The Legacy of Malcolm X: Are You a Person of Haq?

The Legacy of Malcolm X: Are You a Person of Haq? May 19, 2016

Photo courtesy of WIkimedia Commons
Photo courtesy of WIkimedia Commons

By Dr. Ali Naqvi

Will you continue to use it … ? [the name Malcom X]” – Reporter

“I will continue to use it as long as the situation that produced it exists.” – Malcom X

Hajj Malik El Shabazz broke into a large smile at the absurdity of the question; the African Americans in the audience joined in. The reporter, who was present as an incarnation of power, looked on confused. It may have been that the reporter seemed to suffer from the misconception (as many still do) about the nature of truth that he had seen and thought that somehow this “Radical” had been tamed.

But, as Malcom X clearly says, the situation still exists. The situation was, and continues to be, the oppression of the disposed and the destitute. The journey to Mecca hadn’t tamed Malik El Shabazz. It had made him.

This is a Radical: A man whose core consciousness and moral insight survives trials, dislocation and oppression. This is also the spirit of the Islam he connected with as he visited Mecca and walked the same footsteps that the Prophet walked. This radicalism can be seen in the orphan child Mohammad rising against the corrupt and debauched Meccan elite who enforced tyranny much like the murderous thugs of the ante-bellum South.

Mohammad was a carrier of Haq, a bringer of Truth, and one who undermined the structures that the Meccan elite had built.

Haq is the Truth. In Islam Haq is the essential condition and the reality that cannot be denied. It is known as one of the names of God, an aspect of the creator and the divine. Haq also has secondary meanings of duty placed upon you, of justice and of the right to be.

We see this in the spirit that has drawn countless Sufis to the asceticism of Ali Ibn Abi Talib , who could be found in the company of the poor and the sick, in secret, often whispering in prayer: The destitute sit with the destitute, the poor sit with the poor. Upon his murder the city of Kufa was filled with the lamentation of orphans and widows, who began to realise who their secret Samaritan was.

Thus comes as no surprise that in some traditions they say Haq is with Ali, and Ali is with Haq.

But, Islam also burns with the traditions of Isa, the other muse of Muslim poets. Isa, or Jesus, is also a demonstration of the power of the powerless. The power of truth that defeats, undermines and ultimately destroys power gained through oppression. Jesus stripped away the layers of tyranny and exposed the limit of force then demonstrated that love is unlimited.

At the point where violence, visible or structural, has to stop — the Haq will continue.

Malcom X Brought Truth to Power

In all three cases, we see the Radical as the person who brings truth to power. They are demonstrations that truth is rendered as justice and freedom from oppression. Thus all three cases show us that truth is power and power exercised without it lacks the legitimacy in our moral universe.

Malcom X knew all these traditions. He was the son of a minister who was routinely abused and may have been murdered by the White supremacists. He grew up surrounded by the liberation gospel of the Baptist Church, where truth was salvation and love was redemption.

His journey with the Nation of Islam steered him away from this somewhat because of his belief that the Church could not deliver, but the moral centrality of truth being more powerful than the oppression of the system did not leave him.

The hajj pilgrimage renewed his understanding of bringing truth to power. For a man who had been a point of impact for the conflicts of America’s racial tragedy thronging with the supplicants, being reduced to your core humanity and sharing the love of those around you, was a process of shattering followed by rebuilding.

What was left was what could survive, and what survived was that truth. Thus, his mission was to bring that Haq to those in power.

Malcolm X and Bi-Polar Division

Taking this into account one can explain the next few phrases of his interview.  The reporter asks Malcom X if he would continue to pursue the US at the UN for crimes against the African Americans he replies emphatically “Oh Yes” to much applause which are worth noting. He then continues:

African nations, Latin Nations look hypocritical when they…stand up in the United Nations condemning the racist practices of South Africa … Portugal in Angola … and saying nothing in the UN about the racist practices that are manifest everyday… in this society. I would not be a man, if I was in a position to bring it in front of the United Nations and didn’t do so … I wouldn’t be a man – Malcom X

It is worth remembering that at this time the USSR and the U.S. were two power blocks determined to confront each other. The anti-colonial struggle and the post-colonial struggles of most of the world were entangled in this bi-polar game.

Here, Malcom X steps beyond the bi-polar division. He identifies the central injustices of apartheid, colonialism and Jim Crow. He then identifies the role of power and demonstrates the hypocrisy of much of the anti-racism rhetoric of nations by pointing out how their actions are subservient to power.

States that were quite willing to vote against South African apartheid or Portuguese colonialism because it suited them, but not against the U.S. when it practiced racial segregation, were hypocrites. Their actions were not those of truth. Their actions were beholden to the power that they saw as being paramount.

Then by saying “I would not be a man,” Malcolm demonstrates that his commitment to this truth is part of his conception of himself. He clearly believes that living by Haq is essential to his delivering on the promise of Haq. One must live justice and see it done, one clearly cannot live claiming to be just and stand injustice done neither can one live in injustice and see it denied.

It is only through living these values and demonstrating them that one can gain legitimacy, and leadership. Indeed the entire argument for moral or transformational leadership can only be made if this legitimacy is accepted. We can see this in the way the audience responds to Malcom X when he says, “Oh Yes.”

Here we also see the relationship that a man of Haq forms with those that need justice and truth to be delivered. The crowd and Malcom know each other. The understanding of the oppression they both face binds them. His legitimacy comes from both his willingness to identify the injustice, but also the recognition of those affected by it, and the dismissal of those that do not.

One can see that dismissal in the way Malcom X looks at the reporter. So here we see that people who need Haq to enter their lives also need to see a person who claims to be their champion demonstrate an understanding of Haq.

Malcolm X was a Person of Haq

It is fashionable for some to argue that Malcom X’s movement from Nation of Islam to traditional Islam was a rejection of his moral life under Elijah Mohammad. This is only true as far as the rejection of Elijah Mohammad as a leader and moral example. Indeed, Malcom X’s own emotional and spiritual separation comes from Elijah Mohammad’s inability to match the Prophetic example in of itself.

Elijah Mohammad presented injustice and hypocrisy that would eventually, almost inevitably, lead to Malcom’s departure. If a man sees the oppression of others as something he is willing to die for, then finds out his own mentor is one of the oppressors, it will either lead to compromise or rebellion. Malcom was not a man who stood for compromise, or as he put it “I would not be a man.”

But “the situation” had not changed. Thus, leaving Elijah Mohammad may have been necessary, and indeed part of the journey, it did not invalidate the oppression of the people. Minorities were still being crushed by power. The destitute were still kept destitute. The innocent were still caught up in the various entanglements that ensnared them.

The situation still required confrontation with the people who enabled these injustices to flourish. Becoming a wiser and more morally rounded human being did not forego the need to face these abuses. The demand for civil rights did not disappear. People still craved their freedom. People still wanted equality. So, Malcom was still determined to face the Jim Crow laws, the senators and the congressman that kept the oppression in place.

The oppressed were still victims of the same forces, not peddlers of victimhood. The children of Soweto were still kept in sub-standard conditions and taught nothing because of apartheid, they did not suddenly become shirkers and ne’er do wells.  The U.S. and British governments were still supporters of apartheid, they did not suddenly become donors and allies in the same fight.  Malcom X still fought them – as evidenced by the FBI’s close attention till the day of his death.

The situation has not changed. Yet, we are continually surrounded by people who wish to add some of the lustre of Malcom X’s singular vision to their own endeavours.  We need to understand what Malcom X was and who he became after his hajj.

The commentators, columnists, carpet baggers and opinionators who exist within our twitch society must realise that Malcom X was a person of Haq.

So let us inculcate a test: A person who claims any aspect of the legacy of Malcom X must be a person of Haq.

A person of Haq is one who must bring truth to power. A person of Haq will never allow Haq to be abused by power, be corrupted by it, beholden to it, determined by it or shackled by it. A person of Haq will never take money from power or abase themselves to its trappings. A person of Haq will never celebrate its abuse or participate in its withdrawal. A person Of Haq will not abuse those who suffer from abuse of power, will not berate them or desert them for power.

And, if these people who claim to be the inheritors of Malcolm X cannot meet those demands, then invalidate their claims and follow his example, move on and find the people of Haq.

Dr. Ali Naqvi is based in the UK and teaches Leadership, Change, Communication and Social Media at various institutions.


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