The Bravest on the Frontlines in the Fight for Justice and Equality

By Imam Dr. Talib Shareef

Retired-US. Air Force

Masjid Muhammad/The Nation’s Mosque

WASHINGTON, D.C. – We join those in our nation and around the world in offering our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Congressman John Lewis, such an iconic civil rights activist and leader, a hero, a man of faith who stood on the front lines of the fight for justice and equality, fighting for a better America. 

He was a pillar for civil rights but a bridge connecting us all to the human rights issues still being fought today in America and around the world. Cong. Lewis said, “… be courageous, be strong, and don’t give up.” 

He was called the bravest person in the civil rights movement. As a young man, he exemplified great courage, commitment and determination confronting racism, injustice, and violence during the lunch counter sit-ins, as a Freedom Rider, and on the Edmund Pettus Bridge where he survived a brutal bloody beating. That Sunday became known as “Bloody Sunday.”

He came face to face with his mortality, his humanity, his faith in a Higher Authority and country, he followed his good conscience, his heart, and took a stand against cruel and systemic opposition to freedom, justice and equality for all Americans. 

Our Creator commands us: “Be a people standing up for justice and fairness.…” (Qur’an 4:135) Rep. John Lewis said, “When you see something that’s not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation to say something, do something, stand up, speak up, speak out.”

It is a statement that resembles a saying of Prophet Muhammed (saw), “When you see something wrong, you are to oppose it with your hands; and if you are not able to do that, then speak out; and if are not able to do that, then at least hate it in your heart, which is the weakest.”

Prior to but certainly from the age of 18 to 80, Cong. Lewis went the distance in the fight for justice and in advancing a vision to enhance the critical circumstances affecting the future of African Americans and America at large. 

The incredible impact that his life and legacy have on society serve as a testament to the fact that “one person can make a difference.” He helped to uplift his people, not just African Americans but all Americans. He reflected the best of human life and became not only a healthy powerful resource to his people and humanity, but also to the nation where he claimed citizenship.

We are losing him at a pivotal time in our country when we are losing and seeing an erosion in rights for which he sacrificed. But for all the trials and sacrifices he made on behalf of this country, he remained optimistic. 

Cong. Lewis believed in this country, he believed in the American people, he believed in our capacity to do good, he believed the good high-reaching spirit has always been in the life of the great majority of American people, and he saw himself as a small part of the efforts to make us live up to the ideas in our founding documents.

The proponent of “service before self,” we see spiritual strength as his foundation, regardless of whether he is seen as religious or not. Spiritual strength is what drives us to make sacrifices for others, for our Nation, and for the greater good. 

Such a dynamic human soul, we remember the life, service, sacrifice and spirit of Rep. John Lewis, the son of sharecroppers, who got into “good trouble” and emerged from protester to politics as one of our nation’s finest leaders. 

In examining his life, we find that at its core, his life contains aspirations that all of us can accept, identify with and share. When interviewed while still incredibly young, he said, “There was something deep down within me, moving me, that I could no longer be satisfied with, go along with an evil system.” 

Deep inside of him was his inherent goodness, the dynamic soul of an oppressed people, and the genes of all the ancestors who struggled for freedom, justice and equality, and they are in all of us who respond and pick up the mantle, which now includes him. 

We inherit his hope, his spiritual needs, his social yearnings, his economic and political ambitions. Those who have inherited the aspirations of their upright and courageous ancestors — in them our ancestors rejoice!

We hope that he, through his legacy, his life’s work, continue in us, to inspire young and old to be great, do great things, and look past themselves and add value to the lives of others. 

May we remember, continue and build upon the principles he stood for, what motivated him to have the courage or to make the sacrifices he made, what kind of principles were operating in his life, and the work he did for the society, for his people, and the country. This is more important than just remembering his name. His soul can rest in peace after witnessing the next generation pick up the torch and continuing the fight for equality and justice on a global scale. 

As his body rest, his record and reputation for keeping America’s best interest at heart STAND, and it echoes our pledge, “One Nation, under G-d, indivisible with liberty and justice for ALL. 

We salute him and pray that Almighty G-d, the Creator of all, forgives his sins and grant him eternal peace, as he rests upon his labor of great works.

(Imam Dr. Talib Shareef, Retired-U.S. Air Force, is Resident Imam of Masjid Muhammad, The Nation’s Mosque located in our nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., and dating back to the mid-1930s. Contact the Mosque at info@thenationsmosque.org)

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