Respecting and Trusting the Group Intellect: Essential Foundations in Islamic and American Democracy – Part 1

The following comments were delivered in April 2004 before visiting dignitaries and leaders from Afghanistan as part of an official U.S. State Department visit. The presentation’s purpose was to compare the elements of democracy established in Islam with the compatible values of representative democracy established in modern American society.  The issues of diversity, tolerance, and pluralism are pragmatic characteristics of a more fundamental issue for all: How society values, respects and utilizes its group intellect.  The remarks include how our U.S. Constitution and other founding documents reflect Qur’anic principles of leadership and responsible government.

Dear Believers, leaders, Muslim brothers, As-Salaamu-Alaikum. With Allah’s Name, The Gracious, The Compassionate, Beneficent and Merciful Benefactor, Merciful Redeemer. We witness that He is One, The Creator of the Heavens and the Earth. That there is no partner with Him in the rule of the Heavens and Earth.  He is G-d Alone. And we witness that Muhammad is His Servant and Messenger (SAW), and what follows of that traditional salutation to the Last Prophet, The Seal of the Prophets.

I thank Allah (SWT) for granting what is a great honor to share in dialogue with you, our brothers and leaders from Afghanistan, particularly such distinguished group of leaders and scholars.  We are aware of your struggles and are witnesses to the resilience of the believers (the people) there and their desire to be free to control their destiny and contribute to the best of the global intellect.  It is our prayer that Allah (SWT) grant you the strength and wisdom to succeed under your new constitution, and with the leadership of President Karzai, his administration, the leadership of you who are visiting with us here and your fellow representatives, and finally with the constructive help of the world community.  I want to thank Habjiax and the International Resource Center for planning and supporting this wonderful opportunity.

I have prepared just a few comments to share with you and I pray that Allah (SWT) will allow me to say only what is helpful and best for us and I plan to leave as much time as possible for an exchange of questions or observations.

I have read the objectives for your visit and reviewed your national itinerary, and wish to address my comments on the recurring themes of diversity, pluralism, and tolerance and to address these elements within the larger discussion of Respect and Trust for the Group Intellect. I believe such a discussion is important to begin appreciating how important this element is in the ethos of American democracy and how it prepares the path to a great future for Islam in America.  Consequently, American Muslims are obligated as others are to contribute as citizens and leaders in promoting the best of this democratic tradition that forms a major part of the “American Dream.”

Let me preface my comments in this area with the acknowledgment that I am honored to be a student of Imam Warithudeen Mlohammed, a Muslim American leader who through his love for Allah (SWT) and His Messenger (S) has dedicated his life and has worked for many decades to help bring millions of Americans to Al-Islam. He is a leader for international interfaith cooperation, economic development and human rights.  It is through his leadership and tafsir that I and millions of others have learned Al-Islam, the Miracle of the Qur’an and the Life Example of Muhammad (S) and the practical application and wisdom of these sources in the management of our affairs and lives.  I have some gifts for you that include introductions to Imam Mohammed and his work in bringing Al-Islam into the mainstream of American religious practice.

In 2001 (prior to 9/11) I was on Hajj and while at the Prophet’s (S) Mosque in Medina, I was approached by many Muslims from several countries who once they learned I was from the U.S., eagerly asked me about being a Muslim in America.  Specifically, they were  curious as to whether I was able to practice Islam freely.  My response was perhaps as surprising to them as their question was to me.   I told them that certainly I can practice my religion, that there are perhaps as many as 8 million Muslims or more in the U.S. and that we have masajid, schools all over the country.  That Muslims were in the military, government, business, indeed all sectors of American life.. That we have Muslim lawyers, judges, a mayor at that time and now we have 2 or 3 mayors I believe now and that we not only practiced Islam, but that Islam is the fastest growing faith in America and predicted to be the 2nd largest religion early in this century.  And that because of these facts, Islam shall play a greater role in shaping the future of America.

They were astounded….they had no idea of the diverse presence of Islam in America. And it is one example of the misconceptions most Muslims probably have about America, just as many Americans have misconceptions about Islam and what its presence means here.

On the one hand, there I was performing the Hajj and seeking to dispel false notions among fellow Muslims about what it means to be American when only a few months later (post 9/11), I would be addressing fellow Americans about what it means to be Muslim.  Such a position inherently means to me that American Muslims may be in the best position to bridge divisions separating East and West. And that this bridge is perhaps the best hope for the peace that G-d wants for us all. And it may be a greater burden even upon the descendants of America’s ex-slaves who are now Muslims and who have seen two sides of America. That is my belief.

How will Muslims play a greater role in shaping the future of America?

The answer is in the same way that others have in the past based on our society’s respect and trust in its group intellect as given is such documents as the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the Pledge of Allegiance, and our Constitution. What is this concept of a group intellect I refer to and why is it important?

In our personal lives, we use 3 sources of authority to manage our affairs: The Qur’an, the life example of Muhammed (S), and our intellect (Fiqh, Ijmah-ul Ummah, Shuraiyat, Mushwara, Ilm ul Kalam, ijtihad). In Al-Islam, human intellect is the third source for decision-making which we use to understand and apply the first two sources. And G-d has given man this intellect as a gift according our Prophet. From Al-Hadith: G-d has not created anything better than reason, or anything more perfect or more beautiful than reason.  The benefits which G-d gives are on its account and understanding is by it; and G-d’s displeasure is caused by it. And by it are rewards and punishments. Verily a man has performed the pillars and all good deeds; but he will not be rewarded but in proportion to the sense he employs.”

And we all know G-d says to us many times to us in Sura Ar Rahman: And which of the favors of your lord will ye deny?. It is important then for leadership not to deny a gift of G-d and that is the right of the individual expression and the voice of the people. And G-d trusts Man.  He believes in man, His khalifah. Gd says in Al-Shams: “By the Soul, and the proportion and order given to it and its enlightenment as to its wrong and its right; truly he succeeds that purifies it, and he fails that corrupts it.”

When we make decisions as a group, we use the same 3 sources (2 remain constant). the third changes due to composition of the intellect. The affairs of the state or the community no longer rest solely upon my opinion, but rather with the consensus of the group opinion. A political structure is not given in Qur’an. Because the political structure evolves through the group intellect. G-d commands us to use the process of consultation to establish the politic.

How did America’s political structure and emphasis on Democracy develop?

Well it grew first out of their experience with an oppressive Church which stifled intellectual development and debate, reinforced class differences, and denied general education for the masses. However, dissatisfaction while serving as a motivator cannot suffice as a blueprint for changing one’s circumstances.

Some claim our country’s commitment to democracy is based exclusively on Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman models or principles, but more properly and by the evidence, the founding fathers were influenced by the global group intellect which includes the known historical group intellect influenced by Al-Islam.

Islam and Muslim countries were understood by the American population from the point of view of the “Other,” some Founding Fathers made serious efforts to educate themselves about Islam and its civilizations. Many of the Founding Fathers were not as uninformed about Islam as are the rest of us, even today. Indeed, some made a special effort to read about Islam and related ancient civilizations.[29] Thomas Jefferson’s library contained at least one copy of the Qur’an and was rich with books about ancient civilizations, including Islamic ones. [30] Jefferson appeared to consider his knowledge of these matters important for the development of the American model of political governance. In that approach, he was not alone.

Another of our early presidents, Madison, for example, read about ancient confederacies before formulating his own proposal for a federal system in the United States.

– To be continued.

Left open for further thought and research…Peace until next time.

Sincerely & respectfully,

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Editor’s Note: This post has been updated from its original posting for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

About Mukhtar Muhammad

Mukhtar Muhammad is author of the critically acclaimed Genesis of New American Leadership: A Muslim Commentary...the first socio-political and religious commentary on the tenets of effective leadership based on the principles of Islam, the commentary of contemporary religious scholars and American management philosophy. The recipient of numerous academic, professional, and military achievement awards, the former enlisted & commissioned naval officer is the product of a visionary leadership that recognizes the "Muslim American dream" is deeply rooted in the American Dream of not only "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” but also "one nation under G-d indivisible with liberty and justice for all." The company vice president, national speaker and management consultant and national non-profit executive director holds bachelors and masters degrees in four business concentrations including systems management, marketing, business management and human resources development and has served at the highest levels of leadership for the American Muslim Community.
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