Originally Published in The Patch on January 15th, 2018
1400 years ago, Prophet Muhammad heralded the “Promised Land” that MLK envisioned for America. 129 years ago, Messiah Ahmad brought it back.
I seek refuge in Allah from Satan the Rejected, In the name of Allah, The Most Gracious, The Ever Merciful
Esteemed brothers and sisters in humanity, I greet you all with the Islamic salutation of Assalaamu’alaykum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatahu, Divine peace be upon you and the mercy and blessings of God. I’m humbled and moved to be invited to Simsbury First Church, with open hearts, honoring where Martin Luther King Jr. himself prayed, on such an auspicious occasion in an era when not only my fellow Muslims but countless of my fellow human beings are vilified. Thank you for your trust, and thank you for the love.
I’m satiated with hope seeing today’s unity amid diversity here in a House of God where even a handful of the faithful can herald miracles the like of which we only read in Scriptures. We’ve come together in prayer and gratitude to our shared Creator Who’s delivered us since time immemorial through His enlightened ones.
Today we’re commemorating Rev. Dr. Martin Luther Kings Jr., his life, legacy, and connection to this wonderful town of Simsbury. Where here in celebration of equality, equity and justice, to educate on and advance the God-given rights of all, and to counter the rising injustice and divisiveness that has shown its ugly face again in our time. And that’s why I as a Muslim will always remember and hold fast to the Divine Prophets like my beloved Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). This unassuming unlettered Arab orphan championed justice, peace and loving kinship over 1400 years ago between Arabs, Persians, Byzantines, Africans, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Polytheists, Atheists and others bringing an end to the dark ages and heralding the Renaissance, Age of Discovery, and the Enlightenment. How did a whole nation addicted to injustice suddenly transform into an exemplary Kingdom of Heaven? With the repentance, prayers and hard struggle of a Divine Prophet and his faithful Apostles, the struggle termed “Jihad”.
From both figures we realize that it’s only when we come together in a crusade of righteousness, self reformation, love, and service that our light will dispel and overcome the darkness. That’s why our Ahmadiyya Muslim Community’s motto and practice is “love for all, hatred for none”.
It was a little over 70 years ago when the youthful 15 year old MLK came up here from Georgia to work. He and his friends remembered it as the “promised land” and rightfully so. When he attended Church here in this very town he experienced colored and whites going to the same Church, and colored having the right to eat anywhere they wanted, especially fancy restaurants. This was a revelation and lasting taste of freedom for the young King. He wanted to share this right with everyone, everywhere originating a calling to his mission that is still raging on today.
While most are distracted by transitory riches and only place band-aids on our moral ills thinking they’ll go away on their own, let us strive to administer the antidote to the corruption plaguing our society today so that our children, our future, can have a better tomorrow. Like Jesus, Moses, Buddha, Confucius, Zoroaster, Muhammad, the founder of our Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Messiah Ahmad, peace be upon them all, and people like MLK, I found the best solution with God, and as a Muslim, I discovered it in the Holy Quran, believed by Muslims like me to be the perfect Word of God unchanged for 1400 years confirming, not ignoring, the the Scriptures that came before it, like the Bible.
In Chapter two of the Quran, I read the narrative of our shared heritage. After God created Adam, He asked the Angels, Governors of Nature who execute God’s will without fail or disobedience, to submit to Adam, the first Prophet and Messenger of God who God Himself breathed His Spirit into (Quran 15:30); and they all submitted. But Iblis refused and disobeyed. God said, ‘What prevented thee from submitting when I commanded thee? He said, ‘I am better than he. Thou hast created me of fire while him hast Thou created of clay.’ God said, ‘Then go down hence, it is not for thee to be arrogant here. Get out; thou art certainly of those who are abased.’ He said, ‘Grant me respite till the day when they will be raised up,’ God said, ‘Thou shalt be of those who are given respite.’ He said. ‘Now since Thou hast adjudged me as lost, I will assuredly lie in wait for them on Thy straight path. Then will I surely come upon them…and Thou wilt not find most of them to be grateful.’ God said, ‘whosoever of them shall follow, I will surely fill Hell with you all.” (Quran 7:12 – 19). God says to Iblis; “Surely, thou shalt have no power over My servants except such of the erring ones as choose to follow thee (Quran 15:43). Herein, I discovered the source, the root of creation’s downfall; arrogance. Thanks to this account of Iblis, a creature with free will forged from fire, a Jinn (Quran 18:51), we learned about the poison of hubris and how it, even in the smallest doses, infects and overpowers goodness. He effectively became the first supremacist in the Holy Quran, so God humbled him as he thought he was “better than” another for a shallow reason, and wouldn’t repent or reform. Sound familiar? Sadly enough, we’ve all been there before, even if only mentally. Humanity tends to sink into his proud, envious footsteps leading to despair. Alas, the Prophet of Islam (pbuh) once admonished his companions; “Satan runs in the blood of every human being”. However, he also gave hope, illustrating in his life how to “overcome and convert that satanic self into a Muslim, a peacemaker who submits to the will of God. About these Jesus said; “blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God” (Matt. 5:9). We’ve read this surrender to God in the Gospels as well when Jesus (pbuh) prays in the garden of Gethsemane “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will, O Father” (Matthew and Luke).
Perhaps if others were as brave in investing the healing time to listen and talk to those who are different instead of alienating them as “the other”, they would inevitably discover our common origin as humanity, beyond our superficial and spiritual garbs, then and only then can divides begin to be bridged, blind hatred prevented, lives rescued from the abyss of darkness and destruction. It all starts with self evaluation and reformation, not force on others. We must begin with ourselves, perfect our own example, and then propel that transformative light which will already have touched other hearts, minds and souls.
Remember, God has always exalted the humble, and humbled self-exalters but He also mercifully grants respite to abusers, to afford an opportunity for them to change themselves and return to Him.
As Allah says in the Quran; “…those who repent, and believe and do good deeds; for as to these, Allah will change their evil deeds into good deeds; and Allah is Most Forgiving, Merciful;” (Holy Quran 25: 71).
The most honorable among us are the most righteous, irrespective of affiliation, those who not only believe but do the best deeds, and sometimes that’s “waking on the earth in a dignified manner” and “responding to the ignorant with ‘peace'” (Quran 25:64), “passing by anything vain with dignity” (Quran 25:73), “spending in prosperity and adversity, suppressing anger and pardoning men” (Quran 3:135) and “repelling ugliness with beauty, so as to turn foes into friends” (Quran 41:35). It’s not easy but it’s possible. We taste the miraculous fruit of all of these life-giving guidelines daily when we applied them as we did when our Mosque in Meriden was shot over two years ago. As Allah says in the Holy Quran “…it may be that you dislike a thing while it is good for you, and it may be that you like a thing while it is bad for you. Allah knows all things, and you know not” (2:217). These are peaceful, not passive, solutions proposed and proven by the Holy Quran and conduct of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in preservation of as many lives as possible. Freedom of speech is afforded by my religion and written in America’s law but when anyone attempts to speak truth to power, they’re mocked at or hushed by the privileged. As Oprah Winfrey rightfully put it at the Golden Globes; “They’re time is up”. Yet another example of how to exercise the more constructive, intellectual, and civil way of expressing one’s opinions via dignified dialogue rather than oppressive violence. Too many lives are being lost today to avoidable brutality. We must adopt constructive methods to engage opposing ideologies, or as MLK says be ready to “perish together as fools” as we’ll embrace destruction of not only our human family but the very quality that makes us human. As Allah say in the Quran “Your creation and your resurrection are only like the creation and resurrection of a single soul. Verily Allah is All-Hearing, All-Seeing” (31:29).
It’s not coincidental then, what Allah revealed in the Holy Quran fourteen centuries ago. In the beginning, before the creation of mankind, a doubt arose about us and our existence; “And when thy Lord said to the angels: ‘I am about to place My vicegerent in the earth (in the form of a human),’ they said: ‘Wilt Thou place therein such as will cause disorder in it, and shed blood? — and we (already) glorify Thee with Thy praise and extol Thy holiness.’ He answered: ‘I know what you know not'” (2:31).
The Angels quite accurately foresaw our damaging nature but failed to see our potential and how our suffrage would be harnessed to ready us to free others from it.
After God creates Adam, He also invests in teaching him how to imbibe and manifest Divine attributes, breathing His Spirit into him, as He did with the Mother of Jesus, Mary (notably mentioned in the Chapter called The Prophets, 21:92). Diamonds are only fashioned in the deepest depths of the earth, where carbon is subjected to utter darkness, tons of squeezing pressures, scorching heat, then rushed to the cool surface to solidify. So too are we meant to undergo trial and tribulation for God and humanity’s sake only to be molded into better people, and yet higher when we adopt the prescription freely administered by God.
In this light does God reveal the healing in the Holy Quran; “O ye people! fear your Lord, Who created you from a single soul and created therefrom its mate, and from them twain spread many men and women; and fear Allah, in Whose name you appeal to one another, and fear Him particularly respecting ties of relationship. Verily, Allah watches over you…Allah commands you to make over the trusts to those entitled to them (as Jesus also said “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and and render to God what is God’s” (Matt. 22:21)), and that, when you judge between men, you judge with justice…O ye who believe! be strict in observing justice, and be witnesses for Allah, even though it be against yourselves or against parents and kindred. Whether he be rich or poor, Allah is more regardful of them both than you are. Therefore follow not low desires so that you may be able to act equitably. And if you conceal the truth or evade it, then remember that Allah is well aware of what you do” (4:2, 59, 136).
“O ye who believe! let not one people deride another people, who may be better than they, nor let women deride other women, who may be better than they. And defame not your own people, nor call one another by derogatory nicknames. Bad indeed is evil reputation after the profession of belief; and those who repent not are the wrongdoers…O mankind, We have created you from a single pair of male and female; and We have made you into tribes and sub-tribes that you may recognize one another. Verily, the most honourable among you, in the sight of Allah, is he who is the most righteous among you. Surely, Allah is All-knowing, All-Aware” (Quran 49:12, 14).
“And among His Signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the diversity of your tongues and colours. In that surely are Signs for those who possess knowledge” (Quran 30:23).
“And Allah has favoured some of you above others in worldly gifts. Will not those more favoured restore any part of their worldly gifts to those who their right hand possesses (less fortunate), so that they may be equal sharers in them. Will they then deny the favour of Allah” (Quran 16:72)?
“And hold fast, all together, by the rope of Allah and be not divided; and remember the favour of Allah which He bestowed upon you when you were enemies and He united your hearts in love, so that by His grace you became as brothers; and you were on the brink of a pit of fire and He saved you from it. Thus does Allah explain to you His commandments that you may be guided” (Quran 3:104).
“Verily, Allah enjoins justice, and the doing of good to others; and giving like kindred; and forbids indecency, and manifest evil, and wrongful transgression. He admonished you that you may take heed” (16:91).
“O ye who believe! be steadfast in the cause of Allah, bearing witness in equity; and let not a people’s enmity incite you to act otherwise than with justice. Be always just, that is nearer to righteousness. And fear Allah. Surely, Allah is aware of what you do” (Quran 5:9).
On the treatment of immigrants God says; “And those who had established their home in this city (Yathrib or Medina) before them and had accepted faith, love those who came to them for refuge, and find not in their breasts any desire for that which is given them (Refugees), but prefer the Refugees to themselves, even though poverty be their own lot. And whoso is rid of the covetousness of his own soul — it is these who will be successful” (Quran 59:10).
“Permission to fight (resist) is given to those against whom war is made, because they have been wronged — and Allah indeed has power to help them —Those who have been driven out from their homes unjustly only because they said, ‘Our Lord is Allah’ — And if Allah did not repel some men by means of others, there would surely have been pulled down cloisters and churches and synagogues and mosques, wherein the name of Allah is oft commemorated. And Allah will surely help one who helps Him. Allah is indeed Powerful, Mighty —” (Quran 22:40, 41). Today our fight to enshrine true freedom of conscience is not with the sword but our weapons are of prayers and pens, our words and peace-loving responses to tyranny. Our mission has always been to win hearts not territories. Our differences aren’t worth the loss of lives, for even one life, the Quran proclaims, is akin to the life of the whole human race.
On his famous farewell address, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) long ago showed us the road to salvation on every level; “O people, your blood and your property are sacrosanct until you meet your Lord…Surely you will meet your Lord and He will question you about your deeds…O people, you have a right over your wives but they too have a right over you…protect the rights of those who cannot protect their own…guard yourself against committing injustice…”O people! Indeed, your Lord is one and your father is one. There is no superiority of an Arab over a non-Arab, nor of a non-Arab over an Arab, nor of a white over a black, nor a black over a white, except by taqwa…Let whomever is present tell whomever is absent until Judgement Day” (Farewell Sermon).
This peace-loving message of pluralism within Islam bears a striking resemblance to the themes of Martin Luther King, Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Prophet Muhammad brandished an eternal torch illuminating the path towards universal human rights. The Prophet once observed; “God does not bless a community in which the weak cannot take from the strong what is rightfully theirs without fear of reprisal.” (Sunan, Ibn Majah), Also, “Communities of old came to grief and destruction because of the disparity and leniency shown to those in high positions when they committed such an offence. On the contrary, any offender of humble origin or lowly status in society had harsher punishment meted out to him” (Al-Bukhari, Muslim).
As Ahmadiyya Muslims, we believe that Jesus (pbuh) survived death by crucifixion and came again over a century ago in the person of our holy founder Messiah Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (pbuh), just as Jesus himself believed that John the Baptist fulfilled the Scriptures’ promise of Elijah’s return from Heaven. God sent Ahmad, like Jesus, to end religious wars, condemn bloodshed and reinstitute morality, justice and peace. He divested Islam of fanatical beliefs and practices. We are the leading Islamic organization that not only rejects terrorism in every form but also works to curb it. Over a century ago, Messiah Ahmad declared that an aggressive “jihad by the sword” has no place today. In its stead, he taught us to wage a bloodless, intellectual “jihad of the pen” to defend Islam and truth. To this end, Ahmad penned over 90 books, thousands of letters, delivered hundreds of lectures, and engaged in scores of public debates. As part of its effort to revive Islam, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community continues to spread Ahmad’s(as) teachings of moderation and restraint in the face of bitter opposition from parts of the Muslim world. He continually voiced his concerns over protecting the rights of God’s creatures. Today, Ahmadiyya Muslims continue to be advocates for universal human rights and protections for religious and other minorities under the guidance of the Khalifa of Islam. We champion the empowerment and education of women. We’re among the most law-abiding, educated, and engaged Muslims in the world. Under the leadership of Islamic Khilafat, we’ve now built over 16,000 mosques, over 500 schools, and over 30 hospitals. We’ve translated the Holy Quran into 70 languages promoting education. We propagate the message of peace and tolerance through a twenty-four hour satellite television channel (MTA), the Internet (alislam.org) and print (Islam International Publications). We’ve been at the forefront of worldwide disaster relief through our independent global charitable organization called Humanity First.
A striking manifestation of Kingian philosophy, yet half a century before King’s birth. But as Jesus likened his second coming to a “thief in the night” (Matt. 24:43) the impact would only be realized after his advent. The Messiah Ahmad said; “O elders, be kind to the youngsters and belittle them not, O you who God has made rich, serve the poor and disdain them not with your pride because of your wealth. Inherit the pleasure of God by being siblings born of one mother” (“Noah’s Ark”, “Our Teaching”).
The worldwide head of my Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, The Khalifa of Islam and Fifth Successor to Messiah Ahmad, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, continually calls for equality of all races and peace based upon justice. At a time when racial tensions and prejudices are escalating in certain countries, His Holiness the Khalifa said that there was an urgent need to recognise that all people were born equal and no race or nation was superior to any other. He said; “Without a shadow of doubt, Islam’s teachings are a guarantor for peace and security for all mankind. Its teachings are rooted in compassion, mercy and humanity and it is these true Islamic values that the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has endlessly emphasised and endeavoured to spread across the world for more than 125 years.” His Holiness said that in the very first chapter of the Holy Quran, it is written that Allah the Almighty is the ‘Lord of all the worlds’ and that this meant that Allah the Almighty was the Provider and Sustainer of all people, of all races and all beliefs. Hence, a true Muslim could never discriminate or oppose Non-Muslims, as has been increasingly alleged in modern times. On the contrary, His Holiness said that amongst those who condemned Islam were people who themselves were guilty of racism and prejudice. Some of them are even the masterminds behind the deadly international arms trade whose armament somehow always ends up in the hands of rebels and terrorists via the black market. As Jesus warned; “beware of wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing” (Matt. 7:15).
The Khalifa of Islam Ahmadiyya pointed out; “Before the advent of Islam, the world and Arabs in particular usurped the rights of women and went as far as female infanticide. The disparity between rich and poor was growing and slavery abounded. Islam afforded rights to women, including status, and also to widows, the poor and abased of society, bridged the gap between the rich and poor through Zakat, and called for freeing of slaves. One such slave was Hazrat Bilal an Ethiopian.” Slave owners felt entitled to subject Bilal to unbearable suffering. They often placed heavy stones on Bilal’s chest and dragged him across the scorching desert sands with a rope tied around his neck to bully him into renouncing Islam. Despite relentless torture, Bilal only grew stronger in his faith and beliefs. When Hazrat Abu Bakr, Prophet Muhammad’s close Companion and friend, witnessed Bilal’s fortitude and devotion, he was so moved that he bought Bilal’s freedom. Hazrat Bilal exemplified self-restraint and nonviolent resistance, hallmarks of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s civil rights movement. He demonstrated what any person regardless of race, education or societal status was capable of. Bilal became a powerful force for his advocacy of equality, loyalty, and mesmerizing voice. Prophet Muhammad designated Bilal as the first Muezzin or caller to the five daily formal Islamic worship in Islam. Arabs taunted him and questioned Prophet Muhammad’s choice of Bilal for this honorable position as Bilal pronounced Arabic words differently than natives, being from Africa. However, Prophet Muhammad added that Bilal deserved the position because of his extraordinary virtues. The Prophet Muhammad saw Bilal “not by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character” as King dreamed of.
My worldwide Imam, the Khalifa, warns those who adopt similar ways of Bilal’s oppressors; “the defining characteristic of the world’s efforts to ensure peace over the past century has been intimidation and scare tactics, whereby nations have sought peace through the development of ever more deadly weapons. No matter what is claimed, the truth is that such measures cannot bring about long-lasting peace and there is every chance that one day someone will press the button unleashing carnage and misery like the world has never seen before.””Rather than peace-building through the so-called ‘deterrent model’, we Ahmadi Muslims, believe that there is only one path leading towards lasting peace and that is the path of God Almighty the Source of Peace… As long as the world continues to prioritise material wealth and power over everything else we will not see tranquility in the world.”
Under the leadership of our Khalifa we’re able to practice what we preach. We’ve also scaled mountains of struggle and service. Recently we aided Hurricane Harvey victims and sacrificed for Irma relief, and never forgot Puerto Rico. Our youth and Humanity First volunteers are still there to this day, preferring the comfort of our compatriots over their own.
The key to achieving peace is to sacrifice for it and stop cruelty and oppression wherever it occurs with justice and equality. Speak truth to power and seal it with productive actions.
The fight now is for survival amidst erupting wars, genocide, floods, hurricanes, plagues, famines, and humanity seems on the brink of destruction. Has God forsaken us, or, are we just numb to the Signs of the times and to our responsibilities? Holy Scriptures and Prophets of most Faiths have warned us about the catastrophes that we brave almost daily, all due to our growing distance from God and each other. It was the model of Prophet Muhammad that resurrected the morally and spiritually dead. We witnessed his miracle come alive again at our Mosque when we saw disastrous misunderstandings reversed through dialogue and love.
All of these eye-opening perspectives on our collective human struggle for fairness and how to honorably combat inequality will be for nothing if we don’t practice what we preach and enact what we’ve learned today to help enrich our surroundings.
Remember, regardless of where we came from what really matters is where we are going and how we’ll get there. Martin Luther King, Jr., was raised to help “bend the moral arc of the universe towards justice.” in our nation, let’s help make it come true for everyone.
In the rude awakening of heightened discrimination and racial tensions plaguing our nation and world we yet find providence in opportunity, let’s get up and rise to break barriers, propel equality and equity through peaceful measures. “Love for all, hatred for none”, this is how we’ll lead by example, and this is how we’ll once again herald heaven on earth. May God guide our way!