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Malcolm X

African American activist Malcolm X is a superhero for many Muslims, who have gained valuable lessons from his life. Here are 6 of them.

Malcolm X, later known as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, is an African American icon with a powerful legacy of racial justice. Few realize that he holds similar status in the Muslim community in America. A well-known figure in the controversial Nation of Islam, and later in more mainstream Sunni Islam, Malcolm X is a superhero for many Muslims who have gained valuable lessons from his life. Here are six of the most important takeaways from Malcolm X for all Muslims everywhere (people of all faiths or none can also take note):

1. Admit Your Mistakes.

In his early years as a spokesperson for the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X preached racial inequity and negative views of whites. Later, as he became more impressed with the teachings of Islam, he performed the pilgrimage (Hajj), which had a profound effect on his thinking. He admitted that his prior views were wrong, and he took responsibility for his past remarks and actions. He explained on his return:

“You may be shocked by these words coming from me. But on this pilgrimage, what I have seen, and experienced, has forced me to rearrange much of my thought-patterns previously held, and to toss aside some of my previous conclusions.”

2. Get Your Education From Unlikely Sources.

Once a promising student, Malcolm X dropped out of school after he was told he couldn’t become a lawyer because he was black. Soon, he turned to a life of petty crime and found himself in prison. This became a turning point of his life. He spent much of his prison sentence reading books ranging from poetry to philosophy, sociology to history. He once said, “I have often reflected upon the new vistas that reading opened to me … as I see it today, the ability to read awoke inside me some long dormant craving to be mentally alive.”

3. Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something.

In prison, Malcolm X not only found books, but also religion. He discovered the Nation of Islam and, by the time he was released from prison, he had converted. This resulted in a new fervor for bringing about positive change not only in himself, but among all African Americans. He said, “I’ve never been one for inaction.  Everything I’ve ever felt strongly about, I’ve done something about.”The Nation of Islam grew in numbers and popularity during the time he was in it, partly due to his outreach and preaching.

4. Be Proud of Your Heritage.

Despite his humble — and criminal — beginnings, Malcolm X never tried to forget or dismiss his ethnic roots. He was proud to be African American at a time when black folks were treated as the worst class of society in many parts of the country. He saw black nationalism as a tool for achieving worldly progress, and Islam as a means of achieving spiritual progress. He saw no contradiction in these two perspectives, and was able to be fully African American and fully Muslim at the same time.

5. Hold Leaders Accountable.

Malcolm X’s disillusionment with the Nation of Islam began with small issues he disagreed with, but became full-blown after learning of Elijah Muhammad’s children born out of wedlock. Rather than keeping it a secret, Malcom X confronted Muhammad and made his sins public. As punishment, Malcolm X was suspended from the Nation of Islam, but he never regretted his decision. “Wrong is wrong, no matter who does it or who says it,” he once said.

6. Unity is Power.

The legacy of Malcolm X was not the hateful rhetoric of his early life but the message of peace, justice and unity that he became well-known for later. He realized that those in political power used the lack of unity among minority groups as a way of dividing and ruling them. He famously preached: “Ignorance of each other is what has made unity impossible in the past. Therefore we need more enlightenment. We need more light about each other. Light creates understanding, understanding creates love, loves creates patience and patience creates unity. Once we have more knowledge about each other, we will stop condemning each other and a united front will be brought about.”



In essence, Malcolm X’s legacy is one of determination and impact, and the lessons it teaches are those of humility and forgiveness. One cannot bring about change until one changes. One cannot accept forgiveness until one forgives. Human beings have a tendency to judge others, especially those who society deems as unacceptable. Upon meeting Malcolm X in his teens and early twenties, most people would have a very negative opinion of him: drug addict, thief, womanizer. However, through sheer determination he was able to turn his life around, and become a civil rights and spiritual leader loved by millions.


Saadia is an interfaith activist, cultural sensitivity trainer, and author of the book Brick Walls: Tales of Hope & Courage from Pakistan.

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