge, irritable and deeply lonely. The day before he died, Manning Marable asserts that Sharon 6X may have paid him a visit at his hotel room before his assassination and just after dropping off Betty Shabazz at the house.

Farrakhan had been stoking the fires and creating the atmosphere that lead to the assassination to Malcolm and this is something that he admits today. The Newark Temple was said to somehow have been involved and Marable goes into great detail to reassemble the story as he sees it to have unfolded.

The assassination on 21 February 1965 was explained in such detail by the researcher that one could smell the cordite, hear the crack of the guns and almost felt the need to take cover under benches as he read that those in the Audobon Ballroom did the same.

Chapter 16: Life After Death

It is at this point that Manning Marable lays out what he believes is the most persuasive case on who Malcolm X truly was and his legacy to the world. His assassination not only lionised him to his devotees but confirmed the fears that his enemies and detractors espoused, namely that Malcolm was a victim of his own violent rhetoric.

Marable then flows into the Epilogue and research notes and gives the methodology for how he went about his research, his sources and the reasons for his deeply held convictions.

Others have come out in strong defence of the legacy of Malcolm, his own daughters, some of the men said by Marable to by co-conspirators and other researches. What is unfortunate is that Marable died days before the release and could not be here to be cross examined.

In spite of all of this, this book was remarkable and well written. The researcher chose not to include the footnotes on the same page but rather after each chapter; but to his credit he put his own suppositions in plain words and was careful not to mix between those and the facts on the ground.

Whether one agrees with it or not, this is a welcome addition to all the literature on Malcolm X and is perhaps a good distillation of all the collated literature to read before picking up the Autobiography of Malcolm X.

In conclusion, as said before Malcolm X is not a role model for the Muslim Ummah. He is not one of our leaders. Rather, he is a source of where we should be headed, not where we have reached. And with Allah is every success.


Al-Hajj Abu Ja`far al-Hanbali

One response to “Book Review: Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention

  1. As salaamu alaikum,

    I actually did enjoy the book! I mean, I wasn’t too fond of the homosexual references, but then again, as Marable pointed out, The Autobiography of Malcolm X is Malcolm’s version of events, so when cross referenced with other facts, there was bound to be some discrepancies concerning him. Nevertheless, he is still iconic.

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