Recent news in Syria is somewhat good for the “rebels” and bad for Bashar Assad. The opposition group, mostly centered around the Syrian National Council, SNC, is tentatively making plans for a post-Assad period, even though Assad is decidedly not done. He has just now received a promise of more aid from Russia, that usual helper of disgusting Middle Eastern regimes opposed to Western practices. I don’t know to what extent the newcomers are in tight with certain terrorist organizations like Hezbollah, as is the Assad regime. Maybe little, from what I can tell.
On a very related front, Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser this year published “A Battle for the Soul of Islam, An American Muslim Patriot's Fight to Save His Faith”. Dr. Jasser is a medical doctor in the US. He is the son and grandson of two notable Syrian patriots of the 1940’s to 1960’s, men who loved the ideas of freedom and their religion of Islam, who had to flee Syria with the rise of the Assads in order to survive. They came to the United States, where Zuhdi was later born. So Zuhdi Jasser is both a born and bred American, the son of a very pro-freedom, pro-American immigrant family, as well as a cradle Muslim who loves his religion. He served honorably in the US Navy as a doctor, and then went into private practice.
If you read this book, you quickly realize that Dr. Jasser is not a professional writer. His language is simple and straightforward. He doesn’t worry about especially nice turns of phrase, nor of styles that will catch millions of readers. His thought is all on the content, the message.
And the message is challenging. He is very clear that the American (and generally Western) Muslims have, by and large, missed a huge opportunity and duty. They failed to rise to the occasion of the 9-11 attacks (and later attacks) to repudiate and disapprove the notions that Islam calls for holy war against all the West.
They failed to take a stance and make it known to the world that the Qur’an should be read differently, that the interpretation placed on it by terrorists is as foreign to true Islam as can be. They have allowed the public face of Islam in the West, the leading voices, to be in the control of organizations that promote only the false, politically charged violent interpretation – what he calls “political Islam” - organizations like Cair and ISNA, the Islamic Society of North America, intent on undermining American freedom of religion (and with direct ties to the Muslim Brotherhood).
The problem is not that most Muslims are Islamists. They are not. The problem is that most Muslims are passive, silent, and are not taking an active stand against the Islamists and in favor of principles of liberty and democracy.
So Dr. Jasser has taken steps to oppose those organizations. He has formed the Muslim Liberty Project, intended to initiate young Muslims into the kind of religious freedom one associates with the West: engagement with politics while not compromising on religious principles. “If we inoculate them with the dieas of liberty and freedom they can never be taken over by the supremacism of political Islam.” He helped found the American Islamic Forum for Democracy. He has also spearheaded the formation of the American Islamic Leadership Coalition in 2011 as a group of Muslim organizations as an alternative to the Muslim Brotherhood legacy groups.
Throughout all this, Dr. Jasser has a major and a minor thesis, which I find interesting. The major thesis is that Islam, and the Qur’an, are rightly interpreted under a rational standard. The minor is that under this standard, taking all parts of the Qur’an in their proper light and with the known understanding of history and science, Islam is capable of being adjusted to the modern world and modernized into a religion that can peacefully co-exist with others. Not only is Islam capable of this, but this SHOULD be done, that medieval methods of bigoted and crabbed interpretations, bloodthirsty approaches that make no allowance for Muhammad’s warlike sayings being uttered at a time of bare survival on the efforts of his soldiers, are actually foreign to the true spirit of Islam itself.
The radical Muslims who mistake militaristic verse in the Qur’an for a mandate to take over the West suffer from ahistorical myopia. This is not the seventh century, when Muslims were part of a new religion and found their survival threatened by Arab pagans…Now, with Muslims over one fifth of the world population, somewhere over 1.3 billion people, such reasoning for invoking an Islamic state, a political ummah, or jihad would be absurd.
This is a very ambitious hope, this tolerant Islam, for Dr. Jasser admits in his book that many, perhaps most Muslims are not outspoken for this approach. They do not stand up to “political Islam,” and declare that such theories actually twist Islam away from its roots. But still more, I am personally curious about the juxtaposition his two theses. Like Jasser on Islam, I am convinced that Christianity is to be understood as compatible with reason. Faith and reason are cooperators in leading us to God, not opposed warriors. Faith can inform the process of study in all the sciences, and any of the sciences can lend a hand in the process of studying theology and Scripture.
However, unlike Jasser, I do not overmuch admire the mechanisms he lauds for the process of adjusting, leavening, interpreting Islam in this way: a somewhat direct and intensive devotion to pluralistic secularism, one that verges (at least in some of his passages) on undermining faith (in effect, not by intention).
The Qur’an itself did not contradict my own belief that I could embrace both my country and my faith, while at the same time keeping my organized religion out of the public arena, insofar as respecting the U.S. Constitution as the ultimate authority for governing.
One of the primary tasks we set for Muslim youths in our Muslim Liberty Project is to think and write about how a conversation would evolve about religion, law, and the state if the Prophet Muhammad had ever been able to sit with our Founding Fathers. Would Muhammad accept the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment in a Muslim-majority nation? Would he accept one law [for Muslims and non-Muslims-Tony] and a secular state?
See, I don’t think it is right and necessary for those who hold the true religion to check their religion at the door when they enter the public arena. They should be able to utilize it, argue it, and persuade others based on it – as long as they stick to persuasion and not compulsion. Dr. Jasser appears to want Muslims to adhere to a separation of mosque and state – even in predominantly Muslim countries – so that states are wholly secular, just like the Western states. Well, the benign secularism (actually more of simple pluralism) of the early 1900’s has now turned into the militant secularism of the early 2000s, with no end in sight. While I agree with the notion that the state is a separate entity with a separate authority than the church, I don’t think that it is necessary for achieving this to have a militantly (or even benignly) secular state that cannot even recognize one religion as the religion of its vast majority (always avoiding compulsion as stated above). Our Constitution prevented Congress from making a federal-established religion, because most of the states ALREADY had established religions – the first Amendment Establishment clause does not stand opposed to established religion.
I am far from sure it is really even possible to have a stable system of government that respects religion without supporting it at least implicitly and in small ways. No other state has done so, as far as I know. Finally, I am not yet convinced that non-Christian states can adequately swallow our Constitutional order more or less whole: it sprang out of a Christian history, with 1000 years of Christian senses of political order and the indirect role of God in the political affairs of men. Without that underpinning, is there any certainty that such (relatively Western) ideas of the state can be upheld? We are not proving it here in the US, where we are busy shedding the original meaning of the Constitution even as we shed Christianity as a national perspective.
I wonder, if we were to enjoy an extended conversation with Dr. Jasser, whether his view of America is more similar to the militant separationists who oppose things like having Christmas as a national holiday recognized so by government, or more like the benign Christian pluralists who oppose the government establishing any one specific church, but are fine with government generally promoting basic religious standards of morality and political order.