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Malcolm X and MLK: Seeking Justice Through Faith


Seeking justice is a tricky objective, yet it is commanded by Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) as a necessary practice.. We will explore how the idea of seeking justice is embodied in our fitra (instinct) and deen (religion). I will define this through larger than life figures that gave up their lives for this cause; their religions are different but their causes overlapped regularly. Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. are prime examples of how religion pushea an individual to pursue social justice. Allah said:

إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَأْمُرُ بِالْعَدْلِ وَالْإِحْسَانِ وَإِيتَاءِ ذِي الْقُرْبَىٰ وَيَنْهَىٰ عَنِ الْفَحْشَاءِ وَالْمُنكَرِ وَالْبَغْيِ يَعِظُكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَذَكَّرُونَ

Verily, Allah orders justice and good conduct and giving to relatives and He forbids immorality and bad conduct and oppression. He admonishes you that perhaps you will be reminded. Surat An-Nahl 16:90

Ibn Al-Qayyim said:

قَدْ بَيَّنَ سُبْحَانَهُ بِمَا شَرَعَهُ مِنْ الطُّرُقِ أَنَّ مَقْصُودَهُ إقَامَةُ الْعَدْلِ بَيْنَ عِبَادِهِ وَقِيَامُ النَّاسِ بِالْقِسْطِ فَأَيُّ طَرِيقٍ اُسْتُخْرِجَ بِهَا الْعَدْلُ وَالْقِسْطُ فَهِيَ مِنْ الدِّينِ وَلَيْسَتْ مُخَالِفَةً لَهُ

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Allah the Exalted has made clear in his law (sharia) that the objective is the establishment of justice between His servants and fairness among the people, so whichever path leads to justice and fairness is part of the religion and can never oppose it. Source: al-Ṭuruq al-Ḥikmīya 13

Just because it is mentioned in the Quran, doesn’t make it solely for Muslims. The Quran is a mercy for all of mankind. Anas ibn Malik reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

اتَّقُوا دَعْوَةَ الْمَظْلُومِ وَإِنْ كَانَ كَافِرًا فَإِنَّهُ لَيْسَ دُونَهَا حِجَابٌ

Beware of the supplication of the oppressed, even if he is an unbeliever, for there is no screen between it and Allah.

Source: Musnad Ahmad 12140, Grade: Sahih

America has had many heroes when it comes to justice. These two were both African American and belonged to different faiths; one was Christian, the other Muslim. They brought change in our political and cultural environment with the conviction of their faith. Their differences were unique, much beyond faith. Martin Luther King Jr. MLK was raised in a middle class, working family. He received an education, a sociology degree from Morehouse College, and didn’t really experience social shock till he was about 20, says Rev. Lewis Baldwin, a historian and authority on King. Malcolm X was raised in Detroit, shuffled through foster homes, hustled in the streets, and ended up in prison. Both spoke for justice and equality, both were silenced because of their preaching.

 Of the two, Martin Luther King Jr. was the most acceptable by liberal standards to be celebrated nationally. He was considered less radical than Malcolm X, “He was looking for more radical means of nonviolence,” Rev. Lewis Baldwin says, “but he never gave up on nonviolence.” A Christian, and sought the acceptance of the white population for the policies he needed, while Malcolm X didn’t even acknowledge he was American. (“The Ballot Or the Bullet” Speech, April 3 1964, Cleveland, OH (Published In MALCOLM X SPEAKS, CH. 3, 1965)

Humans do tend to sanitize the image of a figure to be more appealing. By sanitizing, I mean we alter whatever details we can of the figure, as to be accepted by the ruling governments and institutes. MLK Day converted a black radical to an American icon. Americans don’t celebrate him or the cause, we celebrate ourselves for “overcoming racism” and fulfilling the dream. I personally think that given the current state of political strife, exploitation of the poor, and a destructive desire of materialism, MLK would have been enraged. Like most of our social reformers, he had to be sanitized to be accepted by the public after his death.

The people that accepted King’s work today, were the same people that rejected him in the 60’s. They modified his original work so it could be tolerated. We froze in time the“ I have a dream..” speech. While ignoring the fact that after the Selma march and the riots at Watts, MLK was quoted saying “they have turned my dream into a nightmare…” King would tell an interviewer that the dream he had that day had in some ways “turned into a nightmare.” But that’s exactly what he said to veteran NBC News reporter, Sander Vanocur, on May 8, 1967.

MLK and Malcolm X both fought for justice, yet one is celebrated and one is barely mentioned in school textbooks. They both were adherents to their religion, and Malcolm knew there was no compromise in his faith.  

Malcolm X could never be established as an American icon, because of his refusal to please the white ruling class and liberal elites. Malcolm X experienced difficult times growing up. He was at a disadvantage, and yet he was able to overcome all of that. His goal wasn’t to pass legislation to create equality. He was creating a cultural revolution amongst the black community. There is nothing more terrifying to the ruling class than a minority group led by a fearless leader, one who seeks justice. In Islam, justice has to be sought. Allah said:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُونُوا قَوَّامِينَ بِالْقِسْطِ شُهَدَاءَ لِلَّهِ وَلَوْ عَلَىٰ أَنفُسِكُمْ أَوِ الْوَالِدَيْنِ وَالْأَقْرَبِينَ إِن يَكُنْ غَنِيًّا أَوْ فَقِيرًا فَاللَّهُ أَوْلَىٰ بِهِمَا فَلَا تَتَّبِعُوا الْهَوَىٰ أَن تَعْدِلُوا وَإِن تَلْوُوا أَوْ تُعْرِضُوا فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ خَبِيرًا

O you who believe, be persistently standing firm in justice as witnesses for Allah, even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, Allah is more worthy of both. Follow not your desires, lest you not be just. If you distort your testimony or refuse to give it, then Allah is aware of what you do. 4:135

In Surah Maidah, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) further said:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُونُوا قَوَّامِينَ لِلَّهِ شُهَدَاءَ بِالْقِسْطِ ۖ وَلَا يَجْرِمَنَّكُمْ شَنَآنُ قَوْمٍ عَلَىٰ أَلَّا تَعْدِلُوا اعْدِلُوا هُوَ أَقْرَبُ لِلتَّقْوَىٰ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ إِنَّ اللَّهَ خَبِيرٌ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ

O you who believe, be persistently standing firm for Allah as witnesses in justice, and do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from being just. Be just, for that is nearer to righteousness. Fear Allah, for verily, Allah is aware of what you do. 5:8

Imam Al-Qurtubi in his tafseer said:

وَدَلَّتِ الْآيَةُ أَيْضًا عَلَى أَنَّ كُفْرَ الْكَافِرِ لَا يَمْنَعُ مِنَ الْعَدْلِ عَلَيْهِ

This verse shows that the disbelief of the unbeliever does not prevent him from enjoying justice.

Malcolm X understood these Divine injunctions and was willing to work with those that were seeking justice. Since justice is for everyone. Dr. Hatem El-Hajj told me many years ago, “when working for good, it doesn’t matter who you partner up with (regardless of faith) as long as it doesn’t compromise your deen.”

Malcolm X traveled to Saudi Arabia, Northern Africa, and West Africa and saw that equality was very possible. The diversity and the spread of brotherhood amongst each other, was something he didn’t see back home. Upon accepting true Islam, Malcolm X had become a great influence on MLK. Malcolm X was assassinated in 1965; MLK was also assassinated a few years later. They spoke, people listened, and both were then silenced. Justice and equality was a threat to the ruling class. These two, powered by their faith, made amazing changes, from changing the African American mindset to promoting self-love to providing rights African Americans never had before such as voting and desegregation.

The I have a dream speech was given in 1963, 5 years before his assassination. American culture froze MLK at that speech, but what happened in those 5 years? MLK began seeing what Malcolm X saw, and began leaning to his ideology. That politically they may have accomplished great things (providing rights by hanging laws), but culturally there is still a lot of work to be done. King later came to appreciate X’s view and insights. Especially after the Watts Rebellion in LA.

King later adopted X’s language of the ghetto, a “ system of internal colonization”. King said, “The purpose of the slum is to confine those who have no power and perpetuate powerlessness.” The slum is a little more than a domestic colony which leaves its inhabitants dominated politically, exploited economically, segregated and humiliated at every turn. There’s a side that liberals that promote Martin Luther King Jr. don’t want you see, it is the side that denounced them. “ We must face the appalling fact that we have been betrayed by both the Democratic and Republican parties.” Martin Luther King Jr said.  Before his assassination Martin Luther King Jr. left the Democratic party, as he realized that to attain justice we need to uplift our culture, not our laws.

“As early as 1964 he is calling for war on poverty,” says Thomas Jackson, author of “From Civil Rights to Human Rights: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Struggle for Economic Justice.”, who came across King’s New York speech in the archives of New York University. King’s remarks also caught the attention of another civil rights leader, Jackson says. “Malcolm X heard about it and said something to the effect that it was the best thing he ever heard King say,” Jackson says. When King denounced the Vietnam war in 1967, the Democrats regarded him as a traitor. This opened his eyes wider and made him push the anti-racist, anti-materialism, and anti-militarism agenda harder. Since then he has lost supporters, and before his assassination he parted ways from the democratic party. In all, 168 newspapers denounced. Johnson ended his formal relationship with King. “What is that goddamned ****** preacher doing to me?” Johnson reportedly remarked after the Riverside speech. “We gave him the Civil Rights Act of 1964, we gave him the Voting Rights Act of 1965, we gave him the war on poverty. What more does he want?”

It is not a coincidence that prisons and the urban ghetto are populated with people of color. It is a calculated strategy by the liberal class to avoid a unified culture amongst African Americans. Had X and MLK not been assassinated, we may have reached new heights in civil rights and cultural environment.

The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said:

O people! Verily your Lord is One and your father (Adam) is one. An Arab is not better than a non-Arab, and a non-Arab is not better than an Arab; a white man is not better than a black man and a black man is not better than a white man – except in piety

(Reported by Imaam Ahmad, 22391; al-Silsilat al-Saheeh, 2700)

Malcolm X was aiming for the self-empowerment of the black community. He said, “ you may not be responsible for getting yourself into the situation you are in. But if you want to get out, you will have to get yourself out. The people who put you in there, are not going to get you out.”

Neither hero sold out, played politics, or compromised their belief. Had they been alive today, both MLK and Malcolm X would have been pariahs and victims of the liberal class like Noam Chomsky, Chris Hedges, Ralph Nader, or Dr. Norman Finkelstein.

To summarize the words of MLK …”Cowardice asks the question, is it safe? Expediency asks the question is it politics? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? But consciousness asks the question, is it right?”

A a human being that co-inhabits the same space as others, we should ask ourselves every day, “is it right?” Be you an activist, a student, or a parent. Do what you can, research what you are doing. We sometimes believe we are doing good because our intention is pure. Unintentionally we may be undoing the good. “The dead person is followed (to his grave) by three: His family, his wealth and his actions. Two of them return and only one remains. His family and wealth return, but his actions remain.”[Related by Al-Bukhari and Muslim]. Another skill Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. had that we can develop ourselves is looking at issues comprehensively instead of in isolation. We see the labor movement in one direction, the anti-immigration another, the environmental headed elsewhere, and so on. Little do we know how much they overlap, but real activists see this, “ The problem of racism, the problem of economic exploitation, and the problem of war are all tied together. These are the triple evils that are interrelated.” Martin Luther King Jr. This comes through genuine understanding, it is part of Islam as well, we should train ourselves through critical thinking and skepticism to take a comprehensive outlook on things and realize when you are fighting for justice; all causes play a role to enhance and prosper the welfare of your fellow brothers and sisters. Malcolm X once said, “ We need more light about each other. Light creates understanding, understanding creates love, love creates patience, and patience creates unity.” These are all characteristics that describe Islam. From light to unity.

Finally, the best advice I could give is not from me, but the words of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), and that is to not compromise your deen when seeking justice, or for the sake of justice.

Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) says: وَدُّوا لَوْ تُدْهِنُ فَيُدْهِنُونَ

They wish that you should compromise (in religion out of courtesy) with them, so they (too) would compromise with you. (Al-Qalam, ayah 9)

Keep supporting MuslimMatters for the sake of Allah

Alhamdulillah, we're at over 850 supporters. Help us get to 900 supporters this month. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Abu Ryan Bilou Al Dardiri holds multiple degrees and masters in education and various sciences, and holds credentials in US Govt and Politics from the Harvard Kennedy School, Data Science from Columbia University, and Maryland University. He is currently enrolled as a student in Mishkah pursuing a bachelors in Islamic Studies. He is working at the WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) as an educational advisor. He is the founder and Chief Coordinator of the non-profit organization The Building Blocks of New Jersey whose mission is: “To aid self development, promote activism, and bolster community building”, and AJR International focusing on Muslim villages in India and Nigeria. He also consults and is a trustee at “Outreach on the Barrio” based in Houston, and Green Muslims based in Washington DC. In 2019 he published his first children’s book titled “My First Illustrated Hadith Book”, and since then has published more children books and 99 names of Allah for adults.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Bashir

    February 26, 2018 at 4:07 PM

    Great way to link up both iconic figures by showing they were not mutually exclusive. “Triple threat of evils” is even more relevant today than fifty years ago.

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