New Islamic Directions

By Imam Zaid Shakir

The Significance of Malcolm X for American Muslim Youth

Posted in notes by Imam Zaid Shakir on 2012-05-21

Text of Imam Zaid’s Commencement Speech At Brighter Horizons Academy, Dallas, Texas (slightly edited for Publication)

You are blessed to have your graduation occur on a memorable day that you should never forget. Today is May 19th. It is the date of your graduation and it is Malcolm X’s birthday. Before going any further, let me say that it is safe to talk about Malcolm X. He has the stamp of cultural approval, in that a movie has been made about his life. He also has the stamp of political approval, literally, in that the US Postal Service has issued a stamp in his honor.

Malcolm X was an American Muslim, a visionary, a fighter against injustice and oppression, a lover of knowledge and a caller to Islam. He led a rich and interesting life. These are all characteristics you should cherish and qualities your education at Brighter Horizons Academy has instilled in you. May you all move on to live rich and interesting lives.

In terms of the love of knowledge, this the way of the Muslim. Allah mentions in the Qur’an, as Shaykh Ramadan so beautifully recited:

قل هل يستوي الذين يعلمون و الذين لا يعلمون

Say! Are those possessing knowledge equal to those lacking it?

When we reflect on the life of Malcolm X in terms of his thirst for knowledge, the life of another great African American intellectual, WEB du Bois, who was a great champion of education, comes to mind. He is related to have said, “We read to learn, we learn to think, and we think in order to form a new ‘social mind’ that has the ability to question an oppressive system.” In addition to your academic accomplishments, your education should have instilled in you the ability to question injustice and oppression.

As you go forth into the world, you will see much that is wrong, many injustices and much oppression. You must not hesitate to question it, not just because WEB DuBois said so, or because Malcolm X did so, but because this is the path of our Prophet, peace upon him, who mentioned:

من رأى منكم منكرا فليغيره بيده فإن لم يستطع فبلسانه فإن لم يستطع فبقلبه و ذلك أضعف الإيمان
رواه مسلم

Whoever among you sees a wrong let him change it with his hand. If he is unable to then let him speak out against it. If he is still unable to then let him hate it in his heart, and this is the lowest level of faith.
Related by Muslim

Malcolm X belonged to three worlds: the Muslim, the American and the African. For this reason, he was at home and well-received during his travels in Asia and Africa. However, despite his militant advocacy for his people, ultimately, he never denied his American heritage. I say that to say that you should not be hesitant to proudly belong to two, three or even four different worlds. The Muslim, the American, the Arab, the Asian, or the African.  America did not become great by negating the individual identity of its citizens. It became great because it gives its citizens the opportunity to affirm their individual identities. Hence, the Saint Patrick’s Day Parades, Cinco de Mayo, Columbus Day, and all of the other occasions, customs and traditions that define this nation and enrich it.

Your challenge is through your dignity, your pride, your commitment and your striving to place Eid, Ramadan and other Muslim dates on the national calendar of events. In doing this you will be enriching America. Do not shy away from this challenge.

I want to emphasize how very important it is for you to understand that the greatest contribution you can make to America is through your Muslim identity. When Malcolm X was in Mecca and saw how the Hajj gathered Muslims representing all races and complexions from all parts of the world -black, white, red, brown, yellow- into a vast brotherhood and sisterhood, he wrote in his diary that maybe Islam could help America to solve her nagging race problem.

Malcolm did not live to see the fulfillment of that hope. Your challenge is to make the hope that Malcolm X had for America a reality. Your challenge is to show people that the content of their character is more significant than he color of their skin. Your challenge is to show people that it is not how much money you can gain yourself that makes you successful, but real success is based on what you can give to others. Your challenge it to demonstrate that real power is not found in how much power one can amass, rather, it is found in how many deprived and oppressed people one can empower.

In conclusion, Malcolm X was constantly growing because he knew that he would have to evolve in order to contribute to the positive transformation of his society. You have changed, grown and evolved during your time at Brighter Horizons Academy and now you are ready to go out into the world do to what countless conscientious people before you have done. You will go out and make your attempt to change the world for the better. As you do so never forget the words of Mahatma Gandhi , “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Like Malcolm X, be a strong, proud, educated, visionary American Muslim. In ways great and small you will make a change in the world.


By ssantokki on May 26, 2012 at 5:59am

thanks for share the best content

By Mansour Ansari on May 27, 2012 at 7:21am

Yes, although Malcolm was martyred almost 50 years ago, his message of brotherhood, dignity and unity remain so relevant to us today. Imam Zaid has 'delivered the goods' to his young and soon to-be great graduates.

By Nur on May 28, 2012 at 11:54pm

Ma'shallah, beautiful Commencement Speech and a well needed reminder for one of the greatest men in American/Muslim history for the youth in times many suffer from a loss of identity

By Um-Faheem on May 29, 2012 at 12:16am

As-salaamu Alaikum, Subhan-Allah. I am so happy you have inspired in the hearts of young people about Malcom X. I accepted Islam a few months after reading his book ( I am Asian ). If you listen to his speeches like the "Ballot or the Bullet" or "The Last Message" a couple of weeks before his death, it is so powerful and relevant to today's social issue, as if he is speaking about our current situation. ( You can buy his collection at WBAI). I was in the masjid the other day, and I was speaking to a young Egyptian sister, and I mentioned Malcolm X, and she said blankly-Who is he? I was startled and shocked that a Muslim did not know him as significant figure. I am even disturbed that one time I suggested that it should be on the reading list in Islamic Middle and High Schools, and I was told it was too explicit. We need to study this man as not only for Black History-But for Islamic History of the 21st Century in Islamic Schools!!!! Please come and give a talk at our school - WE NEED YOU!!!

By Jack Codef on July 17, 2012 at 9:55pm

Thanks for your nice post. Islam say that all parts of the world -black, white, red, brown, yellow- into a vast brotherhood and sisterhood. I also think we all are equal. Keep it up man

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