One need not be an admirer of the Nation of Islam to acknowledge that the former Malcolm Little’s introduction to Elijah Muhammad did serve as a positive influence on the former. Imprisoned for burglary, and having been a pimp and a thug on the streets, Malcolm Little’s introduction to Muhammad and the Nation of Islam opened new doors to the aimless, small-time criminal that involved immersion in a religion and philosophy that forbade the activities for which he had been convicted and from which he had earned a living prior to being sentenced to prison. Not only were the kinds of illegal and immoral activities on which Little had been dependent banned by the Nation, but he was now part of a very disciplined organization that eschewed alcohol and drugs and that pursued a political agenda with which the renamed Malcolm X was able to sympathize: the advancement of African-American rights and the spread of Islam.
That Malcolm X would eventually break with the Nation of Islam – “I did many things as a Muslim that I’m sorry for now. I was a zombie then…pointed in a certain direction and told to march” – is not to say that the Nation, and its leader, Elijah Muhammad, had not played an important and positive role in transforming a young, angry African-American into a constructive agent of change, in a realm in which change was certainly warranted. Elijah Muhammad’s excesses and overly militant and separatist agenda was more than Malcolm X was able to abide, but without that introduction while in prison, Malcolm X, who grew as a human and as a leader, would likely never have existed.