Book review: As lockdown in the UK lifts I read about Malcolm X and Paul the Apostle in prison

Lockdown has felt like prison at times

I’m currently 9 hours into Malcolm X autobiography voiced expertly by Laurence Fishburne. Chapter 11 is illuminating. Simply named, Saviour, MalcolmX describes his conversion from a life of crime and hustling in the Big Apple, to his conversion to The Nation of Islam while serving a 10 year prison sentence. Two keys opened this door for him, his unwavering support from his blood family brothers and sisters who are already converts, and his passionate love of reading in an effort to articulate his views in an adult and intelligent manner to those who seek to repress him. 

In fact, reading is arguably Malcolm Xs others saviour as he devotes all his time in prison to reading books of black history, the stories white washed from his education. He reads up on slavery, the exploitation of Africa and China by white mans methods of plunder and power. By following Elijah Mohammed and writing letters to him, he comes to understand white people as white devils. Having read the first half of the autobiography and seeing how white people treated Malcolm X and his family, I cannot be offended as a white person. I believe Elijah Mohammed and the Nation of Islam would have been high comfort to Malcolm X after all he had experienced, and his faith remains with him after leaving prison after 7 years.

I listen to an App called Live Lent, that offers Bible readings each day of Lent, a Christian time of fasting before Easter Sunday, when Christians believe Jesus rose from the dead three days after his crucifixion. I am exploring Christianity and curious to learn more about it.

Today’s story is of Paul the Apostle who is imprisoned for teaching the word of God. He appeals to be set free. Amazing Grace is a hymn by the reformed slave trader John Newton , and today’s reflection is on how people are lost and found.

Clearly Malcolm X found his faith in prison, at his lowest ebb. Paul is also imprisoned and appeals to King Agrippa for his freedom. He admits he was opposed to the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth. He says “I put many of the Lords people in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them”. 

Then he tells the story of what happened on the road to Damascus. He has a vision of Jesus, a bright light brighter than the sun at about noon, and he tells King Agrippa. “We all fell to the ground and I heard a voice say to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

Paul asked who the voice was and the reply came “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” replied the Lord. The voice then implores Paul to spread the word of God and “I am sending you to open their eyes and turn from darkness to light…. so that they may receive forgiveness of sins.” 

Paul is accused of being out of his mind because the story sounds so far fetched. Paul stands firm. His faith is certain and he says “I pray to God that not only you, but all who are listening to me today, become what I am, except for these chains”.

Both Malcolm X and Paul the Apostle find their faithin prison, and stand firm in their beliefs. Both behaved badly and then atone for their sins, both suffer persecution and both are imprisoned and find freedom through their faith, even though their faiths are on the face of it, entirely different, I see a lot of common ground between these two men. 

We’ve been in lockdown for a while now, and reading books and blogs is one pleasure I am thoroughly grateful for, because of escapism from being indoors. While most of us aren’t in the unenviable position of being in prison, it’s only today, 29 March 2021 that some sanctions are lifted in the UK, so now we can go outside more often and two households of us to 6 people combined, can meet up outdoors. I think we’re all grateful for the chance to regain some of the freedoms we took for granted before, even if you aren’t religious.

Easter is about life rising from the dead. Malcolm X’s nickname was Satan in prison for his bad ways and lack of religion, and he completely turns it around to earn the respect of his peers through good behaviour and a conversion to the Nation of Islam. Equally Paul goes from persecuter to persecuted and in doing so, deepens his faith and becomes evangelical.

Both of these men were found at their most lost.

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From tiny acorns mighty oaks grow.

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