‘We are all refugees’
Richmond faith community calls for unity, action in face of Trump ban
2/10/2017, 9:15 p.m.
By Leah Hobbs
“We are all refugees,” said the Rev. Wallace Adams-Riley of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. “We all have the blood of refugees flowing through our veins. The story of the refugee is a part of our story — the American story.”
About 1,500 people from the Richmond faith community came together last Sunday to show support for their Muslim brothers and sisters in response to President Trump’s executive order that stopped the entry of all refugees into the country and banned nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.
While the order created chaos at airports across the nation when people on arriving flights were denied entry, the crowd gathered at the Islamic Center of Virginia in Bon Air was inspired to find strength in diversity “Standing Together,” as the program was called, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus and non-religious people gathering in solidarity with the Muslim community.
“I cannot hide my face, speaking only when my rights are threatened,” said Dr. Archana Pathak, a Hindu and faculty member at Virginia Commonwealth University, who was born in India and raised in the United States. She described how the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was born of the struggle of African-Americans, also has benefited Asian-Americans because it broadly outlaws discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.
Ayesha Martinez, an African-American Muslim, said, “I was born into a society that hates me, if not for my religion, then for the color of my skin; and if not for the color of my skin, then for my gender.”
Ms. Martinez and other speakers shared personal testimonies that challenged those gathered to question their assumptions. One speaker shared that it is an unrealistic assumption that refugees come to America as terrorists when, in fact, they are escaping their countries to seek shelter and safety.
Speakers shared how human beings have a natural tendency to categorize and determine what they are comfortable with, but things are not always as they appear.
Charles Turner said he doesn’t fit the category of a Muslim based on his appearance or speech. He is a white man, but has been practicing Islam for nine years. He challenged the crowd to “show up just as you did today when someone else’s lives are on the line.”
President Trump’s executive order, coupled with the Jan. 29 attack on the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City, Canada, that left six dead and eight injured, has left the Muslim community fearful.
“Many members of our community are shocked by recent events,” said Dr. Abu Qutubuddin of the Islamic Center of Virginia. “By your support, we are reassured that the hateful rhetoric doesn’t represent the majority of people in our nation.”
People pledged to stand together against division, bigotry and fear. They pledged to stand together to uphold the ideals of religious freedom, support immigrants and refugees, celebrate diversity, commit to peace and to take action.
“If human rights are denied any one of us, then all of us are in trouble. If we have a future where some are singled out, we are all in danger. It is our duty to stand together,” said Imam Ammar Amonette of the Islamic Center of Virginia.
He described how the Muslim community welcomes everyone who wishes to live in peace and security. They do not support anyone who poses a danger. They pledge to work with law enforcement to make a strong community, he said.
Despite the differences in beliefs, there are commonalities among the faith communities.
“We can humbly agree to disagree, but work for the common good of our community,” said the Rev. Janet Winslow of Bon Air Presbyterian Church. “In the midst of our diversity, we find our unity.”
Rabbi Ahuva Zaches of Congregation Or Ami shared similar sentiments.
“The core message of our faiths is the same — love your neighbor as yourself,” she said. “Your pain is my pain. Your joy is my joy. Your fate is my fate. We are all interconnected.”
She encouraged the crowd to go beyond words and take action.
“Justice, equality and liberty for all depends on all of us and our daily behavior. It is up to us to form a more perfect union, not by retreating into our separate corners, but by coming together boldly,” she said.
Imam Amonette said those who disregard the Constitution can only do so by dividing people, but it is a commitment to the Constitution, not religion, culture or race, that makes people Americans.
“We have worked to make an inclusive society. How can we leave a nation full of fear to our children and grandchildren?” he said.
U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, who joined Sen. Tim Kaine and other Democrats to co-sponsor a bill to rescind President Trump’s ban, assured the group that Virginia is open to people of all faith backgrounds.
“We welcome our immigrants. We value your contribution,” he said. “We are going to stand up against hate, anger, comments against our neighbor and turning our backs on refugees, particularly of the Muslim faith.”
Virginia helped pioneer the ideals of religious freedom with Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom in 1786, which laid the foundation of the religion clauses of the Constitution’s First Amendment, he said.
The immigration ban is not representative of Virginia or America. America’s motto is “E Pluribus Unum,” meaning “from many one.”
“That is what we are reflecting here today,” he said.
Congressman A. Donald McEachin of Henrico, who also opposes President Trump’s ban, said he is buoyed by the evidence of people supporting Muslims and refugees with protests across the country, lawyers working to help people enter the country and federal courts overturning the ban.
“We are going to reassert our beliefs in classical liberal democracy that all men and women are created equal,” he said. “We will push back against this.”