by Dr. Lachin Hatemi
In the Islamic faith, all Muslims are required to make pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their life if their health and finances permit. This pilgrimage is called “Hajj,” during which millions of Muslims flock to Saudi Arabia to visit Mecca. Hajj is a religious requirement for every Muslim for more than 1400 years and always happens during a specific period in the lunar calendar once every year. Muslims from all races, nationalities and political convictions will pray side by side in Mecca during this time.
During Hajj, people are required to wear simple dress and asked to refrain from wearing jewelry that might display wealth. Equality among men and women is the essence of Hajj.
Malcolm X, the charismatic civil rights activist, decided to perform his Hajj duty in 1964 at the age of 39. The United States was still racially segregated, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was enacted only a month after Malcolm X’s return from Hajj.
Before Hajj, Malcolm X was a fervent advocate of black supremacy and believed in total separation of blacks and whites. Intense anger against whites was the main theme of his moving speeches.
However, Hajj changed Malcolm forever. Shortly after Hajj, Malcolm X changed his name and moved away from the Nation of Islam by adopting a more orthodox version of the faith.
In his autobiography, Malcolm X stated, “In my thirty-nine year on this earth – the Holy City of Mecca had been the first time I had ever stood before the Creator of All and felt like a complete human being.”
In this famous “Letters from Hajj”, he described his life changing transformation:
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 Hold 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…from the blue-eyed blondes to black-skinned Africans. But we are 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.
Malcolm X’s letters from Hajj remains as one of the most inspiring readings about Islam and Hajj. Nobody should judge Malcolm X’s views before Hajj; he was only reacting to hundreds of years of conscious and brutal racism inflicted on him and his ancestors. But Hajj is considered the second awakening after his initial acceptance of Islam.
While you read this article, millions of people from many different races and nationalities are performing their Hajj duty in Mecca, side by side as brothers and sisters in faith. There is a lot of literature about Hajj, but few have expressed the spirit of Hajj better than our brother Malcolm X.
Lachin Hatemi is a physician in Buffalo, New York. His interests include human rights, racial equality and interfaith dialogue. You can reach Lachin at [email protected]