When the Word is Given…
A Report on Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X, and the Black Muslim World
Library of Alexandria
The ultimate comment upon racialism in this republic is that the all-black Nation of Islam—a Chicago-based theocracy whose citizens are known as the Black Muslims—is one of the few religions ever produced by the American experience. Incensed liberals, Negro and white, will deny my assertion that the Black Muslims are a religious body, but the issue, both legally and theologically, has been settled: Courts in several states have ruled that the followers of The Honorable Elijah Muhammad are, indeed, adherents to a religious faith—as such, Black Muslim prison inmates have the right to hold services of worship as do other convicts. And no one who understands theologian Paul Tillich’s argument that religion is nothing more than one’s ultimate concern can doubt that the teachings of number-two Black Muslim leader, Malcolm X, constitute a religion. Malcolm X is the St. Paul of the Black Muslim movement. Not only was he knocked to the ground by the bright light of truth while on an evil journey, but he also rose from the dust stunned, with a new name and a burning zeal to travel in the opposite direction and carry America’s twenty million Negroes with him. “This is the day of warning,” Malcolm shouts to the Negro, “the hour during which prophecy is being fulfilled before your very eyes. The white man is doomed! Don’t integrate with him, separate from him! Come ye out from among the white devils and be ye separate.” Nobody knows just how many Negroes have said “yes” to Malcolm X’s call. Estimates of the Black Muslim membership vary from a quarter of a million down to fifty thousand. Available evidence indicates that about one hundred thousand Negroes have joined the movement at one time or another, but few objective observers believe that the Black Muslims can muster more than twenty or twenty-five thousand active temple people. The Black Muslims are feverish proselytizers, however, and they get amazing results from Negro prison inmates and the abandoned black masses who live in a world of despair and futility. Early commentators on the movement pointed to their work among prison inmates as further evidence that the Black Muslims were a dissolute lot. The opposite has proved to be true—the Muslims have been able to change the lives of these men once they emerge from prison. While the percentage of repeaters among ordinary Negro criminals runs very high, the Black Muslim converts seldom, if ever, return to a life of crime.