Rosa Parks' Legacy

Article excerpt

Muslim Americans can draw lessons from the legacy of Rosa Parks.

Rosa Parks (nee McCauley, 1913-2005) died on Oct. 24, 2005. In many ways her passing symbolized the end of an era. For many of us African American "baby boomers", the '60s Civil Rights movement began on Dec. 1, 1955 when Rosa Parks simply refused to follow the irrational dictates of Montgomery, AL's Jim Crow laws. These laws provided that "whites" and "coloreds" were not allowed to sit together on public transportation. Thus, there was a "white" section of the bus (in front) and a "colored" section (in the rear). On this occasion, there were apparently more "white" people on the bus than there were "white" seats in the "white" section. Consequently, "colored" seats were magically transformed to "white" seats.

While we no longer have such blatant and irrational legal segregation in this country, it is clear that in 1426H/ 2005CE institutional racism is still alive and well. We see it in discriminatory housing patterns that encourage substandard ghetto neighborhoods and low performing public schools. We see it in the criminal justice system that often metes out punishment based on race and economic status. We also saw it most recently in the Katrina hurricane disaster that exposed the reality of the still strong connection between race and poverty in the U.S.

In spite of all of this, some things have gotten better. For instance, since the Civil Rights movement, we have witnessed an unprecedented expansion of the black middle class. However, even though more of us can now drive a Lexus, the reality is that for what has been dubbed the "black underclass" things have gotten worse. In addition, since 9/11/2001, the Muslim American community has become "colored" in much the same way African Americans were during the era before the Civil Rights movement.

From a Muslim perspective, we are encouraged to learn from the past (see Qur'an 6:11, 12:109,16:36, 27:69, 30:9 & 42, 35:44, and 47:18). In taking a look at Rosa Parks and the Civil Rights movement that her actions helped to spawn, there is much that the Muslim community can learn. In reflecting on what we might learn, I suggest that we focus on three critical areas: racism, sexism, and classism. These three "isms" represent a triple threat to the integrity of the Muslim community in this country.

While the Qur'an calls us to racial equality (49:13), gender justice (33:38), and economic equity (59:7), we often fall far short in all three areas. For instance, we still have Islamic centers seemingly reserved for one cultural group and/or men and/or the economically prosperous. …