Hartsdale, New York
Malcolm Little, more commonly known as Malcolm X, is the most famous American-born Muslim. He is also one of the most controversial figures in American history. A champion both of Islam as well as African rights, he was seen by many westerners at the time as a threat to civilization; but history’s judgement on him has softened with time, and he is now regarded by both Muslims and non-Muslims as an important civil rights leader who helped to advance the cause of minorities everywhere. Towards the end of his life he was a popular religious leader and public speaker, but incurred the wrath of the religious extremists whom he had disavowed. After his assassination, Malcolm X was interred in Ferncliff Cemetery in Upstate New York. His gravesite has since become a pilgrimage destination for both American Muslims and African Americans in general.
The life of Malcolm X is closely tied to the history of the Nation of Islam, a Muslim denomination which sprang up in the American Midwest in the 1930s. Founded in 1930, it was a movement designed to promote the advancement and dignity of African-Americans through the practice of Islam. Over the years the Nation of Islam has been accused of being both a radical, violent organization by the government as well as religiously unorthodox by mainstream Muslims. Despite this, the NOI has a history of success in lifting many African-Americans out of poverty, and was a major catalyst in the expansion of the Islamic religion in America.
Malcolm Little was born during the turbulent interwar years, when life was particularly difficult for many African-Americans. His father, a prominent and outspoken Baptist minister, was killed by white supremacists when he was young. Despite early promise, Malcolm Little took to the streets, and in 1946, at the age of twenty-one, he found himself in prison. There he became a Muslim, and joined the Nation of Islam, and changed his name to Malcolm X. After leaving prison in 1952, he moved to Chicago, where he became a prominent follower of Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the NOI.
Over the next decade, Malcolm X became the Nation of Islam’s most popular public speaker. He sought to advance both African rights and the Islamic faith, and became well known on both sides of the Atlantic. Throughout most of this period he was also outspoken in his antipathy towards Caucasians, and often referred to the imminent collapse of the white race and western civilization.
In 1964, Malcolm X left the Nation of Islam over matters of doctrinal differces. He converted to Sunni Islam, then undertook the Hajj to Saudi Arabia, possibly the most prominent American ever to have done so. During his trip, he discovered the true multi-ethnic nature of Islam, which forced him to reconsider many of his positions on racism. Though he continued to champion African-American causes, he softened his view of Caucasians, and began to consider ways in which Islam could be used as a way to unify men. Unfortunately, his life was cut short by an assassin’s bullet less than a year later. Decades after his death he is now viewed by many Americans as a champion of civil rights rather than as a divisive figure. His gravesite may be the most prominent Islamic shrine in the United States.
Malcolm X is buried in Ferncliff Memorial Park, a graveyard noted for the burial of many famous Americans. His gravesite is marked by a simple flat engraved headstone as is common at Ferncliff. It is usual for visitors to touch the headstone when making a visit.
Ferncliff Cemetery is located on the outskirts of Hartsdale, New York, approximately 25 miles north of New York City. It is open daily from 9:00am-4:00pm. There is no cost of admission. Web: www.ferncliffcemetery.com (official website of Ferncliff Cemtery)
Malcolm X is memorialized in many African-American communities around the United States, including numerous streets which have been named after him. The El-Hajj Malik El Shabazz Academy in Lansing, Michigan is the site where Malcolm X once attended elementary school. The Masjid Mayam in Chicago, a former Orthodox Church, is now the headquarters of the Nation of Islam.