April 2 1993
The Popularity of Malcolm
Imam W. Deen Mohammed
When I was asked by the media what I thought of the movie, Malcolm X, the first thing that I told them was I thought it would have a positive effect on our youngsters in the streets. That was my concern more than anything else. We have youngsters in the streets who are lost, who are disappointed, who are looking for role models.
There was a young man, a Muslim, who was on the set and had some input into the script. He was telling me on a regular basis how the film was developing. So I felt comfortable that the film would satisfy me and that it would not create more problems for our youngsters in the streets.
For that reason, my judgment of the movie was different. I saw only the part of the movie that attempted to show Malcolm's life before he became a Muslim as being just typical Hollywood stuff. But the rest of the film I thought was pretty accurate. And I thought Spike Lee did right to focus on the tragedies in Malcolm's life as best as he could report those tragedies. Then go from there to give the background for him becoming a Muslim. Which is to present Malcolm as a Muslim and to show him preaching or doing the work that made him popular.
Most of us forget that what made Malcolm popular was his preaching for the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. He preached that the Honorable Elijah Muhammad was our black Moses, that the United States and the White man in America was the pharaoh, and that we had a liberator in the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. Malcolm became popular on that message, and that is how the media got an interest in Malcolm. The media had no interest in the Malcolm that was existing before; they only had an interest in what Malcolm formed under the teaching of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad.
I am not saying this because Elijah Muhammad is my father. In fact, if that was the only thing stirring in me right now, I would be quiet. But we forget that the Reader's Digest, which is no cheap publication, said the Honorable Elijah Muhammad was the most significant and most powerful black man in America. This is a White-owned publication. I wonder why Blacks don't acknowledge that he did have some influence in Malcolm's life, that he is important for an understanding of Malcolm's life. There was no Malcolm excited, no Malcolm enthused, until he was touched by the message of Elijah Muhammad. That is the fact.
Malcolm did have in his background from his parents some nationalism or Garveyism. But as it is for most of us, the streets take that away and we forget what was in our background. Just like we forget the good Christian parents we had in our background. Many of these youngsters on the streets who are making trouble for themselves and for others also have forgotten the good Christian environment they had in their background. Some forget the good Muslim training in their background and go to the streets and give their lives to violence and self destruction. It was easy for Malcolm to forget the little information and the little influences that he had in his life from his parents of nationalism or Garveyism. I'm sure all of that was forgotten.
I have talked to Malcolm at length, and he shared his thoughts with me on his personal life, his life before imprisonment and during imprisonment. And I get no indication from what Malcolm told me about himself that he had any nationalism on his mind when he was in prison. He had Paul Robinson and communism on his mind when he was in prison. He was lost. He told me he began studying communism and that he was thinking about becoming a communist. He said to me that when he heard the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, "Wallace, I said this is it." That is Malcolm.
Although I think Spike Lee presented Malcolm in the correct way, he presented him as a man converted to the Nation of Islam, as a man who had suffered deep scars. I believe that speaks for the whole race. Our whole race has suffered deep scars from slavery until now. But, by the way, I think we are scarring ourselves now more deeply. Spike Lee did right to present Malcolm as a person who had tragedy in his life and, because of those tragedies, he was a good prospect for the role and the mission that he was given in the Nation of Islam.
Malcolm definitely had an interest in nationalism, and he was a nationalist. But what was the Nation of Islam except a nationalist movement? "Nation" suggests nationalism, and it didn't actually begin with that (Muslim) idea. I'm sure Fard, who is also called W. Fard and Fard Muhammad and even Wallace D. Fard, borrowed from everything he thought would work. He borrowed from black nationalism. He borrowed from Drew Ali's Islam. He borrowed form his own experiences in India. We were told he was Turkish or an Arab, but I am convinced he was Indian. And he put together a powerful myth.
Fard really put together a satire on White arrogance, on White racism. We call that satire Yacub's History in the teachings of the Nation of Islam. Fard did a satire on the evils of white supremacy, and that man was successful in influencing the Honorable Elijah Muhammad to become his mouth piece.
The Honorable Elijah Muhammad attracted Malcolm, and the Honorable Elijah Muhammad himself was trying to build "a nation". He said, "We are building a nation."
Malcolm and Farrakhan, who was called Minister Louis at that time, and I were all colleagues, and we all understood that the concept for us as a nation was not really any land mass. It was much later in the Honorable Elijah Muhammad's preachings that he began to ask for land mass or for some states of the United States upon which to form his Nation of Islam. He told us at home, "Brothers, I asked the devil for some of these states. He fought himself for that." Elijah Muhammad was using it as a strategy, because he knew the White man went to war with his own brothers of the South — the North fought the South — over that issue. So he was not expecting the White man to give him some states; he was a man who used psychology and who had a strategy.
Malcolm, I'm sure, was aware of that too, that gaining land mass was not as real as it appeared to be on the surface. But for us it did have real value, and I preach that we should continue to have that idea. But I don't call it nationalism or nation now. I call it government.
We were separated from Africa and deprived of a sense of origin, a sense of nation, and so we need a concept of government in our life. We need to work to build government for our families, government for our community, to apply the principles and logic of government to our personal life and to our life in the public (in society).
Israel was given a sense of government. I do not think Israel was actually given a physical picture of a government. It was given the concept of government, so they would have a portable government with them wherever they went.
Now getting back to Spike Lee's film. I think it served its purpose which was to counter the one-sided influence in the minds of our youngsters that was given to them of Malcolm. That was a very small little aspect of his life. They were seeing him as a Black man who had rage in him and who wanted to condemn the White man. They saw him as a person just putting down White people and confronting the White race. That was a very small part of his life.
The bigger part of Malcolm's life was the nationalist idea. What it does is make us want to discover ourselves. Malcolm was just like me and the rest of us. We were in the process of discovering ourselves. Slavery killed the true image of ourselves. The life in America under the White man after slavery and during the years of oppression gave us conditions that did not favor us going into the process of self-discovery. What nationalism did was to free us and put us in a situation where we could begin that process of self-discovery.
Secondly in importance is that once a leader rises from among those who are going through the process of self-discovery, he then wants to offer a vision or offer a direction to his people. The Honorable Elijah Muhammad did that, but Malcolm wanted to be more effective politically in "Black America".
Marcus Garvey summed up his philosophy as "One God, one people, one aim." If Malcolm was alive today, I believe he would sum it up in very much the same way - "One God, one people, one aim." But I think he would tie that statement into the need for us to discover ourselves and to be comfortable with what we discover. And when we discover ourselves, we don't find anything but the first true human being that God created. Malcolm would direct us to (that) universal thought. And then he would direct us to see our people as the whole African family of people needing to work hard to make a good example of ourselves in the United States and for our people outside of the United States.
Africa is not holding its arms out for us to come there and be rescued from America. Africa is looking for us, too, to do something to help them find direction. Malcolm would assert the fact that he was and is a Muslim.
Q: About the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, why isn't the role he played in America espoused upon during Black History Month?
IWDM: I think there are a lot of reasons for it. Perhaps the main reason is that the Honorable Elijah Muhammad was not accepted by most African Americans and especially by what we used to call the Black bourgeoisies. I think religion has a lot to do with it too.
Our people are some of the most prejudice people against a people because of religion than any I know of, especially if you are Muslim. I have experienced more rejection from my own people than I have experienced from other people of other colors and nationalities.
I think the main reason Elijah Muhammad was not popular with the majority of our people is that he was Muslim and most importantly because he denounced the White race. Not just the White race in the South, but he denounced the whole White race of people as a race of devils. He got that from W.D. Fard who was a non-American. However, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad was responsible for calling them a race of devils. Most of our people did not want to associate with a Black leader who would require that they reject White people. They were working to live with White people and to get White people to accept them.
Also there is another reason. There is a lot of jealousy and fear that if our own people recognized one of us, then the White man would recognize us. Believe me, the White man is moving from seeing the Honorable Elijah Muhammad as an all negative person in this society to seeing him as also a positive person in this society. If you have been reading lately what the media is saying about the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, you will see the White man is changing. What does that mean? The Black man will soon change.