I practiced it over and over again for weeks on end. I was reciting the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. to family and friends, trying to memorize his “I Have a Dream” speech for an extra credit assignment in the 6th grade. At the time, Dr. King’s words were nothing more than a speech. I did not fully understand why they meant so much to so many people. I recited them cheerfully, without the slightest regard for their importance.
Every year on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we observe the birthday of the man who led the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. We take a day off from school or work, and try to remember the struggle and accomplishments of this great man and his supporters.
I’ve asked myself this question every year around this time: do we really care about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? Are we taking this day for granted—as a day to sleep or catch up on work? I’m guilty of it. It was only recently that I truly understood why this day is so valuable.
MLK Day, the third Monday of every January, serves as a reminder for all of all of us—a reminder of the plight of the minority, and a plea to continue the struggle.
Muslims know better than anyone that the struggle is not over. As much as we’d like to believe otherwise, racial injustices still exist today, even within our own masjids.
When we talk about how far we’ve come in civil rights, let us not forget the state of our Muslim communities. I’m not talking about overseas — yes, those are in a state of disrepair, but we must not forget to speak out against the racial tensions between members of our own communities here in America. We must not forget about the gender inequality that exists in some masajid and homes. We must not forget to reach out to those who need our support, the elderly, those with disabilities, and the youth.
We can go on about how Dr. King embodied Islamic principles of equality and freedom, but if we are not portraying those values in our own society, how can we expect others to see us differently? Use this day as a reminder that we have come a long way, but there is still work to be done.
Dr. King is quoted to have said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?’”
In the spirit of doing for others, many Americans use this day to come together and act in service of others. The MLK Day of Service has become a nationwide initiative where people of different races, faiths, and backgrounds come together to tackle one project at a time.
If you want to do something this MLK Day, volunteer! Don’t just clean your masjid or community center, but join with others in the larger community and make a sincere effort to embody the concept of brotherhood. Use your words and actions to celebrate what Dr. King did for our country.
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in AtlantaMuslim.com. The author’s views are solely her own.