Reflections on The Dream

As we reflect on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his most famous oration enshrined in I Have a Dream, we must conclude no decent human being would dispute the fact that these words were long overdue. It’s well understood that Dr. King’s pronouncements in large part, echoed those inscribed in the Declaration of Independence. What Thomas Jefferson neglected to mention and would have likely opposed, was the realization of Dr. King’s aspiration that his children and indeed all people would someday no longer be “judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Certainly, Dr. King fought and died in the struggle to gain equality when only a few generations before him, African Americans were considered no more than three-fifths of a human being by the US Constitution.

Racism has long plagued this land, predating its independence from Britain. Mistreatment of non-white peoples (or those who failed to measure up, e.g., Irish, Poles, Jews, etc.) began with the post-Columbus era of exploration and continues in various forms to this day. It’s not uncommon to tune into the O’Reilly Factor and hear tirades against Muslims or Rush Limbaugh referring to the president as “Barak the Magic Negro.” Occasionally similar sentiments are scribbled on the walls of bathroom stalls or overheard when people assume no one is listening. So while public acceptance has evolved somewhat, often times entire communities continue to be judged by their ethnic composition, leaving some to suggest little has changed.

Dr. King’s “turn the other check” philosophy appealed to sympathetic policymakers because of the clear line it established between the aggressor and the protester; no reasonable onlooker could make the argument that siccing police dogs on innocent women and children could be justified. Still, Dr. King’s battle was not an easy one, in many ways remains a dream deferred; to do so would require not simplypassing additional laws but an actual transformation of the heart that can only come about through purification, i.e., a conscious effort to conduct oneself by the prophetic example of interconnectedness. 

One of the difficulties of running a secular state is the effort to legislate morality to a society governed by the cult of individualism, an effort made exponentially arduous considering our nation’s superiority complex. Although Dr. King’s address at the climax of the 1963 march on Washington contains some of the most honorable statements ever uttered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, similar sentiments were pronounced nearly 1400 years before by Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace, as he addressed the largest gathering of Muslims of his time.

Enshrined in what is considered the Prophet’s farewell sermon, stands the decree: “an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor a non-Arab any superiority over an Arab; further, a white has no superiority over a black, nor does a black have any superiority over a white, except by piety and good actions. Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one family.” In fact, according to Islamic teaching, the bonds shared between believers will transcend even those of blood on the Day of Judgement. Indeed, this is the same principle that guided the behavior of Muslims whom Malcolm X encountered on his pilgrimage to Mecca in 1964. In a letter to his wife, he writes about his experience: “There were tens of thousands of pilgrims, from all over the world. They were of all colors, from blue-eyed blonds to black-skinned Africans. But we were all participating in the same ritual, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe never could exist between the white and non-white.” He went on to argue that the prescription to cure America's racial divide lay in understanding of Islam.

Although to Dr. King’s audience, his calls for brotherhood were revolutionary; historically, however, not groundbreaking insofar as calls for equality. Judging a person on the content of their character echoes the Qur’anic verse, “We have created you from a single man and a single woman, and made you into tribes and families so that that you should recognize one another. In God’s view, the most honored of you are the ones most mindful of him.” (49:13) As a reverend, Dr. King was greatly influenced by the Bible, however, it must be recognized that the western portrayal of Jesus, and in fact, all prophets, peace be upon them, as descendants of Europeans, is severely problematic, both historically and geographically. It can be argued that the abuse suffered by people of color, not the least of which took place during the African slave trade, may have been averted were it not for corrupted ideologies of the Curse of Canaan and false images of a white Jesus. After all, had Christians believed the "son of God" to of dark complexion, the scourge of ethic superiority would not have been considered biblically sanctioned. Sadly, the most common solution to this problem has been to Africanize the depictions of Jesus, which is equally ridiculous; hence, the prohibition against constructing graven images as written in the second commandment of Mosaic Law.

Despite the ongoing struggle for equality, Dr. King’s dream lives on in the minds of all those who strive to do what it right by his fellow human beings, regardless of nationality, color, or creed. It is a dream with an honorable desire to recognize the intrinsic value we all share. It cannot be realized by those who try to co-opt sacred passages while ignoring the whole nor can it be realized by political posturing that aims to garner more votes from this or that constituency. It is a dream that can only be recognized by a fundamental change in the heart which transcends national pride and ethnic entitlements used to maintain the status quo for it is not the force of legislation that governs our awareness nor guarantees our freedoms, rather it the ability to recognize the intrinsic worth of ourselves and those who are unlike ourselves.  Indeed, Dr. King's dream can only be fully attained with the implementation of Malcolm's prescription, a prescription that relies on understanding as opposed to force.

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