City of Brass


This evening, I am honored to be a part of the Voices for Freedom celebration at Temple Aliyah here in the San Fernando Valley. This is an annual interfaith event honoring the spirit of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, and features readings from his speeches and writings. My assigned reading is the following excerpt from the I Have a Dream speech at the Lincoln Memorial, on August 28, 1963:

This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the citizens of color a bad check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.

So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God’s children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”

As an American Muslim, I firmly believe in America as a proposition nation, America as an idea and an ideal, America as a work rather than a thing. There have rarely been moments as divided as this moment, today, January 20th, 2017. What better moment than this for affirmation of what America can be, what it was meant to be?

I have always argued that America is the greatest Muslim country on the face of the Earth. And Jewish, and Christian, and White, and Black, and Brown.


Tomorrow, many hundreds of thousands of people will also march to express their voices and their unity and their belief in the same Dream. They will march in Washington DC and they will march in Sister Marches across the country, across the world. Many Muslim women will also participate – a Muslim woman’s face is even part of the movement’s banner.

There is a school of thought that this is the wrong time for Muslims, especially, to be so visible. There is a valid reason for fear – mosques are literally being burned. The fear is that visible participation by Muslims in protests against the new regime in D.C. will lead to retaliation and retribution. As the saying goes, “the tallest blade of grass is the one that gets cut first.”

The saying is false. All the blades are cut at the same time. In the context of defending the dream of what America is and what America can be, hunkering down and self-censoring is not the answer. All that achieves is complicity via silence. If we think we can avoid being targeted by hiding, then we may as well cut down our minarets.

There are consequences to silence:

“… and I did not speak out. Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.”

or, the shorter version:

“We must indeed all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

Apathy and cynicism and fear all work together hand in hand. This isn’t a call to arms. it is a call to conscience. The Qur’an makes this call to justice explicit: we must enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong (3:104). If we believe that there is a threat to the Dream, then we are obligated to lend our voices to the call in opposition. We must go on record – we must take sides – we must not let there be any doubt as to where our values lie. And we certainly should not make the job of our putative oppressors any easier.

Blog. Speak. March. Tweet! Be the blade of grass.