Posts Tagged ‘Nation of Islam’

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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