Muslim Political Action
Dr. Robert D. Crane
All over America various individuals and groups are trying to organize Muslims in order to gain access to the corridors of power. Some want power to defend the interests of their own religious or ethnic group, and some want power to help solve the domestic and global problems facing all Americans. The danger is that both the parochial and the principled will become corrupted by the inevitable give and take in politics and will end up seeking power for its own sake.
The Muslim movement toward political empowerment can guard against the clear and present danger of moral corruption only by developing institutionalized means to maintain the Islamic mission of jihad for tamkin al din, which is to struggle on behalf of human rights as expressed in the Qur’an and sunnah and developed by the great scholars of Islam in the shari’ah or Islamic law. Any other mission might be Muslim because it is pursued by Muslims, but it cannot be Islamic. The challenge for Muslim political activists therefore is to work with scholars in developing the shari’ah as the framework for thought and action by both Muslims and non-Muslims in America.
This process of political development requires the creation of community ijma and shura to guide think tanks so that they can prepare the position papers needed by front-line Muslim lobbyists. There may be many Islamic positions on any given issue, but there is only one Islamic approach, which is to address the causes rather than merely the effects of a problem. The current crime crisis has generated panic precisely because legislators neither know nor have addressed the fundamental causes of the problem and therefore are taking actions that may compound the problem rather than contribute to its solution.
The only effective Islamic solution to the problems facing America and the world, and the best way to maintain the purity in mission required to avoid moral corruption among Muslim activists, is to develop Islamic leadership of a traditionalist movement of like-minded People of the Book. Only through such interfaith cooperation with spiritually-motivated Christians and Jews can we restore the primacy of the sacred in all private and public life so that America can become what its founders envisioned, namely, a nation guided by persons who are guided by God.
The Problem: Is it Haram?
The most burning question among Muslims in America is whether or not it is haram for Muslims to seek power in the political process of representative government in America today. The two popular answers are a simplistic “no” and a simple “yes, and “let’s not discuss it.” The result is that we do not even address the much more relevant and important question of whether and how in the process we can maintain our Islamic identity and responsibilities as khulafa’a or vice-regents of Allah.
Many Muslims assert simply that “we have already decided on the ‘whether,’ so let’s not discuss the subject any further.” Others ~one step further by demanding that we avoid all mention of the “theology” of Muslim political participation and simply get on with the task of organizing. The fact that many Muslims tend to deny the relevance of the question whether they are doing the will of Allah is a sign that perhaps they are not.
In order to develop unity in the ummah so that we can accomplish anything at all other than our own destruction, we must understand and appreciate the very real concerns of those who raise the “theological” question of political legitimacy. Since the purpose of our existence is to seek Allah and apply the absolute truth of Revelation in our private and public lives, the question of whether or not we are doing so in our political ,jihad must remain an eternal question. This question must be asked and answered constantly, especially by those who choose to become professionally involved in doing the will of Allah through political action.
The dangers of becoming politically involved have been most thoughtfully articulated by Imam Zaid Shakir, who is an African-American very knowledgeable on both Islamic thought and American politics. He is adjunct professor at Southern Connecticut University and President of the Connecticut Muslim Coordinating Committee. In unpublished pamphlets on the subject over the past two years, Imam Shakir has explained seven reasons why Muslim political activism may become haram:
1) Compromise. First, success in the American political system requires compromise, because American democracy consists of competition among special interest groups. Each individual representative in Congress or official in the Executive Branch is deluged by countless professional lobbying groups; each highly paid to skew the political process in its favor, and even if one group can gain the upper hand over one Congressperson or policymaker, this person has to compete with other persons controlled by other opposing special interest groups. If any group wants to succeed it must compromise with all these other groups, so the result is almost never a principled policy on any issue. This coalitional nature of the system puts enormous pressure on any Muslim political activists to compromise Islamic principles in order to achieve anything at all.
2) Narrowed Agenda. The inevitable result of such compromise is that systemically acceptable ideas and agendas tend to be pushed to the center so that the ideological difference between parties becomes narrowed to the point of irrelevance. Both parties occasionally mouth some reference to God, but the governing political agenda is secular to the core, even though the American people are the most religious nation on earth.
This oppression of the American people by the special interests, who seek power for their own purely secular purposes, may explain why the percentage of Americans who vote is by far the lowest in the industrialized world. Faced with the disintegration of their entire civilization, Americans find “politics as usual” simply irrelevant. And when Ross Perot comes along avowedly to shake up the system, he turns off the majority because he too is thoroughly secular and really has nothing new to offer.
3) Pragmatism Over Principle.
Maintaining principled stands on the issues of the day is difficult in the face of inevitable conflicts of interest. Some are obvious, such as the offer by a Muslim government or governmentally-dependent organization to bailout an Islamic advocacy group. This automatically imposes a hidden or not-so hidden agenda on the Islamic activists, who must choose between principle and survival. Other potential donors may not even recognize their own biases. For example, a Muslim doctor may want to sponsor a position paper for lobbying on health care legislation in order to secure his own income at the expense of the Islamic obligation to secure universal and equal access to quality medical care, and yet he may persuade himself that he is trying merely to reduce the exorbitant profits of medical insurance companies.
If and when such Muslims support Muslim political activists, their either conscious or unconscious materialist agenda may lead to a pervasive triumph of pragmatism over principle. The political activists, in order to survive in their political profession, are pressured to bow to the so-called “realities of life.” Allah warned that, “We will surely test you with something of fear, and hunger, a9~s of wealth, and lives, and the fruits of your labor. Therefore give glad tidings to those who patiently persevere.” Even sincere Muslims may fail the test.
4) Diversion of Funds. Such corruption in the political process would adversely impact Muslims and the Muslim ummah in many indirect ways. The allocation of funds to the drive for power within the American political system would drain financial resources from community building, including schools. Any plans for political activism that are not part of a system of priorities that gives first place to mosques and schools and help for the needy can never be part of the plan of Allah.
5) Brain-drain. Such diversion of funds to materialistic purposes would also divert the best organizers and intellectually Islamic persons from the higher-priority goals of building a community that seeks not the dunya (the world) but Allah. These individuals would be lost to the cause of developing the essential basis for success in building real power.
6. Personality Deformation. If power becomes an end in itself, then the deeper Muslims become involved in the battle for power among special interest groups, the greater is the likelihood that the most professionally talented Muslims will develop the mutazillite personality at the expense of the Islamic personality, whereby rationality overwhelms Revelation as the ultimate criterion of thought and action. As Imam Zaid Shakir puts it, “the uniqueness of Muslims would surely be lost as they plummet deeper into a system where their very success depends on their ability to think, look, and act like their fellow travelers.”
7) Extra-systemic action. The most devastating result of seeking power within the system as an end in itself is that the more one succeeds, the more one can be captured by it and the less capable one will be to engage in fundamental extra-systemic action designed not to tinker with the system but to replace it with an Islamic one. Imam Shakir calls this phenomenon “preemption,” whereby “a group’s demands are adopted into the program of those in power without the legitimacy of the group itself being accepted,” and “cooptation,” where “a group’s leaders are brought into the existing system without the system changing to accommodate the group’s ultimate goals.”
The danger of pursuing political power is that one will forget the true source of power, Who is Allah, and come to worship politics itself as a false god. The result would be that the blind will lead the blind in what ultimately will amount to an attack on oneself.
The solution: Applying the Shari’ah
In Islam, power may never be an end in itself, any more than may anything else other than the search for Allah and for the justice that derives from His absolute truth. Material power, political, financial, or social, may be a means to something good, but by itself it is morally neutral and almost always will produce nothing but evil if sought for its own sake.
The basic political approach of Muslims must be jihad for tamkin al din, which is struggle to actualize absolute truth. The absoluteness of truth and the furqan or distinction between good and bad based on the Qur’an are the two epistemological pillars of Islam.
Every Muslim, just as every human being, was created to be Islamic, which means to seek Allah. To the extent that anyone, and any community of people, fulfills this basic purpose, they will have power, the power of Allah, and those who seek real power will flock to them. Every human being was created with an inborn instinct and drive, known as his or her fitra or human nature, to know the truth that resides only in Allah and to apply it in absolute standards of justice that derive from this divine source.
Islamic empowerment means nothing other than the empowerment of “shari’ah thought” in the form of the kulliyat or universal principles of the shari’ah. As explained in the Winter 1994 issue of The American Muslim, in the feature article on pages 13-28, “Civilizations in Crisis: Confrontation or peaceful Engagement,” a thousand years of the most creative and sustained human effort in human history resulted in a holistic system of moral theology and ethics that has never been even approached in modern times. This framework for systems analysis of modern problems is one of the contributions of Islamic civilization most needed in America and the world today.
We can understand this best when presented in the form of a position paper on a currently critical public issue, namely, how to counter the wave of crime that is threatening to paralyze daily life. Such a position paper, under the title, “Countering Crime Bill Panic:
Distinguishing Causes from Effects,” will be published in the Summer 1994 issue of The American Muslim.
Muslims of America should educate themselves on all the issues that affect Americans, and should organize to introduce the Islamic perspective into American thought and action in order functionally to Islamize America. There may be many differing Islamic positions on the details of any issue, but on any issue there can be only one Islamic approach. This is to address the underlying causes of a societal problem and to design a strategy that maintains balance in addressing both cause and effect.
One model effort in this direction is the Alternative Crime Bill prepared by the Congressional Black Caucus. The position paper on which this is based points out that the cost of the Senate Crime Bill would be many times the $22 billion estimated by the Senators. The new mandatory minimum sentencing alone would exceed this amount, and eliminating parole would cost $60 billion.
The Congressional Black Caucus points out that the rate of incarceration among blacks in America is an astronomical 1,300, or four times the rate in South Africa, compared with 42 in Japan. The CBC advocates a menu of programs that together would cost much less than the Senate’s requested $22 billion, but would be far more effective because they address the causes rather than merely the effects. Analysis shows that crime among those who participate in a job-core program declines by one-third, and programs like Head Start are very effective in reducing teen-age pregnancy and welfare dependency. A few billion spent on remedial education and college scholarships could achieve more than tens of billions limited to the strategy of “lock ‘em up and throw away the key.”
Still lacking in the fight against crime is a holistic framework of analysis that includes all the variables of human motivation based on the guidance of the best psychologist, Who invented man to begin with, namely Allah, and on the resulting paradigm of shari’ah thought as developed by the great Islamic scholars of many centuries ago into the kulliyat or universal principles of justice. These are the duties to respect life, family and community, private property, political self-determination, dignity, and freedom to acquire knowledge, known respectively as haqq al haya, nasi, mal, hurriya, karama, and ‘i1m.
The two key elements of this holistic system of moral analysis are: 1) the normative identification and prioritization of universal principles and their subordinate or second-order objectives, and 2) the factual distinction between cause and effect. Of the six highest level principles (kulliyat) or essentials (dururiyat) or purposes (maqasid) of the shari’ah, life and dignity for both the victims and the victimizers should have highest priority in developing effective policy. The holistic approach of maintaining a balance among the applicable principles and in addressing both cause and effect is designed to prevent a pendulum swing from unprincipled freedom to unprincipled repression, which is so tempting in time of societal crisis.
The major difficulty in applying moral principles comes from the failure to distinguish cause from effect. A panic almost unknown in modern American history is driving politicians to enact an omnibus crime-bill to restore law and order at the expense of elementary justice, without recognition that the lack of even a concept of justice is what is causing the problem.
A century of rampant secularism and the resultant withering of moral values in public life has begun to trigger a backlash in the form of a fascist mentality that is demanding short-run and superficial solutions to problems that are basically spiritual in nature.
The essential cause of the unprecedented crime-wave in America is the secular fundamentalism of our institutions, especially the judicial system that supports the secularization of our public schools and media and undermines the source of morality in the transcendent truth of religion. Therefore any superficial measures to repress the effects of secular fundamentalism, without identifying secularism itself as the ultimate cause of our problems, are bound to fail and therefore to cause further alienation in a vicious circle.
Violent crime is caused most basically by the lack of purpose in life that is endemic in the inner cities and growing in the suburbs and rural areas. Without a sense of higher purpose and of the sacred in life, there can be no sense of responsibility and no appreciation or even comprehension of any higher principles in distinguishing right from wrong.
This lack of transcendent purpose is the root cause, for example, of the incidence of unwed mothers, which now exceeds nationally the 30% level that Senator Moynihan 30 years ago forecast might be the point of no return for the inner cities. This lack of meaning in life is also a prime cause of the welfare mentality and the selfishness that dominates the criminal mind. The lack of transcendent meaning and of a sense of the sacred in life is the root cause of such expressions of societal disintegration, which in turn are the primary causes of crime.
The most effective way to restore purpose and a resulting consensus on values in America, without which no civilization can endure, is to restore the intent of our founding fathers two centuries ago in separating the state from religion so that the state would not favor any organized religious group, as had often been the case in the thirteen colonies, and so that universal religion, in the sense of the search for ultimate meaning in a transcendent reality, and, on an individual basis, for a sense of union with this reality, can again become the basis for all public life in a society led by leaders who are led by God.
Muslims can contribute to the solutions of America’s problems, and thereby also to the problems of a secularized world, only by demonstrating not only the compatibility of Islam with the spiritual nature of the Great American Experiment but the identity of the principles of Islamic law with the values that make the many diverse peoples of America American.
The best single means to restore this spiritual basis of American life is to promote voucher education so that parents can again take responsibility for the education of their children and so that all schools, both in the suburbs and inner cities, will have equality in funding.
We Muslims have the opportunity and duty to help restore the sense of responsibility that can derive only from America’s religious heritage. This is the only effective long-range strategy to eliminate the causes of cultural chaos and disintegration, while we pursue the legislative remedies that must be carefully designed to address the effects of a societal dissolution that is now beyond control.
The Process: Interfaith Action
The purpose of our existence 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 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 the shari’ah.
Our mission in life as political activists can be maintained 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 (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 vicegerents 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.
Critical to this mission 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 limited 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 .... 0 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 at Maida, 5:47-48.
“0 you who believe.! Do not take the Jews and Christians for your friends and protectors. They are but friends 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 at Maida, 5:5152.
“0 you who believe.! Do not take for friends and protectors those who take the din of Allah for a mockery/y or .\port, 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 Maida, 5:57, 66.
Allah instructs us further in Surah al Maida: “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 Maida, 5:68-69.
Allah instructs us that if we follow our own guidance from Allah as Muslims, we 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:
“0 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 Maida, 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. Although they can not thwart Allah’s Plan, 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 pleasure, or the false gods of any ideology or party that seeks other than the pleasure of Allah. This is in essence a cultural 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 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. Our major allies in our 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 with us 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 modem 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 lawgiver. 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.
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: I). 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 ArRaya 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?
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’wah” 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 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 eloquent summary 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 (barbeques, 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 we are victims of precisely the same sort of demonizing everywhere ourselves. If we want others to let us define Islam, we 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 truly Islamic approach to other sincere worshippers of Allah, no matter how misled they might be in doctrine, is to cooperate with them in addressing the problems we all have in common and to try to understand their beliefs so that we 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 culture war now being waged 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 4000Year 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. We must 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 ‘aqeeda, as spelled out in the position paper, “Civilizations in Crisis:
Confrontation or Peaceful Engagement,” published in the Winter 1994 issue of The American Muslim. 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 comers 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!”
Seeking the Source of Power
This vision can be realized only when Muslims recognize that failure to participate in the American political process is in fact participation by default, because it gives an easy victory to our opponents. To yield the field of battle to the secular fundamentalists by refusing to fight with everything in one’s power is de facto to join them and therefore in effect to attack ourselves and oppose the will of Allah.
There is no such thing as political non-participation, even if one would like to avoid the battle. Allah instructs us in the Qur’an to fight even when we do not want to:
“Fighting is prescribed upon you, and you dislike it. But you may dislike something that is good for you, and you may love something that is bad for you. But Allah knows, and you do not.” Surah al Baqara 2:216.
The menu of options for waging political jihad are almost limitless. They range from the educational strategy of the Ikhwan al Muslimun in Egypt, who avoid confrontation with the power structure, and the competitive strategy of forming a separate Muslim political party, like the Nahda in Tunisia and the Front Islamique du Salut (FIS) in Algeria, to the confrontational strategy of those who see no alternative to physical violence.
In America the lack of a parliamentary system rules out the formation of a new party as a viable option, though an Islamic party in the sense of a communications medium issuing position papers like a “shadow government” might be useful. In the American system of government, the real battle has never been between parties, but rather within them.
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 that transcends political parties and special interest groups.
In order to remain Islamic, Muslim participation must focus on developing the intellectual framework for this movement in order to set the agenda. In other words, we should participate only as leaders, and never as followers.
In order to lead this movement, the Muslim umma in America should have not only its own lobbying organizations, like the American Muslim Council, 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 culture war 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.
In Islam leadership must always be a product of shura and ijma. 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, in the Islamic sense, 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 when the power-hungry 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.
Although even the majority is now marginalized in American society, the center of marginalization are the African-Americans in the inner cities. The slave-owners deliberately destroyed their former identity, so they can have no real identity other than as pious servants of Allah. The more they recognize this, the more they can overcome their alienation against America so that they can exercise leadership in a traditionalist movement to transform America into what it was meant to be.
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 groups of people on community prayer and 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 we can carry out His will only by reliance on Him:
“Say: ‘0 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. II’ 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 Surat AI 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 Surat al Anfal, 8:30, and AI 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 strategems of the unbelievers.” Surah al Aufal, 8:17-18.
“0 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 .... 0 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 Aufal, 8:4546, 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.
Originally published in the print edition of TAM Spring 1994