Donald Trump’s call on Monday to bar all Muslims from entering the United States provoked a variety of reactions from Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill, ranging from silence to gentle disapproval to full-throated condemnation. But only one, so far, has visited a mosque this week to speak up for religious tolerance and American unity.
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) attended a Friday afternoon prayer service at the Islamic Center of the North East Valley in Scottsdale, with his wife, Cheryl, and two of his four sons. In remarks there, he did not mention Trump by name but offered a stout rebuke of Trumpism following what he called “a difficult week in Washington.”
“It wasn’t so much the legislative calendar as it was the rhetoric that came forth, mostly from the presidential campaign,” Flake said. “That is not in keeping with the values and ideals that have made this country the shining city on the hill that it is. We are a better country than has been on display this week.”
Flake delivered his remarks from the perspective of one of 16 Mormons in Congress. He is a descendant of some of the original Mormon settlers of the West, and he compared the tribulations that adherents of his own religion have faced to those Muslims have faced and are facing today.
And, he said, Mormons and Muslims aren’t so different, really:
There is, as I mentioned, much that separates Mormons and Muslims, but we do collaborate on a number of things — in helping to bring relief after natural disasters. We cooperate, our two faiths, on the translation of ancient texts, and there is much in the history and the tradition and even some doctrine that is common between us.
As Mormons and Muslims, we trace our lineage to father Abraham. While we may not agree on the divinity or the prophetic calling of Jesus and Mohamed, we all revere them as inspired teachers and leaders.
Early persecution drove Mohamed from Mecca to Medina. Early Mormon persecution drove the Mormons from Illinois to Utah. I have ancestors buried along that trail.
The principle of the fast is embraced and practiced by both of our religions. My two boys there — a couple of years ago, I took them to an island in the middle of the Pacific to test our survival skills. They got more of a fast than they wanted to. But we both practice the fast in different ways, as well as the responsibility and the obligation to care for the sick and the needy. That is something that is central to both of our faiths.
Muslims make the pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca. The Mormon hajj is to our holy temple. Because like Muslims, Mormons do not drink alcohol, our trip to the temple is usually followed by a stop at Dairy Queen. Ice cream is about all we Mormons have; I’m not sure if there’s a corollary for Muslims.
Flake closed his remarks with an appreciation for the Muslim soldiers who have fought in Americas wars, the Muslim first responders who have put themselves in harm’s way — including in San Bernardino, Calif., this month — and for Muslims who give generously to charity.
“There can be no religious test for those who serve in public office; we do not tolerate religious discrimination in the workplace, or in the neighborhood,” Flake said. “The slogan on the Statue of Liberty — ‘give us your poor, your tired, and your huddled masses yearning to breathe free’ — contemplates no religious test for those who reach our shores. … My hope and prayer today is that the isolated voices calling for division are overwhelmed by the chorus of voices like those in this room today calling for acceptance, for tolerance and inclusion.”