It was my first day on the job, and I didn’t know what to expect. Until then, “refugees” were a vague phenomenon I heard about on the news. They were not people, but a polarizing political issue.
This changed when I first stepped foot into an English as a Second Language class at my local branch of the International Rescue Committee, an organization which resettles refugees around the world. Every morning I spent in that class, I had the opportunity to engage with refugees from myriad countries, including those on Donald Trump’s infamous “Muslim ban” list.
What shocked me was not that they were people just like me. As a decent human being, I expected that much. I was inspired that I was working with aspiring citizens better than me. Harder working than me. More dedicated than me.
Muslim refugees saw my hijab and took care to greet me with “salam”, meaning “peace”. Yet they did not limit their sphere of compassion to other Muslims. Rather, in the true spirit of Islam, they expanded it to all people, including their fellow non-Muslim refugees and the rest of the Americans working there.
They came here seeking peace, ready to contribute to our society. The least “we," the citizens of America, can do is to make sure our country lives up to the standard of hospitality embodied by the words ingrained on the Statue of Liberty. She promises a home for those “yearning to breathe free," she promises to keep the entrance to our nation’s “golden door” lit by her lamplight.
As a Muslim-American, I can’t help but see a parallel between the assurances of Lady Liberty and the treatment of refugees embodied by my religion. The Prophet Muhammad was himself compelled to flee for his life as a refugee when persecution of early Muslims in Mecca reached its highpoint. This violent persecution led him and his followers to Medina in pursuit of freedom of conscience.
Islamic teachings command Muslims to be compassionate when they are on the receiving end of a refugee inflow. The Holy Quran says, “... show kindness to parents, and to kindred, and orphans, and the needy, and to the neighbor that is a kinsman and the neighbor that is a stranger, and the companion by your side, and the wayfarer ..." (4:37).
According to the Quran, the wayfarer you do not know is considered worthy of the same kindness you show your own parents. That is what my religion teaches me. And that is what my country’s values reflect, too.
The leader of the largest unified Muslim community in the world, His Holiness the Khalifa of Islam Mirza Masroor Ahmad, reminds us of the balance which must be struck between the compassion espoused by Islam and national security. He said, “All genuine refugees should be helped by governments and international organizations. They should be allowed to settle until peace is restored in their home countries ... However, it is also important that the authorities remain vigilant and monitor the refugees to ensure that extremists are not allowed to settle under the guise of asylum.”
I would hope that my fellow Americans, including President Donald Trump, can agree that we can strike a balance between welcoming those in need and maintaining our security — without taking unprecedented measures against members of one religious group. Until then, I invite all Americans looking for a way to demonstrate their solidarity with Muslims to sign up as a #MuslimAlly at TrueIslam.com. The “True Islam” campaign aims to clear misconceptions about the religion of Islam, thereby deterring both extremists and Islamophobes. By recognizing that Muslim values and American values are one in the same when it comes to treatment of refugees, we can take the first step towards healing a nation divided.