It’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day across the nation, and here in North Texas, Americans from all walks of life have taken advantage of the holiday to display their interpretation of the American civil religion, the one of a kind. It is a day of service as well as of commemoration of America’s history in the struggle for establishing justice and human rights. The Muslim Americans in the neighborhood also showed up as usual, reaffirming their civic support for their country and their sharing of the American legacy.
There were some who joined the MLK parades in Dallas this morning while others chose to commemorate the event with service. Martin Luther King’s ministry and life calling were about helping and supporting the under-privileged. Hence, the annual Texas Muslim Women’s Foundation’s MLK Day of Service exemplifies this spirit of brotherhood and service. The Muslim women and youth have been working for days to collect food and cook meals that will serve lunch to between 300 and 350 Dallas homeless and needy individuals. The yearly event takes places at Masjid al-Islam, a mosque in South Dallas that feeds the hungry among any faith or of no faith every weekend.
Those American Muslims who lined up early today to join the Dallas parades represent diverse communities and organizations. There is MAS-DFW, Muslim American Society, with their Boy Scouts unit; CAIR-DFW’s members with their banners displaying “Let’s Put the Unity in Community” and a Qur’anic verse that reads, “O men! Behold, We have created you all out of a male and a female, and have made you into nations and tribes, so that you might come to know one another…” (Qur’an, 49:14) Men and women of all ages, dressed up in blue, holding banners that say “unity,” and “I have a dream,” smiling and having a great time at the parades, taking pictures and selfies, walked the streets in support of their belief in this American civic religion and tradition.
The American civic religion is a socio-religious term used by scholars and intellectuals to describe American patriotism. It was born with the Founding Fathers who, with a Judeo-Christian religious background, believed in social justice and equality for all among other ethics. It continued to be represented by American presidents who invoked the name of God in their public speeches despite the secular form of American government that separates state and church. Having been rooted in a religious cultural history, the American civic religion was naturally compatible with the religious teachings of American Muslims. What we see today among the examples of American Muslims taking part in government, the armed forces, volunteering, and leadership is a manifestation of the genius behind this American civic religion that was able to unite Americans of all faiths and diverse backgrounds into one nation.
Dr. King followed the ministry of Jesus when he looked after the weak and under-privileged, when he acted against injustice and fought for the establishment of civic rights. So every American citizen who celebrates MLK Day revives this memory and legacy and pledges to carry MLK’s torch forward. And for those Americans whose religion is Islam, this call is a second nature to them. Islam is a religion that is preoccupied with morality and justice. Of course many will challenge this statement by arguing that what about what Muslims do today across the world, referring to violations of human rights of many sorts. The answer is that Islam the religion is a divine message, but Islam the human interpretation is just that. One cannot blame the Creator for how humans misinterpret His message, be it Judaism, Christianity, or Islam. Moreover, why do critics always look at the bad side, and why don’t they consider what other Muslims like those American Muslims participating today at MLK parades and Day of Service are doing. They are also interpreters of their religion, Islam. And their reading of the Qur’an, the sacred scripture in Islam, makes them among those who support civic rights and social justice, by feeding the hungry, uniting with all Americans, and serving society.