On the 56th anniversary of the death of Malcom X we look back on his life which still has a profound impact on civil rights across the world today.

Malcolm X was born in Nebraska, USA in 1925 and is recognised as one of the greatest African-American leaders of his generation. February 21 will mark the anniversary of his assassination 56 years ago.

When Malcolm was six years old, his father, a Baptist minister, died shortly after being hit by a car. There is suspicion that he was murdered by white racists.

His family was so poor that Malcolm’s mother, Louise Little, sometimes had to resort to cooking dandelions to feed her children. Louise was detained in a mental institution when Malcolm was 13.

He excelled at school, but after his English teacher told him he should become a carpenter instead of a lawyer, he lost motivation and stopped studying at the age of 15.

In his later teenage years, he became involved in crime and was eventually imprisoned from 1946 to 1952 for robbery. In prison, he went through a radical transformation and ended up joining the Nation of Islam, an African-American movement that combined some aspects of Islam with black nationalism.

Some of the beliefs of this group are diametrically opposed to the teachings of authentic Islam such as the view of white people being inherently evil and that black people are the superior race. Also, followers believed in the divinity of Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam.

Malcolm educated himself by spending all his time reading books in the prison library and even memorised the dictionary. He stated: “I could spend the rest of my life reading, just satisfying my curiosity.”

He also stopped smoking and gambling and refused to eat pork. After his release from prison, he helped to lead the Nation of Islam, inspiring its exponential growth in membership through his fiery rhetoric. Due to Malcolm the Nation of Islam grew from having 400 members in 1952 to 40,000 by 1960.

At the time, Malcolm advocated for the separation of black and white Americans and rejected the civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King for its emphasis on integration. After developing tensions with Elijah Mohammed, Malcolm left the movement in 1964.

Elijah Muhammad had turned out to be much less than the model of virtue he claimed to be. He was a womaniser who fathered numerous children outside of marriage with six of his personal secretaries.

After travelling to Africa and the Middle East in 1964, where he performed the Muslim pilgrimage of Hajj, Malcolm embraced the mainstream Sunni Islam and took the name El-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz.

In Saudi Arabia he was exposed to the message of orthodox Islam - of universal respect and brotherhood. The experience revolutionised Malcolm’s outlook. Gone was his belief that white people were exclusively evil, gone was his advocacy for black separatism.

On his journey throughout the Middle East and Africa, Malcolm witnessed what he had never seen in the United States: men of all colours and nationalities treating each other as equals. He wrote in 1964: “America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases the race problem from its society.”

He wrote in his biography: “During the past eleven days here in the Muslim world, I have eaten from the same plate, drunk from the same glass, and slept in the same bed (or on the same rug) - while praying to the same God - with fellow Muslims, whose eyes were the bluest of blue, whose hair was the blondest of blond, and whose skin was the whitest of white.”

On his return to the US, he founded the Organization of Afro-American Unity, which promoted black identity and blamed racism, not the white race, as the greatest opponent of the African American struggle. His message was moderate and he steadily gained followers.

Throughout 1964, his conflict with the Nation of Islam intensified, and death threats were repeatedly sent to him. Then in February 1965, aged 39, he was shot 21 times and was martyred by three members of the Nation of Islam as he was preparing to deliver a speech.

Two days before he was killed he had said: “It is a time for martyrs now, and if I am to be one, it will be for the cause of brotherhood. That’s the only thing that can save this country.”

It is widely believed that the authorities such as the FBI knew of the assassination plot but did not intervene.