Posts Tagged ‘Malcolm x’

Muhammad Ali was born with the name Cassius Clay, and changed it when he ‘converted’ to the Nation of Islam, the same radical group that Malcolm X belonged to for much of his life. Both men knew and respected each other before Ali joined the Nation, and their friendship rapidly grew once he joined. But ever since I first started learning about Malcolm X, everything about the Nation of Islam completely boggled me. I was born into a Muslim family from Pakistan, and nothing about the so-called Nation of Islam sounds remotely like the Islam that I know. What I never understand was why the Nation of Islam continued to exist, when it so obviously had nothing to do with the actual religion of Islam. I wondered why Muslim leaders never denounced the group. The Nation of Islam teaches this crazy idea of human living on a giant island, until white people exiled black people and became devils in the eyes of the black people. There was a whole bunch about some scientist-devil figure who actually created the white people, but essentially the Nation of Islam was completely made up by a man who turned out to break most of his own so-called religious laws.

Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X shake hands.

After Malcolm X actually traveled to Mecca and met real Muslims, he realized how false the Nation of Islam is, and discovered the alleged affairs Elijah Muhammad, the Nation’s leader, had been having with his secretaries. When Malcolm X broke from the Nation, he tried to convince Muhammad Ali to join him, but Ali refused. Even after Malcolm X was assassinated by members of the Nation of Islam, still Ali stayed a member. I am a huge fan of Muhammad Ali in all aspects of his life, and respect and honor him as a true American icon, but I can never forgive the fact that his supposed conversion to Islam which garnered so much attention was just him joining a fake radical group.

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Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali shared many similarities with one another. Not only were they members of the same religious group, the Nation of Islam, but they were also men that harbored convictions for what they believed was right. Struggling against an intolerant, unsympathetic, white society and a strong undercurrent of savage racism, they were influential in advocating rights that made them controversial figures nationwide.

Despite the fact that they raised the ire of many American citizens, their gall and their ability to stand their ground even if it meant putting themselves in danger, meant that they became idolized by large numbers of disadvantaged citizens in the U.S. As Eric Foner wrote of Malcolm X: ‘his powerful language and call for blacks to rely on their own resources struck a chord among younger civil rights activists.’1 Not only were they influential in the United States, but in the case of Malcolm X, he connected with many downtrodden groups crushed under the weight of European colonialism In Africa.

Both of them epitomized the radical movements that were challenging the political and social status quo of the United States during the 1960s. Both men were fighting for some form of freedom. Malcolm X, was lecturing and elaborating upon the concept of self-determination for all black Americans. Essentially, it was up to themselves carve out their own route to freedom. His teachings and rhetoric, laid down the foundation for the Black Power movement. Muhammad Ali, upheld his right to his own individual freedom, by refusing to enlist in the Vietnam conflict. He chose instead, to become a conscientious objector. Ali, whether it was his success in the ring or in front of the press cameras, was able to stand his ground and not back down against vehement opposition. All of it, resulted in that iconic line: ‘I ain’t got no quarrel with the VietCong.’

It can be argued that throughout their respective careers, they were standing up to a common enemy. Namely, the image of the cruel, tyrannical white man. Considering that several members of Malcolm X’s family, including his father were lynched by white supremacist groups such as the Klu Klux Klan, it is little wonder that during much of his career, he made comparisons between white men and the devil. Muhammad Ali, on a number of occasions, stated that the white man represented the devil and that whites were not ‘righteous’.

Both renounced their original names in defiance of the situation thrust upon them by white society. With it, they sought to lead their own way in life, separate from the vulnerable, disadvantaged stereotype that plagued Black America. In Malcolm X’s case, his original last name ‘Little’, was to him, a white slave-master name: ‘which some blue-eyed devil named Little had imposed upon my paternal forebears.’2


1. Foner, The Story of American Freedom, p. 284.

2. Malcolm X, Autobiography, p. 229.

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mohammad and malcolm

It is interesting to compare and contrast two American icons such as Mohammad Ali and Malcolm X as although they were similar in many ways, their lives took drastically different paths. Both men had the qualities associated with many of the other icons, both were very controversial and outspoken but what is most striking about these two icons is that they were close friends at one stage.

Of course there are the obvious similarities which exist between the two men in that they were both African American Muslims growing up in America during a period that was extremely difficult for black Americans. Both men also changed their birth given names as they believed it was a slave name given to them by white men. It is also known that neither had an easy upbringing as neither were well off and Malcolm X’s father was killed by white supremacists and his mother was placed in a mental hospital. Both men had a particular way with words also which no doubt helped them to achieve their status as icons.

One particular similarity which also adds to their iconic image was their determination to speak up for what they believed in even if it was not what everyone wanted to hear. Eric Foner’s book speaks of this when describing freedom of speech during this period and this desire to speak up for your beliefs is common among American icons.

Malcolm X was a human rights activist and was seen as a very courageous man by his supporters. Ali, being the youngest ever heavyweight champion of the world was also seen as extremely brash and brave taking on the heavyweight elite. Both had radical views within their own lives in it is probable no coincidence, since both were also Muslim, that their paths did cross when Ali decided to join the Nation of Islam in 1964.

The main difference between the two men is where they ended up. Malcolm X left the Nation of Islam and 3 years later was assassinated by 3 of it’s members. Mohammad Ali continued his boxing career and is still alive today.

Their legacies are also similar. Malcolm X has been described as one of the greatest and most influential African Americans in history. He is credited with raising the self-esteem of black Americans and reconnecting them with their African heritage. In the late 1960s, as black activists became more radical, Malcolm X and his teachings were part of the foundation on which they built their movements.  Ali is also a huge role model in America and an example to people everywhere. In 1993, the Associated Press reported that Ali was tied with Babe Ruth as the most recognized athlete, out of over 800 dead or alive athletes, in America. The 2001 movie, Ali, received an Oscar nomination for Will Smith’s portrayal of the lead role. Both men are clearly American icons for a number of reasons and this is still despite all the controversy which surrounded them such as Ali’s rufusal to fight in Vietnam and Malcolm X’s black supremacist beliefs.


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Once upon a time Cassius Clay and Malcolm X were actually friends. Malcolm X renamed Cassius Clay to Cassius X. Clay attempted to gain access to the Nation of Islam but was refused access to the group that were contemporarily known as the ‘Black Muslims’, however, after winning the World Heavyweight Title from Sonny Liston in 1964, the Nation of Islam changed their minds about Clay and granted him access to the group. At this stage Malcolm X, Clay’s mentor, believed that Clay had done enough to achieve his ‘X’ and he renamed him Cassius X. On the same night however, Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam, released a statement renaming Clay ‘Muhammad Ali’. This name change has been said to have ended the friendship between Clay and Malcolm X as he left the Nation of Islam a few weeks later. In his later life Ali has said that the destruction of his friendship with Malcolm X is something that he dearly regrets. Both Ali and Malcolm X have been seen as inspirational figures in their lives, but they have also been slandered. Ali refused to go to Vietnam to fight in the Vietnamese War famously saying ‘Man I ain’t got no quarrel with the Vietcong’. Ali was arrested for being a conscientious objector to the war stating that it was ‘against the Holy Qur’an’ and that ‘we (Islamists) don’t take part in Christian wars’. Malcolm X was an activist and was seen as a courageous advocate of black rights in America, pinpointing white America in its harshest terms. He has been vilified however as a supremacist and a racist. 

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Both Mohammad Ali and Malcolm X had been both inspirational figures
whilst also being vilified at some point in their lives. Once upon a time both
of these icons had been friends, with Malcolm X mentoring who was then known as
Cassius clay. Cassius had joined the Nation of Islam which Malcolm X was also a
part of. Malcolm X gave Cassius the title of Cassius X which he then changed to
Mohammed Ali. He received this title from Elijah Mohammed, the head of the
Nation of Islam. This resulted in the demise of Ali and Malcolm x’s relationship
which Ali believes was one of the biggest regrets in his life. Malcolm X had
been viewed as a racist and a black supremacist. Ali believed that all white
people hated black people. Both icons had strong views and were not shy to
express them. The fought for what they believed in and stood up against
controversy. Ali had received controversy from the public when he refused to
fight at Vietnam. He felt he shouldn’t have to fight against the war in Vietnam
when there was a war against his race in his own home of Louisiana. He was
stripped of his boxing title and found guilty on draft evasion charges. This
bravery eventually led to the assassination of Malcolm X. Both figures are
similar in their religious beliefs and had not been strangers to the public
eye. They both fought for black rights. Malcolm X had been assassinated by
three members of the nation of Islam a year after leaving. Mohammed Ali
changing his name away from Cassius X is seen as a betrayal against Malcolm X
to this day.

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