Today (January 19th) is Martin Luther King Day, celebrated by millions across the United States. We all know Dr. King very well, of course, and although his courageous efforts were for the betterment of the African American community, he has now become a national icon – a symbol for freedom, civil liberties and justice. He is not just a man but an image standing for the downtrodden sections of society and demanding their rights.
The most intriguing thing about Martin Luther King Jr. is his universal appeal. He was a great man not only for the African American people but for all others for all time. So many communities lay claim to him and his message, as if he marched for them as well. Muslims, Christians, Jews, Asians, Hispanics, and Africans all galvanize change in their communities through his words and actions. Truth be told, there’s a lot we can learn from him – we who are working on the front lines of interfaith dialogue.
After all, interfaith dialogue is all about cooperation, about bringing people of all backgrounds and faiths together to the table for understanding and respect. Isn’t this exactly what Dr. King talked about? His dream, for all to be seated at the “table of brotherhood,” is the same dream we have for interfaith peace and tolerance the world over. We too, hope and pray for a world where Muslims and Jews can be friends instead of enemies, where Buddhists and Hindus and Sikhs can enjoy the same respect as the Abrahamic faiths, where pagans and atheists are welcomed to the table instead of shunned. We too, want a world where we will not be judged by the faith we practice but by the “content of (our) character” – by our own actions rather than the actions of terrorists and fundamentalists.
How apt the message of Dr. King is for the interfaith community! When I think of him, I think of not only his “I Have a Dream” speech but also his countless other addresses and letters, which show him to be a champion of religion as well as civil rights. As a staunch Christian, his words were laced with strong faith and love for the Almighty, and I admire a man whose religion makes him loving, not hateful. He talked about loving your enemies, about favoring justice above all else, about working together in unity rather than in division and anger. He famously said: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” That is a powerful message for those working towards interfaith harmony and trust, a great source of inspiration for all of us striving to live in a more faithfully loving and peaceful world. I think it’s time for the interfaith community to claim Dr. King for their own as well.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.