Faith and Immigration Panel: Pastor, Imam discuss religious views on immigration in America in 2019

Category:  News
Friday, November 22nd, 2019 at 11:06 AM

The Rev. David Fulford and Sheikh Mazin Alsahlani recently discussed their religions’ views on immigration, along with the current state of immigration in America, in front of students, faculty and community members.

The panel took place on Nov. 13 at 7 p.m. in Pogue Student Center Room 143.

Fulford is an ordained deacon and priest for the Episcopal Church, and completed his ministry program at the University of the South in 1995.
Dr. Baher Ghosheh, professor of geosciences, moderated the discussion, beginning with statistics about immigration in America.

“Immigration has been a hot issue since the 1980s, and for centuries we saw that American immigrants came from Europe and that continued until the 1960s. The 1965 Immigration and Naturalization Act changed that,” he said, referencing a graph.

Ghosheh continued: “In 1965, a transition, a shift in the source of immigrants shows that there are fewer immigrants coming from Europe and many more coming from Latin America and Asia. And from 1965 until the turn of the century, our largest source of immigrants was Latin America. At the turn of the century, we see a decline in immigration from Latin America; in fact, we have more Mexican-Americans leaving America for Mexico, than coming from Mexico to America, [and] we see that the number of Asians coming to the United States is increasing.”
According to Ghosheh, the largest number of immigrants are coming from India and China.

After this introduction, Fulford began his statements with scripture from the book of Leviticus, reading: “When a stranger sojourns to you and your land, you shall not do him wrong, you shall treat the stranger that sojourners with you as a native among you and you shall welcome as yourself, for you are strangers in the land of Egypt, for I am the lord your god.”

Fulford explained the idea behind this scripture after his recitation: “The idea of being a stranger in this land is kind of difficult for some of us to understand … We all have a history from somewhere. Now some people want to claim that this is our country, but we are all immigrants. We have all come from somewhere. As a Christian, when I meet someone, a stranger, my faith informs me that I should greet that person, not as necessarily someone who is different in a bad way, but as someone who is the same as myself.”

He went on to read another passage from the Bible: “For I was hungry and he gave me food. I was thirsty and he gave me drink. I was a stranger and he gave me refuge,” which comes from Matthew 25:35.

“As Christians, we should see the face of Christ in the face of others. We should extend hospitality. We offer our home, food, drink, anything that we can to those who need it. That is a part of our culture, of our Christian, Jewish and I would say, Islamic traditions that we don’t turn people away,” Fulford said as he concluded his statements.

Up next was Sheikh Mazin Alsahlani, who leads the Shia affiliated Almakarim Islamic Foundation in Erie. Alsahlani studied theology in the Iraq city of Najaf and received a degree in theology from the Islamic University in London. He set up the Foundation in Erie in 2002.
“I think all the faiths share a common aspect of hospitality and welcoming when it comes to immigrants,” he said.

He followed this by reciting a verse from the Islamic holy book, the Qur’an, which reads: “I created you male and female, and I put you in tribes to honor one another, but the one that I will honor on the Day of Judgment is the one who is most riotous — more devout.”

In explanation, Alsahlani added, “God doesn’t say that he puts one person over the other, he says that he honors and rewards those who are of faith … and those of faith are those who respect others, take care of others and never thinks to commit a crime or hurt others.”
He continued, saying that Muslims in America should aspire to live by the Prophet Muhammed’s teaching that, “He is not a believer whose stomach is filled while the neighbor to his side goes hungry.”

At the conclusion of Alsahlani and Fulford’s statements, the audience was encouraged to ask questions of both religious leaders.
A representative of the Jewish faith Jeff Pinski, was also scheduled to speak on the Jewish perspective regarding faith and immigration, however he was unable to attend.

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