MLK Lecture “A Conversation on Islam in America” to Be Held January 15 at Central Library

What: Begin the Day: The 14th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Lecture – "The First Step: A Conversation on Islam in America"
When: Sunday, January 15, 2017, 3:00 p.m.
Where: Central Library, Linn-Henley Research Library, Arrington Auditorium, 4th floor
Details: Free and open to the public

The Birmingham Public Library (BPL) is partnering with the Birmingham Islamic Society to host an in-depth discussion on what it is like to be a follower of Islam in the United States. “The First Step: A Conversation on Islam in America” is the topic of BPL’s 14th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Lecture on January 15 at the Central Library.

The MLK Memorial Lecture will feature four young people from Birmingham’s Islamic community sharing their experiences and answering questions about their lives and their faith, said Jim Baggett, head of BPL’s Archives & Manuscripts Department. The Birmingham Public Library has been hosting the MLK Lecture every weekend of the MLK holiday since 2002. Past speakers have included scholars discussing the civil rights movement, community leaders, and activists talking about issues such as human trafficking.

“With this program we have looked at civil rights as well as human rights,” Baggett said. “That led us this year to look at an issue important in this area and around the world—Islamophobia.”

Baggett said BPL decided to explore being Islam in America early last year, before it became an issue in the presidential election. Ashfaq Taufique, president of the Birmingham Islamic Society, said the topic is timely since many followers of the Islamic faith are worried about the negative rhetoric about Muslims common in the U.S. right now.

Taufique and Baggett both said they hope the MLK Lecture sparks a positive conversation on Islam here in Alabama among attendees. Baggett said the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr, though known mostly for his fight for civil rights in Birmingham and elsewhere, was also active in the fight for human rights. He referred to King’s famous quote, “Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”

“The first step for people who want to understand each other is to talk and ask questions,” Baggett said. “We hope people will attend the MLK Lecture with an open mind about Islam in America and join the conversation.”

Taufique said the Birmingham Islamic Society is proud to partner with BPL on the MLK Lecture. The organization provides resources for Muslims and educates the community about the Islamic faith in metro Birmingham and across central Alabama.

“We do a lot of outreach to the community so that we become the voice who speaks for Islam rather than politics and television,” Taufique said. “We’ve got great interfaith partners who support us. When the Birmingham Public Library approached us about this, we were so fortunate to have been invited and to have someone help us make our voices heard. One of the things that is lacking is conversation and dialogue. This provides an opportunity to talk to each other.”

Baggett said BPL has been planning this program for a year. Their original concept was to invite a scholar to discuss Islam in America. But in recent months we evolved and wanted it to be more of a conversation. We wanted it to involve young people in many communities in the Birmingham area. We hope it will encourage a dialogue and hopefully some understanding.”

Taufique said it is important to address the issue of Islam in America head-on by having an open dialogue. He hopes “this conversation is not going to only bring people who are like-minded, but people who are diverse in their thinking together.”

“People who really think Islam is part of the problem can get to know their neighbors, know the girls and boys who go to school with their children, who play basketball with their children,” Taufique said. “Once we personalize ourselves in the position of others, we can truly develop a better understanding of each other.”

For more information about the MLK Lecture, call Jim Baggett at 205-226-3631 or e-mail him at