Welcome Muslim neighbors, follow our ‘better angels’

The following article appeared in the Cape Cod Times, Friday, March 3, 2017

“I’m frightened about what’s going on in our country. I’m afraid for my children, and I’m even afraid to go to pray at the mosque,” confided a Muslim friend with whom I taught several years ago.

I shuddered when I heard these words. She is productive, involved in the community, an excellent parent, and an American citizen. I couldn’t imagine why anyone would harass her because of her faith, or identify her as an enemy because she wears a modest hijab that complements her Western professional and casual outfits. Yet, she is afraid of her fellow Americans!

Fear is epidemic in America these days, especially among Muslims, legal immigrants, and other minority communities. The FBI reports that hate crimes have increased, with a significant increase in attacks on Muslims and their places of worship. The recent terrorist attack on a Quebec mosque, arson at a mosque in Victoria, Texas, and the murder of an Indian man in Kansas should be of concern to people of all faiths and every patriotic American.

Our nation was built on the presumption of religious freedom. While our founding parents did not imagine the current reality of seven million Muslims in our nation, not to mention large populations of Jews, Hindus and Buddhists, they recognized that religious tolerance and hospitality undergirded a strong democracy. They also recognized that ours was a nation of immigrants and refugees. Our nation’s motto, E pluribus unum (Out of many, one), surely applies to religion and race as well as the unity of the original 13 states.

As a Christian minister, I believe that God’s love embraces the stranger as well as the neighbor and that God’s wisdom can be found in persons of other faiths as well as our own. This inspires me to listen to their fear as well as their faith.

My friend’s expression of fear, which I have heard several times from other Muslim citizens, challenges persons of good faith to compassionate response.

First, after honoring their expressions of fear, let their admissions of fear invite us to ask “What’s wrong? What is the source of the fear you experience?”

Second, we might ask, “How can I be of service? How can I respond to your concerns?” It is important to let our Muslim friends tell us what they need from us. We need to reduce the mistrust they have of us, and simple human kindness is essential to create a safe place for honest conversation.

Third, do not be a party to remarks that stereotype or demean law-abiding and faithful Muslims and persons from the Middle East.

Finally, when you observe obvious acts of harassment, report them to the appropriate authorities – police department, town officials, state and congressional representatives – who work tirelessly to ensure the safety of all Americans. If it is safe, give support by standing beside the person and showing signs of solidarity with the person being harassed.

As a Christian, I take the words of the prophet Isaiah 56:7 seriously: “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” This includes everyone!

As Americans, we are all in this together. Let us welcome people of all faiths in our communities. Our faithfulness to our nation and our individual faiths compels us to follow what Abraham Lincoln called our “better angels” — the angels of hospitality, respect and compassion.

Bruce Epperly is pastor of South Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, in Centerville.