This is part two of a presentation 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.
America was founded only about 228 years ago. Thus the leaders fashioning this new government had the benefit of global history from both civilized and uncivilized man. We had the history of power and authority exercised by kings, tsars, and queens, shahs, sheikhs, sultans, khans and rajahs, conquistadors, popes, emperors and governors. Empires and dynasties from the Heng to the Ottoman Empire had already been established. The Renaissance and Crusades had already occurred. Egypt, Rome and Greece had already fallen and the last of the great Abrahamic Traditions and its Prophet had already changed the world. The West already had the history of granting Women rights and including them in the group intellect and making them spiritually and intellectually equal under Islam. Islam’s not mere tolerance, but indeed valuation of intellectual pursuit and appreciation for the faith of others became a hallmark for all societies to emulate.
We already had the history of how Muhammed (S) sounded the death knell to slavery, racism and elitism as his administration and those of the Sahaba reflected the diversity of nationalities and varying levels of socio-economics; this history was underscored by the proclamation that there is no superiority of one race over another.
Muhammed (S) gave us a spirit for studying the material world and preserving the fruits of man’s global intellect and sharing it equitably through the establishment of public education…continually expanding the capacity of the individual and group intellect in its ability to read Qur’an and decipher the material world.
The triumph of Muslim Spain 700-1492, before Spanish Catholics expelled Jews and Muslims, was part of the global historical record and the group intellect. At Cordoba, Mali and Timbuktu, the world had already witnessed interfaith cooperation and government wherein there was freedom of religion. Ironically, while the Crusades were being waged, Christian scholars were studying the vast holdings of the great Cordova libraries-translations and works that canonized Western tradition. In the West, scientists knew of Averroes (Ibn Rushd) and Avicena (Ibn Sina) and Maimoniedes (Mus Ibn Maymun) all contemporaries who believed Reason need not be in conflict with Revelation. The Islamic contribution to the Western Renaissance is part of the historical record.
There is strong evidence that the America’s Founding Fathers were familiar with and directly influenced by Islam, the Qur’an and Mohammed! And that they were inspired to create a great vision for the future that they themselves were at the time incapable of or unwilling to live up to. And that’s okay, because “man plans and G-d plans and G-d is the Best of Planners.” So the West and the Founding Fathers knew Islam and they also knew the oppressive church at that time that stifled individual and group intellect.
It is known also that American Muslim slaves, many of whom were literate and assigned to house as opposed to field duties, worked in the homes of the aristocracy which would have allowed Muslim slaves to have increased contact with their “masters.” Some of the Founding Fathers had meaningful contact with Muslim subjects; this is not idle speculation.
There are other connections in the history of America that has paved the way for Islam to take its rightful place as a powerful force for good in the lives of the people:
– Among the slaves that came to America’s shores were many Muslims who helped build this country with free labor and with their lives.
– Among Spain’s Christopher Columbus’ crew were Muslims. Columbus was credited with discovering America.
– As Muslims, we have a strong connection with our nation’s democratic ethos. The first country to recognize the United States’ Independence was a Muslim Country–Morocco. The first U.S. President wrote directly to Emperor Muhammad III of Morocco in the “Treaty of peace and Friendship signed in 1787. Renewed in 1836, it remains the longest unbroken treaty in U.S. history.
– Muslims from eastern Europe and China, and other countries immigrated to this country in the 19th and 20th century and now their offspring are here and contributing as citizens. All praises are due to Allah (SWT). Today:
– The U.S. Senate and House has opened with Al-Fatihah and other State legislatures.
– The U.S. Postal Service issued the Commemorative Eid Stamp honoring our holy days of Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Adha
– Muslims are acceding to political office…and it’s just the beginning.
– To be continued.
Left open for further thought and research…Peace until next time.
Sincerely & respectfully,
Editor’s Note: This post has been updated from its original posting for accuracy and comprehensiveness.