American Muslims Need Not Be Blind Followers

Sheila Musaji

Posted Mar 27, 2007      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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by Sheila Musaji

There have been some individuals who have questioned whether The American Muslim in its willingness to look at all sides of issues is in fact bringing an un-Islamic (American) thought process to Islam.

It is true that Americans who accept Islam need to reassess the value systems, culture and philosophy they were raised with and much needs to be rejected as incompatible with Islam.

On the other hand this evaluation process may find some (or many) principles and values which are compatible with and in conformity to Islamic principles.

We know that Islam is a total way of life based on Qur’an and Sunnah and representing Divine guidance for human beings in a complete system which leads to peace, tolerance, justice and security for individuals and for society.

As reasonable human beings we can look at “Western” civilization and see that there are many serious moral, social, economic, political and legal problems (some of them of crisis proportions) which cannot be the result of following Divine Guidance.

As reasonable human beings we can also look at the current state of “Islamic” civilization and see that there are just as many serious problems which cannot be the result of following Divine guidance.

Clearly, this means that not everything represented as Islam - either by individuals, governments or societies is necessarily Islamic, and in fact, it requires thoughtful consideration to separate truth from falsehood.

The Qur’an tells us that “truth stands out clearly from error” - but discerning which is which is only possible for those who are in the first place looking for the truth and willing to act on it.  “Truth is not to be learned on the basis of authorities.  Learn the truth and then you will know who the truthful ones are.”  Imam Ali

Those of us who have acepted Islam as adults have come to Islam out of a search for the truth.  For this reason we are not as likely to blindly follow “tradition” or accept any statement purely on someone else’s authority without comparison, research, and critical evaluation.

John Milton said, a person who holds a belief purely on tradition or someone else’s authority “may be a heretic in truth ... so that even if his belief be true, yet the very truth he holds becomes his heresy.”  Milton was echoing Ibn-al-Jawzi who said:  “A blind follower does not have any trust in what he follows.  To imitate is to suspend the use of the intellect whereas the intellect is created for thinking and reasoning.  It is stupidity when a person is given a light to show him the way, he should extinguish it and walk in darkness.”

It is in this spirit of necessary inquiry that The American Muslim has been established as an open forum for the free expression of questions and opinions about issues facing Muslims in America today.  Our goal is:  to allow for the presentation of opinions from various points of view; to encourage discussion and dialogue between the proponents of these various points of view; to allow for an examination of the evidence presented in the light of Qur’an and Sunnah on those issues where there is a difference of opinion; to be able to ask for clarification and substantiation when necessary; to decide whether an opinion has merit or is worthy of consideration only after objective analysis; to maintain an attitude of tolerance and an openness o the possibility that through such discussion and consideration of opposing views we may all benefit; to focus on issues and facts, not personaities.

It is true that this thought process can be found as part of Western civilization.  However, it is also firmly established in Islamic thought.  “The word of any person other than the Prophet (pbuh) is sometimes accepted and sometimes rejected.” Imam Malik.  “My opinion is correct with the possibility of its being in error.  An opinion different from mine is in error with the possibility of its being correct.”  Imam Shafi’i

Any article or opinion presented represents only the point of view of the individual contributor - whether or not it has any merit or is worthy of consideration must be the decision of the individual reader.  Whether we agree or disagree with any opinion or school of thought, it is important to keep open the channels of communication.  As Thomas Mann said:  “Speech is civilization itself.  The word, even the most contradictory word, preserves contact.  It is silence which isolates.”  It is possible that dialogue within the Ummah is not an option but a necessity.

Originally published in the print edition of The American Muslim May/June 1991 as part of a regular column entitled “Something to Think About”