Last Friday after prayers, outside a blue-tiled mosque in spacious southwest-suburban Orland Park, dozens gathered in the cold around Reverend Jesse Jackson.
A projected slide in the men’s and women’s prayer space at the Orland Park Prayer Center had announced that the civil rights leader was there “to stand with American Muslims in the face of bigotry.”
In a short speech, Jackson condemned the call made days earlier by several U.S. governors, including Illinois governor Bruce Rauner, to halt the influx of Syrian refugees in their states in the wake of the Paris attacks. Jackson compared Syrian refugees to Jews during the Holocaust, as well as to the founder of his own faith.
“For those who profess to be Christian, Jesus was a refugee, born under a death warrant under the threat of genocide, living in the Roman occupation,” Jackson said. “You cannot worship a refugee on the run on Sunday and lock out refugees on Monday.”
To stereotype Muslims based on terrorist acts, Jackson said, is like stereotyping Christians based on the Ku Klux Clan. Most of the thousands lynchings in the United States, he said, happened outside of churches on Sunday.
“We did not stereotype Christianity on the basis of that madness,” Jackson said. “We must not stereotype religions based upon the terrible few.”
In another sermon, visiting imam Abdel Aziz also condemned Republican leaders who have proposed closing down mosques, requiring Muslims to show ID, and accepting only Christian refugees into the U.S.
“President Obama was right when he said that is un-American,” he said.
In the face of such attacks, Aziz asked congregants to remain committed to peace, but not at the expense of defending their own civil rights.
“When you start running, there is no end,” he said. “Stand your ground. Look your enemy in the eyes. Be peaceful. Try always to protect your human rights, your civil rights.”
Jackson made a similar call for self-preservation in the face of fearmongering, and in that vein, encouraged his audience to continue following their religion.
“We are in that season, so in the face of that season do not surrender your spirits, nor surrender your dignity, nor your religion,” Jackson said. “You keep coming to the mosque. I’ll keep coming to church. Let’s keep worshipping God as we see fit. That’s morally right, and that’s the American way.”
Mohamed Krad, the founder of the Orland Park Prayer Center, is a Syrian who said he immigrated from Aleppo in 1974. Like many Syrians living in Chicago, he said, he works as a physician.
“People should know that there are Syrians already in the United States,” Krad said. “There is maybe 5,000 to 6,000 physicians alone working here. They are working everywhere, and they are model citizens too.”
Established Syrian immigrants like himself are eager to welcome recent Syrian refugees, he said, especially because they understand that many of the refugees in the camps do not have a strong network that can support them. Most of the Syrians who had family support or other resources, he said, escaped the country earlier.
“This is a time that we should look deeply into our humanity and help the most weak, the most vulnerable, the most poor, the ones who need help the most,” Krad said. “It’s a humanitarian stand. It’s not political. And people should stand for those humanitarian principals. Otherwise bigots and extremists on both sides of any conflict will dominate the picture.”