Cont’d from page 1
Islam is democratic in spirit. Islam advocates
the right to vote and educate yourself and pursue a profession.
The Qur’an, on which Islamic law is based, enjoins Muslims
to govern themselves by discussion and consensus. In mosques, there
is no particular priestly hierarchy. With Islam, each individual
is responsible for the condition of her or his own soul. Everyone
stands equal before God.
Americans, who mostly associate Islamic government with a handful
of tyrants, may find this independent spirit surprising, supposing
that Muslims are somehow predisposed to passive submission. Nothing
could be further from the truth. The dictators reigning today in
the Middle East are not the result of Islamic principles. They are
more a result of global economics and the aftermath of European
colonialism. Meanwhile, like everyone else, average Muslims the
world over want a larger say in what goes on in the countries where
they live. Those in America may actually succeed in it. In this
way, America is closer in spirit to Islam than many Arab countries.
Islam contains an attractive mystical tradition.
Mysticism is grounded in the individual search for God. Where better
to do that than in America, land of individualists and spiritual
seekers? And who might better benefit than Americans from the centuries-long
tradition of teachers and students that characterize Islam.
Islam is egalitarian. From New York to California,
the only houses
of worship that are routinely integrated
today are the approximately 4,000 Muslim mosques. That is because
Islam is predicated on a level playing field, especially when it
comes to standing before God. The Pledge of Allegiance (one nation,
"under God") and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address (all
people are "created equal") express themes that are also
basic to Islam.
Islam is often viewed as an aggressive faith because of the concept
of jihad, but this is actually a misunderstood term. Because Muslims
believe that God wants a just world, they tend to be activists,
and they emphasize that people are equal before God. These are two
reasons why African Americans have been drawn in such large numbers
to Islam. They now comprise about one-third of all Muslims in America.
Meanwhile, this egalitarian streak also plays itself out in relations
between the sexes. Muhammad, Islam’s prophet, actually was
a reformer in his day. Following the Qur’an, he limited the
number of wives a man could have and strongly recommended against
polygamy. The Qur’an laid out a set of marriage laws that
guarantees married women their family names, their own possessions
and capital, the right to agree upon whom they will marry, and the
right to initiate divorce. In Islam’s early period, women
were professionals and property owners, as increasingly they are
today. None of this may seem obvious to most Americans because of
cultural overlays that at times make Islam appear to be a repressive
faith toward women —but if you look more closely, you can
see the egalitarian streak preserved in the Qur’an finding
expression in contemporary terms….
Islam shares America’s
new interest in food purity and diet. Muslims conduct a
monthlong fast during the holy month of Ramadan, a practice that
many Americans admire and even seek to emulate. I happened to spend
quite a bit of time with a non-Muslim friend during Ramadan this
year. After a month of being exposed to a practice that brings some
annual control to human consumption, my friend let me know, in January,
that he was "doing a little Ramadan" of his own. I asked
what he meant. "Well, I’m not drinking anything or smoking
anything for at least a month, and I’m going off coffee."
Given this friend’s normal intake of coffee, I could not believe
Islam is tolerant of other faiths. Like America,
Islam has a history of respecting other religions. In Muhammad’s
day, Christians, Sabeans, and Jews in Muslim lands retained their
own courts and enjoyed considerable autonomy. As Islam spread east
toward India and China, it came to view Zoroastrianism, Hinduism,
and Buddhism as valid paths to salvation. As Islam spread north
and west, Judaism especially benefited. The return of the Jews to
Jerusalem, after centuries as outcasts, only came about after Muslims
took the city in 638. The first thing the Muslims did there was
to rescue the Temple Mount, which by then had been turned into a
garbage heap. Today, of course, the long discord between Israel
and Palestine has acquired harsh religious overtones.
Cont’d on page 3
| THIS MONTH'S BIT OF WISDOM AND REFLECTION:
"Kindness has converted more sinners than zeal, eloquence or
learning." - F. W. Faber