No faith can be America’s enemy

“How do you determine the quality of a rug?” I asked Pakistan’s national security adviser, as he presented me with a rolled-up gift in his Islamabad office. “It’s the knots per square inch,” he replied. “The more knots woven together, the higher the quality.”

I couldn’t help but thinking how that sounds like a community. Just like a rug, it’s diversity — people of all backgrounds, tightly woven together — that makes a community strong and great.

I was thinking about that Monday, as we hit the one-year anniversary of President Trump’s “Muslim Ban 3.0,” and earlier this month, when I had the honor of addressing the Islamic Society of North America’s 55th annual convention in Houston.

The convention, with the theme “In God We Trust,” began less than a week after the death of U.S. Sen. John McCain, so his parting words to America still echoed in my head as I stepped to the stage.

“We weaken our greatness when we confuse our patriotism with tribal rivalries that have sown resentment and hatred and violence in all the corners of the globe,” McCain wrote. “We weaken it when we hide behind walls, rather than tear them down, when we doubt the power of our ideals, rather than trust them to be the great force for change they have always been.”

I saw in that convention hall the best of the American community: People taking joy in their family, charity, faith, and patriotism. Our friends, our neighbors, our brothers and sisters.

I thought about how demagogues including President Trump want the nation to believe that this hall was filled with screaming jihadis bent on usurping our values and democracy through violence. It’s the vicious lie that underlies this administration’s anti-refugee, anti-Muslim policies, which have made our country less safe and less American.

These policies make us less safe because closing our borders in a way that targets religious faith weakens our bonds with our allies, telling them America won’t share the burden of fighting terrorism and aiding the world’s most vulnerable. They make us less safe because they play right into the recruiting rhetoric of those few who truly would do us harm.

They make us less American because punishing people for their faith simply cannot be who we are, a sin prohibited by the First Amendment.

We are, in a sense, a nation of refugees following a common dream of freedom and prosperity.

We are nation of many faiths, united in our faith in each other.

Muslims have been part of the American tapestry since our nation’s birth, and always will be; we must be tireless in stamping out discrimination against Muslims just as we would for Christians, Jews, Hindus, atheists. That’s why I’ve cosponsored bills to prohibit spending any money to enforce the various iterations of President Trump’s Muslim ban, and signed legal briefs challenging the bans in court.

I’m frustrated that this president is a force for intentional destabilization, fomenting chaos at home and abroad for his own political ends. But I’m optimistic because I see Americans resisting this every day.

I’m optimistic because when this president enacted his first Muslim ban, I sent an immigration lawyer from my office to San Francisco International Airport to help as we could, and I saw hundreds of protesters who’d flocked there to loudly proclaim that this ban is not who we are as a nation. Helping hands are all around us.

I’m optimistic because I know people like my constituent, Moina Shaiq of Fremont, whose “Meet a Muslim” program helps dispel the myths and lies too many Americans believe about Islam. She shares a message of love, compassion and peace. She builds bridges, not walls, and reflects our diverse congressional district — with one of the largest Muslim American populations of any district in America.

No faith can be our enemy. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor said it well: “The United States of America is a nation built upon the promise of religious liberty.” As long as America’s communities can weave our rich diversity together, recognizing that “diversity per square mile” is our strength, not a weakness — America’s promise will always be fulfilled.

In God, we trust. From many, one. And salaam aleikum.

Originally published: San Francisco Chronicle