I am for the acquiring of knowledge or the accumulating of knowledge—as we now call it; education. First, my people must be taught the knowledge of self. Then and only then will they be able to understand others and that which surrounds them. Anyone who does not have a knowledge of self is considered a victim of either amnesia or unconsciousness and is not very competent. The lack of knowledge of self is a prevailing condition among my people here in America. Gaining the knowledge of self makes us unite into a great unity. Knowledge of self makes you take on the great virtue of learning.
Many people have attempted to belittle or degrade my followers by referring to them as unlettered and unschooled. They do this to imply that the believers in Islam are ignorant. If such a claim were so, then all the more credit should be given for our striving for self-elevation with so little. But truth represents itself and stands by itself. No followers, nor any other people, are more zealous about the acquiring of knowledge than my followers. Throughout the Holy Qur’an, the duty of a Muslim to acquire knowledge is spelled out.
My people should get an education which will benefit their own people and not an education adding to the “storehouse” of their teacher. We need education, but an education which removes us from the shackles of slavery and servitude. Get an education, but not an education which leaves us in an inferior position and without a future. Get an education, but not an education that leaves us looking to the slave-master for a job.
Education for my people should be where our children are off to themselves for the first 15 or 16 years in classes separated by sex. Then they could, and should, seek higher education without the danger of losing respect for self or seeking to lose their identity. No people strive to lose themselves among other people except the so-called American Negroes. This they do because of their lack of knowledge of self.
We should acquire an education where our people will become better students than their teachers. Get an education which will make our people produce jobs for self and will make our people willing and able to go and do for self. Is this not the goal and aim of the many foreign students who are studying in this country? Will not these students return to their own nations and give their people the benefit of their learning? Did not Nkrumah return to Ghana to lead his people to independence with the benefit of learning he acquired here in America and elsewhere? Did not Dr. Hastings Banda return to give the benefit of his education to his people who are striving toward freedom and independence in Nyasaland? Did not Nnamdi Azikiwe of Nigeria give the benefit of his education to the upliftment and independence of his people. Does not America offer exchange scholarships to smaller, weaker and dependent foreign governments so their students will acquire knowledge to aid the people of those countries? Then why shouldn’t the goal in education be the same for you and me? Why is scorn and abuse directed toward my followers and myself when we say our people should get an education which will aid, benefit and uplift our people? Any other people would consider it a lasting insult, of the worst type, to ask them to refrain from helping their people to be independent by contributing the benefit of their knowledge.
Get an education, but one which will instill the ideas and desire to get something of your own, a country of your own and jobs of your own.
I recall, in 1922 or 1923, when a debate was taking place in Congress concerning appropriation of funds for Howard University, a school set aside to train my people, in the nation’s capital. A senator said this, and it is in the records to be examined in effect: What would be the need of the government appropriating money to educate Negroes? He said that they would not teach our people the science of modern warfare (defense), birth control or chemistry. He knew these were the things free people must know in order to protect, preserve and advance themselves. We have not been able to protect, preserve and advance ourselves. This shows the slave-master has been very successful in dominating us with an education beneficial to him. There is a saying among us, “Mother may have, father may have, but God blesses the child who has it’s own.” It is time we had our own.
I want an education for my people that will let them exercise the right of freedom. We are 100 years up from slavery. We are constantly told that we are free. Why can’t we take advantage of that freedom? I want an education for my people that will elevate them. Why should we always be lying at the gate begging for bread, shelter, clothing and jobs if we are free and educated? Do not get an education just to set it up as some useless, symbolic monument to the Black man in the Western Hemisphere. We need an education that eliminates division among us. Acquire an education that creates unity and makes us desire to be with our own.
The acquiring of knowledge for our children and ourselves must not be limited to the three R’s — reading, ’riting and ’rithmetic. It should instead include the history of the Black nation, the knowledge of civilization of man and the universe and all the sciences. It will make us a greater people of tomorrow.
We must instill within our people the desire to learn and then use that learning for self. We must be obsessed with getting the type of education we may use toward the elevation and benefit of our people—when we have such people among us, we must make it possible for them to acquire this wealth which will be beneficial and useful to us.
One of the attributes of Allah, The All-Wise God, Who is the Supreme Being, is knowledge. Knowledge is the result of learning and is a force or energy that makes it’s bearer accomplish or overcome obstacles, barriers and resistance. In fact, God means “possessor or power and force.” The education my people need is that knowledge, the attribute of God, which creates power to accomplish and make progress in the good things or the righteous things. We have tried other means and ways and we have failed. Why not try Islam? It is our only salvation. It is the religion of Allah, His prophets and our forefathers.
(Reprinted from “Message To The Blackman,” 1965.)