A Key to Shaping the Political Agenda: Part 1 Peaceful Engagement Through Interfaith Action

Sources of Guidance

The purpose of our existence as Muslims, Christians, and Jews is to seek Allah ( ), apply the absolute truth of Revelation in our private and public lives, and infuse it into the community in which we were born or choose to live.  This means that our social purpose must be functionally to Islamize the community wherever we live and at whatever level, from the family all the way to the community of mankind.  This social purpose, again at every level of human community, requires political action based on the guiding principles of normative law derived from Divine Revelation, which for Muslims are the maqasid al shari’ah.

Muslim political activists can maintain their mission in life only by personal and group adherence to the intellectual guidance of the shari’ah, which derives from the Qur’an (direct Revelation, also known as haqq al yaqin); the sunnah of the Prophet ( ); and the sunnah of Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala (i.e., natural law derived from the signs of Allah in the universe and in our own souls, also known as ‘ain al yaqin).

More important than this intellectual guidance, however, is one’s personal knowledge of Allah ( ) and the personal inspiration or ilham that not only guides the individual person but compels him or her to submit to Allah ( ) by following the shari’ah and implementing it in all one’s thought and action.

Our dignity as human beings consists in our freedom to choose our own destiny.  One can choose perfect freedom only by seeking nothing but Allah ( ) so that one has no desires other than the Will of Allah ( ), that is, so that we are nothing but instruments of Allah in this world.  Only when one thereby becomes a manifestation of Allah ( ), like the stars and the trees, can one maintain integrity in anything one does.  Only when we seek Allah ( ) and succeed in this endeavor, by the grace of Allah, can we maintain our Islamic identity and both understand and fulfill our responsibilities as khulafa’a or vice-regents of Allah ( ).  Only when we become, in fact, vice-regents of Allah ( ), both as persons and as an organic umma, can we fulfill the political responsibilities of khilafa, which are nothing less than theocentrically to govern the universe.

Ecumenical Alliance

Critical to this mission of Muslims is our own humility in recognizing that Allah ( ) has given a similar mission to other faiths and to those adherents of these faiths who follow as best they can the Revelation available to them.  Direct Revelation about our responsibilities to cooperate with those Christians and Jews who worship Allah ( ) is found throughout the Qur’an:

You are the best of peoples, evolved for mankind, enjoining what is right, forbidding what is wrong, and believing in Allah.  If only the People of the Book had faith, it were best for them.  Among them are some who have faith ... Not all of them are alike.  Of the people of the Book are a portion that stand for the right; they rehearse the signs of Allah all night long, and they prostrate themselves in adoration.  They believe in Allah and the Last Day; they enjoin what is right, and forbid what is wrong; and they hasten in emulation of all good works.  They are in the ranks of the righteous.  Of the good that they do, nothing will be rejected, for Allah knows well those that do right (Surah Ali Imran 3:110, 113-115).

Those who reject faith - neither their possessions nor their progeny will avail them aught against Allah.  They will be Companions of the Fire, dwelling there forever. ... O you who believe!  Take not into your intimacy those outside your ranks,  for they will not fail to corrupt you.  They only desire your ruin; rank hatred has already appeared from their mouths.  What their hearts conceal is far worse. We have made plain to you the Signs if you have wisdom (Surah Ali Imran 3:116, 118).

Allah ( ) warns us to use wisdom in distinguishing between the Christians and Jews who submit to Him and those who do not, because the latter, those who are “unjust” and “those in whose hearts is a disease,” are enemies of all Muslims and of everything sacred and good:

Let the People of the Gospel judge by what Allah has revealed therein.  If any do fail to judge by the light of what Allah has revealed, they are no better than those who rebel.  To you we sent the Scripture in truth, confirming the scripture that came before it, and guarding it in safety.  So judge between them by what Allah has revealed, and do not follow their vain desires, diverging from the Truth that has come to you.  To each among you have We prescribed a Law and a Process.  If Allah had so willed, He would have made you a single People, but His Plan is to test you in what he has given you.  So strive as in a race in all virtues.  The goal of you all is to Allah.  It is He that will show you the truth of the matters in which you dispute (Surah al Ma’ida, 5:47-48).

O you who believe! Do not take the Jews and Christians for your guardians and protectors.  They are but guardians and protectors of each other.  And whoever among you turns to them is of them.  Verily Allah guides not a people unjust, those in whose hearts is a disease - you see how eagerly they run about among them saying, “We fear that a change in fortune will bring us disaster” (Surah al Ma’ida, 5:51-52).  O you who believe!  Do not take for guardians and protectors those who take the din of Allah for a mockery or sport, whether among those who received the Scripture before you, or among those who reject faith altogether, but fear Allah, if you indeed have faith. ... If only they had stood fast by the Law, the Gospel, and all the revelation that was sent to them from their Lord, they would have enjoyed happiness from every side.  There is from among them a party on the right course, but many of them follow a course that is evil (Surah al Ma’ida, 5:57, 66).

Allah ( ) instructs us further in Surah al Ma’ida:

Say: “O People of the Book! You have no ground to stand upon unless you stand fast by the Law, the Gospel, and all the revelation that has come to you from your Lord.”  It is the revelation that comes to you from your Lord that increases in most of them their obstinate rebellion and blasphemy.  But do not grieve over these people without faith.  Those who believe [in the Qur’an], those who follow the Jewish scriptures, and the Sabians and Christians, any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness, on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve (Surah al Ma’ida, 5:68-69).

Allah states that, if they follow their own guidance from Allah ( ), Muslims will have no need to fear those among the Christians and Jews who are sincere, even though they have strayed over the course of centuries from the purity of the original Revelation sent to them by Allah ( ):

O you who believe! Guard your own souls.  If you follow right guidance, no hurt can come to you from those who stray.  The goal of you all is to Allah.  It is He that will show you the truth of all that you do (Surah al Ma’ida, 5:105).

Allah instructs us to beware of the hypocritical Christians and Jews, as well as of the hypocritical Muslims, because they are enemies to the Plan of Allah ( ). They cannot thwart Allah’s Plan, but they can seduce the unwary among Muslims, Christians, and Jews and lead them into hell, which is separation from Allah ( ).

The battle between good and evil in the world is a battle between those who submit to Allah ( ) and those who worship the false gods of power, prestige, and hedonistic pleasure, or the false gods of any ideology or party that seeks other than the pleasure of Allah ( ). This is in essence a spiritual battle between the traditionalists, who seek Allah ( ) in their personal and public lives, and the secular fundamentalists, who seek to exclude Allah ( ) from human consciousness and eliminate those who are conscious of Allah from public life.

If we are to win this so-called “culture war,” which now has spread all over the world from its origin in Western civilization, we must develop a strategy to build allies among the traditionalist forces in America, because united we stand but divided we fall.  The major allies of Muslims in the effort to reveal and address the causes of our civilizational disintegration are the People of the Book.  Our allies are those among the Christians and Jews who agree that the purpose of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is to assure freedom for religion in public life in order to prevent political infringement of religious rights.  America was founded on non-sectarian religion in the sense of a common quest for transcendent truth and a common thirst for justice based upon it.  Although we have had our share of hypocrisy, the American phenomenon is rooted solidly in religion, and therefore makes America unique in modern history.

The history of secular states during the past century, including Serbia, argues strongly that individuals and groups can maintain freedom to worship and live in accordance with their religion only if morality is based on a transcendent source, so that God, not man, is the ultimate sovereign and law-giver.  The only alternative is relativistic “ethics,” according to which invariably might makes right, even though the wielder of ethical orthodoxy may rule with a velvet glove.  Anyone who argues that human rights can or even must be developed in a sterile environment barren of everything sacred is bizarrely utopian.

Imposing Alien Identities

There are at least three approaches to relations between Muslims and the People of the Book. The first is the rejectionist approach, best typified by the Hisbat al Tahrir, which deliberately distorts the Qur’an, as exemplified by the editorial in the December, 1993, issue of Ar-Raya, entitled “The Myth of the Abrahamic Religions,” published by The Islamic Da’awah Center in Woodside, New York.  The editor exclaims: “Allah explicitly states that Christians are kuffar. He says ... ‘The disbelievers, the People of the Book ... ’ (al Bayyinah 98:1).  Thus, by the clear statement of the Qur’an, the Jews and the Christians are kuffar!”

Kufr is deliberately hiding the truth.  How do you describe those who deliberately hide the key word in the above quote from the Qur’an, namely, min, i.e., among the people of the book?

The inevitable result of this mentality of alienation and hatred is the bizarre claim in the same issue of Ar-Raya, in “An Islamic Perspective on Holidays,” that, “It is permitted for us to eat Turkey any day of the year.  However, feasting on it on Thanksgiving Day as a ritual to commemorate is haram.”  How do you describe anybody who is so cold-hearted as to refuse to join in giving thanks to our Sustainer, subhanahu wa ta’ala?

Another uncharitable approach is to rally the wavering Muslims by ridiculing the teachings and scriptures of Christians and Jews.  This is best exemplified by “da’wa” techniques that often amount to distortion of Christian teachings equal to the gross distortions of Islam so prevalent in Orientalist literature.  Those who engage in polemics with people of other faiths may be rallying the troops but they clearly are not doing da’wa because they are trying to deny the legitimacy of the other, which can only alienate them, rather than to convince them of the universal legitimacy of Islam.

The result of such hostility is to deny the other person the right to define his or her own identity, which is the most basic of all human rights.  As Sulayman Nyang, who is one of the world’s leading intellectuals, has stated, “There is no dialogue when one group defines the other’s identity and expects its members to accept such a definition in the context of dialogue.”

The imposition of such an alien identity, no matter how well-meaning, is illustrated in the popular Muslim attack on the Christian Christmas, embodied in the attack by Brother Shamal Zamaluddin in the December, 1993, issue of ICNA’s The Message: “Business is booooming. From new clothes and shoes to dancing all night to gifts for members of the family and friends, money is spent as if there were no tomorrow: from A’s (alcohol, aloe vera creams, and arcade games) to B’s (barbecues, balloons, and baking) to C’s (cars, clothes, and condoms - oh yes, lots of guys want to show more than goodwill to their girlfriends).”

No-one is more pained by such activities than devout Christians, because to have such hedonism associated in any way with celebration of the birth of Christ ( ) is pure sacrilege.  Only a generation ago, one could identify practicing Christians by whether they waited until Christmas eve before they lit any lights, because the four weeks before Christmas were a period of fasting and penitence leading up to the celebration of the coming of God’s Word (i.e., His spirit and message) in the person of Jesus.  The lights of celebration were maintained until January 6th, which celebrates the coming of the three wisemen, the hanifs from distant countries, who recognized the great event and what it meant.  Nowadays, in a complete reversal of the profane for the sacred, the lights go out immediately after Christmas, exactly when they should be on.

It is very unkind for Muslims to blame Christianity for the abominations of pagan secularists and their blind followers, especially because Muslims are victims of precisely the same sort of demonizing everywhere themselves.  If Muslims want others to let them define Islam, they should let devout Christians define Christianity and devout Jews define the essence of Judaism.  Confrontation through polemical denial of the other’s right to self-identity is universally to be condemned as perhaps the worst possible affront to human dignity.

The Strategy of Peaceful Engagement

Muslim ecumenists stress that the truly Islamic approach to other sincere worshipers of Allah ( ), no matter how misled they might be in doctrine, is to cooperate with them in addressing the problems common to all humankind and to try to understand their beliefs so that everyone can cooperate more effectively.  This may be described as the strategy of “peaceful engagement.”

A superb illustration of this approach is the special December, 1993, issue of ICNA’s The Message, entitled The Crescent and the Cross.  This included a first-rate analysis by Sister Lydia Griffin, one of the journal’s editors, of the first papal encyclical on moral theology (i.e., ‘usul or the sources of moral law) ever issued by the Vatican.

This encyclical, entitled Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth), developed the Abrahamic episteme or paradigm of knowledge, which, Sister Lydia says, consists in “the sound refusal to allow human reason the power of decision on what is morally right or morally wrong.  Moral values are inherent in the universe that God has created.  No more, no less.  And in these values from God man finds ultimate freedom and ultimate fulfillment.”  She explains that this encyclical on what Muslims would call the sunnatu Allahi was necessary to combat what the Pope calls a “genuine crisis” unlike any heretofore, which consists in the contemporary heresy in Western culture to define its own morality and call it “truth.”

This heresy is at the root of the assault now being mounted against Divine Revelation not merely by secular fundamentalists but even more fiercely by secularist Muslims, Christians, and Jews all over the planet, and which will be won or lost only at its source in America.  Sister Lydia asks whether this encyclical is the beginning of a new era of anti-Islamic crusades, or, she queries, “is this the time when true understanding is born, the realization that the power of the One message of the One God is so strong in resurgence, now that the world needs it so badly, that it can finally unite those so long separated by human fortresses and matchstick towers. Barrier built on a mortar of illusion and fog.”

The answer will be given not merely by Muslim philosophers and wise men, though they must be the leaders in the war against the beasts or forerunners of the anti-Christ, but by the millions of Muslims already in America and by the tens of millions more who will be added, in sha’ Allah, during the century ahead.  In his article in this symposium on The Crescent and the Cross, Omar Afzal refers to the brilliant former nun, Karen Armstrong, who has written two best-sellers, A History of God: The 4000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet.  He notes that, “there are thousands of ‘pure spirits’ like Karen Armstrong who find it easier to ‘pray with the Muslims’ but prefer to call themselves ‘unaffiliated monotheists.’  Why? According to Karen Armstrong, the ‘authentic test of a religion is not what you believe, it is what you do, and unless your religion expresses itself in compassion for all living things, it is not authentic’.”

The true test of spirituality is compassion, and the sure proof of its absence is cruelty.  These are the two polar opposites in one’s moral life.  Muslims should thank Allah ( ) for the many Americans who miraculously find their way to Islam because they have never heard of those prejudiced or polemical da’iis, self-styled missionaries, who would make it irrational for anyone even to consider becoming a “Muslim.”

In his editorial, “Light the Way,” the editor of The Message, Muhammad Yunus, encourages joint celebration of our common understandings.  These consist of every element of our ‘aqida.  Brother Yunus urges, “What is needed is conciliation, reconciliation, and inclusion.  What is needed is grace, generosity of spirit, purity of intention.  Faced with the complexity and the magnitude of misunderstanding, we require open-mindedness and shared commitment.  Let us put aside the bitterness that marked the centuries of Christian-Muslim relations.  Let us behave with the decency and civility that makes humans proud of our preeminence over other creatures. ... In this season of Allah’s Messenger from Galilee, we remember the seekers of truth.  We uncover the seed.  The root of Christianity is Islam.  Jesus of Nazareth was a Muslim.  Christians will come to see, if Muslims light the way.”

This symposium concludes with the inspired article, “Flashes of Hope,” by Waheed Ahmed, in which he leaves us with the thought that “one day the gloom will be lifted from the Nile Valley, the Indus Valley, and far beyond ... and [there will be] men and women who call themselves Muslims, citizens of the only remaining superpower in the world.  Tomorrow, with them will be the children of the Old World.  Together they will say, Ina anna min al Muslimeen (Verily, I am one of the Muslims).  The voices will echo from the four corners of the continent and resonate in the corridors of power.  Then tomorrow will have begun, a tomorrow that is not just a dream but a divine promise!”

The ultimate political answer to the chaos and evil that are now engulfing American society must be ecumenical cooperation of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish leaders in a traditionalist movement.  In order to participate in and lead this movement, the Muslim umma in America should have not only its own lobbying organizations, but its own think-tanks and intellectual journals, so that Muslim think-tanks can network with other traditionalist think-tanks, like the Heritage Foundation and the Center for Ethics and Public Policy, not only to marshal the facts and arguments in support of traditionalist positions on public issues but to carry on an enlightened conversation designed to restore the traditionalist or spiritual premises of American culture.

Only through such a policy consortium can we win the jihad for the soul of America.  Only in this way can we complete the American Revolution, which started with much promise but has gone far off course.  Only by realizing the destiny of America as a moral beacon for the world can we cooperate effectively with other cultures and civilizations of mankind in fulfilling our transcendent purpose here on earth.

The Power of Allah

Although every social and political movement must have enlightened leaders if it is to succeed by the grace of Allah ( ), even more important are enlightened followers.  True followers understand that the duty of a follower is to correct the errors of those in a position of leadership, as the early sahaba or followers of the Prophet Muhammad ( ) did when the caliphs of the day failed to counteract the concentration of power and wealth in society and failed to follow the spiritual path enjoined by Allah ( ).

The power of a movement lies in the followers, provided that they have leaders who are true servants of Allah ( ).  Allah has always given His guidance primarily to the marginalized in society, perhaps because it is easier for them to prosper by relying on Allah ( ) rather than on their own material power, just as it easier for farmers to praise the power of Allah ( ), because they see it constantly in their daily lives, than it is for modern city-dwellers who easily can succumb to the illusion that everything in existence has been contrived and built by man.

The true power of a traditionalist movement does not lie in think-tanks created to wage war at an intellectual level, or in lobbying organizations designed to penetrate the existing power structure, even though they are essential for success.  Real success can come only from reliance by large organized communities of people on the power of Allah ( ).

Certainly it is humanly impossible for Muslims to Islamize America in the sense of awakening the awareness of tens of millions of Americans to the love of Allah ( ), or in the sense of infusing shari’ah thought so that America will become functionally Islamic, yet without this any political lobbying will amount to little more than tilting at windmills.  Throughout the Qur’an Allah ( ) makes abundantly clear that one can carry out His will only by reliance on Him:

Say: “O Allah! Lord of Power, You give power to whom You please, and You strip off power from whom You please.  You endow with honor whom You please, and You bring low whom You please.  In Your hand is all Good.  Verily, over all things You have power” (Surah Ali Imran, 3:26).

Allah creates what He wills. When He has decreed a plan, He but says, “be,” and it is (Surah Ali Imran, 3:47).  Also Surah Al Nahl, 16:40, and Miryam, 19:35, “Kun fa yakun.”
And [the unbelievers] plotted and planned, and Allah too planned, and the best of planners is Allah (Surah Ali Imran, 3:54). Also Surah al Anfal, 8:30, and Al Ra’d, 13:42.  Those whom Allah in His plan wants to guide - He opens their breast to Islam (Surah al An’am, 6:125).

The power of Allah ( ) may not be visible, but it is real, and there is no help from the power of Allah unless we rely upon it:

Remember you implored the assistance of your Lord [at the Battle of Badr], and He answered you, “I will assist you with a thousand of the angels, ranks on ranks.”  Allah made it but a message of hope, and an assurance to your hearts: there is no help except from Allah, and Allah is exalted in power and wise (Surah al Anfal, 8:9-10).

It was not you who slew them.  It was Allah.  When you threw [a handful of dust as a symbol of the enemy rushing blindly to their fate] it was not your act, but Allah’s, so that He might test the believers by a gracious trial from Himself, for Allah is the One Who hears and knows all things.  And Allah is the One Who makes feeble the plans and stratagems of the unbelievers (Surah al Anfal, 8:17-18).

O you who believe!  When you meet a force, be firm, and call Allah in remembrance much and often, so that you may prosper.  And obey Allah and His apostle, and fall into no disputes, lest you lose heart and your power depart.  And be patient and persevering, for Allah is with those who patiently persevere. ... O Apostle!  Rouse the believers to the fight.  If there are twenty among you who are patient and persevering, they will vanquish two hundred; if a hundred, they will vanquish a thousand of the unbelievers, for these are a people without understanding (Surah al Anfal, 8:45-46, 65).

Did you not turn by vision to those who abandoned their homes for fear of death, though they numbered in the thousands?  Allah said to them, “Die!” ... But those who were convinced that they must meet Allah said, “How often, by Allah’s will, has a small force vanquished a big one?  Allah is with those who steadfastly persevere.”  ... And if Allah did not check one group of people by means of another, the earth would indeed be full of mischief, but Allah is full of bounty to all the worlds (Surah al Baqarah, 2:243,249,251).

Unless you go forth, He will punish you with a grievous penalty and put others in your place. ... When the unbelievers drove him out [the Prophet Muhammad from Makkah], he had no more than one companion, for there were only two in the cave, and he said to his companion, “Have no fear, for Allah is with us.”  Then Allah sent down His peace [sakinah] upon him, and strengthened him with forces which you did not see, and humbled to the depths the word of the unbelievers.  But the word of Allah is exalted to the heights, for Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise.  Go forth, whether equipped lightly or heavily, and strive and struggle with your goods and your persons in the cause of Allah.  This is best if only you knew. (Surah al Tauba, 9:40-41).