6 Things the Middle East Can Learn from Martin Luther King, Jr.


Every so often, a figure emerges from the masses who becomes a champion for the people’s cause. Even less often, their message, vision and oftentimes tragic end propels them onto the global stage and they come to represent universal struggles and values that know no borders.

These giants of history and humanity – people like Che, Ghandi and MLK, Jr. – long after they are gone, their heroic legacies endure worldwide.

In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, here are six things we can all learn from the man who once had a dream:



1. Religious Tolerance


Martin Luther King, Jr., pictured with his son, removing a burned cross from his front yard.
Martin Luther King, Jr., pictured with his son, removing a burned cross from his front yard.

The son of a Baptist reverend, Martin Luther King, Jr. followed in his father’s footsteps. As a Christian, he promoted tolerance between all religions and campaigned with black rights leader Malcolm X, a Muslim.

Lord knows we need religious tolerance in the Middle East, the birthplace of the three Abrahamic faiths and a notorious site of bloodshed due to religious sectarianism.



2. Non-Violent Protest



Reverend King was adamant about using peaceful means to fight for civil rights and justice, despite frequent attacks against his people and despite those in his own movement who believed in targeted violence to achieve their aims.

The Middle East is no stranger to non-violent civil disobedience – Jan. 25 in Tahrir Square proved the power of peaceful protest to the world – but, unfortunately, these shining examples are few and far between in the region. Demonstrations have turned violent far too often, resulting in too many names who we call martyrs spray-painted on the walls of our streets.



3. Racial Equality



Let’s face it: Despite significant advances in equal rights and non-discriminatory legislation, the world is still a racist place and the Middle East is no exception.

Racial discrimination runs rampant in the region, a consequence of a number of tangled complexities, including its colonial history, tribal roots and the relatively rapid opening up of its traditionally closed societies due to globalization.

In Muhammed’s (PBUH) last sermon, he conveyed a message that Dr. King would famously express centuries later, that individuals should be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character: “an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action.”



4. Economic Justice



A champion of the impoverished and marginalized, Dr. King campaigned for social services for the poor and protested alongside unions to demand fair wages and treatment for workers.

That bread was a major rallying cry in the Arab Spring reflects the Middle East’s yawning income inequality and class divide. Poverty is no longer an issue that the region’s elite can ignore.



5. Peace



In line with his stance of non-violence, Dr. King was anti-war and promoted peace above all. He spoke out emphatically against the U.S. war in Vietnam, and if he were alive today, we’re sure he would have taken a stand against our generation’s unjust wars, from Iraq to Gaza, as well as the general use of arms against any peoples, including your own (we’re looking at you, Assad).



6. Civil Rights



Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom to vote without threat or coercion, the right to equality in public places… these are all things that people throughout history have given their life fighting for, from Martin Luther King, Jr. to those who have fallen in our region’s revolutions.



WE SAID THIS: “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.