What were Malcolm X's religious beliefs and how did his beliefs affect his actions?

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Jamie Wheeler eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Malcolm X was once an American Black Muslim minister.   He also was one of the leaders of the Nation of Islam. It is the disparity between these two belief systems that has led to some confusion about what Malcolm X did  & did not believe.  The Nation of Islam was separatist, believing that white people are the products of the devil and that black people were supposed to be atop the social order.  However,  after a pilgrimage to Mecca, in 1964, X became a Sunni Muslim & left the Nation of Islam.   Malcolm X now viewed Muslims of different races as equal & thought that all could get along eventually.  (Excluded, however, were persons of differing faiths.)

This quotation from Autobiography describes his religious & social outlook:

My thinking had been opened up wide in Mecca. I wrote long letters to my friends (about) my search for truth and justice. “I’ve had enough of someone else’s propaganda,” I had written to these friends. “I am for truth, no matter who tells it. I am for justice, no matter who it is for or against. I am a human being first and foremost, and as such I’m for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole.” ... I believe in anger. I believe it is a crime for anyone who is being brutalized to continue to accept that brutality without doing something to defend himself. ...(L)et me remind you that when the white man came into this country, he certainly wasn’t demonstrating non-violence."

rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Malcolm X's religious beliefs changed over time, even after he converted to Islam and took the surname "X." He converted to Islam while in prison, and joined the Nation of Islam. This group's leader, Elijah Muhammad, preached a combination of black separatism, liberation theology, and Islam. He rose through the ranks of the Nation of Islam to become a fiery preacher, who advocated black separatism (as opposed to integration) and the rejection of every aspect of white culture, including Christianity, which he and other Nation members regarded as tied permanently to the oppression of nonwhites. He and others rejected coalitions and cooperation with white people, who they saw as fundamentally wicked.

Eventually, as Malcolm X became a more prominent figure, he began to doubt this dogmatic approach to race relations, and actually left the Nation of Islam, even as he continued to advocate black self-defense and radical measures. After his pilgrimage to Mecca, where he encountered many white Muslims, he began to move toward a more conciliatory (but still quite radical) approach to fighting for African American equality. So here again, changes in his religious beliefs were reflected in his political stance.

mfleegler | Student

You've asked an important question about a man who represented a commitment to ideals that changed during his life.  Depending on whether you address this important figure as Malcolm Little, Malcolm X or El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz - you'll find a spectrum of belief that illustrates one great man's journey of self-discovery.

It is in his last incarnation as a Sunni Muslim that we find a unification of trends in his belief system: disavowing racism & expressing a willingness to work with civil rights leaders, though still emphasizing black self-determination and the fundamental right to the self-defense of a people/person.

kemran2009 | Student

what were malcolm X's beliefs

Read the study guide:
The Autobiography of Malcolm X

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