By Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, Houston Chronicle
It's hard to understand how the sophisticated people of the great internationally focused city of Houston can believe the political posturing of Texas and national politicians who are trying to scare people into rejecting refugees, Muslims and almost all kinds of immigrants.
This is a city whose strength is based on oil, and oil is an international commodity with great resources in the Muslim countries of the Middle East. This city has been dealing with Muslims for generations, and to generalize and embrace the notion that all Muslims have somehow become dangerous could damage this city's and this state's economy. Not to mention that this way of thinking is just plain wrong.
No religion embraces violence. But all religions at one time or another have been hijacked by extremist groups to promote a false ideology of hate and violence. The world's 1.5 billion Muslims should not be held suspect because a few thousand people in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan have warped Islam into an ideology that the Prophet Muhammad would reject.
To become suspicious of 4 or 5 million Muslims living peaceful, productive lives in the United States because two people in San Bernardino, Calif., somehow embraced this warped ideology to commit an atrocity damages what this country stands for. After all, mass murders in this country are not limited to any one ideology.
And to stop all Syrian refugees from coming to the United States because possibly a couple of terrorists could get through the screening process is extraordinarily short-sighted.
Texas and particularly Houston have a reputation for welcoming refugees. During the past three years, Texas took in more refugees than any other state, according to USA Today. Most of those 20,600 were Burmese or Iraqis fleeing conflict, and they went through months of vetting. Dozens of Syrians have relocated to Dallas or Houston since 2011.
As Donna Duvin, head of the International Rescue Committee in Dallas has said, "These people are here and you can't tell the difference between a refugee family and another neighbor. They're employed, they work hard, they go to our schools."
The same can be said about Muslim immigrants and refugees across the country. They are building America by their desire to improve their own lot in life, just like any other immigrant or refugee group that has come to America and to Texas. They want to leave the ideological conflicts behind.
American Muslims are molding their lives and their religion to embrace the values of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. As a Muslim immigrant who has lived here for nearly 50 years, I have seen the transformation.
Texans - and all Americans - need to understand that the basic tenets of Islam are not that different from the promises of the U.S. Constitution. Providing justice is the bedrock of Islamic law. Its six objectives are to protect life, religion, property, intellect, family values and the dignity of the individual. In essence, these are the same values in the American Declaration of Independence: Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Get to know these Muslims, and you will see that they share the same commitment to family and the same work ethic that Texans traditionally embrace.
Yes, the world can be a dangerous place and it has many dangerous people - of all faiths - who do harm. We must be vigilant. But Houston should be a city that can rise above those fears because it has the sophisticated values of an international center. Houstonians should tell the politicians who are stoking those fears that they cannot manipulate the voters to hurt Houston, Texas and America.
Rauf, chairman of The Cordoba Initiative, is author of several books on Islam. He will be participating in a panel discussion March 9, "Between Faith and Extremism," co-sponsored by the World Affairs Council of Greater Houston and the Boniuk Institute at Rice University.