Malcolm X: How a Muslim leader compelled a Hindu to sharpen his dharma
Posted: Monday, October 25, 2010
By Ravi Grover
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The start of my deeper journey into sanatana dharma wasn't influenced by a guru, a spiritual master, or people in the South Asian community. It started with my exploration of the Black Civil Rights movement of the 60's. Many of the leading figures and writers of this era referenced the glory of earliest and ancient Black civilizations going back into antiquity. From there I started to read the various chronicles written by Afrocentric scholars, historians, and archaeologists.
These historians wrote about the first humans out of Africa. They challenged widely held beliefs like that the Pyramids were built by whites, and detailed the grandeur of various African empires that later civilized the Greeks and Romans. When books on these subjects were first published they were dismissed as exaggerated fiction. We now see volumes of evidence being discovered by archaeologists that affirm the knowledge documented by leading Black academics. After learning how much rich history and heritage existed amongst the globe's Black peoples and the high self esteem they held, I started reading books on indigenous America and then transitioned to Asian archaeology. I found out about similar pyramids and advanced cities that existed in ancient South Asia. And just as archaeologists and geneticists disproved theories that ancient Egypt was built by northern white Africans distinct from southern Black Africans, they also disproved theories that South Asia was "civilized" by fictionalized invading white Aryans who brought Sanskrit and the Vedas to northern India. From there I decided to study Hinduism in depth.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X was one of the first books that I read (and re-read) when researching the Black liberation movement. In several chapters Malcolm gives high praises to Gandhi and the people of India for their resistance against the British empire. Is it contradictory that a man regarded as a polarizing figure would praise Gandhi – someone historically known for being a pacifist? It shouldn't be if one takes a closer look.
While Malcolm was passionately loyal to his sect he had no problem praising those of outside religions. Several times in his autobiography, Minister X praised the people of India not only for their revolutionary spirit but also for being deeply "religious brown people." This included Hindus and he supported liberation for all oppressed peoples and frequently connected the struggles of Asian, African, Latino, and indigenous peoples to a common cause.
In addition, while Malcolm was portrayed as an advocate for violence he was never charged with any acts of unlawful behavior during his time as a minister. When learning that a Black man had been victim to police brutality and then imprisoned, Malcolm didn't demand his followers to pick up rifles. Instead he ordered his men to peacefully assemble in front of the police station. Malcolm then negotiated with the police chief to get the injured man medical treatment. Tactics like these were not all that different from methods used by Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr.
Lastly, Malcolm X wasn't one of those people who merely advertised his religious identity. He made sure to observe his tradition's principles and ensure that this was reflected in his lifestyle. While remembered for his fiery oratorical skills Malcolm's unswerving devotion to personal conduct tends to be glossed over. Like Nat Turner, Geronimo, or Gandhi, Malcolm X saw the need for spiritual discipline to go hand in hand with transformation of the greater society. He abstained from alcohol, observed laws and tenets, and executed worship on a regular basis. He also promoted proper speech and once stated that people who curse do so because they're not intelligent enough to articulate their thoughts properly. More importantly, he knew that serving others required self sacrifice. Finally, Malcolm preached cleanliness, mimicking Gandhi's creed of being next to Godliness (incidentally daily bathing is a necessary and ritual practice for a person dedicated to the spiritual path).
Reading Malcolm X, learning how he conducted himself while learning more about Hinduism helped me refine myself in executing dharma. Malcolm knew that he represented something both great and misunderstood so he made sure to present himself clean-cut in appearance and eloquent in speech. Because he knew his beliefs came under intense scrutiny he made sure to study as many books as he could as to answer any criticism intelligently. As a practitioner, I know there are a lot of misconceptions about Hinduism and animosity directed at dharmic traditions. After reading multiple versions of Hindu books with different commentaries and implementing practices in daily life, I came to the conclusion that this path was best suited for me. Seeing how Black scholars knew so much about their history and traditions I decided I also needed to know my tradition and religious heritage inside and out. In essence, part of the reason why we started a Hindu-Muslim unity website Dharma Deen Alliance (www.dharmadeen.com) was to share knowledge and answer all the misconceptions.
Is personal conduct unimportant and unrelated to advancing a broader cause? A person steeped in material excess may think leading a disciplined lifestyle like Malcolm X led lacks joy. But I can say from personal experience that I've seen people immersed in consistent spiritual practice experience a greater calm and happiness than those attached to quick stimulation. Activities like shopping, eating junk food, watching TV, or getting drunk certainly provide temporary relief. But they can't permanently eliminate stress or anxiety. And if anyone made that realization it was Malcolm X. A former hustler who used drugs and frequently looked for ways to make and spend money, he then turned his life around and experienced much greater peace and stability through devotional practice. And if someone like Malcolm Little can emerge from a vile background and generate so much clarity then it shows us what a powerful impact the path to Higher truth can have.
"...my religion is my personal business. It governs my personal life, my personal morals. And my religious philosophy is personal between me and the God in whom I believe; just as the religious philosophy of these others is between them and the God in whom they believe. And this is best this way...put your religion at home – in the closet. Keep it between you and your God. Because if it hasn't done anything more for you than it has, you need to forget it anyway." — Malcolm X, the Ballot or the Bullet
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