Patriotism, Politics and Islam in U.S.
To pledge or not to pledge, that is the question. The quandary regarding just how patriotic should the American Muslim be, or shouldn't be, is complex at best, absolutely mind-boggling at worst. Does good old flag waving, ground kissing, American patriotism contradict Islam? And as for the American Muslim, is he or she better off assuming the mantle of national pride? Or should we hold fast to the ever-elusive notion of "we are all Muslims and we are all in this together". Should immigrant Muslims possess a different patriotism agenda than indigenous American Muslims? Perhaps some of these questions need to be answered first before we go off trying to out do Americans in being American as suggested by some of the national Muslim organizations that claim to represent American Muslims.
This whole patriotism issue needs to be elucidated before we as Muslims decide or have someone decide for us, whether and to what extent we are to be patriotic. Traditionally many American born Muslims have taken the bulk of their politics from immigrant Muslim scholars and laypeople who purported to tell them how to view their own country. There was a time when scholars used to come to the United States (or simply call on the phone) and tell us, don't get involved with American politics! It's haram! Or don't join the armed forces! Hate the government! Hate America! Even today, there are Muslims scholars who have declared it a moral duty upon every Muslim to wage war against America. I have a problem with the war on America thing. When the Pentagon was bombed on September 11th my mother lived less than ten miles away from there. I don't know about you, but if someone was to bomb my mother, I'd be ready to kick somebody's butt. Still I do not support the wholesale xenophobic way in which we are engaging in the war on terrorism and I do not feel any more or less patriotic because of my feelings.
Patriotism has its merits. Imam Warithu Deen Muhammad was one of the first American Muslim leaders to realize this. He allowed the prominent display of the American flag in masaajid under his watch. I didn't agree with the flag in the masjid then and I'm not sure if I agree with it now but I do understand the reasoning behind it. In fact as a group, the community under him heralded mass political involvement by American Muslims although others who came later tried to claim credit for this. It wasn't until some of the immigrant dominated organizations such as AMA, MPAC, CAIR, and others saw the benefit of their own self-interests in being involved in national politics that they started to push Muslims living in the United States towards patriotism and political involvement. They even stretched the envelope by claiming to represent the "American Muslims" .
There was a time in the past, and even now, when a Muslims Islamic perspective of the world was made through interpretation of the immigrant sheikh, who declared that America was evil, and kuffaar, and thus, an enemy to Islam. People would convert to Islam and over night; start to hate America, Americans, the west, the government and so on. American Muslims were willing to discard their sense of nationalism in order to be in solidarity with their Muslim brothers and sisters from abroad. We took the attitude that "if you guys don't like America, then we are your Muslim brothers and we don't like her either". You never used to hear references such as, "we are American Muslims" in exclusion of the other immigrant Muslims. On the contrary, we tried to be one and the same with them. Now it is paradoxically apparent that immigrant and American Muslims have separate political and patriotism agendas.
Patriotism has many forms and it means different things to different people. This is why you cannot orchestrate it in the way that MPAC urged when they directed American Muslims to go out and celebrate the fourth of July. If I tell American Muslims to go out and celebrate July 4th what am I telling them to do? Go out and wave some flags? Watch fireworks? Have a barbeque? Protest? All of the above? I think this approach is telling the American Muslims to go out and make fools of themselves again. Are we supposed to go out and proclaim on stage how much we love America? Such a gratuitous display of feigned patriotism only re-enforces the view of Muslims as desperate for acceptance into this society and as a people who have a hidden agenda. Hey don't get me wrong, I love to go out and watch spectacular displays of fireworks and who wouldn't like a day off from work on July 4th but I'm not going to have someone else tell me how patriotic I should or shouldn't be.
The need to be patriotic is not universal amongst Muslims living in the United States. For some immigrants, the imaginary need to ingratiate themselves to mainstream American society through gratuitous displays of patriotism makes sense. However for indigenous American Muslims it is a matter of choice, not of necessity, which in reality, is what patriotism is all about. The freedom that exists in the United States is not only the freedom to wave the flag; it is the freedom not to. I recently took a drive across the country with my wife. Upon witnessing the splendor of Allah's creation in this country with the majestic mountains, the crystal clear lakes, the miles and miles of wide-open spaces, notwithstanding the friendly people in the small towns of America that we encountered along the way, I admit, I did feel a sense of pride about my country. Yet I didn't feel compelled to sing God bless America or to slap a decal of the American flag on the back of our car.
I submit that I have no conclusive answer on how or whether to be or not to be patriotic, however I would start by taking a balanced approach by avoiding the two extremes of either being devoutly patriotic for no good reason and the extreme of being assiduously anti-American without an Islamically correct moral compass. The absurdity of adhering to a determinate political philosophy other than Islam is obvious. Whether to be or not to be patriotic should be based upon the merits of how it affects us as Muslims here in America. Not how it affects us as blacks, as whites, as Arabs, as Pakistanis, as immigrants, as indigenous or any other way. The prophet (SAWS) has said: "None of you (truly) believes until his whims (hawaa) agrees with what I've come with". A prominent African American imam, Zaid Shaakir recently remarked at an MSA conference that, Muslims living in America need to detach ourselves to a degree from the issues that affect Muslims in the Middle East and in other parts of the world. Some people took umbrage at the statement; however, given the nature of today's global politics it makes sense. True, there are real tragedies occurring against Muslims in Palestine, Kashmir, and other places. However, America is not the only culprit; we ourselves are in complicity regarding our dismal condition around the world. All over the world Muslim leaders are making their own deals and machinations with our government. There are all sorts of pay offs, corruption, sellouts, espionage and cloak and daggerism going on without our knowledge. We'd be better of distancing ourselves from that in order to gain some social Islamic balance here in the United States
There are two ways that we need to look at the issue. First it has to be looked at in an Islamically collective way and secondly it has to be looked at in an Islamically personal way. Collectively, the United States offers many benefits and opportunities to Muslims to not only practice a great deal of Islam, but to establish Islamic communities that bring out the true universal spirit of our faith. To that end I can see us loving this country to a degree, or at least liking it a whole lot. Whether we take advantage of this opportunity or squander it is up to us. This does not however eliminate the need or the right to be critical of the decline in morality in issues such as same sex marriage, abortions, implicit and explicit sexuality in the media and entertainment industries etc. Nor does it relieve us of our obligation to invite to the path of Allah using wisdom and good rhetoric. And throughout all this we can still be patriotic if we want to. Not because it is necessary to achieve a green card or acceptance by the mainstream but because we are compelled to feel so by the way the environment is treating us. There is an old saying "you do not bite the hand that feeds you" .
For indigenous American Muslims, we do not have a homeland to return to. This is our home like it or not. Sure, we can make hijra to another Muslim country if we dare, however there are not many Muslims countries that will accept a mass exodus of Muslims, especially African American Muslims. And if they did, it is very unlikely that we would have anywhere near the amount of freedoms that we have living in the United States. After the gulf war, Kuwait started deporting Palestinians because of their support for Sadaam Hussain, and they were Arab. Just think of how they would treat American Muslims negroes if they became angry with them over an issue.
In a personal sense if you find that you are able to get a job, buy or rent a house, go to the movies, buy goods and services for your family, have good neighbors with no one saying hey, you Muslims cannot do that here! Then there is no harm in being kind and just and even loyal to the country that extends such latitude in spite of your religion. As Allah has said: "Allah forbids you not, with regard to those who fight you not for (your) Faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them: for Allah loveth those who are just" 60:8, al-Mum'tahina.
In general Americans don't have a big problem with Muslims, more and more we are being conditioned to accept other cultures. Our government on the other hand, has a notorious history. You can be as patriotic as you want to be, but if the government or a branch of it sets upon a path against you or if you are somehow in the way of their plans, your flag waving and chorus of God bless America won't stop them. If we can unleash agent orange, the cancer causing chemical defoliant against our own military, the very people who were supposed to be fighting for our freedom during the Vietnam war, then poor Joe Abdullah Muslim who breaks his neck being patriotic is an even more likely candidate to be a casualty of an errant, unfair or destructive government policy or initiative.
The bottom line is if we really love the country, want to be patriotic and want America to be a better place, we should adopt the true, unbiased, non-divisional, morally upright brand of Islam. We should take on some of the moral issues of the day and be concerned about the environment, help eradicate poverty and homelessness by zakat, develop alternative education based upon the worship of one God, Allahu subhanahu wa ta'ala. The issue of Palestine is a worthy one. However Americans won't remember you for it. They will remember you for living the true spirit of Islamic solidarity.
On the other hand if you do not love the country or if you in fact hate America, you have the freedom to do so as long as your hate does not push you towards transgression. As Allah has said: "O ye who believe! stand out firmly for Allah, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to Piety: and fear Allah. For Allah is well-acquainted with all that ye do". 5:8 al-Maa'ida. Although patriotism and love of country may have its role in our lives as American Muslims; the first loyalty of a Muslim still remains to Allah. Rather than be driven by the reactionary tendencies of the day, we should strive in being ourselves, being Muslims, and if that takes us towards a sense of patriotism, then so be it. If it takes us otherwise then verily we are from Allah and to Him we shall return.
I suppose that ultimately we all have our own interpretation of patriotism based upon our own experiences, history, race, ethnicity, education, social status, visa status and other determinants. However we need to ask ourselves a very important question. Should we all as Muslims in America seek our own piece of Americana based upon our own individual, racial, social, ethnic, and immigration needs? Or should we consolidate as Muslims living in America and pursue a course of patriotism that agrees with Islam, benefits the whole and not tainted by our own sectarianism? America touts itself as "one nation under God". When will we as Muslims learn to be "one people under Allah"?
Imam Abu Laith Luqman A. Ahmad is the Imam of Masjid Ibrahim in Sacramento, California. He can be reached at [email protected] or through the Masjid web site at: www.masjidibrahim.com.
Please, also visit "www.alrisala.org". And read intellectually thought-provoking articles written by Muslim thinker and scholar Moulana Wahiduddin Khan.
I always and everyday visit "www.alrisala.org" and read his articles. You people,too,will be grown intellectually.
P.S. Dear editor, can you, please, add www.alrisala.org in your link section or page.
thank Allah that he has allowed us to live in a country where we can follow his religion without
being persecuted. In addition, we have been blessed to live a fairly comfortable life where almost
everyone who wants to earn a living can.
Furthermore, we can discuss and educate others about Islam without fear of reprisals. Where else
in the world can a Muslim recieve so much in blessings from Allah? Saudia Arabia? Kuwait?
Iraw? Eqypt? These countries are among the most oppresive in the world and their leaders would
not hesitate to imprison anyone who disagrees with thier version of ISLAM.
Let's show our appreciation to America and ecourage the high ideals which allow us to live here.
If we claim to follow the right path, lets show it through our actions, behavior and acts of
kindness. Not through hatred and contempt of the very people who have been kind enough to
allow us to reside in their country.
It will take time, and a lot of patience from all muslims in America.
I find the attitudes and behavior of African American Muslims to be troubling when they go on about how they are superior because they are "true" Americans. This argument should not be a dividing point. After all, it is the immigrants from the Middle East, Asia, and everywhere else that came here by choice.
I implore everyone who passes this way to read this memo, as what may be the most poingnant way of expressing my sentiments exactly (as a white American), from the mouth of a Muslim living in America. I only wish that I had found this article through Islamicity. It couldn't be said more clearly. Because most of the time I feel, as I read the articles here and the comments that are posted in regards to the articles, that in reference to the plight of Muslims in Palestine, and the treatment of Muslims in India, that everyone just wants to sweep under the rug how all over the Islamic world, atrocities are being (and have been for centuries) commited against Muslims by Muslims. I will say it again and again... if you are Muslim, and live in America, and you have a problem with our patriotism, take what you have learned in our country and go back to the Middle East to help your breathren by educating them, consoling them and for Christ's sake, teach them to love one another for the benefit of all man kind.
It was interesting to read your article, however I find it strange that you could imply thet it is easier to live in a Kufar country then to make Hijrah to a Muslim country, when it is not allowed to stay in these countries unless on the condition that you are giving Dawah!! Making Hijrah possibly is daunting, but we should put our trust in Allah and have the right intention with the hope that He will make it easy for us, and in the meantime while we are waiting do our best to give dawah to the people in the land that we live in; not by integrating with them (as this will only weaken your religion) but by having good manners and showing Islam in its true form. Also there should only be one Ummah, we shouldn't segregate ourselves as we are all equal in the sight of Allah, I feel saying American muslims and non American Muslims will only create a divide.Just one more point visiting the Movies is Haraam as you are mixing and also possibly watching things that are forbidden in Islam.
Inshallah I hope you understand that I felt I needed to say this,
I agree with most the vast majority of your statements. However, I must disagree with you and concur with a previous comment. Yes, Palestine is a worthy issue and I believe not only will America remember you but the world will remember you. Let's not forget the 11th hour push by then Pres. Clinton to bring a resolution to the conflict. Part of his motivation was to improve his legacy given all of the unwanted baggage he gathered as president. Most of our improvements should be refocused on domestic issues but the international issues should not be foresakened in the process.
May Allah (SWT) bless you for your good words.
I cannot express how beneficial this article was to me. I have struggled to define where I as an African-American Muslim stands in our country, the United States. You want to be one with your brothers and sisters abroad and understand their background and perspective. Yet I am a product of this society that many condemn. My roots are here. My ancestors' background is here in America. I love where I live, I enjoy my life here. Given the opportunity, I may live overseas, but most likely I'd prefer America. My point is that to me this is not such a bad place. It has its flaws, but what country doesn't. As a Muslim, as a human it is our duty to stand against the social ills of society. When I look at the world's problems, I feel helpless. After reading your article I feel that I should continue to be open to the struggles of my brothers and sisters abroad, but recognize and work through the struggles that exist here in our home. Yes home, because that's what it is. It is time that many of recognize this fact. Finally, I have.
Christian fundamentalist extremists are the ones fanning the flames of war. They are true terrorists and traitors to our nation.
YOUR BROTHER :AHMED MATTAR