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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,

Mukhtar
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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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Model Communities Are Built First Upon Model Citizenship

“We have indeed created man in the best of molds. Then do We abase him (to be) the lowest of the low, except such as believe and do righteous deeds: For they shall have a reward unfailing.”The Noble Qur’an, 95: 1-8.

On the authority of Abu Abdul Rahmaan Abdullah (r), the son of Umar ibn al-Kattaab (r) who said: I heard the Messenger of Allah (s) say: “Islam is built upon five [pillars]: testifying that there is none worthy of worship except Allah (the Creator of the heavens and the earth) and that Muhammed is the Messenger of Allah, establishing the prayers, giving charity, making pilgrimage to the House and fasting the month of Ramadan.”

“We can’t rise up in the eyes of the world as a civilized Community, and a productive people while carrying chinchilla coats, Super-Fly pimps, sissies, dope peddlers, wine drinkers and vulgar talkers who are just satisfied to stand on the corner and talk nasty for 16 hours, go home and sleep eight hours, get up and get right back on the job again and talk nasty for another 16 hours. Dear beloved people, we can’t get up like that. And I’m telling you, we can’t accept the responsibility to change until we know how we got in this shape…We talk about the cruelty of the slave-master, years ago, and we don’t want our people to forget that cruelty but some of us are meting out cruelty to each other that equals the cruelty that the slave-master was meting out to us in those days of physical bondage. How are we going to rise? We can’t rise until we strip off this kind of self-inflicting ignorance and filth that we have on us that’s maiming us physically, morally and spiritually.”—Imam Dr. W. Deen Mohammed (ra)

“When we consider the ten million American Negroes from the standpoint of their daily conduct and personal morality, what sort of folk are they?”Morals and Manners among Negro Americans by Augustus Dill and W. E. Burghardt Du Bois

Is there more than one way to build a model community? The answer is likely yes, since there is usually more than one acceptable way to accomplish the same desired outcome. This week we examine how model citizenship can be a fundamental strategy and an interim step to building a model community.

For many persons, the model community evokes physical infrastructure like buildings and streets and the bustling activity that characterizes a successful community. Moreover, the vision of the model community extends even to ownership of the physical infrastructure. But for the purpose of this discussion, I’d like us to focus on the more fundamental component of the model community and it is of course the model citizen which I propose is a prerequisite to model community. That is the person who has to live, thrive and help support a model community and in turn be supported by that model community, must first invest in the concept of model citizenship.

To more fully appreciate the idea of model citizenship as a prerequisite, we have to expand the concept of model community.

If we embrace the notion that the “potential” model community extends beyond just our faith community, but in fact is much broader and encompasses our neighborhood and city, then we begin to see the power in the concept of model citizenship as a stepping stone to model communities.

Let me give a practical example. Let’s say as far as your faith is concerned, you are the only person or family in a defined geographical area of a particular community or town. How would you go about building the model community there? And what do you envision by the term “model community?” If it means faith-based, ethnic or other identity-based ownership of the buildings and streets and personal operation of the major centers of productivity are the attributes or tell-tell signs that you have attained the model community, then how would you accomplish that given your available human and material resources? How much time would it take you to reach your goal of establishing the model community?

Now paradigm shift…what if the model community was already there, but just lying dormant in the status quo? In other words, is it possible that by your influence as a productive citizen modeling high standards in:

family life, business and employment relations, educational commitment and achievement, cultural expression, interfaith relations, volunteerism and civic commitment, personal financial management, health and wellness, and
other aspects of an “individual” community life, that you could usher in the model community?

What might “high standards” resemble for the above referenced model citizenship?

Well in family life for example, our commitment to our marriages and parenting would be viewed by others in the broader community as a model of excellence. There is no infidelity and domestic violence. No out of wedlock pregnancy. Our children wouldn’t be in the criminal justice system or involved with drugs, or absent from the academic rigors of school life, and they wouldn’t be teenage single parents with their own at risk children headed for statistical failure and a generational cycle of learned helplessness. We’d look out for our elderly, sick and disabled…that’s just for starters.

In business or employment relations, we would be a productive member of our community, gainfully employed or employing others in an honest day’s work. There would be no criminal activity for the purpose of earning a living. There would be a demonstrated commitment to career development.

In the educational arena, as parents we would be committed to constant and continuous self-improvement in any area of learning including self-help, faith-based curriculum, and enrollment in community college to doctoral programs for educational attainment. As parents we would in turn be modeling to our children the importance of learning and self-improvement. Our children would in turn be striving for excellence in the classroom and developing a life-long commitment to learning.

Our faith would be reflected in our cultural expression in what we say, how we dress, what entertainment venues we frequent. There would obviously be no profanity and ethnic disparagement of our own or another’s ethnic group or gender; we wouldn’t wear our pants below the buttocks or our skirt line nearly to our waist and there would obviously be no loud profane music thumping at the most extreme decibel from our ride or living room window; we wouldn’t be at nightclubs and consuming alcohol or drugs and potentially subjecting ourselves to the legal issues of intoxicated driving or drug use and the consequent system of criminal justice and corrections. Others would view our cultural expression as a model and they would want to see, hear, and read our poems, music, literature, plays, and rap and they’d want to sample our cuisine free of poor food choices and be in our entertainment environment free of cigarettes and other health robbing practices.

Our circle of friends (not wali) would include people of other faiths and ethnicities because we realize that in reality, we’re all part of the model community. And the more we know one another and can empathize with one another, the more special and considerate the model community would be for everyone. We would also have the greater potential benefit of hearing perhaps first hand from someone with beyond-our-national-borders-experience share what it’s really like “over there” as compared to the nightly news broadcast here.

Our civic involvement would be sought from the school board to the Mayor’s office because of the goals and standards we have set and live by in other areas of our life. Others would appreciate our participation and leadership because of how we accept responsibility for our personal and community life.

On the personal financial front, we would be neither niggardly nor ostentatious. We’d live modestly appreciating: homeownership over fancy cars, designer clothes and renting; delayed gratification and saving over instant “have to have now” buying habits with usurious interest; saving for the succeeding generation’s college expenses while they’re teething; and planning for emergency savings and long term goals including our last rites and the welfare of our family in the event of our unexpected loss.

Now remember, standards set the ideal state. If I haven’t reached my ideal, then I shouldn’t lower the standard. I should just admit I have not met my ideal standard and I should keep working for the ideal and improving upon the status quo every day, every week, every month and every year.

Imagine the model citizenship envisioned above in any community setting–that type of citizenship has the power to influence the existing standard. In fact, by the record of history, one model citizen can change an entire village, town, country, nation, and the world.

So I don’t have to own every brick, factory, and store to accomplish building the model community from the ground up. In fact, if I did wind up owning the bricks, factory and the store, but in the process I lose my children and family life to the same negative influences affecting many in the broader society…you know crime, drugs, divorce, domestic violence, teen and out of wedlock pregnancy, and poor education, etc., while I was sharply focused on building the model community, then what good would the model community be?

What’s the trend in your area while you’ve been working on building the model community? Have you been able to establish and sustain model citizenship while you’re trying to bring into existence the model community?

Islam is built on five pillars. The model community is also built on pillars–you and me. Let us be pillars in our existing community first…it’ll then be easier to build that model community. I’m just saying, first things first.

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

Sincerely & respectfully,

Mukhtar
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