World Refugee Day: Multifaith Reflections
The Rev. Dr. Katharine R. Henderson, President, Auburn Seminary:
As a Christian, my faith compels me to care not just for the neighbor whom I know but the stranger whom I do not; to love neighbor and stranger not only as I love myself but, even more, to imagine how they would wish to be loved. On World Refugee Day, this means providing the tangible means of funding to help the 60 million people, including Syrians and others, to find a place to rest their heads. It also means advocating for public policies that will welcome refugees into our communities and hearts here in the United States and to work in concert with other nations and entities to find the structural, systemic solutions to address this global crisis of displacement together. All people are precious in God’s sight and must be in ours too.
Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, Senior Rabbi, Congregation Beit Simchat Torah:
At the center of Jewish religious thought, the center of our prayers, the center of Jewish identity, is the collective memory of our having been refugees.
And you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Eternal your God redeemed you: therefore I command you this thing today. (Dt. 15:15)
This remembrance guides our understanding of our relationship with God and with all humanity. The privilege of redemption from our greatest vulnerability comes with the obligation to care for the most vulnerable among us. The Biblical story has been reinforced over the millennia by recurrences of our people’s persecution and exile. Our survival or catastrophe has often depended on the welcome or exclusion we have received from the people in lands where we have sought refuge.
We can’t wait to offer protection until we know each refugee by name. We know their experience from every generation of our own. The Syrian refugee crisis is the greatest since the Shoah, and we are blessed to know already how we are to respond.
Tom Spies, Executive Director, Buddhist Global Relief:
The civil war raging in Syria has caused one of the worst humanitarian crises of our time, affecting as many as 5 million people. The destruction caused by bombings and the related displacement of persons have made basic life necessities such as food, water, shelter, and medical care scarce and inadequate. The decision by Buddhist Global Relief (BGR) to support the relief effort for Syrian refugees is consistent with the basic Buddhist teachings of compassion and interconnectedness, and also with BGR’s mission to fight chronic hunger and malnutrition. But basic human goodness, virtue, and benevolence, inherent in people of all religions, and of none, are also what drove our decision to provide this assistance.
Katherine Vizcaino, NYC Muslim-Jewish Solidarity Committee:
Salaam aleykum. We are now in the month of Ramadan, a time Muslims all over the world traditionally use to reflect, reaffirm and re-ground our faith. Fasting during this month (“sawm”) is a specific guidance given to us from our Creator in the Holy Qur’an, and important enough that it is one of the pillars of Islam. This year it is usually around 8:30pm when we break our fast, and seeing my longing looks at coffee cups during the day my non-Muslim friends always ask me why I can’t have one little espresso, or just a few sips of water. The immediate reason is because Allah has commanded us to fast; but truth be told it is the wisdom behind that commandment that bucks me up when I want to give in. Every feeling of want, discomfort or distraction; every thirsty moment or hunger pang or craving, in my world, is finite. Every day when the sun sets I know — with assuredness — that I will have all the clean water I can drink and all the sweet and savory varieties NYC has to offer, at my disposal. I know I have a home to go home to, a bed to sleep in, hot water in my shower and a safe place to pray and to thank the Lord for gifting me with another day. Yet for those few short hours during the day, while I work in my climate controlled building where we have safety drills in case the fire alarm goes off and people worry because the coffee machine might be on the brink, I feel hungry, I want something I can’t have, I long for the security of going home, feeling the peace of prayer surround me, and eating the date that breaks my fast accompanied by a happy ‘Bismillah’… Refugees however do not have the luxury of finite insecurity, nor the stability of safe homes, welcoming surroundings, or any constant to hold onto. The truth is that there but for the grace of God, go any of us. As a Muslim I am compelled by the Qur’an to help the traveler, the widow, the orphan, and the needy. The earliest Muslims themselves were refugees for a time in Ethiopia, and the sunnah of Prophet Muhammad was to give shelter to refugees who sought succor in Muslim lands. It is sad and disheartening to see the number of refugees in the world today, and worse still to see that number grow. Helping Syrian refugees is not particular to my faith; as a Muslim I am compelled by God’s word as I believe He guides all people of faith to love their brothers and sisters in humanity. But my faith and the immense gratefulness I feel for the blessings I enjoy will always drive a desire to help refugees wherever and whenever possible.