Muslim and civil rights groups and their supporters gather at a rally against what they call a "Muslim ban" in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017. AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

Religious literacy can fix the faulty foundation beneath Trump’s Muslim ban

(RNS) — The judicial system has dealt a third legal defeat to President Trump’s travel ban targeting Muslim-majority countries, instituting a temporary restraining order and injunction to block its implementation. The courts brought up the question of intent by noting public statements by then-candidate Trump about a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”

The real intent is still as clear today as it was nearly nine months ago when the current administration announced the first travel ban. The everyday Americans who turned out to spontaneous airport protests across our nation knew the ban was wrong. The courts have consistently agreed.

The organization I lead, Islamic Networks Group, has ample experience to show that increased religious literacy at all levels of society can weaken the foundation that supports discriminatory intent before it becomes policy.

Legal proceedings revolve around intent. Intent is the difference between involuntary manslaughter and murder. Intent is the difference between a harmless literacy test and robbing people of the right to vote. Intent matters because intent shows us the naked truth behind what people do and say.

The first executive order in January made its discriminatory intent crystal clear by providing that people from the banned countries could enter the U.S. if they were of “minority religions” — i.e., Christians — in their home country. Only people of the majority religion — Islam — were banned.

But where does this discriminatory intent come from? And why can politicians count on support for such discriminatory policies from a substantial segment of the public?

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For the past 25 years, in our work with diverse audiences across the country, we’ve found an answer: ignorance of Muslims and their faith. A 2017 Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) survey found that relatively few Americans regularly interact with Muslims, with 62 percent saying that they seldom or never engage in conversation with Muslims.

We’ve delivered tens of thousands of educational programs about or involving American Muslims, so we’ve seen first-hand how impactful those basic conversations can be in dispelling negative stereotypes.

That same PRRI survey showed that 67 percent of people who talk with Muslims at least occasionally agree that Muslims are an important part of the American religious landscape versus 45 percent of those who have never spoken with a Muslim in the last year. This carries over into the rest of public life.

According to a 2017 Pew Forum poll, while perceptions of all religious groups have improved in recent years, Americans view Muslims most negatively with an average rating of 48 out of 100, compared to: Atheists at 50; Mormons at 54; Hindus at 58; Buddhists at 60; Evangelical Christians at 61; Catholics at 66; and Jews at 67.

Education and positive interaction can turn things around. Our audience surveys show that after 45 minutes of education and engagement about and with Muslims the percentage of those who believe that American Muslims are “Islamists” hostile to the United States falls by 50 percent; the percentage believing that American Muslims are insular and foreign falls by 75 percent.

Our surveys almost always include feedback like, “I had no idea Islam was so closely tied to Judaism and Christianity” or “I used to view Muslims as some kind of foreign group, but they’ve been in America since the Revolutionary War.” All it takes is honest dialogue and exchange.

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In 1924, Atlantic magazine wrote that Americans “have convinced ourselves by repeating to each other, that we are still as we were: a liberty-loving people who make no invidious distinctions between men of different race and religion ... We still look with the same scorn as formerly upon the poor European countries where anti-Semitism is so great a factor, and Catholic wars upon Protestant.”

But in the late 1930s, as thousands of German Jews fled their homeland for safety abroad, we slammed our gates shut for the same arguments: they could be spies, they carry diseases, they steal jobs from loyal Americans. Those arguments — and the clear intent behind them — are no more viable today.

Now, decades later, we still want to believe that we are better, that we’ve moved past the old divisions and prejudices that so negatively affected our ancestors. The current situation has proven that the demons of religious prejudice and xenophobia still haunt us. It’s up to us to quell their influence.

Fortunately, our Constitution itself speaks out against such discriminatory attitudes, promising us the freedom to exist without fear of government persecution based on how we look or how we choose to pray. Travel bans loosely based on nationality to obscure their true, religiously-hostile intent violate that promise and seek to divide us against our fellow Americans.

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We know the intent behind the Muslim bans. What will our intent be? We must commit ourselves to education and engagement with unfamiliar religions and cultures. This would go a long way in dispelling the fears that lead to bad policy like the travel bans.

(Maha Elgenaidi is executive director of the Islamic Networks Group.)


  1. The author says “…increased religious literacy at all levels of society can weaken the
    foundation that supports discriminatory intent before it becomes policy.”

    It would be nice if this were true, but sadly, this is an idea that’s decades old–“ignorance causes prejudice, if you only new some XXX’s you’d know how nice they are”.

    Prejudice goes way beyond ignorance, and I think it’s a serious mistake to address this matter from the POV of ignorance. It has to do (as best as I can see) with deep gut issues, probably starting with fear of various kinds and things.

  2. …. and it might also have something to do with the Bibles, which clearly condemn Muslims and all other non-Christians in verses such as John 14:6,

    “Jesus said: ‘I am the way, the truth and the life. No one gets to the father except through *me*.'”.

    This means that one can either actually use these outdated ramblings as a guide to one’s life, or reject them and be accepting of Muslims & other non-Christians. Otherwise, from the viewpoint of a believer, the presence of every non-Christian here (including me) is a grave threat of eternal hellfire to everyone who might see us and stop believing. The nicer people we are, the worse that threat is, because we more clearly show that one can be good without being Christian.

    Thanks for also supporting your points with solid data. That shows that even the effect I mention above is not absolute.

  3. All the religious literacy that you need to know:

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated/reborn Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

    • A constant cycle of reincarnation until enlightenment is reached and belief that various beings (angels?, tinkerbells? etc) exist that we, as mortals, cannot comprehend makes for a no on Sikhism.

    Added details available upon written request.

    A quick search will put the kibosh on any other groups calling themselves a religion.

    e.g. Taoism

    “The origins of Taoism are unclear. Traditionally, Lao-tzu who lived in the sixth century is regarded as its founder. Its early philosophic foundations and its later beliefs and rituals are two completely different ways of life. Today (1982) Taoism claims 31,286,000 followers.

    Legend says that Lao-tzu was immaculately conceived by a shooting star; carried in his mother’s womb for eighty-two years; and born a full grown wise old man. “

  4. The problem with citing John’s gospel to authenticate Christianity:

    From Professor Bruce Chilton in his book, Rabbi Jesus,

    “Conventionally, scholarship has accorded priority to the first three gospels in historical work on Jesus, putting progressively less credence in works of late date. John’s Gospel for example is routinely dismissed as a source……


    “Since “the higher criticism” of the 19th century, some historians have largely rejected the gospel of John as a reliable source of information about the historical Jesus.[3][4] “[M]ost commentators regard the work as anonymous,”[5] and date it to 90-100.”

    “The authorship has been disputed since at least the second century, with mainstream Christianity believing that the author is John the Apostle, son of Zebedee. Modern experts usually consider the author to be an unknown non-eyewitness, though many apologetic Christian scholars still hold to the conservative Johannine view that ascribes authorship to John the Apostle.”

    And from Professor Gerd Ludemann, in his book, Jesus After 2000 Years, p. 416,

    “Anyone looking for the historical Jesus will not find him in the Gospel of John. “

  5. I suppose what you say is true… for some people. Speaking of “deep gut issues,” some males will never agree to work for a female employer, but others will experience it and find the gender of the employer makes little difference. While all are biased in some way, not all of us are ruled by our bias. Besides, shining a light on a bias often eliminates it.

  6. I am all in favor of eliminating all forms of pre-judice (pre-judging) and irrational bias.

    That said….to the best of my knowledge, mere acquaintance with a member of group X or knowledge of the principles of their belief does not eliminate prejudice—“some of my best friends are…” Nor does mere knowledge eliminate these things, since prejudice originates deep in the gut (think I, and for the most part).

  7. Jon, the verse quoted does not “condemn” anyone. Yes, it says that if you want to get to the Father you have to follow Jesus, but it does not condemn those who don’t. It’s an invitation; you’re free to accept it or not. And there is nothing in it that implies that associating with Muslims or nones will somehow cause me to reject the invitation to follow Jesus. Of course you can be good; that’s no threat to me because you don’t have to be a Christian to be good. Take you best shot; it will just make the world a better place to live.

  8. You forgot the best part: As far as one knows or can tell, all men are not created equal.

    P.S. As far as one knows or can tell, you are a legend in your own time, therefore you do not exist.

  9. Of course you can be good without being Christian but you still cannot exist if there are no Christians and this is still an absolute.

  10. Nice try but everyone knows the Chilton Manual is an outdated auto repair manual.

  11. I can’t exist if there aren’t Christians? Do real people poof out of existence when other real people stop believing in imaginary friends? I can’t make sense of your post.

  12. Nothing can fix a travel ban which was misbegotten garbage from the outset.

    At no point has the administration in all of this time bothered to justify its travel ban with actual evidence to show why it would be needed. No reports, no information from the state department or DHS as to tangible risks, and no case studies. [Unlike travel bans by prior administrations] Pretty much anyone with a measure of expertise or knowledge in the State department has opposed this measure.

    The first ban was the closest in actual intentions of the administration. To act maliciously towards Muslims in a way which least likely to cause diplomatic crapstorms. It was written without any idea towards implementation, forethought or legal consultation by White House Counsel.

    It has all been walking back from a garbage beginning from there. More attempts to polish what has always been a t_rd of a plan.

  13. The online equivalent of covering your ears and going “lalalaalalala”

  14. I agree, education is the key. When it comes to studying ideological movements, a few important points to remember:

    1. When it comes to social impact, you cannot study “Islam” any more than you can study “Christianity” — movements/locations have their own variations, and those variations need to be taken into account.

    2. Study the teachings of actual members of the movements, rather than outsiders.

    3. When making comparisons, look at who the movements/locations consider to be their best.

    4. Expect to find things that you wish your own movement handle as well.

    Then, having followed those rules in your studies, you can decide whether members of those movements are desirable or even safe immigrants.

  15. Tom, two thoughts. First – you say that one can be good without being Christian, and that you are OK with associating with non-Christians. It’s good to hear that you think so, and I wish all Christians were more like you. However, they aren’t. Most Christians in America think that only Christians can be good people, 42% out of the 70% of Americans who are Christian = 60% of Christians, link below, and most won’t associate with non-Christians (see the hatred data in the article above). Secondly, simple reflection shows why associating with non-Christians who are good people is a problem. If I were a Christian parent, who really believed that Hell existed for non-Christians (standard Christian belief), then allowing my child to see good non-Christians would be endangering my child’s eternal safety from unending torture (as we agree Jh 14:6 says). Of course a parent with that belief will often teach hate due to simple responsibility.

  16. We agree about the reliability of the G of John, but that’s irrelevant. Because most Christians think their chosen Bible is the word of a supreme god, that verse is, literally, gospel. From there, the condemnation of other religions (and none) follows naturally.

  17. See my commentary on religion literacy above.

  18. As per the Declaration of Independence all men are created equal. Bravo for that obvious conclusion.

  19. I agree with this author, and others like Stephen Prothero, that we have a religious literacy problem in the US. However, I disagree with the premise of this piece. Emotional literacy must precede informational literacy where religious conflict exists. Religious literacy cannot sink into cognition where emotional and psychological barriers serve as road blocks.

  20. As much as I agree with many of the ideas expressed in this essay, in at least one respect it fails to address an important matter: some of the, shall we say, problematic aspects of the Koran.

    Some of these problems are clearly found in practice in Islam itself, in majority-Muslim countries, e.g. stoning, “travelers marriages”, trials we would not recognize as fully fair, murdering apostates in Afghanistan, thinking that allowing 12 year old girls to marry is OK, and so on.

    Some obvious examples of problems that clearly exist in the Koran (if not necessarily in Islamic countries): treatment suggested in the Koran of apostates; treatment of Christians and Jews (e.g. taxing them); the contradictions and places where violence is suggested; and so on.

    Some of these problems are found in the Old Testament as well–lots and lots of nutty ideas about how to treat alleged violaters of rules, such as adulterers, for example, or, infamously, kids who curse their parents. But in my experience, Muslim spokespeople (e.g. appearing on talk radio shows) seem to work especially hard to deny that these verses and ideas exist.

  21. You are not a threat to everyone as a non-believer, you are a threat to yourself when you convert a believer to agnostic or lead them astray from the truth of the Gospel.

    Psalm 24:1 is just one of many scriptures saying what my post is about and I never presumed that you would need an explanation.

    You do not have to believe, you do have to make sure that there are genuine believers in the world or God will stop taking care of the world. How do you like global warming so far? Yes it is man made by both of these; pollution and declining numbers of genuine believers that have understanding of the Gospel. God is more than capable of cleaning up man’s pollution but he won’t help if there are no men or women of God.

    I say go ahead and put Him to the test, it’s the only way you will find out the truth if He doesn’t come and knock you off your high horse first. It happens sooner or later at any rate, why not during your lifetime.

  22. Yes, both the Qu’ran and Bibles have horrible stuff – like God being happy about a murderer who killed a bunch of kids and put their heads in a basket, (2Kngs 10), and so on. Most of those bad practices were done in the name of Christianity in history as well. In fact, it’s a common prank to put a cover from a Qu’ran onto a Bible, then to show Western people some of the “evil” stuff in this “Qu’ran”, and then, after they are horrified and say that Islam must be terrible, show them that it’s actually a Bible that is this bad.

  23. if you were religiously literate, then you would know it is blasphemy to aid and abet the worshipers of other g-ds.

    and if you were intellectually literate. then you would know, it is a bad idea to allow people from countries that hate america in. from any of these countries, that had been screaming death to america death to americans.

    as per public Law 414 chapter 2 Section 212 The law was passed June 27, 1952 “The prohibition of entry to the US if the Alien belongs to an organization, religion or cult seeking to overthrow the government of the United States by force, violence or other unconstitutional means.”

    so if you prefer to be intellectual or religious idiots, then you deserve to be destroyed from within with hijra prior to jihad.

  24. nothing you wrote, is in agreement of The History Book i read. if you, were religiously literate then you would not get their names wrong.

    you, won’t even find the names and titles in TheTorah. there is no noah, abraham, issac, jacob, moses, jesus, judaism, christianity, buddhists, islam etc… mentioned in TheTorah.

    and the religious movement of the multitude of all known nations was started by ELOHEEM Personally.

    if you were literate, you would also know there are two previous seven day accounting’s prior this one resurrected again.

    of the three eternal destines, one is known as oblivion. one of the others, is being physically resurrected again here in the same physical story. and you can forget the third option, since none of you are to be taken there.

    we, are all here in the exact same physical re-occuring story as at least twice before. all, are offered at least four opportunities. here in THEIR Story of the physical creation again. to die a fourth time un-redeemed results in oblivion for even your casper.

    day one always begins with Noach, and day seven always ends with adam and his mate and Their Son Shet prior to day one with Noach again.

  25. equality ends, with all the lies being taught.

  26. The Torah, teaches me to be prejudiced against the worshipers of other g-ds. and the 611 + 2 laws of ELOHEEM, reflects their likes and dislikes. and all prejudice, is based on likes and dislikes whether it is true or false. so yes i am prejudiced, i like only vanilla ice cream and honey.

    and ELOHEEM is also THE COMMANDER of my enemies. making it obvious, who my enemies are.

    ELOHEEM spoke spoke all these statements, saying:

    I-AM ELOHEEM, your ELOHEEM, Who has taken you out of the land of egypt,from the house of slavery.

    you shall not recognize the eloheem of others in MY Presence. you shall not make yourself a carved image or any likeness of that which is in heavens above the earth or below or in the water beneath the earth. you shall not prostrate yourself to them nor worship them, for I-AM ELOHEEM, your ELOHEEM – a jealous ELOHEEM, Who visits the sins of fathers upon children to the third and fourth generation, for my enemies; but Who knows kindness for thousands [of generations] to those who love ME and observe MY commandments.

    you shall not take The Name of ELOHEEM in vain, for ELOHEEM will not absolve anyone who takes His Name in vain.

    and so long as there are enemies of ELOHEEM and HaMosheeach, horrible stuff is going to be commanded to happen to them.

  27. in the world true to ELOHEEM, there should be no religious variations. all diversity, is the results of lying from the least hostile to the most hostile. there would be no wars, in a world of all the same truths. lies, are meant to keep us divided.

  28. and just how many videos of islamic countries shouting death to america and death to americans have you chosen to not watch? what was the purpose of public Law 414 chapter 2 Section 212 The law was passed June 27, 1952 “The prohibition of entry to the US if the Alien belongs to an organization, religion or cult seeking to overthrow the government of the United States by force, violence or other unconstitutional means.”

  29. Their is Only One HaMosheeach, mentioned in TheTorah and that is Adam from the end of the fourth to seventh day in the end of days. where Adam is put to death, and is returned as adam and his sister at the end of the sixth day. and the current year is 5778, or about an hour and a half shy of The Day of Rest again.

    and ELOHEEM said, “let US make Adam in OUR IMAGE, after OUR LIKENESS, they shall rule over the fish in the sea, the birds of the sky, and over the animal, the whole earth, and every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth. so ELOHEEM created Adam in HIS IMAGE, in The Image of ELOHEEM HE created HIM; male and female HE created them.

    ELOHEEM blessed them, and ELOHEEM said to them, “be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it: and rule over the fish in the sea, the bird of the sky, and evey living thing that moves on the earth. ”

    ELOHEEM said, “it is not good that Adam be alone; I will make Him a helper corresponding to Him.” Now ELOHEEM had formed out of the ground every beast of the fieldand every bird of the sky, and brought them to Adam to see what He would call each one; and whatever The Adam called each living creature that remained it’s name. And The Adam assigned names to all the cattle and to the birds of the sky and to every beast of the field; but as for Adam He did not find a helper corresponding to Him.

    So ELOHEEM cast a deep sleep upon The Adam and He slept; and HE took one of His Sides and HE filled in flesh in It’s place. Then ELOHEEM fashioned The Side HE had taken from The Adam into The Woman, and HE brought Her to The Adam.

  30. none of you, could exist if it were not for Adam giving birth to you all again. Adam, is responsible for all resurrection as adam and his sister.

  31. i, would say it was closer to the year 1611 when it was written with way too many non-eevreet english names in it.

    about 557 years after the letter j, was first introduced into the romantic languages. so anything with the letter j, has to be written after 1054 ad.

    i am pretty sure, that if iulius caesar were alive today. he, would not recognize your fake given name for him today.

    now what, could possibly go wrong with 47 editors involved? that if it, did not please king james it’s off with your head.

  32. I’m sorry, but you lost me. Could you explain your point in 2 or 3 sentences?

  33. Plenty. We are talking about people fleeing that. We are the haven for those seeking freedom from oppression. The moment you start in anti Muslim tirades in support of the travel ban, you prove it was illegal.

    This travel ban was meant to appeal to cretinous bigots in the least obtrusive way Cheeto could get away with. It has been a mess from conception.

  34. So what you’re saying is we’ve been monitoring for people part of organizations, cults, etc bent on overthrowing the government since 1952 and we’ve been barring their entry since then, but now we need a new law to bar every last person from these handful of countries because it’s popular with a politician’s base to do so? #45 made the promise to do this without seeing any classified intelligence. It’s not like he’s doing it because the intelligence community told him it was needed for national security.

  35. Yes, well, you see, there *is* a Chilton manual on religion, but the liberal media don’t want you to know about it….

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