On Monday of this week, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said the U.S. should ban all Muslims
from entering the country for an indefinite period of time.
On Thursday, Canada’s newly-elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greeted
the first planeload of several thousand Syrian refugees who will be arriving in his country in the coming months, reportedly telling a young family “you are home, welcome home.”
On Friday, I attended an inter-faith prayer service at the Islamic Association of Raleigh. Speakers included the Rev. William Barber and the Rev. Nancy Petty of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, as well as Imam Oliver Mohammed of the As-Salam Islamic Center, Imam Mohamed AbuTaleb of the IAR and Rabbi Eric Solomon of the Beth Meyer Synagogue.
Their messages, and the spirit of the 200 or so people who were there to receive them, skewed decidedly more Trudeau than Trump, though Trump and terrorism were clearly on everyone’s mind.
“The problem is not Trump, be careful,” said the Rev. Barber. “The problem is a climate that was first created, by some of the same people who are now criticizing him, who started using the term ‘radical Islam’ as a politically race-baiting term. We should never have allowed that term to go unchallenged…they have sown it to the wind and reaped the whirlwind. They have labored in the laboratory of racism and Islamophobia and hate and xenophobia, and now have created a Frankenstein atmosphere that is out of control.”
The speakers arrived at a common point: that terrorism, not Islam, is what America needs to guard against vigilantly. Because what’s the point of barring Muslims from entering the country when a Christian who lived in the North Carolina mountains goes on a killing spree at a Planned Parenthood clinic? Or when a kid from South Carolina shoots nine worshipers at a black church, in the hope of igniting a race war? For every Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik, the U.S. has literally hundreds of citizens like Craig Hicks
—American-born, maybe Christian, armed and unhinged.
“Terrorists are comprised of the worst among humanity,” said the Imam Oliver Mohammed. “They have been separated from the innocent, good, healthy human sentiments and become hardened, insensitive and apathetic, bored of love and kindness for humanity. They have lost their human identity as well as their religious identity. No religion promotes terrorism.”
Underlying the speakers’ messages was a plea for solidarity with the Muslim community.
“We are one human family and we stand side by side as brothers and sisters,” said the Rev. Petty. “Today we are gathered to pray to Allah, to God, to the holy one who created each of us, believing that the one to whom we pray by whatever name we call our sacred being hears our prayers.”
The Rev. Barber ended his remarks with a rebuke to leaders who “condemn the violence in San Bernardino without acknowledging their own role in this nation’s violence with their words and their language.”
Paraphrasing Coretta Scott King, Barber said “violence is not just killing someone. It’s starving a child, suppressing a culture, neglecting schoolchildren, discriminating against working people, ghetto housing, ignoring medical needs, a contempt of equality. A lack of willpower to help humanity and deal with the issues of injustice.” Issues that here in Trump’s America, a little more than in Trudeau’s Canada, we'll continue to grapple with until we, as the Rev. Petty said, “will not let fear and hate divide us.”
Maybe it was the heavy security presence, but I can’t help but compare the prayer service to the event I attended last Friday, Donald Trump’s rally
at Dorton arena. The prayer service, of course, was much smaller. It was peaceful, and, while there were leaders present, there were no politicians.
As we all stood and sat together— black people, white, brown, the old, the young, students and professors and parents, women in hijab
and men in traditional Muslim dress, the faithful and the unsure— under the warm sun that unfailingly appears for a few days during a southern December, it struck me that this crowd, whether Trump’s people like it or not, is a more perfect reflection of what America is and of who we will become.