Malcolm X and British Muslims: A Personal Reflection

Journal of Religion and Popular Culture, Summer 2007 | Go to article overview

Malcolm X and British Muslims: A Personal Reflection


Dr Amir Saeed

Department of Media and Cultural Studies, University of Sunderland

Sunderland, United Kingdom

Abstract

Just as the Civil Rights and Black consciousness movements have inspired human rights activists around the world, Malcolm X has been a motivating figure for such people (Marqusee 1999). Malcolm X's appeal and recognition have transcended the boundaries of "race" and national borders.

Given the anti-Muslim rhetoric espoused by leading social commentators following 9/11, Malcolm X's appeal and message of social justice seems more relevant than ever. Recent anti-war demonstrations in the UK saw Malcolm X's image employed by young British-Muslims demonstrating what they perceived as social injustice being committed to Muslims around the world in the name of fighting terrorism (Saeed 2004).

This article examines why Malcolm X has been such a key figure and role model for many non-white communities and especially the Muslim and South -Asian Diaspora in the UK (Saeed 2003) In order to do this the article highlights historical developments in Malcolm X's political career that helped make him a symbol of anti-racism and the personification of an assertive black consciousness (Van De Burgh 1992).

These historical developments are further linked to the issue of identity politics. Thus terms like "black" and "Muslim" are explored in relation to Malcolm X and his appeal in particular to British-Asian Muslim communities

Encountering Malcolm X

[1] My first recollection of Malcolm X was watching a Muhammad Ali fight in Scotland in the mid 1970s. Ali fights were received with great anticipation in my family household. My mother (not even a sport fan never mind boxing fan) would cook special South-Asian dishes, the house would be filled with an air of excitement, and my brothers would enthuse about Ali's greatness. The fight itself would be watched, commentated and enjoyed in admiration. Any small act of "defiance" or "playful misdemeanour" by Ali was lapped with great applause and recognition. Quite simply Ali belonged to us and we would look with a mixture of awe and envy, especially in how white people respected Ali the Muslim. Ali's conversion to Islam introduced us to Malcolm X. Initially our knowledge of Malcolm was vague. My parents who like many first generation immigrants warned us that Malcolm believed in violence, and that we must turn the other cheek when confronted with racism. My brothers and I would listen to our parents' wishes but secretly admire Malcolm's stance. Here was a Black man who was not scared and dared challenge the "white racist colonialist." Malcolm gave us pride and a positive self-esteem. By reading Malcolm's speeches my brothers and I had a strong affinity with the racism suffered by Black Americans and also other colonized people around the globe. In short, Malcolm X gave us an internationalist outlook on our politics and an understanding of racism and capitalism.

[2] This concluding statement is in part what this essay attempts to explore. How can a Pakistani family living in Scotland have such strong feelings for an African-American who had died some 10 years previously and who had no real following within the British South-Asian communities? In order to examine these issues, the essay explores in-depth key events in Malcolm's political and religious development. These historical considerations are further debated in relation to questions of ethnic minority cultural identity, namely the use of ethnic and religious labels. Furthermore, the representation of Malcolm has an apostle of violence is linked to the media image of Muslims today.

A Personal Reflection

And just you see the oppressed people all over the world today getting together, the Black people in the West are also seeing that they are oppressed. Instead of just calling themselves an oppressed minority in the states, they are part of the oppressed masses of people all over the world today who are crying out for action against the common oppressor. …

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