In January, as part of my doctoral studies, I participated in an intensive course entitled Topics in Jewish, Christian & Muslim Relations. On the last day, we visited the largest mosque in New England, the ISBCC, The Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center in Roxbury Crossing, MA. As part of our visit, we listened to a talk by Shaykh Yasir Fahmy called The Toxicity of Othering. It was not lost on any of us that, even as he was speaking to his largely Muslim audience warning them not to engage in othering, it was actually they who were experiencing othering by many Americans.
About a third of the way through his talk, I started to have images of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As I continued listening, I noticed that if I were to remove the Arabic phrases the Shaykh occasionally included and changed “Allah” to “God,” indeed, the core message seemed to have great resonance with the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Curious, once home, I listened to the video again off the ISBCC website and printed out a transcript. From there, my journey began and below are my findings which led to the creation of The Shaykh & The Preacher.
The key categories: Origins of Unhealthy Otherness; Outcomes of Unhealthy Otherness; How to Combat Unhealthy Otherness; and, How to Cultivate ‘Healthy’ Otherness, came to me as I heard the similarities unfold. The sub-headings are mine also used as a way to highlight the specific teachings within each category. Shaykh Yasir Fahmy’s quotes have been occasionally edited by punctuation only to facilitate ease of reading. The numbers noted at the end of each quote indicate where in the video the wording appeared. The quotes by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. are taken directly from the sources indicated at the end of each quote.
Origins of Unhealthy Otherness
Exalting the Self and the Self’s Group as Superior
“We want upliftment. We want recognition. We want stability. We want to be known and recognized. We want to be justified. Because of our distance from Allah, we think that the only way I am to make myself big is by belittling others.” (25:05 – 25:34)
“We all have the drum major instinct. We all want to be important, to surpass others, to achieve distinction, to lead the parade. … And the great issue of life is to harness the drum major instinct. It is a good instinct if you don’t distort it and pervert it.”
(Sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church, February 2, 1968)
Outcomes of Unhealthy Otherness
Removing the Inferior Others
“[At the extreme, this need for recognition] becomes toxic, demonic, destructive. The self becomes self-aggrandizing and self-absorbed. (2:57 – 3:11) You are a danger to my existence, to my power. You threaten me so I want to destroy you. (5:35 -5:43) [These are] diseases of the heart that exist at the root of this toxic other. (18:44-18:50) People have trouble distinguishing between religious or cultural expressions and human value.” (9:48 – 9:54)
“We’ve been in the mountain of war. We’ve been in the mountain of violence. We’ve been in the mountain of hatred long enough. It is necessary to move on now, but only by moving out of this mountain can we move to the promised land of justice and brotherhood and the Kingdom of God.” (Sermon at Temple Israel, February 26, 1965)
How to Combat Unhealthy Otherness
Humbly examine the self.
“So brothers and sisters as we think critically about this disease that exists in society we have to begin with ourselves. We begin by looking in the mirror and thinking, ’Am I a person who otherizes?’Am I someone who puts others into other ugly categories and belittles them because of who they are?” (21:49 – 22:13)
“We must take a step back and before really thinking about what people are doing to me, I have to ask myself, ‘To what extent do some of these diseases exist within me?’ For to them as you do it, it will be done to you. Before we sit there and look at others, we have to ask, ‘Am I truly embodying the best of prophetic ideals in this particular regard?’” (7:10 – 8:02)
“Now first let us deal with this question, which is a practical one: How do we go about loving our enemies? I think the first thing is this: In order to love your enemies, you must begin by analyzing self. And I’m sure that seems strange to you, that I start out telling you this morning that you love your enemies by beginning with a look at self.” [later] “There might be something within you that arouses the tragic hate response in the other individual. And this is one of the tragedies of human nature. So we begin to love our enemies and love those persons that hate us, whether in collective life or individual life, by looking at ourselves.” (Loving Your Enemies, Nov. 17, 1957)
How to Cultivate ‘Healthy’ Otherness
Know one another.
“The purpose of all creation is ‘so you may know one another,’ to have an intimate engagement with people. [Allah said] I made you into these different tribes that you might know one another. So, it is through humility – that is the way we begin to heal the pains of our society.” (29:36 – 29:56)
“People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.” (Advice for Living, May, 1958)
Recognize the common unity and destiny of the human soul.
“When Muhammad stood up before a Jewish funeral procession and was asked why, he replied, ‘Is he not a soul that deserves honor, dignity and respect? He is a human soul and, therefore, has inherent value and has inherent sacredness and sanctity and the human soul should be honored and respected regardless of the realities of that person. That’s the prophetic ideal that must thrive in societies.’” (8:15 – 8:59)
“They [our white brothers] have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone. [later] We will be able to speed up that day when all God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!” (I Have a Dream Speech, August 28, 1963)
See the sanctity within each person.
“Am I someone who has genuine honor for others, genuine love? Can I see the sanctity in human beings no matter who they are? Rather than looking out into the world, rather than seeing all the ugly, I see all the beautiful. I see the beauty of human beings who are struggling to just be there.” (22:17 – 22:34)
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” (I Have a Dream Speech, August 28, 1963)
Seek to love and forgive your enemies.
“Only Allah can measure the God consciousness of others. It’s not your responsibility to identify others as being this or that. (27:40 – 28:03) We hold dear to our beliefs. We have a distinct desire to see that human life is treated as sacred regardless of the differences that may exits – even in the quote-unquote enemy. No matter your worst enemy, whoever they may be, they deserve dignity as prescribed by Allah.” (16:22 – 16:58)
“And so I stand here to say this afternoon to all assembled here, that in spite of the darkness of this hour, we must not despair. We must not become bitter nor must we harbor the desire to retaliate with violence. No, we must not lose faith in our white brothers.” (Eulogy after bombing of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, September 18, 1963)
Care for one another.
“That’s what it means to be a mercy to mankind. To dignify others is to make sure that everyone comes before me. I want people to be lifted high and if it requires that I bow down and that my neck is broken for others, I will do it. That is the prophetic spirit. That is what it means to honor others, to care for others, regardless of religion or ethnicity or race or even in financiers in the economic realm.”(20:16 – 20:50)
“The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige, and even his life for the welfare of others. (From his 1963 book, Strength to Love.) Everybody can be great because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace; a soul generated by love.” (The Major Drum Instinct, sermon adapted from the 1952 homily ”Drum-Major Instincts” by J. Wallace Hamilton, 1952)
Cultivate a consciousness of Love.
“The most dignified and the most honorable amongst creation is the one who has the most God consciousness. “ (26:50 – 26:57)
“Inject within the very structure of the universe that strong and powerful element of love.” (Loving Your Enemies, Nov. 17, 1957)
Seek to be vehicles of goodness and unconditional love.
“May he make us vehicles for good on this earth. May he make us prophetic vehicles of change toward goodness on this earth. May we be sources of mercy for others on this earth.” (26:57 -29:28)
“Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love. [later] I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality.” (Noble Peace Prize Acceptance Speech, December 10, 1964)
Closing Quote: The Shaykh
“May Allah rectify the conditions of our humanity on this earth. May he allow it to begin with us. May he guide us, guide through us. May Allah rectify our hearts of the diseases that have caused the problems that we see today so that we can see a society that is prospering.” (30:17 – 30-22)
Closing Quote: The Preacher
“I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.” (I Have a Dream Speech, August 28, 1963)
Lovingly offered by the Shaykh and the Preacher.