Jihad and Black History Month

Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Dubai, United Arab Emirates

The term "Melting Pot" was coined to describe the accepting attitude of America as a nation, where people of any demographic were welcomed and afforded the same opportunities. However, our country didn't reach this status overnight. Without key figures in history including Martin Luther King Jr, America wouldn't be much of a Melting Pot. Despite strong opposition, King struggled towards his dream, that one day, black and white people could unite to make America a better nation.
 
In Islamic terminology, King's great struggle for equality may qualify him for the title of "Mujahid". After all, the literal definition for the root word "jihad" is "to struggle for a greater cause". Unfortunately, words like "jihad" and "mujahid" (one who struggles for a cause) often have negative connotations, which I find to be very ironic. This is because of the skewed exposure that the general public experiences when watching the news. The terrorists we see flailing their guns claiming to be doing jihad for the sake of promoting Islam bring only harm to the teachings they claim to follow and make it harder for the 1.6 billion peaceful Muslims who actually understand Islam.
 
If we look to how both the prophet Muhammad and Dr. King strived or struggled for their causes, we can clearly see an epitome of the real jihad. There was a time when an entire city had rejected the message of the Prophet Muhammad, and he was driven out of the valley of Ta'if with stones. It is narrated that he was beaten so badly, that his shoes were soaking with blood. At that time, when an angel asked the Prophet if he should crush Ta'if with the surrounding mountains, the Prophet declined, saying that if not these people, maybe future generations will accept this message from God.
 
Similarly, Dr. King also persevered through adversities, by urging the African-American population to withstand, and struggle through the hardships including beatings and all sorts of harassment. Some true examples of mujahideen (plural for mujahid).
 
As we conclude the month of February as Black History Month, we can use this time to acknowledge and learn from both of these important leaders in history. We can also use this as an opportunity to assess where we currently stand as a nation. Has Martin Luther King's dream really become reality?
 
As an American-born Muslim, growing up in post 9/11 America has made me question the Melting Pot utopia. While it is true that on paper, all Americans are to be the same, regardless of one's color, there's still some gray area regarding what exactly constitutes an American. By this, I'm not just talking about always getting "randomly" selected for TSA bag searches at the airport. I'm talking about the currency of our country's values, such as love and diversity. Can we really say whether Emma Lazarus' great poem "The New Colossus" is applicable to our country today when the leading GOP candidate seeks to build a wall to separate us from our neighbors? How receptive are we of the "tired...poor...(and) huddled masses yearning to breathe free" when we are so divided on allowing Syrian refugees to immigrate?
 
While there are many tensions between all the diverse groups in our country including the "Black Lives Matter" movement, Islamophobia, and xenophobia, we, as Americans can look to these leaders who have set a noble precedence. We can all learn from Martin Luther King Jr's humility, who persevered from once being the societal villain to eventually become a hero. Likewise, with the Prophet Muhammad and his patience with the people of Ta'if.
 
For a Muslim, it can be a struggle in itself considering how such a peaceful religion is being represented with violence. At a time when Islamic ideology was under heavy attack in the late 19th century, the founder of our peaceful Ahmadi Muslim sect Mirza Ghulam Ahmad stated that in this age, it is the sword of the pen with which we are attacked... We should use our pen (not sword) to prove the truth of the religion of God. This is precisely why I wage the jihad of the pen to demonstrate the true and peaceful teachings of my religion through patience, discourse, and reason. 

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