This past week, the US celebrated one of the great moral and theological figures of American history, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King rarely directly addressed the topics and themes that we focus on here at Inside Islam, but his unique combination of pragmatism and dreaming allowed his faith-inspired message of peace, love, and brotherhood to flourish throughout the world in a way that we can still learn from today. Although the roots of his oratorical style derived from a specific Southern Baptist upbringing, his words continue to inspire all people. King called upon communities to come together to combat societal problems, something that is woefully missing from contemporary discussions.
Last year, Congressman Peter King (R-NY), who shares Dr. King’s name but not his approach, held hearings on Islamic extremism in America. Instead of bringing communities together, as Dr. King might have done, to address the important issue of Islamic extremism, Rep. King created a high-profile, combative trial atmosphere. The hearing, entitled “The Extent of radicalization in the American Muslim community and that community’s response,” ran directly against the grain of everything Dr. King stood for, alienating large segments of Muslim Americans–who have been recognized by almost every major security agency as the most important partners in monitoring and combating Islamic extremist ideologies. To be clear: Rep. King’s hearings did not make anyone safer; they inflamed an Islamophobic tone within the US and validated prejudice and hatred of Muslims around the world.
Dr. King offered us a much brighter vision–one that has already been proven. His famous “I Have a Dream” speech solidifies the message of love and respect and the strength that is built through communities collaborating together.
I have a dream. My four little children will one day live in a nation where they will be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. I have a dream.
Incredible progress has been made since Dr. King spoke those words on August 28, 1963, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, but we have a long way to go. We would be wise to follow Dr. King’s powerful mixture of dreaming and pragmatism. It is a wisdom that we must not forget.
What does Dr. King’s message of respect, love, and community mean to you? Does his deep faith in Christianity influence his message in any way? Do Islamic principles relate to Dr. King’s vision, and if so, in what way?