In his first inaugural address, delivered to a divided nation in a capital city riven with turmoil, President Abraham Lincoln invoked, “the mythic chords of our memory … being touched yet again by the better angels of our nature.” More than 150 years later to a divided nation and tumultuous capital, the deceptively named group, ACT for America, has invited Americans across the land to March Against Sharia, stirring up the worst demons of our nature. The Islamophobia, xenophobia, and the sheer hate mongering of this call must not stand unchallenged.
As proud New Yorkers we embrace and celebrate the diversity of our great city. We are energized by the fact that Jews, Christians, Muslims, believers in other faiths, and non-believers live together here in a cacophony of voices that yet find harmony in the accents of New York. We love the variety of languages, cuisines, and religious beliefs that make America great.
And so we two, an African-American Protestant Minister, and a Caucasian Jewish Rabbi, join together to respond to ACT for America with the love our Abrahamic traditions teach us. We reject the call to oppose Shari’a, much as we as clergy reject any call to disrespect any ancient religious body of teachings and norms.
Shari’a is Islamic law, codes of behavior touching on Muslims’ prayer, charitable giving, professions of belief, interpersonal relations, food rules, and the like. Shari’a is a way of life for Muslims, much like halakhah, the explicated laws of the Torah, is for the Jewish community. To attack Shari’a is not only a display of mean-spirited ignorance, it is also an invitation to attack Jewish law or the Christian way. ACT and anti-Muslim fear-mongering groups like it, run roughshod over First Amendment constitutional protections to freedom of worship and association.
ACT for America correctly has been labeled as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Their pronouncements against Islam as somehow un-American ignore the fact that Islam was on this continent even before the United States existed. Like Christianity and Judaism, Islam holds a proud place in the great fabric of America.
Deriding Muslims as alien shows profound disrespect for our neighbors. The diminishment of people of color must be called out as racism and xenophobia. We as Christians and Jews instead have been raised to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” We are commanded by the Bible to “know the stranger for you were once strangers.” We are taught that we have been made as different peoples, different genders and races, “that we might know one another” all as God’s children. If we strive with one another, we must strive to do good deeds of love and kindness.
As proud Americans we fervently believe in the free exercise of religion ― indeed, all religions. To attack Islam is to attack Americans of all religious backgrounds. Let us begin with tolerance and then grow to respect and understanding. To know another religion is to also learn the borders and limits of our own. We are blessed when we learn how others experience God.
It is now the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. During this month, our Muslim neighbors fast each day, reflect on their relationship with God, and their place in the community. Muslims give charity during this period and reach out to the hungry and the needy.
Instead of “Marching Against Sharia,” we humbly suggest that our fellow Americans learn from our Muslim neighbors. Let us spend this month getting right with God and meditating on the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry.” Mutual respect and tolerance for one another has become the very essence of who we are as Americans. We are at our best when we break bread with one another. Now more than ever, it is the time to do what the Good Book teaches and “love one another.”
While some in our nation attempt to divide us with fear tactics, we trust New Yorkers will stand up for our shared values.
New York’s harbor is watched over by a great lady, the Statue of Liberty. She was a gift to this country from France. The towering colossus from Paris invites, “send these, the homeless, the tempest-tost to me.” It is our fervent prayer that we reject hate and division, that we might welcome both our neighbors and the stranger, so that Lady Liberty might continue to lift her “lamp beside the golden door.”