Since I teach at a theological university that includes students and faculty from the world’s major religions, I was keenly aware of the anxiety my Muslim colleagues and students felt when Trump threatened in December “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” He followed through on that threat on January 29, not by banning all Muslims, but rather all citizens (including refugees) from “any nation that has been compromised by terrorism, until such time it’s proven that vetting mechanisms have been put in place.” By banning all “foreign nationals” from these countries, the order was cleverly trying to avoid the use of “Muslim,” but that transparency was uncovered when refugees of minority religions, mainly Christians, were exempted from the ban.
The Sunday after the November election, I joined Muslim friends to commemorate Ashura, a day honored by both Sunni and Shia Muslims in remembrance of Imam Husayn (a grandson of the Prophet Mohammad), highlighting how his stand for justice more than 1300 years ago parallels the struggle for social justice today. Knowing of the anti-Islamic sentiments associated with the Trump campaign, I had written to one of my former UC Berkeley students, Hamideh, and her husband, Amin, expressing concern for their safety and well-being. Amin responded, “We are deeply concerned for the safety of Muslims especially in regions dominated by Trump supporters, and are hearing anecdotes of the difficult choices some Muslims are having to make (such as whether it is safe for women to wear the hajib).” Hamideh wrote, “I fear for our future … I agree with you Professor that there is a lot to be done and I would like to kindly ask you: If you have a chance to talk to Trump supporters, please convey our concerns as Muslim Americans!”
A core principle of all three of the Abrahamic religions—Judaism, Christianity and Islam—is hospitality. In Israel, it was considered a grave transgression to deny safety and comfort to the stranger at one’s gate. As we read in Leviticus, “If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you. . . . fear your God, that your brother may live beside you.”
Essentially, this is the Golden Rule, for God reminds Israel, “For you were once strangers in the land of Egypt.”
How one treats strangers is also central to Christianity. In one of his most powerful parables, Jesus makes this ethic personal, telling his followers that if they fail to take a stranger in, to feed him, give him water, bind up his wounds or visit him in prison, it is the same as if they refused such succor and hospitality to him: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” By extension, Jesus is saying to President Trump and those who support his anti-Muslim decrees, “If you do not open your doors and hearts to my Muslim brothers and sisters, if you do not provide a safe place for them, if you do not feed and clothe them, if you do not visit them in detention centers, it is the same as if you refused such blessings to me.”
Gerard Manly Hopkins puts this ethic into poetic language: “For Christ plays in ten thousand places, . . ./through the features of men’s [and women’s] faces.” Some of those faces are the faces of Muslims, including refugees fleeing to our shores from Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Iran and other Muslim countries.
Like Jews and Christians, Muslims consider offering hospitality to strangers as a core religious principle, one that the Prophet Mohammed taught and exemplified. As we read in the Qur’an, “They feed with food the needy wretch, the orphan, and the prisoner, for love of Him [Allah], saying, ‘We wish for no reward nor thanks from you.’”
What a stark contrast between these sentiments and those coming from the Trump administration! In addition to Trump, whose inflammatory words are feeding a growing American Islamophobia, are sentiments of some of his closest advisors, including Lt. General Michael T. Flynn, Trump’s National Security Advisor, and Stephen Bannon, newly appointed to the National Security Council. Flynn asserted that “Islam is not necessarily a religion” and that “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL.” Bannon and a number of his associates from Breitbart News have been spreading conspiracy theories about Muslim plans to supplant U.S. Constitutional law with Sharia law (which would be quite an accomplishment for a religion that currently represents one percent of the populace).
Even before Mr. Trump stood astride the Republican Party, there was an increase in anti-Islamic sentiment in the United States. As reported by Gallup, “Islamophobia existed in premise before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, but it increased in frequency and notoriety during the past decade.” According to the poll, more than half of Americans (52 percent) “do not respect Muslims.” Such attitudes explain the upsurge in Islamophobia, including, according to an FBI report, a 67 percent increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes between 2014 and 2015. The recent rampage and killing of Muslims at a Canadian mosque is only one of a number of hate crimes sweeping the West.
I thought of Abraham, Jesus and Mohammed when I saw Muslims stranded in airports, unwelcomed to our teaming shores. But I also thought of the Golden Rule that animates the love for others by Jews, Christians and Muslims when I saw tens of thousands of American citizens streaming to the streets and airports to defend the rights of these children of God, not as aliens but as fellow human beings welcomed to sit at our hearths, to share our bread and to enjoy the blessings promised to all strangers at our door.