Is There a Future for Muslims in America?
by Dr. Robert D. Crane
The major problem for Muslims today is the growing perception that Islam has succeeded Communism as a totalitarian threat to the survival of America. The major challenge for Muslims is to help Americans change the premise and framework of American policy from the pursuit of stability through coercion to the pursuit of justice as a moral obligation and as the best means to promote stability.
Justice, as developed in both classical American and classical Islamic thought, derives from awareness that justice can have meaning only if it derives from truth, and truth can have meaning only if it derives from an absolute source, The only such source is ultimate reality. And the only ultimate reality is God. This is the tap root of the tree of life. The principles of justice, spelled out by the great Sunni and Shi¡¦a scholars many centuries ago constitute a code of human responsibilities and rights unexcelled by any other civilization. They constitute the branches of the tree of life.
These principles of justice can be applied in Iraq best through the political principle of confederalism and the economic principle of broadened capital ownership.
The richest fruit of the tree of life is recognition of the transcendent identity of all persons. This makes possible both intra-faith and inter-faith dialogue to move the framework of civilizational interaction from mere tolerance to acceptance of permanent diversity. This can lead to true pluralism in mutual recognition that everyone can contribute something valuable to a global civilization.
Muslims can best shape their future in America not by either assimilation or confrontation but only by integration, so that they can bring the best of Islam to enrich the best of America in its role as a moral leader in the world.
I. What is the Major Problem for Muslims Today?
The future of Muslims, which all Muslims are especially interested in today, can be addressed by asking seven questions. First, what is the major problem for Muslims in the post-9/11 world?
As a professional long-range global forecaster, my experience is that one can shape the future only when one can first understand the problems, challenges, and opportunities available to those who want to shape it. If Muslims are to shape their future in America, rather than merely waiting passively for history to unfold, they must first understand the problems and challenges that confront them.
The principal problem and challenge for every group of people, including entire civilizations, is always ideative. We live in a world that is shaped by ideas and by those who can manipulate them to their own ends. This is the mission of think-tanks. Whoever can best influence the underlying premises of policy will control the political agenda. And whoever controls the agenda will control policy.
The principal problem for Muslims in America and around the world is the perception that they pose a global threat to civilization. This is the conclusion of increasingly influential global forecasters. Therefore we must understand the role of such forecasters in the policy process.
Forecasting the future became a profession only forty years ago, when both government and industry began to appreciate that threats to their future were global in nature. The Cuban missile crisis in 1962 reinforced the perception that the major threat to America was Communism. In September, 1962, I became one of the four founders of the first foreign policy think-tank in Washington, the Center for Strategic Studies, now the leading such think-tank renamed The Center for Strategic and International Studies. Our job was to create what the British called a grand strategy or framework for all strategic thought. The task at hand was to develop a grand strategy to combat Communism all over the world and to forecast the types and levels of threats that must be countered in this war against evil. During the next three decades, this task overwhelmed all decision-making in Washington.
The Cuban missile crisis threatened the very survival of America. My forty-page strategic analysis of the intelligence and forecasting failures that led to this crisis, published in the January 1963 issue of Orbis: A Quarterly Journal of World Affairs, prompted Richard Nixon this same month to hire me as his principal foreign policy adviser. I prepared a monthly digest for him of the principal articles and books on the key foreign policy issues. Six years later, on January 20, 1969, the day he was sworn in as President, he appointed me Deputy Director for Planning in the National Security Council. The Director, Henry Kissinger, almost immediately fired me because our grand strategies were diametrically opposed to each other. He sought global stability by using American military might to orchestrate and impose a balance of power. My grand strategy called for addressing the causes of instability by pursuing justice, because injustice was the fuel that fed Communism.
Almost forty years after the Cuban missile crisis, on September 11, 2001, an equivalent thunderbolt presented a new mortal threat. A new global enemy had emerged that must be contained or even decisively destroyed. This enemy was Islam.
Immediately after the collapse of Communism and of the grand strategy that had been developed to combat it, Samuel Huntington had set the framework for a new grand strategy with his thesis that we were entering an era dominated by a clash not of states with political agendas but of entire civilizations. Even before 9/11, in March, 2001, a former Israeli military officer, Robert D. Kaplan, spent an hour with President Bush briefing him on his new book, The Coming Anarchy. Kaplan forecast that the world was entering a moral meltdown like in the novel, The Lord of the Flies, and that “the most important moral commitment for America is to preserve its power.”
The impact of 9/11 finally brought to power the neo-conservative movement, which started with Robert Strausz-Hupe’s seminal position paper half a century earlier in 1957 calling for a global American empire to save civilization from destruction. Strausz-Hupe dismissed Communism as an ideology that would implode long before the end of the century. The subsequent threats would be greater and would require unprecedented boldness. On February 19th, 2002, at the Richard Nixon Library and think-tank in Yorba Linda, California, Vice President Cheney called for a new policy of global offense in what he called “the defining struggle of the 21st century.”
That very same week, five months after 9/11, a new book by Robert Kagan became the hottest item in town and reportedly took official Washington by storm. This book, garlanded with effusive praise by Henry Kissinger and a bevy of the most influential American elder statesmen, presented a brilliant apologia for scrapping morality and ideals and anything that might interfere with the imposition of American imperial power. This book, which was required reading in the highest policy circles, was entitled Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos.
In the prologue to this book, 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.” The new element in the world after 9/11, 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.
The fiasco in Iraq during the past year has prompted some professional forecasters to update the neo-con strategy of unilateral preemption. In his new book, published this past spring, entitled Collosus: the Cost of American Empire, Neal Furguson urges American policy makers to learn from the mistakes of past empires. Their two greatest mistakes were, first, their failure to increase the level of force when they encountered opposition, and, second, their failure to plan for occupation of foreign peoples in terms not merely of years but of decades.
II. What is the Most Difficult Challenge for Muslims
in the World Today
The challenge to Muslims in the world today is not how to resist American material power, but how to influence the premises that have led to an imperial presidency both at home and abroad.
The major challenge in the world today is not terrorism. And we know that it certainly is not Islam as a religion, any more than it is Christianity or Judaism. The major problem is not even the growing gap between the absurdly rich and the desperately poor both within and among countries, which is one of the long-range causes of terrorism. It is not even the “evil forces” that allegedly inhabit the Third World and have prompted some extremists to revive the old Serbian call in Bosnia: “Death to all Muslims.”
The major challenge in the world is the gap in understanding between the neo-cons in the White House, who call for freedom and democracy, and the Muslims and most of the other peoples in the world, who call for justice. We operate from different premises of thought. America and the rest of the world are like two ships passing in the night. They see each other at a distance, but the captain of the American ship has no idea what is in the other ship, where it came from, and where it is going.
In his speech at the Army War College last Tuesday, on May 24th, 2004, President Bush repeated his conviction that he is leading the fight of good against evil and that the war in Iraq has become the defining struggle against terrorism. By staying the course in Iraq to victory, President Bush told the American people: “This would be a decisive blow to terrorism at the heart of its power, and a victory for the security of America and the civilized world. ... We will persevere and defeat the enemy and hold this hard-won ground for the realm of liberty.”
In response to comments on the Arab street that identify the Americans in Iraq and the White House as “foreign jihadists,” President Bush proudly announced: “I sent American troops to Iraq to make its people free, not to make them American.”
President Bush’s premises are showing. Notice that not once in this speech, and not once in his entire presidency, has President Bush or anyone else at a senior level in his administration talked about justice. For most of the people in the world, Bush might just as well have been talking in Swahili. And for the neo-cons and Armageddonites in the current Administration, the peoples of the world might just as well be speaking in an unintelligible Chinese.
The major challenge in the world today is not evil intentions. I am a life-long Republican and I personally believe that President Bush is a good and sincere man. But he is totally out of touch with the world. His problem in both domestic and foreign policy is lack of communication, caused in part by his reliance on advisers who want to keep him isolated in order to pursue their own agendas.
Three weeks ago, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the former Vatican Secretary for Relations with States, stated on Vatican Radio that the crisis in Iraq, and specifically the system that produced the abuse of Iraqis in American prisons, is only an inevitable result of deeper problems. He concluded: “The lack of a solution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is the mother of all crises.”
Cardinal Tauran did not need to reiterate the position of all the world’s spiritual leaders that the major problem and challenge in the world today is failure to respect the dignity of the human person and the resulting failure to translate the wisdom of universal truth into the morality of universal justice.
The major challenge for all Americans is that their president has lost touch with the American heritage. The first aim in the preamble of the American Constitution - after the motivating purpose at hand of forming “a more perfect union” - is “the establishment of justice.” Justice is mentioned before peace (“domestic tranquility”), security (“the common defense”), prosperity (“the general welfare”), and freedom (“the blessings of liberty”).
Until America recovers the concept and content of justice as its paradigm or grand strategy for dealing with the world, as it was of America’s founders, the quixotic search for stability by maintaining the status quo with all of its injustices will fail. And not only Muslims but all Americans will be the principal victims.
III. What is the Paradigm of Justice?
The third of the six questions posed in my talk today is: “Where does justice come from, and what is it?” If Muslims are to help change the paradigm of American foreign policy by networking with like-minded people in the halls of academia and by making alliances with like-minded think-tanks in Washington, we must understand the answer to these questions.
I earned a J.D. or Doctor of Laws degree at Harvard Law School to find an answer, but not once in my three years there did I ever even hear the word “justice.” The reason is simple. Harvard, as a bastion of secularism, has focused on training the elite in America ever since the Civil War (when the natural law school of Supreme Court Justice Story went out of style) to accept the positivist school of law, which denies the very possibility of justice. It also denies everything for which America was founded.
My conclusions are two: First, the teachings of classical Islam and the teachings of classical America, best typified by the traditionalist mentor of America’s founders, the Englishman Edmund Burke, and by Thomas Jefferson, must be renewed in order to build a new global civilization. Second, the purpose of Muslims in America is to help Americans build this new global civilization on the spiritual foundations of all world religions, because failure to do so would end all civilization and bring on the end times.
All the spiritual leaders of the world agree that the signs of the end times are everywhere. Some religious leaders in all three of the Abrahamic religions follow a polytheistic theology of self-worship and hatred of “the other.” Some are willing to risk mutual destruction of the world, while others are seeking deliberately to accelerate its end. In contrast, the enlightened spiritual leaders support the opposite teaching of the Prophet Muhammad, salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa salam, who said, “Even if you would know that the world will end tomorrow, you should go out and plant a tree.”
Our responsibility is to plant the tree of life. The tap-root of this tree is true worship of the ultimate Being, because worship of anything else brings the death of civilizations and the eternal separation of individual persons from God, which is hell. Without such worship, even the concept of justice is inconceivable, because justice is the right ordering of the universe.
What is this worship? Symbolically this is shown by the physical performance of the salat. The vertical position in prayer points upward to each person’s relationship with God. Among animals, only humans stand erect. The horizontal rows of believers point to the social relationships among persons and to the justice that should govern their life in community. Christianity emphasizes the vertical relationship of love, whereas Judaism emphasizes a horizontal submission to law. Islam emphasizes neither, or perhaps one should say that Islam emphasizes both equally, because the emphasis on one over the other can lead to extremism.
The personal and the social are the two forms of worship. Each has three levels. What are the three levels of personal worship? The first is fear, whereby persons worship God because they fear him. As the hadith attest, this is the worship of slaves. The second is self-centered egoism, whereby persons worship God to seek rewards. This is the worship of hirelings. The third is the level of love, whereby persons worship God because He alone deserves worship and inspires love. This is the worship taught in the first part of the hajj within the Masjid al Haram in Makkah.
The second or social form of worship is symbolized in the hajj by the mass movement of millions of persons to the Plain of Arafat and back, suggesting not only their gathering on the Last Day but their responsibilities to each other during their lives on earth. These responsibilities and corresponding human rights are the substance of justice. The principles of justice, known as the maqasid al shari’ah, were developed over the centuries by some of the most brilliant minds in history. They constitute a sophisticated code of human rights never since equaled or even approached in any other civilization.
These principles of justice constitute a hierarchy of three levels, ranging from the most general or seminal, known variously as maqasid or purposes, kulliyat or universals, and dururiyat or essentials, to the more specific hajjiyat, and down to the most specific in their application, the tahsiniyat.
Before we describe the content of this hierarchy of human rights, we should ask, “Where do these principles of justice come from?” They come from the use of human reason as the third source of truth, known as ‘ilm al yaqin. This is based on the other two sources, which are haqq al yaqin or divine revelation, and ‘ain al yaqin, which is the study of the signs in the universe, otherwise known as natural law or the Sunnatu Allahi.
The use of the human intellect to seek truth and apply it in the practice of justice is the third jihad, the only one mentioned in the Qur’an. This is the jihad al kabir or “great jihad,” introduced in Surah al Furqan 25:52, wa jahidhum bihi jihadan kabiran. “And make an effort to apply it [divine revelation] in a great jihad.” This both follows and precedes the other two forms of jihad, which are mentioned in the hadith, namely, the jihad al akbar or “greatest jihad,” which is the spiritual jihad of self-purification, and the jihad al saghrir or “lesser jihad,” which calls, when necessary, for the use of force subject to the laws of just war to defend human rights.
Muslims have been split for more than a thousand years over which comes first in the search to understand the meaning and application of justice. The Mutakalimun say that revelation trumps reason, whereas some philosophers, especially the Mutazillites, say that reason must displace revelation whenever they perceive a conflict between the two. This mindless debate has weakened the Muslim umma.
Since, by definition, there can never be two realities, the Jafari school of law established a reinforcing balance of both by including justice as the second of five articles of faith, namely, tawheed, ‘adl (justice), nubuwwat, imamat, and ma’ad. These ‘usul al din or “roots of the faith” were first systematized by Shaykh Muhammad ibne Babawaih, known as Shaykh Saduq, who died in 381 A.H. His 300 books consolidated the doctrine of uninterrupted ijtihad or intellectual creativity in the Jafari school of law. His most important work, the I’teqadia, was translated twenty years ago into English by Nasir Shamsi.
These ‘usul al din might be considered as the root structure of the tree of life, and the principles of justice as the tree’s trunk and branches.
All Muslims emphasize justice as a governing principle, even though many Muslim tyrants throughout history have not applied it in practice and, in fact, have emphasized obedience to themselves as the highest duty of their subjects. During the last six hundred years, the scholars of the madhdhahib arba’a or four Sunni schools of thought have largely ignored justice even as a concept, much less as a governing framework for political, economic, and social life. In contrast, the Jafari fiqh lists justice as a basic paradigm of all thought and action, preceded only by tawheed, which is recognition of the existence of God and of the universe as a coherent manifestation of God’s Being. Justice comes even before recognition of prophethood, the third governing principle, which teaches that divine love, mercy, and justice are manifested through human exemplars.
IV. What are the Principles of Justice?
The fourth of the seven questions we must ask is what is the substance of justice? What are the principles that make up the Islamic architectonics of human rights?
Justice can have meaning only if it derives from truth, and truth has meaning only if it comes from an absolute source. The only such source is ultimate reality. And the only ultimate reality is God.
Allah has taught this in the Qur’an in several places. Wa tamaat kalimatu Rabika sidqan wa ‘adlan: “And the Word of your Lord is fulfilled and perfected in truth and justice.” Wa min ma khalaqna ummatun yahduna bil haqqi wa bihi ya’adilun: “And We have created a community that is guided by truth and applies it in the form of justice.” And, Shahidah Allahu anahu la illala ila huwa ... qa’iman bil qisti: “Allah [himself] witnesses that there is no god but him and that He stands for justice.”
Justice is merely a word without meaning unless it is developed in the form of principles. This was a basic teaching of the Prophet Muhammad, salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa salam. He used to gather the sahaba around him and pose either real or hypothetical cases for judgment. Each sahib would give his conclusion. Then the Prophet told them, in effect, “I do not care what your conclusions are. I want to know from what principles you derived them.” His beloved ‘Ali, ‘alayhi salam, reportedly always excelled in tracing every decision back to an informing principle or principles based on ijtihad or intellectual effort.
Important in this process was Allah’s warning in Surah Ya Sin 30:60-62: “Did I not enjoin on you ... to worship Me alone? This would have been a straight way. [Satin] has already led astray a great many of you: Could you not then use your reason?” The governing verb here is ta’aqilun from ‘aql or human reason.
The product of Muslim thought is known as ‘usul al fiqh, which means “the roots of legal reasoning.” In fact, these are principles of justice, based on istislah or the good of both the person and the community, and are really more like the branches of the tree of life stemming from the ‘usul al din or roots of faith.
Failure to derive principles from the Qur’an for the development of fiqh leaves jurists without adequate guidance and makes them vulnerable to human prejudice and error. It makes it difficult, if not impossible, reliably to translate truth into justice.
What are these basic principles of justice? I have expanded upon them in a 250-page book, as yet unpublished, under the title Shaping a Common Vision for America: Challenge and Response. I plan to develop them in detail, in sha’a Allah, in the final volumes of a 2,500 page comparison of classical American and classical Islamic thought. According to some classical scholars, there are seven universal principles of law. These constitute the architectonics of human rights and constitutional law in Islamic thought. This format was used by the last of the great legal theorists of ‘usul al fiqh in Sunni Islam, Abu Ishaq Ibrahim ibn Musa al Shatibi, who died six hundred years ago in 1388 A.C / 790 A.H.).
The first universal principle is haqq al din, which provides the framework for the next six in the form of respect for a transcendent source of truth to guide human thought and action. 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 the de-sacralization of public life.
The next six can be viewed as pairs. The first pair deals with human sovereignty. The first of this pair is haqq al nafs, which is the duty to respect the human person as the source of all sovereignty, subject only to the higher sovereignty of God. This is the opposite of Western thinking, which locates sovereignty exclusively in the state.
The second maqsud of this pair is haqq al nasl, which is the duty to respect the nuclear family and the community at every level all the way to the community of humankind as important expressions of the person. This is the opposite of Western international law, which does not recognize the right of groups to legal existence, such as the Palestinians, Kurds, Chechens, Kashmiris, and the Uighur in China.
The next pair deals with the means to maintain the sovereignty of the person and of communities. The first maqsud of this pair is haqq al mal. This is the duty to respect the right 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, particularly in a capital intensive economy, to avoid wage slavery and unemployment. My law degree in international investment has helped my lifelong specialization in reform of the global financial system, especially by improving access to credit based on future, not past, wealth.
The second maqsud of this second pair of maqasid is haqq al hurriyah, 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. All the great Islamic scholars were imprisoned, often for many years, for teaching this principle of political freedom and its four subsidiary principles or hajjiyat of khilafa, shura, ijma, and an independent judiciary.
The third set of universal principles of justice deals with the means to promote human dignity. The first of this set is haqq al karama or respect for human dignity, especially through the two hajjiyat or subsets of legal guidance: religious freedom and gender equity. The last of this third pair is haqq al ‘ilm or respect for knowledge. The second-order principles of this universal principle of justice require freedom of thought, press, and assembly, so that all persons can fulfill their purpose to seek knowledge wherever they can find it.
The standard exposition of these universal principles, preferred by Abu Hamid al Ghazali in the fourth Islamic century, contained only five maqasid, namely, faith (din), life (haya or nafs), property (mal), honor (karama), and mind (‘ilm). Later jurists, including Al Shatibi, added community (nasl) to the first of the three sets and political freedom (hurriyah) to the second set. Al Shatibi emphasized that both the number and organization of these universal principles of Islamic law are flexible, because they derive from the application of human reason to the basic sources in the Qur’an and sunna.
This framework of justice is at the core of Islam as a religion. Fortunately, this paradigm of human responsibilities and rights is now being revived by courageous Muslims who are 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.
V. Fruits of the Tree of Life:
Justice in Modern Iraq
What do the ‘Usul al Fiqh and the ‘Usul al Din mean in practice? The traditionalist wisdom of Islamic law or shari’ah, which is best expressed in the above architectonics of the ‘usul al fiqh and its roots in the ‘usul al din, exists in lesser degrees in all the world religions. In contrast, Western and Westernized scholars start from the material universe as the ultimate reality and therefore start from human reason as the only source of truth. This is why the elimination of Islam as the basic source of authority in a constitution for Iraq has been an absolute requirement by the American occupation rulers since long before the invasion in March 2003.
From human history we can see that unaided human reason has led to the principle of might makes right. This leads to such totalitarian concepts as stability through unilateral preemption in total disregard of any governing principles of morality and justice. Arguably, the invasion of Iraq violated every one of the requirements of a just war as spelled out in classical Islamic law at the tertiary level of the secondary principle, haqq al haya, which, in turn, serves both to explain and apply the primary principle known as haqq al nafs, the duty to respect the sovereignty of the human person.
In secular thought, even such concepts as freedom and democracy can divorce rights from responsibilities and thereby produce injustices worse than those that the neo-con utopians say they want to eliminate. The ancestors of the neo-cons were the revolutionaries in France two centuries ago who wanted to impose their utopia on the world. In order to prevent such polytheistic worship of man as the ultimate reality and source of truth, America’s founders condemned absolutist or majoritarian democracy as the worst form of government. Instead, they sought to create a republic, which by definition is governed by leaders who are governed by God.
Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, taught that no people can remain free unless they are properly educated, that education consists first of all in learning virtue, and that an entire people can be virtuous only if both private and public life are imbued with and guided by truth and justice within a spiritual framework.
The specifics of an Iraqi constitution reflecting the self-determination required by haqq al hurriya would require a confederal government permitting the autonomy of its component peoples, perhaps as a geostrategic compromise with those who want total independence.
The application of haqq al mal or respect for private property similarly would favor the devolution of economic power from centralized control by the state as broadly as possible to individual persons. The first phase of this economic devolution of power would involve denationalization of the Iraqi oil fields by converting the Iraqi National Oil Company into a professionally managed limited liability corporation. Initial shares would be issued at no cost to every oil worker and Iraqi citizen guaranteeing them first-class shareholder rights to the profits and voting control of the company. Future government revenues would then come from increased citizen incomes, reducing non-accountable political control by a military or political elite or by foreign oil interests.
Both of these powerful means to avoid concentration of power in order to increase individual sovereignty, dignity, and freedom would conflict with powerful special interests, especially those in America. But, the benefits to the Iraqi and American people would be enormous. First, the promotion of justice as perceived by the people of Iraq would undercut the appeal of exclusivist and radical elements and thereby promote internal stability. And, second, an American policy that boldly promoted justice, rather than what is considered to be a hypocritical call for freedom and democracy, would powerfully restore the image of America as a revolutionary force for justice in an age of globalization and as a moral leader of the world.
VI. Fruits of the Tree of Life: Transcendent Identity
The fruits of the tree of life are first of all greater awareness of ultimate reality and of the need to maintain this esoteric awareness through external or exoteric means. For Muslims this includes the pillars (arkan) of Islam, culminating in the university of all Islamic teachings symbolically in the hajj.
The orientation toward the divine as the center of one¡¦s life, in turn, creates awareness of one¡¦s transcendent identity. Even more important for a global grand strategy than applying justice in the coming decade or two in Iraq is the transformation of human consciences at the spiritual level in all religions everywhere in the world over a period of centuries. Such a vision, based on recognition of the basics of human nature, may be the proper answer to the doomsayers who forecast the end of the world not as a period of transition to a new era but as the end of the final era in human history or of the universe itself.
The question for such truly long-range forecasting and planning concerns the deeper meanings of the ‘usul al din or roots of faith, not merely of Islam but of all world religions in their access to the transcendent.
The ultimate question in discerning one¡¦s purpose in life concerns one’s identity. Everyone has multiple identities. For example, both Muslims and non-Muslims question whether Muslims can be both Muslim and American. This was the highest ranking of six key current questions posed and answered in their first publication by members of the Center for Understanding Islam, of which I was the chairman during its first two years after 9/11. The short answer, followed by analysis and Qur’anic quotations, was: “Our country is America and our faith is Islam. There is no need to choose between them. ... The first responsibility of every loyal American, both Muslim and non-Muslim, is to support the government when it governs according to its founding principles and loyal opposition when it does not.”
The seventh chapter of volume two of my projected seven-volume work on Shaping a Common Vision for America is entitled Transcendent Identity. This is the third chapter in Part Two, entitled “Roots of a Common Vision: the Moral and Spiritual Dimension.” This chapter was inspired by the Englishman, Dr. Jeremy Henzell-Thomas, who presented a seminal paper on the subject in September, 2003, at the annual convention of the Association of Muslim Social Scientists (AMSS) in Bloomington, Indiana, and published it in the online journal www.theamericanmuslim.org
Dr. Henzell-Thomas’s thesis is that the key to advancement from parochial clash to common vision is the natural human quest for a transcendent identity. In his tour de force, he warned that “mutual hostility and suspicion have been fuelled by the rhetoric of self-righteousness and rage, the psychological exploitation of fear, insecurity, and patriotic fervor, and even full-scale retreat into defensive isolation and identity crisis.” The only cure for what he calls “this war of barbarisms” is to work through both intra-faith and inter-faith dialogue toward an “expanded sense of identity [ by appealing to] that compassionate wisdom which does not delimit, negate, or abrogate, but which expands, affirms, and illumines.” He urges us to “reach beyond differences and develop our outlook beyond mere tolerance in engaging with people of all faiths and cultures in such a way that we discover our sacred identity at its deepest and finest level in accordance with the injunction in the Qur’an: “And discourse with them [followers of earlier revelations] only in what is finest” (Surah al ‘ankabut 29:46).
The Qur’an informs us that Allah has created the world and everything in it as a system of polarities, ranging from physics to gender, so that we may pass beyond these opposites to the essential Unity that is both our original identity and our ultimate goal as human beings. Every person, however, is free to derive from the duality and polarity underlying the fabric of the universe the exact opposite lesson. We see this in the tendency of people to see reality in black and white, a propensity to see the world in terms of mutually hostile and competing civilizations, an us-versus-them ideology that self-righteously attributes rightness and goodness only to its own perspective.
Every person is created, says Dr. Henzell-Thomas, with both a rational intellect of the brain and a higher intellect of the heart, which together form what in Islamic philosophy is known as the ‘aql. This goes beyond the normal, exoteric definition of ‘aql to equate it with the nous in Orthodox Christianity and modern Catholic theology, which, if purified, knows God and the inner essence or principles of created things by means of a direct apprehension or spiritual perception. He quotes Titus Burckhardt, the historian of perennial art, who defines this ‘aql as the “universal principle of all intelligence, a principle that transcends the limiting conditions of the mind,” a principle that is known, with some modern empirical justification, as the “heart.” He compares this level of knowledge disparagingly with much of the modern writing that purports to be profound by citing the catchword, “the medium is the message,” and the proverb: “Empty barrels make the most sound.”
Much of Dr. Henzell-Thomas’s essay as a professional linguist explores the origin of words in various languages in order to show that modern derivations have lost the wisdom of their cognates and thereby reflected or led to a divided world. For example, there is no exact equivalent for “sin” in Qur’anic Arabic, because Muslims focus on cause not on effect, a practice that more Americans would do well to learn. In Islamic thought the actions that Christians call “sin” are not caused ultimately by original sin or by ill-will but by forgetting God. The very word for human, al insan, comes from the root “to forget.” Our need consciously to be aware of God is precisely why all religions call for frequent prayer and why Eastern Orthodox mysticism calls for “constant prayer.”
Although Dr. Henzell-Thomas does not explain that there is no word for “sin” in Arabic, he shows that the modern meaning of evil as the root of sin does not exist in the Greek word hamartia, which is normally translated as “sin” in English versions of the New Testament. The Greek original means “missing the mark” by being unbalanced on the side of excess and by losing focus on right direction. This is basic to the Islamic term mizan, which attributes problems to lack of balance, as well as to the popular term for problem, namely, mushkila, which comes from the root sh-ka-la, meaning internal disorder. This contrasts with the modern English concept of problem as an external obstacle that must be overcome or destroyed, like the sixty countries that President Bush right after 9/11 said must be eliminated.
A principal problem with many advocates of “liberalism,” perhaps especially of Muslim advocates of “liberal Islam,” is that they are adopting language that makes it impossible any longer to understand traditionalist thought of any religion or even to think. How do we deal with a secular world, in which “individuality” as the essence of human dignity becomes “individualism” with no meaning other than revolt against conformity; when acknowledgement of the “absolute” becomes “absolutism”; when the “authoritative” becomes “authoritarian”; when “science,” which is the open-ended search for all knowledge, becomes “scientism” or the rejection of whatever cannot be proven in a test tube; when “forms” as the creation of God become “formalisms” created by man; when “unity” becomes “uniformity”; “usefulness” becomes “utilitarianism”; “liberty” becomes “libertinism”; “modernity” becomes “modernism”; “religion” becomes “religiosity”; and all these perversions of thought are employed to reject the validity of any and every spiritual quest?
Similarly, how can we transcend the minds of religious zealots who seek to create God in their own image, as Voltaire once put it, by limiting God within the formalisms of their own dogmas? The Qur’an informs us: “Glorified is He and exalted above what they describe” (Surah al An’am 6:100)? How can we thereby forget our innate awareness of God? Such self-inflicted amnesia, according to the Qur’an, is the ultimate source of all evil. How can we come to worship instead the false god of secular materialism, the god of Mammon, with its gargantuan and insatiable appetite, or as Dr. Henzell-Thomas puts it, how can we worship “the pillar of salt offered to us by religious bigots who have no water to slake our thirst”?
The fruits of planting the tree of life include recognition that the way out of the desert in which we are lost is not meaningless inter-cultural education or “crossing frontiers” that focus on respecting parochial identity rather than expanding beyond it into the larger space of our common identity as spiritual beings with a common origin and a common purpose. Multi-culturalism in American education does not address the common search for higher understanding but teaches that there is no absolute truth, that everything is relative, and that no culture, including the traditionalist paradigm of America’s founders, can have any objective value or meaning. Why? The reason quite simply is that religion is taught, if at all, as an anthropological or sociological exercise but not as a key to what it means to be human. The identity of human nature is off-limits as a subject of study, because this would involve teaching religion, without which human nature can have no value or meaning.
When public education is forbidden to address the essentials of religion, the only purpose of such education is to produce competent automatons with proven skills designed only efficiently to quantify and manage the material world in order to compete internationally in producing more bucks and better bombs. We need people of vision, not managers; we need spiritually enlightened human beings, not hard-wired cyborgs, not even “culturally competent global citizens.”
Dr. Henzell-Thomas warns that the dominant current of secular fundamentalism is producing a new totalitarianism. As noted by the renowned student of the modern totalitarian phenomenon, Hannah Arendt, in her book Totalitarianism: “The aim of totalitarian education has never been to instill convictions, but to destroy the capacity to form any.”
Modern man has entered a global crisis, of which global terrorism is only the most obvious symptom, because he has succeeded in shaping the world to match his governing world-view, which is a man-made environment that is increasingly mechanistic, atomized, soulless, and self-destructive. In his book, The Passion of the Western Mind, Richard Tarnas calls this an epochal shift into absolute isolation from reality. This is precisely why even the word “justice” has gone out of style. The pervasive de-sacralization of all life may be leading to the end stage of a progressive destruction of holistic life. The moral chaos sown by secular relativism is becoming the cultural soil in which religious totalitarianism springs forth and flourishes, choking off liberty and life itself.
Fortunately, God always leaves open the way to alternative futures and will lead us if we rely on His help. In this vein, Dr. Henzell-Thomas optimistically notes evidence that, “We are moving into a new paradigm, in which there is a hunger and a thirst for the re-ensouling of society, education, and culture, for a holistic [as distinct from a deconstructive] way of looking at the world, which seeks connectivity, wholeness, and meaningfulness, and which, in the crucial domain of education, awakens and nurtures the deepest layer of spiritual identity in young people.”
This spiritual identity that young people increasingly are seeking, not only outside the mainline denominations of every religion but also within them, has always been the subject and object of the traditional wisdom or sophia perennis. This is the timeless “primordial religion” underlying its various expressions in the form of different religions at different times and places to meet the specific needs of different communities. Like the Hindu Sanatana Dharma, Islam teaches this spiritual essence of all religions and states that God has provided prophets for every people in every time and place. The Qur’an explicitly confirms that God makes no distinction between any of His apostles or messengers (Surah al Baqara 2:285).
The common identity of all persons consists in the idea common to all religions, and especially prominent in the hadith of the Prophet Muhammad, that the human being is created “in the image of God.” As Dr. Henzell-Thomas notes, “This potential to embody the totality of divine attributes is an article of faith, which is not of course solely Islamic, but is enshrined in the common Abrahamic tradition represented by the ‘People of the Book” (Jews, Christians, and Muslims), in the identity of Atman (the Self) and Brahman (the Absolute Reality) in the Vedanta tradition, [and] in the doctrine of the unity of the microcosm and the macrocosm in various esoteric traditions.”
How does one grow the fruits of the Tree of Life? How does one actualize this vision of our common identity? This question of praxiology is the great challenge to humanity in an era when the lack of such a vision can result in universal self-destruction.
The first requirement for every person in moving humankind away from clashing civilizations and toward a common vision is to commit oneself to one’s own spiritual path in the knowledge that God has called each person to a path unique to him or her.
In hundreds of individual revelations the Qur’an emphasizes that diversity in the universe is a sign of the Oneness of its Creator, because otherwise there would be only uniformity with no meaning at all. This is part of the holistic ontology of the shari’ah or Islamic law, which serves as the overarching framework of everything Islamic, both the spiritual and the mundane. Allah is One. Therefore the entire created order exists in the harmony of diversity in order to point to the Creator.
This diversity also is part of the esthetic of Islamic law, which teaches that the nature of transcendent reality, and of all being, is Beauty, which precedes and is independent of cognition. Beauty consists of unity, symmetry, harmony, depth of meaning, and breadth of applicability. The greatest beauty is the unitive principle of tawhid or the coherence of the universe deriving from the Oneness of the Creator, because otherwise there could be no science and no human thought at all.
As discussed in my latest book, this diversity is also basic to the epistemology of Islamic law. All Creation worships Allah because He is one. The Qur’an states that even the stars and the trees bow down to Allah in ways that you do not understand. All knowledge is merely a derivitive and an affirmation of the unitary harmony in everything that comes from Allah. Everything in creation is a sign, an ayah, of God designed to manifest the beauty and perfection of His will for our instruction. For example, the constant movement of the clouds shows the nature of the universe as a flux or state of change, so that we will seek the stability of peace only in God and in the permanent elements of existence that inform the spiritual life. Similarly, the variety of sunsets we see shows the freedom for diversity inherent in Allah’s design for the universe, which in turn shows the uniqueness ordained for every individual person and the importance of human rights.
Both the clouds and the sunsets, as well as every tree, have powerful lessons for every branch of knowledge, ranging from what Shaheed Isma’il al-Faruqi called the fitric or microcentric disciplines of physics and psychology, to the ummatic or macro-oriented disciplines of chemistry and sociology and politics, as well as for the study of transcendent religion, which is the master guide to both and gives rise to the discipline of axiology or normative law, also known as transcendent law and among enlightened Muslims as the shari¡¦ah.
From our primordial nature originating from the divine singularity, God, our identity is in essence the same as everyone else’s, even though the diversity of forms is infinite. Some Sufis speak of the oneness of being, wahdat al wujjud, in which the subjective impression of union with God, known as wahhad al shuhud, is objectified as reality, even though even the experience is partly symbolic. One might compare it with a drop of water that falls into the ocean. The ocean is enlarged, but the drop never ceases to exist, even though its form has changed. And Allah knows best.
Dr. Henzell-Thomas writes: “It is only our forgetfulness of our essential nature and its divine origin, and our heedlessness in failing to fulfill the burden of trust placed upon us that causes us to stray from our fully inclusive human identity.” For more depth of understanding on this basic Islamic teaching, Dr. Henzell-Thomas brings our attention to the forthcoming book by Reza Shah-Kazemi, originally entitled The Spirit of Justice and the Remembrance of God: An Introduction fo the Spiritual Ethos of Imam ‘Ali, to be published in London by I. B. Tauris. This helps us remain aware of the Christian and basic Abrahamic teaching that “all things are rooted in mystery, and mystery dwells in me.”
And here we come to perhaps the most important fruit of the tree of life. From this metaphysical awareness of tawhid as the governing principle of all Creation, and of unity in diversity as its expression, comes the understanding that precisely the commitment to a particular path gives us the means to encompass universalism. This understanding is the opposite of self-styled “universalists” who believe that adherence to a specific path and its formal requirements limits our ability to grasp universals. The syncretists, including many self-styled liberals, purport to take the best from all faiths and turn this into a new religion. The traditionalist understanding in all faiths is that only through the mediation of forms, but not their elevation into formalisms, can the human being have access to what Muslims call the haqq or the Essential Truth, God.
The adherence to forms, without adequate understanding of what they represent, in other words as meaningless formalism, can lead to the totalitarian mentality now so evident among both liberals and fundamentalist reactionaries. As Karen Armstrong says, “The militant brand of piety, often somewhat misleadingly called ‘fundamentalism,’ which has been developing in all the major world religions for decades and has latterly become more extreme, ... is rooted in fear…. Almost every day in our newspapers we see the perils of hatred and bigotry, when they are given ‘divine sanction’ by people who distort the very tradition they are trying to defend.”
Commitment to forms, which includes rituals as well as individual spiritual guides in any particular religion, according to Dr. Henzell-Thomas, can and should be “a liberating process that enables one to engage one’s whole being with the particularities of a chosen way in order to find, through the orientation provided by that way, the universal and essential realities of which that way is an expression. ... Following a path exclusively is totally reconcilable with the search for a universal identity, and, indeed, is the means to its attainment for countless spiritual seekers and spiritually developed beings from all religious traditions. But, the exclusivism promoted by a defensive, backs-to-the-wall religiosity, which misappropriates God for a narrow community and denies that other paths are also expressions of the Self-disclosure of God, is necessarily a constriction of the heart, and is therefore incapable of encompassing divinity.”
The vast majority of people who have embraced Islam throughout the centuries all over the world have done so because they admired its inherent inclusivism. Representative of this appeal is the original edition of the most popular translation of the Qur¡¦an, the one by Yusuf Ali before it was edited by Saudi censors. He interprets Surah al Tin, ¡§The Fig Tree,¡¨ as referring to the Bo Tree under which the Lord Buddha received enlightenment, which gives Qur¡¦anic authority for Buddhism as a revealed religion and Buddhists as ¡§People of the Book.¡¨
This Islamic respect for diversity of paths to the transcendent is why, according to two doctoral dissertations, 80% of Euro-American and 60% of African-American converts to Islam first encountered Islam through one or a another Sufi order. Probably the majority of the 1.2 billion Muslims in the world, including most Indonesians and almost 100% of some African countries, are Sufis.
The Sufis and similar groups in other religions are especially attuned to the ¡§unseen,¡¨ which the Qur¡¦an refers to as al ghraib. They maintain a living link, called tawajjud, with great spiritual leaders who have passed on to the afterlife but are still present for those who can transcend the illusion of space and time.
The Christians are aware of the presence of Jesus. Since I joined the Franciscans at the age of 22, I have always been a follower of St. Francis of Assisi.
Muslim Sufi orders trace their link to the Prophet Muhammad through either Abu Bakr or Ali. A few proclaim an isnad deriving from both of them, whom they consider to be respectively the Prophet¡¦s immediate political and spiritual successor. The Shi¡¦a are especially aware of the presence not only of the Prophet Muhammad but of ¡¥Ali and his sons, Hassan and Hussain, and the imams who succeeded them. Recognition of this succession, known as the imamat, is the fourth Shi¡¦i article of faith.
Unfortunately, the practice of Sufis in the early centuries of Islam to follow more than one shaykh is now rare. And some Sufi followers elevate their shaykh or one of his predecessors to a level of reverence against which the Prophet Muhammad warned when he said that one¡¦s love should not ¡§exceed the bounds.¡¨
The exclusivism common in all religion has led to factionalism not merely among religions but among Muslims and even among Sufis. This often reflects political conflicts unrelated to religion and can produce extremism.
The solution to such perversion of religion can come only from awareness of the transcendent reality of the ghraib and of everyone¡¦s legitimate identity in it.
This openness to diversity as part of the plan of God and to the legitimacy of faiths other than one’s own enables one to go beyond the call for mere “tolerance” of the other. Tolerance, as used even in interfaith circles, is the attitude that I will not kill you now, but I will as soon as I get a good chance. This is similar to the Soviet use of the term “peaceful coexistence,” which was clearly spelled out in the Communist legal journals as a stage prior to the worldwide victory of Communism over all its enemies.
If we are to reach a common vision as the path to avoid civilizational clash, we must advance beyond mere tolerance. We must go beyond the arrogance of triumphalism, so common among fearful and reactionary people of all faiths, and beyond the static concept of “peaceful coexistence” to a higher calling of “peaceful cooperation.” We must advance from tolerance to diversity, in the sense of recognition and acceptance that the world is diverse, even though we might not like this fact. And we must advance beyond this concept of diversity to the welcoming of a true pluralism, in the sense that we welcome what people of other faiths have to offer us, since we know what we can offer them.
Only through mutual self-understanding in interfaith dialogue can we undergo the mutual transformation that expands our own identity. And only through such transformation can we successfully promote mutual cooperation as catalysts of justice. Commitment to spiritually informed and spiritually based justice, which has essentially disappeared from both foreign and domestic policy in America, is the only path that can lead to a common vision and to worldwide civilizational renewal.
VII. How Can Muslims Shape their Future in America?
The title of this talk, “Is there a Future for Muslims in America,” poses the seventh and final question, to which the first six questions provide an introduction.
When forecasters try to influence policy, they often use hypothetical scenarios. Muslims have three potential futures in America. First, they can assimilate into American culture. This is suicide. Second, they can retreat into a ghetto mentality of rejection and confrontation in order to deny reality. This is also suicide. Third, Muslims can integrate into America by bringing the best of the Islamic heritage to reinforce the best of America’s heritage so that together all Americans can help fulfill the dream of the Founders to establish a model of order, justice, and liberty based on the spiritual nature of every person.
There are four methods for such integration. The first is to work at the local level to help Muslims understand their own religion so that they can explain it to others, and so that those in other religions can better counter the extremists who are trying to hijack all religions. Muslims are already doing this, and they experienced great success in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. As the environment of the police state became more hostile to Muslims a year or so later both at home and abroad, the need increased for more such interfaith outreach.
The second method of integration is to found think-tanks in order to network with like-minded think-tanks in Washington. Several attempts have been made over the past decade, but all have failed due to lack of funding and to a resulting failure to recruit top professional staff. The top twenty think-tanks in Washington in the field of foreign policy all have annual budgets in the millions of dollars, some of them in the tens of millions. In order to participate and compete in the think-tank community, any Muslim think-tank should start with a first-year budget of $1,000,000, with plans for expansion by $1,000,000 a year up to about $5,000,000 in Year Five. Planning for anything less would amount to under-capitalization, which is the cause of 90% of the bankruptcies in the United States.
The third method is to lobby the government on specific policies, as well as to run for public office so that one can participate in policy-making from the inside. The Ikhwan or Muslim Brotherhood has worked through various national-level Muslim organizations to do such lobbying, but unfortunately the emphasis has been on reactive confrontation against policies that are already set in concrete and cannot be changed. There has been little effort to lobby proactively in a professional manner to shape the policy agenda in order to develop enlightened American policy. The approach, according to the former Chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, Lee Hamilton, should always be not what is good for Muslims but what is best for America.
The fourth method of integration is to work within academia, because here is where ideas are developed and passed on to the think-tanks, which in turn influence the political agenda and control actual policy. The best strategy in this fourth method would be to found a university modeled on Oxford and Cambridge and informed by the enlightened thought of Islam and all other religious traditions. The faculty and students would have to be at least a third non-Muslim in order to attract the best talent. And an actual quota system might be advisable to assure that something like half of the administrators, faculty, and students are women. The requirements of this fourth method of integration are spelled out in three articles of mine written as Chairman of the Crescent University Foundation and published during 2002 in www.theamericanmuslim.org
The greatest challenge for this fourth means of integration is financial. Starting the first undergraduate class after four years of preparation would cost $100,000,000, and start-up six years later of the first of several graduate schools would cost ten times that much.
The reason for failure thus far in establishing think-tanks and universities is not lack of potential money and talent. The money is now available, as are the professionals for both think-tanks and universities. In only thirty years or so of immigration and conversion in America, Muslims have reached the critical levels needed, which is an absolutely remarkable feat.
The main reasons for our failure are two. First, the hostile climate for Muslims after 9/11 has discouraged Muslims from thinking big. And those who do not think big in America usually fail.
Secondly, the intellectual basis for such integration, as I have developed it in my talk today, needs much further development. My own contributions to this development are my two books, Shaping the Future: Challenge and Response, published in 1997, and Shaping a Common Vision for America: Challenge and Response, which is ready for publication now in 2004. These are only the first two volumes of a multi-volume set of books laying the groundwork for enriching the interaction between classical American and classical Islamic thought. Each of the five volumes, in sha’a Allah, will require at least 500 pages of scholarship with many thousands of footnotes, because scholarship by definition means that one has consulted all the secondary literature and much of the primary sources on the subject at hand. This was the level of scholarship by the great thinkers in classical Islam, but few Muslims have risen to this level in recent centuries.
Part of the problem is that those who could fund such work no longer appreciate the need for it. The institution of the waqf or Islamic endowment died long ago. Muslims need to revive it.
The challenges to shaping a prosperous and blessed future for Muslims in America are enormous, and so are the opportunities. The time frame for success must be measured in decades, but this is precisely why Muslims must begin now.
The urgent need in America, including and perhaps especially the Muslims in America, is spiritual renewal, not merely moral reform. In the Qur’an we read, Ina Allaha ya yughairu ma bi qaumin khata yughairuu ma bi anfusihim. “Allah does not change the condition of a people until they change the condition of their own selves.” In all of this we must remember that the best planner is God. As the hadith qudsi suggests metaphorically, we are merely Allah¡¦s servants, His eyes, His ears, and His hands. If Muslims think that the challenges and tasks facing them are too great, they should rely on God, who says simply kun fa yakun, “be, and it is.”