With G-d’s name, the Merciful Benefactor, the Merciful Redeemer
“Guess Who Has To Change ?”
Rashad Sharif, Imam
Masjid Al Mu’minun, 4412 South Third St., M.E.M.P.H.I.S., TN
The two conditions of slavery and freedom fail to represent the complete spectrum of life, because if there is a slave at the bottom, then there must also be a master at the top. Freedom, therefore, is the middle ground which is between the bottom (slavery) and the top (mastery). And in total there are 3 stages in the complete spectrum.
Most people don’t consciously appreciate that the Bible and Qur’an present us a story of the Hebrew slaves making an eventual “complete spectrum” 3-stage journey from (1) Slavery under a “Master”, to (2) Freedom in the Wilderness, and finally to (3) Self-Mastery in the Promised Land. Mere freedom however, without mastery, does not represent the complete spectrum of moving up from slavery. That was true in the scriptural imagery of going from Egypt to the Promised Land (with wandering free in the Wilderness as a middle ground) and it is true in the Rev Dr. Martin Luther King’s imagery of going from slavery in America to a destiny in “The Promised Land” (with freedom as a middle ground).
In such imagery, Pharaoh, including his policies and practices) is the obstacle at first, keeping the people in Slavery at the bottom so that they can’t advance to Freedom in the middle of the total journey. But that imagery also requires that Pharaoh ceases to be the obstacle keeping the people stuck in the Wilderness and not going from Freedom in the middle to the ultimate destiny of mastery in the Promised Land. The Freedom Movement gets people from Egypt to the Wilderness. The Promised Land Movement is no longer about Pharaoh; it’s about the people’s internal condition not being up to the level that they were supposed to reach. The Promised Land Movement is the Movement For Improvement.
From the Holy Qur’an Surah 13: Ayah 11 …Verily, God does not change men’s condition unless they change their inner selves… (Muhammad Asad translation)
It is important to emphasize here that not one iota of credit should be taken away from those who sacrificed life, limb, safety and property to advance the “Freedom Movement” in America. Nor is there any intent whatsoever to imply that there was anything misguided at all in the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s words “Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty we are free at last.” Both the “Freedom Movement” and “Free at Last !” were great milestones in the journey along an important portion of the complete spectrum of the journey up from slavery. It was totally justifiable for him to focus attention at that time on the portion of the total struggle that was at hand at that time.
But in the larger context, a Freedom Movement without an equal emphasis on self-improvement is a movement that doesn’t make it all the way to the destiny (the Promised Land). And the concept of “Free at Last !”, if taken literally, would lead a person or a people to stop progressing once freedom comes, as if it’s literally the last station of the journey. The purpose of this comment is to call attention to the fact that the future struggle to go from freedom to mastery is just as natural (and requires just as much dedication) as the struggle to go from slavery to freedom.
Like many others of us above a certain age, I heard both of Dr. King’s most quoted speeches when they were delivered “live” and completely failed to grasp the journey stages he was speaking from. In fact when I heard him say “Promised Land” in 1968 I pictured nothing different than the “Free at last” image that he spoke of in 1963. They both were said with similar eloquence and cadence. I admit now that I simply thought that both were talking about a new day when white people would be different and thus our lives would be better. It was decades later, after learning to appreciate the wisdom of scripture through the teaching of Imam W. Deen Mohamed, that I realized that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, speaking in 1968 was addressing something quite advanced in comparison to 1963.
How many people realize that the “I Have A Dream” speech that concluded with the “Free At Last” refrain absolutely had to be delivered from the perspective of the slavery-to-freedom stage of the journey. Why ? First and foremost, this was a speech deliberately scheduled for, and delivered as planned, on August 28, 1963, the 100-yr anniversary of President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. That’s why the Lincoln Memorial was in the background. That’s why the 2nd paragraph of the speech opened by stating that the proclamation was signed “five score years ago”. That’s why the speech’s 3rd paragraph opens with “But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free” and repeats the phrase “one hundred years later” three more times. That’s why in the fourth paragraph he said “America has given the Negro people a bad check.” The speech absolutely had to capitalize on the 100-yr anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a blacksmith of progress to strike while the iron was hot. That speech on that day had to be about making other people feel a sense of obligation to something to deliver on the promise of freedom. And so the speech ended with a cadence to move people to make good on a bounced check, picturing people joining hands and singing “Free At Last” – a dream that would come true one day. In 1963, white America still had not abandoned the Pharaoh role.
That 1963 speech moved America, and the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964. White congressmen, senators and a white president made it officially illegal for white people to keep doing what they had done in the past. White America officially abandoned the Pharaoh role.
By 1968, the upward and forward struggle for African-Americans had reached another stage. By April 3,1968, it had become our turn to change, as a people. But on April 4, 1968, the assassin’s bullet prevented the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King from explaining the vision he had announced the night before. And his followers simply immortalized his words, especially the famous clips from 1963 and 1968, with none daring to step forward to teach or interpret anything about the Promised Land.
We, as a people, will not become ready to take our place as masterfully developed people if our concept of duty is stuck at the stage of expecting others to change themselves in order for our lives to get better, That’s sooooo 1963.
As quoted earlier in this article, …Verily, God does not change men’s condition unless they change their inner selves… (Muhammad Asad translation)
Please be on the lookout for the next Message from The Promised Land at www.masjidalmuminun.com. We thank you for your time and attention, and always remember: Every human being is M.E.M.P.H.I.S. – Missioned and Empowered to Monitor and Perfect His/her Industrious Soul.
[ Expanded from Jumu’ah presentation at Muslim Journal’s 11th Annual “A Time To Be Grateful”.]