American Muslims are an integral part of the fabric of America and have been since the first slave ships brought Muslims to our shores. At the time of the founding of our nation, Thomas Jefferson drafted the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom in 1777 explicitly to protect the rights of Muslims, Jews, and Christians to practice their faith free from oppression. Today, American Muslims serve their communities and country as teachers and doctors, organizers and soldiers, scientists and faith leaders. Indeed, America’s long tradition of welcoming immigrants and people of all faiths has been central to our nation’s economic success, vibrant democratic discourse, and cultural richness. Many of the most shameful periods of our nation’s history were those in which we permitted hatred and fear of the “Other” to shape our public policy. To build a more just and equitable America based on love and respect we must remind ourselves of these histories and fight back against bigotry.
The recent sharp rise in hateful rhetoric directed at Muslims by political leaders has serious consequences. Over the last year, there has been a shocking increase in harassment and hate crimes directed at Muslims and those who are perceived to be Muslim. People wearing ethnic or religious attire are being harassed; children bullied at school; community members attacked; and mosques firebombed. The details are horrific: from the Pittsburgh taxi driver who was shot in the back by his passenger on Thanksgiving to the pregnant San Diego woman who was assaulted while pushing her child in a stroller. Children hear the threats of politicians and ask their parents if their families will be rounded up; parents are heartbroken to hear their children’s anxieties and worry for their safety. These attacks create fear and anxiety across Muslim, Arab, Sikh, and South Asian communities, whose members now feel unsafe going about their daily lives.
Today, the fear and hatred of Muslims is being promoted alongside xenophobia and racism directed at communities all across our country: against Latinos who are being threatened with mass deportation and ethnic cleansing; against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and particularly transgender people who are being described as predators and targeted with violence and legal discrimination; against African Americans and people of color around the country who are suffering from discriminatory policing that is driven by fear and a failure to recognize their basic humanity. It is the responsibility of all of us to stand against this hate.
It is exciting and heartening to see so many people doing just that. Young people – particularly young people of color – are demanding an end to discriminatory policing and violence in their communities. Muslim leaders are using the language and values of Islam to promote peace and justice and service. Immigrants are engaging in civil disobedience to protest the deportation of their friends and loved ones. Many of us are paying attention to these voices, opening to them, and learning from them. But far too many others want nothing more than to silence these voices and reject their humanity, embracing bigotry and hate instead of peace and respect.
As elected officials from across the country and leaders in our communities, we stand against hate crimes, against school bullying, against workplace discrimination, against closing our borders on the basis of religion, and against hate. In standing with Muslim, Arab, Sikh, and South Asian communities we are proud to join with US military veterans organizing under the hashtag #VetsVsHate, faith leaders organizing under the hashtag #RootedInLove, and civil rights leaders organizing under the hashtags #SolidarityIS and #EndHate.
As elected representatives, we say to those of you who are in the streets fighting for your lives to matter, who hear yourselves described as murderers and rapists by candidates for the nation’s highest offices, who fear for the safety of your children in your places of worship: We are on your side. We see the richness and beauty of your lives and we know that America cannot thrive unless you do. We vow to use our positions as elected leaders to stand up against anti-Muslim bigotry, against xenophobia, against hatred, and against oppression. We vow to promote local laws and policies that advance equity and value diversity. We vow never to use fear as a political tactic and never to succumb to fear as political pressure. We vow to work to fulfill the aspiration of our nation’s founding, in partnership with you, and against all those who would demonize or silence you.
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