Sunday, February 13, 2011

Personal Matters: The Muslim Statesman and American Exceptionalism

While reading an article by Madeline Bunting, I came to a quote she cited from Benedict Anderson: Nations are a product of the imagination and the stories we choose to tell ourselves of our past and present. Alhamduilillah, it is via the New Jersey Department of Labor’s Workforce Development program for the unemployed by which I have been Allowed, or Placed, on a path that I once had to sacrifice in order to fulfill my duties as a father and then-husband. The path of higher learning has led to the Graduate School within the Political Science Department at my alma mater, and though it is as a non-matriculated student, I recognize it as a Gift for which I am thankful. The favorite of my three classes is ‘Democratic Transitions’ taught by a true scholar in Professor Eric Davis. I have long held the opinion that no true scholar can carry said title without possessing a wealth of knowledge both of, and outside, the traditions to which he was born. Eric Davis has a wealth of knowledge of the two worlds, the two realms, the two civilizations in Islam and the West. As an American Muslim convert whose family has four centuries of investment on these North American shores, it is within these two worlds that I live and reside. Moreover, there is no longer any doubt in my mind and spirit, though doubt previously existed, that these worlds, realms, and civilizations have diametrically opposed imaginations, stories, and dreams for their respective individual selves and nations. In short, Inshallah, we must begin to ask very critical questions as two distinct, separate peoples, both of one another and ourselves.

It was in Davis’ classes, that he stunned me with a statement on the honor of American Exceptionalism. As a Muslim and a man, I had no choice but to challenge him, and did so to the best of my ability. Either of our exact words remains irrelevant at this time. What is relevant is that I began to concern myself with questions about the nation of my birth and its political, its cultural imagination, stories, and sense of itself. The name of the class I am currently taking with Davis: Democratic Transitions is an example of the American who expends so much time and energy in the realms of the science and theory of politics, primarily examining the so-called Third World, through the lense of his inherent ‘goodness’ and exceptionalism? It seems that the American has ignored the reality of the democracies and democratic-transitions that the United States has destroyed in the name of ‘National Security’ and American interests? If he is courageous enough to admit the truth and reality, how can he ignored the historical/political science written in Stephen Kinzer’s All The Shah’s Men or William Blum’s Killing Hope: U.S. Military and C.I.A. Interventions Since World War II; and in the same breath speak of the inherent goodness of American Exceptionalism? Moreover, in the final analysis, as American political scientists and theorists, why is there so little literature, research, and simple discussion in relation to the Imperialistic Transitions of liberal democratic-republics? It seems that the lack of recognition of the transition from liberal democratic-republicanism to Empire only speaks to the racist or ethnocentric notions of American Exceptionalism and further draws attention to its imaginative belief that the world needs to be ‘civilized’, molded into an acceptable version of human existence.

For the Muslim the questions are either related to their respective reactions to notions of American Exceptionalism, or rather all together different. First and foremost, the Muslim must critically engage that which is both declaration and inquiry: these contemporary times and this current era represents the Dark Ages of Islamic history. Islam is both Deen wa Dawalat, and like Pericles said of his Athenian countrymen, ‘we do not say that a man who takes no interests in politics is a man who minds his business; we say that he has no business here at all’. If the Muslim recognizes Islam as his Deen, i.e. his Creed, his Ethos, and then he must ask himself why he allows the autocratic, authoritarian regimes to dominate him. It is a quick and easy answer to blame the Western governments, in particular the United States, who support the aforementioned regimes. Indeed, this is the true essence of the recent revolts in Tunisia and Egypt-casting off the shackles of the national regime and the wishes of their respective foreign masters. Yet, these regimes are facilitated by the actions of Muslims who imitate their foreign masters in politics and the level of society? Why do Muslims look to Washington, London, Paris, for direction in relation to the governing of themselves? Why do they debate or accept that their children’s classroom instruction is taught exclusively in their master’s language over that of their own? Why have Muslims abandoned their own imaginative capacities for building a future aimed towards the notions of Islamic Social Justice? Why is the Muslim ashamed? The Muslim cannot blame the United States or the West for his disunity, his tribalistic attitudes, his racism, his oppression of his Muslim sisters: he must examine and be courageous enough to find his sole, direct individual responsibility, as a citizen of the Ummah. As a citizen of the Ummah, why does the Muslim deny himself his Fifteen Political Rights Endowed to him by the Creator of All? Why does he remain silent when men like Dr. Ahmad al Tuwayjri are jailed for offering a Memorandum of Advice to the current monarch of the House of Saud? Why does he remain silent when women in Pakistan are doused with hydrochloric acid, often for not allowing their husbands to marry a second wife? Why is the Muslim silent about the fourteen-year-old Bangladeshi girl forced into prostitution in the brothels of Dhaka? Can he rightfully blame the American for these actions? I submit he cannot. Alternatively, why does the Muslim look to just The Holy Qur’an and the Sunna of the prophet Muhammad (SAAW) for the basis of his political, institutional framework? The Holy Qur’an was not even the Constitution in the city of Medina in the first year of Hijrah, so how can any Muslim 1,432 years later lazily claim that it should be the constitution of his government? Why is the Muslim more apt to kill than to learn? Was it not the prophet Muhammad (SAAW) who made it obligatory on every Muslim to acquire knowledge, and directed both him and her, to ‘seek knowledge even as far as China’? Why have so many Muslims rid themselves of the Qur’anic Exegesis and Sunna-derived actions of believers-that of patient perseverance, wisdom, and correct and situationally-appropriate action within The Bounds of Islam; for exchange of the antithetical, evil, base, bestiality of Shaytain-the enemy of mankind? Why are so many Muslim men driven by reactionary hate, the unbridled passions of children, the thirst for blood and violence, and tribal provincialism?

Hypocrisy lives and thrives in both the hearts of the American and the Muslim. And thus, the final question to both civilizations is simple: what shall be done? Briefly allow me to again state the aforementioned: I am an American Muslim convert whose family has been on the shores of North America for well over 400 years. In accordance with similar suggestions of two of my professors (Eric Davis and Ginetta Candelario), I must place my thoughts, my understanding, and my worldview into the historical/political context from which I was born. I stand as a member of two civilizations: one who professes the liberal ideal of freedom, while using its military to dominate and subject the world; and the other with The Word of Allah, which it subverts in order to justify its ignorance and passions, whether they are to imitate or destroy their Western masters. What shall be done?

The Muslim on True Guidance from his Lord (SWT) is not only concerned with his individual duties of worship-the Five Pillars of Islam. Each and every Muslim has Communal Obligations towards achieving Allah’s Social Justice for the Muslim and the non-Muslim alike. It is important to read, to comprehend, and analyze the words of al Farabi, who was widely referred to as ‘the second teacher’ after Aristotle during the Golden Age of Islam. He says in his Book of the Aphorisms of the Statesman:

The soul has health and sickness just as the body has health and sickness…the traits of the soul by which a human being does good things and noble actions are virtues. Those by which he does evil things and base actions are vices, defects, and villainies…The one who cures bodies is the physician; and the one who cures souls is the statesman…the physician who cures bodies needs to be cognizant of the body in its entirety and of the parts of the body, of what sicknesses occur to the whole body and to each one of its parts, from what they occur, from how much of a thing, of the way to make them cease, and of the traits that when attained by the body and its parts make the actions coming about in the body perfect and complete. Likewise, the statesman..who cures souls needs to be cognizant of the soul in its entirety and of its parts, of what defects and vices occur to it and to each one of its parts, from what they occur, from how much of a thing, of the traits of the soul by which a human does good things and how many they are, of the way to make the vices of the inhabitants of cities cease, of the devices to establish these traits in the souls of the citizens, and of the way of governing so as to preserve these traits among them so that they do not cease.

It is not the imam, the sheikh, the mufti, the cleric, or any other man whose knowledge is strictly, merely based in a narrow view of Islamic sciences who SAVES SOULS, but the Muslim Statesman. The Muslim Statesman is he who has been wise enough to avoid the six major tendencies-Scholastic Traditionalism, Salafi Literalism, Salafi Reformism, Political Literalist Salafism, Liberal Reformism, and Sufism-(Ramadan pg.26-28), taking that which is worthwhile of each, the Muslim Statesman seeks to embrace The Comprehensive Character of Islamic Teaching (Ramadan p.33). Tariq Ramadan states in Western Muslims and the Future of Islam:

Wherever they find themselves, Muslim women and men try, in their practice and daily lives, to conform as much as possible to Islamic teachings. In this they follow the path of faithfulness, ‘the path towards the spring’ [Sharia]…This practice and moral awareness are the source and heart of the Sharia, which is personal, faithful commitment…the Way itself exerts its own influence more comprehensively, with regard to the guidance that marks the elements or the actions…there are also directions concerning individuals’ behavior with regard to the self, the family, and others, and again general principles pertaining to the management of interpersonal relations and the community. It seems difficult to draw a line of demarcation here between the private and the public spheres, between the realm of faith and reason, between the religious and the political, so interconnected and mingled do these areas appear under the sole transcendent authority of the Book [The Holy Qur’an] and the Prophetic traditions… ‘The Way to Faithfulness’ its meaning, were produced by human intelligence. It is from the reading of the scriptural sources, with the internal limitations this imposed (e.g., the Arabic language, grammar, the practice of the Prophet), that they [early Muslim scholars, like Abu Hanifa and Imam Shafi’i] decided upon the normative parameters from which it was possible to extrapolate principles, formulate regulations, and elaborate rules of morality faithful to the guidance of the Qur’an and the Sunna. It is human intelligence that formulates the universal and elaborate methodologies, which vary according to the object of study to which they are applied (e.g., religious practice, social affairs, sciences), by working on the Qur’an and the Sunna. In other words, the Sharia, insofar as it is the expression of the ‘Way to Faithfulness’, deduced and constructed a posteriori, is the work of human intellect. The Source and undisputed reference is the Book and then the Prophetic traditions: we have already said that these texts touch upon every area of life in ways both general and diverse and summon human intelligence to discern the difference between the categories, as well as logic that underpins religious regulations, and try to bring the whole of the message into harmony and make its guidance more accessible. This harmonization is rational, and, insofar as it tries to be faithful to the wisdom of Revelation, it does its utmost to be reasonable.

The Muslim Statesman is a believer in The One True and Living God, (in Arabic: Allah), who follows The Holy Qur’an and the Sunna of the prophet Muhammad(SAAW), and utilizes the Gift from Allah in rational, human intellect to solve the social diseases within his community-his polis. Just as any Muslim would judge any medical doctor as an untrained, idiotic, fool, who sought only religious practice to heal a sick child, al Farabi and Ramadan reveal that the social, the political, and the economic diseases of mankind require the remedy of the utilization of the study of theoretical/practical social sciences from all eras and all traditions of human history, up to and including the West. Ideas that provide a more sound, more reasonable method by which institutional frameworks of government can be constructed to answer The Command of Allah in the establishment of His Social Justice may not always have begun in the mind of a Muslim. Yet, if said ideas, under the caveat that our Universal Principles of The Comprehensive Character of Islamic Teachings remain inviolable, can make it easier to educate the ignorant, feed the hungry, protect the defenseless, employ the jobless, and lead the human spirit to choose of its own volition to submit to our Lord (SWT): this is an idea, or set of ideas, that the Muslim must study and practically apply. It is this acceptance and passion for knowledge that will lead the Ummah out of its Dark, Bloody Era and into the Second Enlightenment of Islamic History.

For those of us within the West, who have come to believe that all men are created equal Endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, we must follow the example of the Christian activist Martin Luther King, Jr. and ‘call America to come back home’. In other words, we must challenge the notions of American Exceptionalism as a mere phrase that cloaks its Imperialism, and highlight the destruction of its foreign policy. The Muslim who resides in historically Muslim homelands is not the only one who feels this destruction, as American Imperialism robs him of his inalienable right of life, liberty, economic stability, and human dignity. No, the American People are being robbed of exactly the same rights by their own government. Whether the urban, African/Latino or the poor white in Appalachia or whose family’s home has been taken in foreclosure in the suburbs, the American People are suffering under the weight of a nation that has reached, what King termed, spiritual death. The Muslim, who is a servant of Allah, has a DUTY to all of mankind, as did our personal example the prophet Muhammad (SAAW). Albeit, the Muslim Statesman must engage in political and social organizing efforts that will allow the Muslims of the West to return to a reconstituted Dar al Salaam, but he must work to ensure that Dar al Salaam and the West are partners in the creation of a healthier, commercially viable, just international community. To the detractor that states that these are the rantings of a utopian dreamer, my response is this. Allah Will Always Provide Tests; the human intellect will invariably create what al Farabi has termed, accidents by which problems, complications, and perhaps even wars will be fought. It is the Duty and goal of the Muslim Statesman to deal with said issues, having done all he could to ensure that Justice will be enjoined and oppression considered inexcusable, intolerable, and the true enemy of Islam. American Exceptionalism creates the latter and makes myths about the former. It, like Zionism and Islamic extremism, is worthy of rejection and critique by the Muslim Statesman and intellectual who dreams and imagines a different world.

To be continued...

Isma'il ibn Bilal

1 comment:

  1. To the detractor that states that these are the rantings of a utopian dreamer, my response is this. Allah Will Always Provide Tests; the human intellect will invariably create what al Farabi has termed, accidents by which problems, complications, and perhaps even wars will be fought. It is the Duty and goal of the Muslim Statesman to deal with said issues, having done all he could to ensure that Justice will be enjoined and oppression considered inexcusable, intolerable, and the true enemy of Islam. American Exceptionalism creates the latter and makes myths about the former. It, like Zionism and Islamic extremism, is worthy of rejection and critique by the Muslim Statesman and intellectual who dreams and imagines a different world............MASHA'ALLAH...ALLAH IS GREAT....ALLAH WILL ACHIEVE HIS WILL..BUT ADMIT THAT THE WORLD IS CRUEL..UGLY..BUT STILL HAVE HOPE THAT THINGS WILL BE BETTER..SOON..INSHA'Allah..