By Nihad Awad
Word Count: 618
In one of his most famous statements, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
On the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington, it is time to reflect on Dr. King’s words and examine where we stand as a nation on the issues of justice and mutual understanding.
Dr. King’s struggle for justice must be carried on by Americans of all faiths and backgrounds, because that is what he taught and demonstrated through his life’s work.
Fifty years after the “I have a dream” speech, stubborn remnants of racism and bigotry linger in the forms of voter suppression campaigns, racial and religious profiling and the targeting of undocumented immigrants.
Dr. King’s dream is deferred every time an American is discriminated against, profiled or mistreated because of the color of their skin, their faith, their gender, or their legal status.
Bigotry is also rearing its ugly head in a relatively new form, that of Islamophobia, the hatred of Islam and Muslims.
Islamophobia — whether expressed in the form of unconstitutional anti-Islam bills introduced in state legislatures nationwide or spewed by anti-Muslim hate bloggers — is just the latest manifestation of the same intolerance faced by Dr. King and other civil rights leaders of his time.
Like other forms of intolerance, Islamophobia is a threat to our nation’s values and to the social tapestry that continues to draw people to our shores from every nation on earth.
As American Muslims join coalitions in defense of their rights and the rights of Americans of all backgrounds, we must learn from the words and experiences of Dr. King.
As he once said: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
We must not let the poisonous views of Islamophobes and other bigots turn us away from a vision of America in which each person is judged not by the “color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
In the Quran, Islam’s revealed text, God tells us to “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 Quran, 5:8)
We also see Dr. King’s words reflected in those of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) who said in his last sermon: “All humankind is from Adam and Eve. An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor does a non-Arab have any superiority over an Arab. Also, a white person has no superiority over a black person, nor does someone who is black have any superiority over someone who is white — except by piety and good action.”
It is the content of our character and good actions that will serve as an example to this and future generations and that will shame and expose those who would label, demonize and marginalize anyone who does not fit their narrow definition of an American.
After 50 years, the Civil Rights Movement is at a crucial juncture. American Muslims are now part of that movement and we stand ready to do our part in the never-ending struggle for justice undertaken by Dr. King and men and women like him throughout our nation’s history.
As long as the politics of fear and division is alive and well, the struggle must continue.
I urge all Americans to mark the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington by doing their part to make Dr. King’s dream a reality. And I particularly urge American Muslims to join events marking the occasion and to examine the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement in mosque sermons and in their daily lives.
Nihad Awad is national executive director for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil liberties group. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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