In tomorrow’s Gospel, a Pharisee tests Jesus, asking him which commandment is the greatest. At first, Jesus answers fully in accord with Judaic law. He says, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” “This,” Jesus says, “is the greatest and the first commandment.” But Jesus continues with a radical addition. “The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” He concludes, “The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” Mt 22: 36-40 (NABRE).
My Muslim neighbors’ human dignity calls for my love
Earlier this year, I stood witness to my Muslim neighbors’ human dignity. Jesus’s second commandment required no less of me. A group calling itself Act for America held rallies throughout the country, supposedly demonstrating against Sharia law. More on that below.
In Seattle, I joined hundreds of others people who marched in a counter demonstration. The many counter demonstrators were a diverse group. Some were there to try to persuade the rally goers that the current Administration’s policies affecting Muslims is misguided. Some were there to out-shout the rally goers. I’d like to tell you why I was there.
Witness to human dignity is sacramental
I was not there to engage in conversation or dialogue. Neither was I there to prevent others from being heard. I was there to publicly take a stand against efforts to demonize the Islamic faith and dehumaniize its believers.
I was there because Muslims are my neighbors. They are not my neighbors merely in a “all people are my neighbors” ethos. I see Muslim men, women and children every day. Walking my dog past the nearby community college, I encounter Muslim students who greet me (or my dog). At the local supermarket, I judge the quality of an orange alongside Muslim customers scrutinizing the lemons. Not far from my office, I see Muslims entering the mosque for Friday prayers. Muslims are my neighbors, and, as a Christian, I am called to love them. I take to heart the teaching of Vatican II to regard Muslims “with esteem.” Nostra aetate ¶ 3. Moreover, Pope John Paul II reminded us that the belief of non-Christians is brought about by “the Spirit of truth operating outside the visible confines of the Mystical Body.” Redemptor hominis ¶ 6.
Muslims’ human dignity is today threatened in this country
I was at the counter demonstration because Catholic liturgy inspires me to be a witness to that which is sacramental. As a Catholic, I publicly witness sacramental events, such as baptisms, marriages, and reception of the Eucharist. I do this because sacramental events are important and holy.
Standing for my Muslim neighbors’ human dignity is important because their dignity is at risk in this country. Sometimes, their very lives are at risk. Standing for my Muslim neighbors’ human dignity is holy because they are people of God. True, they do not confess the same creed as I, but they are God’s people nonetheless. And, by participating in the counter demonstration in Seattle, my support for my Muslim neighbors’ human dignity is public.
Today, publicly standing for my Muslim neighbors’ human dignity is important and holy. It is sacramental. It is liturgical. In the words we say at Mass immediately before the Eucharistic Prayer, “it is right and just.” It is right and just because God loves my Muslim neighbors. To love God, I must love those whom God loves.
Witness to human dignity is truth
The rally organizers denied that they are anti-Muslim. Instead, they said, they oppose the introduction of Sharia law into the United States. This claim is not serious, and the only serious response is to say so. Act for America uses Sharia as a bogeyman. Its real target is our Muslim neighbors. This was evident in Seattle. While speakers claimed to support Muslims, especially Muslim women and girls, many rally participants demonstrated otherwise. A large sign proclaimed the Prophet Mohammed a sexual deviant. T-shirts said Islam is a religion of hatred. A man confronted me, demanding to know why I would support people who “want to kill you.”
Against these affronts, I stand as a witness to my Muslim neighbors’ human dignity because that dignity is a truth. It is a truth because God bestows dignity on my Muslim neighbors, as he does on every human. It is God’s will that I respect that which he has bestowed. “No man may with impunity outrage that human dignity which God Himself treats with great reverence.” Rerum novarum ¶40.