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The American Muslim


August 2002 Issue


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Islamic Government" - An Oxymoron

By T.O. Shanavas

In many Muslim majority nations, monarchies, brutal military, dictators or religious extremists force free people to confess and practice a government-approved version of faith that they call Islam. These self-righteous terrorists and tyrants want to subdue Muslims and non-Muslims alike. These enemies of freedom use their handpicked Imams to issue fatwas to validate their tyranny. Unfortunately, most of these Imams' values, and fatwas that have never been subjected to the scrutiny of a free press, are accepted as truly Islamic values in many Muslim societies. Under many such regimes, women cannot drive, own a business, or even acquire the most rudimentary education. In countries such as Saudi Arabia, religious police whip and herd the common people like camels into mosques during prayer time. When women become victims of torture and honor killing in the name of Islam, these Imams, kings and generals ignore or declare these atrocities to be isolated incidents. They claim that Islam and Muslims are protected under their "just" rule.

Muslims are quick to condemn non-Muslim societies for their human right violations. However, they are often silent when it comes to the abuse of innocent women and other members of Muslim society. In such a sad state of Muslim society, many Muslims blindly dream of a utopian "Islamic government", in much the same way as Christians anticipate the "Kingdom of God." Unfortunately, this idea of "Islamic government" is a myth created by the power-hungry to subdue Muslims and non-Muslims alike to benefit exclusively those who rule. The Qur'an unambiguously exposes the tyrants' forgery of Islam.

The Qur'an states: "Say (Muhammad, it is) truth from the Lord of you all. Whosoever will, let him believe and whosoever will, let him disbelieve" (Qur'an 18: 29) "And so, [O Prophet,] exhort them; thy task is only to exhort: thou cannot compel them to believe."(Qur'an: 21-22). "O Prophet.!…Thy duty is not more than to deliver the message; and the reckoning is Ours." (Qur'an 13:40).

These verses teach that an atmosphere of safety and liberty is an absolute necessity to the development of faith in the heart. These verses demand that Muslims guarantee freedom and safety for all. Moreover, the "reckoning" belongs to God only. Therefore, if a governments or an Imams' Fatwas demand public obedience and submission, such an enforced, outward appearance of obedience is not faith. Tyrants have no means to know what is in the heart of the individual thus subdued. When a government enforces religion, the control is over the body not over the soul. The Qur'an rejects such tyranny over the body: "It is not your meat or blood that reach Allah: It is the fealty of your heart that reaches Him" (Qur'an 22:37). Similarly, the Qur’an condemns and rejects the prayers of those Muslims who pray but refrain from the moral duties: “Have you seen him who denies the Day of Judgment? It is he who pushes the orphan away; and does not induce others to feed the needy; Woe to those who pray; but who are oblivious of their duties; who dissimilate and withhold things of common use from others.” (The Qur’an 107:1-7).

The Qur'an states: "We sent down the Torah which contains guidance and light…Later, in the train of Prophets We send Jesus, son of Mary, confirming the Torah which has been sent down before him, and gave him the Gospel containing guidance and light. …Unto to you [O Muhammad] this writ (Koran) and a way and a pattern of life, confirming what were revealed before…Unto everyone of you have We appointed a different law and way of life. And if God had so willed He could surely have you all made one single community professing one faith. But He wished to try you and test you. So try to excel in good deeds" (Qur'an: 5:44-48).

Therefore, the very existence of different kinds of faith and religion contesting one another in acts of good work is the will of God. Hence, freedom without the enforcement of conformity in religious matters is Islamic. The so-called Islamic governments of the self-righteous violate Qur'anic principles and tyrannize people of all faith including Muslims.

Allah told the Prophet (s): "…Fear not people, but fear Me (God)…" (Qur'an 5:44). Therefore, the Prophet (s) declared that human beings are free and individually accountable to God only. He preached freedom of faith. He struggled to establish a free society. Prophet Muhammad (s) functioned democratically at the request of the citizens of Medina. The Prophet (s) never forced a decision upon his community even when he believed that the majority decision on a particular secular matter was a mistake, as happened in the case of the disaster at the battle of Uhud. He and a minority of the citizens of Medina argued for the fortification of the city of Medina and planned to fight the Meccan army from within. Yet, he agreed to go along with the wishes of the majority of his followers to fight the Meccan army in open field instead of fighting from fortified Medina, even though he truly believed that the strategy of the majority was wrong. He upheld the democratic principles even when there was maximum danger to the community. This incident is an example illustrating that Islam demands Democracy, and not tyranny by Imams, Kings, self-appointed presidents, and military generals. Following the footsteps of Prophet (s), all Muslims must ardently and peacefully struggle to establish a free society. Everyone is equal and free. If any one wants to be a believer, let him/her be. If anyone wants to be an apostate let him/her be safe to live the life of an apostate.

Government is a tool to maintain communal policy. Within the framework of a democratic government, the policy of a community is generated by communal consensus. The concept of communal consensus, though valuable in establishing communal parameters, becomes irrelevant in the assessment of an individual's soul on " The Day of Judgment." What is critical in the Islamic context is faith. Faith is an exclusively personal and private experience. We embrace faith individually just as we confront our death individually. An Iranian Muslim philosopher, Souroush, correctly said that we have communal actions but not communal faith. We can express faith in public but the core of the faith is mysteriously private. The preeminence of Islamic faith is for the Hereafter where people are to be judged individually: "Everyone of them will come before Him all alone on the Day of Resurrection. Surely, Ar-Rahman will show love for those who believe and do right." [Qur'an 19:95-96]. In Islam, there is no concept of Original Sin to blight the goodness inherent in mankind; therefore, the prime criterion on the Day of Judgment is the cumulative action of the individual. The officials of a government can have faith and religious values, yet Allah (sw) judges the individual not for what the community has sanctioned as ethical, but for what the individual has chosen as honorable action. One individual cannot bear the sole responsibility for a communal decision. So on the Day of Judgment, a communal policy does not outweigh one's actions determined in the course of free will.

The function of government is enforcement. Therefore, the concept of so-called Islamic government is an oxymoron because the Qur'an is against any form of compulsion or enforcement of a particular religion. The Qur'an proclaims: "No compulsion is there in religion, for rectitude is henceforth distinct from perversity…" [Qur'an 2:256]., however, the closed minds of many contemporary Muslims at large cannot gasp this straightforward and simple message.

A community can have Islamic values. The community values do not come from the simple pronouncement of fatwas by Imams, but after comprehensive free discussion of all fatwas and opinions in a free press, without coercion and intimidation. Such open discussion and decision-making by the community are important Islamic tenets because Allah asked the Prophet (s) "…And seek their [i.e., people's] counsel in all matters of public concern…" [Qur'an 3:159].

Mistakes are possible when humans make decisions. However, the Compassionate God states: "There is no sin upon you for what mistakes you commit unintentionally, but there is sin in what your hearts have intended." [Qur'an 33:5] Unintentional mistakes happen less frequently when the mind is exposed to free press, public dialogue, and reason. Prophet taught: "Allah has not created any thing better than reason." Any Muslim who opposes a free press, public debate, and reasoning commits a sin knowingly because he/she refuses to listen to the merit or demerit of an opposing point of view.

The Quraish of Mecca rejected the Prophet (s) because they refused to listen to reason. Muslims must reject this paradigm that pervades within Muslim communities. We must free ourselves from the concept of enforced forms of outward Islam that demand conformity and submission by force. We must reject totalitarianism and monarchies that want to rule our bodies. We must let liberal democracy with the safeguard of a free press rule our "meat and blood" and let faith rule our heart and let our hearts and minds fly freely until truth based in reason pervades the earth so that there may be liberty and justice for all.

Unlike the enforced, distorted Islam of tyrants and terrorists, faith chosen freely without coercion and without forced conformity is the genuine faith. In a world where faith freely chosen fills the heart, the true religious spirit may come alive vibrantly to establish the ideal society where all people may partake of that precious freedom called choice. Early Muslim history corroborates this fact. Muslims helped Jews to create their Golden Age and helped liberate Christians from the tyranny of the Roman church. Muslim philosophy and science promoted the Enlightenment and Renaissance of Europe. Muslims also developed experimental science. In those days, Muslims educated anyone who came our way without force-feeding our faith. Now we have governments that have taken control of our body claiming to send our "meat and blood" to God while Muslims have to beg from non-Muslim societies for their daily bread to keep their body alive. Islam will remain a dream and a theory with no practical value until faith rules the hearts and liberal democracy with an accountable free press rules human "blood and meat."

I agree with Rose Wilder Lane, the daughter of Laura Ingall (of "Little House on the Prairie" fame) and author of The Discovery of Freedom. She said that in principle the American struggle against authority is only a different version of the struggle against authority of the Prophet. The democratic paradigm draws inspiration from the Qur'anic axiom that human beings are free under God. The American constitution reflects this as it states: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or the press." In America, hearts can choose their faith at the individual level. In this great nation, everyone is free to believe or disbelieve in the Day of Judgment when free human spirits face God for their individual acts and faith, not for governmental or communal sins.

American Muslims must struggle along with the rest of Americans against any threat from external or internal forces that endanger our re-discovered freedom. We must struggle for a better America without abridging freedom. America may not be the perfect utopia of Christians or Muslims, or of anybody else, but it is the most resilient nation in the contemporary world. Muslim Americans joining hands with the rest of Americans, without impinging on the freedom of others, must strive to make America a greater nation that it is now. The free Muslims of America know that America and American freedom must be protected and preserved at any cost if Muslims want to practice Islam as each Muslim understands it, not as authoritarians such as monarchs or religious bigots choose to enforce it. Finally, I thank Allah (sw) for creating America where my faith rules my heart and liberal democracy rules my "meat and blood" without enforcement to conform my Islamic practices to anyone else's Islam or vice versa.

May God Bless America and help us make it better and freer nation.

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