Yasir Qadhi, Dean of Academic Affairs for AlMaghrib Institute spoke on July 4th at the ISNA convention about his belief and vision for the American Muslim community and the need for renewed ijtihad in the area of Muslim loyalties to a nation-state.
As a specialist in Islamic theology, Qadhi’s talk revolved around what he believes to be one of the most controversial topics today amongst Muslim theologians: the concept of al walaa wal baraa i.e. the issue of “where do our loyalties as Muslims living in non-Muslim western secular democracies lie.” He believes that the classical distinctions of dar ul Islam/dar ul harb are no longer viable or applicable in a world dominated by mostly secular nation-states and that a new thinking and ijtihad must be undertaken by the scholars of today to formulate a more pragmatic and realistic vision. A more extensive discussion on this issue can be found here: Divided Loyalties or Imagined Conflicts?
Qadhi criticized the Bush Doctrine of “either you are with us or against us,” which presents an incorrect and false dichotomy, particularly because America is supposed to have a “government of the people, for the people, and by the people.” A simple cursory reading of American history can serve as a useful reminder and refutation to those that believe the United States was founded as a Christian nation:
In 1790, George Washington responded to a letter from a rabbi at the first synagogue in Rhode Island by saying:
The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for giving to Mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.
It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection, should demean themselves as good citizens.
And Washington concluded by saying:
May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.
May the father of all mercies scatter light and not darkness in our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in his own due time and way everlastingly happy.
In 1797, after Senate ratification, John Adams signed the Treaty of Tripoli to resolve the Barbary pirate issue. As a side note, more than 200 years later the issue of African piracy, albeit on a different coast, is still in the news.
Article 11 of the treaty states:
As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.
And Thomas Jefferson, one of the founding fathers, authored the Virginia Statue for Religious Freedom in 1779, which was enacted in 1786, by the Virginia General Assembly. This statue guaranteed religious freedom for all and freedom from the imposition of religion upon others.
Qadhi continued by saying that the classical opinions of al walaa wal baraa may have been perfectly valid in the time they were formed, but they are not so useful in the modern context, when applied to countries founded upon principles of a separation between church and state, and where every individual can freely exercise his or her conscience and religious beliefs.
Dr. Hatem Bazian, the lecturer from California, opined that many Muslims, “don’t feel America is their country.” They associate America with kufr, and taking the oath of citizenship or the pledge of allegiance or voting in elections as exiting the fold of Islam. For some, it is as though the individual is “joining the Quraysh” of Makkah that fought, persecuted, and expelled the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam).
As recent events continue to demonstrate, Muslim youth have to contend with confusing messages coming from various spheres in the Muslim community that vie for credibility and authenticity in order to form an identity and to validate their place in the world. It’s a struggle that has extreme elements on both ends and makes the forces of moderation that much more important. It is a struggle that we cannot afford to lose to those on either side, the struggle, in our time, will be to to forge ahead upon the middle path.
Muslim Matters: Isolation to Integration: Befriending our America – Part I