“I do call to witness this City; and thou art a freeman of this City” — Qur’an 90:1-2
Only God can give human beings true freedom and independence. It cannot be solicited by one human being from another human being because we are all “endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights.” No human being is to lord over or manage another person’s independence or freedom; only our Creator is Lord.
Recently we observed “Juneteenth” as the time when slaves in Galveston, Texas, over two years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, were informed by Major General Gordon Granger that they were supposedly “free.” The Major read the General Order that informed these newly freed slaves that their new relationship with their soon-to-be-former slave masters was that of “employer and hired labor. The Freedmen are advised to remain at their present homes and work for wages.”
What Lincoln penned and that which Major Granger read is not the freedom that the souls of the children of Africa wanted or were seeking. The Emancipation Proclamation is inferior to the Declaration of Independence, and 104 years later in 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. publicly recognized the difference. He said, “No Lincolnian Emancipation Proclamation ... can totally bring this kind of freedom. The Negro will only be free when he reaches down to the inner depths of his own being and signs with the pen and ink of assertive manhood his own emancipation proclamation.” Dr. King was speaking on behalf of a people who still were struggling for full freedom as citizens of America, and his words are still relevant in many sectors of our American society.
Even the freedoms afforded in the Declaration of Independence were selective and restricted namely to white men who owned property. This disparity obligated Frederick Douglass — a former slave — to deliver on July 5, 1852, his “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” speech. One striking excerpt of Douglass’ speech reads, “The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.”
At the nadir of the Prophethood of Muhammed he receives the verse of the Qur’an that says, “I do call to witness this City; and thou art a freeman of this City.” G_d was telling Muhammed that he is a free person in his society. Moses came and demanded freedom for his people. “Let my people go!” Christ Jesus too recognized that ultimate freedom comes from the Creator. Romans 13:1: “Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God and those which exist are established by God.”
Real independence obligates each citizen to be accountable and a contributor to the good of the whole as stated by President John F. Kennedy, “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country!”
African Americans today are in a special position to take control of our freedom in a way that honors and respects the great sufferings paid — on our behalf — by our fore-parents. Muslim American spokesman Imam W. Deen Mohammed said, in 1977, “I would betray every slave, from the first to the last, and those former slaves who came under the Jim Crow system. I would betray all of them if I didn’t stand up today and appreciate the life we have here in America. That’s the life they cried for, that’s what they begged for, that’s what they struggled for — a New Day! A day when former slaves would be recognized and respected for what they are, and treated equally,” he continued. “We have come to that day, and I would betray all of my slave parents if I didn’t appreciate this America and this change that has taken place here in this America.”
The freedoms that African Americans have today didn’t come from the Emancipation Proclamation or the Declaration of Independence. Although these two sacred documents are important, still they did not address the special human needs in the African American soul. We have to continue doing as Dr. King stated and reach down to the inner depths of own being and sign with the pen and ink of assertive manhood our own emancipation proclamation. No man can give another man freedom or independence; only Our Creator can give human beings true freedom and complete independence.
Michael Saahir is resident Imam of Nur-Allah Islamic Center.