Here in the United States, the Muslim community lives in an atmosphere that pulsates with disquietude and uncertainty. Here in the land of the free, our president is a man that possesses not a vestige of skill or compassion. He is a leader only by title. He conveys xenophobic and Islamaphobic rhetoric without any regard. President Donald J. Trump continues to demonize and antagonize Islam and Muslims with explicit malice. It is disconcerting, to say the least. Despite this, the American political climate, which has been arid with enmity, found a portion of its thirst quenched, even if only for a moment.
Last year, the first Muslim women were elected into congress, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar. They are the first drops in the fiercely anticipated, luscious rain that comes after a drought. But there is a long path to tread before America experiences the glorious monsoon it so desperately yearns for.
On March 25th, 2019, Movita Johnson- Harrell was the first Muslim woman to be sworn into the Pennsylvania Statehouse. Yet another drop to cultivate promise. However, this historic day, meant to be imbued with hope for all, was eclipsed by Pennsylvania State Rep, Stephanie Borowicz. Before Harrell’s swearing-in, she took it upon herself to offer a prayer, mentioning Jesus 13 times. A few excerpts from her prayer as follows,
“God forgive us. Jesus. We’ve lost sight of you.”
“President Trump, Lord we thank you that he stands beside Israel unequivocally.”
To call this a prayer, given the context, is unsuitable. It is an emphatic political statement and assertion masked as an invocation. Borowicz announced to Harrell and the Muslim community, “You are not accepted here. We do not stand with you. We stand against you.” This rhetoric is incredibly disparaging to, not only the Muslim community but to all people of faith. Prayer should offer inspiration and evoke sentiments of solidarity. It exemplifies strength, and to use it as a divisive tool that intimidates is precarious coming from a professional who alleges to be a leader.
The swearing in of any politician is a solemn occasion. It is a moment of reverence and celebration. The event is meant to embody so-called American values of equality and inclusion, of community and people, regardless of idiosyncrasies. To transfigure it and distort it into a setting to assert political ideologies is unseemly. One could argue, but she simply recited an innocent prayer. Her declaration was subtle, nonetheless, it was there. By thanking her lord that President Trump “stands beside Israel unequivocally,” she was blatantly saying, “Officially, you might have a place in this government. Unofficially, your voice will be repressed.” This point in her prayer is particularly pertinent. Borowicz astutely unveiled her keen and cognizant tactics.
The conflict surrounding Israel and Palestine is not a point of political and financial discourse for Muslims, including Harrell. It is a question of reviving a pilfered community, of reclaiming humanity. It penetrates and paralyzes the depths of our hearts. The illegal state of Israel, along with it’s most fervent ally, The United States of America, is liable for the pogrom of illimitable Palestinians. Its nation is cemented with the bones of those it oppressed. Israel unflinchingly discharges bullets at medics and aid workers fortified with nothing but stethoscopes and bandages. Israel interminably silences the people of Palestine with missiles and bullets. Her gratitude for the president’s support of Israel was her avowal to endorse the suppression of Harrell’s voice and all those like her.
The most primaeval and prevailing form of oppression is silencing. To be perpetually muted is pillaging people’s humanity and dignity. Without our voices, our stories are remnants of fading dreams, lost in the cosmos. Without amiable conversation, peace and justice, and all that comprises our humanness will dissipate with the dust of war. In an era of emotional political strife and tumult, we can not afford to turn profound, visceral experiences of supplication into clandestine weapons. Movita Johnson-Harrell responded eloquently to this incident,
“I do not have a problem with religion. I do not have a problem with choice. I do not have a problem with Jesus. I have a problem with using religion as a weapon,”
The world is already asphyxiating from the carnage of war, we do not need any more ammunition designed. We require empathic dialogue. We need to listen. We demand a cessation of language that perpetuates the othering of an already marginalized community. By definition, a democracy is a system of government by the people. The officials in place are meant to represent the people.
Both Harrell and Borowicz were elected, making manifest a disequilibrium in the system. Borowicz’s arbitrary and partisan supplication will be denounced, it is an exhortation from the divine to raise our voices. Juxtaposed next to Borowicz and all that her prayer embodies, white supremacy, is Harrell and Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, and a myriad of other entities whose mere presence is more resounding than any discriminatory prayer. For they themselves are prayers, as interpreted by any standard dictionary, an earnest hope.