Blessed are the immigrants

Sacred texts are replete with references to immigration, flight and refuge in search of religious freedom, shelter and security, which can be argued as the primary themes of every religious tradition. Further, the development of secular international treaties protecting immigrants in modern nation-states is influenced by religion, which shaped the articulation of favorable status for strangers arriving at the borders in search of political, economic, religious and social protection.

From a certain perspective, Adam and Eve’s arrival into the world can be viewed as an immigration episode, even though forced from divine proximity into the worldly plane; it nevertheless was a movement away from a permanent home into a new abode. Being forced to leave paradise, the first and real homeland for Adam and Eve is a symbolic starting point for human entry into the world due to eating from the forbidden tree and being compelled to leave. Yet, what is significant is that the human narrative in the world begins as an immigrant searching for safety, security and a sense of community. But in this primordial case, it is coupled with the constant desire and yearning to return to divine presence. Thus, all humans are immigrants in this world, hoping to return to their permanent abode.On earth and reading a sacred text, one arrives at the centrality of immigration and flight from one place to another in search of core human needs: religious freedom, security, food, shelter and hospitable community. Thinking of Prophets Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad in immigration and refugee terms provides a deeper grounding into the centrality of human movement away from harm or hostility into safety and often resulting in ease and opening. Significantly, divine manifestation in the form of felicity and ease for the immigrants comes after the act of immigration and as a result of the hardship it entails.

From Europe, the Arab world to Asia, South Africa and North America the immigration crisis today is a global one. Today every human group and nation-state on earth are either immigrants themselves or a host destination and are thus facing a problem. The responses vary across the globe depending on the region, numbers and internal economic, social and political conditions; however, what is certain is that the current approach is not working for all concerned.

At the policy level, immigration is being addressed at the tail end of the crisis, i.e. the arriving immigrant, be it legal or illegal, and various structures are built to limit and/or accommodate the immigrants at the moment of entry. In Europe, the crisis has become acute with a weekly human avalanche making its way from north and sub-Saharan Africa, Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Jordan, Afghanistan and Somalia, to name the well-known. But others from across Asia are fleeing adverse political, social and religious conditions that are rapidly deteriorating. In North America, the immigration debate has become a football game between Republican and Democrats with each attempting to craft a “patriotic” response that would not impact its electoral chances.

The idea that the problem is external and can be solved by building walls, adding cameras and more border security is an illusion of a solution since it focuses on the end result of the crisis and not on the causes behind it. What is witnessed in this massive human movement is the collapse and coming to an end of the post-colonial states and the pernicious globalized world system with the immediate outcome of massive displacement and immigration.

Muslim majority states are not immune from the crisis and some are the source of many immigrants while others like Turkey, Jordan, Pakistan and Iran are host to millions of refugees. However, the Gulf region presents a contradiction and a very stark approach to immigration. On the one hand, we have the most restrictive immigration policies, while on the other, Islam, the professed religion within each state, was born and came into full articulation out of the prophet’s migration with his companions to Medina.

Significantly, at the time when Muslims were subject to persecution in Mecca due to their religious beliefs, it was the Abyssinian Christian King Negus that welcomed them as immigrants and provided religious freedom, security and safety for all those who made it to the African country. Today, while accounting for xenophobia and racism across many parts of the world, including the Arab and Muslim world, the big picture does call on us to embrace and celebrate the immigrant and stranger for his/her story is but an important constitutive element in our own narrative. Immigration and movement brought about success and blessings in the past and can be the source of it in the future. Thinking in exclusive and closed-minded ultra-nationalist or religious terms misses the big picture of our collective human story. Each one of us is at the same time an immigrant from the past and may also be called upon to be a helper to a newcomer: for the world is an abode of immigration for all humanity.