By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace
Today is MLK Day in the United States where it is a federal holiday commemorating the life and legacy of the Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr, an icon who would have been 83 years old on January 15.
MLK was a great believer in the teachings of non-violence if Mohandas K Gandhi, the leader of India’s independence movement from Britain. King saw that Gandhi’s peaceful civil disobedience and non-violent methods of protest were very effective in bringing down the British Empire in India and as a result Pakistan and the rest of the Indian Subcontinent after some 300 years of direct and indirect rule. Gandhi had believed that people could resist immoral government action by simply refusing to cooperate. Gandhi adopted many peaceful resistance techniques in developing his concept of Satyagraha, which was a philosophy and practice of passive nonviolent resistance.
Gandhi had earlier used this resistance technique in his struggles for freedom and equality for blacks and Indians in South Africa where both minorities were subjected to second and third class citizenry. His methods and refusal to bow down to the injustices that Indians faced in colonial South Africa inspired Nelson Mandela several years later to start his own peaceful struggle that eventually led to the end of Apartheid in South Africa in 1990.
While at Morehouse College, King learned about Gandhi and became very excited about his ideas. He wanted to further educate himself and read many books on Gandhi and his life and beliefs. In his book, Stride Toward Freedom, King states that “Gandhi was probably the first person in history to lift the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective social force on a large scale. He further writes in his book that “It was in this Gandhian emphasis on love and nonviolence that I discovered the method for social reform that I had been seeking. I came to feel that this was the only morally and practically sound method open to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom.”
King felt that he had finally found a way to where oppressed people could successfully unlock social protest through Jesus’ teachings of love. In fact Gandhi himself had said “What does Jesus mean to me? To me, he was one of the greatest teachers humanity has ever had.” He also once mentioned Jesus as the “most active resister known perhaps to history. His was non-violence par excellence” Therefore to the Christian minister living in the pre-civil rights era in the South in America, Gandhi appeared to King as a follower of Christ, someone who preached peace and love even at the expense of suffering. Martin Luther King once said of Gandhi “It is ironic yet inescapably true that the greatest Christian of the modern world was a man who never embraced Christianity.”
In 1959, King visited India and became fully convinced that Satyagraha could be effectively applied to the struggle by blacks in the United States for racial integration. He came back to the United States where he continued the struggle for freedom and equality for all Americans. Like Gandhi, King also talked about suffering as a path to self purification and spiritual growth. He not only experienced this suffering by being jailed, beaten and harassed by the authorities of the day, but he eventually ended up paying for this cause for freedom for all with his life.
Today there is a black man that sits in the White House, minorities are on the Supreme Court bench, and black heads of Fortune 500 companies who have reached the proverbial mountaintop in every possible endeavor. Yet there is little doubt that despite how far we have come as a nation, we still have a ways to go to achieve equality for minorities and women. Without Dr King’s struggle, leadership and personal sacrifice, the United States, and indeed the world, would be in far worse shape.
Mohandas K Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr were arguably two of the greatest men of the last century. Both men believed that “injustice anywhere was a threat to justice everywhere.” They both led their people and millions of others out of slavery and servitude against seemingly insurmountable odds to freedom and salvation. On what would have been his 83rd birthday, let us recognize that in the greatest democracy in the history of the world, and despite an assassin’s bullet, the spirit and dream of a King still lives on.
Manzer Munir, a proud American of Pakistani descent, is a practicing Sufi Muslim and member of Muslims for Progressive Values, he is also the founder of Pakistanis for Peace and blogs at http://www.PakistanisforPeace.com as well at other websites as a freelance journalist and writer.