Support for Donald Trump is surging across the United States. This is particularly troubling because in recent weeks, he has called for banning Muslim immigration, shutting down mosques, spying on Muslims, making Muslims carry ID badges, and a few other blatantly Islamophobic things. It’s like Hitler, American-style. Clearly, Trump and his supporters (maybe not all of them, but many) see Muslims as a “cancer” to be dealt with by any means necessary.
The truth of the matter is that Muslims have a lot to offer America. Islamic civilization — if I can call it that — has a rich history of justice, compassion and humanity. This isn’t some ridiculous argument that I’m making up here. This is a historical fact. Trump and his supporters can actually learn a lot by turning to Islamic history and the examples of Muslim leaders.
Let’s start with Prophet Muhammad, one of the greatest human beings ever to walk the face of the earth. His Constitution of Medina, which came 1,000 years before the Constitution of the United States, is one of the first legal documents in history to safeguard human rights like freedom of religion and freedom of conscience. Also called the Medina Charter, this document provided equal rights to all citizens of the Islamic state. “Strangers,” in particular, were to be treated with special consideration and “on the same grounds as [Muslims].” This is a far cry from Trump and his supporters, many of whom want to ban all Muslim refugees from entering the country.
The Medina Charter isn’t a one-off document. Prophet Muhammad also sent many letters of peace and goodwill to Christian communities in his realm. In a letter to Christian monks at St. Catherine’s monastery in Egypt, the Prophet told Christians that he would “defend them, because Christians are my citizens.” The letter also includes advice on how Christian judges should be respected and how no church should be harmed or destroyed. Again, this is a far cry from Trump’s idea of potentially shutting down mosques.
Prophet Muhammad left another example for human rights on Mount Arafat in 632. In his Final Sermon, he stated that “an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab… a white person has no superiority over black nor does a black have any superiority over white except by piety and good action.” The Final Sermon shows the Prophet’s humanity and care for all people regardless of their ethnic composition. Diversity in Muslim societies is to be celebrated at the request of Muhammad. This is ironic considering Prophet Muhammad cherished diversity whereas Trump and his supporters seem to despise it.
In short, Prophet Muhammad is the anti-Trump. The Prophet is an anti-racist figure who promoted egalitarianism. Without a shadow of a doubt, he advanced democracy in an area of the world that had little experience with this political system. Trump supporters who belittle Muhammad have not considered the examples provided above.
Muslim leaders such as Caliph Umar reflected Prophet Muhamad’s love of humanity. Umar advised his predecessors “to treat Jews and Christians well, to defend them against their enemies and not burden them with more than they can bear.” He also commanded: “Treat all people as equal… I advise you not to let yourself or anyone else do wrong to Jews and Christians.” Umar was simply following his Prophet in treating non-Muslims with respect and equality.
Prophet Muhammad and Caliph Umar are Arab Muslims, but Arabs aren’t the only Muslims extending their hand out to other religious groups. Akbar the Great, the Mughal Empire of South Asia, had great respect for Christianity. His admiration for Christians is visible in the Buland Darwaze, a large gate-structure at the city of Fatehpur Sikri, on which Akbar had transcribed the Qur’anic passage: “Jesus, son of Mary, said: This world is a bridge. Pass over it, but build no houses on it. He who hopes for an hour may hope for eternity. The world endures but an hour. Spend it in prayer, for the rest is unseen.” Akbar the Great wouldn’t have stamped this passage on the Buland Darwaze if he didn’t feel that Christianity should be respected.
Akbar’s legacy of tolerance is also found in the Ibidat Khana, or “house of worship.” Built in the city of Fatehpur, this building served as a forum for religious discussion among people of different faiths. The South Asian historian Muhammad Abdul Baki claims that Akbar “would recognize no difference between [religions], his object being to unite all men in a common bond of peace.” Peace. It’s a lovely word that seems to be missing from Trump’s campaign message.
Trump and his supporters should head to their local bookstore and buy books of Rumi, the famous 13th century Sufi Muslim poet who happens to be one of the most popular poets in the United States. Rumi, who is like a bridge between “East” and “West,” also revered Jesus and extended his hand in friendship to non-Muslims. His powerful words echo love and peace:
I am neither Christian, nor Jewish, nor Muslim
I am not of the east, nor of the west…
I have put duality away, I have see the two worlds as one;
One I seek, One I know, One I see, One I call
(Divan-i Sham-i Tabriz, II)
My favorite Rumi story comes from his funeral in Konya, Turkey in 1273. People from all walks of life came to pay their last respect to the great poet. The story goes something like this… A weeping Muslim man goes up to a Christian man and asks him, “Why are you crying at the funeral of a Muslim poet?” The Christian responded back: “We esteemed him as the Moses, the David, the Jesus of the age. We are all his followers and his disciples.” Rumi was popular among his peers because he saw them as human beings before Jews, Christians, or Muslims. The whole of America could benefit from this kind of humanity.
Trump and his supporters can look to these Muslim leaders for guidance on how to treat people in their communities. Americans can only be enriched by their principles and vision. While Trump and his supporters like to divide and conquer, Muslims like Prophet Muhammad, Akbar the Great, and Rumi understood that tolerance and pluralism make communities stronger rather than weaker. It’s time for Trump to be trumped by humanity.