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March 10, 2023

Malcolm X forum highlights Black Muslim identity

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Mohammad Khalil, Imam Omar Suleiman, Imam Abdullah Oduro and Dr. Jabbar R. Bennett.
Mohammad Khalil, Imam Omar Suleiman, Imam Abdullah Oduro and Jabbar R. Bennett. Photograph by Dane Robison.

On Jan. 25, Michigan State University’s Muslim Studies Program presented the second annual Malcolm X Muslim Studies Community Forum at the Erickson Hall Kiva. The event took place exactly 60 years and two days after Malcolm X gave a speech at MSU in the very same room.

Malcolm X Speaks at Michigan State University, 1963.

Malcolm Little, more commonly known as Malcolm X, was a minister and civil rights activist in the 1950s and 1960s. Raised in Lansing, Michigan, he traveled the world pursuing justice for Black people in the United States.

Malcolm X was also an advocate for Islam and became a major proponent for the religion after he was exposed to the ideologies of the Nation of Islam, which he combined with the ideas of Black power.

“Malcolm X was an extremely interesting and misunderstood public figure,” said Mohammad Khalil, director of the Muslim Studies Program at MSU. “This event challenged some of the one-dimensional portrayals of Malcolm and demonstrated how at least some members of our community have been greatly impacted by his example.”

Imam Abdullah Oduro
Imam Abdullah Oduro speaking at the podium. Photograph by Dane Robison.

American Muslim scholars Imam Abdullah Oduro and Imam Omar Suleiman, the evening’s keynote speakers, discussed this and more during the event.

Oduro converted to Islam in 1997, and since then has conducted public speeches, sermons, lectures and workshops around the country. Currently, he serves as the imam at the Islamic Center of Coppell and Lewisville in Dallas, Texas. Additionally, he is a scholar with the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research.

Suleiman is the founder and president of the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research and an adjunct professor of Islamic Studies in the Graduate Liberal Studies program at Southern Methodist University. He is also the resident scholar at Valley Ranch Islamic Center and co-chair emeritus of Faith Forward Dallas at Thanks-Giving Square.

Oduro kicked off the evening by speaking about Malcolm’s journey as a Black Muslim and stressed the importance of understanding the history to move forward.

“Understanding the plight of Muslims in America is important,” said Oduro. “So, when looking at Malcolm X and understanding his profound mission and how he called people to Islam with no shame, with no fear, with full integrity, with full strength, with full honor, with full diplomacy, you understand that this individual is somebody that goes down in history.”

Imam Omar Suleiman
Imam Omar Suleiman speaking to the audience. Photography by Dane Robison.

Oduro outlined many of Malcolm X’s accomplishments during his speech, as well as noting the struggles he faced. He explained that many of the problems Malcolm X faced all those years ago persist today, particularly the cultural differences that divide

“Malcolm does not choose the most convenient option. There are many times that he could have chosen the more convenient route; there are many people that wanted Malcolm to abandon his adherence to Islam altogether,” said Suleiman.

Two students listening to the speakers
Students listening to the Malcom X forum speakers. Photography by Dane Robison.

“Think about this from a worldly perspective: Malcolm gets no benefit by being the one Muslim, the one Sunni Muslim, on the circuit. He has no benefit if he wants to integrate into mainstream civil rights work. He either abandons the religion altogether, abandons anything that’s going to be a barrier between him and some of the other articulate leaders of the movement, but he chooses to adhere to his most authentic pursuits.”

The community forum lasted nearly two hours and included attendees from the East Lansing and surrounding community, including many students.

“Understanding the qualities and lives of leaders like Malcolm X is important to understanding key tools and ways we can tackle the issues in our communities,” said Saarah Alam, a third-year student studying physiology in Lyman Briggs College.

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This story originally appeared on the Office for Institutional Diversity and Inclusion website.

By: Brigita Felkers

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