On the Memory of Malcolm

Malcolm X, one of the symbols of the black struggle in America, has become an icon of freedom and human rights for Americans, African Americans, and Muslim Americans. As we conclude February, the black history month in the US, I thought of sharing the outline of the Friday Khutba I delivered reflecting on the story of Malcolm from a personal perspective. I refrained as much as I could from talking about political and social impact Malcolm had given that I am no reference on such an important subject. However, I believe the continuous struggle of African Americans and more specifically the Muslim part of it is a very important piece of history we should all learn.

Stories are important

Stories are the best learning tool ever. It is not surprising that Allah made one third of His Book about stories. It is not surprising that He orders His Messenger (and subsequently all of us) to tell stories, “So tell stories for they may think and reflect.” When the stories are true, when they are full of challenges, struggle, and actions, they become the best tool of personal development. History is the place to examine in  order to see the future. Life is nothing but a repeating pattern, except that it requires a little effort to discover it.

The story of Malcolm is very important. Malcolm is a person many of us can relate to. He did not live very far in history. The struggle he went through and the problems he faced are very similar to those we go through.

Malcolm in brief

Malcolm’s dad died when he was a preteen. He was killed in a racist crime. His mom spent the rest of her life in a mental hospital. He grew up in a series of foster homes. He lived a typical African American life at the time, facing discrimination and racism, going into crime, and ending up in jail. In jail, he got introduced to the Nation of Islam, a black movement trying to liberate Black Americans through promoting black supremacy as an opposing concept to white supremacy. Despite its name, it was quite different from Islam the religion. After he had come out of jail, he became a very influential leader in the Nation and presented himself as one of its powerful ministers. However, due to a little conflict with –and jealousy from– other leaders in the Nation, he was banned from public speaking due to comments he made to the press. At that point of time, he was introduced to the mainstream Islam which he embraced. He then traveled to Mecca for Hajj, a trip in which he visited many places in the world and met with many Muslim leaders. He came back a completely different person. He continued his struggle for freedom and human rights for black Americans yet on a different value system other than that of the Nation. He was then assassinated by some members of the Nation with a lot of mystery about the involvement of government agencies in this assassination.*

LESSON #1: ‘Allah knows and you don’t

Malcolm started his life on a very difficult note. His father was killed in a racist crime, his mom was placed in a mental hospital, he grew up mostly in foster homes, he went to jail. This was a typical tough start for the average African American at the time. Yet, despite the challenge he went through, he ended his life as the figure we are talking about and many people look up to him and see inspiration in his endeavor. One needs to reflect on the plans that Allah makes for people. He wouldn’t have become Malcolm that we know except through this specific journey that was bumpy and challenging. Racism against father led somehow to his awareness of the problem, and later to activism and struggle against it. Jail, one of the worst experience one can go through, led to joining the Nation. The Nation, although is not the ideology that we would support, led to Malcolm developing the plethora of  skills in leadership, public speaking, and public organization. Disagreement and conflict with the Nation lead to embracing Islam and transforming his whole life. Had these challenges never happened to him, he would have become a normal person. We should not surrender to circumstances. One should not give in to bad experience or hard times. It may be Allah’s plan for us to change. It is our response to difficult experience that decides the outcome. Many people went through the same bad experience Malcolm went through but did not end up being heros.

One should recall the tough experience Prophet Yusuf (pbuh) went through. No young boy wants to be hated or kidnapped by his own brothers. No one wants to be enslaved. No one wants to be seduced. No one wants to go to jail. However, going through the story again. It is every single step in it, although very bad, is what led to Yusuf being the leader that we know of. Again, one should not aim for bad experience. Rather, when it happens, we should see it as Allah’s plan to make us better. Is it really that? Our response decides.

LESSON #2: The end is what matters

You may think that the comparison of Malcolm and Yusuf does not hold. Yusuf never committed any crime. It was injustice that is committed against him by others. However –you can claim, Malcolm was originally a bad person. He is the one who engaged in bad actions: women, drugs, gangs, etc. He is the one who put himself in difficult times.

With this thought in mind, we can learn the second lesson from Malcolm’s story: it does not matter what you were. What matters is what you are going to be. Omar Ibn Al-Khattab (r) was one of the toughest enemies to Islam. He used to torture Muslims in the streets of Mecca to force them to leave their religion. Omar’s crime is way bigger than Malcolm’s. However, when Omar saw the truth, he transformed. He embraced Islam and Islam transformed his life. He became a person about whom the Prophet (pbuh) said, “The faith of Omar outweighs the faith of the whole Muslim Ummah counting out Abu Bakr.” He lived a whole life striving for the sake of Allah, and died as a martyr for the sake of Allah. It does not matter much what Omar was originally. What really mattered was how he ended his life.

Ekrimah Ibn Abi Jahl lived his whole life fighting the Prophet (pbuh). He said, “O Prophet of Allah, I did not have any opportunity to fight you and Islam except that I did.” When the prophet went into Mecca victoriously, no one from the people of Mecca fought him except Ekrimah and a few. He forgave the whole population of Mecca despite their track of enmity to him except a handful of criminals, Ekrimah was one of them. Ekrima’s wife was able to get him forgiveness from the Prophet. Ekrima spoke to the Prophet, saw the truth in Islam, embraced Islam, and committed himself in front of the prophet  to “undo the evil he has done.” Ekrimah ended his life as a martyr for the sake of Allah and we all remember him and ask Allah to be pleased with him and have mercy on him.

One should note, however, that it is important to act upon moments of truth. Had Malcolm not changed, his name would have been written in the record of criminals as opposed to heros. Had Omar and Ekrimah ignored the opportunity, they would have continued to be the toughest enemy to Islam and ended up being in Fire.

LESSON #3: The truth needs to be sought

Malcolm’s endeavor seeking the truth is really inspiring. Although it happened over a short period of time, it appeared as a long journey. He went to the Middle East, Africa, Europe, Aisa and learned a lot in his journey. Allah (swt) said, “those who struggle for our sake, we will guide them our ways.

Malcolm’s journey reminds us of Salman, the young persian who grew up worshipping fire. He was sent to look after the real estate of his father and on the way he met a christian priest through whom he got to know Allah. He would travel between cities seeking the truth until the his last teacher told him to look for the Messenger (pbuh) in a land of the palmtrees. He sold everything he has to be given a trip to this land and he was betrayed and sold as a slave. From a master to another, he ended up being enslaved in Medina. He finally arrived at the destination he was looking for. He became Salman that we know of and who is called by Muslim historians, “the seeker of the truth.”

Finding the truth is a journey that we ask Allah every single prayer to “Guide us to the Straight Path!

LESSON #4: The unsung heros

What is really amazing in Malcolm’s story is those people who influenced his life. Reading a brief of his biography, I ask, “Who was able to convince this guy to consider Islam? Who had the ability to change Malcolm’s mind? Who met him during his trip to the Middle East? Whom did he meet in Europe and how were they able to change his mind?’

These people are more powerful than Malcolm. They are more valuable to Malcolm than he is to himself. A share of Malcolm’s effort and reward afterwards will go to them. They could have ignored him. They could have considered ‘Malcolm of the Nation’ an enemy, an intellectual and social enemy to say the least. They, instead, considered him a human who needs guidance. We should not underestimate a word of truth we say to someone even if we think this word is not going make a difference.Even the bedtime story you tell your own kids can be transformational to them. Who knows who will be the next hero?!

LESSON #5 The Wisdom of Allah and the brilliance of Sharia

A transformational moment in Malcolm’s life was his trip to Hajj, pilgrimage to Mecca. It changed his mind seeing people of different races, languages, nations, backgrounds get together in harmony and peace. It shook him how people of color get together with white people to worship Allah. It was an awakening experience for him. This is one of the message behind Hajj. We sometimes wish that Hajj is less busy or spread throughout the year but Allah knows better. This gathering in its very nature has wisdom. This wisdom was able to change a black supremacy believer into one who believes that men are created equal and there is no preference of a white over black or otherwise except by piety and good action.

May Allah have mercy on Hajj Malcolm! May Allah accept him among the martyrs! May Allah gather us with him in Paradise with our beloved Prophet and his companions. Amin!

* The detailed story of Malcolm is worth reading!

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Collective Iman – An experiment and a conclusion

About Iman

‘Iman,’ that linguistically means “faith” or “belief,” is used in this post in its comprehensive sense. It includes belief that resides in the hearts, what would be said by the tongue, and the actions that follow. It includes rituals as well as character. It is what the Prophet (pbuh) meant when he said, “Iman is some sixty branches, the highest of which is ‘No god but Allah,’ and the lowest is removing the harm from the road. Modesty is a branch of Iman.” The believers (al-Mo’minoon, the people of Iman), although are described with this title achieve different levels of Iman given the amount of belief that resides in their heart and the actions they do. Iman goes up and it goes down. There are better believers than other believer and a person is a better believer at one time than he/she is at another. Think of Iman as a score the believer achieves. The maximum score is infinity and the minimum score is an extremely high unknown score that you get by attesting that there is no god except Allah. One can increase the score by obeying Allah and His Messenger and the score goes down by different acts of disobedience. The +ve unit is called “Hasanah” and the -ve unit is called “Sayy’ah.”

About ‘Collective’ Iman

It is obvious that Iman is an individual quality. The score of Iman is an individual score. Before Allah, we will be standing alone individually reporting our deeds to Him. “Each of them will come to Him alone” [Surat Mariam]. The score of people around me does not affect my score nor does my score affected theirs.* However, in this life as Allah promised support and victory to the believers and stated conditions and laws for this support, Iman plays a very significant role in bringing about this support. “We will grant support to Our Messengers and to the believers …” [Surat Ghafir]. Allah’s support to us as a community** depends with a great deal on the amount of Iman we collectively score.

About Measuring Iman

Measuring Iman is not easy since it involves quantities that exist in the heart. It is almost impossible to measure how much faith people have in their hearts. Even actions that are apparent cannot be counted easily given that they depend greatly on the intention, something that resides in the heart as well. Even the angels who record the deeds of each one of us fail, sometimes, to translate some deeds to Hasanat and Allah orders them to write these deeds as they are and He will reward accordingly.***

Although difficult one can have an idea by observing some indicators. For example, the Messenger (pbuh) said, “If you see a person frequent mosques, be a witness that he has Iman.” Indicators are numerous. “… Charity is a proof … ” as the Prophet says. Of course, it is impossible to be decisive but our good deeds are a good indicator of our Iman score. Good deeds lead to higher Iman score and hence can serve as a good indicator. Having a higher Iman score leads to doing even more good deeds and the indicator becomes more useful. Is it possible that someone will be doing tons of deeds and his/her Iman score is very low or vice versa? Yes, but very unlikely.

Experiment

In our weekly Halaqah, a study circle with about 10 people Continue reading

The Milk Factory

A very interesting description when Allah mentioned the cattle in a verse in the chapter of “The Bees,” Allah says what can be translated as:

Surely there is a lesson for you in the cattle: We provide you to drink out of that which is in their bellies between the feces  and the blood pure milk which is palatable drink for those who take it [16:66]

Although the verse is talking about the real milk and the real cattle, I would like to drive a lesson in real life. Just think that every time people drink milk, you remind them of this verse and show them pictures of blood and feces. What do you think they will do? Although it is reality and you are not showing them anything that is wrong, this is not how people like enjoy drinking milk. The process, although well known and has to be known, is not necessarily useful to be exposed to everyone who drinks. This may harm people and may make them stop drinking milk.

In real life, especially in organizational life, the interaction between people who work together in an organization to produce something, being it a product, a service, or a program, is like the process that takes place in the bellies on the cattle. It is not an easy process. There will be opinions and opposing opinions. There will be conflict and friction. Sometimes, there will be problems and difficulties. Sometimes is tough (blood) and sometimes is really bad (?) 🙂

Transparency, on one hand, is important so organizations can be held accountable by its stake holders–such as members, share holders, or customers. However, on the other hand, excessive and unwise transparency can  be similar to showing a milk drinker a movie of the cow’s belly while drinking milk.

Beautiful and useful products can be made disgusting by unwise transparency.

Reward and Fame

An important question

A man came to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and asked him a very important question. “How about a man who goes out to a battle aiming for both reward and fame? What would he get?” Although the question was about a very specific action, fighting in the battle field, the question can apply to any action that one does for the sake of Allah, His pleasure, and gaining His reward. I will delay the Prophet’s answer until the end of the post. Please do not jump to the answer and continue reading 🙂

Actions done with multiple intention

As we learn Islam, we have been taught by our teachers that we can gain reward by associating a good intention to our deeds irrespective of whether this action is a ritual or not. For example, a doctor, studying for years and then working of limitless hours is doing so to make good living and increase wealth. Continue reading

Affiliation, is it enough?

I was reading a few of the words of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) this morning. In a relatively long Hadith, I found this following statement that was a very good reminder for me. I thought it may be a reminder for the few readers who come here and hence this post.

The Statement

من أبطأ به عمله لم يسرع به نسبه

I translated that to: “He whose actions slow him down, his affiliation can not speed him up” *

A Story

A man by the name of Al-Asma3y was walking around the Ka3ba in a beautiful full-moon night when he realized a man praying and supplicating. He realized that the man is not feeling well and he approached him. He said, “I recognized him. He was Zain Al-Abideen Aly Ibn Al-Hussein Ibn Ali, the son of the grand son of the Messenger (pbuh).” He tried to comfort him and told him, “You should rejoice since Allah has given you a lot o family of the prophet.” Zain Al-Abideen responded by saying, “Haven’t you heard the verse from the Qur’an that says ‘And the trumpet is blown [on the Day of Judgment]; that day, no relationship between them [will benefit] …’?” “Haven’t you heard the Messenger (pbuh) saying, ‘he whose actions slow him down, his affiliation cannot speed him up’?” He added.

A man like Zain Al-Abideen who is known of his piety, knowledge, and his family relationship to the prophet is worried about himself and did not rely on this relationship to get closer to Allah. He thought, despite his well-known effort, that he did not do enough and hence his deep supplication and prayer reported in the story.

The Bottom Line

  • This life is a race, a race to achieve the pleasure of God and his support and guidance. It is not a race to materialistic gains. In this race, the fuel is your actions. The ones who hasten to do good deeds will be in the forefront of the winners.
  • Our actions are so little, sometimes, that we are not moving forward with enough speed. Other times, our actions are what slow us down or move us in the opposite direction of the race.
  • We have many affiliations and we are proud of these affiliations. I am proud to be a Muslim; I am proud to be American; I am proud to be Egyptian. I am proud to be from such and such family; I am proud to be the nephew of such and such great person; I am proud to be a member of this particular movement, group, or organization. There is nothing wrong in feeling the pride in such affiliation especially if these affiliations stand for what is virtuous.
  • Most of the time, these affiliations are source of inspiration as well as a tool that helps shape identity and facilitate good actions. However, we tend to think we are OK by just belonging to great people or being part of awesome groups.
  • The real fuel in this race is your actions. If your affiliations derive more actions, you will move faster. If your actions are not enough, or bad enough to move you in the opposite direction, BE CAREFUL, “He whose actions slow him down, his affiliation will not speed him up!
May Allah have peace and blessing on the His Messenger, and grant us enough actions to make us on the level of those honorable affiliations we chose to belong to.
* This was reported in the authentic book of Muslim as part of a larger hadith

Can’t focus? Here …

I was always wondering about the fact that the few minutes we spend in our prayer everyday are considered the most important deed we do. Five times a day, you will have to drop what you are doing and get into praying. There is a huge value in these few minutes that we spend in our prayer. And I am sure there is a huge impact our prayer has on us so that we can live a better life during the many hours we spend outside prayer.

Part of what the five times prayers teach us is the ability to focus. It brings to our habit the concept of “prioritizing” and the concept of “focusing” on high priority actions. Many of us just do many things Continue reading

Change by your heart or your heart will change

The Prophet (pbuh) said in a very famous Hadith, “Whoever sees something wrong should change it, with his hand. If he can’t, then with his tongue. If he can’t then with his heart and that is the weakest of faith.” The prophet, by this hadith, mandated everyone to change that which is wrong. All of us are obligated to do so. Sometimes, we are able to directly change what is wrong when we have an authority to do so. When we can’t, the obligation does not drop. It continues to be mandatory but through speaking against it so that people who can change it, change it. This is pretty straight forward and obvious.

What is interesting is the third statement. Continue reading