In this exclusive interview with IMOW, Ilyasah Shabazz, the daughter of the influential Muslim American leader Malcolm X, talks about her father’s—and mother’s—enduring legacy in her life, her work, and beyond.
IMOW: What is your view on the growing Islamophobia in the West?
Ilyasah Shabazz: I believe we will progress toward the goal of peaceful coexistence as we continue to educate the world truthfully about Islam.
The words of my father illustrate that education transforms our understanding and helps us to transcend differences that would otherwise serve to divide us. He said, "True Islam taught me that it takes all of the religious, political, economic, psychological, and racial characteristics to make the human family and the human society complete...Since I learned the truth in Mecca, my dearest friends have come to include all kinds – some Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, agnostics, and even atheists. I have friends who are called capitalists, Socialists and Communists...My friends today are black, brown, yellow, and white…And, if I can die having brought any light, having exposed any meaningful truth that will help destroy the cancers [that separate us] that [are] malignancies in the body of [humanity] – then, all the credit is due to Allah. Only the mistakes have been mine."
I subscribe to my father’s belief that each and every human being belongs to the one family of humanity under the fatherhood of God; that we cannot suppress another without subjugating ourselves; and, we cannot come to the aid of another without helping ourselves.
I also embrace his belief that as Muslims we must fulfill our lifelong obligation to become better servants no matter how we are perceived in the world. For example, the study of medicine is not merely to attain social status, but to insure that disadvantaged people have adequate medical attention. The study of law is not merely to understand the rules of jurisprudence, but to use as a tool to fight all forms of injustice. The goal of becoming a teacher or professor is not simply for status, but to provide educational opportunities for everyone regardless of gender or social status.
How do you evaluate yourself as the daughter of Malcolm X?
I am proud to be a daughter of Hajj Malik El Shabazz, Malcolm X, and of Hajja Dr. Betty El Shabazz. They were exceptional role models. I do not say this because they are my parents; but because of their love and compassion for humanity. I respect and admire their ability to place value on giving back to society above their pursuit of individual freedom and material gain.
What kind of influence did Malcolm X have on your life, mission and your personality?
I was raised proud of my African ancestry; proud to be a Muslim; and proud to be a woman. Education was one of the fundamental values my parents emphasized and instilled in my sisters and me. Our parents understood the value of education, its critical importance to the advancement of our nation and its critical importance to the international struggle for human rights.
The second value stressed in the Shabazz family home was service. My mother would say, “Ilyasah, just as one must drink water, one must give back.” Throughout my life, I recall watching her work in the cause of human rights; and women’s rights in particular. I remember her participating in the International Women’s Conference that was held in Beijing, China, shortly before she passed away.
Writing my book Growing Up X afforded me an opportunity to reflect on her life as a personal source of inspiration and empowerment that I felt compelled to share with others. My father also deferred individual freedom and personal gain to advocate peace, justice and egalitarianism. I rely upon his example of excellence, service and sacrifice to encourage achievement of one’s fullest potential ultimately for the benefit of humankind.
Do you have personal memories of your father?
I was only two years old when my father was martyred in the presence of his family. My memories of him, as I recount in my book, are flickering images, flickering moments spent with him.
Fortunately for my sisters and me, my mother devised an ingenious strategy for raising us in a two-parent home. She kept my father alive for us. His suits, hats and briefcases were always present in our home, where we could see them. She would speak in present tense conversation about her husband. Consequently his love, compassion and values—like thirsting for knowledge and understanding the paramount importance of education and sacrifice, would serve to nurture his family in his absence.
Experiencing my parents’ transitions has afforded me invaluable understanding of human mortality and purpose. I recognize and appreciate that each of our lives will end; and that the meaningful accomplishments during our lifetimes do not include the acquisition of power, land, or gold, but rather the only achievements that will survive eternity and will honor our memories are
humble and dedicated service to Allah, to God, and are the good deeds that uplift the human family.
Malcolm X primarily addressed the black community in the United States and reminded them of their origin and their roots. Are you doing the same thing?
It is true that a critically important aspect of my father’s legacy is that he educated all of us more accurately about history. When African Americans were at our lowest point, oppressed, misled, and psychologically traumatized, my father illuminated for us and for the world that we do, in fact, have a history that pre-dates our bondage, the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. It is also true, that my father was an advocate in the international struggle for human rights; that he circled the globe to gain support for his blueprint for peace, justice and equality; and that he is responsible in large measure for the exponential growth of Islam in the United States. I humbly follow my father’s example to celebrate the oneness of humanity and to advocate educational empowerment regardless of religion, gender or social status.
Tell us more about your mission and the projects you are currently working on.
I am inspired by my father’s vision of peace, equality and freedom for all. He advocated for social justice and to end the indefensible destruction of human, economic, and environmental resources. My mission is to empower young people through educational programming to achieve their fullest potential, and to accept their personal responsibility for uplifting the human family. Ilyasah Shabazz Enterprises (ISE) initiatives celebrate the oneness of humanity; denounce war and injustice; and seize opportunities to promote justice, egalitarianism, and peace. My father influenced people around the world to stand up and seize responsibility for determining events and outcomes in their lives, communities and nations. ISE spent the last several weeks promoting community involvement in the 2012 U.S. Presidential election. We were reminded that Hajj Malik El Shabazz's, Malcolm X's, contribution to world political processes must be told.
One of our current projects includes the Malcolm X Documentary, which aims to provide a panoramic view of my father and the global scope of his timeless contribution and effect. ISE also sponsors The WAKE-Up Tour™, which is our exclusive youth empowerment mentorship program. We utilize The WAKE-Up Tour™ to introduce our youth to distinguished leaders in education, business, politics, and the arts & entertainment who have overcome myriad obstacles in their lives to ultimately achieve their highest success.