Al-Huda

the Message Continues ... 11/19

 

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Muslims in America

Separatist Confrontation vs Assimilation
(PATTERNS OF THE PAST, CHOICES FOR THE FUTURE)
(excerpt from: The Muslim Challenge in America and the World)
by Dr. Robert Crane
Advisor and Director, Center for Islamic Understanding


I. Patterns of the Past: Rebellion or Assimilation 
The two dominant patterns of Muslims in America during the twentieth century were separatist confrontation and assimilation. The first, which can give rise to extremist rebellion, was adopted as a strategy by African-American Muslims during the 1920's who saw no way out of their overwhelming problems. They used their religion to support their own alienation as an ethnic minority and to justify a rejections and combative stance against their image of America. This made them irrelevant to any process of constructive change.

One alternative to rebellious confrontation is resort to assimilation.
Neither rebellion nor assimilation are reliable strategies to recover human dignity. This second pattern, defeatist assimilation, amounts to the practical abandonment of Islamic responsibilities in society. It has been adopted as a strategy by many immigrant Muslims for whom the challenge of transforming the society around them is either inconceivable or too daunting. These Muslims regard themselves as a minority - religious, ethnic, or both - and have tried to overcome this by
lowering their profile.

Assimilationism and Islamic universality are contradictions in terms, but unfortunately few Muslims see any third alternative to rebellion or assimilation.

The lure of assimilation is strongest for the educated Muslims who have come to America during the past forty years from Muslim-majority countries mainly to share the benefits of the ordered freedom and economic opportunities that were not available in their home countries. They generally associate Islam with the patriarchal and superficial interpretations of
narrowly specialized shaykhs and mullahs, who believe that Islam is limited to the ahkam or "do's and don't's" that
regulate the details of personal life. These may be relevant to their lives in their own homes, but are rather irrelevant to their lives in America.

This . Islam, which is narrowly focused on utopian dreams of reviving the past, has dominated the Muslim world for many centuries. It provides almost no guidance for addressing or even recognizing the issues of conscience that face modern-day Americans, such as voucher education, competitive but free healthcare, ecology, foreign policy based on the pursuit of justice
not power, and domestic political reform to address the power concentrating extremes of campaign financing and special interest lobbying that exalt narrow self-interest over the enlightened self-interest of all Americans as well as over the human rights of peoples everywhere. Muslim countries, incidentally, are not the only ones where the elite benefit disproportionately from the savage neo-liberal strategies of economic globalize.

The assimilations Muslims, who try to avoid their responsibility to support the good and oppose the bad in public policy, are not hyphenated Americans, but hyphenated Muslims, with split personalities. They tend to revere non-Muslims who tell them, as does Professor John Esposito in his new book, that the "problem" of Muslims in America is whether and how to assimilate. But these transplanted Muslims fail to understand that what he is talking about is not assimilation into a monolithic melting pot but integration into a pluralist society, which requires Muslims to gain a place in American culture and politics so they can bring the wisdom of Islam to bear on the cutting issues of conscience. This entails tremendous responsibilities, and
this integration is not what most Muslims have in mind for their own futures.

They want their families to survive as Muslims, but the survival mentality for either persons or entire civilizations is the surest road to death. In order to survive, one must prosper, and prosperity, falah, can come only when one is inspired by the dream of transforming the present into a greater future.

We need what Dr. Maher Hathout at the first Islam city banquet in Los Angeles on September 18th, 1999, called a paradigm shift from introvert to extrovert. The assimilations, like many extremist Sufis, follow the inward-looking paradigm of "narcissistic self-indulgence," in contrast to what one might call the quintessentially Islamic paradigm of da'wa through
peaceful engagement in the social and political processes of America and of the entire global village.

II. The Path of Transformation: Order in the Soul 
These two patterns of overt confrontation and covert surrender, which were the two dominant patterns of Muslims in America during the twentieth century, contrast with a third option or choice, the prophetic strategy, which is to transform the world around them.

This path of transformation consists of two parts, namely, order in the soul and order in society.
The choice for Muslims in America during the twenty-first century is to transform first themselves and then America. One of the most cogent ayat in the Qur'an, Surah al-Rad, 13:11, reveals that, "Verily, Allah does not change a people's condition until they change what is in their inner selves."

This third choice of transformation has already been made by many of the second-generation Muslims of African-American and foreign parents. The African-Americans have a new confidence because they do not harbor the alienation and bitterness that still linger among their elders, whose dignity and identity have been assaulted by two centuries of slavery and the
subsequent nearly a century and a half of still chronic racism. Similarly, the second generation of Arab, Indo-Pak, Iranian,
and Malaysian Americans increasingly are free of the wounds of racist colonialism that their elders can never forget.

This confidence is especially strong among the Euro-American Muslims, because they do not face a dilemma of choosing between separatism, either Islamocentric or Afrocentric, and integrationist ecumenism. The estimated 100,000 Euro-Americans, whom Sulayman Nyang calls the "White Muslims," have nothing from which they can separate and nothing to which they can assimilate, because they were "born assimilated." They have never been a minority and are used to thinking and acting like their majority ancestors who founded America. If America has failings, they believe that as well-integrated Muslims they must transform themselves and then America, just as Muslims must do wherever they live. America's Euro-American Muslims ask, if we Muslims don't, who will? If the Christian, Jewish, and other religions cannot reverse the downward spiral of America and the world, then American Muslims must not merely join them in ecumenical work, but take the lead, because as Muslims they have both the spiritual and intellectual wherewithal necessary to succeed.

The position of the so-called "white Muslim converts" was perhaps best expressed on July 17th, 1999, at a World Islamic Leadership Conference in Trinidad, West Indies, by the young treasurer of the Canadian Islamic Congress, Da'ud Wharmsby-Ali. Speaking primarily to the youth at the conference on why he became a Muslim, he emphasized that he never searched for Islam because he was always seeking only Allah. He never was attracted to the "Muslim ummah" or any
institutionalized expression of Islam, because he was attracted only to the sense of peace and tranquility that he found in Muslim prayer and meditation. Most of what he knows of institutionalized Islam he found to be a threat to everything of ultimate importance.

As a professional musician trying to bring the sound arts to the service of Allah, he was repelled by the extremists, who were once associated with a minority called Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia but now are active in every country and as disruptive groups in most of the mosques of the world. They condemned him to hell because he liked music and dared to distinguish, as
Lamya Faruqi did, between the sound arts that lead to Allah and what the scholars used to call musika, which is haram because it leads to the worship of false gods. At the Battle of Badr, the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) asked the musicians to tone down the music because it was frightening even the Muslims' own camels.

Most second-generation Muslims, as well as almost all Euro American converts, do not feel threatened by the immorality that surrounds them on all sides, because they grew up with it and have become quite immune to its attractions. They are not depressed even by the secularization of America's governing institutions, because they regard this desacralization of public life as a temporary evil that can be and must be overcome.

They reject the outdated thesis that "God is dead" and that America has lost its spiritual base.
This once popular line of thought was best developed by James Turner in his brilliant book, published in 1985 by Johns Hopkins University Press, Without God, Without Creed: The Origin of Unbelief in America. He shows that until about the time of the American Civil War, it was inconceivable that any society could exist without reliance on God. There were no true atheists, though many did not believe in the Christian concept of God. He contends that the age of secular rationalism inaugurated by the Renaissance destroyed religion because the leaders of Western religion adopted rationalism as their best defense. They became more rationalistic than their enemies, the rationalists, by asserting that science can explain God and the
order in the universe. Dr. Turner tries to show that when this nonsense was disproved, the whole edifice of organized religion, which had lost its spiritual base and essence, began to collapse. In other words, modernization and secularization, as Max Weber once said, were both the offspring and murderers of religion.

The most influential of those who a generation ago prophesied the end of religion was the Harvard professor, Harvey G. Cox, whose book, The Secular City, was a bestseller for many months in 1965-1966. Now a wiser man, Professor Cox has recanted, and in fact reversed his position, in an essay published in the Spring/Summer 1999 issue of the Harvard Divinity
Bulletin, entitled "The Myth of the Twentieth Century: The Rise and Fall of Secularization."

Cox marvels that he and others once accepted the notion that religion and modernization in the sense of harnessing science and technology were a zero-sum equation, i.e., the more of one, the less of the other. Even many Muslims accepted this thesis, although classical Islam disproved it. Now Cox says this zero-sum construction seems entirely implausible.

Establishment religion with its emphasis on intellectual dogma and external form without much internal substance is declining, like the dinosaurs of old. But spiritual awareness of the transcendent, which has always been at the core of religion in its ascendant phase, not only is replacing establishment religion throughout the world, with the possible exception of Europe, but
is transforming religion into the most powerful force in both public and private life. Spiritual energy, writes Cox, comes from "the bottom and the edges." The "base communities," which replaced the Roman Catholic hierarchy in much of South America, generated the energy for "liberation theology." Some observers predict that within another decade, charismatic
Pentecostals will account for one of every three Christians in the world. Among Muslims, their counterparts already
are in a clear majority, and in a few countries constitute more than ninety percent of the population.

In the United States the Tijani and Muride Sufi movements, out of Africa, now have thousands of participants in every large American city, though their concern for privacy makes this difficult to document. A writer in Professor Esposito's new book, Muslims on the Americanization Path, Dr. Robert Dannin, asks, "Is it possible that African-American Muslims will see
these movements as appropriate solutions to the dilemma of their African heritage?"

The vast majority of both Euro-Americans and African Americans were converted to Islam only because of its spiritual power to bring them closer to God. And most of these converts have skills in transforming their own societies.

Cox concluded that, "the abstract God of Western theologies and theistic philosophical systems has come to the end of His run." In this sense the prognosticators of the "death of God" have proven to be right. And those who want to preserve the status quo of their own formal religious cultures are like rats on a sinking ship.

As a life-long student of civilization dynamics, it is clear to me that Cox is right in seeing these religious movements from "the bottom and the edges" as a clear signal that, as he puts it, "a `Big Change' is underway." "Indeed," he observes, "Even the most skeptical observers are beginning to conclude - whether for weal or for woe - that something basic is shifting."

The specific diagnoses conflict with each other. One expert calls the new religious movements the "discontents of modernity," another calls them "a `symbolic' rebellion against the modern world," while another considers them to be merely a "different way of being modern," and Cox himself believes that most of the new religious movements are refugees from the
multiple tyrannies of both tradition and modernity.

The twentieth century, Cox concludes, has brought neither secularization nor its opposite, re socialization. Rather it is a fascinating transformation of religion.

III. The Path of Transformation: Order in Society

Cox's analysis may be accurate at least partially for what is happening in most of the religions of the world, but something more basic seems to be occurring in the religion of Islam. Here the search does not have to be for something new, because the tradition of Islam includes everything that the post-modernist refugees are seeking. Their only misfortune is that the tradition of Islam has been either dead or hidden for many centuries.

Islam has always emphasized both the spiritual and the mundane equally, because God has created both orders of being for a purpose. The Qur'an reveals that even the stars and the trees bow down to the only true object of worship, namely, Allah, but "in ways you do not understand." This is part of the beauty of tawhid, which is the unity of creation that derives from the Oneness of the Creator.

Tawhid has to do with order, with right order in the individual person, in the nuclear family, and in society. In human society at every level from the family to the commonwealth of humankind, order is the first need. Order is the path that people follow by consensus and by which they live with purpose and meaning. As the Book of Job puts it in the Bible, "If we lack order in the soul and order in society, we dwell `in a land of darkness'."

The appearance of order can be obtained by superficially trying to maintain the status quo, which seems to be the basic strategy of American policy elites in their pursuit of a minimum world public order. But the substance and reality of order can be achieved only by a strategy of managing the inevitable changes that occur in persons and societies. Changes promote order only if they promote justice, because injustices are the root of disorder. Justice can have no meaning except as an expression of the law of God, because secular and subjective concepts of justice always end up in the denial of human dignity and freedom.

In his epochal work, The Roots of American Order, Russell Kirk writes, "The good society is marked by a high degree of order, justice, and freedom. Among these, order has primacy: for order cannot be enforced until a tolerable civil order is attained, nor can freedom be anything better than violence until order gives us laws."

Kirk also emphasizes that, "it is not possible to live in peace with one another, unless we recognize some principle of order by which to do justice. The higher kind of order, sheltering freedom and justice, declares the dignity of man. It affirms what G. K.
Chesterton called `the democracy of the dead' - that is, it recognizes the judgments of men and women who have preceded
us in time."

This emphasis on traditionalism, which is respect for the wisdom of the past, is central to all of the world's major religions, but especially to Islam and to the spirit that gave rise to the American republic. All of the world religions agree on the essential
spiritual and moral truths, of course with dissenting factions within each one, but the most similar of all religious paths
are the traditionalism of Islam and America. Their understanding of order, justice, and freedom are identical. Therefore, in combination, they are the best suited to promote a minimum world public order for the third millennium based on divine wisdom.

The balance worked out in the American system of government between order and liberty required many centuries of preparation, and it has survived despite two centuries of challenges from extremists. Totalitarian democrats have favored centralized government to serve the majoritarian mob. Libertarian anarchists have sought in practice to fight all government
as an enemy of the individual.

These extremists have failed simply because the American system of government was created by the consensus and practice of the American colonists long before the adoption of the American constitution in 1789, and because the mores or customs of Americans, rather than the ideologies of utopian theorists, have controlled the political process. Americans traditionally have excelled in both long-range vision and purpose, because they are deeply religious and feel that their Creator has endowed them with a manifest destiny. Nevertheless, they have strongly preferred the path of patience, practicality, and compromise, perhaps precisely because traditionally they have relied on God more than on themselves in the pursuit of their national purpose.

Unfortunately, some assimilations Muslims are founding study groups that ignore the traditionalist bases of both Islam and America. They talk about human rights as if the very concept were invented in the West, when, in fact, the exact opposite is true. Without any background in Islamic law and American political practice, they are espousing the secular liberalism that gave rise to the French Revolution and then to the Communist offspring that turned the twentieth century into a nightmare for most of humankind.

In perhaps the most egregious deviation from the wisdom of divine Revelation, they promote "democracy" as a new human right, apparently without the vaguest notion that the maqasid al shari'ah or universal principles of Islamic law spelled out the rationale and requirement of representative government six hundred years ago as part of a coherent and comprehensive paradigm of human responsibilities and corresponding rights. Unfortunately, all of the great scholars in Islam were imprisoned, some for years or decades, for developing these rights in detail and applying them to their own world. [1]

Muslims should be using as a base case the code of human rights and responsibilities so beautifully expressed in classical Islamic law. But instead some assimilationist Muslims are attempting to prove that the principles of Islam are just as good as the principles they learned in secular American universities. They are using as the ideal base case the secular thought that
has perverted Western civilization and they are comparing Islam with it. They think that to be politically correct they must adopt the secular view of absolutist, majoritarian rule, known as radical democracy, which was popularized by the French Revolution. Its leaders invented a fictional demos or "people" in whose name these first totalitarians imposed their political cult
of destruction. Many modern Muslims claim to be enlightened, but they seem to be totally unaware that the founders of America abhorred the very word "democracy." They viewed their great American experiment as the creation of a republic, in which, by definition, the only sovereign is not some abstract "people" but the living God.

Modern, assimilationist Muslims of the politically correct stripe seem to believe that freedom of religion means freedom from religion in a secularized public square. Nothing could have been farther from the minds of America's founders, most of whom were profoundly spiritual. Thomas Jefferson was attacked as an atheist because he insisted that freedom of religion meant the
separation of the state from religion. His intent was to abolish and forever prevent the state from imposing any particular religion, because the historical result in Europe has been horrendous persecution and wars. He did not intend to separate religion from public life. Jefferson and most of the other founders of America were not doctrinaire Christians. They saw
clearly that political union in a pluralistic society requires a consensus on ultimate values, without which no civilization can endure, and that such a consensus requires freedom for all expressions of divine wisdom in public life.

Jefferson considered his founding of the University of Virginia as more important than his authorship of the Declaration of Independence and than his presidency of the new republic. He insisted that no representative government can survive unless the people are educated, that the fundamental purpose of education is training in the knowledge and practice of virtue, and that virtue is possible only as part of an awareness of transcendent meaning and spiritual purpose, which is not and therefore should not be artificially limited to any single religion.

The only two parts of Jefferson's draft that were excluded from the finally adopted declaration of Independence were his impolitic condemnation of the British king as a tyrant and his courageous provision that slavery must be abolished if all Americans were to be truly free.

These traditionalist teachings, stemming in part from Edmund Burke, gave rise to the American Revolution, and they alone can secure the "manifest destiny" of America not as a global empire but as a moral model for the world.

The task of all Americans is to complete the American Revolution, which in fact was a counter-revolution against the innovation of oppression by a rogue majority in the English parliament. Americans can complete their revolution only by reviving their own tradition. The identical task of Muslims is to revive their own tradition by retrieving it from the ideological and ethnic extremism that often poses as Islam today. We are emerging, in sha'a Allah, from the dark age of the twentieth century. It is the task of Muslims, especially those in America, to usher in a millennium of light.

[1] Robert D. Crane, "The Search for Justice and the Quest for Virtue: The Two Basics of Islamic
Law," Part III of the book edited by Muzaffar Haleem and Betty Bowman, TheSun Is Rising in the
West  www.khatoons.com 

 

 

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