Martin Luther King Jr. Day is commemorated annually in the United States on the third Monday of January, in honor of the January 15 birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was a leader of the American civil rights movement.
It is a federal holiday that has been observed since 1986 in some states, and as of 2000, in all 50 states, with many offices, stores, and schools closed.
The holiday offers an excellent opportunity for Muslims to learn and share more about Dr. King, his legacy to America’s Muslims, and most importantly, the need to continuously struggle for justice.
With COVID-19 pandemic restrictions still in place, here are some things you can do to benefit from MLK Jr. Day, while maintaining physical distancing.
1. MLK Jr. Story time
There are many good children’s books about Martin Luther King Jr. Buy or check one out from the library and read it to kids for a bedtime story. This can be done in online Islamic weekend and full-time schools during class as well.
2. Dinnertime Discussion
If holding a family meeting or discussion is not possible in terms of time, use family dinnertime to do the same. A couple of key points to focus on:
- Who was Martin Luther King Jr.?
- Why was he important?
- How his sacrifices reflect the continuous struggle for justice, like the movement of Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him.
- Many American Muslims would never have been allowed into the United States, perhaps even members of your family, were it not for Dr. King’s struggles. The movement he led resulted in changes to U.S. immigration laws that opened the door to Muslims from around the world.
3. Virtual Friday sermon
The talking points mentioned in tip number two above can be adapted for use in an online Khutba or lesson for full-time or weekend Islamic school. It would be useful to connect Dr. King’s message to that of the Quran and the Prophet’s last Khutba, which both emphasize the equality of all of humanity before God.
4. Watch and read the “I Have a Dream" Speech
You can watch it here and read it here. As mentioned in the previous tip, note the similarities with Islamic teachings like the Prophet’s last sermon, especially where he said, “All humankind is from Adam and Eve; an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor does a non-Arab have any superiority over an Arab; also a White (person) has no superiority over a Black (person), nor does a Black (person) have any superiority over a White person - except by piety and good action.”
5. On Social Media, Discuss the Need to Continuously Stand Up Against Racism.
On your Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or other social media accounts, talk about the need to continue the fight against racism and bigotry in our nation in the context of MLK Jr. Day. Some points:
- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement, while moving us forward as a nation, also showed that progress can be precarious.
- As the 2016 election of outgoing President Donald Trump has made clear, racism lies under the surface of our history and culture. And it erupts in different ways.
Sometimes it goes in hiding. At other times, the mask comes off.
- The January 2021 Capitol Hill attack, led by a movement of white supremacist terrorists inspired by Trump made clear the threat of deadly racism remains. It is our duty as good Muslims and as good Americans to fight against it.
Also useful would be a discussion of racism and prejudice within the Muslim community and how this, too, must be challenged if we are to truly live our faith. An honest assessment of ourselves and what we can do to rid ourselves of this cancer remains necessary, even though there has been acknowledgment of the problem over the years.
6. Report an incident of discrimination.
If you have been a victim of discrimination or racism, report it. If it was because you are Muslim, report it to the Council on American-Islamic Relations here so that a record of it is made and it can be challenged. That was, after all, a large part of Dr. King’s struggle. Challenging racism and discrimination starts with making others aware of it.
This would also be an ideal social studies or even English class project, building not only writing skills, but an awareness of a lingering social issue.
7. Participate in a service project.
Many communities across the United States commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. Day by hosting a Day of Service, encouraging Americans to give back. Do your part by finding a virtual volunteer opportunity near you to participate in.