We are living in a culture of fear. We react to almost everything based not on reason or facts or even love. We live with fear. And that fear is manifest in how we treat others. What I am going to say is not new, but I still don’t think many people get it.
Fear need not be the foundation for how we live. Love and respect and hospitality can be our ground of being.
I have been thinking about this topic for quite some time. Lately there has been so much “Islamaophobia” that it worries me.
After 9-11 we did not portray all Muslims as terrorists or anti-American. We acknowledged that while the perpetrators of the attacks were Muslim, it was those perpetrators who were extremists. It was widely acknowledged that the majority of those whose religion was based on the Quran were peace-loving, kind, generous, productive, positive individuals. They did not support the attacks.
I do not understand why some vocal individuals have begun to spout negativity about Muslims. I wonder at those who claim that Barack Obama is a Muslim and consider that the absolute worst religion he could have. It does not make sense in the country where we are a melting pot of different kinds of cultures and religions, and where we have the clear freedom of religion in our U.S. Constitution, that one vilifies anyone much less the president based on religion.
I would like to think that we as a country are quite capable of accepting all people regardless of who or what they worship or don’t worship. But our history does not reflect that. Even some of the colonies prohibited religions other than Puritanism; Rhode Island was founded in reaction to the lack of freedom for religion. When people of different faiths were in the minority or lacked power in the social and political environment, there was great prejudice against those faiths be they Catholic or Jewish or Mormon or Muslim. Why is this so when we purport to be an open and inclusive society?
It all goes back to fear; in this case, fear of the unknown. This applies to all different sorts of prejudice not just those based in religion. It goes back to not knowing “the other” or “the stranger.” What we do not know, we cannot integrate into our worldview. Therefore, if we do not know any Catholics, we may very well fear them because we don’t understand who they are, how they act, or what they believe. The same is true for Muslims or Mormons or Jews or any religion that we perceive is different and perhaps “wrong.”
We claim to be a “Christian” nation when in fact the founders were largely Deist, which means that they did not meet the criteria for being Christian. Even if we were to accept the fact of our nation being founded in Christianity, I ask that we look at the values Christians should hold.
Nowhere is there a suggestion that we should vilify those who worship differently from us. Jesus says to love your neighbor. Jesus associated with the dregs of society; he loved them for who they were — God’s children — each and every one of them regardless.
Hospitality and treating the stranger kindly and respectfully are the foundation for Jews, Muslims and Christians. We all claim to be descendants of Abraham, at least theologically. Abraham and Sarah were part of a desert tribal culture that extended hospitality first and asked questions later.
Some very strange visitors came to the tent village of Abraham and asked for hospitality. Abraham did not know these people; he had never met these three men, but instead of fearing them, he asked them into his home and fed them the best of his food. They were treated with the utmost respect and were not expected to explain their presence.
Ultimately, these strangers were the messengers who brought the news that Sarah would have a son even at her advanced age. One assumes one of the reasons the news was so very good was that Abraham and Sarah lived their lives based on accepting the stranger in their midst.
Why can we not do the same? How many of us personally know a Muslim family? Why not? In part, that may be due to the low population of Muslims in Maine. Yet, why do some of you fear them? Why do some of you belittle them as individuals and look down on their belief system? I believe if you got to know them as indi-viduals, you would find that you like them and find them to be not stranger, but friend.
I would suggest we examine our fear and determine whether it is based on fact. Admittedly, there are some things that are fearful in our lives; but I challenge you to find any reason in fact that one should fear someone who worships Allah. Islam is a religion of peace and good will. Let our fears go. Love your neighbor.
The Rev. Becky Gunn is minister of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Bangor. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Voices is a weekly commentary by Maine people who explore issues affecting spirituality and religious life.