by Robert D. Crane
I. Personal Transformation
Two verses are the most profound in the Qur’an as a source of guidance for faith-based justice. The first is Surah al An’am 6:115, wa tamaat kalimatu rabika sidqan wa ‘adlan, “The Message of your Lord is completed and perfected in truth and in justice.” This teaches that justice is an expression of truth and that truth originates in the transcendent order of reality not in man-made law. The second verse is Surah al Ra’d 13:11, inna Allaha la yughayiru ma bi qawmin hatta yugharayiruu ma bi anfusihim, “God does not change men’s condition unless they change their inner selves.” This teaches the natural law of cause and effect both at the level of the individual person and in the rise and fall of entire civilizations and even of humans as a species.
The message is clear. Personal transformation is the secret to societal transformation. This is step one. Step two, which is the necessary group effort to perfect the institutions of society in the pursuit of justice, depends on step one. The reason is that the pursuit of justice without inner transformation can lead to the unjust search for power as an ultimate end.
We are free to choose between justice and power as ultimate paradigms of thought and action. The greatest gift from the Creator of the universe to sentient beings is the freedom and power to choose between good and evil and thereby to shape their own future. This is also the greatest trial and test, particularly for scholars. A popular metaphor found in the hadith states that the deepest parts of hell will be filled with scholars who do not use their knowledge.
The two major paradigms that guide human action and require choice have always been transcendent justice and material power. Every paradigm or framework of thought contains its own ultimate purpose and its own means to pursue this higher purpose. The major conflict in the world today is between those who pursue justice in order to empower others and those who pursue their own power at the expense of others. The conflict is between those who seek to understand and follow the natural law inherent in all of creation and those who insist on creating their own law as would-be gods.
Unfortunately, the greatest evil comes from those who convince themselves that they are acting to transform the world for the better but do not include themselves in this transformation. This is the essential message of the mystics in every religion, especially the Sufis within Islam and their equivalent in Christianity. This wisdom was well expressed by the Trappist monk, Thomas Merton, as originally published in his book, Contemplation in a World of Action (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1971, page 164), with whom I used to correspond during the Vietnam war, concerning the misuse of power not based in spiritual transformation.
He wrote: “Those who attempt to act and do things for others or for the world without deepening their own self-understanding, freedom, integrity and capacity to love, will not have anything to give others. They will communicate to them nothing but the contagion of their own obsessions, their aggressiveness, their ego-centered ambitions, their delusions about ends and means, their doctrinaire prejudices and ideas. There is nothing more tragic in the modern world than the misuse of power and action to which people are driven by their own Faustian misunderstandings and misapprehensions. We have more power at our disposal today than we have ever had, and yet we are more alienated and estranged from the inner ground of meaning and of love than we have ever been.”
II. Sources of Divine Guidance
Central to both personal and community transformation is the search for divine guidance. In Islam, such guidance comes from three sources. The first is haqq al yaqin or divine guidance through direct revelation to prophets (wahy), of which every religion has its own, as well as from personal inspiration (ilhaam), which is valid only for the person who receives it. The second source is ‘ain l yaqin, which is the coherent order underlying the diversity of physical creation, known also as tauhid from the verb wahada, meaning “to be reduced to one” and “to form unity out of diversity”. This is the source of all scientific knowledge from observing the laws of physical reality. The third source of divine guidance is ‘ilm al yaqin, which is the guidance from our own efforts through ijtihad in the jihad al kabir or “great jihad”, the only one mentioned in the Qur’an, Surah al Furqan 25:52, in both personal and group effort to understand the first two of these three sources. Together these three sources of guidance constitute the substance of natural law, known also as the sunnat Allah.
From the sum of such divine guidance comes the very concept of justice. The essence of justice is the Will of God. This is not an arbitrary precept, but emerges from the divine Being in all the essential attributes of the source of transcendence, which are all reflected in the world of creation, including the very nature of every sentient being.
This concept of universal guidance gave rise in the classical Islamic thought of the third through seventh Islamic centuries to the normative system of law known as the maqasid al shari’ah or the higher purposes of law, without which the interpretation and application of any specific provision can result in injustice. The set of principles is what traditionalist Muslims have understood as a set of virtues but in modern language should be referred to as a universal code of human responsibilities and rights.
The most important of the several human rights in normative Islamic law is known as haqq al din, which means the duty to respect freedom of religion. Haqq al haya requires respect for human life and for the restrictions of the just war doctrine. Respect for the sacredness of human community, based on the sacredness of the individual persons who form free communities, is known as haqq al nasl. Respect for the universal right of every person to private property by individually owning the means of production is covered in haqq al mal. Self-determination of both persons and nations is developed in the principle of haqq al hurriya, otherwise known as political freedom. Gender equity is required in the universal principle of haqq al karama or respect for human dignity. And freedom of thought, speech, and association is demanded by haqq al ‘ilm. These are the basics of natural law in the sense of faith based justice as taught by every world religion and by scientific study of the laws of the universe and by every human’s instinctive awareness of one’s own creation in the image of God. This is what Sufis understand when they conclude their lessons or mudhakarat with the invocation, al hamdu li Allah, wahadu, wa nasta’in, which means, Praise be to God, the One, and the only one from whom we seek guidance.
III. The Intellectual Heritage of Turath
Muslims in principle reject any person or institution as the source of infallible guidance, which is why calls for a new Luther or for the creation of an infallible source of Islamic guidance like the pope in Roman Catholicism or for any kind of intermediary between the individual person and God have always been and always will be rejected.
Muslims, however, do have a highly developed source of truth and justice in their intellectual tradition, known as the turath, which is at least equal to the best of Hinduism, Judaism, and Christianity in the interpretation of basic scriptures. This turath consists in all religions not merely in the substance of meaning but in the terminology to explain it. Christianity lost much of this precision of language when the adopted sacred language of Latin was effectively abandoned. For example, the numerous volumes written over the centuries to define the meaning of bonum, which superficially means merely the good, are now lost because contemporary concepts of “good” bear little resemblance to the traditional richness of thought.
In one of his new books, The Great Theft, Khalid Abou el Fadl defines turath as “the Islamic intellectual heritage”. He has spent his life absorbing the wisdom of the Islamic turath. As the Grand Mufti of Egypt and Shaykh al Azhar, Ali Gomma (Jumma), put it in an interview in the Spring 2005 issue, no. 12, of Islamica, p. 45, “The turath has a shell, its terminology, and if we lose that terminology, we lose its meaning.” To lose the meaning of words as symbolic mimes is to destroy the thought behind them.
A prime example is the term, umma, which means community. In the Qur’an it refers to multiple levels of community in a single person, in keeping with the use of the term “Muslim” throughout the Qur’an to mean anyone who submits lovingly to God, regardless of one’s various levels of community identification. Shaykh Ali Gomma writes in his guidance to Americans, discussed below, that the “Islamic community” consists in those who make the formal Islamic statement of faith and those who are called in other ways to God. “The Muslim understands from the concept of the Community that humanity from the first of creation constitutes One Community. ‘And, verily, this Community of yours is a single Community, since I am the sustainer of you all: remain, then, conscious of Me! (Surah al Muminum – The Believers – 23:52). Because of this, Muslims accept pluralism. … All religions had a place within the bosum of Islam. … And He, the Most Glorious, has said: ‘As for those who strive in Us, We surely guide them to Our paths, and, lo, God is with the good’.” (Surah al Ankabut, 29:69)
The fatwas and teachings of Shaykh al Azhar Ali Gomaa are important because his role is the closest that Muslims have to the role of the Pope in Christianity. Serving in this capacity now as the Grand Mufti of Egypt, Shaykh Ali Gomma (’Ali Jumma), recently addressed the major problems of the world from the perspective of the classical wisdom of Islam in the equivalent of an ex cathedra statement entitled “Questions from America.” This was published as six installments in Al Ahram during March and April 2006.
The Shaykh addresses the standard issues, such as woman’s inheritance rights and points out that the Islamic inheritance laws are case specific and therefore complex. “Examining the totality of these cases, which makes a comprehensive system, we find that there are more than 10 cases (or circumstances) in which a woman’s inheritance is equal to a man’s. There are more than 14 cases in which a woman inherits more than a man and there are 5 cases in which a woman inherits and a man does not. In contrast, there are only 4 cases in which a man inherits twice the portion of a woman.”
In this regard, Shaykh Gomaa addresses in some detail the issue of “intra-communal cases before an internal court”, which gained such notoriety after the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, on February 7, 2008, addressed the subject first in a BBC interview and then formally before the Royal Courts of Justice, without perhaps adequately delineating the limitations on such legal procedures. Shaykh Gomma writes that, “Arrangements in which there is a parallel judiciary draw their effectuality and legal obligation from the larger community and from the fact of its falling under the authority and legitimacy of the state.”
He condemns the rather absurd translation by Marmaduke Pickthall of the word daraba in Surah al Nisa’a 4:34 to mean “scourage”, referring to one’s wife: “As for those from whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them.” The English dictionary meanings of the word “scourage” are “to whip” or “to inflict severe suffering, vengeance, or punishment.” The patriarchal dominance in scholarship over the centuries led to interpreting the word daraba as “beat” in order to justify what may have been common practice, and this then led to the establishmentarian view known as taqlid, which forbid all innovation in thought. In her superb translation of the Qur’an, prepared over a number of years after 9/11, Laleh Bakhtiar, compared the many uses of the term daraba in the Qur’an and concluded that in this instance it clearly means to separate from one’s wife and then obviously only in extremis. This was confirmed in research by AbdulHamid Abusulayman, in his monograph, “Marital Discord: Recapturing the Full Islamic Spirit of Human Dignity”, published by the International Institute of Islamic Thought and reaffirmed by the Chairman of the Fiqh Council of North America, Shaykh Taha Jabir al Alwani, who sits on the World Fiqh Council in Makkah, which identified seventeen different uses of the word daraba in the Qur’an. Dr. Abusulayman observes that the general connotation of daraba in Qur’anic parlance is “separate, distance, depart, and abandon.” The “beating” verse refers to separation as a last resort, and itself must be interpreted within the context of the Prophet’s teaching that, “the worst of all permissible things is divorce.”
Shaykh Ali Gomma has shocked the benighted in the Muslim community by advising that Muslim girls in French schools should not wear the hijab or head scarf if for whatever reason this would offend the local community where they live, because this is a good practice of modesty but not an essential part of their religion.
Especially he has strongly condemned the ignorance among Muslims about other religions, and cited as one cause the failure of Islamic scholars to provide an Arabic translation of the Hindu Vedas and of such scholarly works as the Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, which was published in English a century ago in 1912. One might add that neither have Muslim scholars ever compiled an encyclopedia of natural law to gather in one place the wisdom of all the world religions on faith based justice, even though the first person to make such an attempt was Roger Bacon, who lectured on Islam at Oxford in Arab clothes in the mid-thirteenth century and regarded Ibn Sina as the greatest of the Islamic philosophers.
IV. Institutionalizing the Islamic Heritage
Fortunately, the Muslim world now has many means to revive and preserve the classical formulations of Islam in the Islamic turath, despite the un-Islamic nature of what erroneously is referred to as the Islamic world. The most eminent perhaps is The Islamic Research Academy at Al Azhar University in Cairo. The name Jurisprudence Academy for this academy was rejected when it was founded in the 1960s in order to underline the importance of including within the realm of natural law and faith based justice all the so-called modern disciplines of medicine, astronomy, engineering, law, politics, and economics. Another such institution is the Islamic Fiqh Academy of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, which was founded in 1980 and now has published forty volumes of its journal.
A major institution of turath is the Islamic Jurisprudence Council of the Muslim World League based in Mecca. This has autonomous branches in many countries, including the North American Fiqh Council, which last met on February 6, 2008, to discuss, among other things, the prospect of so-called minority fiqh. Such flexible jurisprudence is designed to provide guidance from the maqasid al shari’ah in adapting the regulations or rulings of the fiqh to the systems of customary and “statutory” or positivist law in countries where Muslims are in a minority. This pluralist system, based on the statements of the Prophet Muhammad and of the early jurisprudents, recognized that every nation’s customary law or ‘urf is binding on Muslims who choose to adopt this community as part of their identity, provided only that such customary law does not violate fundamental human rights, and provided that the system of human rights as developed in the maqasid al shari’ah is recognized in the customary law of the local populace.
This revival of “minority fiqh”, based on the classically Islamic approach of normative law was introduced a hundred years ago after centuries of intellectual coma in the Muslim world by Shaykh ‘Abd al Rahman Ilaysh and was explained by Fathi Osman in his lecture tour with Hashim Kamali and me at the major English universities in August-September 1997 and in Fathi Osman’s book, Understandings of the Qur’an. These new directions in Islamic thought have been pursued systematically by the original head of the North American Fiqh Council, Shaykh Taha Jabir al Alwani, and by ‘Abd al-Hamid Abu Sulayman, the original head of the International Institute of Islamic Thought, which is based in Herndon, Virginia, and has many offices throughout the world.
Other similar institutions that are now springing up all over the world include the International Union for Muslim Scholars and the European Council for Fatwa and Research, which address such cultural monstrosities as clitorectomies, stoning women to death, and executing apostates, as well as the universal evils of both clerical and secular totalitarianism, which have either alienated or caught the imagination of an angry, younger generation.
V. Maintaining Purity of Intention
Even the best people with the best intentions must guard against turning the means to justice into an end. In the field of social justice, the means are strategies to perfect the institutions that pose barriers to justice. The end should be to empower others, not to empower oneself, but this can be reversed if the search for power becomes an end in itself, as it has among many of the Islamists, like Syed Qutb, and among many of the so-called NeoCons in America.
Secular people are more prone to self-worship than are religious people, as demonstrated by the tens of millions of persons killed by secular utopians. Before the twentieth century, when religion was the dominant force in society, religious utopians posed the greatest threat. At the beginning of the twentieth-first century, perhaps the last gasp of secularism has made the secularists the greatest threat, as represented by the American NeoCons. The greatest threat during the foreseeable future, however, may be the hybrid threat represented by Osama bin Laden, who claims to be religious but represents the exact opposite of what all the world religions teach.
The problem arises because everyone’s human nature is to seek something beyond oneself. If a transcendent god is eliminated than one’s nature calls for worshiping an immanent god, like Hitler or the Communist party or the land of Israel or “the American way of life” as a substitute for transcendent reality.
The essence of justice is the pursuit of man’s highest calling, which is to seek truth, love, and justice by recognizing and promoting the dignity of every person, by respecting the wisdom of the past as a guide for a better future, and by working in solidarity together with others in the pursuit of these purposes by persistently practicing the virtues of charity, compassion, humility, tolerance, and trust.
The danger, which we must always keep in mind, is that we will not pursue our highest calling, which is the pursuit of justice within the framework of truth and love, but instead will fall victim to frustration, fear, alienation, and hatred, and then pursue instead power, prestige, and plutocracy, which are the roots of injustice, perhaps best neologistically encapsuled in the generic term “NeoConservatism”.
In any false ideology, the prefix “neo” indicates that it is false. Placing the “neo” in front of “conservatism,” indicates that it is fraudulent, which is precisely why it is so dangerous. It is the perfect example of the metaphor of the Anti-Christ, which the Christians and Muslims use to describe the evil of reversing truth and falsehood. According to the popular Muslim hadith, the Dajjal or Anti-Christ will tell his would-be followers: “If you see fire, enter it, because it is cool like water, and if you see cool water, stay away, because it is fire.” Many people take such accounts literally, and they are perfectly free to do so, but the message or mythology is what counts. The mythology or symbolism of poetry is stronger than prose.
By definition, if a self-professed NeoCon would accept the premise that justice is the surest road to power, and that power must always be the servant of justice within a paradigm of truth and love and faith based reconciliation, then he or she would no longer be a NeoCon. And, conversely, if someone who professes to seek justice and exhibits all the characteristics of generic neo-conservatism, he or she would no longer be seeking justice. Appearances often are illusory, just as what appears to an illusory search for justice can reflect ultimate reality.
Many people who seek justice rely on ethics, which may be defined as the search for coherent meaning without basing it on faith. This may result in the same code of human responsibilities and rights, but the temptation to pervert this understanding in the search for revenge and destructive power is greater. Many such well-intentioned people have suffered so much from religious totalitarians that they have turned into militant enemies of all religion. At best they consider that faith-based justice is a snare and that any consideration of it is a counter-productive and wasteful use of time and effort because it diverts attention from the most urgent evil in the world which they insist is religion itself and especially Islam.
VI. The Temptation to Islamophobia
The rejection of justice as a defining goal of foreign and domestic policy can have practical consequences. Thus Islamophobes, those who would create Muslims as an enemy if they did not already have the real thing in the caves of Afghanistan, have converted “moral puritans” into “covert terrorists.” The term “moderate Muslim” has come to mean Muslims who reject the Qur’an as a source of truth and justice. Daniel Pipes seems to go even further by defining a Muslim moderate as any Muslim who agrees with him on Israel, which is why he reaches the conclusion that there are few if any Muslim moderates and that all real Muslims are inherently extremists and potential terrorists.
In assessing the generic threat of Neo-Conservatism as a global ideology, it is essential to recognize that American Neo-Conservatism has never had anything to do with political Zionism, even though many of the founding NeoConservatives a generation or two ago happened to be Jews. The justification for this conclusion was spelled out in some detail in my book, Shaping the Future: Challenge and Response, Praeger/CBS, published in 1997, and condensed on May 2, 2003, in my essay, “The Neo-Conservative Alliance: A Constellation of Competing Paradigms”, in http://www.theamericanmuslim.org, and again made available for Google in the article, “Competing Visions in American Politics: Obama versus McCain,” on February 9, 2008.
Much less has Neo-Conservatism had anything to do with spiritual Zionism, which Jews have traditionally understood as the return to God. In this sense, every Muslim should be a Zionist and should be a follower of the greatest spiritual leader of the twentieth century, Rebbe Abraham Izaac Kook, who was the Chief Rabbi of Palestine from 1919 until the outbreak of the first great Palestinian intifada against Brtish imperialism beginning in 1935.
The dynamic behind NeoConservatism in any culture is paranoid and existential fear. The grand old man of the neo-conservative grand strategy was the social philosopher, Leo Strauss. Born in 1899 in Germany, he was deeply influenced by the Nazi takeover of Germany in 1933 from the Weimar Republic, which Strauss asserted “presented the spectacle of justice without power, or of a justice incapable of resorting to power.” The Straussians, based in his Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago, laid the foundation for the neo-conservatives’ paranoia about the threat of universal chaos and for their conviction that peace is possible only by proactive projection of force to preempt the very possibility of attacks on America’s vital interests.
Strauss’s influence on neo-conservatism and its influence today is perhaps best shown by the impact on President Bush in March, 2001, before 9/11, by the former Israeli military man, Robert D. Kaplan, who briefed President Bush on his book, The Coming Anarchy: Shattering the Dreams of the Post Cold War. Kaplan presented his thesis that the world faces a “Lord of the Flies meltdown,” that America’s dominance is tenuous, and that “the most important moral commitment for America is to preserve its power.”
Kaplan’s subsequent book, Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos, was required reading in the higher circles of Washington policymaking leading up to the attack on Iraq in March, 2003. Kaplan’s basic message is that, “Our moral values … represent our worst vulnerabilities,” and that the only realistic grand strategy for America after 9/11 is to follow the enduring relevance of ancient principles represented by the great empires of antiquity. The new element in the world after 9/11, according to Kaplan, is that barbarians have exploited a global ideology – Islam – to recruit “holy warriors” and allies in a global war that has now struck at the heart of the empire. The only adequate counter-strategy is to remake the map of the Middle East, and indeed of the world, not geographically but through regime change in order to eliminate the ideological infrastructure of terrorism.
This is right out of Leo Strauss’s playbook, though Strauss was a master of the classical philosophy of the ancients and not a military strategist. Strauss saw an inherent tension between liberalism, which can lead to relativism, and the active defense of democracy by bold measures against forces that do not share American values or the traditional values of any religion. Although he was an atheist Jew, Strauss emphasized the necessity of superiority in principles, even if this required the ministrations of religion to maintain the solidarity of the populace. He taught that the key to pro-active democracy against its enemies is the “superiority of the regime,” by which the younger or second-generation Straussians understand a quasi-religious exaltation of American values worldwide against the threat of both state and sub-state tyrannies of thought and action.
This new interpretation of Strauss’s basic concepts can embody utopian messianism on a par with that of modern Evangelicals. Both the first and second-generation followers of Leo Strauss call for the rule of law in the world but only after a new world order has been established by astute orchestration of America’s overwhelming military and economic power.
True to their philosophical god-father, the present-day neo-cons have had no qualms about and striking success in constructing a working alliance among establishmentarians, religious devotees, and their own revolutionary vision. This vision calls for global acceptance of their own universal paradigm under the auspices of their own planetary regime.
The importance of words or symbolic memes and the danger of their manipulation in a mimetic war against truth and justice and against any possible outbreak of faith-based reconciliation is evident in the misuse of the term “conservative” by those who preface it with the term “neo”. This misuse of words has made intelligent discussion of values difficult. “Conservative” no longer means “traditionalist” in the sense of the “permanent things” that partake of transcendent reality. Both Osama bin Laden and the Pentagon’s ex-guru Douglas Feith, as the most articulate ideologues of their common faith, claim to be conservatives but are in fact the exact opposite. Some NeoCons reportedly are now calling themselves Neo-Liberals in anticipation of a Democratic victory in the presidential election of 2008. But, they are not liberals in the classical nineteenth-century sense of supporting individual freedom, especially from government. They represent at best the new “liberalism” that has come to mean the search for salvation from chaos and fear through acquiring and exploiting a monopoly of governmental power.
Both of these superficially opposite groups of extremists, the ones in the caves of Afghanistan and the ones in the White House, can best be described by the generic neologism “Neo-Conservative” or “false conservative” because in fact they are destroying their heritage from the best of the traditionalist past, as suggested in my article, “Blood Brothers and the Global Axis of Evil,” published on February 12, 2008, in the online scholarly journal, http://www.theamericanmuslim.org.
VII. The Danger of “Islamic Reformers”
The generic term “NeoConservative” might also apply to those would-be Islamic reformers who want to create a new religion by replacing justice with freedom, and defining freedom as freedom from the Qur’an and Islamic law. Rather than reviving the enlightened understandings of divine revelation and the insights of jurisprudential analysis from the classical past, which have produced the maqasid al shari’ah as humankind’s most sophisticated code of human responsibilities and rights, the “Muslim NeoConservatives” want to jettison the past and start over to develop a new positivist ideology based on human power as a substitute for God.
Rather than reviving the turath or classical Islamic heritage, the so-called Muslim reformers in America, as taught by their newfound mentors, are claiming that it does not exist. Instead, they have been conned, or better yet “neo-conned”, into supporting terroristic counter-terrorism against the terrorism of the equally neo-conned followers of Osama bin Laden, whereby each extreme reinforces the autistic dementia of the other in a race to universal perdition.
The search for peace, prosperity, and freedom can succeed only if it is pursued as a result of justice, and justice can provide the necessary guidance only if it is faith-based. Specific faith-based strategies might lead to a confederation of peoples in the Holy Land and to something similar in the Fertile Crescent, Afghanistan, Pakistan, The Sudan, and various other conflict areas in the world. These new forms of self-determination of persons and communities might be based on perfecting the institutions of money and credit boldly designed to remove the barriers to the expansion of individual ownership of wealth producing assets, including oil.
Regardless of the implementing strategies, the key will always be personal transformation from the bottom of society upwards. This has always been the message of all the prophets since the first cavemen millennia ago and no doubt would be the message of prophets millennia in the future if civilization lasts so long This certainly would be the message of prophets in civilizations on other planets in neighboring galaxies if we earthlings should ever venture so far out into our common cosmic home.
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