Tag Archives: Civil Society

Respecting and Trusting the Group Intellect: Essential Foundations in Islamic and American Democracy – Part 3

This is part three 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.

“And follow or take the best thereof”

The Qur’an establishes fard Kifayah in the selection of leadership and in mutual consultation in the affairs of the people or state: Democracy is essentially respect for the group opinion, by which we manage our community affairs. Regarding the conduct of group affairs, Allah (SWT) says in Sura Ash Shura: “Whatever ye are given (here) is but a convenience of this life: but that which is with Allah is better and more lasting: (it is) for those who believe and put their trust in their Lord; those who hearken to their Lord and establish regular prayer; who (conduct) their affairs by mutual consultation.”

The idea of integrating the group intellect into the decision making process is a hallmark of American democracy, but is by no means unique to America. Long before America, the Qur’an and the example of our Prophet laid a powerful foundation for trust in the group intellect. Once a society understands how critical respecting and trusting the group intellect are to progress, the issues of discrimination dissipate in the face of moral decency, common sense and practicality.

“Have We not made the earth (as a place to draw together)…” Al-Qur’an, 77:25

What are the implications today for integrating the group intellect in the modern society? And what are the implications for leaders seeking to solve problems, and not only solve problems, but explore and create new opportunities?  The answers lie in something the great physicist Albert Einstein said: “The significant problems we face cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.”

World Historian J. M. Roberts published a work called The Twentieth Century, The History of the World 1901 – the present published in 2001 and he gives us something else and very important to consider.  He puts forth 3 major global events or mega events or trends that shaped all others for the 20th Century and hence helped define the twentieth century and the beginning of the 21st Century. These events had a wider impact affecting more human beings than any other occurrences.

A. Population growth.  In 1901, global population was an estimated 1.6 billion persons and today we are approximately 6 billion (now today 7 billion).

B. Decentralization and shifting of world power particularly from Europe. Within Europe a shift from autocracy to democracy. At the beginning of 1901, Europe had I believe 31 constitutional monarchies…today there are two.

C. The changing role of women which has far reaching implications for an altering economic, political and social power.

Women make up more than half the world’s population.  Women are half of the creative capacity and half of our problem solving capabilities and it will become exceedingly difficult to deny half the group intellect its right of participation in the governance of its affairs…

“Then which of the favors of your Lord will you deny (Al-Qur’an, 55:38)? ”

All three of these trends fundamentally alter the capacity, contribution, character, and complexity of integration for the global group intellect and mandates a corresponding respect and urgent need for participative responsibility in decision making. Such views were echoed by Secretary General Kofi Annan that the “structures, methods and processes for global decisions must be fundamentally reviewed in light of the new world order.” All governments, societies and leaders must look at the issues of respect for the group intellect.

Despite the emphasis in my comments today on respect for the group intellect, there are some particular dangers that can upset the balance of the political contract. The political contract in Islam is structured to establish a just order designed by the group intellect respecting the common human dignity of all its citizens. The contract is designed to bring the greatest good to the greatest number using the highest principles established in the Qur’an and the example of the Prophet.

Islam’s emphasis on freedom, justice and equality shares a spiritual kinship with the values found in the documents that established this democracy. For example, in the great Declaration of Independence which was a proclamation first to be free from oppression and to have among the rights of its citizens religious freedom, we read the words: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from consent of the governed.”  These words carry the same spirit as the Ayats in Sura Shams.

Among the most common dangers that upset the balance of the political contract are the governmental denial of the G-d given rights of freedom of the individual and group intellect and what for us as an American citizenry appearing as great threats are the imposition of individual rights over societal rights to the point of endangering the nation and lastly and most egregious, seeking the removal of G-d from the political contract wherein “man thinks himself self-sufficient.” The latter two threats eviscerate common sense standards in the debate, formation and adoption of healthy public policy.

– To be continued.

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

Sincerely & respectfully,

Mukhtar

P. S. May you and your family enjoy the day of commemoration
honoring the legacy of Dr. King.

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Respecting and Trusting the Group Intellect: Essential Foundations in Islamic and American Democracy – Part 2

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,

Mukhtar

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Freedom of Speech in the Context of Human Relations and the Body Politic

“O you who believe! Stand out firmly for Allah as witnesses to fair dealings and let not the hatred of others toward you, make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just, that is next to piety. Fear Allah, indeed Allah is well-acquainted with all that you do.”
(The Noble Qur’an 5:8)

“There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (The Holy Bible, Proverbs 12:18)

“Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they cannot communicate; they cannot communicate because they are separated.”
―Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story

What has happened in our country and around the world over the last few days has to affect the sensibilities of all right-minded and right-hearted people the world over. Our prayers go out to the families and co-workers of our citizens who lost their lives and for people in other countries who lost their lives caught in the middle of protests. Civil sensibilities have also been offended by the reckless so-called free speech of the persons who produced a hateful video.

The protests by some adherents of Islam in certain places around the globe show just how much work needs to be done to usher in a true reformation of civil society in many places where governments and the body politic are in great transition…a transition to gain their proper footing as believers in Islam in a world of new technology, communication, and intellectual rights and discourse.

Intellectual discipline tempered by an ability to withstand polar opposite views that one may even find reprehensible is directly related to one’s apparent perception of a personal locus of control. That is, how much control do I have over my life and therefore control over what affects my life. If I have a real or perceived inability to affect my own life through the ballot box, education, government and societal institutions, employment and other basic human rights (including rights for women, the poor, disabled, and elderly)…if I feel leadership and institutions have failed me, then I am more likely to respond at a base level of anger and violence when a trigger is applied that irritates that underlying feeling of helplessness.

The late American Muslim leader, Imam W. Deen Mohammed (ra) while addressing a group of leaders in his community and commenting on their responsibility to the people expressed, ‘You know you can say something to someone and if that someone perceives themselves to be of a lower socio-economic status or importance than you, then you can damage them for life….you can say something to them that will hurt them terribly deep in their soul, whereas if they said the same thing to you, you might not give it a second thought [because of self confidence or your perceived personal locus of control].’ I paraphrased his comments.

I was deeply affected by the Imam’s comments. What I got from him that day was we have to be very, very careful what we say and how we say it, and to whom we say it, especially if the person or group or community we are addressing has historical circumstances or sensitivities that have traditionally put them at a disadvantage on the world stage.

The world is getting smaller and smaller and the “developed” world is now in the backyard of the “undeveloped” world and vice versa. This new and increasingly closer proximity not fathomed in the early 20th century, but now ushered in by the emergence of new technology, communication, and trade presents a new dynamic in human relations and that dynamic must be met with a corresponding sensitivity to the psychological and sociological needs of populations affected by generations of a loss of locus of control.

The true profound reformation that is needed and that I referred to earlier is a gradual process and has historically taken at least a generation. Yet if we expect to live in the here and now as a global society in peace, we have to continually find ways to understand the problems and perceptions that are foreign to us as Americans and then develop strategies that will enable others beyond our borders to arrive to where we are as a citizenry in terms of civil discourse and the ability to listen, read or view an image without becoming enraged to the point of taking a life or destroying property.

But that is not to say that as an American citizenry, we too don’t have some homework to do or room to improve with respect to enhancing our democracy and its capacity to integrate and balance free speech with responsible speech. If one person by a single video is able to strike a match and intentionally or unintentionally light a keg of civil unrest and mayhem, a keg already made flammable by pent up frustrations that are unrelated to the video, then I believe it’s time to use the same media to encourage artists, writers, producers, journalists, and everyone to use our rights responsibly.

Think about this: We have legal restrictions on our free speech rights that prevent someone from yelling fire in a crowded theater because of the consequences. But look at the consequences of this video incident in terms of the human toll and costs to governments around the world. Now I know some will say, well it’s easy to predict the proximate consequences of yelling a false fire in a crowded theater, not to mention, there is no redeeming free speech value in doing so, and there may be other legal issues involved such as a deliberate intent to endanger a person. Fire in the theater is easier to litigate and legislate.

I understand too the slippery slope concept that if we apply similar reasoning to the video in question, the problem arises wherein “no one” is qualified, legally equipped, or has a right to question, much less determine, if the video has any redeeming free speech value and more important, no one has the right to restrict its production or circulation that is predicated upon some possible proximate negative consequence. And therein lies the dilemma. I am not sure if the producer, director, and financiers of the video could be liable under a legal theory of deliberate intent to incite violence…that’s for the legal minds to figure out.

So this is what I am proposing on our side for the American citizenry and society…Let’s try something different with respect to encouraging responsible free speech that does not affect the Constitution. Maybe it’s time to have public service announcements (PSAs) just like we have for illegal and OTC drugs, alcohol, voting, seatbelts, etc.  PSA are often directed at behaviors we want to discourage or encourage. Perhaps we could have journalists, writers, producers, actors, athletes, religious leaders, public servants and other opinion shapers come across the TV, ipad, and laptop screen with the following (for example):

“I’m an American and I have the freedom to say just about whatever I want…I have a right and I’m proud of that right. But let me ask you, just because I have the right…does it mean it’s right to say it? Citizenship has its responsibilities. Be a responsible citizen…use your free speech wisely. Our expression can help or hurt.”

Just like I’m not a lawyer, you can tell I’m not a TV ad executive either. But I hope I made the point that PSAs could benefit us as a citizenry and even as a body politic. Such PSAs might even help temper back the daily and extreme political rhetoric coupled with personal attacks that bombard our airwaves. PSAs could benefit us at home in other ways too including helping to combat irresponsible free speech that reveals itself in child exploitation and derision of women.

I do not believe that a PSA will 100% eliminate irresponsible free speech, anymore than PSAs eliminate drunk driving, illegal drug use, high school dropouts, or voter apathy. What I do believe is that we have a responsibility as a society to not only encourage and protect free speech, but to encourage responsible free speech from inside our homes with our children, spouses, and relatives to outside in our local and global communities. I believe such PSAs can also help demonstrate to others beyond our borders what free speech means in our society and what limits we have placed upon ourselves to curtail it, and just as important, the encouragement we have for being responsible and thoughtful in exercising the right.

I believe a PSA approach sidesteps the traditional constitutional or legal barriers that have proven intractable in even protecting our own society from predatory and ethically challenged marketing and profiteering disguised as free speech advocacy. Our democracy doesn’t just improve based on changing laws or adding amendments to the Constitution. We can improve our democracy too by the way we think and the way we see one another and the world, and in the way we encourage one another to the highest level of conduct and expression.

No one credible believes anymore that sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.

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

Sincerely & respectfully,

Mukhtar
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