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There are intolerant strains within every group which has a particular world view. Certainly Islamic history and the contemporary reality of Muslims are replete with expressions of dogmatism. Likewise in today’s socio-political reality, there are types of totalitarianism which exist on the Right and the Left. Whereas American Muslims have pointed out the lack of tolerance that seems to have been more prevalent on the Right, in particular with the rise of the anti-Muslim bigotry which is rooted in the soil of American white supremacy, totalitarianism displayed by a growing segment from so-called progressives may pose a larger problem to be confronted by our community in the long run.
At the Wheatley Institution on March 24, 2016, Robert P. George, McCormick Chair in Jurisprudence at Princeton University, described the current era within the United States as the “Age of Feeling” — meaning that “We judge something to be right or wrong, good or bad, just or unjust not on the basis of faith or not on the basis of reason, but on the basis of feeling. And of course feeling is very subjective.”
The consequence of this growing trend is that those who put forth academic positions on certain frames of thinking that are disagreeable to the Left or define themselves by faith-based morality that comes from transcendent and unchangeable sources are attempted to be silenced based upon subjectively applied terms. Hence those who do not use individuals’ self-applied pronouns relating to gender or racial identity that don’t jibe with science or their theologies are accused of being “violent” for instance. Articulating different opinions and worldviews on certain issues and/or using one’s own nomenclature can easily get people labeled as intolerant or some type of phobe. The irony of this is that intolerance of others’ positions and attempts to stifle the ability of persons to articulate their views without fear of backlash and bullying is done in the name of inclusion and tolerance. So we now have a situation where many in the American Muslim community are “unapologetically Muslim” when it comes to leftist causes and tactics yet do not feel empowered to be as unapologetic on positions that run counter to their so-called progressive allies.
Knowing Truth and Collectively Standing by and with Truth
“You do not know the truth by people. Of course not, know the truth then you will know its people.”
-Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (may Allah ennoble his face)
As empathy is an important aspect of the spiritual experience of being human, truth is not derived primarily by accepting how others feel. Feelings do not equal truth any more than rational debate based upon sound knowledge should be trumped by the subjectivity of feelings. No society can exist much less thrive when the validity of arguments used to shape cultural norms to public policy can be vanquished by emotions dictating what is right and what is wrong. The normative position within Islam is that feelings are not a primary source of truth. The Qur’an, the Sunnah and the consensus of what scholars have always understood in interpreting the permissible and impermissible are binding sources in understanding truth, and soundness of intellect is necessary to understand those as well as the laws within the natural world which were instituted by Allah (Mighty & Sublime). Faith and sound reason are where truth is found, not in how the winds of emotions blow that affect public opinion.
Therefore there must be a recommitment to the truth from an Islamic epistemology, not frameworks which are foreign to traditional Islamic thought. Truth resides in the Qur’an and Prophetic sayings and are to be applied to address reasonable grievances without extreme means. The truth which needs to be recommitted to is not simply the truth of knowing context within the American society and her history but also a textual one, which means approaching the Qur’an and classical books of Islam from its set of established principles (usul). Western Liberalism needs a filter or a litmus test to distinguish between what is truth and what is bogus within it. For laymen, this means coming under the wings of qualified scholars and teachers, not the “do it yourself” approach to Islam based upon what feels right or seems good that is undoubtedly informed by Western Liberalism.
Cultivating a Sense of Independence is Mandatory
Working with people who are not Muslims or even those who follow heterodox understandings of Islam for the greater cause of social justice is fine. Turning back the tide of leftist influences does not mean abstaining from working with leftists at all. Working with them without violating normative creed, Islamic manners and modesty (al-hayaa) should be done per the Prophetic example. Working with them, however, should not be fully contingent upon their terms.
In the Age of Ignorance (al-Jahiliyyah) prior to the Qur’an being revealed, the Prophet (prayers and peace be upon him & his family) witnessed an agreement between the polytheists in Makkah that ensured no one would be taken advantage of in business transactions. He later said about this Pact of Goodness (Hilf al-Fudul) during the Madani period that “If I were invited to this in al-Islam, I would accept.” (Ahmad in a sound chain of narration)
The Prophet (prayers and peace be upon him & his family) in essence told his companions that for a social justice issue that is congruent with Islam, it is noble to work with others including polytheists. Working together on a cause, however, never meant to the companions that those who could be partnered with must have their beliefs, lifestyles and language affirmed in the process.
To you your way and to me mine. (Al-Qur’an 109:6)
Just as Muslims are not supposed to compel others to believe in Islamic creed and lifestyle, people of other ideologies do not have the right to compel or dictate to Muslims what to believe in and what nomenclature must be used in the community discourse. So-called allies that demand American Muslims to give up what is sacred in morality are not actually allies. These are masters looking for servants, wolves in sheep’s clothing.
Sticking Together and Reaching Out to Others
“The Hand of Allah is with the collective.”
-Prophet Muhammad (prayers and peace be upon him & his family) narrated in at-Tirmidhi
Another solution to turning back the tide of leftist influences (or in some cases bullying) is the need, after being in the process of obtaining traditional scholarly instruction and mentorship, is to stick together collectively. Those who are committed to the tradition must stick closer together and not to separate from each other based upon small jurisprudence differences and variations of ethnicity. Having suhbah (gathering or association) with fellow Muslims who are committed to transcendent morality and ethics based upon nusus (textual evidence) and reason is necessary to maintain a certain level of fidelity to normative Islam and also serves as a protection for those who stick with the collective. Displays of weakness from community leaders and activists going out on their own in the name of political expediency have actually opened up the doors to larger compromises relating to public morality among many Muslims and has also passively encouraged the bullying that many traditional Muslims complain of now.
There are also like-minded persons of other faiths who are political moderates on the Right and the dwindling Blue Dog Democrats who share the concern about for aggressive leftist tactics. They too are looking for allies and would actually welcome leadership from American Muslims in this regard. It is those in the community who have the vision to see this problem and organize to bring forth another paradigm to challenge the rising tide of incivility in the Age of Feeling that will truly help American Muslims and fellow Americans of goodwill in the long run, God willing.
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