Cross was one of five children born to Louis, a coal miner, and Mary Roberson Cross in Bessemer. His father had six other children who were raised nearby. He attended Sloss Junior High School, but left Alabama at the age of 14 to live with his grandmother in Washington D. C. in hopes of better educational opportunities. He graduated from Dunbar High School and attended Lincoln University in Chester County, Pennsylvania on scholarship. He was drafted into the U. S. Army Air Force in 1946, returning to school on the G. I. Bill after his discharge a year later. He earned his bachelor's degree in chemistry and mathematics at Lincoln in 1949. He went on to complete a master's in mathematics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1951 and a Ph.D. in mathematical analysis at Cornell University in New York in 1955. His dissertation topic was "On the Distribution of Eigen Values of a Certain Class of Hermitian Forms".
Cross took a job with the Metals Research Laboratory of the Electro Metallurgical Company in Niagara Falls, New York. He left in 1956 to accept an appointment as assistant professor of mathematics at Tuskegee Insitute, then left Tuskegee a year later for an associate professorship at Atlanta University. He was made chair of the small mathematics department and graduated numerous students who went on to careers in the field.
In 1961, after hearing Elijah Muhammad speak, Cross announced his membership in the Nation of Islam, and changed his name, first to Lonnie X, then to Lonnie Shabazz, and then to his present name in 1975. He left the school in 1963 amidst the university president's accusations that he was a communist. He moved back to Washington D. C. and re-established that city's University of Islam at Mosque No. 4, serving as imam and director of eduction. From 1975 to 1982 he taught and ministered at Islamic institutions in Chicago, Cincinnati, and Detroit. He then accepted a professorship at Umm Al Qura University in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.
Shabazz returned to what was then Clark Atlanta University in 1986. In 1990 he was again named chair of the mathematics department, serving through 1995. He rebuilt the department from near dysfunction into a well-regarded academic unit. He was given a "Mentor Award" in 1992 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a "Distinguished Service Award" by the National Association of Mathematicians in 1994.
In 1997 Shabazz returned to Lincoln University as chair of the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science. In September 2000, President Bill Clinton honored him with a Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring. A year later, the Association of African American Educators gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award.
Shabazz resigned from Lincoln University in 2007, angered by reductions in resources for teaching mathematics. He is currently the holder of an endowed chairmanship at Grambling State University.
- Shabazz, Abdulalim, F. Semwogere and F. Abebe (2006) Real Analysis: A First Course with an Inductive Approach. Trafford Publishing ISBN 9781412035293
- Gilmer, Gloria F. (1991) "Developing African Americans in Mathematics: An Interview with Abdulalim Abdullah Shabazz" Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Math Tech Inc.
- Cody, Paul (April 1994) "Affecting Eternity: Abdulalim Abullah Shabazz, Ph.D. '55." Cornell Magazine. p. 62
- "Abdulalim Abdullah Shabazz" (no date). Mathematical Association of America - accessed September 16, 2010
- Abdulalim Shabazz website