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PATRIOTISM : An Islamic Perspective

Posted by on Jul 2nd, 2010 and filed under Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

By EL-HAJJ MAURI’ SAALAKHAN

WE are now officially in the throes of “Independence Day” weekend in the United States of America for the year 2010. July 4th, the badge of “patriotism” will be placed on the collective sleeve of this nation’s citizenry with the type of zeal that may be unmatched in any other part of the world.  (ALLAH Knows best.)

Like a significant number of other Muslims in different parts of America, I am heading to Chicago, Illinois, for the annual Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) Convention – a convention which has as its theme this year “Nurturing Compassionate Communities” (and the sub-title, “Connecting Faith and Service”).

I think it’s very important for Muslims in America to examine the meaning of patriotism from an Islamic perspective. I will try to move that conversation along with this paper, and simultaneously expound on the very specific reason why I’ve decided to travel to Chicago for the ISNA Convention, insha’Allah.

Let us begin with a walk down the path of American history. On July 4, 1776, a unanimous declaration was rendered by the 13 colonies that would form the basis for the United States of America. The Declaration of Independence begins as follows:

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one People to dissolve the Political Bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the Powers of the Earth, the separate and equal Station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent Respect to the Opinions of Mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the Separation.

WE hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness – That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence indeed will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient Causes; and accordingly, all Experience hath shown, that Mankind are more disposed to suffer, while Evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the Forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a Design to reduce them under Absolute Despotism, it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future Security. Such has been the patient Sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the Necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government.

The drafters of this historic declaration than proceeded to outline the many grievances they had against the king of England. It should also be noted that many of the “founding fathers,” of what would become known as the “great American experiment” in something called “democracy,” were mired in their own deeply entrenched contradictions. These contradictions would be of profound significance for generations to come.

The late U.S. Senator J. William Fulbright wrote in his thought-provoking book titled The Arrogance of Power: “There are two Americas. One is the America of Lincoln and Adlai Stevenson, the other is the America of Teddy Roosevelt and the modern superpatriots. One is generous and humane, the other is narrowly egotistical; one is self-critical, the other is self-righteous; one is sensible, the other romantic; one is good humored, the other solemn; one is inquiring, the other pontificating; one is moderate, the other filled with passionate intensity; one is judicious, and the other arrogant in the use of great power.”

One of the many contradictions that America was known for – in its earliest, most formative years – was slavery. Frederick Douglass was a nineteenth century African American abolitionist, who escaped from slavery and then risked his own freedom by becoming an outspoken antislavery lecturer, writer, and publisher. As one of the foremost human rights activists of his time, Douglas delivered a historic address on July 5, 1852 – titled “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” In the course of his spirited address, he gave voice to sentiments held deep in the hearts of many of his “colored brethren” during the Independence Day celebrations of that age.

Addressing his white compatriots, he noted:

“This, for the purpose of this celebration, is the 4th of July. It is the birthday of your National Independence, and of your political freedom. This, to you, is what the Passover was to the emancipated people of God. It carries your minds back to the day, and to the act of your great deliverance; and to the signs, and to the wonders, associated with that act, and that day. This celebration also marks the beginning of another year of your national life; and reminds you that the Republic of America is now 76 years old. “

In another related passage Douglas noted:

“I am glad, fellow-citizens, that your nation is so young. Seventy-six years, though a good old age for a man, is but a mere speck in the life of a nation. Three score years and ten is the allotted time for individual men; but nations number their years by thousands. According to this fact, you are, even now, only in the beginning of your national career, still lingering in the period of childhood. I repeat, I am glad this is so. There is hope in the thought, and hope is much needed, under the dark clouds which lower above the horizon. The eye of the reformer is met with angry flashes, portending disastrous times; but his heart may well beat lighter at the thought that America is young, and that she is still in the impressible stage of her existence. May he not hope that high lessons of wisdom, of justice and of truth, will yet give direction to her destiny? Were the nation older, the patriot’s heart might be sadder, and the reformer’s brow heavier. Its future might be shrouded in gloom, and the hope of its prophets go out in sorrow.”

On the many challenges faced by the revolutionaries of that day:

“To say now that America was right, and England wrong, is exceedingly easy. Everybody can say it; the dastard, not less than the noble brave, can flippantly discant on the tyranny of England towards the American Colonies. It is fashionable to do so; but there was a time when to pronounce against England, and in favor of the cause of the colonies, tried men’s souls. They who did so were accounted in their day, plotters of mischief, agitators and rebels, dangerous men. To side with the right, against the wrong, with the weak against the strong, and with the oppressed against the oppressor! here lies the merit, and the one which, of all others, seems unfashionable in our day. The cause of liberty may be stabbed by the men who glory in the deeds of your fathers.”

Another passage reads:

“Fully appreciating the hardship to be encountered, firmly believing in the right of their cause, honorably inviting the scrutiny of an on-looking world, reverently appealing to heaven to attest their sincerity, soundly comprehending the solemn responsibility they were about to assume, wisely measuring the terrible odds against them, your fathers, the fathers of this republic, did, most deliberately, under the inspiration of a glorious patriotism, and with a sublime faith in the great principles of justice and freedom, lay deep the corner-stone of the national superstructure, which has risen and still rises in grandeur around you.”

Shifting his speech to [what was then] the here and now, Douglas asked:

“Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? And am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?”

And further:

“Fellow-citizens; above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! – whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, today, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them. If I do forget, if I do not faithfully remember those bleeding children of sorrow this day, ‘may my right hand forget her cunning, and may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth!’ To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs, and to chime in with the popular theme, would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and the world. My subject, then fellow-citizens, is AMERICAN SLAVERY. I shall see, this day, and its popular characteristics, from the slave’s point of view. Standing, there, identified with the American bondman, making his wrongs mine, I do not hesitate to declare, with all my soul, that the character and conduct of this nation never looked blacker to me than on this 4th of July! Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future. Standing with God and the crushed and bleeding slave on this occasion, I will, in the name of humanity which is outraged, in the name of liberty which is fettered, in the name of the Constitution and the Bible, which are disregarded and trampled upon, dare to call in question and to denounce, with all the emphasis I can command, everything that serves to perpetuate slavery – the great sin and shame of America! “I will not equivocate; I will not excuse;” I will use the severest language I can command; and yet not one word shall escape me that any man, whose judgment is not blinded by prejudice, or who is not at heart a slaveholder, shall not confess to be right and just.”

I wish I could present all 19 pages of Frederick Douglas’ powerful address from that memorable day in 1852; but alas, time and space limitations will not allow for such indulgence. There is, however, something else that Douglas said in this powerful address that resonates deeply with me as an African-American Muslim in the year 2010: Oppression makes a wise man mad. (i.e. insane)

If Frederick Douglas were alive today, speaking truth to power in the same fashion as he did in his own time – and he was a Muslim – he would probably not be invited to speak at the national conventions of Muslims in America. (In the same way, I believe, that if Malcolm X were alive, or Dr. King, speaking as they did in the 1960s, they too would be kept at a distance.)

In assuming this posture, the leaders of “major Muslim” organizations – and some of the well established religious centers throughout this troubled land – are not only betraying the dictates of Al-Islam (“Stand firmly for justice…even if it be against yourselves”), they are betraying the American ideal as well – and its still unachieved ambition of becoming a land of “liberty and justice for all.”

The late William “Bill” Kunstler observed in his thought-provoking book titled My Life As A Radical Lawyer: “Today Muslims are the most hated group in America. The moment a Muslim is accused of a crime, the specter of terrorism is raised and everyone panics.” (This observation, made in the mid-90s, is even more relevant today, because of the deliberate and systemic racial and religious profiling taking place throughout the US!)

The first ten Amendments to the U.S. Constitution (known collectively as the Bill of Rights) were ratified by America’s founding fathers on December 15, 1791.

The First Amendment reads as follows: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

This Amendment embodies the foundational principle that affirms and propels the better of the “two Americas.” This principle is also reflected in the religious liberty standard that was included in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 (reenacted by the First Continental Congress in 1789). It provided that “no person, demeaning himself in a peaceful and orderly manner, shall ever be molested on account of his mode of worship or religious sentiments.”

This constitutional guarantee is currently under full fledged assault, and in danger of being eviscerated in a Post 9/11 world – by America’s own internal enemies who slyly wrap themselves up in the American flag as they pursue their dastardly, and fundamentally, un-American agenda!

In January 2002, Deputy Attorney General Viet Dinh – a prominent member of the Justice Department’s “cartel of conservative lawyers” under [then] U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft – was the first high level official in the Bush-Cheney administration to openly admit the government’s use of “profiling” (both racial and religious) in the so-called “war on terrorism.”

When questioned on the criteria employed by this newly minted profiling regime, his response was, The criteria Al-Qaeda itself uses; eighteen to 35 year old males who entered the country after the start of 2000 using passports from countries where Al-Qaeda has a strong presence.”

In his address to the American Bar Association conference in Naples, Florida, that year, Dinh stated emphatically: “We are reticent to provide a road map to Al-Qaeda as to the progress and direction of our investigative activity. We don’t want to taint people as being of interest to the investigation simply because of our attention. We will let them go if there is not enough of a predicate to hold them. But we will follow them closely, and if they so much as spit on the sidewalk we’ll arrest them. The message is that if you are a suspected terrorist, you better be squeaky clean. If we can we will keep you in jail.

The end result of this line of thinking and policymaking has been a highly significant, but precisely unknown, number of preemptive prosecutions of Muslim males (and an increasing number of females) in the very nation that trumpets itself around the world as the unassailable leader in “freedom” and “democracy.” These prosecutions are often attended by (pre-trial and post-conviction) imprisonment conditions that violate the Eighth Amendment guarantee against “cruel and unusual punishment.”

In April of this year, President Barack H. Obama spoke at a naturalization ceremony for active-duty service members. In the course of his address he made a statement that every citizen of this country (especially our immigrant Muslim brethren, and their first generation American-born offspring) should really take to heart:

“In short, today we celebrate the very essence of the country that we all love — an America where so many of our forbearers came from someplace else; a society that’s been enriched by traditions and cultures from every corner of the world; a dynamic economy that’s constantly renewed by the talents and energies of each new citizen; and a people who understand that citizenship is not just a collection of rights, but it’s also a set of responsibilities.”

One of the most important responsibilities we have as citizens, in a representative democracy,” is the advancement and protection of this nation’s political ideals. Shouldering such a responsibility carries its own risks, but this is something that the truly great men and women in this country’s history understood and embraced! Frederick Douglas instinctively understood hard trials are necessary to establish truth and justice. I come from the same racial and philosophical stock as he, and my own commitment to these principles is no less (insha’Allah).

There is much more I could say, and many more historical references I could cite. This paper could be pages and pages long, but I think I’ve said enough to make the point I wanted to make. When we STAND UP and PUSH BACK against the oppressive forces that are driving this potentially great, but deeply disturbed, nation called America into the dustbin of history, we demonstrate genuine love and concern for our country of birth or choice.

When, on the other hand, we remain silent in the face of the type of disturbances this country is now experiencing economically, environmentally, socially and politically – because of the corruption endemic at the highest levels of its governing apparatus – we do nothing more than aid and abet the downward spiral of America. As The Lord of all the worlds has revealed in The Noble Qur’an:

“Corruption has appeared on the land, and on the sea, on account of what men’s hands have wrought. ALLAH will make them taste a part of what they have done, so that they might return.”

As usual, I will not be one of the speakers at the ISNA Convention this year. Some would opine that this is due to the controversial image surrounding my persona; while others would argue, it’s due to the type of message I bring to the table. Either way, the organizers of such events do themselves and their constituencies a grave disservice when they do their best to block fellow Muslims like me from being heard.

More worrisome, however, is the fact that such counter-productive measures do nothing to help or defend the better of the “two Americas” – and they hold the potential of placing the souls of such functionaries in grave danger. As Imam Ali ibn Abu-Talib (ra) reportedly said: “Three classes of men are cut off from the blessings of Paradise: oppressors; those who aid and abet oppression; and those who tolerate oppression.”

Sheikh ibn Taymeeyah correctly noted ages ago: “Civilization is based on justice, and the consequence of oppression is devastating. Therefore it is said, ALLAH aids the just state, even if it is non-Muslim; yet withholds His help from the oppressive state, even if it is Muslim.”

It is also recorded in the political memoirs of American founding father [and third U.S. President] Thomas Jefferson, that he lamented his awareness of the cosmic surety of cause and effect, with the following words: “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; His justice cannot sleep forever.”

With that being said, insha’Allah, my voice will be heard by some of the attendees before the ISNA Convention has come to an end. As was the case at the ICNA-MAS Convention in Hartford, Connecticut (over the Memorial Day weekend), the plight of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui and that of other oppressively held Muslim political prisoners in America – will not be ignored by those who have gathered to get their cultural groove on!

To my brothers and sisters of ISNA, I close with the reminder that true “service” is more than a catchy slogan, and true “faith” has the power to triumph over fear.

El-Hajj Mauri’ Saalakhan is Director of Operations, The Peace Thru Justice Foundation.

E-Mail:    SSaala@aol.com

© July 2010, All Rights reserved

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