Excerpt from Muhammad Ali’s book, ‘The Soul of a Butterfly: Reflections on Life’s Journey‘.
Too Late For Forgiveness:
A few weeks after I became champion, I learned that Malcolm X strongly disagreed with some fundamental principles that Elijah Muhammad was teaching.
For 12 years Malcolm X had followed Elijah Muhammad and believed everything he taught. Malcolm remained a devout follower of Elijah Muhammad, until the last year of his life when he went on a pilgrimage to Mecca and the Holy Land. There Malcolm saw people of all colors living together in true brotherhood. There was no segregation. All the people worked together for the common good. He ate from the same plate and drank from the same glass as blonde, blue-eyed, white-skinned Muslims. He came to accept that they were all truly brothers. [...]
Malcolm now questioned the path the Nation of Islam was taking in the U.S, and the leadership of Elijah Muhammad. True Islam didn’t teach many of the things Elijah had been teaching. Malcolm was going to separate from Elijah Muhammad and wanted me to come with him. He said it was important that I take his side so that I could become a messenger myself and tell other young Black people in America what was going on. Malcolm and I were so close and had been through so much, but there were many things for me to consider.
Elijah Muhammad had given me my name, Muhammad Ali. I felt that he had set me free! I was proud of my name and dedicated to the Nation of Islam as Elijah Muhammad had presented it. At that point in my journey, I just wasn’t ready to question his teachings.
I was forced to make a choice when Elijah Muhammad insisted that I break with Malcolm. I was on a tour of Egypt, Nigeria and Ghana. I saw Malcolm in Ghana where he stopped on his way back to America… and he was wearing the traditional Muslim white robes, further signifying his break from Elijah Muhammad. He walked with a cane that looked like a prophet’s stick and he wore a beard. I thought he’d gone too far.
Whe he came up to greet me, I turned away, making our break public. [...]
Turning my back on Malcolm was one of the mistakes that I regret most in my life. I wish I’d been able to tell Malcolm I was sorry, that he was right about so many things. But he was killed before I got the chance. He was a visionary- ahead of us all.
Elijah Muhammad had a mission to unite Black people in the spirit of racial pride, and he accomplished much. After Elijah Muhammad’s death, his son, Wallace D. Muhammad, took over the Nation and brought me, along with many of his father’s followers, to mainstream Sunni Islam. Malcolm was the first to discover the truth, that color doesn’t make you a devil. It is the heart, soul, and mind that define a person.
Malcolm X was a great thinker and an even greater friend. I might never have become a Muslim if it hadn’t been for Malcolm. If I could go back and do it over again, I would never have turned my back on him.