Magazine article Islamic Horizons

Empowering Islam in America

Magazine article Islamic Horizons

Empowering Islam in America

Article excerpt

Muslim activists should put the issue of justice front and center during the current election cycle.

Religion is much in vogue nowadays. Most of the presidential candidates in the 2008 election cycle rely on niche politics, and most of them have been forced to pursue the niche of religiosity because people seek religion in times of instability, doubt, and fear. None of the candidates, however, have done well in spelling out specifically what this means for issues of conscience in American domestic and foreign policy. Neither have Muslims, who follow specific niches that address their own narrow, special interests. Many have bumper stickers that read "Islam is the answer," but they need to spell it out both in theory and practice.

What is the theory? The theory is simple. All revealed religions contain a universal paradigm of thought, which Muslims call Islam. This paradigm is based on an affirmation that there is an ultimate reality of which humanity and the universe are merely an expression; that, as a result, each person is created with an innate awareness of absolute truth and love; and that people in community can-and should-develop a framework of moral law from the various sources of divine revelation, including natural law, to secure peace and prosperity.

But what is the practice? How do Muslims become Islamic? Islam is a way of life, and Muslims are merely those who claim to live it, whether they really do so or not. Islam is also a path, one of many, to God's presence, which means that it is a religion. But every religion teaches a coherent system of universal values and principles that its adherents must follow. What is this systern? Using current phraseology, the answer is simple: "It's justice, stupid!" This is the core message that Muslim activists should put front and center during the current election cycle.

In 2008, for the first time in decades of fruitless political activism in America, Muslims finally have the necessary guidance from probably the country's most influential Muslim: Dr. Parvez Ahmed (national board chairman, Council on American-Islamic Relations [CAIR]).

In the OpEd section of CAIR's website during January 2008, Dr. Ahmed offers justice as Islam's essence and as the only winning paradigm for America and for Muslims both here and abroad. The "Great American Experiment" was founded upon it, because only through exercising leadership in its pursuit can America become what its Founders envisioned: a moral model for all of humanity.

In his thoroughly Islamic perspective on justice, Ahmed writes: "The principles of justice and morality are not the exclusive domain of any one group or ideology. Islam is not a new message but a confirmation of universal values. ... The Prophet strove to develop the believer's conscience through adherence to principles and values. The values and the principles were more important than the source of those values. He showed a way to transcend group allegiance in favor of primary loyalty to universal principles themselves."

These universal principles were known in classical Islamic literature as the maqasid al-shari'ah, which developed over the centuries into what is still the world's most sophisticated code of human responsibilities and rights. For several centuries, however, they have been observed mainly in the breach. These are spelled out in my article, "Human Rights in Traditionalist Islam: Legal, Political, Economic, and Spiritual Perspectives" ("The American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences" [AJISS], winter 2008), which, in turn, is a condensation of my book, "The Natural Law of Compassionate Justice" (The International Institute of Islamic Thought: 2008).

The first universal principle (maqsud), haqq al-din, requires respect for the freedom of religion, which means that religion should be neither prescribed nor proscribed in public life. …

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