The Future of Islam in the U.S.A.
Dr. Jaafar Sheikh Idris
The collapse of Communism has automatically created a new world order in which the USA has emerged as the sole super power, and in which all concerned, including the USA are trying to find their appropriate place and suitable role.
One of the big challenges that this new order has posed for both the West, and especially the US on one side, and the Muslim world and Muslims living in the West on the other side, is the future relationship between Islam and the West.
This future depends of course on how each of these parties views itself and views the other party in relation to itself.
One such view characterizes the West as being essentially Judaeo-Christian, secular, capitalist and democratic; it cannot therefore coexist with a people whose way of life is Islamic, whose government is thus theocratic and hence undemocratic, and whose economic system is certainly not capitalist, a people who aim at nothing less than the destruction of Western civilization and the re-establishment of the Islamic Empire.
But this, goes the argument, is what Muslim fundamentalists are, and since their fundamentalist movement is on the rise, we have to consider Islam to be the new villain, the new enemy, and thus brace ourselves up to curb its onward advance, before it sweeps the Muslim world and exploit its resources to destroy Western civilization. Promoters of this view call for intolerance even regarding those Muslims living in the West.
The call for a return to Islam as a complete way of life continues to gain momentum, and garner adherents, while the advocates of secularism are clearly fighting a losing battle.
And so, if that picture of Islam and the West is a true one, there would be legitimate cause for alarm on the part of the West. But fortunately, it is not.
A good understanding of Islam and of the West is bound, in my opinion, to foster good relations between the two. It is the task of those Muslims and non-Muslims who have this good understanding, to cooperate in disseminating it among people in the West as well as in the Muslim world, so that it becomes part of public opinion in these two parts of the globe, and so that it may influence policy makers, and leaders in those regions.
There is no denying the fact that differences, even on matters of principle and vital issues, do exist between adherents of Islam, and adherents of other ideologies in the West. But Islam is not a religion of the East, nor are those ideologies endemic to the West.
If Islam originated in the so-called East, so did Christianity and Judaism. If the West found no difficulty in accepting the latter two, it should find no problem with accepting Islam, especially in view of the fact that Christianity and Judaism were originally meant to be local religions, while Islam was, from the start declared to be a universal religion.
What is it in Christianity or Judaism that makes them more Western? Why should the West accept a religion which says that Jesus is the son of God, and shun one which says that he is a prophet of God? Why should the West feel comfortable with a religion which claims to be for a special people, and shun the one which says that it is for mankind at large? Is there anything in the West which necessitates this choice? No! And that is why increasing numbers of Westerners are coming to the fold of Islam without losing their Western identity, whether it be American, British, French or any other.
And if there are Christians and Jews in the East, why can’t there be Muslims in the West?
And why should the West be identified with secularism? This identification is, in my opinion, unfair to the West, whether it comes from Muslims or from the Westerners themselves. This is because secularism in its extreme form, the form which it took in the former communist countries, was rejected by people in Western Europe and the U S, and is now universally condemned. The secularism that is prevailing in the West is, to varying degrees, a somewhat moderate one, in which there is place for religion. But not everyone in the West, and specially the U. S., is happy even with this moderate form. There are many who feel that secularism, instead of being a state of neutrality among religions, is itself increasingly becoming a religion in its own right, and an intolerant one at that. They attribute many of the signs of moral decline to this dwindling role of religion.
The equation of the secular with the Western, is also unfair because there is much in the West that is far more important, and of universal value than secularism.
Now we come to the question of democracy. Western states are no doubt democratic. But is Islam really undemocratic? This depends on what one takes to be the most important characteristics of a democratic state.
If by democracy is meant rule of law, human rights, choice of rulers, then these are inseparably part of the religion of Islam. No ideology, secular or religious, lays greater emphasis on the importance of the principle of the rule of law than Islam. Justice, the Qur’an tells us, is to be administered irrespective of our feelings towards people, “Be just, even if it is against your next of kin.”, and “Let not your hatred of some people induce you to be unjust. Be just. That is nearer to piety.”
The same applies to human rights, the rights of life, of ownership, of expression, of movement, etc., within the Islamic Law.
Choice of heads of state is explicitly stated by Umar, the second Caliph after the Prophet, to be a right of the people.
So, if these principles are what we mean when we talk about democracy, then Islam advocates democracy. But if by democracy is meant all the democratic institutions that happen to be in place now in the West, or if it is meant that the legal system of any state which claims to be democratic must be a copy of the American or British, or French legal system, then Islam is surely not democratic.
I am sure that if Islam is properly explained to people in the West, then many of them would come to its fold, and many others would be influenced by many of its teachings, even if they did not embrace it.
I therefore consider it the duty of Muslims living in this country, whether they be natives or immigrants, to do their best to present Islam to their fellow Americans, laying more emphasis on the fundamentals of the faith, and on moral values. No book gives a more complete and perfect account of the Creator and the way He should be served than the Qur’an. Other religious and philosophical descriptions and conceptions of the Creator and of people’s relations to Him, do not at all compare with the Qur’anic account. I am therefore positive that many people will recognize this Qur’anic account of the Creator as the most appropriate, once they come to know it.
It is also the duty of Muslims in the West to cooperate with non Muslims in promoting any form of good, and fighting any form of evil, especially drugs. We should remember that the goal of our religion, and indeed of all authentic Divine messages, is to increase good and diminish evil in the world.
I urge you to remember that our primary aim is to guide and reform, and not to destroy. Urging Muslims to spread the faith, the Prophet said, “By God, if through you God guides a single person, then that is better for you than the best of worldly wealth.
May God help us and guide us to the right path.