Reflections of an American Muslim

(Shahid Athar , M. D.)

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I have been asked to comment on the subject of mixing religion and politics in Islam and how my religion helps me make political decisions. Before I go any further on this subject, I must define our concept of religion and God. To some, religion may be a way of worship or doing some rituals for the God. For us, our religion is a way of life which teaches us not only how to worship Him, but how to deal with others and how to conduct ourselves during our journey on this planet. In Islam, there is no separation of Church and State as I will explain later The concept of God is not only that of the Creator, but also the Law Giver and Sustainer. We do believe that after creating the human being, He left the human being on earth to decide for himself or herself what he or she wanted or how he or she should govern himself or herself. But the human being was created with a definite purpose as stated in various verses of the Quran. In the beginning, we learn when God says, "I will create Adam as vicegerent on earth." A vicegerent is like a deputy administrator or assistant principal who does not make his own rules, but continues the rules and laws of his boss. In fact, the human being was placed on earth to establish the rule of God. In the second place, we learn when God says, "I have created human beings and jinn only to worship Me."

Now the word "worship" is a comprehensive word that not only includes the ritual of worship, but also obeying God in every possible way, submitting to His will as much as possible. In the third place, God says, "I have created life and death so that I can test which one of you is best in conduct." Now if there is a life hereafter and if there is a heaven and hell, there has to be a criteria of who will go where. Thus we believe that we are being tested throughout our life how we conduct ourselves. In Islam, the real ruler of the State, then, whether called king or president, is God himself. The elected official we call the president or the prime minister, is only second in command since he himself has to follow the rule of God. Thus the elected official is not only accountable to the public or the people who elected him, but to his creator to whom he has to return to give an account of his deeds. The broader sense of this caretaker governor in Islam is that the whole community is responsible and not an individual. The community of believers has been instructed, "Let there arise a nation among which will enjoin what is good and forbid what is evil." Thus, the servants of God and His laws can not remain neutral to wrong doing or injustice.

The second area I want to clarify is the role of the prophets. Prophets were needed from time to time to bring God's message to humanity. The prophecies were basically of two types-good news for those who are believers and righteous that they will be rewarded for their good deeds in the hereafter and as a warning for those who were disbelievers in God and His books and were rebellious towards Him from time to time for the consequences of their actions in the hereafter. The Prophets role was not to make people believers, but to give the message. A prophet is also not to make his own laws, but either to explain the laws of God or deliver it as such like a postal carrier.

The third category is that of a ruler. The ruler or the caliph is again a vicegerent to the Prophet. Now he does not inherit prophethood from the prophet, but only the message the prophet was carrying, The ruler or the caliph implements that to his best capacity. The Quran says, "The believers are told to follow God, the Prophet and the ruler above them." In this injunction, it is implied that the ruler has to follow God and the prophet. If the ruler does not follow God and the prophet, the people are not obliged to follow the ruler. In fact, if he is oppressing people, which is against Islam, the people have an obligation to stand up to this ruler even if he is a Muslim. This is from the saying of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) to stand up to a tyrant and speak a word of truth as one of the best forms of jihad. The ruler in Islam, whether it is the prophet or subsequent caliphs, is not only the administrative authority, but is also the highest religious authority.

Thus, church and state become one in this situation. Even in the past, many religious leaders like the Popes who called for the crusades and Archbishop Marcos or Khomeini continued to exert political influence through their religious authority. Even now it is said that Pope John Paul's visits to many countries like Sudan, Indonesia, and South America have a political message for their regime. He also influenced the fall of communism in Poland by supporting the Solidarity movement.

Now after this introduction, I come to the topic "How My Religion Helps Me Partake in the Political Process." I must vote for the candidate who is righteous and whose ideology is close to my own religious ideology. He must be against homosexuality, drugs, and abortion. He must support a welfare state, taking care of the poor, needy, homeless, the minorities, and support spending on education and health care. He must be able to fight violence and crime. He must have popular support and come through the democratic process. The democratic process in Islam is called "shura" or consultation. This means that the leader has to be elected by mutual consultation and he must have pledge of allegiance from those who elect him. He also should be helped with a consultative council to make decisions rather than make all of the decisions himself. A candidate should have a sound, moral character in his own personal life in terms of his family life as well as him financial accounts. If he cannot be trusted by his family in his character or by financial institution in financial matters, then he should not be trusted by me either to make decisions for the country.

Thus, my response on domestic political issues is derived from my religious convictions. The head of the state which is elected in Islam is a leader of believers and not necessarily a leader of convicts and rapists. Therefore, criminals do not have the same rights as non-criminals and, thus, the ruler's obligation toward a good citizen is different from that of wrongdoers.

In the international field, my political decision is not based on my allegiance to a piece of land either outside or inside this country. We do not consider a global interest as my own interest. Thus we must support the human rights movement in any part of the world whether it is Muslim or non-Muslim. We must oppose oppression in any form whether the oppressed are Muslim or non-Muslim. The height of patriotism is to oppose the ruler whose actions are not in the best interests of the land or the people. If we say that we believe in God and trust in God as our coin says, we must make Him the ruler in all of our affairs. We do have an emotional, an ideological sympathy towards what is happening to Muslims in Bosnia, Kashmir, Palestine, and Somalia. However, we have no sympathy toward any Muslim leader in any of the Muslim countries who is not following Islam and applying it for himself or his fellow countrymen.

Does my religion call for blowing up of World Trade Center and airplanes? The answer is definitely "No." Islam believes in the sanctity of human life and therefore we have no affiliation with those who do wrong and happen to have a Muslim nam. Peace in Islam, is not the absence of war, nor through war We do not encourage the peace which prevails the graveyards of Normandy and Hiroshima. By peace we mean, peace and justice, peace with honor and peace through submission to Will of God. By peace, we mean to be at peace within our own self, our family and community, our neighbors, peace at both the individual and collective level, above all to be at peace with our Creator.

Islamic response to oppression is described in the Quran is the following way, "And why should ye not fight in the cause of God and of those who, being weak, are ill-treated (and oppressed)? Men, women, and children whose cry is: "Our Lord! rescue us from this town, whose people are oppressors; and raise for us from Thee one who will protect; and raise for us from Thee one who will help!" (4:75).

The wrong means do not justify the right cause and there is no concept of Robin Hood in Islam. Does my religion call for the execution of an oppressor ruler? The answer is "No." If the ruler is not a practicing Muslim, in fact, doing un-Islamic things, he should be removed by a democratic process and not by a coup and bloodshed.

If Muhammad (PBUH) wanted to establish Islam by the wrong methods, he would have made a terrorist squad of people to kill the leaders and unbelievers in Makkah and establish himself as king. He did not do that. He spread the message and once the people became Muslim, they created an Islamic state in Madinah We must be bold enough to tell the oppressor that he is doing wrong and never bow down to his wrongdoing. We don't have to become violent to do that. We might be persecuted for opposing him. We might be exiled for doing so, but in the long process, if we conduct ourselves in a civilized way, we may be able to replace him with a better ruler. In Islam, mixing politics with religion is not only permissible,but it is possible because politics are subservient to religion itself.

However, doing wrong things as some politicians do these days, would not be Islamic. In this way, the wrong and the right cannot mix together. Religious leaders and political leaders, instead of opposing each other, can help each other by advising each other, both submitting to the same God they worship together, for the benefit and welfare of ordinary citizens.


50% of eligible American voters who do not vote allow the 50% of those who do to elect officials who will influence our lives through policies and decisions they make on the local, national and international levels, in terms of employment, education, pollution, prices, defense, morality, war and peace, etc., etc. Sometimes evil flourishes when a few good people do nothing to oppose it. The religious communities should realize that participation in the political process is not only their right, but their duty. If unopposed, the secular forces in pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness will prevail to establish the ever changing and sometimes conflicting rule of human beings. On the other hand, we, the religious community, are also for the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness, but as defined by our Creator. What is good for us is also good for humanity. In this regard, all religions are on the same side of the fence. Instead of opposing each other, they should join hands in their common fight against crime, homlessness, immorality, injustice and racism. American Muslims, the newest factor, should not only concern themselves with self preservation, preoccupation or with international conflicts, but join their other like-minded Americans in their fight against abortion, homosexuality, pornography, teenage pregnancy, discrimination against women in minorities, better education, housing and employment for all. United we stand and divided we fall. American Muslims must come out of hibernation and let others see them, have their voices heard and opinions known. They must register as voters and join one party or remain independent. They should communicate with their congressmen, senator, mayor, governor, and other elected officials. They should write letters to editors on all issues and not just in reaction when Islam is attacked. They must actively participate in improving conununity relations and political advocacy.