Editor’s note: At the Sun-Times, we report the news and try to provide context from the perspective of trained observers. This new column series, “Just Relations,” expands upon our daily news analysis through the vantage point of faith leaders who interact with varieties of congregants day in and day out. Our goal is to take some time each week to discuss what we owe each other as citizens and fellow human beings. Our first columnist, Omer M. Mozaffar, serves as the Muslim chaplain at Loyola University.
It is the responsibility of preachers of faith to be the social conscience of society. Many of us stand at the pulpit, calling on our congregants to grant forgiveness, build character, and promote justice. Many of us step away from the pulpit to mend fractured souls, repair broken families and clean cracked sidewalks.
Many of us sit down with those in power, seeking to access resources for the less fortunate in our communities and city.
Now, it is time for us to speak truth to power, and reclaim the soul of our society – a feat my faith counterparts and I hope to help accomplish through our columns in this new “Just Relations” series. Each of us brings a unique perspective to this role, and while we might not agree on every issue, our aim is to foster a dialogue on how to lift people up.
As for me, I’m an old-school conservative who believes in limited government, fiscal conservatism and heightened individual responsibility. On specific social matters — including issues connected with Planned Parenthood, Public Aid and immigration — I am left of center because we are falling short of nurturing the weakest among us.
When it comes to interfaith relations, ours is a very strong city. I have had the privilege of sharing panels and breaking bread with leaders and believers from other sacred traditions in literally every corner of Chicagoland. For decades, we have focused on speaking with each other in peace, educating each other on our particulars, and shaking hands for cameras.
Consider any of the major issues, including gun violence, hunger or marriage equality. We can all agree that human life, health and dignity are each sacred. If we can bring our populations together, we will be stronger than the special interest groups that seem to have the ears of many of those in government.
This takes me to a topic that seems more about dragging people down than lifting them up: the President of the United States.
The occupier of the Oval Office is a vocal threat to my existence, a threat to many of my community members on matters related to citizenship, and a threat to all of us because of the ISIS and white supremacist violence that he provokes. Let us be clear: a white supremacist murderer in Charlottesville and an ISIS-inspired bomber in New York are terrorists; their ilk must be hunted down. Nevertheless, the ongoing rhetoric from the president inspires or provokes them as much as any manifestos for a holy war.
If Helen of Troy had the face that launched a thousand ships, Donald Trump may post the tweet that would launch a thousand missiles. It is frightening that he seems to want to.
This runs counter to the ancient and modern teachers in our sacred traditions. In the language of the Prophet Muhammad’s companion, Abu Bakr: We are to regard the least among us as being the most important among us, and the strongest among us to be the least, until they fulfill their own obligations. In that path, I am calling upon all of us to continue the work Abraham Joshua Heschel, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X. Meaning, we must become not only the Moses of Law, the Jesus of Love, and the Muhammad of Mercy, but we must also become Moses against the Pharaoh, Jesus against the Romans, and Muhammad against the Quraysh, protecting our people by challenging our oppressors. May peace be upon them all.
So many philosophers of history from Ibn Khaldun to Arnold Toynbee to Paul Kennedy would tell us that in this American experiment, it is now or never. We are the city of big shoulders, we can stand together against this brewing chaos.
If he were alive today, Carl Sandburg would tell us Chicago is not only the hog butcher for the world but the provider of kosher beef and halal chicken as well. When Barack Obama began his presidency, his audacious hopes for unity exceeded his and the nation’s ability. Even though my faith invokes hope, I am neither speaking with his optimism, nor am I expecting that slogans are solutions. Rather, a reckless regime has pushed my back against a wall.
We must lock arms to lock horns against power. And the lessons we’ve learned from our faith traditions — regardless of which faith we embrace — make for an ideal guide.