The new Muslim mayor of London

by Maureen Fiedler

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How rapidly we forget history! Or maybe we never learned it in the first place.

Sadiq Khan was just elected recently as the first Muslim mayor of London, England, but many news outlets announced that he was the "first Muslim mayor of a major European city." Just one problem: It's not true! Not even close.

This week on "Interfaith Voices," I interviewed an historian named Dr. Juan Cole, a professor at the University of Michigan and an expert on Islam and the Middle East. When he saw these incorrect headlines, he wrote an article for Truthdig entitled, "London's Muslim Mayor is Nothing New: 1,300 Years of Muslims who Ran Major European Cities."

Going back to the 8th century, when Muslims first invaded what is now Spain, they ran cities like Cordoba, and they flourished with multi-faith populations. Scholars proficient in Arabic, Hebrew and Latin discussed and appreciated the importance of their sacred texts, and studied the links among the three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Cole is careful to point out that there were periods of trouble and persecution at times, but for the most part, it was a positive experience for its residents.

In the modern era, Cole points out that the present mayor of Rotterdam in the Netherlands is Muslim, and that Muslims have led cities and territories in Spain, Greece and Eastern Europe.

The underlying problem, he insists, is that too many people think of Europe as "innately" Christian, and not as multi-faith and multicultural. But, he notes, Christianity itself is a near Eastern religious tradition that worked its way into Europe over centuries. But it is not the sole religion on the continent.

Once that history was cleared up, I asked him about the new London mayor's response to Donald Trump, who said that he would "make an exception" for him in his proclaimed ban on Muslims entering the United States. Basically, Khan answered in five words: "This isn't just about me." And then he continued: "It's about my friends, my family, and everyone who comes from a background similar to mine, anywhere in the world."

Then, he continued, "Donald Trump's ignorant view of Islam could make both of our countries less safe -- it risks alienating mainstream Muslims around the world and plays into the hands of extremists;" and he said further, "Donald Trump and those around him think that Western liberal values are incompatible with mainstream Islam -- London has proved him wrong."

And for the record, the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) reported in April that Americans roundly reject the idea that the US should prevent Muslims from entering the United States. Only 24 percent favor that policy while two-thirds (67 percent) reject it.

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