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The Greats, Like Us, are Human too

I just finished reading the biography of Malcolm X. A man of undaunted courage and fearless speech, his multiple transformations from a hustler to a drug pusher to  a habitual bulgar, all of which earned him a place behind bars, is relatively well-known. We are all informed of Malcolm’s radical change of heart in prison which brought him to embrace Islam. Upon his release, he became the foremost champion of Afro-American rights. Converted to orthodox Islam after his pilgrimage to Mecca, Malcolm’s violent end in the hands of extremists and the security services in the country he loved has made him a Legendary Figure admired by Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

But what is less known is that Malcolm’s journey as a defender of the oppressed was not at all smooth sailing. His biographer explains that Malcolm’s decision to live the life of a preacher and a civil rights activist brought him into a spiral of problems and challenges that followed him to his deathbed. His own brothers stood against him when he chose to shun racism and adopt mainstream Islam. He was so  involved in community work that had so little time for family so much so that his wife felt neglected. He did, in many moments, failed to manage the movement he founded and, in the process, lost the trust of the men under his care. And the list of weaknesses, contradictions, faults and lapses goes on and on and on.

Reading the life of Malcolm X tells me that even the Greats have flaws that were sometimes so serious that we wouldn’t believe they committed such errors in the first place. That Greats struggled to make sense of their own purpose in life. What seemed meaningful for them many not have been accepted by others. The Greats made wrong judgements – sometimes fatal ones – and they learnt from such bad decisions to achieve what they wanted for the people around them. The Greats had few friends and many enemies. Like us, the Greats were all but Human. And they inform us that what we should celebrate and appreciate the humanity that is in them and in ourselves. What makes them Great is that their achievements and failures serve as Lessons for us to do be Better than them. What Malcolm has taught me is that it does not take a Saint to Speak Up for the Marginalized and the Disadvantaged. It takes Courage.
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