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IUPUI professor examines Malcolm X's Islamic ethics in Journal of American History

  • Jan. 15, 2016

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Malcolm X's 1964 pilgrimage to Mecca is often portrayed as the culmination of a spiritual journey that took him from street hustler to Nation of Islam minister to Sunni Muslim believer and left him a transformed man and an advocate for peace.

Edward E. Curtis IV questions that view in the most recent issue of the Journal of American History. Drawing on diaries and letters that were not available until the early 21st century, he argues that Cairo, not Mecca, was the center of Malcolm’s newfound Muslim identity.

In “Malcolm X, the Arab Cold War and Islamic Liberation Ethics,” Curtis describes how Malcolm X pursued close ties with several Middle Eastern and African leaders but constructed an Islamic ethics of liberation inspired by the socialism and Africa-Asia solidarity of Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser.

“This ethics was not a detailed political platform,” writes Curtis, Millennium Chair of the Liberal Arts and professor of religious studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. “It was a moral argument that the Muslim world had a religious obligation to fight for the freedom of all people of color, whether Muslim or not.”

Malcolm X was killed in 1965, the year following his hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, and his extensive travels and meetings with Islamic scholars and heads of state in the Middle East and Africa.

The quarterly Journal of American History is published by the Organization of American Historians, based at Indiana University Bloomington. Also in the December 2015 issue:

  • Robert Michael Morrissey of the University of Illinois contributes a new history of the Grand Village of the Kaskaskia, a Native American center in present-day Illinois where as many as 20,000 people congregated for about 20 years near the end of the 17th century.
  • Kendra T. Field of Tufts University explores the intricacies of the little-known Chief Alfred Charles Sam back-to-Africa movement in the early 1900s and the migrants who created it.
  • Kirsten Fermaglich of Michigan State University describes how thousands of American Jews in New York changed their names during World War II to find jobs and avoid stigma. She writes that the practice illuminates Jews’ resistance to antisemitism and ability to shape their identity.
  • Jennifer Burns of Stanford University analyzes the careers of the children’s author Rose Wilder Lane, the critic Isabel Paterson and the novelist Ayn Rand, all of whom developed a radical politicized individualism in the 1930s and '40s.

In the JAH Podcast for December 2015, journal editor Ed Linenthal speaks with Curtis about his article about Malcolm X and Islamic ethics. Other recent podcasts, full text of certain articles and other features are available at the Journal of American History website.

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The cover photo shows Malcolm X, second from left, during his July 1964 visit to Cairo. While there he met and studied Islam with several religious officials, including Shaykh Abdel Rahman Tag, at right.

The cover photo shows Malcolm X, second from left, during his July 1964 visit to Cairo. While there he met and studied Islam with several religious officials, including Shaykh Abdel Rahman Tag, at right.

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Media Contacts

Edward Linenthal

Editor