Friday, July 4, 2014
Today, Americans are celebrating the birthday of their country. More specifically, it is the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence - America's founding document.
The Declaration tells us that "Men...are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights..." And when those rights are violated by unjust rulers, it "becomes necessary to dissolve the political bands" between the people and the rulers. That is what happened in America in 1776 - and what happened in Arabia in 622.
The Declaration of Independence - and the whole founding of the United States of America - is based on God-given natural law. So is the revelation of Islam.
The Qur'an - the foundational document of Islam and God's final revelation to humanity - proclaims the reality of divinely-ordained natural law. In many ways it parallels the view of the American founding fathers. The Qur'an tells us that human nature, like nature itself, is good. (The Founding Fathers agreed, which sets them outside the traditional Christian doctrine of Original Sin.) In Islam, this natural goodness of human nature is called fitra.
Thanks to our innate human fitra, we have an inborn inclination to worship God and to respect all peoples' natural rights to life, liberty and property. This God-given natural law, a truth which we hold self-evident, is always available to everyone. It does not need kings, Qurayshi oligarchies, legislators or judges to create and enforce it. These folks are more likely to get in its way. Sometimes they obstruct it so much that they need to be overthrown.
According to the American founders, King George violated the colonists' natural rights to life, liberty and property to the point that he had to go. Likewise, the Quraysh leaders in Mecca violated the Muslims' rights. In both cases, the persecuted victims suffered patiently for years before finally rising up and fighting back. The Declaration notes that men "are more disposed to suffer, while the evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed...our repeated petitions have only been answered by repeated injury."
There are many parallels between the birth of America and the birth of Islam. In both cases, the founders were larger-than-life heroes. Muhammad (peace upon him) the perfect prophet-warrior-statesman, was a spiritual hero as well as the exemplary leader of men and women. 'Ali, his spiritual heir, was an incredible warrior while still a teenager; he was also a spotless soul, a prodigy in religion, and an uncompromisingly principled idealist. Abu Bakr was called "as-Siddique" (the truthful one), while 'Umar was known for his piety and justice and called "al-Faruq" (the one who distinguishes right from wrong). Uthman was a gifted businessman, an economic reformer and diplomatic statesman who helped compile the canonical Qur'an. These khulafa' al-rashidun (rightly-guided Caliphs) are just a few of the legendary heroes of the founding of Islam.
The founding of America is also replete with larger-than-life heroes: the indomitable warrior General George Washington, the brilliant writer and political philosophers Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, rabble-rousers like Tom Paine and Sam Adams, and gadfly journalist, scientist and renaissance man Ben Franklin. These men, like the Companions of the Prophet, needed courage, strength and skill to break away from the despotic regime and build a new society on an idea.
Both the American revolutionaries and the Companions of the Prophet (peace upon him) were outnumbered and outgunned. Their despotic adversaries had the wealth, the weapons, and the manpower. But somehow, by the grace of God, both groups triumphed in the end.
Both the American and Islamic revolutionaries were strongly opposed to the abuses of riba (usury). The American colonists revolted in large part due to their conflicts with the usurious British currency and banking monopoly; while the Islamic revelation banned all forms of lending at interest and regarded them as the very worst of sins.
Both revolutions were followed by partial counter-revolutions. The Messenger of Allah predicted this when he said, "The Prophets will be followed by the Khaleefahs, who will apply Allah's Book and who will be just with Allah's servants. The Khaleefahs will be followed by kings, who will take their revenge, kill men, and choose wealth (for themselves). (At that time) one can change (evil) with his hand, with his tongue, and with his heart; and there is no Eemaan beyond that." [Al-Baihaqee]
The Islamic counter-revolution was led by Muawiya, heir to the same Quraysh despots who had persecuted the early Muslim community. The American counter-revolution was led by Alexander Hamilton and the federalists, who partially reinstated the same model of strong central government (despotism) that the revolutionaries had been trying to overthrow...including efforts to bring back a usurious central bank, which culminated with the establishment of the Federal Reserve in 1913.
The Islamic and American revolutions and counter-revolutions were followed by conquests and missionary work that eventually extended the respective polities from sea to shining sea. The Muslims created a society that stretched from Morocco in the West to India, China, and Indonesia in the east - that is, from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Likewise, the American experiment quickly expanded to fulfill its manifest destiny of straddling the Atlantic and Pacific shores.
Both expansions were fueled by commerce as much as conquest. Islam's Sufi traders, with their blazing spirituality and absolute honesty (as well as their common language, Arabic, and common weights and measures) spread Islam through Asia and Africa. The USA's yankee traders likewise forged a vast new realm through trade and economic expansion.
Both the Islamic Ummah and the American nation departed from the usual tribal or ethnic state model and became vast multi-ethnic societies. Both societies were founded on God-given human equality, and both have had to work hard to try to live up to that ideal.
Along with all of these similarities, there are some striking differences between the "Venture of Islam" and the American Experiment.
The American notion of God-given natural rights is mainly about freedom to enjoy this world (the dunya). It is about "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." That is, it's about liberty in this life so we can pursue happiness in this life. That's fine...as far as it goes.
Islam, while it espouses life, liberty, and the freedom to pursue happiness in this world, puts an even stronger focus on the next world. This world, the Qur'an explains, is a learning experience or test (imtihan) in preparation for our eternal destiny. Our main focus should be on spiritual development, not material gratification.
You can see these differences by looking at American holidays versus Islamic holidays. American holidays are mainly about feasting and enjoying material things. Christmas (which is supposed to honor Sayidna Issa, alayhi-s-salaam) is a consumer-culture orgy of exchanging purchased products. Easter is about bunnies and shoving eggs and candy into your mouth. Hallowe'en is also about shoving candy into your mouth. Even the Fourth of July (like Veterans Day and Memorial Day) is basically an excuse for a barbecue.
Today we are in the first week of Ramadan, the Islamic holiday month of fasting. We spend the day avoiding shoving things in our mouths as we learn to empathize with the poor and hungry, strive to keep our attention focused on God, and learn non-attachment from bodily desires.
Islam's rituals (salaat prayer, fasting, charity, and pilgrimage) and holidays (the feast of the Sacrifice and the Feast of Breaking the Fast) put God right in the middle of everything. God is the fulcrum on which the Venture of Islam turns.
The American Experiment has largely forgotten God.
Ihdina s-sirat al-mustaqim. Ya Allah: Help us remember God and make taqwa (God-consciousness) the firm root of all our being. Help us remind the people in this place and this time to remember God and to surrender to Him in ecstatic self-submission.