WELCOMING THE STRANGER: AFFIRMATIONS FOR FAITH LEADERS

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A core val­ue of my faith is to wel­come the stranger, the refugee, the inter­nal­ly dis­placed, the oth­er. I shall treat him or her as I would like to be treat­ed. I will chal­lenge oth­ers, even lead­ers in my faith com­mu­ni­ty, to do the same.

Togeth­er with faith lead­ers, faith-based orga­ni­za­tions and com­mu­ni­ties of con­science around the world, I affirm:

I will wel­come the stranger.

My faith teach­es that com­pas­sion, mer­cy, love and hos­pi­tal­i­ty are for every­one:  the native born and the for­eign born, the mem­ber of my com­mu­ni­ty and the new­com­er.

I will remem­ber and remind mem­bers of my com­mu­ni­ty that we are all con­sid­ered “strangers” some­where, that we should treat the stranger to our com­mu­ni­ty as we would like to be treat­ed, and chal­lenge intol­er­ance.

I will remem­ber and remind oth­ers in my com­mu­ni­ty that no one leaves his or her home­land with­out a rea­son: some flee because of per­se­cu­tion, vio­lence or exploita­tion; oth­ers due to nat­ur­al dis­as­ter; yet oth­ers out of love to pro­vide bet­ter lives for their fam­i­lies.

I rec­og­nize that all per­sons are enti­tled to dig­ni­ty and respect as human beings. All those in my coun­try, includ­ing the stranger, are sub­ject to its laws, and none should be sub­ject to hos­til­i­ty or dis­crim­i­na­tion.

I acknowl­edge that wel­com­ing the stranger some­times takes courage, but the joys and the hopes of doing so out­weigh the risks and the chal­lenges. I will sup­port oth­ers who exer­cise courage in wel­com­ing the stranger.

I will offer the stranger hos­pi­tal­i­ty, for this brings bless­ings upon the com­mu­ni­ty, upon my fam­i­ly, upon the stranger and upon me.

I will respect and hon­or the real­i­ty that the stranger may be of a dif­fer­ent faith or hold beliefs dif­fer­ent   from mine or oth­er mem­bers of my com­mu­ni­ty.

I will respect the right of the stranger to prac­tice his or her own faith freely. I will seek to cre­ate space where he or she can freely wor­ship.

I will speak of my own faith with­out demean­ing or ridi­cul­ing the faith of oth­ers.

I will build bridges between the stranger and myself. Through my exam­ple, I will encour­age oth­ers to do the same.

I will make an effort not only to wel­come the stranger, but also to lis­ten to him or her deeply, and to pro­mote under­stand­ing and wel­come in my com­mu­ni­ty.

I will speak out for social jus­tice for the stranger, just as I do for oth­er mem­bers of my com­mu­ni­ty.

Where I see hos­til­i­ty towards the stranger in my com­mu­ni­ty, whether through words or deeds, I will not ignore it, but will instead endeav­or to estab­lish a dia­logue and facil­i­tate peace.

I will not keep silent when I see oth­ers, even lead­ers in my faith com­mu­ni­ty, speak­ing ill of strangers, judg­ing them with­out com­ing to know them, or when I see them being exclud­ed, wronged or oppressed.

I will encour­age my faith com­mu­ni­ty to work with oth­er faith com­mu­ni­ties and faith-based orga­ni­za­tions to find bet­ter ways to assist the stranger.

I will wel­come the stranger.

Found­ing Prin­ci­ples

The call to “wel­come the stranger,” through pro­tec­tion and hos­pi­tal­i­ty, and to hon­or the stranger or those of oth­er faiths with respect and equal­i­ty, is deeply root­ed in all major reli­gions.

In the Upan­ishads, the mantra atithi devo bha­va or “the guest is as God” express­es the fun­da­men­tal impor­tance of hos­pi­tal­i­ty in Hin­du cul­ture. Cen­tral to the Hin­du Dhar­ma, or Law, are the val­ues of karuna or com­pas­sion, ahim­sa or non-vio­lence towards all, and seva or the will­ing­ness to serve the stranger and the unknown guest. Pro­vid­ing food and shel­ter to a needy stranger was a tra­di­tion­al duty of the house­hold­er and is prac­ticed by many still. More broad­ly, the con­cept of Dhar­ma embod­ies the task to do one’s duty, includ­ing an oblig­a­tion to the com­mu­ni­ty, which should be car­ried out respect­ing val­ues such as non-vio­lence and self­less ser­vice for the greater good.

The Trip­i­ta­ka high­lights the impor­tance of cul­ti­vat­ing four states of mind: met­ta (lov­ing kind­ness), muditha (sym­pa­thet­ic joy), upekkha (equa­nim­i­ty), and karuna (com­pas­sion). There are many dif­fer­ent tra­di­tions of Bud­dhism, but the con­cept of karuna is a fun­da­men­tal tenet in all of them. It embod­ies the qual­i­ties of tol­er­ance, non-dis­crim­i­na­tion, inclu­sion and empa­thy for the suf­fer­ing of oth­ers, mir­ror­ing the cen­tral role which com­pas­sion plays in oth­er reli­gions.

 

The Torah makes thir­ty-six ref­er­ences to hon­or­ing the “stranger.” The book of Leviti­cus con­tains one of the most promi­nent tenets of the Jew­ish faith: “The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your cit­i­zens; you shall love him as your­self, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Leviti­cus 19:33-34). Fur­ther, the Torah pro­vides that „You shall not oppress the stranger, for you know the soul of the stranger, hav­ing your­selves been strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Exo­dus 23:9)

In Matthew’s Gospel (25:35) we hear the call:  “I was hun­gry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me some­thing to drink, I was a stranger and you wel­comed me…” And in the Let­ter to the Hebrews (13:1-2) we read, “Let mutu­al love con­tin­ue. Do not neglect to show hos­pi­tal­i­ty to strangers, for by doing that some have enter­tained angels with­out know­ing it.”

When the Prophet Muham­mad fled per­se­cu­tion in Mec­ca, he sought refuge in Med­i­na, where he was hos­pitably wel­comed. The Prophet’s hijrah, or migra­tion, sym­bol­izes the move­ment from lands of oppres­sion, and his hos­pitable treat­ment embod­ies the Islam­ic mod­el of refugee pro­tec­tion. The Holy Qur’an calls for the pro­tec­tion of the asy­lum seek­er, or al-mus­t­a­min, whether Mus­lim or non-Mus­lim, whose safe­ty is irrev­o­ca­bly guar­an­teed under the insti­tu­tion of Aman (the pro­vi­sion of secu­ri­ty and pro­tec­tion). As not­ed in the Surat Al-Anfal: “Those who give asy­lum and aid are in very truth the believ­ers: for them is the for­give­ness of sins and a pro­vi­sion most gen­er­ous.” (8:74)

There are tens of mil­lions of refugees and inter­nal­ly dis­placed peo­ple in the world. Our faiths demand that we remem­ber we are all migrants on this earth, jour­ney­ing togeth­er in hope.

Back­ground

In Decem­ber 2012, UN High Com­mis­sion­er for Refugees António Guter­res orga­nized a Dia­logue with faith lead­ers, faith-based human­i­tar­i­an orga­ni­za­tions, aca­d­e­mics and gov­ern­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tives from coun­tries around the world on the theme of “Faith and Pro­tec­tion.” As the High Com­mis­sion­er not­ed in his open­ing remarks, “…all major reli­gious val­ue sys­tems embrace human­i­ty, car­ing and respect, and the tra­di­tion of grant­i­ng pro­tec­tion to those in dan­ger. The prin­ci­ples of mod­ern refugee law have their old­est roots in these ancient texts and tra­di­tions.” At the con­clu­sion of this land­mark event, the High Com­mis­sion­er embraced a rec­om­men­da­tion for the devel­op­ment of a Code of Con­duct for faith lead­ers to wel­come migrants, refugees and oth­er forcibly dis­placed peo­ple, and stand togeth­er against xeno­pho­bia.

In response to this call, from Feb­ru­ary through April 2013, a coali­tion of lead­ing faith-based human­i­tar­i­an orga­ni­za­tions and aca­d­e­m­ic insti­tu­tions (includ­ing HIAS, Islam­ic Relief World­wide, Jesuit Refugee Ser­vice, Luther­an World Fed­er­a­tion, Oxford Cen­tre for Hin­du Stud­ies, Reli­gions for Peace, Uni­ver­si­ty of Vien­na Fac­ul­ty of Roman Catholic The­ol­o­gy, World Coun­cil of Church­es, World Evan­gel­i­cal Alliance and World Vision Inter­na­tion­al) draft­ed “Wel­com­ing the Stranger: Affir­ma­tions for Faith Lead­ers.” The Affir­ma­tions, which have been trans­lat­ed into Ara­bic, Chi­nese, French, Hebrew, Russ­ian and Span­ish, inspire lead­ers of all faiths to “wel­come the stranger” with dig­ni­ty, respect and lov­ing sup­port. Faith groups around the world will use the Affir­ma­tions and sup­port­ing resources as prac­ti­cal tools to fos­ter sup­port for refugees and oth­er dis­placed peo­ple in their com­mu­ni­ties.

Spe­cial Thanks to Dr Clare Amos, Pro­gramme Coor­di­na­tor for Inter­re­li­gious Dia­logue and Coop­er­a­tion at the World Coun­cil of Church­es, for this won­der­ful Best Prac­tice Exam­ple!