By Nihad Awad
On March 7, 1965, Americans marching in Alabama for their right to vote were met with violence. It was on "Bloody Sunday" that state troopers attacked the peaceful civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
That attack on marchers at the Edmund Pettus Bridge and the national upheaval that followed led to passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, one of our nation's most important pieces of legislation.
In 1965, the first march on Selma began with African-Americans demanding the right to vote, but today the legacy of that movement encompasses all challenges to bigotry, racial prejudice, religious profiling, and unwarranted surveillance of Americans.
Sadly, nearly 50 years later the right to vote again came under attack. In January 2013, in Shelby County v Holder, a simple majority of the Supreme Court held that the coverage formula in Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act was unconstitutional, meaning that states could change their election laws without advance federal approval unless Congress enacted a new coverage formula (which they have not).
Civil rights advocates decried this decision as gutting the hard fought protections of the Voting Rights Act. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in her dissent, said that the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the nation's commitment to justice had been disserved by the decision.
Since that time, many states and local governments have begun passing restrictive voter laws and to become more aggressive in expunging voters from registration rolls.
For American Muslims, many of whom are African-American, the struggle that began in Selma continues today in a different form. African-American Muslims face the double challenge of both racial and religious stigmatization and marginalization.
The second March of Selma succeeded because of the call Dr. King made for the nation to join hands across racial and religious lines. It also succeeded because the images of police brutality shocked many Americans and drew civil rights and religious leaders to Selma in support of the marchers and the cause of voting rights.
Today, many in our communities are still facing brutality because of their race and background, and the images can be just as disturbing.
A recent Department of Justice report on the Ferguson, Mo., police department showed that while the majority of the city's residents are African-American, less than 8 percent of police officers are black. It showed that African-Americans residents accounted for 90 percent of officers' use of force cases.
While African-American drivers in Ferguson were twice as likely as white drivers to be searched during traffic stops, they were 26 percent less likely to be found in possession of illegal contraband.
We can only overcome this type of discrimination when everyone feels the duty to confront bigotry and disenfranchisement at the social, political and personal levels.
American Muslims today face Islamophobia, stereotyping, hate crimes and discrimination.
Ordinary Muslims nationwide feel the impact of growing hate rhetoric promoted and exploited by a well-funded and well-coordinated "Islamophobia industry" that spends tens of millions of dollars on anti-Muslim propaganda, including trying to enact state laws that negatively impact Muslims.
We stand on the shoulders of giants in this struggle. Like all Americans, we are tremendously indebted to those who sacrificed before us to gain equal rights. We hope that our efforts now to end bigotry and intolerance will benefit generations to come and will contribute to helping our beloved country live up to its ideals of equal rights and equal treatment for all.
As Muslims, we tell our brothers and sisters who sacrificed and died to fulfill the dreams of the Civil Rights Movement, we are with you in Selma, in Ferguson, in New York, in Cleveland, and everywhere that dream remains unfulfilled.
Your struggle is our struggle. It is America's struggle.
Nihad Awad is the co-founder and national executive director of CAIR.