As we celebrate African-American History this month, we are reminded of the legacy of many of the leaders of civil rights advocacy who came before us. American Muslims owe a debt of gratitude to all these leaders for paving the path of fighting for equality that we now tread upon. Names such as Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. are looked upon with admiration for the manner in which they stood up for a just society for all.
Thirty years after President Ronald Reagan signed the bill recognizing a federal holiday in honor of Dr. King, American Muslims carry on his legacy as we continue work for a society that upholds justice for all walks of life and fulfill the dream that Dr. King envisioned. And, the legacy of Malcolm X teaches us how important social justice is in Islam.
Social justice in the context of Islam can easily be understood by reading the first half of the letter Malcolm X (El Hajj Malik El Shabaaz) wrote while taking part in the Hajj pilgrimage in April of 1964. Social justice, in the broadest sense, means that all groups, classes, races, etc. of individuals are on equal terms. Regardless of gender, religion or income level, all individuals should at minimum have equal access to education, equal job opportunities and equal access to the basic necessities of life. More than that, however, an individual should never feel their way of life or belief system is threatened in a socially just society, provided that they are abiding by the laws of their land.
In his letter from Mecca, Shabaaz writes,
“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.”
The unity on display during the Hajj pilgrimage led Shabaaz to an understanding of equality that he never knew existed in the world before, something that definitely did not exist in his homeland of America. Shabaaz stood next to and prayed in the same congregation as those who, in his own country, would bear hatred towards him just because of the color of his skin. Yet, it is the religion of Islam that taught these individuals of difference races, ethnicities, and backgrounds to stand together in rows, wearing white cloth, facing their creator and signifying that in the sight of God, the only thing that matters is your strength of conviction.
God Almighty has stated in the Holy Quran,
“We sent Our Messengers with clear evidence, and sent with them the Book and the Balance so that people would maintain justice… (Chapter 57: Verse 25)”
In this verse there are clear instructions given to us by the Creator that we, as human beings, have been provided with guidance and it is our duty to uphold justice in society. Humanity has shown that we are capable of overcoming injustices in society when we open our hearts and minds to an unbiased acceptance of the truth, just as Malcolm X did in the journey that led to his transformation to El Hajj Malik El Shabaaz.
Adam Soltani is the executive director of CAIR-Oklahoma (Council on American-Islamic Relations).