It was 1987, I was five years old, and my mother and her (fresh off the boat) friends took a trip to Houston. I walked the beach, trailing the group of young Bangladeshi women dressed in salwars. When, a blonde haired man shouted, “Go back to where you came from.” My mother shot back, “Go back to where you came from.” Great come back, Mom. But really, I was so proud of her. Though, at that moment, my race became the subtext to the rest of my life.
When I was in 4th grade, my parents moved to a small town in Pennsylvania. Being the only brown skinned person in my school, I learned many lessons on racism and tolerance. I experienced the worst of people. I also saw the best of people: friends and teachers who celebrated my religion and culture.
That is where my fascination with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. message: finding love and strength in the darkest of situations, began. So of course, I was completely fascinated when my son’s Pre-School teacher said they would be discussing MLK Jr. in the classroom. I immediately thought, but my son doesn’t even know he’s a different color, how can we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. day?
THE MESSAGE OF NON VIOLENCE
His teacher shared this message: Martin Luther King Jr. was a leader who believed he could change the world in a peaceful way without using violence. He believed that all people were equal, in spite of their differences. This seemed appropriate for preschoolers.
I look forward to the day my children are old enough to understand and respect the civil rights movement, and the Islamic leaders often left out of the curriculum such as Malcolm X and Muhammed Ali.
Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X both fought for equality for oppressed people in the U.S. and globally. Though, their approaches were different.
Islam is a practical religion, the Quran discusses all areas of life, including battle. It highlights when violence is permitted and when it is not. The Quran 2:193-194 declares that Muslims may only fight active combatants. Meaning, even if during battle an enemy combatant asks for amnesty, you must grant it. In Islam, there’s no such thing as “collateral damage,” mutilation, or torture.
Like the Prophet Muhammed (pbuh), I want my children to choose the peaceful path as the first option. But I believe, they have the right to self-defense, and I want them to stand up for themselves.
STORIES ABOUT TOLERANCE
In his classroom, Kian’s teacher read a book about dreams and then asked the kids what was there dream to make the world a better place. Kian’s dream: he dreamed everyone could sleep with their mommies and daddies. For context, he has been asked to sleep in his toddler bed. It inspired me to research more books that teach tolerance and acceptance of difference. Here are two of my favorites:
Equality is a central theme in Islam. During the Prophet’s (PBUH) farewell speech, he said, “People come from Adam and Adam came from dust. There is no superiority of an Arab over non-Arab, or of a white person over a black, except in terms of piety (Taqwa).”
So many times the Quran celebrates our diversity:
‘And mankind is naught but a single nation” (Quran 2:213)
“And among His wonders is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the diversity of your tongues and colors. For in this, behold, there are messages indeed for all who are possessed of innate knowledge!” (Quran 30:22)
THE DAY OF SERVICE
One of my favorite parts of MLK day is the movement to dedicate this day to service. In the Quran, Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:177, there is a strong emphasis on service and charity, “Virtue does not consist in whether you face towards the East or the West; virtue means believing in God, the Last Day, the angels, the Book and the prophets; the virtuous are those who, despite their love for it, give away their wealth to their relatives and to orphans and the very poor, and to travellers and those who ask [for charity], and to set slaves free, and who attend to their prayers and pay the alms, and who keep their pledges when they make them, and show patience in hardship and adversity, and in times of distress. Such are the true believers, and such are the God-fearing.”
Well, that was a mouthful, but I couldn’t bear to break up such a beautiful statement.
A few service activities that are great for small children:
- Choosing Toys To Donate – This one was hard at first! They did not want to let go of their precious toys. But once they understood who it was going to. They happily plucked out gently used items from their playroom.
- Packing Grocery Bag – Kian and Zayn love picking out non-perishable items and putting them in grocery bags for the food kitchen. They also love decorating the grocery bags with stamps, stickers, and their drawings, which is a fun activity for mom too.
- DIY Greeting Cards – This I would deserve for an older child, with more artistic capabilities, but there are many opportunities to share Get Well Cards, Birthday Cards, Holiday Cards to those in hospitals, elderly homes, and also overseas military.
- Care Packages For Homeless – I saw a trending photo on Instastories where someone filled old handbags with feminine care products and comfort items. Assembling care packages is an easy project for all ages.
- Foster Care Care Packages – One of my favorite non-profits is Together We Rise. They have an amazing program where you can build duffle bags with comfort items for kids entering foster care. You can raise funds or purchase the materials to assemble them yourself.
This year, we are excited to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. from an Islamic perspective.
Peace & Salam,