Nihad Awad: American Muslims Are Indebted to Dr. King
By Nihad Awad
In my position as the leader of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation's largest American Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, I am eternally grateful for the vision, struggle and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
He did not struggle only to free his own generation, and his work will continue to bless many generations to come in America and around the world.
Although there is much work yet to do, we witness the fruits of his struggle for justice and equality every day.
Every time we succeed in protecting the rights of a Muslim child who is bullied because of his or her faith, or of a Muslim woman who is fired because she refuses to remove her religious headscarf (hijab), we employ the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The Civil Rights Movement led by Dr. King also resulted in the Voting Rights Act, which is key to the enfranchisement of all minorities, including American Muslims.
Every time I stand before a crowd to encourage civic participation and to mobilize positive action to protect minority civil rights, I remember Dr. King and the many other leaders who sacrificed so much, including their lives, and made our work in defense of civil liberties possible today.
Without their courage, dedication and achievements, none of our work would be possible.
Today, we honor their memory by working to protect the liberties that they fought for. No one should take the peace and freedom we enjoy for granted.
Despite substantial progress in civil and human rights, fear and hatred continue to threaten the bonds of our society. When we see Muslim houses of worship firebombed, Sikh temples attacked and hear those who fail to see others as their equals broadcasting their message of hate on the airwaves, we know that that we must remain vigilant.
Dr. King once noted: "Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom."
American Muslims are learning this important lesson as we confront many of the same challenges faced by Dr. King and by members of other minority groups throughout our nation's history.
Individual Muslims and Muslim institutions are under relentless rhetorical attack by a vocal minority of our fellow Americans who seek to falsely portray Islam as a threat to this nation.
But try as we might, American Muslims will never be able to reverse this manufactured hostility to our faith without being part of the larger civil rights movement. This must be a collective effort, and it will only be through seeking advice from those who have come before us and by joining hands with others that American Muslims will have a chance of success in decreasing intolerance and increasing mutual understanding.
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) once said: "Whoever sees evil should change it with the help of his hand (activism); and if he has not strength enough to do that, then he should seek to change that evil with his tongue (by speaking out against it), and if he has not strength enough to do that, (even) then he should (abhor it) in his heart (by always disapproving what is evil or harmful), and that is the least of faith."
Like the Prophet, Dr. King also showed us that the highest form of faith is to take positive action, to challenge evil, and to seek peace, justice and freedom.
[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: [email protected] ]
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