Thursday, May 24, 2007

Marvin X: A Critical Look at the Father of Muslim American Literature



Marvin X:

A Critical Look At the Father

Muslim American Literature

Edited by Nefertiti El Muhajir



Dr. Mohja Kahf

Marvin X: First Muslim American Poet

Have spent the last few days (when not mourning with friends and family the passing of my family friend and mentor in Muslim feminism and Islamic work, Sharifa AlKhateeb, (may she dwell in Rahma), immersed in the work of Marvin X and amazed at his brilliance. This poet has been prolific since his first book of poems, Fly to Allah, (1965), right up to his most recent Love and War Poems (1995) and Land of My Daughters, 2005, not to mention his plays, which were produced (without royalties) in Black community theatres from the 1960s to the present, and essay collections such as In the Crazy House Called America, 2002, and Wish I Could Tell You The Truth, 2005.

Marvin X was a prime shaper of the Black Arts Movement (1964-1970s) which is, among other things, the birthplace of modern Muslim American literature, and it begins with him. Well, Malik Shabazz and him. But while the Autobiography of Malcolm X is a touchstone of Muslim American culture, Marvin X and other Muslims in BAM were the emergence of a cultural expression of Black Power and Muslim thought inspired by Malcolm, who was, of course, ignited by the teachings and writings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. And that, taken all together, is what I see as the starting point of Muslim American literature. Then there are others, immigrant Muslims and white American Muslims and so forth, that follow.

There are also antecedents, such as the letters of Africans enslaved in America. Maybe there is writing by Muslims in the Spanish and Portuguese era or earlier, but that requires archival research of a sort I am not going to be able to do. My interest is contemporary literature, and by literature I am more interested in poetry and fiction than memoir and non-fiction, although that is a flexible thing.

I argue that it is time to call Muslim American literature a field, even though many of these writings can be and have been classified in other ways--studied under African American literature or to take the writings of immigrant Muslims, studied under South Asian ethnic literature or Arab American literature. With respect to Marvin X, I wonder why I am just now hearing about him-I read Malcolm when I was 12, I read Amiri Baraka and Sonia Sanchez and others from the BAM in college and graduate school-why is attention not given to his work in the same places I encountered these other authors? Declaring Muslim American literature as a field of study is valuable because recontextualizing it will add another layer of attention to his incredibly rich body of work.

He deserves to be WAY better known than he is among Muslim Americans and generally, in the world of writing and the world at large. By we who are younger Muslim American poets, in particular, Marvin should be honored as our elder, one who is still kickin, still true to the word!

Love and War Poems is wrenching and powerful, combining a powerful critique of America ("America downsizes like a cripple whore/won't retire/too greedy to sleep/too fat to rest") but also a critique of deadbeat dads and drug addicts (not sparing himself) and men who hate. "For the Men" is so Quranic poem it gave me chills with verses such as:

for the men who honor wives

and the men who abuse them

for the men who win

and the men who sin

for the men who love God

and the men who hate

for the men who are brothers

and the men who are beasts

"O Men, listen to the wise," the poet pleads:

there is no escape

for the men of this world

or the men of the next

He is sexist as all get out, in the way that is common for men of his generation and his radicalism, but he is refreshingly aware of that and working on it. It's just that the work isn't done and if that offends you to see a man in process and still using the 'b' word, look out. Speaking of the easily offended, he warns in his introduction that "life is often profane and obscene, such as the present condition of African American people." If you want pure and holy, he says, read the Quran and the Bible, because Marvin is talking about "the low down dirty truth." For all that, the poetry of Marvin X is like prayer, beauty-full of reverence and honor for Truth. "It is. it is. it is."

A poem to his daughter Muhammida is a sweet mix of parental love and pride and fatherly freak-out at her sexuality and independence, ending humbly with:

peace Mu

it's on you

yo world


Other people don't get off so easy, including a certain "black joint chief of staff ass nigguh (kill 200,000 Muslims in Iraq)" in the sharply aimed poem "Free Me from My Freedom." (Mmm hmm, the 'n' word is all over the place in Marvin too.) Nature poem, wedding poem, depression poem, wake-up call poems, it's all here. Haiti, Rwanda, the Million Man March, Betsy Ross's maid, OJ, Rabin, Mumia Abu-Jamal, and other topics make it into this prophetically voiced collection of dissent poetry, so Islamic and so African American in its language and its themes, a book that will stand in its beauty long after the people mentioned in it pass. READ MARVIN X for RAMADAN!

Mohja Kahf

Associate Professor

Dept. of English & Middle East & Islamic Studies

University of Arkansas-Fayetteville



If it is true that I am the father of modern Islamic literature in America, as Dr. Mohja Kahf proclaims, I would like to delineate my lineage. As a spiritual descendant of West African Muslims, I begin my literary biography in the Mali Empire, among those scholar/poet/social activists of Timbuktu: Ahmed Baba, Muhammad El-Mrili, Ahmed Ibn Said, Muhammad Al Wangari, and the later Sufi poet/warriors of Senegal and Hausaland, Ahmedu Bamba and Uthman dan Fodio.

In America, this literary tradition continued under the wretched conditions of slavery with the English/Arabic narratives of Ayub Suleimon Diallo, Ibrahima Abdulrahman Jallo, Bilali Mohammad, Salih Bilali, Umar Ibn Said and others who told how they got ovah, how they survived the worst terrorist regime in the history of mankind. Their narratives are thus the origin of Muslim literature in America, an integral part of the beginning of American and African American literature in general. There is some suspicion that David Walker, Frederick Douglas, Booker T. Washington and Benjamin Baneker may have also been descendants of Muslims. Certainly they share the Islamic spirit of creative resistance (any means necessary), and we must acknowledge this spirit in the Islamic and Pan African writings of Edward Wilmot Blyden, the greatest African intellectual of the late 19th century. See his Islam, Christianity and the Negro Race, 1887. While Marcus Garvey was in London,1912, being taught One God, One Aim, One Destiny, African For the Africans, Those At Home and Those Abroad, by his Egyptian Muslim mentor Duse Muhammad Ali, Noble Drew Ali,1913, established his Moorish Science Temple in Newark, New Jersey, later Chicago, and created his Seven Circle Koran, a synthesis of Qur'anic, Masonic, mystical and esoteric writings. And most importantly, Master Fard Muhammad arrived in Detroit, 1930, to deliver his Supreme Wisdom, mythological Sufi teachings, to the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, later summarized in Elijah's primers of mystical Islamic theology and black nationalism, Message To The Black Man and The Theology of Time.

The next major work is Malcolm X's Autobiography, with the assistance of Alex Haley. This neo-slave narrative bridged ancient and modern Islamic literature in America. Let us also include Louis Farakhan's off Broadway drama Organa and his classic song A White Man's Heaven is The Black Man's Hell, anthem of the Black revolution of the 60s. Amiri Baraka utilized the Muslim myth of Yacub in his play A Black Mass, one of his most powerful works, an examination of the cloning of the white man, not such a fantastic idea today since the white man has begun cloning himself. Askia Muhammad Toure must be credited for his Islamic writings, along with poetess Sonia Sanchez (Laila Mannan) who served a brief tenure in the Nation of Islam. Yusef Rahman and Yusef Iman created powerful Islamic poetry as well.

Now we may safely proceed into an examination of "Marvin's World." Enter at your own risk.

The following articles, essays, reviews and interviews give a good summary of opinion about the writer known as Marvin X, aka El Muhajir, Nazzam Al Fitnah, Maalik El Muhajir, Marvin Ellis Jackmon.


El Muhajir (Marvin X)



My life and my death are all for Allah. I believe in the teachings of the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad. I believe in the teachings of Jelaluddin Balkhi, better known as Rumi. I believe in the teachings of Bawa Muhaiyaddeen. Gain a knowledge of my teachers and you will understand me. If you reject my teachers, there is no need for you to proceed further.

Chapter One: A Literary Biography

Lorenzo Thomas, Close Up and Personal

Michael E. Idland, A Voice That Must Be Heard

Lee Hubbard, Unplugged

Chapter Two: Autobiography, Somethin Proper, 1998

Dr. Nathan Hare, introduction to Somethin Proper

Dr. Julius E. Thompson, A Most Significant Work

Fahizah Alim, A Proper Response

James G. Spady, Making An Inventory and Constructing Self

Reginal Major, Trampling His Soul

Dingane (Joe Goncalves), Journey of A Restless Mind

Chapter Three: Drama, 1965--

Michael E. Idland, Major Works and Themes

Steven Winn, 'Day' A Searing Account of Addiction

Dr. Nathan Hare, Letter to Marvin X

Dennis Leroy Moore, Parable of the Man Who Was Crucified

Lil Joe, Sexual Repression in Sergeant Santa

Chapter Four: Essays, In the Crazy House Called America, 2002

James W. Sweeney, foreword

Suzzette Celeste, MSW, MPA, introduction

Dr. Nathan Hare, In the Crazy House of the Negro

Dr. Nathan Hare, Letter to Marvin X

Junious Ricardo Stanton, A Healing Peek Into His Psyche

La Vonda R. Staples and Brenda A. Sutton, A Yoruba Chief Holds Court

Lil Joe, Like Malcolm X, Marvin X Is A Revolutionary Muslim

John Woodford, Bittersweet Fruits of Wisdom

Aeeshah and Kokomon Clottey, The Quality of Heart

Brecht Forum, Existential Musing

Chapter Five: Poetry, Land of My Daughters, 2005

Rudolph Lewis, Using the Past Rather Than Glorifying

Ishmael Reed, Overcoming With Faith and Will

Chapter Six: Essays, Wish I Could Tell You The Truth, 2005

Rudolph Lewis, Discourse by Exaggeration and Humor

Lil Joe, The Evolution of Consciousness

Dr. Nathan Hare, He's Really That Good

Pam Pam, Wish I, interview

Terry Collins, Wish I, interview




Sudan Rajuli Samia (Fresno: Al Kitab Sudan Publishing, 1967)

Black Dialectics (Fresno: Al Kitab Sudan, 1967)

Fly To Allah: Poems (Fresno: Al Kitab Sudan, 1969)

Son of Man: Proverbs (Fresno: Al Kitab Sudan, 1969)

Black Man Listen: Poems and Proverbs (Detroit: Broadside Press, 1969)

Woman-Man's Best Friend (San Francisco: Al Kitab Sudan, 1973)

Selected Poems (San Francisco: Al Kitab Sudan, 1979)

Confession of A Wife Beater and Other Poems (Fresno: Al Kitab Sudan, 1981)

Liberation Poems for North American Africans (Fresno: Al Kitab Sudan, 1982)

Love and War: Poems ( Castro Valley: Black Bird Press, 1995)

Somethin Proper: Autobiography (Castro Valley: Black Bird Press, 1998)

In The Crazy House Called America: Essays (Castro Valley: Black Bird Press, 2002)

Wish I Could Tell You The Truth: Essays (Cherokee: Black Bird Press, 2005)

Land of My Daughters: Poems (Cherokee: Black Bird Press, 2005)

Beyond Religion, toward Spirituality, essays on consciousness, 2007

Works In Progress:

Mama Said, autobiographical novel, Black Bird Press, 2008
Up From Ignorance: Essays (Cherokee: Black Bird Press, 2008)

Sweet Tea and Dirty Rice, Collected Poems(Cherokee: Black Bird Press, 2008)

In Sha Allah, A History of Black Muslims in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1954-2004.

Seven Years in the House of Elijah, A Woman's Search for Love and Spirituality by Nisa Islam as told to Marvin X.


Flowers for the Trashman, San Francisco: San Francisco State University Drama Department, 1965.

Flowers for the Trashman, San Francisco: Black Arts West/Theatre, 1966.

Take Care of Business, musical version of Flowers with music by Sun Ra, choreography by Raymond Sawyer and Ellendar Barnes: Your Black Educational Theatre, San Francisco, 1972.

Come Next Summer, San Francisco Black Arts/West, 1966.

The Trial, New York, Afro-American Studio for Acting and Speech, 1970.

Resurrection of the Dead, San Francisco, choreography by Raymond Sawyer, music by Juju and Sun Ra, Your Black Educational Theatre, 1972.

Woman-Man's Best Friend, musical, Oakland, Mills College, 1973.

How I Met Isa, Masters thesis, San Francisco State University, 1975.

In The Name of Love, Oakland, Laney College Theatre, 1981.

One Day In The Life, Oakland, Alice Arts Theatre, 1996.

One Day In The Life, Brooklyn, NY, Sistah's Place, 1997.

One Day In The Life, Manhattan, Brecht Forum, 1997.

One Day In The Life, Newark, NJ, Kimako's Blues, 1997.

One Day In The Life, Oakland, Uhuru House, 1998.

One Day In The Life, San Francisco, Bannam Place Theatre, North Beach, 1998.

One Day In The Life, San Francisco, Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, 1999.

One Day In the Life, Berkeley, Black Repertory Group Theatre, 1999.

One Day In the Life, Marin City, Marin City Rec Center, 1999

One Day In the Life, Richmond, Unity Church, 2000.

One Day In the Life, San Jose, San Jose State University, 2000.

One Day In the Life, Berkeley, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, 2000.

One Day In the Life, Sacramento, New Colonial Theatre, 2000.

Sergeant Santa, San Francisco, Recovery Theatre script, 2002.


Delicate Child, a short story, Oakland, Merritt College Student Magazine contest winner, 1963.

Delicate Child, a short story, Oakland, SoulBook Magazine, 1964.

Flowers for the Trashman: A One Act Drama, San Francisco, Black Dialogue Magazine, 1965.

Flowers for the Trashman, Black Fire, An Anthology of Afro-American Writing, edited by Amiri Baraka and Larry Neal, (New York: Morrow, 1968).

Take Care of Business: A One Act Drama, aka Flowers, (New York: The Drama Review, NYU,1968)

The Black Bird (Al Tair Aswad): A One-Act Play, New Plays from the Black Theatre, edited by Ed Bullins with introduction (interview of Ed Bullins) by Marivn X, (New York: Bantam, 1969)

"Islam and Black Art: An Interview with Amiri Baraka" and foreword by Askia Muhammad Toure, afterword by Marivn X, in Black Arts: An Anthology of Black Creations, edited by Ahmed Alhamisi and Haroun Kofi Wangara (Harold G. Lawrence) (Detroit: Black Arts Publications, 1969).

"Everything's Cool: An Interview with Amiri Barka, aka, LeRoi Jones", Black Theatre Magazine, New Lafayette Theatre, Harlem, NY, 1968.

Resurrection of the Dead, a ritual/myth dance drama, Black Theatre Magazine, New Lafayette Theatre, Harlem, 1969.

Manifesto of the Black Educational Theatre of San Francisco, Black Theatre, 1972.

The Black Bird, A Parable by Marvin X, illustrated by Karen Johnson ( San Francisco: Al Kitab Sudan and Julian Richardson and Associates Publishers, 1972).

"Black Justice Must Be Done," Vietnam and Black America: An Anthology of Protest and Resistance, edited by Clyde Taylor (Garden City: Double-day/Anchor, 1973)

"Palestine," a poem, Black Scholar magazine, 1978.

Journal of Black Poetry, guest editor, 1968.

"The Meaning of African Liberation Day," by Dr. Walter Rodney, a speech in San Francisco, transcribed and edited by Marvin X, Journal of Black Poetry, 1972.

Muhammad Speaks, foreign editor, 1970.

A Conversation with Prime Minister Forbes Burnham of Guyana, Black Scholar, 1973.


Proceedings of the Melvin Black Human Rights Conference, Oakland, 1979, featuring Angela Davis, Minister Farakhan, Eldridge Cleaver, Paul Cobb, Dezzie Woods-Jones, Jo Nina-Abran, Mansha Nitoto, Khalid Abdullah Tarik Al Mansur, Dr. Yusef Bey, Dr. Oba T-Shaka, and Marvin X.

Proceedings of the First Black Men's Conference, Oakland, 1980, John Douimbia, founder, Marvin X, chief planner, Dr. Nathan Hare, Dr. Wade Nobles, Dr. Yusef Bey, Dr. Oba T'Shaka, Dezzie Woods-Jones, et al.

Forum on Drugs, Art and Revolution, Sista's Place, Brooklyn, New York, 1997, featuring Amiri and Amina Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, Sam Anderson, Elombe Brath and Marvin X.

Eldridge Cleaver Memorial Service, produced by Marvin X, Oakland, 1998, participants included Kathleen and Joju Cleaver, Emory Douglas, Dr. Yusef Bey, Minister Keith Muhammad, Imam Al Amin, Dr. Nathan Hare, Tarika Lewis, Richard Aoki, Reginald Major, Majidah Rahman and Marvin X.

One Day in the Life, a docudrama of addiction and recovery, filmed by Ptah Allah-El, produced, written, directed and staring Marvin X, edited by Marvin X, San Francisco: Recovery Theatre, 1999.

Marvin X Interviews Bobby Seale, co-founder of the Black Panther Party, former actor in Marvin X's Black Theatre: Berkeley, La Pena Cultural Center, 1999.

Marvin X at Dead Prez Concert, San Francisco, 2000.

Kings and Queens of Black Consciousness, produced by Marvin X at San Francisco State University, 2001, featuring Dr. Cornel West, Amiri Baraka, Amina Baraka, Julia Hare, Dr. Nathan Hare, Rev. Cecil Williams, Destiny, Phavia, Tarika Lewis, Askia Toure, Kalamu Ya Salaam, Ishmael Reed, Dr. Theophile Obenga, Marvin X, et al.

Live In Philly At Warm Daddies, a reading accompanied by Elliot Bey, Marshall Allen, Danny Thompson, Ancestor Goldsky, Rufus Harley, Alexander El, 2002.

Marvin X Live in Detroit, a documentary by Abu Ibn, 2002.

In the Crazy House Called America, San Francisco: Buriel Clay Theatre, 2003.

Marvin X and Amiri Baraka, Berkeley: Black Repertory Group Theatre, 2003.

Marvin X Speaks at the Third Eye Conference, Dallas, Texas, 2003.

Marvin X and the Last Poets, San Francisco: Recovery Theatre, 2004.

Proceedings of the San Francisco Black Radical Book Fair, produced by Marvin X, San Francisco, Recovery Theatre, 2004, participants include: Sonia Sanchez, Davey D, Amiri Baraka, Sam Hamod, Fillmore Slim, Askia Toure, Akhbar Muhammad, Al Young, Devorah Major, Opal Palmer Adisa, Tarika Lewis, Amina Baraka, Julia and Nathan Hare, Charlie Walker, Jamie Walker, Reginald Lockett, Everett Hoagland, Sam Greenlee, Ayodelle Nzinga, Elliot Bey, Ptah Allah-El, Kalamu Ya Salaam, Marvin X, et al.

Get Yo Mind Right, Marvin X Barbershop Talks, Oakland: 2005.

Marvin X Live in the Fillmore at Rass'elas Jazz Club, San Francisco, 2005.

The Contributors

Mohja Kahf, professor of English and Islamic Literature, University of Arkansas. Her essay is revised (by ed.) from an earlier version that appeared online at Muslim Wake Up.Com. She is the senior editor of the forthcoming anthology Muslim American Literature, University of Arkansas Press. Marvin X is a co-editor. Her recent collection of poetry is E-Mails from Scheherazad, University Press of Florida.

Lorenzo Thomas, professor of English at the University of Houston, Texas, and author of Extraordinary Measures: Afrocentric Modernism and Twentieth-Century American Poetry, University of Alabama Press, 2000.

Michael Idland's essay is from African American Dramatists: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2004.

Lee Hubbard is a Bay Area journalist, this interview appeared in the San Francisco Bayview newspaper.

Dr. Nathan Hare, sociologist/psychologist, is the father of black studies in America. He and his wife, Julia, are close associates, comrades and advisors to Marvin X. He is author of the classic sociological study The Black Anglo-Saxons. With wife Julia, he is co-author of The Endangered Black Family and The Miseducation of the Black Child.

Fahizah Alim writes for the Sacramento Bee newspaper. Marvin X is her mentor. Her critical comments on Islam and male/female relations have been a source of inspiration to the poet.

La Vonda R. Staples is an online personality for and creator of "Literally Speaking," an internet live book club.

Brenda A. Sutton is the co-founder of Afrikan Consciousness Center group and information director for Afrikan American award winning author, Tina McElroy Ansa. La Vonda and Brenda are also co-authors of "An Incident in Mayville," unpublished.

James G. Spady's essay appeared in the Philadelphia New Observer. He is recipient of the American Book Award and the National Newspaper Association's Meritorious Award. His works have appeared in newspapers, magazines, scholarly journals such as African Studies Review, International Journal of African Studies, College Language Association Journal, Black Scholar, Presence Africaine, Journal of African Civilizations and elsewhere.

Steven Winn is drama critic for the San Francisco Chronicle.

John Woodford is former editor of Muhammad Speaks. He is currently editor of Michigan Today at the University of Michigan.

Suzzette Celeste, MSW, MPA is a social worker and spiritual practitioner at the East Bay Church of Religious Science. She also teaches counseling at Oakland's Merritt College.

James W. Sweeney is former director of the Oakland Support Center, an outpatient center for the homeless and dual diagnosed. He is a former Berkeley City Councilman.

Aeesha and Kokoman Clotty are directors of Attitudinal Healing Center in Oakland and co-authors of Racial Healing.

Rudolph Lewis manages the African American literary website Chickenbones. He will soon publish The Best of Chickenbones, and it is one of the best sites for African American literature on the internet. The best source for up-to-date writings by Marvin X, up-to-the-minute!

Ishamel Reed is a poet, novelist, essayist, playwright, editor and publisher. He has taught at Harvard, Yale, and Dartmouth, and for twenty years has been a lecturer at the University of California Berkeley. He is a supporter of Marvin X's many projects.

Lil Joe is Los Angeles community activist and revolutionary theoretician. He was among group of students who supported Marvin X when he fought to teach at Fresno State University but was removed by then Gov. Ronald Reagan, 1969. He was a member of the Black Panther Party.

Pam Pam is a community activist in San Francisco's dangerous Sunnydale district. She also produced, filmed and co-directed a film on Marvin X, Git Yo Mind Rite. She has a weekly program on San Francisco's KPOO radio.

Terry Collins, nephew of Malcolm X through his sister Ella Collins, is one of the founders and directors of KPOO radio. Terry was one of the revolutionary students at San Francisco State University, along with his roommate Danny Glover and fellow student Marvin X.

Dr. Julius E. Thompson's essay appeared in African American Review. He is a professor of African American Studies.

Reginald Major is author of The Panther Is A Black Cat, a study of the Black Panther Party. He writes for Pacifica News Service.

Dingane (Joe Goncalves) is founder and publisher of the 60s bible of poetry, the Journal of Black Poetry.

Dennis Leroy Moore is a filmmaker, As An Act of Protest.

Junious Ricardo Stanton is a journalist who writes for newspapers nationwide, especially online journals such as The Black World Today.

Brecht Forum is a New York center for radical culture.

This work is scheduled for publication sometime next year. For more information write to Marvin X @ University of Poetry/Black Bird Press, 11132 Nelson Bar Road, Cherokee CA 95965. Email 510-472-9589.

Writers are welcome to submit a critical essay on the writings of Marvin X for consideration.

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