A speech I am preparing to deliver in the MLK day 2010, in our community, Westchester County, NY
It is a great honor
It is a great honor for me to speak on this day. It is a great honor for me as a human being, as a Muslim, and as an “American-to-be.” 🙂 The man we are commemorating today is a great man. Although talented and skilled, what made him great was not the qualities he possessed or the skills he had, for many people had the very same talent and skills. What made him great was the cause he stood for and the ideas he strived to promote. As I learn about him fighting poverty, opposing war, calling for civil rights, and standing against racial segregation and discrimination, I see one huge virtue that is central to him effort; that is justice.
The reason I am honored as a Muslim is because this is one of the main values Islam came to establish and God made essential to humanity. This was obvious in the message of Prophet Muhammad and all prophets and messengers before him (peace be upon them all). He (glory be to Him), clearly said that this universe is created with justice and runs with justice. He orders us clearly to be just and to stand firm for justice even against ourselves, our parents, or our families. These commands and orders were foundational to Islam to the extent that Muslim scholars studying the Qur’an and the tradition of the Messenger (pbuh) as a whole, made the conclusion that all Islamic teachings aim for three main things: 1) developing a righteous individual, 2) establishing justice in the society, and 3) protect people’s necessities, namely, religion, life, progeny, wealth, and intellect. We are talking about a central value in Islam and all religions. We are talking a about a man who furthered this cause and became one of its prominent icons.
Commemorating MLK brings about the spirit of living this virtue, striving to further it, and feel the honor of belonging to the same land he lived in. Commemorating MLK should give us pride to have those values deeply ingrained in our very founding document, the Declaration, and our very guiding law, the Constitution. That is why we should be proud, as Americans, well, “Americans-to-be.” as well.
Values in books are not enough
What really surprises me was that Dr. King was not calling for something new. The values he was promoting were obvious values and the basis of his cause was already there. He was not doing what he was doing in the 16th century. He was doing that in the 50s and 60s. My message to all of us gathering here is that great values need people to stand for them and causes have to be furthered by effort, real effort. It is not enough that our constitution is great. It is not enough that we believe in it and its values. It is not enough to make a pledge or an oath to support it and defend it. These values need to see light through the real realization in our daily life. They should see light in the legislation of laws and the implementation of these laws. They should see light in the way we conduct ourselves as people, as a government, and as a nation. If these values disappear or diminish from our lives, which is a nature of the human beings to be forgetful, heedless, or tempted by some lower level desires and benefits, someone has to stand for them, someone has to promote them, someone has to remind us of and move us towards those values we originally believed in. This person will face resistance, will get tired, and will become unpopular, but someone has to do it or otherwise, we will all fail.
One person is not enough
I mentioned that the value of Dr. King stemmed from the value he stood for. Comes next to that is his ability to move people and to make his cause a cause of a movement. Going through history, it was not the speech he delivered more than it was the march in DC. It wasn’t the article he wrote more than the bus boycott he championed. This is my message for all of us to take home: I don’t have to be MLK to stand for a good cause. I can be part of a larger movement that stands for a good cause, a movement lead by great people like him. These days, there are many people, including our president, who is trying to stand for good causes. We have to be sure that these causes will not move forward unless embraced by people like us and not only a few individuals who promote them. We better be part of these movements for a real impact on out society. I am sure there were many unsung heros at the time of Dr. King who contributed to his cause, probably more than King himself. Let us be one of those!
Nelson Mandela, an icon of freedom, peace, and tolerance was once, and until 2008, barred from entering our country because of his “terrorist” association. Dr. King, an icon of civil rights, a Nobel Prize holder, and a national celebrity, was wiretapped by the FBI. They both went to jail, were defamed in the media, and were unpopular to many people. The values they promoted were viewed by some people as “crazy” values, and they were blamed to be “crazy” people. This was said about every person who stands for good causes, including all prophets of God. This issue appears as a common theme in the history of mankind.
What is my message here?
If what drives us is political correctness, safety, peace of mind, and popularity, rather than beliefs, virtues, and great causes, we will fail as individuals and our society will fail as a whole. Of course political correctness is desirable, safety is a goal in itself, and popularity is nice, so nice. However, these are secondary and very insignificant when a value like justice is on the table. We should remember Dr. King’s endeavor when we face some of the difficulties that face people of reform. We should remember Nelson Mandela when our endeavor experiences some of his. I recall a statement, Prophet Muhammad used to say when he faces some hard times from his people; he used to say “My brother Moses was harmed more than this and he was patient!”
do not undo, please
I will conclude with my final message to you. The society we are living in, the values we are enjoying, the reason people like me come to America, and the hope that our society can be the exemplary society for all people is based, merely, on those noble values. Nevertheless, these values came with a price. For these values people marched; for those values people went to jail; for those values people struggled with their money and their time; for those values people were assassinated. It is a huge legacy and it is a trust in our hands. We are supposed to further it and hand it over to our next generation. However, if we choose not to, let us not be the ones who undo them. Let us not abandon those values for personal or short term benefits. we should “reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals,” as our president mentioned in his inauguration speech showing no compromise for such values even for something as important as our safety. Those values are the ones that will make America safe, prosperous, and a land everyone wants to live in, and live for.