Search      Hot    Newest Novel
HOME > Biographical > The Autobiography Of Malcolm X > Chapter 17 Mecca
Font Size:【Large】【Middle】【Small】
Chapter 17 Mecca

The pilgrimage to Mecca, known as Hajj, is a religious obligation that every orthodox Muslim fulfills,if humanly able, at least once in his or her lifetime.

  The Holy Quran says it, "Pilgrimage to the Ka'ba is a duty men owe to God; those who are able, makethe journey."Allah said: "And proclaim the pilgrimage among men; they will come to you on foot and upon eachlean camel, they will come from every deep ravine."At one or another college or university, usually in the informal gatherings after I had spoken, perhapsa dozen generally white-complexioned people would come up to me, identifying themselves asArabian, Middle Eastern or North African Muslims who happened to be visiting, studying, or living inthe United States. They had said to me that, my white-indicting statements notwithstanding, they feltthat I was sincere in considering myself a Muslim-and they felt if I was exposed to what they alwayscalled "true Islam," I would "understand it, and embrace it." Automatically, as a follower of ElijahMuhammad, I had bridled whenever this was said.

  But in the privacy of my own thoughts after several of these experiences, I did question myself: if onewas sincere in professing a religion, why should he balk at broadening his knowledge of that religion?

   Once in a conversation I broached this with Wallace Muhammad, Elijah Muhammad's son. He saidthat yes, certainly, a Muslim should seek to learn all that he could about Islam. I had always had ahigh opinion of Wallace Muhammad's opinion.

  Those orthodox Muslims whom I had met, one after another, had urged me to meet and talk with aDr. Manmoud Youssef Shawarbi. He was described to me as an eminent, learned Muslim, aUniversity of Cairo graduate, a University of London Ph.D., a lecturer on Islam, a United Nationsadvisor and the author of many books. He was a full professor of the University of Cairo, on leavefrom there to be in New York as the Director of the Federation of Islamic Associations in the UnitedStates and Canada. Several times, driving in that part of town, I had resisted the impulse to drop in atthe F.I.A. building, a brown-stone at 1 Riverside Drive. Then one day Dr. Shawarbi and I wereintroduced by a newspaperman.

  He was cordial. He said he had followed me in the press; I said I had been told of him, and we talkedfor fifteen or twenty minutes. We both had to leave to make appointments we had, when he droppedon me something whose logic never would get out of my head. He said, "No man has believedperfectly until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself."Then, there was my sister Ella herself. I couldn't get over what she had done. I've said before, this is a_strong_, big, black, Georgia-born woman. Her domineering ways had gotten her put out of theNation of Islam's Boston Mosque Eleven; they took her back, then she left on her own. Ella had startedstudying under Boston orthodox Muslims, then she founded a school where Arabic was taught! _She_couldn't speak it, she hired teachers who did. That's Ella! She deals in real estate, and _she_ wassaving up to make the pilgrimage. Nearly all night, we talked in her living room. She told me therewas no question about it; it was more important that I go. I thought about Ella the whole flight back toNew York. A _strong_ woman. She had broken the spirits of three husbands, more driving anddynamic than all of them combined. She had played a very significant role in my life. No other womanever was strong enough to point me in directions; I pointed women in directions. I had brought Ellainto Islam, and now she was financing me to Mecca.

  Allah always gives you signs, when you are with Him, that He is with you.

  When I applied for a visa to Mecca at the Saudi Arabian Consulate, the Saudi Ambassador told methat no Muslim converted in America could have a visa for the Hajj pilgrimage without the signedapproval of Dr. Manmoud Shawarbi. But that was only the beginning of the sign from Allah. When Itelephoned Dr. Shawarbi, he registered astonishment. "I was just going to get in touch with you," hesaid, "by all means come right over."When I got to his office, Dr. Shawarbi handed me the signed letter approving me to make the Hajj inMecca, and then a book. It was _The Eternal Message of Muhammad_ by Abd-Al-Rahman Azzam.

  The author had just sent the copy of the book to be given to me, Dr. Shawarbi said, and he explained that this author was an Egyptian-born Saudi citizen, an international statesman, and one of the closestadvisors of Prince Faisal, the ruler of Arabia. "He has followed you in the press very closely." It washard for me to believe.

  Dr. Shawarbi gave me the telephone number of his son, Muhammad Shawarbi, a student in Cairo, andalso the number of the author's son, Omar Azzam, who lived in Jedda, "your last stop before Mecca.

  Call them both, by all means."I left New York quietly (little realizing that I was going to return noisily). Few people were told I wasleaving at all. I didn't want some State Department or other roadblocks put in my path at the lastminute. Only my wife, Betty, and my three girls and a few close associates came with me to KennedyInternational Airport. When the Lufthansa Airlines jet had taken off, my two seatrow mates and Iintroduced ourselves. Another sign! Both were Muslims, one was bound for Cairo, as I was, and theother was bound for Jedda, where I would be in a few days.

  All the way to Frankfurt, Germany, my seatmates and I talked, or I read the book I had been given.

  When we landed in Frankfurt, the brother bound for Jedda said his warm good-bye to me and theCairo-bound brother. We had a few hours' layover before we would take another plane to Cairo. Wedecided to go sightseeing in Frankfurt.

  In the men's room there at the airport, I met the first American abroad who recognized me, a whitestudent from Rhode Island. He kept eyeing me, then he came over. "Are you X?" I laughed and said Iwas, I hadn't ever heard it that way. He exclaimed, "You can't be! Boy, I know no one will believe mewhen I tell them this!" He was attending school, he said, in France.

  The brother Muslim and I both were struck by the cordial hospitality of the people in Frankfurt. Wewent into a lot of shops and stores, looking more than intending to buy anything. We'd walk in, anystore, every store, and it would be Hello! People who never saw you before, and knew you werestrangers. And the same cordiality when we left, without buying anything. In America, you walk in astore and spend a hundred dollars, and leave, and you're still a stranger. Both you and the clerks act asthough you're doing each other a favor. Europeans act more human, or humane, whichever the rightword is. My brother Muslim, who could speak enough German to get by, would explain that we wereMuslims, and I saw something I had already experienced when I was looked upon as a Muslim andnot as a Negro, right in America. People seeing you as a Muslim saw you as a human being and theyhad a different look, different talk, everything. In one Frankfurt store-a little shop, actually-thestorekeeper leaned over his counter to us and waved his hand, indicating the German people passingby: "This way one day, that way another day-" My Muslim brother explained to me that what hemeant was that the Germans would rise again.

  Back at the Frankfurt airport, we took a United Arab Airlines plane on to Cairo. Throngs of people,obviously Muslims from everywhere, bound on the pilgrimage, were hugging and embracing. Theywere of all complexions, the whole atmosphere was of warmth and friendliness. The feeling hit methat there really wasn't any color problem here. The effect was as though I had just stepped out of a prison.

  I had told my brother Muslim friend that I wanted to be a tourist in Cairo for a couple of days beforecontinuing to Jedda. He gave me his number and asked me to call him, as he wanted to put me with aparty of his friends, who could speak English, and would be going on the pilgrimage, and would behappy to look out for me.

  So I spent two happy days sightseeing in Cairo. I was impressed by the modern schools, housingdevelopments for the masses, and the highways and the industrialization that I saw. I had read andheard that President Nasser's administration had built up one of the most highly industrializedcountries on the African continent. I believe what most surprised me was that in Cairo, automobileswere being manufactured, and also buses.

  I had a good visit with Dr. Shawarbi's son, Muhammad Shawarbi, a nineteen-year-old, who wasstudying economics and political science at Cairo University. He told me that his father's dream wasto build a University of Islam in the United States.

  The friendly people I met were astounded when they learned I was a Muslim-from America! Theyincluded an Egyptian scientist and his wife, also on their way to Mecca for the Hajj, who insisted I gowith them to dinner in a restaurant in Heliopolis, a suburb of Cairo. They were an extremely well-informed and intelligent couple. Egypt's rising industrialization was one of the reasons why theWestern powers were so anti-Egypt, it was showing other African countries what they should do, thescientist said. His wife asked me, "Why are people in the world starving when America has so muchsurplus food? What do they do, dump it in the ocean?" I told her, "Yes, but they put some of it in theholds of surplus ships, and in subsidized granaries and refrigerated space and let it stay there, with asmall army of caretakers, until it's unfit to eat. Then another army of disposal people get rid of it tomake space for the next surplus batch." She looked at me in something like disbelief. Probably shethought I was kidding. But the American taxpayer knows it's the truth. I didn't go on to tell her thatright in the United States, there are hungry people.

  I telephoned my Muslim friend, as he had asked, and the Hajj party of his friends was waiting for me.

  I made it eight of us, and they included a judge and an official of the Ministry of Education. Theyspoke English beautifully, and accepted me like a brother. I considered it another of Allah's signs, thatwherever I turned, someone was there to help me, to guide me.

   The literal meaning of Hajj in Arabic is to set out toward a definite objective. In Islamic law, it meansto set out for Ka'ba, the Sacred House, and to fulfill the pilgrimage rites. The Cairo airport was wherescores of Hajj groups were becoming Muhrim, pilgrims, upon entering the state of Ihram, theassumption of a spiritual and physical state of consecration. Upon advice, I arranged to leave in Cairoall of my luggage and four cameras, one a movie camera. I had bought in Cairo a small valise, just bigenough to carry one suit, shirt, a pair of underwear sets and a pair of shoes into Arabia. Driving to the airport with our Hajj group, I began to get nervous, knowing that from there in, it was going to bewatching others who knew what they were doing, and trying to do what they did.

  Entering the state of Ihram, we took off our clothes and put on two white towels. One, the _Izar_, wasfolded around the loins. The other, the _Rida_, was thrown over the neck and shoulders, leaving theright shoulder and arm bare. A pair of simple sandals, the _na'l_, left the ankle-bones bare. Over the_Izar_ waist-wrapper, a money belt was worn, and a bag, something like a woman's big handbag,with a long strap, was for carrying the passport and other valuable papers, such as the letter I hadfrom Dr. Shawarbi.

  Every one of the thousands at the airport, about to leave for Jedda, was dressed this way. You could bea king or a peasant and no one would know. Some powerful personages, who were discreetly pointedout to me, had on the same thing I had on. Once thus dressed, we all had begun intermittently callingout "_Labbayka! Labbayka_!" (Here I come, O Lord!) The airport sounded with the din of _Muhrim_expressing their intention to perform the journey of the Hajj.

  Planeloads of pilgrims were taking off every few minutes, but the airport was jammed with more, andtheir friends and relatives waiting to see them off. Those not going were asking others to pray forthem at Mecca. We were on our plane, in the air, when I learned for the first time that with the crush,there was not supposed to have been space for me, but strings had been pulled, and someone hadbeen put off because they didn't want to disappoint an American Muslim. I felt mingled emotions ofregret that I had inconvenienced and discomfited whoever was bumped off the plane for me, and,with that, an utter humility and gratefulness that I had been paid such an honor and respect.

  Packed in the plane were white, black, brown, red, and yellow people, blue eyes and blond hair, andmy kinky red hair-all together, brothers! All honoring the same God Allah, all in turn giving equalhonor to each other.

  From some in our group, the word was spreading from seat to seat that I was a Muslim from America.

  Faces turned, smiling toward me in greeting. A box lunch was passed out and as we ate that, the wordthat a Muslim from America was aboard got up into the cockpit.

  The captain of the plane came back to meet me. He was an Egyptian, his complexion was darker thanmine; he could have walked in Harlem and no one would have given him a second glance. He wasdelighted to meet an American Muslim. When he invited me to visit the cockpit, I jumped at thechance.

  The co-pilot was darker than he was. I can't tell you the feeling it gave me. I had never seen a blackman flying a jet. That instrument panel: no one ever could know what all of those dials meant! Both ofthe pilots were smiling at me, treating me with the same honor and respect I had received ever since Ileft America. I stood there looking through the glass at the sky ahead of us. In America, I had riddenin more planes than probably any other Negro, and I never had been invited up into the cockpit. Andthere I was, with two Muslim seatmates, one from Egypt, the other from Arabia, all of us bound for Mecca, with me up in the pilots' cabin. Brother, I _knew_ Allah was with me.

  I got back to my seat. All of the way, about an hour's flight, we pilgrims were loudly crying out,"_Labbayka! Labbayka_!" The plane landed at Jedda. It's a seaport town on the Red Sea, the arrival ordisembarkation point for all pilgrims who come to Arabia to go to Mecca. Mecca is about forty milesto the east, inland.

  The Jedda airport seemed even more crowded than Cairo's had been. Our party became anothershuffling unit in the shifting mass with every race on earth represented. Each party was making itsway toward the long line waiting to go through Customs. Before reaching Customs, each Hajj partywas assigned a _Mutawaf_, who would be responsible for transferring that party from Jedda to Mecca.

  Some pilgrims cried "_Labbayka_!" Others, sometimes large groups, were chanting in unison a prayerthat I will translate, "I submit to no one but Thee, O Allah, I submit to no one but Thee. I submit toThee because Thou hast no partner. All praise and blessings come from Thee, and Thou art alone inThy kingdom." The essence of the prayer is the Oneness of God.

  Only officials were not wearing the _Ihram_ garb, or the white skull caps, long, white, nightshirt-looking gown and the little slippers of the _Mutawaf_, those who guided each pilgrim party, and theirhelpers. In Arabic, an _mmmm_ sound before a verb makes a verbal noun, so "_Mu_tawaf" meant "theone who guides" the pilgrims on the "_Tawaf_," which is the circumam-bulation of the Ka'ba in Mecca.

  I was nervous, shuffling in the center of our group in the line waiting to have our passports inspected.

  I had an apprehensivefeeling. Look what I'm handing them. I'm in the Muslim world, right at The Fountain. I'm handingthem the American passport which signifies the exact opposite of what Islam stands for.

  The judge in our group sensed my strain. He patted my shoulder. Love, humility, and truebrotherhood was almost a physical feeling wherever I turned. Then our group reached the clerks whoexamined each passport and suitcase carefully and nodded to the pilgrim to move on.

  I was so nervous that when I turned the key in my bag, and it didn't work, I broke open the bag,fearing that they might think I had something in the bag that I shouldn't have. Then the clerk saw thatI was handing him an American passport. He held it, he looked at me and said something in Arabic.

  My friends around me began speaking rapid Arabic, gesturing and pointing, trying to intercede forme. The judge asked me in English for my letter from Dr. Shawarbi, and he thrust it at the clerk, whoread it. He gave the letter back, protesting-I could tell that. An argument was going on, _about_ me. Ifelt like a stupid fool, unable to say a word, I couldn't even understand what was being said. But,finally, sadly, the judge turned to me.

  I had to go before the _Mahgama Sharia_, he explained. It was the Muslim high court which examinedall possibly nonauthentic converts to the Islamic religion seeking to enter Mecca. It was absolute thatno non-Muslim could enter Mecca.

   My friends were going to have to go on to Mecca without me. They seemed stricken with concern forme. And _I_ was stricken. I found the words to tell them, "Don't worry, I'll be fine. Allah guides me."They said they would pray hourly in my behalf. The white-garbed _Mutawaf_ was urging them on, tokeep schedule in the airport's human crush. With all of us waving, I watched them go.

  It was then about three in the morning, a Friday morning. I never had been in such a jammed mass ofpeople, but I never had felt more alone, and helpless, since I was a baby. Worse, Friday in the Muslimworld is a rough counterpart of Sunday in the Christian world. On Friday, all the members of aMuslim community gather, to pray together. The event is called _yawn al-jumu'a_-"the day ofgathering." It meant that no courts were held on Friday. I would have to wait until Saturday, at least.

  An official beckoned a young Arab _Mutawaf's_ aide. In broken English, the official explained that Iwould be taken to a place right at the airport. My passport was kept at Customs. I wanted to object,because it is a traveler's first law never to get separated from his passport, but I didn't. In my wrappedtowels and sandals, I followed the aide in his skull cap, long white gown, and slippers. I guess wewere quite a sight. People passing us were speaking all kinds of languages. I couldn't speak anybody'slanguage. I was in bad shape.

  Right outside the airport was a mosque, and above the airport was a huge, dormitory-like building,four tiers high. It was semi-dark, not long before dawn, and planes were regularly taking off andlanding, their landing lights sweeping the runways, or their wing and tail lights blinking in the sky.

  Pilgrims from Ghana, Indonesia, Japan, and Russia, to mention some, were moving to and from thedormitory where I was being taken. I don't believe that motion picture cameras ever have filmed ahuman spectacle more colorful than my eyes took in. We reached the dormitory and began climbing,up to the fourth, top, tier, passing members of every race on earth. Chinese, Indonesians,Afghanistanians. Many, not yet changed into the _Ihram_ garb, still wore their national dress. It waslike pages out of the _National Geographic_ magazine.

  My guide, on the fourth tier, gestured me into a compartment that contained about fifteen people.

  Most lay curled up on their rugs asleep. I could tell that some were women, covered head and foot. Anold Russian Muslim and his wife were not asleep. They stared frankly at me. Two Egyptian Muslimsand a Persian roused and also stared as my guide moved us over into a comer. With gestures, heindicated that he would demonstrate to me the proper prayer ritual postures. Imagine, being a Muslimminister, a leader in Elijah Muhammad's Nation of Islam, and not knowing the prayer ritual.

  I tried to do what he did. I knew I wasn't doing it right. I could feel the other Muslims' eyes on me.

  Western ankles won't do what Muslim ankles have done for a lifetime. Asians squat when they sit,Westerners sit upright in chairs. When my guide was down in a posture, I tried everything I could toget down as he was, but there I was, sticking up. After about an hour, my guide left, indicating that hewould return later.

  I never even thought about sleeping. Watched by the Muslims, I kept practicing prayer posture. I refused to let myself think how ridiculous I must have looked tothem. After a while, though, I learned a lime trick that would let me get down closer to the floor. Butafter two or three days, my ankle was going to swell.

  As the sleeping Muslims woke up, when dawn had broken, they almost instantly became aware of me,and we watched each other while they went about their business. I began to see what an importantrole the rug played in the overall cultural life of the Muslims. Each individual had a small prayer rug,and each man and wife, or large group, had a larger communal rug. These Muslims prayed on theirrugs there in the compartment. Then they spread a tablecloth over the rug and ate, so the rug becamethe dining room. Removing the dishes and cloth, they sat on the rug-a living room. Then they curl upand sleep on the rug-a bedroom. In that compartment, before I was to leave it, it dawned on me for thefirst time why the fence had paid such a high price for Oriental rugs when I had been a burglar inBoston. It was because so much intricate care was taken to weave fine rugs in countries where rugswere so culturally versatile. Later, in Mecca, I would see yet another use of the rug. When any kind ofdispute arose, someone who was respected highly and who was not involved would sit on a rug withthe disputers around him, which made the rug a courtroom. In other instances it was a classroom.

  One of the Egyptian Muslims, particularly, kept watching me out of the corner of his eye. I smiled athim. He got up and came over to me. "Hel-lo-" he said. It sounded like the Gettysburg Address. Ibeamed at him, "Hello!" I asked his name. "Name? Name?" He was trying hard, but he didn't get it.

  We tried some words on each other. I'd guess his English vocabulary spanned maybe twenty words.

  Just enough to frustrate me. I was trying to get him to comprehend anything. "Sky." I'd point. He'dsmile. "Sky," I'd say again, gesturing for him to repeat it after me. He would. "Airplane . . . rug . . . foot.

  . . sandal . . . eyes. . . ." Like that. Then an amazing thing happened. I was so glad I had somecommunication with a human being, I was just saying whatever came to mind. I said "Muhammad AliClay-" All of the Muslims listening lighted up like a Christmas tree. "You? You?" My friend waspointing at me. I shook my head, "No, no. Muhammad Ali Clay my friend-_friend_!" They halfunderstood me. Some of them didn't understand, and that's how it began to get around that I wasCassius Clay, world heavyweight champion. I was later to learn that apparently every man, womanand child in the Muslim world had heard how Sonny Liston (who in the Muslim world had the imageof a man-eating ogre) had been beaten in Goliath-David fashion by Cassius Clay, who then had toldthe world that his name was Muhammad Ali and his religion was Islam and Allah had given him hisvictory.

  Establishing the rapport was the best thing that could have happened in the compartment. My beingan American Muslim changed the attitudes from merely watching me to wanting to look out for me.

  Now, the others began smiling steadily. They came closer, they were frankly looking me up anddown. Inspecting me. Very friendly. I was like a man from Mars.

  The _Mutawaf_'s aide returned, indicating that I should go with him. He pointed from our tier downat the mosque and I knew that he had come to take me to make the morning prayer, El Sobh, alwaysbefore sunrise. I followed him down, and we passed pilgrims by the thousands, babbling languages, everything but English. I was angry with myself for not having taken the time to learn more of theorthodox prayer rituals before leaving America. In Elijah Muhammad's Nation of Islam, we hadn'tprayed in Arabic. About a dozen or more years before, when I was in prison, a member of theorthodox Muslim movement in Boston, named Abdul Hameed, had visited me and had later sent meprayers in Arabic. At that time, I had learned those prayers phonetically. But I hadn't used them since.

  I made up my mind to let the guide do everything first and I would watch him. It wasn't hard to gethim to do things first. He wanted to anyway. Just outside the mosque there was a long trough withrows of faucets. Ablutions had to precede praying. I knew that. Even watching the _Mutawaf_'shelper, I didn't get it right. There's an exact way that an orthodox Muslim washes, and the exact way isvery important.

  I followed him into the mosque, just a step behind, watching. He did his prostration, his head to theground. I did mine. "_Bi-smi-llahi-r-Rahmain-r-Rahim-_" ("In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, theMerciful-") All Muslim prayers began that way. After that, I may not have been mumbling the rightthing, but I was mumbling.

  I don't mean to have any of this sound joking. It was far from a joke with me. No one who happenedto be watching could tell that I wasn't saying what the others said.

   After that Sunrise Prayer, my guide accompanied me back up to the fourth tier. By sign language, hesaid he would return within three hours, then he left.

  Our tier gave an excellent daylight view of the whole airport area. I stood at the railing, watching.

  Planes were landing and taking off like clockwork. Thousands upon thousands of people from all overthe world made colorful patterns of movement. I saw groups leaving for Mecca, in buses, trucks, cars.

  I saw some setting out to walk the forty miles. I wished that I could start walking. At least, I knewhow to do that.

  I was afraid to think what might lie ahead. Would I be rejected as a Mecca pilgrim? I wondered whatthe test would consist of, and when I would face the Muslim high court.

  The Persian Muslim in our compartment came up to me at the rail. He greeted me, hesitantly,"Amer . . . American?" He indicated that he wanted me to come and have breakfast with him and hiswife, on their rug. I knew that it was an immense offer he was making. You don't have tea with aMuslim's wife. I didn't want to impose, I don't know if the Persian understood or not when I shook myhead and smiled, meaning "No, thanks." He brought me some tea and cookies, anyway. Until then, Ihadn't even thought about eating.

  Others made gestures. They would just come up and smile and nod at me. My first friend, the onewho had spoken a little English, was gone. I didn't know it, but he was spreading the word of an American Muslim on the fourth tier. Traffic had begun to pick up, going past our compartment.

  Muslims in the _Ihram_ garb, or still in their national dress, walked slowly past, smiling. It would goon for as long as I was there to be seen. But I hadn't yet learned that I was the attraction.

  I have always been restless, and curious. The _Mutawaf_'s aide didn't return in the three hours he hadsaid, and that made me nervous. I feared that he had given up on me as beyond help. By then, too, Iwas really getting hungry. All of the Muslims in the compartment had offered me food, and I hadrefused. The trouble was, I have to admit it, at that point I didn't know if I could gofor their manner of eating. Everything was in one pot on the dining-room rug, and I saw them just fallright in, using their hands.


Join or Log In! You need to log in to continue reading

Login into Your Account

  Remember me on this computer.

All The Data From The Network AND User Upload, If Infringement, Please Contact Us To Delete! Contact Us
About Us | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Tag List | Recent Search  
©2010-2014, All Rights Reserved