Shadia: The dream I share with Martin Luther King

I had the honor of being part of a round table discussion on Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy at Christ Our Redeemer AME Church in Irvine on Saturday.

And it got me thinking about my early impressions of the man whose passion and humanity brought this country closer to fulfilling its creed that all men are created equal.

I got to America only four months before the 1999 Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and it was around that time when I first heard of him.

I was surprised when I learned he had to march to demand God-given rights for people of color. It must have been the fact that I was a naive 15-year-old, but before then, I never knew that America didn't get to where it is overnight.

It was because of MLK that I began to understand the complexities and greatness of this country. He is responsible for why I feel so intertwined and so in love with America.

Though I knew little English, King's quotes, the point of views he expressed through his words, the kindness and patience I saw when I looked at his eyes in photographs struck a chord in my heart.

His words seemed as familiar to me as the color of my skin.

King's Christian viewpoints, which he used to inform the Civil Rights Movement, align with Islam's principles.

We're equal, regardless of our race or color except in action and deeds, the Prophet Muhammad said.

So this concept of God-given rights like the freedom to seek and speak up for justice, to freely choose your own destiny, to be judged based on your actions and deeds and not your race, color or family were principles my religion taught me.

But they were not all applied in Egypt, where I grew up.

I found them here.

Like Egyptian Islamic scholar Muhammad Abduh, who many years ago said, "I went to the West and saw Islam, but no Muslims; I got back to the East and saw Muslims, but not Islam," I too understood what it is like to live in a country that celebrates and works hard at practicing the principles of my religion.

But I also understood King's struggle of attempting to get the country to match up its principles with its actions.

This year's commemoration of King has special meaning to me. It comes just a few days before Jan. 25, which marks the first anniversary of something extraordinary.

It was the day my people in Egypt decided they'd had enough and rose up with courage against three decades of dictatorship, inequality and humiliation and demanded one basic, yet seemingly so difficult to obtain, right: freedom.

The protests in Egypt's Tahrir Square last year mirrored the 1963 March on Washington where human souls cried out for equality and justice.

This is now the dream of millions, not only in Egypt, but Tunisia, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen and Syria, a country whose tyrant has proven to be the most ruthless yet to its people and children.

I know for a fact that had I stayed in Egypt, I would have never had the opportunity to tap into my potential. It is sad when I think of my country's great civilization and what it gave to the world.

But like Martin Luther King Jr., I too have a dream that one day a little curious Egyptian girl, whose big imagination took her mind on many journeys, could with hard work and perseverance reach her potential and watch as her dreams unfold before her eyes in her country.

Editor's note: Do you have a question about Islam, Middle Eastern culture or what it's like to be a Muslim in America for Mona? She'd be glad to answer your inquiry or, if she cannot, track down an expert who can. Contact her at

MONA SHADIA is a reporter for the Huntington Beach Independent. An Egyptian American, she was born and raised in Cairo and now lives in Orange County. Her column includes various questions and issues facing Muslims in America. Follow her on Twitter: @MonaShadia.

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