50 years ago Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke words that moved the spirit of a nation. His dream of hope, faith and equality was not limited to Black and White racial reconciliation alone. King and the more than 250,000 peaceful marchers who assembled in Washington in 1963 came to demand an equal opportunity to jobs and economic justice for everyone in America.
In short, the 1963 marchers came to the Nation’s Capitol to cash in on the historic promissory note of nothing less than the full rights of citizenship that were enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
In his commemorative remarks on the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s call to action, President Obama reminded America of what Dr. King ‘s message really was: “decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old age security, health and welfare measures-conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children and respect in the community.”
The march to full citizenship and justice for all in America continues. For quite a few years, Muslim Americans have been quietly working to secure the promise of full citizenship for all in our community as well. In the words of President Obama, like so many everyday Americans making a difference in people’s lives, “they too are marching.”
Whether its by providing health care for the uninsured, educational programs to encourage civic engagement and political participation of their people, championing immigration rights, challenging stereotypes, career mentoring of youth, hosting interfaith dialogues to build bridges of understanding, or providing forums for networking and opportunities for the free exchange of ideas, they have steadily marched in pursuit of becoming better citizens and better neighbors.
The road is often long and the goal is often obscured, but we keep our eyes on the prize, work around obstacles, steer clear of distractions, and are driven by the same belief that Dr. King spoke of when he said that not everybody can be famous, but “everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. Greatness is determined by service. You only need a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love.”
Dr. King said that he learned non-violence from the teachings of Gandhi, and Gandhi said he was inspired by the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Indeed if Muslims were to reflect on the life and example of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and the timeless words of wisdom in the Quran, they would see clearly that the call of Islam is a call to serve others, regardless of race or religion or nationality.
It was precisely this message of the essential dignity of all people that transformed Arabian society 1400 years ago to the point where Bilal the African and former slave, Suhayb the Roman, Salman the Persian, and Abdullah ibn Salam the Jew and former rabbi became brothers in faith and esteemed companions of the Prophet (pbuh). The Islamic spirit of universal justice that is taught in the Quran is enshrined on the entrance wall of Harvard Law School as “one of the greatest expressions of justice in human history: ‘Oh you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be against rich or poor, for Allah can best protect both.”
As we commemorate another Day of Service in recognition of 911 we invite all who wish to contribute and make a difference, to come join us in our march.
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