When President Obama visited the Islamic Society of Baltimore in 2016, he recalled that “Islam has always been a part of America.”
As Donald Trump struggles to dismantle Obama’s legacy, he is quick to challenge the basic premises of his predecessor’s tenure and thinking. But Trump cannot suggest that Obama’s rumination on Islam was “fake news.” Nor can Trump or his allies on a divided Supreme Court claim that there is anything “American” about establishing a separate set of rules for Islamic refugees that—no matter what label may be attached to it—“really is a Muslim ban.”
Islam is an American faith tradition with roots that can be traced back to before the events of July 4, 1776. Muslims arrived initially as explorers and as slaves, and later as farmers, factory workers, and small-business owners. The first freestanding mosques were constructed in the middle of the country, in North Dakota initially and then in Iowa. But long before the buildings went up, the faith was practiced by proud and patriotic Muslim Americans.
In this turbulent moment of Donald Trump’s creation, and of the high court’s surrender, we do well to recall the longer arc of history that extends from our nation’s founding. In so doing, we renew thr appreciation of religious pluralism that has always inspired the better angels of our nature.
Two hundred and forty-two years ago, Thomas Jefferson and his compatriots rejected colonialism and “the divine right of kings,” calling into being an American experiment that at its best embraced an enlightened view of not just tolerance but of respect for many religious traditions. That view was informed by the thinking of English philosopher John Locke, who James H. Hutson, the author of Religion and the Founding of the American Republic, reminds us “insisted that Muslims and all others who believed in God be tolerated in England.”