For the past few years, Muslims in the state of Washington have been going to Olympia on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day to celebrate the memory of one of the nation’s greatest advocates for civil rights and human dignity. The event has been a great success, drawing several hundred Muslims from all over the state each year and leaving a positive impact on participants and lawmakers alike.
In reaction to the rise of Islamophobia, manifested in the Ground Zero mosque debate, the “President Obama is a Muslim” debacle and the most recent FBI training scandals, the local Washington chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR-WA) started to encourage local Muslims to positively engage their lawmakers and make their presence felt in Olympia, lobbying both for general issues they care about (such as housing and poverty) as well as issues specific to Muslims, like asking their representatives to take a stronger stand against Islamophobia.
To me the event represents an important step in the march of my people, Muslim-Americans, towards full rights and full participation in American society. Many of us come from countries where your rights are what the authorities say they are, others from places where our voice does not matter. And some of us grew up right here but are still embarrassed or frightened to express our faith. This event is our chance to speak up and make our voices heard.
I was born in Egypt, a country that was the definition of all these things, a country that – in a scriptural sense – is the symbol of slavery. When I came to the US, I learned more about universal human rights, about the common ideals that bind humans together. Last year, I was blessed to see the day when the people of Egypt broke their shackles and rose up against tyranny, demanding self-determination.
As a Muslim-American, I am inspired by both Egypt and America. I have attended Capitol day each year now for 3 years, because I believe that Muslims in America can only have their full rights and live as equals, not “tolerated” guests, in this country, once they themselves believe in this and exercise it. Democracy is a tree that only bears fruit through exercising it.
More about the event:
This year, over 375 Muslims have registered and buses will bring them from as far away as Spokane all the way to Olympia. The program starts with a breakfast and a training session on how to interact with the lawmakers. Then each group that belongs to a district break out to go meet their lawmakers and discuss their issues. Later they reconvene for lunch and some closing remarks. For more information, check out CAIR-WA’s website at www.cairseattle.org.