I am a Muslim and a Westerner. Born in the Middle East, I came to the UK with my family as a small child. There I was raised with the positive values shared by the West and my faith: equality, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, inclusion, respect for diversity, care for those less fortunate. I was formed by those values; they are my values. As a Muslim living and working in the West, I never felt the sting of discrimination, never felt placed apart. Until now.
With a careless signature on a piece of paper, Donald Trump, the leader of the most powerful Western nation, has decreed that Muslims (from certain countries at least for now) are not only “other” but are so dangerous that allowing them into the US puts the American way of life in jeopardy. I disagree, President Trump. It is you who puts it in jeopardy. You have done so with your rhetoric since you stepped onto the political stage and now that you have actual power you are doing so by decree.
You can try to silence the press, to keep out immigrants, to register Muslims already in the US and ban those outside from entry, to take health care away from your citizens, but you cannot take the cherished Western values out of the hearts of those who love them. Look at the millions around the world who marched for these values the day after you ascended to power. Look at the airports throughout the US this past weekend where foreign arrivals were greeted with cheers and songs and shouts of ‘Welcome Home’. And yes, large signs that reassured: “Trump is not America.”
And what of my fellow Muslims in other parts of the world, especially in Europe? Can we just sit back and watch what is unfolding in America – once seen as a beacon of freedom and hope – with a mix of horror and amusement? No. This is the time to act, to educate ourselves about our own country—how it functions, its history. It is time to speak out, sign petitions, march to defend the values that people of good conscience hold dear, to vote in all elections at the very least and if possible organize and become a leader. Seeking to act with dignity and justice, we can be guided by the heart of our faith for it teaches love of God and our neighbor, a teaching that is central to Christianity and Judaism as well.
The strange phenomenon of President Trump may seem grotesque and impossible to replicate in your country, but remember that it seemed impossible in the US until it was too late. If you want to protect what is precious in your country, learn from what just happened there and take action.
With the American election we saw that indifference and apathy can have devastating consequences. But the scene has changed dramatically in a few short days. Now we are not witnessing passivity in the face of injustice; we are witnessing a joining together of people of all faiths and races and ages, people who are embracing one another not in spite of their differences but because of them. We are seeing a swift and fierce reaction to the threat to those noble values that I treasure as part of my British Muslim heritage and that are common to all faiths. In the last ten days there has been an awakening, and in airports and in streets in America and around the world millions of people have made it clear that these values are alive and well and will not be stamped out or cowered into submission.
The world has reacted because what is endangered are not values found only in the US Constitution, they are enshrined in the innermost fabric of what I believe makes us human. Today we Western Muslims are not struggling alone for acceptance and understanding, we are being embraced and uplifted by much of the society around us. And that is the West I want to be part of.
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
– Martin Niemöller (1892–1984)
Sami Yusuf is an internationally acclaimed musician with over 35 million albums sold to date. In his humanitarian work he serves as both a UN Global Ambassador for the World Food Program and as a UN Elite Ambassador for the World Interfaith Harmony Week.