Immigration and the brotherhood of man

Pamela K. Taylor

Posted Nov 15, 2010      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Immigration and the brotherhood of man

by Pamela K. Taylor

Q: Illegal immigrants are flouting U.S. laws, but does affluent America (or Arizona for that matter) have a larger moral or spiritual obligation to help illegal immigrants who are trying to better their lives? What about religious obligations to welcome the stranger? Are we our brother’s keeper?

In the Qur’an, God tells us about the creation of humankind… “O Mankind! Be conscious of your Sustainer who has created you out of one soul, and from it created its mate, and from the two spread abroad a multitude of men and women.” (4:1) and “O mankind! Lo! We have created you male and female, and have made you into nations and tribes that ye may know one another. Lo! the noblest of you, in the sight of Allah, is the best in conduct. Lo! Allah is Knowing, Aware.”

These verses confirm what is readily observable… humankind is a unity. We share one small planet that has no national borders carved into its landforms. And we share the same basic impulses: to be free from hunger, to be healthy, to have shelter from the elements, to share our lives with friends and family, to pursue those things that make us happy—essentially to live in physical, emotional, and spiritual comfort.

Within this framework the question of illegal immigration becomes senseless. If we are all one brotherhood, then we have an equal obligation to all humankind, and all of mankind has an equal birthright to the natural resources of the world. Where one lives, the color of one’s skin, the language one speaks, the type of clothing one wears, food one eats or music one listens to makes no difference. The believer is called to be compassionate to all mankind, not just those who belong to her or his perceived in-group(s). The question then becomes not whether we have an obligation to help, but rather how do we help.

Welcoming all immigrants to our country clearly is not the most efficient way to deal with the poverty, hunger, epidemics of preventable disease, etc., that afflict humankind across the globe. America cannot take in the millions upon millions of people who live in intolerable conditions around the world. Instead, we, along with the other developed nations, must take proactive steps to help lift our brothers and sisters out of poverty and deprivation.

This, obviously, would resolve issues of excessive and/or illegal immigration. If opportunity abounded around the world, there would be far less motivation to move from one country to another. Indeed, illegal immigrants do not flock to America because they want to be American, but because it is impossible to earn enough money in their home countries to take care of their families. When they can provide for their families and have a decent life in their home country, illegal immigration will cease to be a problem; it is only because we maintain an imbalanced global economy through protectionism and exploitative business practices that excessive immigration is an issue.

Equally clearly, the global economic imbalance can not continue forever. If developed nations took far greater responsibility for helping underdeveloped nations to improve their own economies and infrastructure, everyone would prosper sooner and with far less upheaval than it likely to happen under the current system where developed nations offer pittances while trying to ensure maximum their individual GNPs.
Until such time, we need to deal with immigrants in the most humane way possible, both legal and illegal, keeping in mind their, and our, basic humanity.

Pamela Taylor is co-founder of Muslims for Progressive Values, former director of the Islamic Writers Alliance and strong supporter of the woman imam movement. She blogs at On Faith in the Washington Post at