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Who Is Abdur-Rahman Muhammad, From The New Documentary 'Who Killed Malcolm X?'

Abdur-Rahman Muhammad claims to know who was the true assassin of black activist Malcolm X, and the historian and imam is extensively featured in Netflix's new docu-series.

By Erik Hawkins
Abdur Rahman Muhammad N

An in-depth new docu-series on Netflix raises questions about the official story of the February 1965 assassination of black activist Malcolm X — positing that his killer freely walked the streets in Newark, New Jersey as recently as two years ago.

At the center of the series “Who Killed Malcolm X?” is Abdur-Rahman Muhammad, a Washington, D.C., historian and expert on Malcolm X — or el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz — who identified the man he claims was the true assassin in 2010, according to Muhammad’s website

Muhammad began working with late Columbia University Professor Manning Marable in 2005, researching Malcolm’s life and death for the Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Malcolm X, A Life of Reinvention.” Marable died in 2011, according to a New York Times obituary.

“There were so many stones left unturned,” Muhammad says in the new docu-series, adding that he was never able to look at the original crime scene evidence or files of the district attorney at the time. “And it just kept bugging me and bugging me.” 

The investigation looked “haphazard at best, botched at worst,” historian Zaheer Ali agreed on the show. “And maybe convenient to someone.” 

Malcolm X Getty Images

Through his research, Muhammad claims to have found that the person who fired the first, fatal shot into Malcolm X was Al-Mustafa Shabazz, who later adopted the name William Bradley, and lived until recently in Newark. Bradley was first accused of involvement in the murder by Talmadge Hayer in an affadavit — one of three men convicted of Malcolm's assassination in 1966 — the New Jersey Star-Ledger reported

Muhammad named Shabazz/Bradley on his blog in 2010, after years of digging. Shabazz had previously denied any involvement in the killing when confronted by the New York Daily News in 2015.

Along with Hayer, Norman 3X Butler and Thomas 15X Johnson were both arrested for the murder, according to the New York Times. Hayer said that the other two men were not guilty, but all three were convicted and sentenced to life. Butler and Johnson later changed their names to Muhammad Abdul Aziz and Khalil Islam, respectively, and were later paroled out of prison.

One of the docu-series’ directors, Rachel Dretzin, was fascinated by the possibility that the man who actually fired the fatal shot has been living “in plain sight” for years in New Jersey, the Times reported — “and that many people knew of his involvement, and he was uninvestigated, unprosecuted, unquestioned.” 

U.S. Senator and former presidential candidate Cory Booker, who represents New Jersey, says in the docu-series that he knew Shabazz — who died in 2018 — “well,” although he wasn’t aware of his alleged past. 

Shabazz appeared in a 2010 campaign ad for Booker, when he was running for re-election as Newark mayor. 

Muhammad was born in Providence, Rhode Island, under the name Kenneth W. Oliveira, Jr., according to his website. He earned his bachelor’s degree in philosophy at Howard University, and converted to Islam in 1986. 

He became an imam and worked to “emulate the career” of Malcolm by pushing for social justice, he wrote on his website. Muhammad studied the assassination of Malcolm X for more than 30 years, he wrote. 

All six episodes of “Who Killed Malcolm X?” are now available to stream on Netflix.