The life of Abd Al Malik has parallels to that of one of his heroes, Malcolm X.
Born Regis Fayette-Mikano to an immigrant African family in France, Malik spent his early childhood in the Congo where his father, an educated man, was involved in the government
- “I experienced these years like a wonderful journey.” But the family was soon transplanted again, this time to the immigrant ghetto of Neuhof in Strasbourg. Regis, though a brilliant student, was also fatherless by the time he reached adolescence. His philandering father refused to work and ultimately disappeared, leaving Regis’s mother with
four children to feed and educate. The result was that, like many ghetto boys, Regis turned to crime, first petty then serious, to while away the time, establish dominance with his fellows, and make the all-important money that was lacking in the home. He began to live a tri-partite life: as a member of his family struggling to get by, as a street lout very clever and successful at purse-snatching and car theft, and as an excellent student who was drafted to go to the best schools.
These threads were woven together to some extent when the young man discovered the potential of rap music as a revolutionary art form. The leader of the
well-known rap band New African Poets, he has won prizes for his poetry and his recorded music. By a series of coincidences which he believes were divinely orchestrated, he was able to leave the criminal ambience of the immigrant ghetto without forgetting it or abandoning its inhabitants in his heart.
The major rift in his life came when he came into an understanding of Islam and was recruited by a sect of wandering street preachers whose mission was to convert street toughs like himself to the faith. Coming from a Christian family
and educated in Christian schools, the religious conversion for the newly named Abd al Malik was almost as traumatic, and as hidden, as his earlier life of crime. But he became more integrated and found inner peace when he moved from the realm of the street sect of Islam to the etheric realm of true Sufism.
Like Malcolm X, a youthful criminal who despised authority (especially white authority) and whose views were radically and permanently altered when he encountered real Islam and Islamic people in Africa, Malik was transformed by Sufism. He declared that his spiritual training “made it impossible for me to rationalize in terms of black, Arab, or Jew, for all I saw were human beings.” He touches on this in the poem “Ode to Love”:
Time was I would criticize my neighbor
In the final pages of this compelling autobiography, we see Malik returning briefly to Neuhof, recalling his youth of crime and poverty and anticipating a meeting with his father at last. The final section of the book is poems, including this strict but loving paean “Letter to My Father”:
If his religion was not the same as mine
But now my heart welcomes every form
It is a prairie for gazelles and
A cloister for monks.
Dear Papa, I am going to speak to you from the heart
And without hatred don’t worry about any ulterior motive
Just a balance sheet since you left in ‘83
Leaving three little kids with their mother in short
Papa I love you, but you screwed up that time…
And sure thing papa I forgive you