Islam Gets Left Out of a Multi-Faith Show of Prayer on the Inaugural Stage

By Emma Green for The Atlantic.


Credit Win McNamee / Getty

Trump selected six religious leaders to offer prayers at the Inauguration, taking a somewhat lopsided one-of-every-kind approach: The list of clergy included a Catholic, a Jew, a female evangelical, a Hispanic evangelical, a black evangelical, and a white evangelical. Past presidents have selected between two and four leaders to say blessings or give the invocation; the last time presidents even approached this number of religious leaders was in the 1950s and ’60s.

Even with the diversity of religious leaders on stage this morning, at least one major religion wasn’t represented: Islam. While other religious minorities also didn’t get a spot on stage, Muslims had a high-profile role in the election—during his inauguration speech, the new president highlighted his commitment to eliminating “radical Islamic terrorism,” something he echoed often on the campaign trail.

The most poignant passages were read at the beginning of the ceremony by Samuel Rodriguez, the pastor who leads the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. He chose selections from the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew—the book of the Bible in which Jesus gives the the Sermon on the Mount. Rodriguez spoke of lifting up the poor, and, perhaps most poignantly, the importance of humility.

Later, Franklin Graham, the son of the evangelist Billy Graham who runs his father’s eponymous outreach organization and the charity Samaritan’s Purse, echoed a different kind of sentiment: that God has directly played a role in Trump’s arrival at Inauguration Day. “The rain is a sign of God’s blessing,” Graham said. “It started to rain, Mr. President, when you came to the platform.”

Trump himself brought quite a bit of religious rhetoric into his speech. After listing off the reasons for American’s great potential, he noted that, “most importantly, we will be protected by God.” Later, he noted that Americans are all “infused with the breath of life by the same almighty creator.”

In addition to Rodriguez and Franklin, Trump tapped Timothy Dolan, the Roman Catholic Cardinal of New York; Paula White, a evangelical pastor from Florida; Rabbi Marvin Hier, who leads the Simon Wiesenthal Center in L.A.; and Wayne T. Jackson, the head of Great Faith Ministries International and Impact Television Network in Detroit. On Saturday, an even larger roster of religious figures will gather for the National Prayer Service at the National Cathedral. This time, Islam will be represented: Mohamed Magid, a Washington-area imam who formerly led the Islamic Society of North America, will join a couple dozen others to lead prayers.