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"The Message" Exclusive on Malcolm X

 

 

 

Beyond Malcolm
Muslim Leadership for the 21st Century

Amir Al-Islam


A very unique quality of Malcolm's leadership was that it was not limited to Muslims, but was trans-cultural and trans-generational. Many groups claim Malcolm as their own, including black nationalists, Marxists, and pan-Africanists. They all profess to be followers of Malcolm, selectively appropriating aspects of his life to suit their own views, philosophies and perspectives.


When I was asked to write an article on Al Hajj Malik El Shabazz (Malcolm X), I thought about the fact that so much has already been written about this towering figure that I could not think of any area that was unexplored. In my estimation, however, Malcolm X continues to influence people around the world and still remains a model for leadership. He was courageous, humble, intelligent, generous, committed, disciplined, and more than anything else, he sacrificed his life for truth and social justice and died a martyr. This type of leadership, with few exceptions, is sorely missing from the global stage today.

A very unique quality of Malcolm's leadership was that it was not limited to Muslims, but was trans-cultural and trans-generational. Many groups claim Malcolm as their own, including black nationalists, Marxists, and pan-Africanists. They all profess to be followers of Malcolm, selectively appropriating aspects of his life to suit their own views, philosophies and perspectives. Unfortunately, most non-Muslims fail to recognize the significance of Malcolm's life after his pilgrimage to Mecca, because it represents the final stage of his spiritual evolution. Using Malcolm's model of leadership after his pilgrimage to Mecca, my intentions are to interrogate what I consider to be the most critical aspect of Muslim leadership for the 21st century, cooperation and coordination beyond the fault lines of race and gender.

Using Malcolm X as a paradigm for leadership in no way compromises the in- disputable fact that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is our model and example. The Holy Quran states: You have in the Prophet Muhammad the perfect model of conduct. In order to establish a conceptual framework for analysis, it is essential that I contextualize my views. In other words, my analysis is based on Muslim leadership in America, a secular "democracy," where Muslims are a minority in a majority "Christian" country, with a Judeo-Christian ethos. And in order to attempt to make projections about Muslim leadership for the 21st century, the analysis must be based on an assessment of the historical trajectory of the American Muslim experience, which encompasses both immigrant and indigenous experiences.


Using the organizational development methodology of Maulana Mawdudi and the Jamaat Al-Islami of Pakistan, which lays special emphasis on spiritual development, ICNA has developed a strong foundation. ICNA's vision of an ethnically diverse movement coupled with its policies of not accepting funds from the Muslim governments, places it at the forefront of Islamic leadership in America and makes it one of the most viable national Islamic organizations in America today.


The Formation of Immigrant Muslim Organization and Leadership Models

The immigrant Muslim experience in America began at the turn of the 20th century. Muslims began migrating to the US in large numbers from Lebanon, Syria and other countries in the Middle East through the first half of the century. In order to hold together their customs and respond to certain social issues such as marriage, burials and the education of their children, the Muslim immigrants began to organize and establish mosques and Islamic centers in Cedar Rapids, Detroit, Chicago, and other major cities.

By the 1950s, Muslims were scattered throughout the US and began to feel a need to establish an umbrella organization. They began organizing national conventions and in Chicago in July 1954, the Federation of Islamic Associations of the US and Canada (FIA) was established. By the 1960s, a new organization, made up of well-educated foreign Muslim students from various countries formed the Muslim Students Association (MSA). The organization grew in size and sophistication, and by the 1970s, MSA established several constituent organizations such as the North American Islamic Trust the American Muslim Social Scientists, the American Muslim Scientists and Engineers and other professional associations. MSA became the largest and most organized Islamic organization in the US. And since their activities had expanded beyond the college campus, the MSA was compelled to change its structure. In 1981 the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) was established.

The constituent organizations of ISNA had their own committees and boards, but administrative and financial affairs were centralized in a general secretariat, under the direction of the executive council, the majlis-as-shura. The elected leadership of the organization was made up of well-educated Muslims from different countries, however, very few if any African Americans have held any leadership positions throughout the organization's history. As the organization grew, so did the financial responsibilities, resulting in massive fund-raising campaigns overseas.

Muslim governments donated large sums of money to MSA as well as its off- shoot, ISNA, and much of the organizational strategy emnated from Islamic movements abroad, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt. In my opinion, the funding from foreign governments and agencies as well as connections with foreign Muslim movements created problems for ISNA and has contributed to its decline in membership and influence. The organization expanded its activities with the help of an increase in revenues. However, when the funding decreased, the organization did no have the resources to continue the same level of operations, and as a result, many of its vital activities were curtailed. Secondly, many of the central personalities in leader- ship were influenced and guided by Islamic movements abroad and this created conflicts within the decision-making body and adversely affected organizational priorities.


In 1965, Malcolm X, Al Hajj Malik El Shabazz, was assassinated. Elijah Muhammad died in 1975 and appointed his son, Wallace D. Muhammad, who in a relatively short period of time, transformed the entire organization into the orbit of the orthodoxy. This event was not, however, without controversy. Minister Louis Farrakhan, an understudy of Malcolm X, eventually left the organization and reverted to the teachings of Elijah Muhammad and re-established the Nation of Islam, which still continues today.


At the same time that MSA spawned ISNA, it also gave birth to another powerful group. During the early 1970s, a group of Indo-Pakistanis who were prominent members of MSA, saw the need to expand and target their dawah activities to members of the Urdu-speaking community. They formed the Halaqa (Circle) in 1971. The Halaqa membership increased with groups in several cities around the country. By 1978, the Halaqa had evolved into the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA).

Presently, the organization has thousands of members throughout the US, a publishing arm that includes a monthly magazine and Islamic book service, an international relief agency, and a multimedia company that produces Islamic materials for children and adults. The general assembly, the governing body of ICNA, selects the national shura, and an amir. While the majority of the organization's membership is Indo-Pakistani, the organization has made attempts to include various ethnic groups. Presently, there are two African Americans on the national shura. ICNA functions on its own resources generated by the membership and has a policy of not accepting money from foreign Muslim governments. Using the organizational development methodology of Maulana Mawdudi and the Jamaat Al-Islami of Pakistan, which lays special emphasis on spiritual development, ICNA has developed a strong foundation. ICNA's vision of an ethnically diverse movement coupled with its policies of not accepting funds from the Muslim governments, places it at the forefront of Islamic leadership in America and makes it one of the most viable national Islamic organizations in America today. Its greatest challenge, however, is to remain an American-centered movement and not become overly influenced or subject to direction from Islamic movements abroad. In addition, while benefiting from the organizational shortcomings of its predecessor, the Islamic Circle of North America must strike the balance of keeping the spiritual focus while maintaining the positive aspects of western "professionalism," which was such a trademark of the MSA and ISNA.


Shaikh Dawud Faisal, originally from Grenada, West Indies. He established the first Sunni mosque in 1924 in Brooklyn, New York called the Islamic Mission of America. Another towering figure in African American Sunni Islam was Professor Ezeldeen who was second in command in Noble Drew Ali's movement.


The African American Islamic Experience and Organization Formation

The African American Islamic organizational development and leadership model has two different historical trajectories, the Nation of Islam and the "Sunni" Muslims. The Nation of Islam had ideological beginnings in Pan-Africanism and black liberation theology reflected by personalities such as Edward Wilmont Blyden, Duse Muhammad Ali and Marcus Gravey during the early period of the 20th century. However, it was Noble Drew Ali, founder of the Moorish Science Temple in 1913, who represented the major influence on African American Islam. Using a combination of the teachings of Garvey, Islam and Christianity, Ali's movement organized Temples throughout America.

In the 1920s, a new social actor emerged who synthesized both the teachings of Drew and Garvey to create the Nation of Islam. His name was Wallace D. Fard. Fard introduced the notion that the true religion for the Black man was Islam and that he was chosen by "Allah" to deliver the message. Fard was able to attract a significant number of followers who were impressed with his ability to fuse religion, economics, and a racial theory of black superiority into a powerful political force to be reckoned with. After the mysterious disappearance of Fard, his chief convert Elijah Muhammad, continued the mission to liberate his people with the new teachings of Islam. Elijah taught that Fard was God incarnate and he was his messenger. Elijah Muhammad attracted numerous followers to the Nation of Islam, however, it was Malcolm X, a new convert from prison, who attracted the majority of his followers. Malcolm became the national spokesman and close confidant of Elijah Muhammad. He eventually left the Nation of Islam after his famous pilgrimage to Mecca and conversion to Orthodox Islam. In 1965, Malcolm X, Al Hajj Malik El Shabazz, was assassinated. Elijah Muhammad died in 1975 and appointed his son, Wallace D. Muhammad, who in a relatively short period of time, transformed the entire organization into the orbit of the orthodoxy. This event was not, however, without controversy. Minister Louis Farrakhan, an understudy of Malcolm X, eventually left the organization and reverted to the teachings of Elijah Muhammad and re-established the Nation of Islam, which still continues today.

While many of the African American Sunni Muslims were previously associated with the Nation, others were introduced to Islam by the Ahmadiyya movement, which was introduced to the shores of North America in 1921 by Dr. Mufti Muhammad Sadiq from India. However, most were influenced by leaders such as Shaikh Dawud Faisal, originally from Grenada, West Indies. He established the first Sunni mosque in 1924 in Brooklyn, New York called the Islamic Mission of America. Another towering figure in African American Sunni Islam was Professor Ezeldeen who was second in command in Noble Drew Ali's movement. One of the first African Americans to master the Arabic language and Islamic studies in Egypt, Professor Ezeldeen, upon his return to the States, rejected the teachings of the Moorish Science Temple and developed orthodox Islamic communities in several cities throughout the US. In addition, he was responsible for establishing the first national Islamic organization among Sunni Muslims, the United Islamic Communities, which included among others, Shaikh Dawud, members of the First Cleveland and Pittsburgh mosques. Other pioneers such as Soufi Abdul Hamid, Adbul Wadud Bey, founded the Harlem International Society at 125th St, the first Islamic center in Manhattan.

These and other African American Sunni Muslim leaders were the pioneers of orthodox Islam in America and were precursors to large Islamic organizations such as Darul Islam, Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood and the Islamic Party in North America. Most of the pioneers of African American Islam constructed their vision of Islam in an environment of racial oppression and marginalization of Blacks. These charismatic leaders felt that in addition to a new religion, African Americans needed to develop racial pride and a positive sense of identity and self-worth which would enable them to move beyond the negative characterization of the demonized other which was promulgated by the greater society. Many of these groups and organizations were aberrations of orthodox Islam. However, they served to introduce Islam to African Americans and made major contributions to the development of Islam in America.

This historical overview represents a generalization and surface analysis did requires much more in-depth study. The material is not without flaws and is used for the purpose of establishing a pretext for putting my opinions and suggestions in some type of context.


The National Shura should pay special attention to the youth who are adversely affected by negative aspects of American culture. There should be local, regional and national youth forums and conferences where young people could discuss their concerns as well as enjoy themselves socially within an Islamic environment.


The Present Situation: Communities and Organizations

According to the latest statistics, there are between five to eight million Muslims in America made up of over fifty nationalities. Presently in several Muslim organizations and communities in America, there are ethnically diverse populations, however, for the most part, most are ethnically polarized. African American Muslims, who are not affiliated with Imam W. D. Mohammed, have their own separate mosques. However, there is a growing tendency of ethnic integration, particularly in urban areas. The followers of Imam Mohammed have maintained their own mosques and Centers. However, after Imam Mohammed decentralized the American Muslim Mission in 1985, his followers were encouraged to get involved and cooperate in activities with the larger Muslim community. Presently, there are local councils established which offer a site where Muslims of various ethnic backgrounds work together, but all too often their functions are limited to organizing Eid prayers. Leadership, governing and decision-making within the immigrant community is usually in the hands of a board of directors, who usually appoint or hire an Imam to conduct 66 religious affairs." African American "Sunni" groups, not affiliated with Imam W. D. Mohammed, are governed by strong and dynamic Imams who have consultative bodies, but are usually in control. In addition to transforming the theology and philosophy of the Nation of Islam, Imam W. D. Mohammed also transformed the leadership. While the local communities are still lead by charismatic Imams, there is a system of ratification by the general body. At the national level, although there is no formal national entity, Imam Mohammed has established a national shura made up of several Imams, which represents the consultative body.


The National Shura should make a special effort to utilize the media, television, radio and the internet to communicate the Islamic position on critical issues as well as to keep the Muslims informed. In addition, there needs to be more work done in Dawah so that the average American will not think that Minister Farrakhan represents Islam in America. Muslims have to be involved in the affairs of the society in order to project their views, values and ethics in the discursive networks in America.


Muslim Leadership for the 21st Century

In four years, we will enter into a new millenium. The 21st century is upon us and Muslims must be prepared to meet the challenges that lie ahead. In light of the fact that we have been given the responsibility of leadership for humanity, it is crucial that we develop a framework for how we propose to address this arduous task. Presently, there is a National Shura which comprises Imam W. D. Mohammed, Imam Jamil Al Amin, Dr. Abdullah ldris Ali, President of ISNA and Dr. Abdul Malik Mujahid, the Amir of ICNA. This is a move in the right direction and represents a major step toward unity. However, the National Shura must move beyond ceremonial unity and take the leadership and serve as an example for the rest of the Muslims in North America. Its activities must be expanded and perhaps the formation of a National Muslim Congress could be considered. There has to be an operational unity in order to serve the multi-faceted needs of the growing Muslim community to serve the needs of all the Muslims. Secondly, the National Shura could pool the resources of Muslims in America to establish local schools with standardized curricula. it is too costly for individual organizations to establish major institutions such as high schools and with national cooperation, this could be achieved. The Muslims in America have failed miserably to utilize the expertise of Muslim women. In many instances, cultural baggage brought from traditional Muslim countries and not Islamic exegesis, prevents Muslims from including women in decision-making positions in local, regional and national organizations, and as a result the entire Muslim community suffers.

The National Shura could consider developing a training institute to train new leadership for the new millenium. There are instances where Muslims are getting scholarships to attend Islamic universities abroad but oftentimes, these institutions are not equipped to address the new challenges of post-modem life in Western societies. The efficient and effective use of scholars and intellectuals should be a priority of the Shura. This body could create think tanks to do research and publish opinions and position papers on critical issues that Muslims face in America. The National Shura should pay special attention to the youth who are adversely affected by negative aspects of American culture. There should be local, regional and national youth forums and conferences where young people could discuss their concerns as well as enjoy themselves socially within an Islamic environment. Finally, the National Shura should make a special effort to utilize the media, television, radio and the internet to communicate the Islamic position on critical issues as well as to keep the Muslims informed. In addition, there needs to be more work done in Dawah so that the average American will not think that Minister Farrakhan represents Islam in America. Muslims have to be involved in the affairs of the society in order to project their views, values and ethics in the discursive networks in America.

These are only a few suggestions that I think could be considered by the National Shura. Undoubtedly, these are not new ideas and more than likely, they have been considered by members of the National Shura as well as other Muslims in America. In many cases, some of these concepts have already been implemented and are in the process of being established and this is only a reminder.

In order to develop functional unity, there has to be frank and honest dialogue between leadership on all levels, local, regional and national. Creating an environment where Muslims are receptive to talking to each other in an atmosphere of true sisterhood and brotherhood is absolutely essential for developing unity and cooperation.

In spite of all of the internal organizational problems, ethnic polarization, and differences, Muslims in America have made tremendous progress in a relatively short period of time. Having to function in a society that has and continues to demonize and marginalize Muslims, Islam continues to grow and prosper. However, we can and must do more. The Islamic community is more diverse in the US than anywhere in the world. I don't want to oversimplify or trivialize the complexities involved in working with ethnically diverse groups, particularly in a racially charged environment like America. However, this affords us an opportunity to show the world how Muslims are one single brotherhood and sisterhood.

Al Hajj Malik El Shabazz, on his pilgrimage to Mecca, stated that never had he witnessed such brotherhood in his life. He shared food with people of all races and nationalities and said that if America would embrace Islam, it could overcome the racial hatred that permeates this society. Surely this is a prescription for Muslims. Allah states, "I have created you in nations and tribes in order that you might learn from each other, surely the best among you are those that are the best in faith." Our mission is clear.

Let's get busy


Malcolm X continues to influence people around the world and still remains a model for leadership. He was courageous, humble, intelligent, generous, committed, disciplined, and more than anything else, he sacrificed his life for truth and social justice and died a martyr. This type of leadership, with few exceptions, is sorely missing from the global stage today.

 

This article appeared in The Message, October, 1996.
Specifics about organizations mentioned may no longer be valid.

 

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