ON MANNING MARABLE'S BOOK, "MALCOLM X: A LIFE OF REINVENTION"
By Imam Al-Hajj Talib ‘Abdur-Rashid
Comments delivered at the Institute of the Black World 21st Century Forum
Saturday, May 7, 2011
Thanks and honor to the Institute for the Black World, 21st Century, and my friend and respected colleague, Dr. Ron Daniels. The late professor Manning Marable is someone whom I have respected over the years for his scholarship and activism in African American studies, and the labor and anti-war movements, and especially on Malcolm X.
I had been aware over the years of Dr. Marable’s work on Malik Shabazz’ biography, so it was with great interest that I anticipated the release of his book. I believe that accurate and detailed accounts of the character and deeds of great men and women illuminate their greatness, and the greatness of the causes to which they have dedicated their lives.
I have many, many books written about Malcolm X., but even more importantly, forty-four years ago in 1967, The Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood Inc.was incorporated. This was two years after the martyrdom, of El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. The M.I.B. Is the lineal descendant of The Muslim Mosque Inc. As such, it has its own institutional memory of events written about and not written about in Professor Marable’s book. I am in my 23RD year as the imam of that congregation, having succeeded my late teacher, our founding imam of the M.I.B. - Ash-Shaykhul-‘Allama Al-Hajj K. Ahmad Tawfiq.
The Shaykh is mentioned in Dr. Marable’s book, as a “…furious MMI member named Talfiq (sic)” who advocated to Brother James 67X (Abdur Razzaq) on behalf of the brothers and sisters of the MMI, during moments of friction with members of the OAAU, He is also mentioned in sister Ilyasah Shabazz’s book “Growing Up X”.
Not only have I inherited aspects of the MMI’s institutional memory from Shaykh Tawfiq, but from MMI members who are mostly not mentioned by name in Dr. Marable’s book, but with whom I developed a relationship over the years. We of the MIB have buried several of them as they have grown elderly, including brother Bilal Abdullah (Brother Gladstone), Sister Catherine Crum, Salahuddin “Bullet” Abdullah, Atallah Muhammad Ayyubi, Taha Muhammad Abdullahi, and others. Former MMI members still worship at the MIB Even now. All of these folk add to my own institutionally inherited memory, which I utilized to cross reference and cross check some of Dr. Marable’s assertions. I also have had my own conversations with Abdullah Abdur-Razzaq (formerly James 67X).
As I read “Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention”, I found myself loving our brother even more as a leader and an inspiration than I already have during my life for more than four decades, as I have grown from a teen-ager to a grandfather.
A couple of weeks ago I was carrying Dr. Marable’s book, while walking across 125TH street, in Harlem. I ran into a young man, an African American Muslim who asked me “ Imam - why are you reading that book? I heard that Marable said this and that about Brother Malcolm. I would never read that trash!” he exclaimed, or something very close to it. I explained to him that I intended to critique the book in detail, and cannot do so if I have not read it. He understood and said that he would be waiting to hear my evaluation.
“ Are there positives about the book?” Without a doubt, there are many. Dr. Marable’s grasp of African American history, and his activist rootedness, serve him well as the biography’s first major contribution to the legacy of El-Hajj Mailk El-Shabazz. This is particularly so I think, for the present and future generations of youth in America.
It does so by establishing in clear and detailed descriptive terms, the social, political, economic and cultural context, into which Shabazz was born, grew up, and lived his life. One cannot really understand him without understanding those critical factors. We who lived through that era unto this one, know and understand that context. Those who have not , will not grasp the full significance of Shabazz . The depth of his significance must be fully grasped by us as individuals and as a people.
Looking at the names on this esteemed panel here today, I’m sure there will be much qualitative exposition on the illumination of the political dimensions of Malcolm X’s mission. Dr. Marable’s detailed account of the last year or so of our extraordinary leader’s life ,makes it clear what really caused him to be considered a threat to national security by the government sponsors of BOSS and COINTELPRO. Anyone moving as he moved then or now , not only Pan-African wise but Pan-Islamic-wise would be targeted for neutralization or elimination by Uncle Sam’s allied forces of oppression and repression. There can be no doubt about this. But the fact is that there has been no one who moved as Shabazz did –before or since.
Until now, the presentation of Brother Malik El-Shabazz/ Malcolm’s conflicts within and without the Nation of Islam has been presented in either social or political terms. The causative factors being identified as:
1- Jealousy within NOI ranks (as noted publicly by the late Imam W.D. Mohammed, who is confirmed in Dr. Marable’s book as having been very close to Minister Malcolm)
2- COINTELPRO and other-wise government instigated subterfuge
3- The actions of Malik Shabazz himself (i.e. His quiet investigation, and later public airing of Elijah Muhammad’s sins, etc.)
But I want to add another dimension of consideration of those causative factors leading to the NOI conflict. I will identify them as being of a religious and spiritual nature, rooted in the difference between a narrow, proto-Islamic understanding, and one increasingly rooted in the Qur’an , and the prophetic tradition of the last, true, and final Messenger of Allah- Muhammad Ibn Abdullah, to whom the Qur’an was revealed (peace be upon him).
The prophetic value of justice was a major motivating force in Malik Shabazz’s life. Once he became incarcerated, the seeds of righteousness and justice rooted in the teachings and legacy of the Honorable Marcus Garvey, and planted not only in Shabazz, but all members of his family, emerged from their dormant state.
His January, 1951 declaration , written while he was still a prison inmate, express a commitment to “love and justice” in thought and deed, rather than “hate and revenge” . This speaks volumes as to the spiritual, prophetic values intrinsic to faith , which were reawakened and re-embraced by him. Shabazz lived out those values until the day that he died.
Malcolm X’s mission within the NOI and without, was rooted in those spiritual, prophetic values. He was a deeply religious man who while a member of the NOI viewed himself as being on a divinely decreed mission of upliftment , under the guidance of a divinely selected leader . His personal and public life was consumed by that belief.
However once Shabazz came to realize that for the muslim there is no substitute for Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) insofar as the “excellent exemplar” of righteousness is concerned, he shifted his allegiance from an exclusively particular one, to one that was both universal and particular. Thus he became even more consumed by a faith centered on love and justice.
Malcolm X’s urgency to confront injustice rather than wait for divine intervention in the Last Days, is a value deeply rooted in the Qur’an ,and prophetic tradition of Islam. The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, said “When you see an evil, change it with your hand. If you can’t do that , then speak out against it ”. He called the speaking of truth in the face of a tyrant “the greatest jihad”. “If you can’t speak out” he said, “then hate it in your heart. But that is the weakest of faith”.
The same applies to Malcolm X’s willingness to tell the truth no matter whom or what, even against himself. His quiet investigation of an allegation of grave religious and spiritual impact at the highest level of NOI leadership, his abstention for so long from broadcasting the sins of others - but rather covering their faults until they became a source of injustice that had to be aired - all of these are deep values in Islam. I could go on at length, but time is limited. I will say that these Islamic values, and the young warrior- leader’s dedication to them , are on full display in Dr. Marable’s book.
“ Are there issues of concern about the book ? Certainly. I was and am outraged , that the same attention to detail and certainty that dominates the primary text of the book , is abandoned by Marable in his quest to present the great leader as a flawed human being rather than as an icon.
Marable’s curious mathematics, wherein 1 + 1= 5 , is disgraceful. His accusations of an immoral nature against both Malcolm and Betty Shabazz , two moral young people, while offering almost no concrete proof of anything; his repeating of gossip , innuendo, back-biting, and slander – calling these things circumstantial evidence in one paragraph, yet referring to them in the next as if they were facts , is irresponsible, and slanderous. It detracts from the brilliance of the book. It is the biography’s most serious flaw.
This sickness, wherein African American writers broadcast the sins or moral short-comings, or in this case the unproven allegations of sins or moral shortcomings of our people’s great leaders , after their deaths when they can’t defend themselves, is so-called “yellow journalism” or sensationalism at its worse. It is something that other people don’t do, especially when their leader’s sins of alleged sins have no bearing on the leader’s mission, and do not create an injustice to others.
Novelist John Williams seems to have opened this Pandora ’s Box in1970, when he wrote the book, “The King God Didn’t Save”. The book has been described as containing “…sordid depictions” of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s “sexual indulgencies”. Once trusted King aide Ralph Abernathy reopened the box in 1989 , with his own book. Three years later in 1992 , Bruce Perry ventured into the same territory with his book “Malcolm, The Man Who Changed Black America” , described as a “psychological portrait”. Many of Perry’s musings were speculative and unpopular among the people, as Marable admits.
Lastly (because of time), unknown to most readers is Professor Marable’s use of a Muslim blogger, Abdur-Rahman Muhammad, as a source of verification of various allegations or theories. Last year, Muhammad uncovered a current living-a-low-key- life-in-Newark, N.J. William Bradley - an unprosecuted authentic assassin of Malik Shabazz. Muhammad broadcast his discovery on the internet, via his blog.
However notwithstanding his discovery, Abdur-Rahman Muhammad is otherwise widely known in the muslim community as an inter-net gossiper and cyber-slanderer, who for years has broadcast innuendos as facts ,after failing to carefully check the authenticity of his allegations.
The blogger is known as a basher of Muslim leaders and organizations. Last year in 2010, he became a low-level media-darling, openly admired by people like Sean Hannity, Glen Beck, and the N.Y.C. . –based, anti-muslim bigot , Pamela Geller. Yet, Marable uses this guy as an authenticator of facts in his biography of Malik El-Shabazz. I say again, that to do so was irresponsible and disgraceful. Marable’s flaw in this area marks him as guilty of character assassination of the honest and up-right muslim leader.
“ What is your assessment of the overall value of the book?” Contrary to Karl Evazz’s brilliant put-down of Marable’s book, I believe it to be worthy of reading by a wide audience, and even more worthy of vigorous critique – praise what is good, and denounce its flaws. I’m only sorry that the professor is no longer here, so that we could challenge him in person.