Protesters gather in Toronto to protest the American ban on refugees and migrants from seven predominantly Muslim nations. Photo by Evan Boudreau

Comment: Catholics and Muslims are more alike than you think

  • February 10, 2017

Recent events have been dark and disturbing. First we saw U.S. President Donald Trump put a “temporary” travel and immigration ban on seven mostly Muslim countries. Then there was the tragedy in Quebec City where six men were killed and several wounded while praying.

I do not think the two events are related. But then again I am not a Muslim. If I were, I might think differently. It is hard to be logical when you lose friends and family because of how you look or dress or because you read the Koran. I imagine if you are Muslim in Canada today the sky looks less blue.

The argument being made in Washington is that the travel ban is not a prohibition against people of a certain faith. I am not sure what the intent is. But each of the countries has large Muslim majorities.

Just after the Trump announcement, the CATO Institute, an American right-wing libertarian think tank, published several essays condemning the move. One writer argued in great detail why the ban violates American law. Another writer said it would do little to keep Americans safe.

But a prominent Catholic website called Crisis ran an article by William Kilpatrick that came to different conclusion. He compared the ban against Muslims to proposed bans to block Catholics from entering the United States during the 19th century. The fear back then, led by an odious group called the Know-Nothings, was that Catholics would obey canon law over civil law and that their first loyalty would be to the Vatican instead of America. Kilpatrick says that just because Catholics became good citizens doesn’t necessarily mean Muslims will do the same.

“The open-borders advocates within the Church assure us that Islam will turn out to be as Americans as apple pie: give Islam a chance, and you will discover that the local Iman is just Bing Crosby’s Fr. O’Malley with a beard — a mellow fellow whose biggest concern is to pay off the mortgage on the mosque,” Kilpatrick wrote. But what if all the things that were once falsely charged against Catholicism are actually true of Islam?

“The 19th century anti-Catholics mistakenly thought that Catholicism was a theocracy, but Islam really is a theocracy. The anti-Catholics wrongly questioned the loyalty of American Catholics, but numerous polls show that a majority of Muslims consider their primary allegiance to be to the ummah (the worldwide community of Muslim believers), and not to whatever nation they happen to reside in. A Pew Research survey of Muslim-Americans under 30 revealed that 60 per cent of them felt more loyalty to Islam than to America. The Know-Nothings worried needlessly that Catholics would be subject to foreign influence, but when you consider that 85 per cent of full-time, paid imams in the U.S. are foreign born, then foreign influence on American Muslims does seem a legitimate concern.”

I hope his argument does not reflect the opinion of most Catholics, although judging by the reader comments on the Crisis site I could be wrong.

As a Catholic, my first loyalty is to my faith. That does not mean I would undermine my own government, but when push comes to shove I am a Catholic first. I have a Catholic conscience and a Catholic way of seeing the world.

Kilpatrick mentions that 85 per cent of Imams are foreign born. I imagine that in the 19th century many American and Canadian priests arrived from Ireland and Italy. Today, Canada and the United States import priests from Africa and elsewhere to serve in parishes from Alabama to northern Alberta. I have met some of these priests and have no doubt they are good men.

But there is something more here. The author is speaking about masses of people. Yet my own experience living in both countries is that most people, no matter their ethnic or religious backgrounds, want pretty much the same things: a good job, education for their children, a car that will start in the winter, pleasant neighbours and peace. They fear violence and they have no interest in committing violence. When others are violent, it does not mean everyone like them is guilty.

Our universal Church comprises people of all colours, ethnicities and languages. For those who would support bans on entire groups, you might find your conscience grinding up against these words of Christ:

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

(Lewis is a Toronto writer and regular contributor to The Catholic Register.)

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