On Being Faithful Muslims and Loyal Americans

October 13, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Resolution of the Fiqh Council of North America Adopted in its General Body Meeting held in Virginia on September 24-25, 2011

Like other faith communities in the US and elsewhere, we see no inherent conflict between the normative values of Islam and the US Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Contrary to erroneous perceptions and Islamophobic propaganda of political extremists from various backgrounds, the true and authentic teachings of Islam promote the sanctity of human life, dignity of all humans, and respect of human, civil and political rights. Islamic teachings uphold religious freedom and adherence to the same universal moral values which are accepted by the majority of people of all backgrounds and upon which the US Constitution was established and according to which the Bill of Rights was enunciated.

The Qur’an speaks explicitly about the imperative of just and peaceful co-existence, and the rights of legitimate self-defense against aggression and oppression that pose threats to freedom and security, provided that, a strict code of behavior is adhered to, including the protection of innocent non-combatants.

The foregoing values and teachings can be amply documented from the two primary sources of Islamic jurisprudence – the Qur’an and authentic Hadith. These values are rooted, not in political correctness or pretense, but on the universally accepted supreme objectives of Islamic Shari’ah, which is to protect religious liberty, life, reason, family and property of all. The Shari’ah, contrary to misrepresentations, is a comprehensive and broad guidance for all aspects of a Muslim’s life – spiritual, moral, social and legal. Secular legal systems in Western democracies generally share the same supreme objectives, and are generally compatible with Islamic Shari’ah.

Likewise, the core modern democratic systems are compatible with the Islamic principles of Shura – mutual consultation and co-determination of all social affairs  at all levels and in all spheres, family, community, society, state and globally.

As a body of Islamic scholars, we the members of FCNA believe that it is false and misleading to suggest that there is a contradiction between being faithful Muslims committed to God (Allah) and being loyal American citizens. Islamic teachings require respect of the laws of the land where Muslims live as minorities, including the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, so long as there is no conflict with Muslims’ obligation for obedience to God. We do not see any such conflict with the US Constitution and Bill of Rights. The primacy of obedience to God is a commonly held position of many practicing Jews and Christians as well.

We believe further that as citizens of a free and democratic society, we have the same obligations and rights of all US citizens. We believe that right of dissent can only be exercised in a peaceful and lawful manner to advance the short and long term interests of our country.

The Fiqh Council of North America calls on all Muslim Americans and American citizens at large to engage in objective, peaceful and respectful dialogue at all levels and spheres of common social concerns. We call upon all Muslim Americans to be involved in solving pressing social problems, such as the challenge of poverty, discrimination, violence, health care and environmental protection. It is fully compatible with Islam for Muslims to integrate positively in the society of which they are equal citizens, without losing their identity as Muslims (just as Jews and Christians do not lose their religious identity in doing the same).

We believe that emphasis on dialogue and positive collaborative action is a far better approach than following the paths of those who thrive on hate mongering and fear propaganda. Anti-Islam, anti-Semitism and other similar forms of religious and/or political-based discrimination are all forms of racism unfit for civilized people and are betrayal of the true American as well as Islamic values.
May the pursuit of peace, justice, love, compassion, human equality and fellowship prevail in the pluralistic mosaic that is the hallmark of our nation.

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Rick Perry, by the book

September 8, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Ruth Marcus

Rick Perry is no George W. Bush.

This is not a compliment.

Rick Perry Fed UpPerry’s 2010 Tea Party-steeped manifesto, “Fed Up!,” makes George Bush look like George McGovern. Perry has said he wasn’t planning to run for president when he wrote the book, and it shows:

●The Texas governor floats the notion of repealing the 16th Amendment, which authorized the federal income tax. Perry describes the amendment as “the great milestone on the road to serfdom” because it “was the birth of wealth redistribution in the United States.”

Raise your hand if you believe, as Perry suggests, that it is wrong to ask the wealthiest to pay a greater share of their income than the poor.

●He lambastes the 17th Amendment, which instituted direct election of senators, as a misguided “blow to the ability of states to exert influence on the federal government” that “traded structural difficulties and some local corruption for a much larger and dangerous form of corruption.”

Raise your hand if you’d like to give the power to elect senators back to your state legislature.

● Perry laments the New Deal as “the second big step” — the 16th and 17th amendments being the first — “in the march of socialism and . . . the key to releasing the remaining constraints on the national government’s power to do whatever it wishes.”

●He specifically targets Social Security for “violently tossing aside any respect for our founding principles of federalism and limited government,” and asserts that “by any measure, Social Security is a failure.”

Not by the measure of the dramatically reduced share of elderly living in poverty. Perry’s description of Social Security as a “Ponzi scheme” was impolitic, but he has a legitimate point about the program’s funding imbalance. The bigger problem is his fundamental hostility to the notion of a federal role in retirement security — or, more broadly, a federal role in much of anything beside national defense.

●As much as he dislikes the New Deal, Perry is even less happy about the Great Society, suggesting that programs such as Medicare are unconstitutional. “From housing to public television, from the environment to art, from education to medical care, from public transportation to food, and beyond, Washington took greater control of powers that were conspicuously missing from Article 1 of the Constitution,” he writes.

Whoa! These are not mainstream Republican views — at least, not any Republican mainstream post-Goldwater and pre-Tea Party. Even Ronald Reagan, who had once criticized Social Security and Medicare, was backing away from those positions by the 1980 presidential campaign.

Reading “Fed Up!,” I had a flashback to scouring the writings of Robert Bork after his 1987 Supreme Court nomination — except that Bork’s most controversial writings were decades, not months, old.
Indeed, Perry’s views on the role of judges may be the most alarming part of “Fed Up!,” given a president’s ability to shape the Supreme Court for decades to come. Perry writes about the current court with venomous disdain.

The court “adheres to the Constitution in appearance only and as a matter of necessity,” he writes, “finding in it or in previous case law the single nugget around which the court can marginally justify its policy choice to keep up the pretense of actually caring one iota about the Constitution in the first place.”

Disagreeing with liberal justices is one thing. Accusing them of not caring about the Constitution is like denouncing the opposing party as unpatriotic — and is equally out of bounds.

Perry’s ideas range from wrongheaded to terrifying: requiring federal judges to stand for reappointment and reconfirmation; and letting Congress override the Supreme Court with a two-thirds vote in both houses. This “risks increased politicization of judicial decisions,” Perry allows, “but also has the benefit of letting the people stop the court from unilaterally deciding policy.”

Some benefit. Imagine what would have happened in the aftermath of Brown v. Board of Education if the Perry rule were in place.

“Not as often discussed, but equally interesting,” Perry muses, “would be a ‘clarifying’ amendment” — for example, to stop the 14th Amendment  from being “abused by the court to carry out whatever policy choices it wants to make in the form of judicial activism.” How would Perry clarify such grand phrases as “due process” and “equal protection”?

Perry doesn’t say.

The subtitle of Perry’s book is “Our Fight to Save America from Washington.” Reading it summons the image of another, urgent fight: saving America from Rick Perry.

ruthmarcus@washpost.com

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Hazare-Team: Dictatorial & Undemocratic?

August 25, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, TMO

NEW DELHI: Whom do social activist Anna Hazare and members of his team really represent? The seating capacity at Ramlila Maidan, the public ground selected by his team to display their protest against corruption and demand for a legislation, that is Lokpal bill, is approximately 50,000. Though there have been reports of people displaying their support in different parts of country, numerically except in Delhi and Mumbai, they have not crossed or even touched the number 1,00,000. In context of India being home to 1.21 billion, Hazare’s supporters do not represent a significant percentage of the country’s population, statistically. Nevertheless, the fact that Hazare’s protest dominates the media-news, including the headlines cannot be ignored. Statistics suggest that there is a major gap between what is being projected by the media and the actual story. Even if the number of Hazare’s supporters across the country adds up to several millions, they do not constitute even five percent of the nation’s population. In other words, it is as yet too early to accord Hazare the stature of a national leader even though media-hype gives this impression. The same is suggested by reports of numerous people donning caps and T-shirts with the slogan, “I am Anna.” Statistically, they don’t represent the entire country.

Understandably, the country’s citizens -including Hazare- have the freedom and right to raise their voice and also protest against what they feel disturbed by. In fact, it is the democratic duty of each and every citizen to display his/her stand against problems or evils they feel concerned about. There is no denying that corruption is one of the many problems, the Indian citizens are aggrieved about. At the same time, democratically speaking, while Hazare and his team have the right and duty to make suggestions regarding corrective measures and legislation, they cannot “dictate” their demands to an elected government. The course that Hazare-team gives the impression of taking, going on hunger-strike, organizing marches, planning “sit-in” demonstrations outside legislators’ residences and other such activities, is not in keeping with the democratic and socialist spirit of the Indian Constitution. Rather, considering that an elected government is in power and the country has measures available to enact new laws and amend old ones to ensure effective anti-corruption legislation, the Hazare-team is expected to be duty -bound to respect the country’s Constitution.

Politically, socially, constitutionally and even statistically, the Hazare-team is not representative of any segment or institution of the country to have the authority to dictate its terms to an elected government. In fact, if an elected government yields to this group, it would not only be abuse of the country’s constitutional system but also be bad precedence, which must not be permitted to take roots. It cannot be ignored that India is home to many religions, with most marked by a pronounced caste-system. The ethnic division in the Indian society is also responsible for emergence of numerous political parties. Can Hazare-team be held as representative of all the Indian socio-political groups? No. And therein lies the fear. Howsoever strongly Hazare-team may raise voice against corruption and even threaten the elected government with more demonstrations, their “strength” rests more on hype raised about them than actual issues. Corruption is not the only issue bothering Indian society. Have they talked of assuring action against female infanticide, dowry-deaths, the sufferings faced by Indian minorities- including Muslims, Christians and Hindus belonging to lower castes? Hardly.

Please note Hazare’s words: “If you (Prime Minister Manmohan Singh) cannot get the bill, I ask you to leave the chair.” Legally and ethically, it is not appropriate for any authority to dictate such terms to an elected leader. Even the country’s President is not legally authorized to dismiss the Prime Minister till he and his party lose support in the Parliament. Against this backdrop, one is prompted to raise the question as to what has led the Hazare-team to assume their role as greater than that of the country’s elected government and the Constitution? Legally and ethically, it is more like a blot on country’s political image than suggestive of Hazare-team heading for a second freedom struggle. The latter may have carried some relevance if India was not a free country.

Not surprisingly, Muslims in general seem fairly critical of Hazare-team’s course of action. Questioning its “democratic legitimacy,” they fear that it may lead to communal polarization and encourage extremist Hindu leaders to gather crowds to pursue their anti-Muslim agenda. “The Anna Hazare phenomenon is leading us to the rejection of representative democracy itself. The movement is an upper-caste uprising against India’s political democracy. That apart, vesting so much power in the Lokpal, a non-elected person, could lead to a dangerous situation,” according to Dalit columnist Chandrabhan Prasad. In the opinion of Kancha Ilaiah, a Dalit-Bahujan thinker, “The Anna movement is an anti-social justice, manuvadi movement. The Dalits, tribals, OBCs (Other Backward Classes) and minorities have nothing to do with it. We oppose it.”

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Two Americas

August 25, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Azher Quader

Executive Director, Community Builders Chicago www.mycommunitybuilders.com azherquader@yahoo.com

The preamble to the US Constitution reads:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense,  promote the general  Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Some 223 years later America is still searching for that perfect union as it struggles to find unity within its ever expanding diversity.

Senator John Edwards during his presidential campaign of 2004 alluded to this growing division in these words:

Today there are two Americas, not one: One America that does the work, another America that reaps the reward. One America that pays the taxes, another America that gets the tax breaks. One America that will do anything to leave its children a better life, another America that never has to do a thing because its children are already set for life.

One America — middle-class America – whose needs Washington has long forgotten, another America – narrow-interest America – whose every wish is Washington’s command. One America that is struggling to get by, another America that can buy anything it wants, even a Congress and a President.

We see the two faces of America frowning at each other more and more these days. Be it the fight to raise the nation’s debt ceiling, or to repeal the Affordable Health Care Act enacted recently, or to change the immigration law to accommodate the undocumented. The divide in the country is sadly much deeper than what might appear to be on the basis of partisan politics.

What started as a friendly encounter between the pilgrims and the natives when they first landed at Plymouth ended up a few years later in the horrific tragedy that came to be recorded in American history as the trail of tears. When slave owners in the south refused to give up their white privilege, we fought a bloody civil war that pitted family against family and neighbor against neighbor. Subsequently laws were passed against slavery. Civil rights for Afro Americans were later restored. Yet years later the racial divide still continues to haunt us. When nineteen terrorists brought down the twin towers in Manhattan killing over three thousand innocent Americans we went to war again, this time against terror. Although Muslim Americans had nothing to do with the attacks, a decade later over half the nation eyes them with suspicion, doubting their loyalty.

This goal for a more perfect union is obviously not so easy to reach.

In over two hundred years we have not learnt to let go our prejudices, overcome our phobias, and subdue our bigotry.

We clearly live in two Americas.

In one the Muslims are respected, in the other they are hated.

In one live the rich and powerful steeped in privilege. In the other are the poor and powerless living from paycheck to paycheck.

In one are the hardworking. In the other those that hardly work.

In one are the passionate whose passion is big business. In the other are the committed, whose commitment is big government.

In one are those who believe in the power of self. In the other are those who believe in the strength of the state.

In one are those who believe in the compassion of owners. In the other are those who believe in the bargaining rights of the workers.

In one are those who believe charity corrupts the soul, stunts its growth. In the other are those who believe charity elevates the spirit and renews hope.

In one live those who understand the power of Wall Street. In the other are those only familiar with the ways of Main Street.

One America believes in marriage. The other America believes in civil union.

One asks for condoms in schools. The other says let there be abstinence.

One wants abortion on demand. The other says stop the killings.

One wants drugs legalized. The other wants drugs outlawed.

One claims health care is a right. The other says no it is a privilege.

One believes Medicare is a mistake and needs to be ended. The other knows it is a blessing, needs preserved.

One seeks solutions for the 12 million undocumented. The other says no deal, deport all.

One asks for gun laws that save lives and curbs violence. The other quotes the constitution and refuses to budge.

One seeks energy options that are cleaner and greener for the future.

The other refuses to let go the polluting ways of the past.

How then can we bridge these many divides?  Whence will come about that more perfect union?

Perhaps our scriptures hold the secret. Where reason fails to show the way, why not give revelation a chance.

Revelation tells us to be humble not arrogant, to provide for the welfare of others, not remaining absorbed with the concerns of our self interests, that people are to be judged by the nobility of their deeds, that compassion freedom and justice are to be practiced as a lifestyle,  not transcribed on paper and  hung on a wall, that anger, hate and fear can be overcome by the power of belief, that compromise is not a sign of weakness or failure but a means to heal many a wounds of dissent and mistrust.

Our constitution bars the state from imposing any one religion on the people, but does not deny us the right to practice the guidance of our revealed truths. If our understanding of worship ever travels beyond the narrow confines of the rituals that bind it, then some day we can yet rise as a people of faith to bridge our divides. That more perfect union which eludes us can perhaps come within our grasp only through a life of faith. Not faith defined by dogmas and traditions, but faith inspired by reason and revelations anchored in universal principles that transcend our ideological divides.

For Muslim Americans in the midst of yet another blessed month of Ramadan, what better time than this, to go beyond the punishing schedule of praying and fasting each day, to practice their faith as it is meant to be. Letting go of arrogance to embrace humility, embracing love in place of hate, promoting justice in place of prejudice, showing courage in place of fear, adopting patience in times of adversity, demonstrating integrity in the face of temptations.

As a community of faith, maybe we can do our part in bringing the two Americas together. To do that would mean not only working on our inner dimension, but also on our outer. Our spiritual journey cannot take us to a mountain top where we find peace and tranquility away from the turmoil in the valley. Our faith is incomplete without engagement in the problems of the world we live in. It is not enough to write a check and go to sleep when we can do much more. For from those who are given much, much is expected. Our busy social calendars cannot excuse us from the demands of political engagement Our alluring love for travel to distant exotic destinations cannot exempt us from serving the needy within our backyards. There is much for us to do. The two Americas we live in are waiting for our involvement.

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In Egypt’s Democracy, Room for Islam

April 7, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Ali Gomaa, Grand Mufti of Islam

AliGomaaLast month, Egyptians approved a referendum on constitutional amendments that will pave the way for free elections. The vote was a milestone in Egypt’s emerging democracy after a revolution that swept away decades of authoritarian rule. But it also highlighted an issue that Egyptians will grapple with as they consolidate their democracy:  the role of religion in political life.

The vote was preceded by the widespread use of religious slogans by supporters and opponents of the amendments, a debate over the place of religion in Egypt’s future Constitution and a resurgence in political activity by Islamist groups. Egypt is a deeply religious society, and it is inevitable that Islam will have a place in our democratic political order. This, however, should not be a cause for alarm for Egyptians, or for the West.

Egypt’s religious tradition is anchored in a moderate, tolerant view of Islam. We believe that Islamic law guarantees freedom of conscience and expression (within the bounds of common decency) and equal rights for women. And as head of Egypt’s agency of Islamic jurisprudence, I can assure you that the religious establishment is committed to the belief that government must be based on popular sovereignty.

While religion cannot be completely separated from politics, we can ensure that it is not abused for political gain.

Much of the debate around the referendum focused on Article 2 of the Constitution — which, in 1971, established Islam as the religion of the state and, a few years later, the principles of Islamic law as the basis of legislation — even though the article was not up for a vote.

But many religious groups feared that if the referendum failed, Egypt would eventually end up with an entirely new Constitution with no such article.
On the other side, secularists feared that Article 2, if left unchanged, could become the foundation for an Islamist state that discriminates against Coptic Christians and other religious minorities.
But acknowledgment of a nation’s religious heritage is an issue of national identity, and need not interfere with the civil nature of its political processes. There is no contradiction between Article 2 and Article 7 of Egypt’s interim Constitution, which guarantees equal citizenship before the law regardless of religion, race or creed. 

After all, Denmark, England and Norway have state churches, and Islam is the national religion of politically secular countries like Tunisia and Jordan. The rights of Egypt’s Christians to absolute equality, including their right to seek election to the presidency, is sacrosanct.

Similarly, long-suppressed Islamist groups can no longer be excluded  from political life. All Egyptians have the right to participate in the creation of a new Egypt, provided that they respect the basic tenets of religious freedom and the equality of all citizens. To protect our democracy, we must be vigilant against any party whose platform or political rhetoric threatens to incite sectarianism, a prohibition that is enshrined in law and in the Constitution.

Islamists must understand that, in a country with such diverse movements as the Muslim Brotherhood; the Wasat party, which offers a progressive interpretation of Islam; and the conservative Salafi movements, no one group speaks for Islam.

At the same time, we should not be afraid that such groups in politics will do away with our newfound freedoms. Indeed, democracy will put Islamist movements to the test; they must now put forward programs and a political message that appeal to the Egyptian mainstream. Any drift toward radicalism will not only run contrary to the law, but will also guarantee their political marginalization.

Having overthrown the heavy hand of authoritarianism, Egyptians will not accept its return under the guise of religion. Islam will have a place in Egypt’s democracy. But it will be as a pillar of freedom and tolerance, never as a means of oppression.

Ali Gomaa is the grand mufti of Egypt.

New York Times

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