#DiversityIsOurStrength Why Muslim Americans need both Malcolms and Martins

Imagine an eight-year-old, Pakistani, girl version of Martin Luther King, Jr. She’s wearing her dad’s oversized black suit, a red striped tie hanging just above the knees, long black hair tied back, and a thin mustache drawn on with eyeliner. She stands in front of her third grade class and recites lines from the “I Have a Dream” speech.

Until this week, I had completely forgotten that memory of my excitement to play the role of Dr. King for a Black History Month class assignment. I remembered that moment today after a week of controversy resulting from the boycott and condemnation of the White House Iftar by a number of Muslim groups and leaders.
I felt disheartened by some of the angry rhetoric against Muslims who attended the White House Iftar because I consider it an opportunity to build bridges between American Muslims and our government. It was in this spirit that I worked on the team to organize the Iftar in Boston.

But civic engagement doesn’t end with a glamorous meal. We’ll be dining while Palestinians are bombarded in the latest Israeli ground offensive; while the fate of thousands of young immigrants fleeing from Central America remains uncertain; while mass incarceration continues our nation’s legacy of systematic racism; while greedy corporations pollute our planet and oppress our laborers. There is no end to the issues that demand our attention.

And we need civically engaged Muslims to tackle these issues from all fronts. We need organizers and activists, daring demonstrations and diplomatic dinners. We need Malcolm Xs and Martin Luther Kings, Pauli Murrays and Ella Bakers. And most important of all, we need the courage to organize and the humility to respect all approaches to social justice…

Usra Ghazi is a Policy Fellow, Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston and graduate student in Religion and Politics at Harvard Divinity School.