At this time each year I go into deep reflection over two things; the Hajj (Pilgrimage to Makkah) of El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (aka, Malcolm X) in April 1964, and my own Hajj in the summer of 1987 (1407 of the Hijri calendar). My Hajj was a gift from a group of brothers who wanted to express their appreciation for the programming that we were responsible for under the auspices of a small, grass roots organization then known avs the Islamic Dawah Committee of Mujahideen (IDC). Our primary base of operations was Howard University, where we became known far and wide for conferences and forums that enlightened participants and sought to unify the Muslim community.
The year of Malcolm’s Hajj was a tumultuous period in American history. The U.S. was mired down on the home front in a race-based human rights struggle, while simultaneously preoccupied with a neo-colonial war in Southeast Asia (what euphemistically became known as ‘The Vietnam War’). Tumult and challenge had also intensified in the personal life of Malcolm X during this time. He had declared his independence from the organization that he had been widely identified with, serving as principle spokesman for, the Nation of Islam; and unbeknownst to a host of individuals and organizations who had become its principle targets (including Malcolm), COINTELPRO (the FBI’s violent and unconstitutionally oppressive counter-intelligence program) was in full swing!
The year of my Hajj was also a tumultuous period. The Reagan administration and the Iran-Iraq War were both winding down. This war was imposed on the newly established Islamic Republic of Iran for its bold challenge to an international order based upon a ‘doctrine of bi-polarity’ – an informal but iron-clad determination that nation states in the developing world (for their own security) had to be aligned with either one of two “super-powers,” the USA or the USSR (the former Soviet Union). It’s also worth noting that this was a time when the late leader of Iraq, Saddam Hussein, functioned as ‘America’s Man in Baghdad.’
Malcolm’s Hajj, coming when it did, offered a much needed respite. His sister, the late Ella Little-Collins, who had been saving up for her own Hajj, decided that it was more important for Malcolm to go in her place. She sponsored his Hajj. She felt that he would benefit from that spiritual journey even more than she, and she wanted him to get away for a while so that things could cool off a bit on the home front. She (and others) sensed correctly that danger lurked around every corner for Malcolm X in the year 1964. Malcolm made his Hajj in April of that year, and the rest, as the saying goes, is history.
During my own journey to Makkah 23 years later, a tragedy occurred just before the start of the official days of Hajj that would force me to confront certain unpleasant realities about the “Muslim world.” The tragedy – which resulted in the deaths of over 400 pilgrims, and the injury of many more (from a number of countries) – dramatically changed my own understanding of what being an aware and committed Muslim might entail, and it altered my own personal worldview forever. I ended up making the following observation (as part of a special report) not long after my return from that life-altering journey.
Over the last few years a debate has been raging in the Muslim world over the nature and significance of Hajj, and incluvded in this debate is the question of how Hajj is to be properly observed. On one side of this issue are those who maintain Hajj is strictly a season of ritualistic devotion; a time when Muslims visit ALLAH’s House, perform the obligatory rituals, and return to their native domiciles content with having fulfilled the fifth and final pillar of their faith.
On the other side of this very important debate are those who argue Hajj also has a political dimension; and further, in order to properly observe Hajj (and benefit fully from this divine mandate enjoined upon every capable Muslim) there must be a realization of this political dimension. On the 6th of Dhul Hijjah 1407 (July 31, 1987) this heated, ongoing debate exploded in unprecedented violence, and resulted in the deaths of over 400 hujjaj (pilgrims) and the injury of thousands of others. Sacrilege In The Haramain is an attempt to recount, from an eyewitness perspective, what actually took place, and why.
History bears testimony to the fact that Malcolm also issued a report in the immediate aftermath of his Hajj. Malcolm’s report was in the form of a letter that he sent back to his companions at his home base in Harlem (New York), with the instruction that copies of the letter could be distributed to allies and the media. This is what Malcolm said in his Letter from Hajj (as recorded in The Autobiography of Malcolm X, co-authored with Alex Haley):
Never have I witnessed such sincere hospitality and overwhelming spirit of true brotherhood as is practiced by people of all colors and races here in this ancient holy land, the home of Abraham, Muhammad and all the other Prophets of the holy scriptures. For the past week, I have been utterly speechless and spellbound by the graciousness I see displayed all around me by people of all colors.
I have been blessed to visit the holy city of Makkah; I have made my seven circuits around the Kabah, led by a young Mutawwaf (guide) named Muhammad; I drank water from the well of the Zamzam. I ran seven times back and forth between the hills of mount al-Safa and al-Marwa. I have prayed in the ancient city of Mina, and I have prayed on Mount Arafat.
There were tens of thousands of pilgrims, from all over the world. They were of all colors, from blue-eyed blondes to black-skinned Africans. But we were all participating in the same ritual, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe never could exist between the white and non-white.
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 colors together, irrespective of their color.
You may be shocked by these words coming from me. But on this pilgrimage, what I have seen, and experienced, has forced me to rearrange much of my thought-patterns previously held, and to toss aside some of my previous conclusions. This was not too difficult for me. Despite my firm convictions, I have always been a man who tries to face facts, and to accept the reality of life as new experience and new knowledge unfolds it. I have always kept an open mind, which is necessary to the flexibility that must go hand in hand with every form of intelligent search for truth.
During the past eleven days here in the Muslim world, I have eaten from the same plate, drunk from the same glass, and slept on the same rug – while praying to the same God – with fellow Muslims, whose eyes were the bluest of blue, whose hair was the blondest of blond, and whose skin was the whitest of white. And in the words and in the deeds of the white Muslims, I felt the same sincerity that I felt among the black African Muslims of Nigeria, Sudan and Ghana.
We were truly all the same (brothers) – because their belief in one God had removed the white from their minds, the white from their behavior, and the white from their attitude.
I could see from this, that perhaps if white Americans could accept the Oneness of God, then perhaps, too, they could accept in reality the Oneness of Man – and cease to measure, and hinder, and harm others in terms of their “differences” in color.
With racism plaguing America like an incurable cancer, the so-called “Christian” white American heart should be more receptive to a proven solution to such a destructive problem. Perhaps it could be in time to save America from imminent disaster – the same destruction brought upon Germany by racism that eventually destroyed the Germans themselves.
Each hour here in the holy land enables me to have greater spiritual insights into what is happening in America between black and white. The American Negro never can be blamed for his racial animosities – he is only reacting to four hundred years of the conscious racism of the American whites. But as racism leads America up the suicide path, I do believe, from the experiences that I have had with them, that the whites of the younger generation, in the colleges and universities, will see the handwriting on the wall and many of them will turn to the spiritual path of truth – the only way left to America to ward off the disaster that racism inevitably must lead to.
Never have I been so highly honored. Never have I been made to feel more humble and unworthy. Who would believe the blessings that have been heaped upon an American Negro? A few nights ago, a man who would be called in America a white man, a United Nations diplomat, an ambassador, a companion of kings, gave me his hotel suite, his bed. Never would I have even thought of dreaming that I would ever be a recipient of such honors – honors that in America would be bestowed upon a King – not a Negro.
All praise is due to Allah, the Lord of all the worlds.
El-Hajj, Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X)
With heated debates around the issue of racism, and the future of Confederate monuments scattered throughout the US (but especially in the south), raging within the public square in the aftermath of the Charlottesville tragedy, it would behoove the leaders and policymakers of America to revisit the spiritually and politically on-point advice of one of America’s most prominent and respected martyrs…before it’s too late!
El-Hajj Mauri’ Saalakhan is a Metro-Washington, DC based human rights advocate who serves as Director of Operations for The Aafia Foundation, Inc.