Speaking last night to Anderson Cooper of CNN, Donald Trump went on record stating, "I think Islam hates us". This comment by the Republican candidate caught me off guard. In my ten years of studying the Islamic tradition, I have never felt the need to ponder the question, Who is "Islam"?
Is "Islam" a person? If so, I would like to know where "Islam" resides so I can go visit he, she, hir, or s/he. Hopefully, "Islam" lives in the United States - preferably in Texas, where I am based - so I will not have to rack up travel expenses to visit he, she, hir, or s/he. I also wonder if Trump has ever met "Islam"? That would be an interesting exchange. If they have met before, I wonder where and in what context.
Take another glance at Trump's comment and you might question if "Islam" is actually a thing. Or perhaps "Islam" is an object or place. It is not entirely clear.
As someone who teaches a college course on Islam and engages with Muslim Americans, I am interested in hearing how Trump describes "Islam". Is "Islam" tall or short, big or small, light or dark, liberal or conservative? Where does "Islam" live? In a tiny little house or in a big mansion in a far away land? In light of Trump's comment, one also might wonder about the values that "Islam" stands for. How does one measure "Islam's" values? What are the issues that make "Islam" tick? Has "Islam" changed over the years?
My sarcasm aside, Trump treats Islam as a monolith. According to him, it is a single bloc, static, and unresponsive to new realities. In five words ("I think Islam hates us"), Trump captured the essence of Islamophobia; "Islam" is separate, inferior, barbaric, irrational, primitive, violent, aggressive, and threatening. These five words have made him the most Islamophobic candidate ever to run for the highest office of the United States. That is the sad reality. That is un-American.
In short, there is absolutely no validity in Trump's comment. Islam in America has produced some of the best citizens that serve as doctors, lawyers, politicians, business executives, soldiers, and scientists. This is Islam - service, compassion, knowledge, and sacrifice.
Open your mind, Trump. Stop dumbing down America. Be a true leader and honor your fellow citizens who do so much for the country you claim to love so much.