MLK Is an Example for American Muslims
By Nihad Awad
As American Muslims face the challenge of rising anti-Islam sentiment in American society, we can benefit from the example of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who used the power of truth and justice to peacefully overcome those who promoted fear and its resulting prejudice and intolerance.
Like African-Americans who faced far more severe challenges in the 50s and 60s, American Muslims are now the easy targets of unreasoned hate and suspicion. Like Dr. King, American Muslims must respond to hate with love and understanding.
Dr. King accurately noted, " Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it." He also said, "Let no man pull you low enough to hate him."
This refusal to let the hatred of others impact one's principles or actions is reflected in the Qur’an, Islam's revealed text, which states: "Be steadfast in your devotion to God, bearing witness to the truth in all equity, and never let the hatred of others make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: (for) that is closest to piety." (The Holy Qur’an, 5:8)
In his letter from a Birmingham jail cell, Dr. King wrote that "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." This statement clearly indicated that the quest for justice is universal and not limited to a particular time or movement, and that everyone must rise to confront the injustices of his or her own time and place.
Dr. King wrote: "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."
These words strengthen American Muslims as we face the twin tests brought on by those few who would falsely claim to commit violence in the name of my faith and by those who seek to exploit fear and mistrust to marginalize an entire minority community.
In his most famous speech, Dr. King stated:
"I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
"I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.'...
"I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."
This hope for equality was also expressed by Islam's Prophet Muhammad, who said in his final sermon: "All mankind is from Adam and Eve...a white (person) has no superiority over a black (person), nor does a black have any superiority over a white - except by piety and good action."
American Muslims dream the same dream as Dr. King and all those who struggled during the civil rights movement -- that the promise of justice and equality may be fulfilled for all our nation's children.
Dr. King said it best when he noted, "The good neighbor looks beyond the external accidents and discerns those inner qualities that make all men human and, therefore, brothers."
His legacy of civility, hope, perseverance, and optimism is best honored through actions that continue to make his dream our reality.
[ Nihad A wad is national executive director for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org ]