Tuesday, January 31, 2017

We welcome you ...


During the Presidential campaign, then candidate Donald Trump called for a ban on Muslims entering the country.  To be "fair," he has defended his ban as simply being a precautionary measure of banning for 90 days entry into the United States travelers from seven specific countries -- Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.  It also bans for 120 days the admission of refugees, generally, and bans indefinitely the entry of Syrian refugees.  

It disturbs him that people are calling it "a ban on Muslims."  Nothing could be further from the truth, he says.  He says that he has taken this measure for the safety of the United States, because there is a real threat of terrorists slipping into the country to do God knows what.

It is certainly interesting that this ban does not include countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which (coincidentally?) have financial ties to one or more of Trump's businesses.  It's even more odd when you consider that not a single terrorist act has been committed on U.S. soil by a citizen of any of the countries included in the ban, and that nearly all of the hijackers involved in the September 11th attacks came from either Egypt or, predominantly, Saudi Arabia, and that both of these countries are known to be backing ISIS.

But this is not intended to be a ban on Muslims.  It's just a ban on people entering our country from nations that (do not) have a history of sending terrorists to our shores.

Of course, the fact that the Executive Order is clear that there will be exceptions made for Christian immigrants and refugees makes it harder to see this as anything other than what Mr. Trump had promised to do during the Presidential campaign -- a ban Muslims from entering the United States.

Every week I conclude our time of prayer with these words:

"In the name of all that is holy, and in all the Holy Names we have ever heard, and those we cannot yet even imagine, we say:  Blessed Be, Namaste, As-salāmu ʿalaykum, Ashé, Shalom, and Amen."

Unitarian Universalism name six "sources" of our tradition, one of which is:  "Wisdom from the world's religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life."  We recognize the power in pluralism and believe not only that "revelation is not sealed," as it is sometimes put, but also that it is not to be found in just one place.

Our congregation is named after Thomas Jefferson, and while it is right that we wrestle with the legacy of his having been a slave owner, it is also worth remembering those things he said and did that were, and continue to be, inspiring.  "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all ... are created equal," certainly had a extremely limited application when the words came from his pen, yet centuries later, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. could refer to that phrase as he stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and declared it to be "a promissory note" which had now come due.

Denise Spellber's 2014 book, Thomas Jefferson' s Qur'an:  Islam and the Founders,explores Jefferson's own interest in Islam, and the role Islam played in the nation's founding.  I'll quote here a description of the book:
In 1765, eleven years before composing the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson bought a Qur’an. This marked only the beginning of his lifelong interest in Islam, and he would go on to acquire numerous books on Middle Eastern languages, history, and travel, taking extensive notes on Islam as it relates to English common law. Jefferson sought to understand Islam notwithstanding his personal disdain for the faith, a sentiment prevalent among his Protestant contemporaries in England and America. But unlike most of them, by 1776 Jefferson could imagine Muslims as future citizens of his new country. 
Based on groundbreaking research, Spellberg compellingly recounts how a handful of the Founders, Jefferson foremost among them, drew upon Enlightenment ideas about the toleration of Muslims (then deemed the ultimate outsiders in Western society) to fashion out of what had been a purely speculative debate a practical foundation for governance in America. In this way, Muslims, who were not even known to exist in the colonies, became the imaginary outer limit for an unprecedented, uniquely American religious pluralism that would also encompass the actual despised minorities of Jews and Catholics. The rancorous public dispute concerning the inclusion of Muslims, for which principle Jefferson’s political foes would vilify him to the end of his life, thus became decisive in the Founders’ ultimate judgment not to establish a Protestant nation, as they might well have done. 
As popular suspicions about Islam persist and the numbers of American Muslim citizenry grow into the millions, Spellberg’s revelatory understanding of this radical notion of the Founders is more urgent than ever. Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an is a timely look at the ideals that existed at our country’s creation, and their fundamental implications for our present and future.
It is worth noting that when Keith Ellison became the first Mulsim member of Congress, he took his oath of office he placed his hand on Jefferson's copy of the Qur'an.

In recent years, many politicians and pundits have tried to create a distinction in the mind of the populace that there is a distinction between Muslims and Americans, as if one can't be both, and as if the religion of Islam itself is antithetical to U.S. ideals and values.  This ban on Muslims entering the country, the threat of registration for Muslims already here, and the rise of anti-Muslim bias and violence are the fruit of these efforts.  Yet our history shows that Islam has been a part of the experience of our country from its earliest days.  It is this prejudice that is un-American, not Islam.

As a Unitarian Universalist congregation we want to be public in our support of our Muslim neighbors.  That is why we will be putting on our Rugby Road doors two signs which read, "We support our Muslim neighbors," one in English and one in Arabic.  We will also be posting at every doorway into our buildings signs which say -- again, in both Arabic and English -- "As-salāmu ʿalaykum," "Peace be upon you."

I am proud to be part of a faith tradition, and a member of a congregation, that values sanctuary -- safe haven -- for those who are persecuted, marginalized, and oppressed.  Being explicit in our welcome is one way we can put our values into action.

Pax tecum,

Rev. Wik