When A Cultural Paradigm is Divisive
… Those who split up their religion and become mere sects… each party rejoicing in that which is with itself. Surah 30:5
“It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural”. Edward Said from “The Clash of Ignorance”
In 1871 E.B. Tylor formulated the generally accepted and classical definition of the term “culture”. Tylor opined that “culture is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capability and habit acquired by man as a member of society”. The terms are intriguing, compelling, and particularly attractive is the idea of culture as “habit acquired by man”. Habit implies something performed without thought, a knee jerk reaction to stimuli. Culture allows us to survive threatening conditions and perplexing circumstances within our environment.
Individual or collective thought processes can be construed as reflective of culture’s conditioning on our personal and collective lives and prepares our relationship to the environment, resulting in prevailing values as a product of this interaction.
In the spirit of cultural relativism and diversity, world cultures demonstrate and speak proudly and profoundly of their achievements; we are enriched being surrounded by the aesthetics of world cultures. Culture is active and reshapes itself to expresses in what fashion the human condition will react to a universe of eccentric elements. Culture is the relationship between civilization and the natural mysteries, whether these complexities are adversarial or synergistic. Insight is afforded into how the cultural diversity of a nation are integrated; how the variety of imaginations become resources serving the purposes of communal survival.
Maulana Wahiduddin Khan has commented on inclusiveness, “The beauty of the garden of life is actually enhanced if the flower of unity is accompanied by the thorn of diversity”.
Muslims with traditional Islamic cultures transplanted to the West, marrying distant dichotomous Western contemporary cultures appear to be highly educated, gainfully employed and enjoying the luxury of assimilation in North America. Cultural compromises or cultural assimilation into the freedoms wrought by the technological and market driven fruits of capitalism has created an emphasis on personal accomplishment as well as collective growth; and opened the door of probability to a sub-cultural persuasion for second generation off spring forced to adhere to a split tread: the rhythm of popular culture and the demands of the cultural transplantation as well.
Contrasted against this backdrop are passionate universal voices encouraging Americans in general towards progressive contemporary Western life styles while reformed and culturally compromised modern religious values seek higher and common ground. History observes and contemporary wisdom suggests this may be a contemptuous example to follow and concludes this to be a dangerous pattern infiltrating American as well as Muslim communities. This pattern is being justified on the basis of the historical delineation of two communities and two disciplines: the advantaged and protected versus the vulnerable and disenfranchised; as well as the secular that encourages independent discovery and advocates converted religious values and rehabilitated morality from Holy Scripture; these movements are contrasted against the traditionally accepted religious schools of thought. As a consequence of the restructuring, American life and culture have been dramatically affected by religious thinking traceable to the pre- Enlightenment period in Europe. The traditionally Western attitudes of superiority have reinvigorated a civic movement which appears to be re-deployed by people of a new and widened set of pop-culture demographics and psychographics existing prior to the dramatic increase in the US Muslim population. The attitude represented by American identity politics and culture has produced a significant revival of segregated and what Robert Putnam in Bowling Alone terms personalized American communities based upon race, religion, sexual preferences, recreational activities, business and political loyalties.
Within the past decade in the US, where America has experienced tremendous growth in the immigrant Muslim community, some Muslims taking root have unconsciously allowed their cultural fabric to become an isolating equally segregationist wedge between Ahl-Al-Kitab (Jews and Christians) and Muslims of various racial and cultural persuasions. This phenomenon seems to hint of segregationist’s patterns from the last century sneaking back into the American communal landscape. Whether consciously or unconsciously assissimilating into this blueprint, Muslims are simultaneously disconnecting from the tradition of Islamic diversity, disabling the momentum amassed and the direction Islam will eventually be forced to traverse. Dilemmas of this nature force us to continually and aggressively lessen tensions and lower the walls of defense amongst Muslims and Americans.
Culturally based mosques conspicuously Middle Eastern, Indian-Pakistani, Malaysian, African, Arab, African-American, or Eastern European on the surface display no reason for curiosity or alarm. The affinity demonstrated which associates people with a structure of similar cultural values on the surface have no distracters or critics. However there is significant space to misinterpret this movement as mechanically re-creating a historically dramatic and significant impediment in American class relations: segregation, whether it be justified for racial, religious, or political propensities.
Since the early seventies and more evidently post 9/11/01 we have witnessed such segregationist activities in the form of building and operating personalized mosques and cultural centers. With this has come personalized planning for culturally oriented groups of people, and by way of serendipity comes personalized and segregationist’s thinking. Innocently the planning and execution of Muslim community events, the formation of Tafsir study groups, the organizing of community entertainment, the inception and operation of schools, and the dictates of shura councils have been for the personal enjoyment of a select few. This thrust has been co-opted by disinterested and thus inept leadership unable to grasp the depths and certainly the history of existing social problems. It is within this frustrating precedent that we find the indigenous Muslim of color confused; the greatest potential for future Islamic delineation will be incited by cultural divisiveness.
To be effective in building bridges over differences within and without the ummah, Muslim leadership in the United States must be acutely aware of the history that led to the racially and religiously separatists culture of living in post -colonial America; as well as the trends within contemporary Islamic movements. More importantly leadership has to recognize and utilize multi-faceted competencies and experiences to communicate with a complex political environment and produce unprecedented results.
Allah reminds us of two things in the Quran that contribute to the development of a methodology needed to understand the wisdom of social cohesion. First, His intention is to have people become acquainted through culture, to integrate racially, intermingle to celebrate life, cooperate to solve the universal mysteries, and co-exist as a sign of submission. Additionally, in the second verse of Surat ul-Maidah we are warned that hatred for people could lead to transgressions. Interestingly, as the story of creation in the Quran unfolds, a dialogue with the angels ensues. The angels ask Allah if man would spread bloodshed on the earth. Implied in this inquiry is the insinuation that coexistence would create complexities in life on earth.
The Islamic undertaking has never excluded, discouraged or mis-perceived the place of culture within religion. Historically as Muslims spread geographically, Islamic culture formed a presence; from the Quran and Sunnah the comprehensive logic of Islamic culture was formed. Strengthened with that presence and breadth of knowledge Muslims proceeded to expand and build mosques and schools that left a footprint of the Islamic presence. Emissaries sent by the Prophet Muhammad to spread the message of the new religion encountered unforeseen obstacles and resistance to the new ideology. Nevertheless in the wisdom of human relations, when those emissaries were not convincing there is no historical data to conclude they forcibly altered local religious configurations or violently desecrated cultural expressions in contradiction to tenants manifested by the Sunnah.
The spread of Islam by the elite leadership classes of pre-colonial West Africa illustrates how the slow integration of the new religion began in the eighth century. Although Ethiopia in East Africa was the first area targeted by the Prophet Mohammad, Africa reaching to the Sahara, prior to the nineteenth century exemplified the co-existence and balance of native religions and cultures while facilitating the emergence of Islam. What gave Islam in West Africa its uniqueness, was that of the four most influential Islamic geographical zones on the continent, the unrestrained Sudanic spread, the vast East African corridor, and the Arab dominated northern Maghrib, the West African district mounted less resistance to Islamic penetration. Islam, in Africa, as it originated in many areas of the Middle East, was initially an urbanized religion primarily attracting the powerful elite merchant classes and political community. African traders throughout the continent controlling the trade routes through deserts and forests were a leading element within society and it was their relationships with traveling Arab merchants that initiated the first waves of Islam in Africa. Having targeted the trading routes and urban centers prior to colonial expansion in Africa, Arab traders ignored the interiors of nation states and consequentially Islam, until recently, never successfully penetrated remote native cultures because of uninhabitable terrains.
The African capacity to contain the dualism of Arab religious and thus cultural reflections immersed with pagan reverence to manufacture the hybridity of African-Islamic culture, its influence and appearance remain today. Regional chieftains played a mainly political task to achieve a cultural and transactional equilibrium between indigenous religions and Islam. Islam was not considered a threat to displace indigenous cultural structures but an adjunct to the development of trade opportunities and the extension and solidification of power. J Spencer Trimingham traces the development of Islam throughout the continent and explores reasons for its spread and decline. In The Influence of Islam Upon Africa, Trimingham, mechanical in his analysis of traditional African structures accurately postulates how the ruling classes and traders were the political backbone of developing pre-colonial life. Here he cites Sudan as an example, “Islam was brought to this country (Bornu) by traders and travelers. Whoever wished adopted the faith; some practicing it as sincerely as they were able, others mingling it with elements that nullified it. Such was the case with the majority of the kings of the country; they adopted Islam, confessed to the unity of God, observed ritual prayer and fast, yet never got rid of their inherited practices, nor abandoned one whit of their customs…it (Islam) was a religion of chiefs… with a professional class of clerics, but it did not become the religion of the people… their particularist societies did not feel the need for a universal religion”.
By the mid nineteenth century, the European colonial intrusions swept through Africa ironically setting the stage for Islam to be spread by Muslim Jihads. These movements were successful at increasing the presence of institutional Islam: mosques, schools, prayers, rites, ceremonies and extending the practice from an exclusively ruling class religion thriving along trading routes to interior village life. In primarily West and Central Africa not to include the Sub-Saharan regions, Islamic states were being created at the expense of traditional cultural and religious structures. African- Muslim Jihads began as an attempt to unify multi-linguistic and ethnic entities with diverse religious manners, but did so, in many cases, with an intolerance for cultural others and imprudent blindness to indigenous ways of life for which Islam has continued to suffer. The spread of Islam during this time, took on a unique wave of expansion, necessitating further discussion, however may be contrasted against the character of diplomacy and concession encouraged by the Prophet Mohammad while in Medina.
Ira Lapidus writes at length about this development and its results in a chapter entitled Islam in West Africa from his book, A History of Islamic Societies, “While Islam had frequently been adopted as an imperial cult without being spread among the subjects, the nineteenth century Jihads created Islamic states which sought to include the whole population rather than a limited aristocracy, and to create a political people out of smaller groups of diverse racial, ethnic, and linguistic backgrounds. Though great numbers of people were converted to Islam, the process of conversion was slow and the change in institutions and beliefs variable. The result was not the formation of a uniform Islamic culture but a plethora of local variations of Islamic practice”.
In the post-modern West, there is a number of significantly challenging social and ethical dilemmas lingering in American society, strengthened by racial and cultural stereotypes that simmer and continue to sanction discriminatory attitudes toward minorities and cultural others; remnants still meandering from the last century in American history. Sadly, modernity, with its intellectual and technical prowess and progress has not digested the lessons of culturally segregated societies in the Oriental world or politically and religiously segregated societies in the Occidental world.
Through the years Muslims have been enticed by the rewards of an American society founded on beliefs similar to the ethical constructs imposed by Islam. However, the Prophet Mohammad predicted the futility and complexity of a loosely defined Western morality, of the tragedy of tribal hegemony, and condoning the growth of two separate worlds: the powerful (urban elitists of the past and present) and the impoverished (rural folk) that today scar and imbalance the world.
The broadest and best-intentioned American social policies and solutions have not produced either a colorless or classless society; it has however produced a very definitive cultural society that is unforgiving and poised to deflect any opposition. The challenge to Islam in the West is to broaden the options and solutions to the social enigmas by asserting the values and sensibilities that formed the first ummah. It is the Islamic history of struggle against class dominance, secondary citizenship and stereotypical racial and cultural attitudes that should medicinally compliment the political consciousness and growth of the Muslim community. This is the historical landscape into which new Muslim immigrants must immediately conceptualize and take position.
The Islamic community is not designed to be a monolithic cultural entity and that is not the concern of Islam or this essay. Nonetheless, in an attempt to engage the Islamic community in critical planning, as well as clinically shaping a complimentary religious presence and public image, Muslims are victimized with a plethora of social attitudinal-behavioral problems crippling our national discourse; victims of xenophobic and consequentially passive positions that feed into the complexion of our crisis. Negative emotions about interacting with people of the book, inter- cultural marriage, the sensibilities required for social intercourse, and the methodologies of religious institutional education are not critiqued or even considered broach-able subjects.
Muslims that perceive the perplexity of this concern should hope to discuss and create an Islamically oriented methodology equipped to confront a new contemporary crisis in modern religious life, Islamic diversity in American society.
The crux of Muslim sentiments and the focus of our concerns towards diversity and inclusiveness should drift from the national ummah theoretically trying to debate Americans of the need to accept Muslims as a religious unit. From a historically global perspective of human struggle, and the elimination of oppression of man by humankind, this effort is narrow in scope. It limits the width and breath of the mission of mankind to defeat suppression and suffering and strive for the causes of liberty; anything less in our conceptualization brings us to the impasse experienced by American oppressed minorities.
The new paradigm shift suggests that America and Muslims broaden their political and religious sensitivities so that we may accept loyal, productive citizens, as did the first Ummah. America is a composite based upon citizenship, not Islam, which is currently perceived as another foreign- valued special interest group. Re-structuring the focus to allow the nation to accept all people protects the rights of succeeding suppressed religious, cultural, or racial entities that appear simply to be different.
The dominant American group is that of White Christian America. The cultural identities tied to the American historical split with Europe as well as those of non-mainstreamed religious affiliations are not the identities by which America dominates. American historical connections to past forlorn cultural expressions have become benign and secondary identities, as those are not sources of power. The power of American political identity is centered around being right wing, Christian, conservative, and having the privileges of that group’s dominance. Traditionally what has homogenized this group is its European ancestry, a luxury people of the melanin races cannot explore. What allows access to this exclusive and historical fraternity is one thing: European whiteness, not religion. The hope and potential entree for the melanized races and Muslims will be placed into a continued human rights struggle that declares a position in America not because of religious beliefs but citizenship.
The new Muslim social paradigm fosters human rights, not a civil rights attitude; this struggle will be conducted within and without the national ummah. The Muslim shift in discourse within the ummah will result in painful introspection concerning “cultural others”. Axiomatically, we have seen the enemy and he is we.
Managing a diverse social milieu successfully has perplexed the American cultural and political machine for two hundred years. The national character, beginning to form around the turn of the nineteenth century, has been radically altered under the structure and weight of the dilemma to accept and manage a diverse society. These concerns have now meandered onto the Muslim radar screen increasing the moral responsibility of the national Ummah to demonstrate the Islamic philosophy concerning cultural and racial others. However Muslim leadership has not comprehended the import of the cries of the oppressed in this regard. Because of more than a modicum of incompetence in leadership and an inordinately high percentage of Muslim leaders migrating from countries without the concerns of heterogeneity, Muslims remain rudderless on the local and national levels concerning the conversation around racial inclusiveness and cultural compatibility. The Muslim community suffers from a lack of informed, grassroots leadership with a vision based in American historical memory. From the vision that memory provides, crucial discourse must produce the strategies needed for a modern Islamization of leadership grounded and trained in contemporary America.
Pejorative and intolerant cultural stances are ingratiating to minorities and unacceptable when compared to an operative living Sunnah: the cultural mores and sensibilities employed by the Prophet Mohammad in the early Islamic but diverse Medina. The model of human co-existence purported by the Prophet Mohammad came slowly into existence starting in the early Medina with the Jewish community that saw no need to accept another prophet or a universal religion. Jews had experienced a line of prophets and at that time had no intentions of accepting another emancipator. Equally as significant and resistant to the idea of a new prophet were surrounding tribes skeptical of any new concept of religion that deviated from that of their fore- fathers. The idea of Hijra, prophethood, and equality amongst man brought on aggressive and violent reactions by the people of Medina. How to react and treat tribes of other persuasions was the initial challenging barrier presented to the émigrés having migrated from Mecca to Medina.
Medina had no similarities to Islamic Spain except that again Muslims faced oppositional cultures and ruled an inordinate amount of Christians and Jews. Jews having been prosperous as merchants controlled the trade of Spanish grown fruits and vegetables known throughout the world for their quality and size. Christians lived well and maintained their status prior to the Berber- Muslim invasion of Spain. Muslim state-sponsored rule and protection of Djimmis (tax paying and state-protected Jews and Christians) began when large numbers of Berbers were imported to militarize the way for Muslim expansion onto the Iberian peninsula. Through the mercenary work of trained Berber soldiers, Spain became Islamically ruled and prosperous due to the stability of trade routes and the facilitation of manufactured goods and organic produce; all major business, education and arts were conducted and centered in the larger cities where again Islam was to be an urbanized religion. However throughout the outer sparsely populated border frontiers, like Gallacia in the North, Muslims lacked a sufficient commercial and military force. Lack of a Berber or Islamic presence in these areas contributed to, although was not entirely responsible for, the fall of Islamic Spain.
Muslims, Jews and Christians lived under one law in the ninth through approximately the twelfth centuries in Islamic Spain under the regimes of Abd-al-Rahman I (756-788) who made Cordoba his capital, Abd al-Rahaman II (822-852) & Abd-al-Rahman III (912-961). The longevity as well as the fall of Islamic Spain was due in part to how the scales of tolerance shifted from sovereign to sovereign. The sagacious management of cultural diversity is the model by which Islamic Spain burgeoned and mismanagement of a transforming cultural milieu was a factor to its decline. Abd-al-Rahman I was a prince of the Umayyad dynasty that managed to escape when the Abbasid conquest of the Caliphate in Damascus was successful. Being of Berber ancestry he rode on horseback through tempestuous conditions throughout North African deserts to Southern Spain.
Having the aggressiveness and leadership capabilities being sought by the discouraged Muslim population, Abd al-Rahman I inspired the emotions of a practically decimated people. After months of negotiating and planning for a long awaited revival of Islamic spirit he was able to become the regions first amir. In Cordoba he built a famous and long- standing palace, which he named Al-Rusafa modeled after one built in Syria. Spain became fundamentally an intellectual and cultural conduit between the Middle- East and Europe. The social and political models of the Middle- East were borrowed, mirrored and reshaped into the Islamic Spanish model. The Beber influence reached from North Africa to augment and reflect Middle Eastern Arab dynasties. Included in this unique kingdom were the sensitive juxtaposition of the religious ulema and society, Middle Eastern agricultural landscape and architectural design, the reflection of the Arab royal courts as well as an industry that published creative literature blended with lavish Arab poetry producing a dynamic new style. The assimilation gave birth to the Mozarab identity and dialect that captured cultural strains, folkloric replicas and elements from North African, Middle Eastern and Muslim worlds. Abd Al-Rahman I&II showed an affinity for the erudite, material extravagance as well as an attraction and support for the arts and sciences. They spent lavishly on bringing costly and rare artifacts from the Middle East; poets and artists, among them the renowned Ahmed Ibn Al-Irrif, a Sanhaji Berber Sufi adept at poetry and philosophy, who appealed to the educated; courtesans were for the first time treated as royalty and paid handsomely to host courtly ceremonies; they imported exotic animals and were admired throughout the world for sponsoring and constructing imperial edifices beyond compare in Western Europe. Abd-al-Rahman II from an Islamic point of view was very disappointing. He was influenced to rule his empire outside the accepted limits of Islamic law. He allowed what he understood of Islam to be interpreted in many cases by Jews and Christians more familiar with Arabic and legal tradition. Abd Al-Rahman II was more engaged with the locals and neglected the regional scope of the kingdom. He underestimated and remained cavalier concerning Jewish and Christian cultures and ignored what was extremely powerful to both religious groups, the sacred.
Unlike his successor and predecessor he had little patience for the political ambitions of the scholarly community and was more distracted by pomp and circumstance than substance. He was known for his extensive usage of vineyards to yield verities of grapes for the consumption of wine now prohibited in Islam for hundreds of years. On the other hand, Abd al-Rahman III was informed in detail and aware of his predecessor’s neglect and cavalier Islamic attitude; He understood the need to rebuild and reinvigorate the nation-state, as it was unattended for too long. The Almohad dynasty under Abd al-Rahman II influenced by a stringent version of Islam became less and less tolerant of the Jewish and Christian communities. The decline in tolerance led to the eventual increase in tension that continued to weaken the social structure and loyalty of the protected classes. As an act of arrogance and over zealous flexing of his new political muscles, Abd al-Rahman succeeded Islamic Spain from the body politic of the Arab /Muslim world. There existed a large expanse of the Islamic presence from the Near East through North Africa and as amir isolation would prove to be fatal. He was responsible for the importation of thousands of Berbers to build and defend his empire. In return for this agreement and arraignment, Berbers were given special privileges such as land, homes, and many were extremely wealthy. There was significant assimilation on the part of the original wave of Berbers that conquered and defended the country. They had become somewhat of a protected class, conspicuous in dress and a culturally distinct group migrated from North Africa. This status weakened and eventually garnered jealousy and contempt for some elitist Berbers. Because of a mounting social rivalry, succeeding Berber groups became the ethnic target of the protected populous. The status of the Berber was questioned as well as why they deserved such rewards simply for their service and loyalty. After Berber groups were stigmatized, scorned publicly, antipathy and discrimination became intolerable. Berber loyalty dissipated and fear reigned within this minority, driving groups back to the Maghrib. It was this extensive migration to the Maghrib that would lead to the development of one of the most diverse and prominent regions in world history. Abd-Rahman III was never fully able to restore any loyalty lost by Jews and Christians because of the arrogance and neglect displayed by his predecessor Abd-Rahman II. Prejudiced ensued and in due course attacks on Berber populations became another central reason for the decline of Islamic Spain.
In late 1491 Christopher Columbus once again appealed to the throne for financial investments to explore and exploit foreign lands. Christianity had just spent innumerable resources trying to restore order to a crumbling empire. Islamic Spain was being besieged by inner strife and perdition. Rivaling communities were unsettled based upon the tension between religions and the working classes. With the abrupt recession of the weakened Berber community the outlying border territories were being slowly infiltrated by Christians impatient for a new homeland. After years of Christian resurgence, religious xenophobia, cultural intolerance, European nationalism and the later rise of the military forces employed by Rome and led by El Cid, we will witness both Muslims and Jews handed ultimatums to convert to Christianity or be forcefully exiled from Spain. This is the final and definitive reason for the decline of Islamic Spain.
Islamic Spain was the crossroads where Greek philosophy and literature synthesized with Muslim philosophy resulting in the works of such thinkers as Ibn Hazm, Ibn Al-‘Arabi, Averroes (Ibn Rushd) and Al-Ghazzali. Ibn Hazm a great Sharia scholar died in Andalusia around 1064. He held closely to his opinions about the sources of Islamic Sharia being that of the Quran and Sunnah and Ijtihad only. Averroes (Ibn Rushd) agreed with Ibn Hazm confining the source of knowledge to divine revelation and the model of the Prophet as the basis for conclusions, eliminating that of Qiyas and Ijma as additional sources for jurisprudential rulings. Averroes articulated the idea that if the Quran was to be interpreted allegorically it required the usage of human rational; he considered the Quran the manifestation of Allah’s divinity and comprehension of that divine knowledge was accomplished through comparative study. Ibn Al-‘Arabi held that the Quran is a profound statement of Allah’s being, to be interpreted directly through man’s intellectual faculties. Islamic Spain existed under two important ruling dynasties, the Almoravid, considered by historians as conservative and the Almohad, lenient and intellectually tolerant. Al-Ghazzali, and Ibn Al-Arabi were two of the greatest Sufi intellects of the Islamic Almohad government.
To foster such humane relationships and maintain an empire for four - hundred years, Muslim leadership was acquainted with the customs, values, and the jurisprudence of protected Christian and Jewish Djimmis. Although commerce and trade were the predominate reasons for coalescence, social integration existed with minimal intervention from the state. Accommodation from the state was afforded those Christian and Jewish merchants seeking a level playing field in commerce, confident in the inclusive treatment insisted by Muslim statesman. By the beginning of the twelfth century the doors of the Muslim kingdom were closed and with that Islam was soon to follow.
Ira Lapidus outlines the steps of Muslim decline in Spain, “In 1311 King James II prohibited the public call to prayer, though in 1357, in return for payment, it was permitted in a low voice. By the middle of the fourteenth century some eighty percent of judicial cases were heard in Christian rather than Muslim courts and were tried under Christian rather than Muslim law. By the fourteenth century the once organized and autonomous Muslim community had been subordinated to direct Christian rule”.
Christians were occupied with the idea of converting Muslims and Jews to the state sanctioned religion. In 1391 Jews were forced to accept the ritual of Christian baptism. In 1478 remaining Jews along with unorganized and many disheartened Muslims fell prey to the gruesome and infamous Spanish Inquisition. There was a pact established and signed between the ruling Christian government and its subjects, giving protection and all the comforts of citizenship to Muslims; this as well as other peace covenants made with Muslims were broken. Jews as well as Muslims were forced to practice their religions in secret; books and manuscripts written in Arabic or Hebrew were burned. Throughout the Iberian Peninsula volumes of works by Ibn Rushd, Ibn al-Arabi, Ibn Hazm and others were destroyed in the process. When local authorities discovered either of the two-targeted groups engaged in religious rituals or practices, or even suspected, punitive action would be forthcoming. The Christian Inquisition was raising its head, gathering forces and preparing to restore order to Christendom throughout Europe. . By the end of 1492 the Christian conquest of Granada and the weight of the Inquisition definitively signaled the conclusion of Muslim rule in Spain. This was the defining moment for the Inquisition.
Unfortunately when reviewing historical commentary, Islamic Spain has been mystified to the degree that Westerners associate this period in time with religious suppression and social servitude. As a result of in-familiarity with this and other pluralistic models in history, some Americans and uninformed Muslims do not associate community and nationhood with cultural, racial and religious others. It may be fair to say that the demands of inclusiveness we place on Muslim leadership today are less optimistic than the results of our early Muslim predecessors.
This breakdown is evident in contemporary attitudes amongst some Muslims contending that the philosophies, technologies, politics, mores, attitudes, and increasingly the education of the West should be seen as debasing, adversarial, and contentious to Islam. The consternations and cautions go further to include commercial transactions, inter-religious dialogue, debate and interactions with the West; the Islamic community is unadvisedly encouraged to segregate itself from people of other persuasions. We are warned the Islamic state should be geographically isolated from “the world of the Shaitan”. These specious arguments grow from an historical oversight that the early Muslim model and Islamic Spain were segregated and focused on the transactions and rights of Muslims. On the contrary, this world model alludes to tolerance and diversity as Prophet Mohammad declared the rights of humanity, not exclusively the rights of Muslims. There is no evidence to support Prophet Mohammad segregating himself or his companions from people of other cultural expressions or the “world of the Shaitan”.
The Prophet Mohammad’s first constitution was called Sahifa-e-Madina. There are points embedded in the Prophet’s constitution that send a clear message to posterity. The first point speaks to the definition of citizenry in an Islamic state. Occupants of the geographic areas surrounding Medina became official residents of the “one community” regardless of tribalism, polytheism, Judaism, or idolatry, neither prevented citizenry in Medina. Medina was the birthplace and seminal origins of pluralism, a model the West has borrowed from the first Ummah. The second point of interest targeted accession to leadership. Nepotism was not introduced as a right as we see in the modern world. Consistent with the human message of Islam, social competencies dictated ones involvement in participating or dispensing of communal affairs in the early model. Cultural differentiation did not negate the potential for conversion to Islam, civic involvement or commerce. The third point was the eradication of cruel and oppressive treatment towards minorities, and tribes. This was in reaction to the pre-Islamic times known as the days of ignorance when local and regional minority tribes received treatment analogous to second- class citizens in the United States.
While living in Mecca, many of the original companions of the Prophet Mohammad were the victims of severe social discrimination. The daily pressures of being socially ostracized weighed heavily upon the decision for some to emigrate and seek political / religious asylum from Negashe the Christian Negus (King) of Ethiopia, known for his just and even handed treatment of people not of his cultural or religious persuasion. The voyage took months to complete, as the terrain comprised of desert to traverse, rivers to cross, wild life to content with, shortages of food and water all compiling its toll. Jafar Bin Abi Talib led the delegation to Abyssinia and as the appointed spokesman appealed to Negashe on behalf of the newly converted and exhausted Muslim travelers. Negashe asked Jafar why they fled Mecca for Africa. Jafar’s reply is well known and originally documented by Ibn Hisham, “We were the Jahalliya people, worshipping idols and violating peace, with a strong man amongst us always devouring the weak. Such was our state until Allah sent to us a messenger from amongst ourselves whose ancestry is known to us, and whose veracity, fidelity and purity we recognize. It was the Prophet who summoned us up to Allah in order to profess him as one and worship alone, discarding whatever stones and idols we, and our forefathers worshipped instead of Allah. He, moreover, commanded us to be truthful in our talks, to render others what is due to them, to stand by our families and to refrain from doing wrong and shedding blood. He forbade committing fornication, bearing false witness, depriving the orphan of his legitimate right and speaking ill of chaste women. He enjoined on us worship of Allah, associating him with no other and practicing fasting”. In essence Jafar’s response was the moral architecture for the new society as it outlined spiritual, jurisprudential and societal ethics modern societies are still trying to adapt and perfect.
The student of American history and the world colonization and subjugation of peoples can envision the malignancy of allowing our communities, mosques or schools to be built and operated based upon the spurious criteria and excuses of language, social class, racial commonalities or political- worldviews. Managing a diverse social and racial body politic successfully has become a conundrum in American history. The reasons for this failure is embedded in the Western attitude towards cultural and religious cooperation between peoples of differing ethnos and their resources. Missing from Western civilization has been the alien idea of impartiality and compassion salient in the Medina model. The new religion came to Medina setting the stage for religious and tribal cohesion in contrast to the idea of a dominant or chosen people. The concept of social inclusiveness is reflected in the first and oldest known Islamic constitution envisaged by Prophet Muhammad.
As we prioritize our approach to unifying the national Islamic community, comprehensiveness and diversity must preoccupy strategic thinking and consequently dialogue. Intellectual capacity, a sense of modernity, imagination, and education are pivotal to building a progressive Islamic structure in the West. In that regard the doors of the Islamic institution of ijtihad become our salvation. Ijtihad postulates that if we seek to understand the world continually reinventing itself, we must apply our human intellect, the techniques of research, investigation, and discourse enabling us to confront the post modern intricacies of living with the Ahl Al- Kitab. The doors of ijtihad must remain open to access the prospects for new community relationships. So essential is this component that Muslims must transpose this pragmatic mechanism to bring attention to practical concerns outside the discipline of usul al- fiqh. Because of reluctance to utilize this tool, we find history suggests intellectual decline and stagnation within Muslim empires. Ahmed ibn Najib al-Misri, in his classical manual of Islamic Sacred Law, “The Reliance Of The Traveler”, helps to shed light on this question of ijtihad: “No age of history is totally lacking people who are competent in ijtihad on particular questions which are new, and this is an important aspect of Sacred Law, to provide new solutions to new ethical problems by means of sound legal methodology in applying the Quranic and Hadith primary texts”.
In preparing to discuss very fragile, critical issues, prudence captures the higher objectives of the Sharia and reliance on Islamic social models from antiquity. When approaching subjects difficult to measure objectively, wisdom dictates we Islamicize methodologies that can address matters of severe import and urgency to include topics such as: race and the isolation of minority voices, building a broad based diverse coalition, and segregation whether promoted unconsciously or preserved through traditional cultural proclivities.