Originally Published in The Michigan Daily January 31st, 2017
Shortly after the inaugural address, the Obamas and the Trumps descended the steps of the Capitol building in a beautiful display of peaceful transitioning. Chills came over me as I remembered descending those very steps in the summer of 2012 as a part of another display of peace. I walked down the steps of the Capitol building in the company of my global religious leader, the Khalifa of Islam, following his address to bipartisan leaders regarding peace and justice. It strikes me as ironic that I walked with a prominent leader after a speech about peace, unity and justice, while Barack Obama walked that same path with a new leader after a speech evoking disunity and prejudice. I think our new president, Donald Trump, should take a page from Islam’s book to learn how to establish peace.
The main source of the disunity and prejudice in President Trump’s speech was the overwhelming presence of religion. “What happened to the separation of church and state?” my friends and I asked in an air of holy confusion. If you didn’t catch the religious overtones, here’s a recap. Half a dozen clergy members participated in the ceremony, bookending President Trump’s address. Two of the musical performances were religious groups: the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Washington National Cathedral Choir of Men, Boys and Girls. Numerous allusions to God or a creator were made in the speech. But most strikingly, the only time a non-Judeo-Christian faith was mentioned is when he vowed to eradicate “radical Islamic terrorism … from the face of the Earth.”
The debate on labeling extremism committed by so-called Muslims as “radical Islamic terrorism” has, once again, become contentious in the days since the inauguration. One side alleges intrinsic issues within Islam that have led to the rise in extremism. The other side argues that terrorism knows no religion and is widespread throughout many faiths and nations. As such, it’s counterproductive to point to the religions of all extremists throughout history, especially when their religions denounce killing. One popular meme points to this cognitive dissonance by saying if rust is caused by oxygen, and we breathe oxygen every day, just imagine what it can do to your lungs.
The president’s allusion to Islam is a part of the greater issue of the Republican Party’s obsession with de-secularizing America. It’s one thing to slanderously mislabel Islam in front of the nation, further spreading prejudice about Muslims in America. But it’s an entirely larger issue to enjoy the free mixing of church and state during our nation’s most symbolic event. Thomas Jefferson once called this constitutional separation “a wall,” (not the kind Donald Trump would hope for), so it’s clear more secularization is required in order to attain peace.
Islam’s advice for attaining peace had 16-year-old me awestruck when I attended the address of the Khalifa of Islam, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, in 2012. The thesis of his argument was simply that Islam says, “Peace and justice are inseparable — you cannot have one without the other.” Due justice and all rights must be given between interacting parties to set the stage for sustainable peace. This is a lesson President Trump needs to learn. He should not continue to unjustly vilify Islam or exclude non-Judeo-Christian faiths from his administration. If he does so, he is paving the path for human rights violations and unjust dealings for marginalized groups in America and abroad during his four years.
He ought to make a decision. Mr. Trump can follow Thomas Jefferson and the Khalifa of Islam’s advice and build a wall between himself and the church, or he can continue down a segregated and theocratic path, on which Judeo-Christians walk on the pure and holy right and all other faiths occupy a forgotten left. If he chooses the latter, he must recall, as I often do, the words he told the nation on Nov. 9, 2016: “I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be president for all Americans.”
Being a representative president for all Americans takes more than mere pledges of unity. I call on President Donald Trump to dismantle his policies that seek to institutionalize prejudice, namely the immigration ban. It’s the responsibility of Donald Trump to follow the Khalifa of Islam’s advice to American politicians to establish “absolute justice” in order to attain peace. Banning immigrants and refugees without legitimate cause is clearly unjust.
This begins with active inclusion, rather than exclusion. An old saying warns, “If you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re probably on the menu.” However, the first African-American Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm offers us alternative advice: “Bring a folding chair.” And that’s exactly what all marginalized communities should do if we want to observe tolerant policies. Stand with me as a #MuslimAlly by learning more at TrueIslam.com.