“Making America Great Again,” as Donald Trump and his supporters like to say, will not be through campaigns to save lost souls, heightened border security, or bans on Muslim refugees.
What will Make America Great Again (or Still, or for the First Time) is interfaith dialogue – a sacred place and activity for recognizing who we already are as individuals and dreaming about the community we want to become together.
Now I admit, the Trump and his Trumpeters that inspired me and kicked my butt into action, have also made me realize just what a lame interfaith practitioner I have been of late.
Up until… well, now… my disgust and hate for all things Trump has been an obstacle to overcoming my own stereotypes and shallow opinions of those who might support the man and the ideas he represents.
One of the primary terms of engagement in interfaith dialogue, is to seek to understand, but I have been so blind with anger, I have not yet been able to see the people behind the name.
Instead, I’ve defaulted to my childhood pouty self and have preferred to sulk in despair, terrified that my daughter will grow up in an America where hate and fear are applauded as patriotism, if they aren’t already.
I’ve resented him for exploiting Islamophobia at the expense of the Imam at the mosque with the white picket fence down the road that always invites my family over for dinner during Ramadan, our Pakistani daycare provider who pours love out to our daughter each day, and the countless Muslim community builders I know in my area that work tirelessly for peace and justice for all their neighbors, non-Muslims included.
My anger has kept me from trying to bring these two groups together.
I have felt empowered by blame and have found it easier to demonize the people that have made me angry than it has been to trying to understand where they are coming from in the hopes of opening up conversation that might actually bring about some awareness and softening of hearts (on both sides I begrudgingly assume).
This is where interfaith dialogue comes into play and invites not only others, but myself as well, to engage with our neighbors, whatever their religious or political leanings.
You see, interfaith dialogue is not, as many who have never engaged in it believe, a hippie-dippie mixing of religions or lovey-dovey disregard of the hard issues.
Interfaith dialogue at its best asks participants to bring with them their diverse and differing identities, values and opinions with the desire to not convince, but understand each other.
That does not mean you can’t say what you believe if what you believe sounds hateful to others, it just means that if you say it, you might be deemed as intolerable and alienate yourself from future interactions.
I think that is why it has been so hard for me to engage with Trump supporters – they seem to play by different rules in which anything goes and one is made to feel proud for their distrust of their neighbors, especially if they are Muslim.
What hurts the most is when I hear Trump supporters and others discuss the “problem of Islam” amongst themselves without actually even knowing a Muslim or anything about Islam apart from what other non-Muslims have been sensationalizing to them as a means to boost ratings and make money. Interfaith dialogue does not allow for these types of parameters that shut out the very people that need to be part of the conversation and solution.
When I first heard of Trump’s suggestion to ban Muslim refugees from Syria from entering the United States, I thought it was laughable. Who, especially Christian-Americans, could take such a non-American, anti-First Amendment, counter-Jesus suggestion like this seriously?
A lot of people, I guess.
When I began to realize just how serious certain people applauded this suggestion, I thought with despair about all my Muslim friends and colleagues and how incredibly discouraged, angry, and anxious they must feel – and not about what Trump said, but about how such a large community of their fellow Americans could think an idea like this was a legitimate and necessary step for taking care of the health, safety and well-being of citizens.
While Trump was speaking of “Muslims from elsewhere,” we already know what implications he was making for Muslims everywhere. What a terrible slap in the face and blatant disregard for all that Muslim-Americans have done to work for the health, safety and well-being of our communities – and not only that, what a terrible and skewed picture of America we are painting to the rest of the world –
“Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free… unless you are Muslim, or Mexican, or don’t believe or look like the type of people we (i.e. the ones speaking on behalf of Americans even though we only constitute a certain percentage of actual Americans) could feel comfortable around.”
We are naturally curious and afraid of what we don’t know, and I hope beyond hope that our curious part gets the best of us, myself included.
There will always be those who love the drama and prefer to be afraid, and there is nothing I can do about that except keep inviting them to experience the sort of peace and joy that comes with entering into relationship with one’s neighbor, because our neighbor is not going away (Muslim and Trump supporter alike)!
Interfaith dialogue is not an end-all and it will have issues of its own, but if anything can Make America Great Again, it will be the recognition that our citizens – Muslim, Native, Atheist, Christian, you name it – all already have greatness to share. To disregard or ban or dehumanize a person that has greatness to give, is to become less great.
So I’m getting back in the conversation. I’m going to turn my anger into a passionate conversation with my neighbors. All of them.