“My father, he fought a long time when he came home—he fought a long time, he fought a very long time,” remembers Ibn Khalil Islam, the eldest son of the now-exonerated Khalil Islam (the former Thomas 15X Johnson).
Ibn Khalil, who shares the same name as his father, spoke with the Amsterdam News about how happy he is to finally have his father’s name separated from the assassination of Malcolm X/el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz.
Both Khalil Islam (Thomas 15X Johnson) and Muhammad Aziz (Norman 3X Butler) were exonerated Nov. 18, 2021 by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance for the Feb. 21, 1965 assassination of Malcolm X. Each man had been convicted alongside Talmadge Hayer (also known as Thomas Hagan) of Malcolm’s murder on March 11, 1966. Sentenced to life in prison, the 26-year-old Muhammad Aziz was imprisoned for 20 years and paroled in 1985 while 30-year-old Khalil Islam spent 22 years in prison and was released in 1987.
Arrested as young men, they saw their marriages fall to ruin and each man spent vital developmental years away from their young sons—Islam had three and Aziz had six sons, each one of whom was under 11 years old.
Ibn Khalil was 6 years old when his father was taken away. “After my father was arrested, my aunts came and got me,” he remembers: “They took me straight to Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church, that’s how I got to meet Rev. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. My aunts said to me: ‘You’re not going to be one of those Black Muslims!’ And I was like, okay—I didn’t know any better, so I just said, alright.” The younger Khalil says he went from the church straight to the streets. When he was older, he ended up spending time in prison and, ironically, when he was imprisoned for three years in Dannemora (Clinton Correctional Facility) he was in the same prison as his father. Later, when he did time in the Sing Sing Correctional Facility, he was imprisoned alongside Muhammad Aziz. “That’s one thing my father said to me when I first met him in prison,” Ibn Khalil comments: “He told me, ‘If that incident had never occurred, you would have never been here.’”
Ibn Khalil has been paroled since 1983. Now he works with programs that take him into prisons so that he can talk with and encourage inmates to change their lives; he also works on various community programs. He says he has made it a mission to always give back to his community. And he feels that the efforts his family has made to support others is bearing fruit with events like the exoneration of his father.
“I’ve been on shows with him, I used to ride around with him, but I think my father didn’t have the right people around him. That’s been in my heart. You know they were buying him clothes, chauffeuring him around, but it wasn’t helping.
The elder Khalil gave lectures, did interviews, and would talk on radio, still professing his innocence after being paroled. “I’ve got the documents, I’ve got my father’s documents: he was home with arthritis in his legs, so how could he be in the Audubon Ballroom? And plus, the Muslims knew him because at one time my father walked Malcolm X—before he was Malik el-Shabazz—he walked Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz with an umbrella over their heads to shield the rain off them and put them in a cab.
“So how can you say my father shot him, how can you convict my father like that? Come on!? Stop!”
Ibn Khalil states that his family is grateful for the official exoneration of Khalil Islam even if his father did not live to see it. But they still have little faith in the U.S. justice system. “When I went in the back to talk with the D.A., I really didn’t have anything to say to them,” Ibn Khalil said. “When [a reporter] asked me do I have faith in the system, I told her no. I don’t have no faith in this system; not if you understand the system.”
Since his father’s exoneration, Ibn Khalil has been proud to say that he has become friendly with one of Malcolm X’s daughters—Qubilah Shabazz. “We talked and we exchanged numbers and she wanted me to meet her family. But in the meanwhile, she said, can you do me a favor? She said, can you take me to your father’s gravesite?” Khalil brought Qubilah to where his father is buried—Qubilah brought a dozen roses, he proudly states, and they each said prayers at Khalil Islam’s grave.
Muhammad Aziz and the estate of Khalil Islam are each suing New York state, New York City and individual NYPD officers for $60 million in compensation for the government’s misconduct and for the withholding of evidence that led to their wrongful convictions.