Still brothers: Making sense of the Malcolm and Ali split

Still brothers: Making sense of the Malcolm and Ali split
Still brothers: Making sense of the Malcolm and Ali split/courtesy of Wikipedia common

The late Al-Hajj Malik Al Shabazz Malcolm X wrote to Muhammad Ali in 1964: “Because all of the people here in Asia, Arabia, and Africa love you madly, you must be forever aware of your responsibility to these billions of dark-skinned people and never do or say anything that will distort the good image they have of you over here,” Malcolm X wrote. “You shook the foundations of the world. It’s important to remember that you were the champion in my eyesight before you defeated Liston, so you know I would never give you bad advice.


After Ali and Malcolm met by coincidence at a hotel in Ghana the same year, Malcolm left a note, and Ali was famous for turning his back on Malcolm, who had been Ali’s previous guru in the Nation of Islam at the time. The 22-year-old boxer had already heard about Malcolm’s feud with the leader of the NOI, Elijah Muhammad. So when he arrived in Ghana, he found himself unable to understand his emotions upon seeing his famous friend, whose hajj experience had altered.


Malcolm dressed in “traditional Muslim white robes, ” to paraphrase Ali’s description, further symbolized his separation with Elijah Muhammad.” He walked with a cane that resembled a prophet’s staff, and he had a beard on his face. “I was worried he’d gone too far.”


Over the next half-century and beyond, we have mourned the separation of these two iconic individuals of the twentieth century, even as their relationship continues to fascinate us. The film “One Night in Miami,” where Malcolm and Ali spend an evening with Sam Cooke and Jim Brown, grabbed audiences throughout the country when it was released in January. Last month, Netflix broadcasted an adaptation of the 2018 book “Blood Brothers: Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali,” which was made possible by collaborating with various members of the men’s respective families.


The refusal of Ali to make peace with Malcolm in Ghana would be a source of tremendous regret for him later in life. He had fought and defeated world heavyweight champion Sonny Liston, only a few weeks before, but it was far simpler to battle an opponent who was already familiar with him in the ring.


Malcolm, for his part, was well aware that many young men harbored animosity toward him after he left the Nation of Islam, and he expressed his forgiveness to them. Because Malcolm had taught Ali for years that the honorable Elijah Muhammad was a heavenly messenger, Malcolm had a unique affinity for Ali. Ali was being told by the messenger that Malcolm was a deluded hypocrite at this point.


His response would be, “I might not have been a Muslim if it hadn’t been for Malcolm’s influence.” It’s possible that if I had the chance to go back and do it all over again, I would never have turned my back on him.”


At Southern Methodist University, I teach about Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. every semester in my Islam in the Civil Rights Movement course (Islam in the Civil Rights Movement). The students get a great deal from the photograph I show them of the two civil rights leaders’ lone meeting, which took place on Capitol Hill on March 26, 1964, and their shaking hands. Every man expressed his wish to put aside their differences and begin working together after only a few minutes of discussion.


Malcolm did travel down to Selma, Alabama, to show his support for King, despite the latter being imprisoned at the time. But, unfortunately, Malcolm was slain only a few weeks after this. So, while the prospect of the two working together may have been a beautiful concept to their followers, it was a terrible thought to J. Edgar Hoover, the director of the FBI. Perhaps this is why Hoover sent a telegraph to the FBI, urging them to “do something about Malcolm X” for fear that he would be the “black messiah,” as he put it.


Under the direction of J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI played an important part in neutralizing Black coalition-building efforts in the 1960s and further escalating tensions between Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam. As a result, there will always be questions about the FBI’s involvement in the assassinations of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.


The divisions between these activists were undoubtedly not natural, and we can attribute both their mutual attraction and alienation to the psychological torture they endured as a result of everything they went through, which could only be understood by those who had personally experienced it.


Ali’s relationship with Malcolm did not come to an end with the latter’s death. Identified arsonists set fire to Ali’s flat the same day Malcolm was killed, causing her to lose her life. Ali wasn’t sure what to make of it, other than to take it as a warning to keep her mouth shut in the future. Today, their families are closer than ever before, to the point where you would assume they were all one unit.


Some people may have a difficult time forgiving Ali. But, on the other hand, Malcolm would have been the first to speak up in defense of his younger brother. He would remind us that Ali grew up to be everything that he, Malcolm, had hoped he would be and then more. He was right. Imagine how proud Malcolm would’ve been to witness his younger brother stand up to America’s war machine and put everything on the line by refusing to be drafted into the military service.


I can only imagine the emotions of delight Malcolm would have had upon seeing Ali light the Olympic flame during the Atlanta Games as a hero. They had touched the lives of hundreds of millions of people all over the world.


Malcolm’s unwavering selflessness was one of his many admirable characteristics. He wished for Ali to be a champion of humankind and the best version of himself in order to make the world a better version of itself in the process of doing so.


As books and movies are written and produced about the terrible rift, the beauty of Malcolm’s influence on Ali is demonstrated in the manner Ali influenced the globe after he passed away.


In order to be inspired, we Muslims reflect back on the life of the Prophet Muhammad’s companions (peace be upon them). They didn’t all accept the Prophet’s word at the same time for various reasons. They persecuted, and in some cases killed, some of the Prophet’s followers before converting to Islam themselves.


According to the Prophet, God chuckles at the meeting of two men in Paradise, one of whom had even slain the other before repenting. However, because they are now seated on thrones facing one another as brothers and sisters, all of their worldly differences have been forgotten.


In the instance of two shining heroes, Malcolm and Ali, I hope and pray that this is the case for them at this time. What is certain is that the stories of both men would be incomplete if they did not meet each other. They would be grateful to one other for their shared love and effect on the lives of those who came after them.


Because of this, we are grateful to God and them for what they have given us, which motivates us to be our best selves.


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