More than ever before in their history, Muslims all over the world suffer the indignities of miserable poverty and cruel oppression, even more so than at the height of the corruption by their own leaders that brought down the flowering of Islamic culture in Andalucia many centuries ago. Furthermore, and in part as a consequence of this oppression, the global Muslim community or umma today suffers from widespread alienation and desperation, perhaps more so than ever before, except perhaps after the conquests by Ghenghis Khan and the mass murder of eight million Muslims in Iran and Iraq almost a millenium ago. And more than ever before, such oppression, poverty, alienation, and desperation is producing extremism.
Such extremism by Muslims has begun to produce even more oppression by the powerful who fear that the world is spinning out of control and who therefore are determined to use every possible means to maintain the status quo with all of its injustices. This, of course, produces more extremism and escalating violence.
There must be a force in the world to transcend this vicious circle of action and reaction. This force will not come from America, at least not initially, because America has lost its moral leadership in the world. Fundamental change must come from the Muslims, who can and must begin to exercise leadership in bringing out the best of all civilizations by shaping a common vision for America and the world.
Such a monumental task of leadership is humanly impossible to accomplish. But we must start somewhere and we must start now. Muslims need what the British a century ago called a “grand strategy,” which is a plan to marshal and orchestrate all the elements of power worldwide in a movement designed to shape the world for centuries to come.
The development and pursuit of such a strategy, indeed, is precisely what the neo-conservatives since the end of the bi-polar era only a little more than a decade ago have been all about. This has been the driving force of the neo-conservative movement ever since its real beginning in the publication in 1957 of Ambassador Robert Strausz-Hupe’s seminal article, “The Balance of Tomorrow.”
The real question is whose strategy will be the grandest. There will be a global civilization by the end of the present century, or there will be no civilization. And, if civilization is to survive, what kind of civilization will it be?
How must Muslims begin in this titanic struggle for the future of the world. There are a few simple guidelines. First, Muslims, like members of every minority group in America, want to shape their own future, but they can do so effectively only by helping to shape the future of all Americans. Instead of relying on reactive tactics of special-interest pleading, Muslims should expand their vision to pursue a proactive strategy of cooperation with traditionalist persons of all faiths in order to develop the U.S. moral leadership envisioned by America’s revolutionary founders.
Muslims have already formed lobbying organizations designed to confront the existing power structure, but they need think-tanks created to wage intellectual war in concert with like-minded non-Muslim think-tanks, of which there are many. And Muslims need their own first rate academic institutions modeled on Oxford and Harvard capable of marshaling the best thinkers in all fields, both Muslim and non-Muslim, in order to shape the premises of thought that ultimately control all public policy.
Real success in shaping the future of the world over the course of centuries, however, can come only from reliance by large organized communities of people on the power of God, in recognition that the Creator has a plan for Creation and that this plan is entrusted to those with the free will to accept or reject the trust offered to them.
Muslims may prefer to see their task as infusing the framework of justice inherent in shari’ah thought in order thereby functionally to “Islamize” America. Or they may see their task at a higher level as “Islamizing” America in the sense of heightening the awareness of tens of millions of Americans to the love of God. Every religious group will use its own terminology. The most important common denominator for cooperation among traditionalist peoples of all faiths is their recognition that they have a common mission based on a common vision.
Every sacred scripture reveals the same wisdom in this regard. In the Qur’an we read:
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 [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 Rad, 13:42.
Say: “Oh 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)
II. The Challenge
Muslims in America can shape the world only by shaping America. But, this is possible only if we first understand where America is coming from, where it is, and where it is going. This requires introspection at some depth in order to comprehend reality.
Reality has many levels, even in politics. Newspapers, and the media generally, are famous for highlighting obvious and therefore superficial events. In the minds of busy people, these events are here today and gone tomorrow. If reporters in the “fourth estate” of the media try to be profound, they usually discuss current policies.
At another level, think-tanks, the “fifth estate” in the American polity, usually look somewhat deeper by studying changes in entire institutions of society. They are trying to influence the unseen, infrastructural balance of power and its impact on the underlying agenda that controls policies.
Long range global forecasters must look still deeper into the realm of underlying ideas and ideologies, particularly those that lie beneath the level of consciousness, because whoever can best influence or manipulate or control the premises of individual and community thought can set the agenda by leveraging the ultimate power in history.
The terrorist use of weapons of mass effect in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001, was a spectacular and horrible event, but initially few people could grasp or predict what it all might mean. Attention focused on casualty counts and on speculation about who did it. Within weeks, however, think-tanks, particularly those independent of the Republican Party, began to question whether America’s entire set of financial and economic institutions had adequately addressed the growing wealth gap that seemed to accompany globalization and fertilize the seeds of radicalism. Others began to question whether America’s institutions of police power, both at home and abroad, were adequate to handle the new era of asymmetrical warfare, when the poor for the first time could use modern technology to attack its inventors.
Students of intra-civilizational dynamics and inter-civilizational clash eventually began to explore the roots of extremism in all religions and civilizations, because terrorism growing out of hatred and even a drive for self-destruction goes far beyond the realms of economics and politics, as does also terroristic counter-terrorism. Why did fringe Muslims resort to the mass annihilation of innocent people in the name of justice and jihad, when virtually all Islamic scholars condemned this as hiraba, which is the worst crime imaginable and the opposite of classical jihad. Clearly commitment to justice was not the motivation behind 9/11, despite Mao Tse Dung’s famous assertion that justice comes out of the barrel of a gun.
The underlying question of “why” is ontological, that is, who are we as human beings, both the terrorists and their victims. One might ask the same question of some counter-terrorists. And it is epistemological, that is, how does one know oneself from the “other.” At bottom, it is really a metaphysical question of identity. Thomas Merton defined one’s identity as the destiny that God has selected for oneself, but one is free to deny.
George Washington committed his life to the destiny of America as a moral model for the world, but he was not at all sure that the Great American Experiment would succeed. Rousseau’s benignly utopian view of human nature was certainly unrealistic, but the malignant catastrophism of Hobbes, who claimed that brute force is the only meaningful force in human life, might be closer to the truth.
The beginnings of introspection during the first couple of years after 9/11 have raised the questions what is America, who are Americans, and are we losing our identity after 9/11 or taking on a new identity previously unknown.
Pundits both in America and abroad are asking who is running the White House. Is President George W. Bush one of America’s greatest presidential leaders or is he a captive of a alliance of elites that has hijacked both him and America?
We must begin to answer that question by understanding the historical and philosophical background from which President Bush is coming from, and where other similar presidents will come from in the future. Even President Bush himself may not be aware of his roots.
In order to understand President Bush, one must go back to the fundamental difference between the Democratic and Republican Parties as rooted in their opposing views of human nature.
The Democrats are ideologically “liberal,” which means that they generally trust human nature as being naturally good, particularly if given the right environment. This is the ideology behind the faith-based initiative in domestic politics.
This faith in human nature is also why liberals want all governance to be determined by majority vote as the highest authority. One can argue that this, of course, eliminates the higher authority of God and can subject minorities, as well as everyone else, to the rule of the mob as manipulated by an elite. The fear of mob rule, as evidenced in the French Revolution, explains why America’s founders condemned democracy, designed a constitution to avoid majoritarian absolutism, and announced that their Great American Experiment was a republic.
The essential appeal of modern liberalism, as articulated recently by Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, is its appeal not only to faith in one’s fellow human beings, but to one’s instinctive desire to commit one’s life to something beyond oneself. This was why both President Reagan and President Bush appeal to both liberals and conservatives.
It might seem, of course, that most Americans must be liberals by this definition. What then is a conservative? And why have they gained the high ground in American politics to the extent that as we go into the election season of 2004 some pundits are speculating that Washington has acquired a permanent Republican establishment?
The Republicans, as ideologically “conservative,” do not trust humans to be good, even in the best of circumstances, which is why they want a working system of checks and balances and representative government, as distinct from the direct vote. The Republicans are constitutionalists, which means that they are committed to restricting the power of the people for the sake of good government. For the wealthy, of course, this also has some obvious advantages, because it helps them make laws and maintain an entire financial infrastructure designed to facilitate the unlimited accumulation and concentration of wealth.
President Bush’s policy, announced at the Chicago Economic Club on January 7th, 2003, to eliminate taxes on dividend earnings would be a breakthrough for economic justice if it were combined with equally bold policies to restructure the American system of money and credit as a means to tilt against the increasing gap between rich and poor in America and around the world. He has proposed half a policy. Now he needs the other half. Otherwise, he will merely reinforce the inequities of the status quo. Even in a democratic system of governance, especially a populist one, this failure to change can eventually produce instability and chaos, which is precisely what the Republicans want to prevent.
The average Joe in the street understands this. Why then does he vote Republican? What is in it for him? Of course, perhaps he hopes to get rich himself, so why knock the system. The answer, however, lies much deeper in the realm of ultimate values that transcend narrow self-interest.
America is the most religious nation on earth. Awareness of God and of human responsibility to a higher divine authority gave rise to the Great American Experiment and sustains it even today. Only the Republican Party can claim legitimacy as the party of the religiously committed.
Republicans argue that no system of free people can survive unless it is based on divine guidance, since the selfishness of man makes reason alone unreliable as a framework for morality. This is why the Founders wanted religion in a generic sense to suffuse and guide all political and social life. The liberals tend to fight religion by attempting to revise American history in order to eliminate the crucial role of religion at the root of everything truly American. The average American clearly wants to keep Church and State separate, but not religion and the public square.
The intra-civilizational dialogue in America is rooted in beliefs about human nature and about human rights. This debate is the only framework in which one can understand where President Bush and his policies are coming from. And it is the only entryway for Muslims to exercise leadership in shaping the future of America and the world.
One might say that the Democrats take a somewhat Rousseauian view of human nature. Rousseau theorized that primitive man was essentially good, and that the good society can evolve only from a return to this pristine era. The Republicans, on the other hand, take a somewhat Hobbesian view. Hobbes wrote that human beings are fatally flawed, that life is short and brutish, and that human beings require an authoritarian government, even a tyranny, in order to be constrained to do what is good. Of course, these extremes are not American, but the debate between these two ends of a spectrum is.
Of course, one might argue, to the contrary, that the Democrats are the ones who do not trust human nature, because liberals are said to believe that only the government, not the people, are qualified to make good decisions affecting people’s lives. In America, the liberal Democrats have never openly espoused socialism, but their mentor and guru, Franklin Roosevelt, taught them that a big, “benevolent” federal government, funded by sizeable taxes, is the way to achieve both justice and socio-political stability. If the stereotypical Democrats had their way, the federal and state governments would create more and more regulations until life finally became fair.
The problem is that liberal Democrats can go to extremes in their secular reliance on human reason and social environment. The subjective definition of “fair,” propounded by big government, can produce injustice and result in anarchy and chaos. The Republicans, on the other hand, can go to extremes in their “religious” reliance on what can become a police state in an attempt to overcome the anarchy and chaos that always threaten any society.
We can reduce the difference between the two parties perhaps to the question of power for what? The Communist legal system in the Soviet Union and China called for the use of governmental power proactively to promote what the elite for their own ideological purposes considered to be good. This contrasted with the Anglo-Saxon legal system, or so-called Common Law, which viewed government as a power to be used sparingly and only negatively to restrain evil, not to impose anyone’s possibly utopian vision of what is good. In the heritage of America’s Founders, individual liberty is valued not only as one of the highest goals in itself but as a means to guard against the imposition of any religious or secular ideology incompatible with the “flaws” resulting from free will in human nature.
III. The Revival of Traditionalist Thought
The crisis of September 11, 2001, and the identification of Iraq as a source of immediate threat seemed to have triggered at least the beginning of some deep introspection leading to a search for a common American identity and a common vision.
This seems to be true particularly in the Republican Party. Like any political institution, it is not a monolithic whole, any more than is the Democratic Party. There has always been what is called the “traditionalist” core of republicanism, which in its various manifestations has been called “paleo-conservatism” and “cultural conservatism.” In recent years, it has been relatively moribund, and the neo-conservatives would like to keep it that way. Essentially, traditionalism enjoins respect for the wisdom of the past. This is central to all the world’s major religious traditions and to the religious spirit of America’s founders. They all call for a balance among order, justice, and liberty.
The modern scholar of traditionalism, Russell Kirk, wrote in his epochal The Roots of American Order: “The good society is marked by a high degree of order, justice, and freedom. Among these, order has primacy: for order cannot be enforced until a tolerable civil order is attained, nor can freedom be anything better than violence until order gives us laws.” He emphasizes that, “It is not possible to live in peace with one another unless we recognize some principle of order by which to do justice. … The higher kind of order, sheltering freedom and justice, declares the dignity of man. It affirms what G. K. Chesterton called ‘the democracy of the dead’ – that is, it recognizes the judgements of men and women who have preceded us in time.”
Of course, modern liberals might scoff that Russell Kirk merely is justifying societal governance by “dead, white males.”
The task of the traditionalist is to maintain balance among these three ultimate goals of human governance, so that one does not over-emphasize any single goal as a false god.
Justice in all the world religions, and especially in classical America and classical Islam, encompasses all three of these politically ultimate purposes. The basic paradigm of traditionalism 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.
All the Founders of America agreed that justice can have no meaning except as an expression of the law of God, as derived from both divine revelation and natural law. Secular and subjective concepts of justice, as evidenced both in the French Revolution and in its Communist and Nazi progeny, always end up in the denial of human dignity and freedom.
The balance worked out in the American system of governance between order and liberty required many centuries of preparation, and it has survived despite two centuries of challenges from extremists. These extremists have failed because the mores or customs of Americans, rather than the ideologies of utopian theorists, have controlled the political process. Americans traditionally have preferred the path of patience, practicality, and compromise, perhaps because traditionally they have relied on God more than on themselves in the pursuit of their national purpose.
IV. The American Balance in Jeopardy?
Obviously, both liberals and conservatives can go to extremes, and extremes are almost always dangerous because they compromise other values. Before 9/11, such dangers were largely contained, precisely because American traditionalism was shared, at least in practice if not in theory, by both of the major political parties. But, we now live in another world, both at home and abroad.
First, in domestic policy, we are facing a trade-off between protecting America against foreign terrorists and compromising the civil rights of people who legitimately either visit or reside in America. Counter-terrorism measures undoubtedly can justify some compromise in civil rights. The question is how much can be compromised without threatening the entire American system. At what point do we start down the road to the police state and the totalitarian nightmare of “1984”?
In foreign policy the balance has shifted toward unilateral initiatives to maintain order at the expense of cooperation with the international community. Many commentators warn that current American foreign policy threatens to become a classic example of the police state obsession, whereby the Administration ignores the potential for cooperation among persons and nations in the common interest, as in international institutions like the United Nations. The U.S. Congress has rejected even the possibility of justice coming from the new International Criminal Court, despite all the protections worked out over the course of decades in order to make it politically acceptable. Since real American leadership relies on trust in America’s intentions, any moves that suggest abandonment of the rule of law tend to reduce American power in the world to coercive command, which in the long run of human history has always proved to be tenuous.
In the current crisis environment, the U.S. government seems to be afraid to address or even mention the need to overcome chronic injustices in the world economic system. Evil is ascribed to bad people, rather than also partly to unjust conditions ignored or even caused by U.S. financial, political, and military policies. In American foreign policy, justice in the sense of what Catholic scholars have called “moral theology” and Muslim scholars call the maqasid al shari’ah or universal principles of jurisprudence has never been a key word. Now it is non-existent. In President Bush’s state of the union address in January, 2003, he used the word, but only in the form of a threat that Saddam Hussein would soon learn what American justice means. This myopic blindness is equivalent to his father’s plaintive reference to “this vision thing.”
In the meantime, most of America’s intellectuals, and virtually all intellectuals elsewhere in the world, have tried to remind American policy makers of the facts of life. America’s second most influential policy journal, Foreign Policy: Global Politics, Economics, and Ideas, in its issue of January-February, 2003, presents the views of leading moderate liberals focused on the theme: “Five Wars We’re Losing: Why Governments Can’t Stop the Illegal Trade in Ideas, People, Drugs, Arms, and Money.”
Principled or so-called “paleo” conservatives, otherwise known as “traditionalists,” fear that President Bush is betraying the spirit of the American Declaration of Independence, which in Thomas Jefferson’s introductory wording calls for “a decent Respect to the Opinions of Mankind.”
Elsewhere in the world, the feeling is even stronger. In December, 2002, Anatol Lieven’s article in the London Review of Books on the ascendency of radical nationalism notes that the Republican Majority Leader in the House, Dick Armey, called for the “transfer,” also known as ethnic cleansing, of Palestinian Arabs to beyond the borders of historical Palestine. Reflecting a nearly unanimous conviction of intellectuals around the world, Lieven writes: “The dominant groups in the present Administrations in both Washington and Jerusalem are realists to the core, which, as so often, means that they take an extremely unreal view of the rest of the world, and are insensitive to the point of autism when it comes to the character and motivations of others.”
Perhaps the most charitable explanation would be that President Bush is a compassionate conservative who has been hijacked by reactionary conservatives and radical nationalists, together often branded simply as neo-conservatives, in a unique alliance with Evangelical millennarians, to pursue imperialist policies totally incompatible with his natural instincts.
Some have expressed fears that the United States is on the way to becoming not a mere superpower but what Joseph S. Nye, Jr. in his The Paradox of American Power last year called a “hyperpower” driven to global aggrandizement under the cover of alleged threats to the survival of human civilization. One might well ask, is America at a great and awful hinge moment of history, when the governing premises of its policy architects are launching an emerging and irreversible trend with fateful portents both for itself and for the global future?
The threat of terrorism to a newly vulnerable America prompted Vice President Cheney on February 19th, 2002, at the Richard Nixon Library and think-tank in Yorba Linda, California, to call America’s policy of global offense “the defining struggle of the 21st century.” Most alarming for some observers, including the ultra-pragmatic Europeans, is the openness of some who promote the new American agenda. More open even than Henry Kissinger, who is notorious for pooh-poohing morality in anything, has been the “hottest item in town,” Robert D. Kaplan and his newest book Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos.
This brilliant apologia for scrapping morality and ideals and anything that might interfere with the imposition of American imperial power comes garlanded with effusive praise by Henry Kissinger, Newt Gingrich, two former secretaries of defense, Perry and Cohen, as well as the former Director of the National Security Council, Bob (Bud) McFarlane, who for years has been the gray eminence behind American policy toward Afghanistan and his protégé, Karzai. According to Ken Ringle’s article in the Washington Post of February 21, 2002, entitled “Oracle of a New World Disorder,” Kaplan’s book has taken Washington by storm and is required reading for all policymakers and their staffs.
As early as March, 2001, before 9/11, Kaplan spent an hour with President Bush to brief him on another of his books, published in 2000, entitled The Coming Anarchy: Shattering the Dreams of the Post Cold War. Kaplan says that he has sold his pagan prescription by convincing the president that the world faces a “Lord of the Flies meltdown,” that America’s dominance is tenuous, and that “the most important moral commitment for America is to preserve its power.” Some observers claim that Kaplan is a one-man Ministry of Truth, the evil force in Orwell’s novel, 1984, which imposed mind control so that all citizens believed that “War is Peace” and thereby made war a permanent state of being.
Perhaps from his experience in the Israeli army for a year in 1980, Kaplan writes that “our moral values … represent our worst vulnerabilities.” Translated into Bush-speak, this means that civilian casualties can be seen as a necessary by-product of the war against evil, because the greater goal is to drive the barbarians away from the gates of the civilized world. In the prologue to his book, The Coming Anarchy, Kaplan quotes Thomas Hobbes: “Before the names of Just and Unjust can have any place, there must be some coercive power.” He adds, “Physical aggression is part of being human.” Bud McFarlane calls this book “an intellectual tour de force expressing the enduring relevance of ancient principles.”
The new element in the world, according to Kaplan, is that barbarians have exploited a global ideology – Islam – to give them a bottomless pit of recruits and allies in a global war that has now struck at the heart of the empire.
Doomsday paranoids see in America a twenty-first century Ghenghiz Khan. Less alarmist people see merely a worrisome trend and are waiting to see the results of an American attack on Iraq and any stages three and four. No-one can doubt, however, that awareness of America’s sudden vulnerability to inchoate global forces of chaos has triggered a crisis. A crisis mentality has forced opinion elites and even the man in the street to question whether America can survive intact as the nation envisaged by its Founders.
Can a third force of revolutionary American traditionalism bring out the best in all political parties, so that together they can rebuild a restored American identity? If so, can Americans lead similar forces around the world to bring a balance of order, justice, and freedom as a new global framework for thought and action? This is our challenge as Muslims and as Americans. What can and will be our response?
V. An Islamic Response
The most daunting task before Muslims both as individuals and in their multiple identities at various levels of community is to articulate, develop, and carry out a grand strategy to join with the traditionalists of all
religions in producing a global civilization of order, justice, and liberty.
Such a civilization must be strong enough, just enough, and free enough to guard against the police state mentality in domestic and foreign policies. It must guard and strengthen the rule of law and international cooperation in applying its norms. This civilization must maintain global justice so that no-one need openly advocate its transformation into a pagan empire.
The ultimate task of such a civilization is to restore the sovereignty of God, which was the bedrock principle of America’s founders, in order to counter the utopianism that always leads to the denial of individual dignity, and in order to guard against the temptation to turn man and majoritarian absolutism into ultimate values and thus into false gods. We live in the most polytheistic era in human history. The task in building an ecumenical civilization of order, justice, and liberty is to avoid such polytheism by interfaith cooperation so that the wisdom of enlightened religion will suffuse and guide all political, economic, and social life. The ultimate social purpose of all enlightened religion is to build a community governed by leaders who are governed by God.
The path to such wisdom lies at the deepest level of reality in the realm of the spirit and ideas. The task for all people of whatever faith is, first, to wage the jihad al akbar to purify ourselves as individual persons; and, second, to wage the jihad al kabir or intellectual jihad, which is the only jihad mentioned in the Qur’an; and, finally, as a last resort and only in extremis to wage the jihad al saghrir or lesser jihad to defend the human rights of oneself and others by using physical force to counter the violence of aggressors in accordance with the constraints of the universal doctrine of just war.
The psychological value of grand strategy is to counter the catastrophist mentality of the fearful and to promote the opportunity mentality of those who dare to hope.
Extremism does not have to result from indignities, but it will unless there is a source and framework for hope. The source must be spiritual, based on taqwa, which is revitalized personal awareness and loving awe of God. The framework must be a coherent body of human responsibilities and rights, based on a mutually reinforcing combination of divine guidance through revelation, wahy, and natural law, which Muslims call the sunnatu Allahi or signs of divine order in the universe. Without this intellectual framework as a guide for the universal jihad al kabir, people will wander in an intellectual void, and this, in turn, can produce a spiritual malaise.
Over the long run, the most productive initiative by the still largely silent majority of Muslims in marginalizing extremists in their own and all other religions is to fill the intellectual and spiritual void that serves as an ocean in which the extremists can swim. This initiative can provide the favorable environment needed for Muslims to ally with like-minded Christians and Jews in order to revive the best of all religions and all civilizations and to show that classical Islam and classical America are similar, even though many people do not understand or live up to the ideals common to both.
Teaching and emphasizing that the founders of America and the great scholars of Islam shared the same vision is the best way to convince the extremists that their confrontational approach to the “other” is not necessary. Recognizing this commonality of purpose in life is the only way to overcome the threat mentality of those who are obsessed with conspiracy theories and think only about their own survival. Promoting an opportunity mentality of hope is the only way to convince the extremists that only those can truly prosper over the long run who can transcend their own self-centered interests in order to join with those who are no longer merely the “other” but now are members of a single pluralist community.
The grand strategy of Islam may be summarized in one word: Justice. In Deuteronomy we read God’s command to the Jews, “Justice, Justice, thou shalt pursue.” Justice is another word for the Will or Design of God. It is also considered to be another term for the body of Islamic normative law. These norms or general principles, according to Islamic thought, provide the intellectual framework to understand and address all of reality.
In order to fill the intellectual void, Muslims need to emphasize the universal Islamic principles, known as the maqasid al shari’ah, which spell out precisely the human rights that some skeptics have asserted do not exist in Islam. These maqasid, following the methodology instituted by the Prophet Muhammad, salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa salam, and perfected in the architectonics pioneered six centuries ago by the master of the art, Al-Shatibi, are considered to consist of seven responsibilities, the practice of which actualize the corresponding human rights.
The first one, known as haqq al din, provides the framework for the next six in the form of respect for a transcendent source of truth to guide human thought and action. God instructs us in the Qur’an, wa tamaat kalimatu Rabika sidqan wa ‘adlan, “and the word of your Lord is perfected in truth and justice.” Recognition of this absolute source of truth and of the responsibility to apply it in practice are needed to counter the temptations toward relativism and the resulting chaos, injustice, and tyranny that may result from de-sacralization of public life.
Each of these seven universal principles is essential to understand the next and succeeding ones. The first three operational principles, necessary to sustain existence, begin with haqq al nafs or haqq al ruh, which is the duty to respect the human person. The ruh or spirit of every person was created by God before or outside of the creation of the physical universe, is constantly in the presence of God, and, according to the Prophet Muhammad, is made in the image of God. This is the basis of the intimate relationship between God and the human person as expressed in the Qur’anic ayah, “We are closer to him than is his own jugular vein.”
This is also the basis of the prayer offered by the Prophet and by countless generations of Muslims for more than a thousand years: Allahumma, inna asaluka hubbaka wa hubba man yuhibbuka wa hubba kulli ‘amali yuqaribuni ila hubika, “O Allah! I ask You for Your love and for the love of those who love You. Grant that I may love every action that will bring me closer to Your love.”
At the secondary level of this principle, known as hajjiyat or requirements, lies the duty to respect life, haqq al haya. This provides guidelines in the third-order tahsinniyat for what in modern parlance is called the doctrine of just war.
The next principle, haqq al nasl, is the duty to respect the nuclear family and the community at every level all the way to the community of humankind as an important expression of the person. This principle teaches that the sovereignty of the person, subject to the ultimate sovereignty of God, comes prior to and is superior to any alleged sovereignty of the secular invention known as the State.
This principle teaches also that a community at the level of the nation, which shares a common sense of the past, common values in the present, and common hopes for the future, such as the Palestinians, Kurds, Chechens, Kashmiris, the Uighur in China, and the Anzanians in the Sudan, has legal existence and therefore legal rights in international law. This is the opposite of the Western international law created by past empires, which is based on the simple principle of “might makes right.”
The third principle is haqq al mal, which is the duty to respect the rights of private property in the means of production. This requires respect for institutions that broaden access to capital ownership as a universal human right and as an essential means to sustain respect for the human person and human community. This principle requires the perfection of existing institutions to remove the barriers to universal property ownership so that wealth will be distributed through the production process rather than by stealing from the rich by forced redistribution to the poor. Such redistribution can never have more than a marginal effect in reducing the gap between the inordinately rich and the miserably poor, because the owners in a defective financial system need not and never will give up their economic and political power.
The next three universal principles in Islamic law concern primarily what we might call the quality of life. The first is haqq al hurriya, which requires respect for self-determination of both persons and communities through political freedom, including the concept that economic democracy is a precondition for the political democracy of representative government.
The secondary principles required to give meaning to the parent principle and carry it out in practice are khilafa, the ultimate responsibility of both the ruled and the ruler to God; shura, the responsiveness of the rulers to the ruled, which must be institutionalized in order to be meaningful; ijma, the duty of the opinion leaders to reach consensus on specific policy issues in order to participate in the process of shura; and an independent judiciary.
The second of these last three maqasid is haqq al karama or respect for human dignity. The two most important hajjiyat for individual human dignity are religious freedom and gender equity. In traditional Islamic thought, freedom and equality are not ultimate ends but essential means to pursue the higher purposes inherent in the divine design of the Creator for every person.
The last universal or essential purpose at the root of Islamic jurisprudence, which can be sustained only by observance of the first six principles and also is essential to each of them, is haqq al ‘ilm or respect for knowledge. Its second-order principles are freedom of thought, press, and assembly so that all persons can fulfill their purpose to seek knowledge wherever they can find it.
This framework for human rights is at the very core of Islam as a religion. Fortunately, this paradigm of law in its broadest sense of moral theology is now being revived by what still is a minority of courageous Muslims determined to fill the intellectual gap that has weakened the Muslim umma for more than six hundred years, so that a spiritual renaissance in all faiths can transform the world.
The only alternative is the decline of America and of the best of Western civilization in a process known as istidraj, from which there is no recovery and no return. This global catastrophe occurred once before in the decline and fall of the Islamic world.
In his inimitable way, one of America’s foremost Islamic scholars, Professor Khaled Abou el Fadl, reflects on the decline of the great Islamic civilization many centuries ago, but his ruminations can just as well apply to our own future as Americans. In his essay, “The Orison,” in The Minaret of December, 2002, Dr. Abou el Fadl refers to the universal civilization produced by the great Islamic intellectual pioneers: “Once all the roads led to this kingdom, and all the worlds came from here. Once, the roads were open and welcoming – once, intellects and souls fluttered through the air of its mountains, the soil of its flowers, and its underground streams. Once, this was the abode of human conscience, the guard of the intellect, and the adornment of unbounded beauty. Once it was the point of radiant convergence for all human souls. Taught by a magnanimous Divine Unity and a singular essence of beauty, it defied the dogmatism of boundaries. It was the asylum of the intellects, but it is now a lost realm drifting at the edges of our memory obfuscated in the numerous folds of our contested identities.”
He continues, “The foundational element upon which all goodness and beauty is built is a dignified and just humility, for both degradation and arrogance are states of extremes. Dignity and humility are nourished by strength, but poisoned by power. … Are we dwellers in the ruins of a dead civilization bewailing the lost memories, or are we the inventive architects of history? Are we the refuse of bygone historical experiments, or are we part of the timeless truth etched in the conscience of humanity?”