THE CHALLENGE OF ISLAM FOR AMERICA
Khutba by Dr. Robert D. Crane, American Islamic Academy 11/16/2001
Part I The Ant on the Carpet
Since Cain, the son of Adam, killed his brother, Abel, human beings have struggled to understand evil. If God created humans in His likeness, why do we see so much evil in the world.
Through the Qur’an, Allah has made clear three principal reasons, and the third is the greatest of them all. First, individual persons are evil because they have the free will to do and be whatever they want. Otherwise they could not choose good, in awareness that this is the Will of Allah. Also there would be no merit in doing good if they could not choose its opposite.
But why does God permit people to choose evil? Why did he permit fanatics on September 11th to kill thousands of innocent people in cold blood, and to do it in the name of Islam?
The second explanation revealed in the Qur’an for the existence of evil is that we are here to be tested. Allah tells us, “I will test you by means of each other,” that is, the greatest tests will be by other human beings. During Ramadhan, which in sha’a Allah starts this evening, we are to strengthen ourselves so that we can withstand these tests, and so that we can help ourselves and others to be better people.
And there is a third, still greater reason for what we perceive as evil. This can be understood perhaps best by the analogy of the ant slowly creeping across the beautiful Persian carpet. The carpet is decorated with elaborate designs and symbols of Allah’s attributes, a beautiful work of art. But, the ant knows nothing about all this. The vision of the carpet’s creator is beyond the ant’s comprehension.
In the plan of Allah, we are better than ants, because we have been given divine revelation and a higher power of reason. We have been told through divine revelation that there is a grand design for the universe and everything in it. We can never understand it fully, because we are not God; we did not create the universe. But, Allah has sent prophets to every people since the beginning of time with messages, culminating in the Qur’an, to tell us that He is closer to each one of us than are our own jugular veins and that we and the most distant galaxies are all part of a purposeful grand design beyond our comprehension.
This is why we must be told, ina ma’a al usri yusra, “with difficulty comes ease,” or “out of apparent evil can come good.” We should look for it and be thankful.
What good could possibly come out of Osama bin Laden’s attack on the leading symbols of America’s material power, assuming that he was indeed the mastermind behind it all? Perhaps its purpose was to shock Americans into a realization that there is no security in material power, not even in the greatest economic and military power in all of human history.
This realization, which cannot be escaped, had a paralyzing effect on every aspect of American life. But it also was a wake-up call for American policy-makers, and especially the policy advisers in the Washington think-tanks, to understand the causes of such a desperate act so that they can appreciate the need to transform America from its image of a national-security state into a global leader of peace through justice.
America sometimes reminds one of an enormous, blind elephant trampling everything in its path underfoot, while trumpeting good will toward all. Perhaps the elephant needs to open its eyes.
What good could possibly come to us Muslims, especially in America, from the spectacular attack on September 11th. After all, we suffered a wave of hate crimes as a direct result of the attack, and more than a thousand American Muslims are now imprisoned without charges or any due process.
The professional enemies of Islam have had a field day. Last Sunday, for example, on November 11th, exactly two months after the shock of September 11th, on the website, www.salon.com, Daniel Pipes claimed a sixth sense to know that the Council on American Islamic Relations has a hidden agenda to impose Islamic law in America, and that CAIR “without a doubt … wants to create a Muslim state in America.” In reference to a Muslim leader’s statement that he wanted to see a Muslim president in America by the Year 2020, Pipes exclaimed, “It’s like saying I want a fascist president.” His evidence for this alleged, hidden agenda is simple: “Look, I have a filter. I’ve studied Islam and Islamism for thirty years. I have a sense of how they proceed and what their agenda is like. And I see it. You don’t.”
CAIR’s comment was simple, “Daniel Pipes should visit Jiffy Lube and clean his filter!”
Perhaps Daniel Pipes is getting desperate. Only last week he lamented that he was depressed because organized Muslims are beginning to change the whole paradigm or framework of thought on the Middle East. Muslims are undermining everything he has done for thirty years to support the agenda of the secular Zionists.
Pipes’ real concern, I’m sure, is not merely the effectiveness of political action by Muslims, but the unexpected effect of the terrorism on September 11th by Osama bin Laden or whoever was behind it. It is almost as if a higher plan were being acted out by the American people.
Since September 11th, 2001, the average American’s attitude toward Islam has shifted from indifference toward an exotic religion “over there” to an intense interest in a phenomenon that from now on will be part of every American’s life, for better or worse. Before September 11th, opinion polls of attitudes toward Islam showed that it topped all religions in negative responses, as well as in “don’t knows,” but that almost two-thirds of Americans were open-minded. All indications now are that the “don’t know” column has disappeared, the negative responses are way down, the open-minded attitude is way up, and the favorable responses are growing rapidly. Other analysis indicates that the rate of conversion to Islam during the past two months has quadrupled from 25,000 persons a year to 100,000. It seems that many, even most, of these are Euro-Americans, whereas previously the overwhelming majority of conversions were in the African-American community, who previously constituted about 55% of all Muslims in America.
The reason for this outpouring of interest in Islam perhaps is that Americans traditionally favor the underdog, though this is rarely reflected in American foreign policy, which has been made by default in Washington think-tanks serving organized special interests more than by the American people. Americans know evil and extremism when they see it, and they have never seen it more clearly than on September 11th. This is extremism by any definition. But, by definition, extremism does not define the silent majority. The question then becomes, who are these Muslims, the silent majority, who must be even more horrified than everybody else because a real life Darth Vader has attacked human civilization in their name?
The number of hate crimes against Muslims and people who resemble the stereotypes of Muslims in the popular mind was remarkably low, only a few hundred. In contrast, the outpouring of sympathy for Muslims throughout America was phenomenal. Christians flocked to the nearest mosques to protect Muslims from the expected counter-attacks, and here they learned first hand that Muslims are human beings not some abstract alien force. Christian and Jewish college girls organized to wear hijab or head-coverings in support of their fellow Muslim students. All over the country, churches, civic associations, and synagogues invited local Muslims to get-acquainted gatherings so that they could explain the real Islam.
Of course, the political leadership in Washington, partly for its own political purposes in consolidating a multi-lateral alliance against the Taliban, publicly and forcefully recognized and supported Islam as a force for good in the world. Regardless of how self-serving it may have been, the bold leadership by President Bush did more in a few days to gain acceptance for Islam as part of main-stream America than anything the Muslims could have done for themselves in many years.
Perhaps the most historically significant impact of America’s Black September only a few weeks ago was its role in ending the Forty-Year Culture War by post-modernists who have denied that there is any source or standard for judging right from wrong. An entire generation of Americans was indoctrinated in the alienated belief that there really is no meaning in life other than doing one’s own thing.
This opened the way for militant atheists, led by the secular Zionists, who fear the power of any religion, to attack the very basis of the American Revolution. They deny that it was based on the guidance of God through revelation and natural law, which the Qur’an calls the sunnatu Allahi, because they reject any role of religion in public life. They are trying to control the future by controlling knowledge of the past.
Allah governs in mysterious ways. President Bush made clear during his election campaign and first few months in office that his top priority as president was to bring religion back into the public square. As an ecumenical Evangelical, as distinct from the Christian fundamentalists, he knows that the entire American experiment in self-governance depends on reliance on divine help and guidance, because awareness of God in whatever religion is essential to recognize human dignity. And loving commitment of one’s life to God is essential for commitment to human responsibilities and human rights. Without this commitment to wisdom and virtue, the American dream would be nothing but a snare and a delusion, and America would be merely another arrogant empire destined for destruction.
This opportunity to re-think America’s mission, and the threat of a dire future if we do not do so, is what President Bush’s Faith Based Initiative is all about. It was already collapsing under the attacks of the militant secularists before the terrorist attack of September 11th. It has now been almost totally eclipsed. For awhile the focus or even obsession on counter-terrorism will sideline all other issues. But, eventually the issue of governmental reliance on people of faith to help solve the issues of conscience will again move front and center. When it does, we will find a different political environment, thanks to the horror of the first installment of America’s new vulnerability to asymmetrical warfare.
The American people will not tolerate the absence of religion from public life, because for the first time they have stared the essence of evil face to face. This evil is not merely the post-modernist denial of any difference between right and wrong, but the assertion that wrong is right and right is wrong. Osama bin Laden’s claim that Islam justifies what happened on September 11th is exactly what one would expect from a beast of the Anti-Christ, the massiah al dajjal. According to the hadith of the Prophet ( ), the Anti-Christ will claim that water is fire, so we should avoid it, and fire is water, so we should drink it.
This is a metaphor or simile for good and evil. Osama bin Laden asks us to embrace his crime of incinerating thousands of innocent people by fire as the only way to bring about justice in the world. From the diplomacy of the Prophet ( ), we know that violence is not the only means to justice, though the just war of the jihad al saghrir is sometimes necessary to defend human rights against aggression. Osama bin Laden is asking us to rely solely on human effort, to submit to his plan, which denies the power of Allah. Osama bin Laden is truly an ant, albeit a dangerous fire-ant, but we now know he is here in our midst, and that he is only a prototype for more to come. He has been foretold, and we have been warned.
Now that the American people have seen such evil, they, and perhaps also their leaders, in sha’a Allah, will look to the only ultimate source of salvation from it, which is God and his prophets. Perhaps this is the grand design on the beautiful carpet over which we have been creeping unawares. Allahu ‘alim wa Allahu akbar.
Part II Re-Thinking the American Mission: The Role of Islam
If America must look to its leaders for wisdom in the present and all future crises, who are its real leaders. The American people are. And as Muslims in America, we are.
We Muslims are not mere ants on a rug. We are vice-regents of Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala. We were born with khilafa. Every individual Muslim has a duty, fard ‘ain, and the entire umma here in America has a responsibility, fard kifaya, to be Allah’s servants in weaving Allah’s grand design. Our role and very existence here in America is part of Allah’s purpose to bring real meaning and substance to the Founders’ conviction that America can and should be a moral leader of the world.
America is perhaps the only country where a truly Islamic culture can flourish and therefore may be the only leading Western country that can become functionally Islamic. By this I do not mean that the majority will make the shahada and formally become Muslims, but rather that the common principles of classical America and classical Islam will provide the paradigm of thought that guides public life. I am trying to get funding to write a five-volume work over a period of five years to flesh out this assertion in a scholarly manner as guidance for Muslim activists in explaining Islam to American patriots.
The basic paradigm of what we call American “traditionalist” thought, which originated in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 in England and culminated in the American Revolution almost a century later, is that order, justice, and freedom are interdependent. When freedom is construed to be independent of justice, there can be no justice and the result will be anarchy. When order is thought to be possible without justice, there can be no order, because injustice is the principal cause of disorder. When justice is thought to be possible without order and freedom, then the pursuit of order, justice, and freedom are snares of the ignorant. This is spelled out in my booklet, Meta-Law: An Islamic Policy Paradigm, May 2000, 49 pages.
This triune nature of peace through justice is thoroughly Islamic, but Muslim scholars have spelled it out in unsurpassed detail. The vision of Islam was fully articulated during the Islamic classical period and culminated in the writings of Al Shatibi six centuries ago in direct reliance on thematic analysis of the Qur’an and on the diplomacy of the Prophet Muhammad ( ). The great scholars of Islam, every one of whom was imprisoned at least once for refusing to corrupt Islamic tradition, developed guidelines for developing and applying Islamic law (shari’ah) in the form of a set of Islamic universal principles (kulliyat), essentials (dururiyat), or purposes (maqasid). Although there are some important fiqi guidelines to observe in this field, al Shatibi explained that the number and inner tectonics of these maqasid are flexible according to time and place.
The secret to the functional Islamization of America is to articulate vision. Vision shapes the public policy agenda, and whoever shapes the agenda controls policy.
For purposes of agenda formation, the universal principles of Islamic thought are seven responsibilities. When observed, they produce corresponding human rights. The first, haqq al din, is the duty to respect and maintain the purity of divine revelation, without which human reason is unreliable. The next three, which promote human survival, are haqq al haya, the duty to respect human life and the human person; haqq al nasl, the duty to respect the human family and group rights at every level of human association; and haqq al mal, the duty to respect private property and the universal human right to individual ownership of the means of production.
The second set of three maqasid promotes quality of life. These are haqq al hurriya, the duty to respect group self-determination through political freedom, including the second-order principles of governmental responsiveness (shura), representative government (ijma), and an independent judiciary; haqq al karama, the duty to respect human dignity, including freedom of religion and gender equity; and haqq al ‘ilm, which is the duty to respect knowledge, including freedom of thought, speech, and association, subject to the other six universal principles. These universal principles of Islamic law constitute a definition of justice, which, in turn, is the Islamic definition of human rights.
In order to clarify the picture of the real Islam in Western societies, the principal requirement is for Muslims to reflect the wisdom and beauty of Islam in their daily lives, because this is the best form of da’wa. This is the purpose of the five pillars or arkan of the faith, including fasting, especially in Ramadhan. Strengthening our iman to the level of ihsan so that our entire life is a form of salat based on true taqwa or loving awe of Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, is the major purpose of Ramadhan.
Building, maintaining, and expanding mosques and schools must be second in priority, because this is essential to bring solidarity in the umma both in space and in time, both for us and for future generations.
Our responsibilities go beyond this, particularly now that Islam has become well established in America during a century when its future and the future of civilization hang in the balance. We must introduce Islam into the public discourse on all issues of conscience. For this we need concerted effort by Muslim academics and Muslim think-tanks or policy centers.
Some of the opinion leaders in the Muslim umma talk glibly about founding think-tanks, but without any idea of why, what, or how, other than to vent their frustration with American foreign policies. They are narcissistic to the extent of conceiving that a Muslim think-tank should address only issues that directly concern Muslims. They treat Islam as a special-interest group rather than as a universal religion divinely revealed to bring balance in our stewardship of the earth, mercy to the poor, wisdom to the powerful, and justice to all.
The function of a Muslim think-tank is to provide vision for a network of like-minded think-tanks in the non-Muslim policy community. It also should explore and evaluate different options for action.
In Islam, commitment to action is known as jihad. There are three kinds of jihad. The first two are found in the hadith or history of the sayings and actions of the Prophet Muhammad ( ). These are the jihad al akbar or greatest jihad, which is the struggle to overcome one’s unruly self. The second is the lesser jihad, the jihad al saghrir or asghrar, which is the armed battle to defend the human rights of one’s own people and of people everywhere. The third jihad, mentioned only by the word of God in the Qur’an, Surah al Furqan 25:52, is the jihad al kabir or great jihad. This jihad is called for in the exhortation wa jihidhum bihi jihadan kabiran, which means “struggle with it [divine revelation] in a great struggle.” This is the intellectual jihad, which normally follows the first two.
In the modern era, when the instinct to defend oneself with armed force can be self-defeating, the call to a great jihad requires Muslim intellectuals to counter the impending clash of civilizations by providing the intellectual basis for cooperation among civilizations in the articulation of common principles and the pursuit of common goals.
The scholars and political activists of Islam have a four-fold task, which is to: 1) develop a framework of thought consistent with the universal principles of classical America’s founders and of the classical scholars of Islam; 2) address the major issues of conscience in the world within the framework of these principles, known to Muslims as the maqasid al shari’ah; 3) enlist the leaders of interfaith dialogue, without which there can be no real civilizational cooperation and renewal; and 4) from this position of strength, engage the deep but destructive thinkers, who otherwise will develop a counter-culture on their own, cut off from the perennial wisdom that produces civilization. The challenge to the Muslim umma or community worldwide is nothing less than to mount a movement of global civilizational renewal at a time when the barbarians are not only at the gates of civilization but entrenching themselves inside.
At the present time, the question has become acute: Why do Muslims let the American government take the initiative in shaping the future of the world? We share with all people the same access to a power that has transcended every person, every nation, and every empire since the beginning of history. God has the ultimate sovereignty, but He exercises this through the individual person, who has the free will to respond. Each individual exercises the true sovereignty, not the government. It is the challenge and responsibility of Muslims in America to participate in their nation’s governance through political, intellectual, and spiritual activism, recognizing that the best Planner is Allah.