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42131February 21, 2015 marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of one of the most iconic leaders of the 20th century, Malcolm X El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. On May 19, 2015 he would have been ninety years old.

Sponsored by the Duke Islamic Studies Center, the aim of our conference, The Legacy of Malcolm X: Afro-American Visionary, Muslim Activist (Feb 20 & 21), is to commemorate his life, his thought, and his unique contributions to struggles for justice, recognition, and change in a world he experienced as both a challenge and a promise. Scholarship on Malcolm X abounds and has been produced by many scholars in/and from different fields, who have sometimes but not always been in conversation with each other. As a result, there are many academic Malcolm X representations, readings, and interpretations, and with many great figures in human history, their legacy is more and something other than that great person’s biography.

The conference brings together scholars from a variety of fields and is an invitation to connect our ideas, research projects, and activism across disciplinary divides. Without limiting Malcolm X to either his Muslim, his radical Black, or his global significance and dimensions, we want to engender reflection on his interconnected and intersectional political agendas and religious transformations in relation to allies, foes, and bystanders. We aim to reflect together on the impact of Malcolm X on 20th century freedom and equality struggles and the continuing significance of his ideas, principles and critiques as a radical African American, Muslim, and global intellectual for our time.

This conference is sponsored by Duke Islamic Studies Center. Cosponsors are Asian & Middle Eastern Studies (Duke University), Department of Religious Studies (Duke University), African and African American Studies (Duke University), and the Carolina Center for the Study of the Middle East and Muslim Civilizations (UNC-Chapel Hill). Co-organizers for the conference are Omid Safi (Duke), Juliane Hammer (UNC-CH), and Mark Anthony Neal (Duke). 

 

compiled by JULIE POUCHER HARBIN, EDITOR, ISLAMiCommentary and KERI MAJIKES (CONFERENCE COORDINATOR, DUKE ISLAMIC STUDIES CENTER) on FEBRUARY 18, 2015:

February 21, 2015 marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of one of the most iconic leaders of the 20th century, Malcolm X El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. On May 19, 2015 he would have been ninety years old.

Scholarship on Malcolm X abounds and has been produced by many scholars in/and from different fields, who have sometimes but not always been in conversation with each other. As a result, there are many academic Malcolm X representations, readings, and interpretations, and with many great figures in human history, their legacy is more and something other than that great person’s biography.

“We are living through the 50th anniversary of many of the monumental events in the history of the civil rights movement. The protests in Ferguson, New York and elsewhere tell us that issues of racism, brutality, poverty and militarism are still with us,” said co-organizer Omid Safi, director of the Duke Islamic Studies Center. “Whereas we have celebrated and honored the legacy of Dr. King, the life and work of Malcolm X has not received the same level of attention.”

This Friday and Saturday a national conference on The Legacy of Malcolm X: Afro-American Visionary, Muslim Activist will be held at Duke and UNC — co-organized by Safi, UNC-Chapel Hill Islamic Studies professor Juliane Hammer, and African & African American Studies professor and host of Left of Black Mark Anthony Neal.

The conference (details here) is sponsored by the Duke Islamic Studies Center. Cosponsors include Asian & Middle Eastern Studies (Duke University), Department of Religious Studies (Duke University), African and African American Studies (Duke University), and the Carolina Center for the Study of the Middle East and Muslim Civilizations (UNC-Chapel Hill).

“Our aim is to commemorate his life, his thought and his unique contributions to struggles for justice, recognition and change in a world he experienced as both a challenge and a promise,” said Hammer.

Ahead of the conference we asked the invited scholars to choose their favorite quotes by and images of Malcolm X. Here are some of their responses below. Included also are videos in which the scholars discuss their research related to Malcolm X.

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“Our success in America will involve two circles: Black Nationalism and Islam–it will take BN [Black Nationalism] to make our people conscious of doing for self & then Islam will provide the spiritual guidance. BN [Black Nationalism] will link us to Africa and Islam will link us spiritually to Africa, Arabia & Asia.” —Malcolm X, Diary Entry, April 23, 1964

Columbia University historian and PhD candidate, Zaheer Ali, says that “one of Malcolm X’s greatest contributions was his articulation of a counter-hegemonic discourse, rooted in an alternative geography.”

“Continuing a tradition begun in the 20th century by the likes of Noble Drew Ali, Marcus Garvey, and Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm established in this diary entry the equal importance of both politically- and faith-driven activism, rooted in spatial orientations that transcended the borders of the U.S. nation-state. My own work examines these geographies–of both Black Nationalism and Islam–as central to understanding how movements like the Nation of Islam and leaders like Malcolm X posed a radical challenge to the U.S. government and society.”

Ali recommends listening to Malcolm X (featuring Keith LeBlanc), No Sell Out (top). Ali on No Sell Out: “The 1980s saw the emergence of what many consider the “conscious” or “golden” age of hip-hop–with songs containing explicit political messages that focused on social justice. One of the voices commonly heard on record during this time was Malcolm X, who was one of the most sampled voices in early political hip hop. The earliest hip hop record to feature his voice was “No Sell Out,” released by the pioneering hip-hop record label, Tommy Boy Records. It is also remarkable for other reasons: Malcolm X is centered, as his is the only voice heard on the record; and unlike many of the subsequent records that would sample Malcolm X’s voice, this is the only one to give him songwriter’s credit, and the only one to pay royalties to his family. It is a milestone track in the Malcolm X Mixtape Project, my digital humanities project documenting the impact of Malcolm X’s life and legacy on popular culture, especially evidenced in the use of his voice, image, and ideas in popular music. Published online, the Malcolm X Mixtape Project will be a curated archive of music, video, image, and text that traces popular memorials of Malcolm X, as a means through which to examine the changing social contexts in which artists and their audiences experienced these memorials.”

Below Ali talks with Left of Black host Mark Anthony Neal in 2011 about Ali’s research for Manning Marable’s 2012 Pulitzer Prize winning book Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention and his work as project manager of Columbia University’s Malcolm X Project — a multi-year research initiative on the life and legacy of Malcolm X.

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“I believe in a religion that believes in freedom. Any time I have to accept a religion that won’t let me fight a battle for my people, I say to hell with that religion.” — Malcolm X, By Any Means Necessary (1970)

Michael Muhammad Knight, PhD candidate in Religion at UNC-Chapel Hill, chose the above quote. He says that “over the course of his religious trajectory, Malcolm pursued knowledge of Islam from a variety of sources that he deemed authoritative.”

“As a minister in the Nation of Islam, he deferrred to the authority of Elijah Muhammad, whom he recognized as the Messenger of Allah; upon his break from the Nation, he sought instruction from Sunni institutions such as al-Azhar and the Muslim World League. The above quote, however, suggests that Malcolm derived Muslim authenticity first from his inner ethical compass. In his final interview, Malcolm was challenged by a writer for the Geneva-based Arabic paper Al-Muslimun for maintaining race consciousness after his Sunni turn; Malcolm answered that achieving justice for African Americans remained his first responsibility. While his religious commitments underwent transformation, Malcolm’s commitment to justice remained the means by which he measured the truth of religious discourse.”

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“America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem. Throughout my travels in the Muslim world, I have met, talked to, and even eaten with people who in America would have been considered white, but the white attitude was removed from their minds by the religion of Islam. I have never before seen sincere and true brotherhood practiced by all together, irrespective of their color.” Malcolm X, Letter From Mecca (1964)

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This photo of Malcolm praying (left) and quote (above) was chosen by Jamillah Karim, an author & independent scholar.

Karim said the Malcolm X quote above inspired the writing of her first book, American Muslim Women: Negotiating Race, Class, and Gender Within the Ummah.

“Do American Muslims live up to the ideal that Malcolm X envisioned?” Karim posed. “Although race relations are far from ideal in Muslim communities, with African American and immigrant Muslims following patterns of racial divides in the larger society, Islamic ideals of unity and common Muslim identity do provide moments of solidarity. Through the experiences and stories of Muslim women across generation, I show that Islam can be a tradition that overcomes racial divisions if American Muslims commit to this ideal.”

 

 

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“You can’t have capitalism without racism.” — Malcolm X, Malcolm X Speaks (1994) p.84.

Quote chosen by William (Bill) Hart, Professor of Religion at University of North Carolina at Greensboro

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William A. “Sandy” Darity Jr., a professor of Public Policy, African and African American Studies, and Economics at Duke University and Director of the Duke Consortium on Social Equity at Duke University, shared this photo of Malcolm X with Sam Cooke, Muhammad Ali, and James Brown. The photo is from the advertisement of Kemp Powers’ play. He chose it “because of the deep friendship between these four remarkable black men.”

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“You remember Dien Bien Phu!” — Malcolm X

Quote chosen by Sohail Daulatzai, Associate Professor at University of California, Irvine

Below Daulatzai talks with Left of Black host Mark Anthony Neal in 2013. (DESCRIPTION) As Black American artists and writers have sought to reframe the past, the Muslim Third World has also reached back to Black American history finding political and cultural inspiration in the Black Radical traditions of Malcolm X and others—traditions that were themselves inspired by Muslim Third World resistance in Algiers and Iraq in the mid-20th century. Daulatzai makes these powerful connections in his book Black Star, Crescent Moon: The Muslim International and Black Freedom Beyond America (University of Minnesota Press).

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