On a Pilgrimage

Being in rural central France for about 6 months, I have become familiar with this area’s part in the pilgrim trail that leads through Europe and ends on the coast of northwestern Spain. It’s known as the Camino de Santiago, and it is only one of several pilgrim pathways that crisscross Europe. Most religions have these pilgrim walks. For example, one of the major tenets of Islam is for the faithful to make at least one pilgrimage to Mecca, the holy city in Saudi Arabia, in one’s lifetime. And that’s what one American Muslim man decided to do in 1964.

He had been born in Omaha, Nebraska, hardly the place where a Muslim would originate in the United States. As a young man, he was known to his family and friends as Red due to the reddish nature of his hair. Despite his rural origins, Red grew up in harsh neighborhoods of Boston. Through some hardships, he found religion and converted to Islam. The hajj, or pilgrimage, was part of what Red felt to be a life-long pursuit of growth towards a greater understanding of God and the pursuit of understanding himself and his fellow man.

It was on the pilgrimage to Mecca that much of what he searched for fell into place for Red. There, he encountered Muslims of many nations. The commonality of belief among the faithful there convinced him that faith could remove all of the things that separated us as humans: The hatred, the prejudice, the enmity and strife. All races and nations and ethnicities seemed to melt away in the face of the faithful Muslims red met there.

The feeling Red experienced in the brotherhood of man during his pilgrimage changed him. He returned to the United States after his trip and was immediately plunged into a slight depression because of the division he found, divisions that he had been allowed the luxury of forgetting while he was reveling in the unity of the pilgrimage. However, Red vowed to work to speak openly about the way his faith managed to erase the cultural, economic, and racial boundaries that have defined the United States since its inception. And speak he did.

In fact, Red angered so many people who were invested, emotionally, politically, and, sometimes, economically, in keeping Americans divided. He himself had been a part of spreading that division before his pilgrimage, and, now that he disavowed that mentality, some of his old acquaintances didn’t appreciate his newfound enlightenment. Some of them were so angry at Red for espousing brotherhood and unity that they decide to silence his voice.

And, so, on February 21, 1965, the man you know better as Malcolm X was killed because he espoused peace.


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