Can a good Muslim be a good American? Brian, a constitutional scholar, put the question to Michael, a national security expert, as we passed the Washington office of Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim to serve there. Ellison’s decision to be sworn in on the Quran still echoes controversially.
Holy war proclaimed against the United States in the name of Islam by Osama bin Laden in 1996 was not taken seriously until his terrorists struck here in 2001, shouting Allah’s name as they died. Even since then, President Bush has insisted Islam is a religion of peace and the global jihad is a perversion. But is it? Uncomfortable as the issue is, we need to ask ourselves.
Almost one percent of our US population are now Muslims, about 2.35 million in all. Most people know some, and we find them decent folks, pleasant to be with, no less than any other religious group. Unfortunately, that’s beside the point for Brian’s question to Michael.
Muslims can obviously be Americans. More and more are, by birth, immigration, or conversion. The qualifier “good” is where it gets uncertain. If a good American is one who lives in fidelity to our nation’s founding principles in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and a good Muslim is one who lives in fidelity to his God-given scripture, the Quran, the concern is whether you can do both.
If you can’t, American liberty might wither in a world where Islamic dynamism is high, Western self-confidence is low, borders are porous, and multicultural tolerance reigns supreme. We’d face a nervous future where individuals must choose between being loyal citizens or Quranic literalists. Nobody wants that, but wishing it away won’t do. We must look at the evidence and have the conversation.
By some interpretations, the Quran forbids a good Muslim from giving any allegiance whatsoever to the nation-state, and hence from obeying civil laws made by any secular government. Sharia, the religious laws proceeding from Allah’s books and clergy, alone warrant obedience according to this strain of Islam.
No problem, says the optimist, we’ll simply encourage the less absolute and more democratically-minded strain of Islam here in the good old USA. We’ll do as Australian premier John Howard did and tell the extremists to embrace our values or leave. Only we won’t; all our secularized instincts forbid dictating to any group that way.
Last week I was with Muhammad Ali Hasan, the young Colorado businessman who founded Muslims for America. His organization, according its website, “has zero tolerance for any kind of terrorism, in following the example left by Prophet Muhammad.” Hear, hear.
Clearly this Pakistani-descended patriot is a good American. But is he also a good Muslim? Of that we unbelievers cannot judge. Some of his fellow believers would say that unless he embraces jihad and seeks the restored caliphate, he is not. They might even threaten his life to make their point – and therein lies the great challenge of this century.