Muslim Leadership in the Harmony of Justice
Rehabilitating the Role of Religion in the World through Natural Law and Global Ethics
by Dr. Robert D. Crane
I. Defining Terms
The great Roman philosopher, Cicero, once said two thousand years ago that before one discusses anything whatsoever one should first define one’s terms, so that people can communicate and not talk past each other. We will start by defining three terms, namely, truth, natural law, and justice, and then explore what this all means in relation to Muslim leadership, especially in America but also in many other countries of the world today, including India.
1) What is truth?
The first question is “what is truth?”. The most important ayah or verse in the Qur’an for the harmony of justice in the world is Surah al An’am 6:115, Wa tama’at kalimatu rabika sidqan wa ‘adlan, “The Word of your Lord is fulfilled and perfected in truth and in justice”.
For a “sound-byte” introduction, the essence of truth is love, namely, Allah’s love for each one of us and our response. Love, not fear and hatred, is the most powerful motivation for seeking justice. The most important prayer of the Prophet Muhammad, salah Allahu ‘alayhi wa salam, essential for success in the pursuit of justice, is Allah humma, asaluka hubika, wa hubba man yuhibuka, wa hubba quli ‘amali yuqaribuni ila hubbika, “Oh Allah, I ask you for your love, and for the love of those who love you, and for the love of everything that brings me closer to your love”.
2) What is Natural Law?
The second question is “what is natural law?”. Natural law is the truth that we can learn through divine revelation, haqq al yaqin, and scientific observation of the physical laws of the universe, ‘ain al yaqin. Together these are known as the Sunnat Allah.
The task of human beings is to translate this truth into justice through the free use of human reason, ‘ilm al yaqin. If one claims to see any contradiction among revelation, known in Arabic as wahy, and the physical laws of the universe, known as ‘ard as in samawati wa al ‘ard, and rational thought, known as ‘aql, then one’s understanding of at least one of them must be wrong, because, according to the first principle of Islam, tawhid or harmony, the diversity and coherence of existence points to the Oneness of the ultimate in transcendence, Allah.
3) What is Justice?
The third question is “what is justice?”. Justice is the most misunderstood concept in the world today. President Barack Obama is a striking example of those who understand this but do not dare to follow up. Like all presidents in a democracy based not entirely on on-man-one-vote but partially on one-dollar-one-vote, he is not a free man.
In his first major foreign policy address four years ago in Cairo he wrote a first draft and stated that the guiding principle of America and its Founders is not the pursuit of stability through power but the pursuit of justice as an ultimate end or purpose, which is also the best means to promote a just peace. His speech writers deleted the term “justice” five different times and each time he put it back in. On the plane to Cairo he read his official speech and found that “justice” had again been removed, so he then simply ad libbed it in his oral delivery. Since then, however, he has not used the word “justice” a single time except as an Old Testament word for retaliation, revenge, and punishment.
The very word “justice” is radioactive in America, because justice calls for change in one’s personal life and in public policy, as well as for reform in basic institutions of governance, including the creation of money and credit in ways that broaden rather than concentrate ownership of productive wealth.
Allah tells us in the Qur’an that He is closer to the human person than is one’s own jugular vein, wa nahnu aqrabu ‘alayhi min habil al warid, and that if one wants to change the world one must first change oneself and then work for social justice by community solidarity in reforming the very institutions of society.
Throughout the world in all religions the most universal concept is justice. A year ago, the Qatar Foundation, where I am the Director of the Center for the Study of Islamic Thought and Muslim Societies, held a conference where the head of a similar center in Abu Dhabi showed a hundred photos he had just taken of typical posters and graffiti in Syria. Not a single one called for freedom and democracy, perhaps because they had too often heard the demand, “You will be free or I will kill you”. Almost every one called for justice, because freedom for justice is the essence of human dignity. As Seyyed Hossein Nasr wrote in the February 2009 issue of Parabola and quoted in my 900-page, 3-volume textbook, Islam and Muslims, “To be fully human is to have an innate sense of justice and a yearning for justice”.
The essence of this truth was brought home to me 31 years ago shortly after I had left the U.S. government as President Ronald Reagan’s ambassador to Emir Shaykh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi and the United Arab Emirates. In 1982, I was invited to represent Native American religions at the opening of a new village of monasteries from all the religions of the world in the Rocky Mountains near Baca, Colorado. I was responsible for Native American religions, because that is my heritage from my great grandmother, who helped to raise me and whose first language was Cherokee. The organizer, a billionnaire Canadian, asked me to entertain two Buddhist monks who had just arrived from Nepal but had only five minutes of free time before going to the local village for supplies. I did not know how to entertain Buddhist monks, so I asked them to explain Buddhism to me in five minutes.
They laughed and said, “We don’t need five minutes to explain Buddhism”. First, they said, we have Hinayana Buddhism, which calls for breaking one’s attachments to the material world. Then we have Mahayana Buddhism, which enables one to ascend to nirvana, which is nothing, namely, no-thing, that is, beyond the material immanent to the metaphysical or transcendent. Once one has done this we have Tantrayana or Tibetan Buddhism, at which level one’s greatest desire is to bring compassionate justice to every person and everything in the world.
Although at that time I was still a secret Muslim or tried to be, I explained, “You have just summarized the entire essence of Islam in twenty seconds!”
II. What is Compassionate Justice?
The fourth question in addressing the third question about what is justice is what is compassionate justice?
The answer is in the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa salam, who used to gather his followers together and present to them case studies, either real or hypothetical, for judgment. After they had given their judgments, the Prophet said, I am really concerned not with your conclusions but with the principles you have used to reach them. The best in deducing the applications of justice from such principles was Imam Ali, radi Allahu anhu.
Such principles were first developed systematically more than a hundred years later by Imam Jaffar al Saddiq, whom the Shi’a claim to be their sixth imam, though he was also the mentor of Imam Malik and Abu Hanifa. These principles were further developed by Imam Ghazali two centuries later and finally were brought to the highest level of sophistication another three centuries later by the greatest master, Ibn al Shatibi.
Unfortunately, this paradigm of jurisprudence was essentially abandoned during the next six hundred years as mere survival replaced justice as the dominant purpose of human life in most of the Muslim world. All of you students in the Sunni Students Federation in Kerala know what I am talking about through your motto, “Living to struggle, not struggling to live”.
This includes the third jihad, the intellectual jihad, identified in the Qur’an as the great jihad, wa jahidhum bihi [divine revelation] jihadan kabiran. According to the Grand Mufti of Syria, Samahatu Shaykh Ahmad Kuftaro, in whose home I lived for a month in 1995, this jihad al kabir is the only jihad specifically mentioned in the Qur’an. The jihads al akbar and al saghrir are mentioned only in the ahadith.
Fortunately, in recent times many Muslim intellectuals have revived these jurisprudential principles, which were first instituted by the Prophet Muhammad, salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa salam, and are still being developed today. They are known variously as the maqasid or higher purposes, as the kulliyat or universals, and as the dururiyat or essentials. Specific regulations and laws are valid only to the extent that they apply the highest paradigmatic principles in the changing contexts of place and time.
5) What are these principles?
This leads us to the fifth question, what are these principles? Eight such principles or purposes are presented in a series of charts in my textbook and each one is the subject of a separate chapter in my latest book, entitled Natural Law and Global Ethics: Rehabilitating the Role of Religion, which lacks only a 100-page chapter on the theory and practice of economic justice.
My term for all them together is “global ethics”, because as a lifelong specialist in comparative legal systems I have found that they exist in all the world religions and even among enlightened people of no formal religion.
These eight maqasid are divided into two sets of four each. The first provides theoretical guidance and the second provides recommended specifics for application.
The first is haqq al din. In recent centuries this was restricted to the defense of Muslims. Recently it has been expanded to equate with justice, including freedom of religion.
The second is haqq al nafs, which requires respect for the sacredness of the individual person. This is known in Roman Catholic moral theology as the paradigm of personalism.
The third is haqq al nasl. This requires respect for the human community, ascending from the individual person to the nuclear family, the extended family, the local community, and on to the nation and all of humanity. The source of sovereignty is God through the human person in a bottom-up system of governance. It is not whoever has the power to enforce obedience top-down through coercion in the so-called political “state”.
Violation of respect for human community in favor of what is known as state sovereignty has produced the most diabolical case of Islamophobia in the world today, though it has some rivals. This is the genocidal terrorism led by extremists in the oxymoron known as Buddhist nationalism against the Muslims in Burma. Although I have been an expert for half a century in this conflict between state and nation, this is not the topic of my talk today, even though I was asked to emphasize it, except to say that the answer to some of these conflicts has to be some form of federalism or even a broader confederalism. The most grievous denial of human community has been American foreign policies toward Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq, and now in Mali.
The fourth of the guiding principles in the maqasid al shari’ah is haqq al mahid, from the Arabic word wa-ha-dah. This requires respect for the physical environment, for which we are all khulafa or stewards.
The next set of four dealing with the practice of the first four maqasid starts with political self-determination, known as haqq al hurriyah and as political freedom. Each of the eight maqasid has a set of second order goals or hajjiyat that explain its higher parental purpose and provide guidance for third-order objectives and courses of action. The hajjiyat for political self-determination are khilafa, shurah, ijma, and an independent judiciary.
The second of the applied maqasid is haqq al mal, which requires respect for private property in the means of production and calls for institutions of money and credit that remove barriers to universal access to such ownership and thereby reduce the wealth gap within and among nations, which is the principal cause of global terrorism.
The third such maqsad or purpose is haqq al karama, under which the major hajja is gender equity.
The fourth is haqq al ‘ilm, which requires freedom of speech, thought, and association.
All of these eight ultimate purposes in Islamic jurisprudence are observed by Muslim societies primarily in the breech, that is to say, they are observed only partially or not at all.
The purpose of my research center has been to study the challenges that actual practice in Muslim societies presents to the vision and commitment for Muslim leadership as seen by Shaykha Moza, who is the wife of the Qatari emir and head of the world’s largest think-tank, the Qatar Foundation.
Shaykha Moza’s unique vision is to bring the best of all civilizations and religions to Qatar in order to universalize their common wisdom and return it to the world as the paradigmatic foundation for the pursuit of peace, prosperity, and freedom through interfaith cooperation in securing peace through justice. This was the motivation of the Islamic search for knowledge a thousand years ago before the obsession with power and its accompanying corruption led to the search merely for survival, which at every level of human community leads to death.
III. The Challenge to Muslim Leadership in America
The vision of Shaykha Moza and of her close associate, Shaykha A’isha Man’ai, who is the new head of the Qatar Foundation’s Center for Muslim Contribution to Civilization, is precisely the same vision needed by Muslim leaders in America.
The recently completed four-year poll by the Pew Foundation on Muslim beliefs and attitudes in supposedly representative countries around the world has revealed that America is unique in the belief by most American Muslims that salvation, as taught in the Qur’an, requires only three things, namely, belief in God, belief in justice based on this world and the next, and the practice of good works. American Muslims are also unusual in their acceptance of the universal principle of classical Islamic jurisprudence that the fiqh or regulations, including the hudud or punishments in Islamic law, apply only to Muslims. They also believe that the Qur’an is the revealed Word of God but that the principles of Islamic jurisprudence are deduced from the Word of God by rightly guided human intellect and rational thought.
The single greatest flaw in this mammoth PEW Survey was its misleading question whether Muslims believe in “intertwining” religion and politics. The implication is that Muslims must either stay out of political governance or else try to impose a global caliphate as a Muslim colonial empire determined to eliminate human rights.
The real issue is whether Muslim leaders in America can help all Americans recover the American heritage as a republic committed to maintaining awareness that the ultimate source of justice, both conceptually and in practice, is God. This was distinguished by all of America’s Founders as the opposite of a democracy, which substitutes man for God as the source of truth and justice. Democracy for them was epitomized by the French Revolution, which was committed to destroy all authority through a vanguard elite empowered to manipulate the mob.
Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the first draft of the American Declaration of Independence, said that no people can remain free unless they are properly educated, that proper education consists of teaching and learning virtue, and that no people can remain virtuous unless both the private and public lives of the individual are infused with awareness and love of Divine Providence, by which he meant God.
The older generation of Muslim leaders was unaware of what the Great American Experiment in self-governance was all about. They had no concept of bringing out and defending the best of America, because their only concern was to defend themselves against the secularizing tendencies that threatened all Americans. They could not conceive that Islam could enrich the essential guidance of all world religions in fulfilling the vision of America’s Founders to build America as a model for the world.
In this sense the first generation of Muslim leaders did not consider themselves to be American, even though they came as elites from foreign countries to enjoy its opportunities for material prosperity. They were in fact aliens and were viewed as such by other Americans.
The younger generations of Muslims in America are concerned about the future of America just as much as they are about their own survival against the threats of Islamophobia. They also see much better that the answer to evil is not to fight evil, which rarely succeeds, but rather to promote good in reliance on God’s mercy and help as more powerful than the bad.
An important difference between generations is that the older generation was organized primarily by leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, for whom Islam is a political phenomenon, whereas the younger leaders are not organized and view Islam as a spiritual path similar to the paths of other world religions. The older generation was obsessed with mere survival, whereas the younger leaders have much higher aims and expectations.
The challenge to Islam and Muslims in America and throughout the world is to rise above the current obsession with mere survival, which always in human history has led to death for both individuals and entire communities. The challenge is to help America return to its traditionalist heritage in order to rehabilitate the best of the past in the present to build a better future for everyone.
This is a challenge to everyone everywhere in the world. Success may be humanly impossible, but to rely on God as the key to success is what makes us human beings.
Although every social and political movement must have enlightened leaders if it is to succeed by the grace of Allah, even more important are enlightened followers. The power of a movement lies in the followers, provided that they have leaders who are true servants of Allah. Allah has given His guidance primarily to the marginalized in society, perhaps because it is easier for them to prosper by relying on Allah rather than on their own material power, just as it is easier for farmers to praise the power of Allah, because they see it constantly in their daily lives, than it is for modern city-dwellers who easily can succumb to the illusion that everything in existence has been contrived and built by man.
The true power of a traditionalist movement does not lie in think-tanks created to wage war at an intellectual level, or in lobbying organizations designed to penetrate the existing power structure, even though they are essential for success. Real success can come only from reliance by large organized communities of people on the power of Allah. Throughout the Qur’an Allah makes abundantly clear that one can carry out His will only by reliance on Him:
In Surah Ali Imran, 3:26, we learn: “Say: O Allah! Lord of Power, You give power to whom You please, and you strip off power from whom you please. You endow with honor whom You please, and You bring low whom You please. In Your hand is all Good. Verily, overall things You have power”.
In three surahs, Ali Imran, 3:37, Al Nahl, 16:40, and Miryam, 19:35, the divine revelation tells us, “Allah creates what He wills. When He has decreed a plan, He but says, ‘be’, and it is”. Kun fa yakun.
In Surah al An’am, 6:125, we read, “Those whom Allah in His plan wants to guide, He opens their breast to Islam”. Further, in three surahs, Ali Imran 3:54, Al Anfal, 8:30, and Al Ra’d, 13:42, we are told, “And [the enemies of truth] plotted and planned, and Allah too planned, and the best of planners is Allah”.
My thanks for the opportunity to open a unique model of interfaith cooperation in Cochin, the capital of Kerala on the Malabar Coast of southwest India from April 24th to 26th, 2013, go to the Chairman of the Ma’din Academy, Sayyid Ibrahim al Khalil al Bukhari, to Shaykh Aboobacker Ahmed, General Secretary of the All India Muslim Scholars Organization, and to Abbas Panakkal and all the other organizers of a gathering to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Sunni Students’ Federation. For more than a decade this federation has assembled 10,000 students and more than 300,000 supporters every year to take a joint oath against all forms of extremism, including intra-faith sectarianism and interfaith demonization, and to promote and further develop the traditionalist heritage of classical, enlightened Islam as a path to religious cooperation and inter-civilizational enrichment.