His name was Mawlânâ Jalâluddîn Muhammad Balkhî-ye Rûmî. He was born September 30, 1207 in present day Afghanistan. His name has been shortened to Rumi, and he is one of the greatest and most popular poets in the world. The poems of this Persian poet born more than eight centuries ago are beloved by millions of readers in around the world. His writings been compared to Shakespeare for his creativity breadth and Saint Francis in its spiritual wisdom.
Rumi descended from a long line of Islamic jurists, theologians, and mystics, including his father, Bahā ud-Dīn Walad, who was known as “Sultan of the Scholars.” When Rumi was still a young man, his father led their family more than 2,000 miles west to avoid the invasion of Genghis Khan’s armies. As a young Persian refugee, Rumi had gone through the traumatic and painful process of adaptation and assimilation - a process which is also so familiar to any refugee and immigrant of our days. He had to adapt to his new hometown, Konya in South central Turkey where he lived the rest of his life, and is currently buried.
According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, “A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so. War and ethnic, tribal and religious violence are leading causes of refugees fleeing their countries. More than half of all refugees worldwide come from just three countries: Syria, Afghanistan and South Sudan.” Borders cannot, and should not, be completely sealed: Many asylum-seekers are fleeing death, and the obligation to save them is legal as well as moral.
Would the man who would arguably become one of the greatest poets to grace our planet be admitted to the United States as a 12 year old refugee under our policy of admitting only the "best and brightest"? Would his father, an Islamic jurists, theologians, and mystic been able to bring his family here? Well, let’s see how they might fare in our present political climate.
Radical declines in the admission of refugees have been instituted, even after a Trump administration study by the Department of Health and Human Services in 2017 found that refugees brought in $63 billion more in government revenues over the past decade than they cost. Another report from the New American Economy entitled, From Struggle to Resilience: The Economic Impact of Refugees in America, shows that Refugees have an entrepreneurship rate that outshines even that of other immigrants. The United States was home to more than 180,000 refugee entrepreneurs in 2015. That meant that 13 percent of refugees were entrepreneurs in 2015, compared to just 11.5 percent of non-refugee immigrants and 9.0 percent of the U.S.-born population. The businesses of refugees also generated $4.6 billion in business income that year. Other significant facts are found: 1) while refugees receive initial assistance upon arriving in the United States, they see particularly sharp income increases in subsequent years, 2) refugees make particularly meaningful contributions to the economies of several key states, and 3) in an era when the country faces unprecedented demographic challenges, refugees are uniquely positioned to help because most are of working age.
According to the CATO institute, in an April 23, 2018 article, “During the campaign, Trump referred to Muslim refugees as a ‘Trojan horse’ that could bring down the United States from the inside. Not surprisingly then, Muslim refugees have seen their numbers slashed most dramatically. From October 2015 through December 2016, monthly arrivals of Muslim refugees averaged 3,076. During the first six months of FY 2018, they have fallen to just 275 per month - 91 percent below their rate in FY 2016.”
The U.S. Supreme Court concluded arguments regarding the Trump administration’s third attempt at a travel ban against visitors from Muslim countries on April 25, 2018. At this point, it is not certain how the court will decide, but key justices seem skeptical of challenges to the ban, a result of the post-election shift in the makeup of the court towards the right. A ruling is expected in June, 2018, but to members of one of the United States’ least popular religious minorities, this will be more than a ruling on the president’s authority. It will be a culturally pivotal moment; a statement of the nation’s values.
The effect of the Trump campaign against Muslims has been that many Americans view Muslims far less positively than they view members of most other major religious groups. In a recent topic question on Debate.org the question, “Should the U.S. ban Muslims from entering the country?”, was posed. A not atypical answer was the following: “They do not belong in this great beautiful country of God. They will only steal our jobs, rape our women, and kidnap our children. They belong in the dirt, no, they are dirt. They are good for nothing brown pieces of shit and should not be tolerated if they are caught in the country they should be shot on site.”
There are profound spiritual dimensions to the way refugees should be treated. For those who are Christian among us, I offer these words from the Bible to reflect upon:
When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. (Leviticus 19:33-34)
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ (Matthew 25:25-36)
These admonitions from the Bible are more than mere suggestions. They lie at the heart of Abrahamic religions; they are essential definitions of humanity. To treat a foreigner, especially a refugee, as “your native-born” is often a challenge. There are sometimes barriers of language and customs to overcome. Cultural differences may seem insurmountable. The “Golden Rule” loses its luster.
I have had direct, personal experience with such a challenge. In the mid-1990s I worked as an instructor teaching the Lingo programming language night class at a large private technical school in Silicon Valley. I once had a student whose last name was Tran in my class. He was a middle-aged Vietnamese man who could not speak English very well. Tran slowed the class down, so I had my TA work more directly with him than anyone else. The TA told me that she simply could not seem to communicate well with Tran or answer his more probing questions about Lingo. I must admit to being annoyed with Tran myself. I had a difficult time understanding him. Instructors in other classes complained about Tran as well.
I then remembered what it was like to live in Germany, not knowing the language well and having to work in a highly technical field with people who were not very patient with me. I had my TA work with other students and I began to spend much more time with Tran. I was determined to help him succeed. My extra attention was rewarded. Once he understood the principles and syntax of Lingo, he began to write truly elegant code. His mathematical constructs were flawless and creative. He became my best student. I came to find out that Tran was formerly a Major General in the South Vietnamese Army in command of a tank brigade. He was one of the lucky few high ranking ARNV to escape from Vietnam and come to the United States as a refugee. On the last evening of class he came with his wife and several of his younger children. He introduced his family and thanked me for helping him through the course.
I certainly hope Tran and his family were able to stay in the United States. We are all enriched by his presence. I am pained by the present attitude of our nation towards non-European refugees. The pain comes not only from a spiritual perspective, but from a basic human level.
How can we know the potential of any refugee to enrich our own culture? What metrics can be used to determine the nationality of a soul? Rumi answers these questions in this poem attributed to him:
Not Christian or Jew or Muslim, not Hindu, Buddhist, Sufi, or Zen.
Not any religion or cultural system.
I am not from the east or the west, not out of the ocean or
From the ground, not natural or ethereal, not composed of elements at all.
I do not exist, I am not an entity in this world or the next,
Did not descend from Adam and Eve or any Origin story.
My place is the placeless, a trace of the traceless, neither body or soul.
I belong to the beloved, have seen the two worlds as one and
That one call to and know,
First, last, outer, inner only that breath breathing human being.
Clovice A. Lewis, Jr.
About this blog.
This blog is a place where many of the confluences of my life can be shared. I am, at the core, a creative person. I approach everything from that basis... whether composing symphonies, playing the cello, being a serial entrepreneur, writing sermons and essays, flying airplanes, or creating software apps. I am deeply passionate about creativity, issues of social justice, and spiritual enrichment. These are fundamental to everything I do. Welcome to my journey!