OpEd: King, Ramadan, Establishment Hostility, and the Echoes of History


By El-Hajj Mauri’ Saalakhan

The year was November 1964. Personal indiscretions of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in the form of extramarital affairs, came to the attention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation through the agency’s illegal surveillance protocol – part of a practice that would later be known as COINTELPRO. The FBI would use that information in its attempt to destroy Dr. King. They almost succeeded.

What follows is the opening paragraph of the FBI’s transcript of the letter sent to Dr. King on that fateful day in 1964. (The letter was camouflaged as coming from another ‘Negro leader’ in the movement. It encouraged Dr. King to commit suicide as the only way out of the shame that would come his way once his infidelities were publicly divulged!)

“King: In view of your low grade, abnormal personal behavior I will not dignify your name with either a Mr. or a Reverend or a Dr. And, your last name calls to mind only the type of King such as King Henry the VIII and his countless acts of adultery and immoral conduct lower than that of a beast.”

To say that this poison pen letter was all downhill from there would be an understatement. This is how the final paragraph read:

“King, there is only one thing left for you to do. You know what it is… There is but one way out for you. You better take it before your filthy, abnormal fraudulent self is bared to the nation.”

This ended up being a very dark and depressing period for Dr. King and his family. However, because Martin Luther King, Jr., was essentially a good man – a man of faith, and a man who despite his indiscretions both loved and was committed to his family, and his mission – with the forgiving support of his wife, Coretta Scott King, he successfully fought through the darkness of that period to grow into the most impactful period of his short life; with the most challenging and significant year being April 1967 – April 1968!

Now we come to Dr. Tariq Ramadan, a man with decades of service to his faith community and to the community-at-large. In October 2017, Dr. Ramadan was formally accused of raping a “feminist activist” by the name of Henda Ayari in a Paris hotel in 2012; shortly thereafter another woman came forth with a similar charge of rape in a hotel room in Lyon (southeastern France) in October 2009. Then there was a third woman (who would later have her charges dismissed).

It is important to note that these accusations were publicly made in the immediate aftermath of the official launch of the #MeToo Movement of 2017, and thus, acquired immediate socio-political currency. It is also worth noting that in the yearlong investigation that ensued, there has been no evidence of rape in either of these cases! However, there has been evidence of illicit affairs, which I accept are morally reprehensible offenses unworthy of a religious scholar.

However, as a result of the consensual skeletons found in this internationally renowned Muslim scholar’s closet, not only do we have an assortment of openly Islamophobic individuals and agencies within the French and broader European establishment calling for his isolation, there are a number of Muslims doing so as well. Is this prudent? Is this the morally correct thing to do? Who stands to gain from a permanently silenced Tariq Ramadan?

King, Jr. (and there were many), we remember him most for his courageous and extremely challenging stand against the Vietnam War. While he was excoriated for this principled stand throughout American mainstream society, from President Lyndon B. Johnson on down – and even many of his once close allies in the “Civil Rights Movement” distanced themselves from him in that final year of his life – he was on the right side of history. There is a monument in downtown Washington, DC, between the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials to prove it!

Dr. Ramadan (like King) has acknowledged the errors made in his personal life. He too wants a chance to redeem himself and continue the work he’s been known for. On November 12th of this year, while still behind bars he wrote a piece of commentary titled, “Meditation, from behind and beyond the bars” – in which he stated:

“There were mistakes, errors. I do not deny anything, and nothing justifies them. I know and understand that some people are troubled, disappointed, and even angry. Some are inhabited by incomprehension, others treat it as treason. I understand this profoundly and I am sorry and sad.”

Ramadan further noted,

“In going through this ordeal, I returned to the center, inevitably: I was unfair to myself, as the Qur’an states, and the apparent paradox is that the injustice, both judicial and political, that I suffered, finally allowed me to do justice to my heart and to my being, spiritually.”

In Islam, as in other major religions, there is something called repentance (in Arabic, Tauba). Of this spiritually revitalizing process, Shaykh ibn Taymeeyah is reported to have said: “A catastrophe [of any type] that brings us closer to Allah is better for us than a blessing that causes us to forget the remembrance of Allah.”

Like Martin Luther King, post-1964, Tariq Ramadan has the potential to come out of this self-inflicted tragedy stronger and more impactful than before. It would go against the principles of Islam – in a time of great challenge for Muslims around the world – not to give him the opportunity to do so!

El-Hajj Mauri Saalakhan is a Metro-Washington, DC, based human rights advocate. He serves as Director of Operations for The Aafia Foundation, Inc.

 

Further Reading: Meditation, from behind and beyond the bars

On November 12, in prison, I wrote these thoughts. From the inside, for yesterday, for today, for tomorrow.

It’s late, it’s dark. Between the four walls of this cell. Silence. I am alone, I am not alone. I see images of my life, of my past. This long road that brought me to prison. Nothing happens by chance. I seek meaning, the lessons.

Growth. For this, one must face the facts; refuse to feel sorry for one’s fate, to accept one’s mistakes without looking for excuses. As the Qur’an says, “O you who bear faith, you are accountable for yourselves” (5/105).

There were old wounds, tears and defeats. There were mistakes, errors. I do not deny anything and nothing justifies them. 

I know and understand that some people are troubled, disappointed, and even angry. 

Some are inhabited by incomprehension, others treat it as treason. I understand this profoundly and I am sorry and sad.

In going through this ordeal, I returned to the center, inevitably: I was unfair to myself, as the Qur’an states, and the apparent paradox is that the injustice, both judicial and political, that I suffered, finally allowed me to do justice to my heart and to my being, spiritually. 

They wanted to stain me through the media, externally; but in reality, God offered me cleansing and resilience, internally and intimately. 

Some trials are blessings.

This experience is, and will be, my liberation.

I promise you that, insha’Allah, I will come out of it stronger.

For some of you, the challenge is a little different. It is important, with wisdom, to attach oneself to the Message, and not, emotionally, to the person; this is learned through difficulties and life’s suffering. This is how one can forgive and move on.

What does this message tell us today? First, we must remember that trials are reminders and spiritually, signs of love.

Then, human beings must beware of any definitive judgment: only God knows the facts and their meaning. 

Finally, one must remain upright, refuse injustices, and fight with dignity against lying accusations for one’s innocence, dignity, honor, right and freedom. To never let that go. 

It’s late. Silence. The heart calms down, confidence grows. Prayer. I am alone, I am not alone. We are not alone. Let’s do this!

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