Thoughts From the Lorraine Motel On the 50th Anniversary of Dr. King's Death

Omid Safi, director of the Duke Islamic Studies Center, speaks at the Lorraine Motel ceremony.
Omid Safi, director of the Duke Islamic Studies Center, speaks at the Lorraine Motel ceremony.

We come from a long line of people who teach us that if you love the folk, you tell’em the truth.  And we’ve come here to speak some truth today.  The truth of the matter is that Dr. King, whom we all love, weeps in his grave to see what is happening to his beloved America. 

We’re seeing a strange kind of religion in our country today. There are so many who claim to be religious, but there is no justice, no love, no mercy, and no peace in it.  

Don’t tell me that you love God unless you show that love by loving God’s children, starting with those who find themselves at the moment weak and vulnerable.  

Brother Martin teaches us that if we want to bend the arc of the moral universe towards justice, then women and men of good will have to rise UP, reach OUT, hold hands, and say “I cannot be who I ought to be, until you become everything that you ought to be.”  

You and I, my friends, are in this together.  We might go up together, or we might go down together, but either way we are together.  Together. We might have come on different ships, but we are all in the same boat right now.

If, as Jesus told us, “Blessed are the peace-makers”, then what do we have to say about the war-mongers, the hate-Twitters and the wall-builders? We need many more blessed makers of the peace.

I stand before you as an unapologetic Muslim child of Brother Martin. The Prophet Muhammad, who stands in the same prophetic tradition as Amos, as Jesus of Nazareth, as Brother Martin and Brother Malcolm, taught us that as we are kind and merciful to each other, God is kind and merciful to us.   Let us live like this.

The motel now serves as a civil rights museum in Memphis. We have come to Memphis to tell America, just as Martin did, that ‘God sent us by here, to say to you that you're not treating his children all over the world right.”    For Martin, the Riverside connection between racism over HERE and militarism over THERE was not just a political manifesto, but came out of a love for all of God’s children.

It’s hollow to speak of “peace” as the mere absence of war, but we got to get to a real peace rooted in love, and in justice.   

That’s all we are talking about here.   I am who I am because my momma Pouran and my daddy Ali love me.   I love my babies, and I know what I want for them:  food in their bellies, a roof over their head, and dignity in their bones.  We know that other folks love their babies as much as we love our babies.  That’s all we mean by peace:  we shouldn’t be doing to other people’s babies what we wouldn’t want done to our own. 

Let’s love each other enough to tell each other the truth:  
Love and violence don’t go together.
Love and Empire don’t go together.  
Love and racism don’t go together.  
Love and police brutality don’t go together.

Love and bombs don’t go together.

We know that this Radical Love is not, as Brother Martin called it, just some emotional bosh.  As the cool kids today call it, it’s not an emoji.   This is nothing other than the unleashing of God on Earth.  Love is what brought us here, Love is what sustains us here, and it is this same love is what will carry us back home. 

Let us live this strong, fierce, and unconditional love, because it is when this love moves into the public square that we call it justice.  

With this faith, with this love, right can be actualized, justice can be mobilized, meanness can be neutralized, LOVE can be organized, and the Beloved community can be realized.

May God bless the legacy of Martin Luther King.  May God bless this country. May God bless the whole of humanity, with absolutely no exceptions.