Religion? Or Subversive Political Ideology?
“Can I recite a chapter to you?” Our daughter, bubbly and smiling asked from behind a forkful of fluffy pancake.
Her seven-year-old voice faithfully read each word in the original Arabic, “...it is the freeing of a slave, or the feeding of an orphan or needy person on a day of severe hunger…and being of those who believe and advise each other to patience and compassion…”
She enjoys memorizing the Quran and this, the 90th chapter, is currently her favorite.
As parents, we cherish these moments. The beauty of the Quran is amplified for us in the purity of our child’s melody. Our personal experience with Islam is profound and spiritual.
Yet, some fellow Americans, notably portions amongst the so called ‘alt-right’, and high profile individuals such as our newly appointed National Security Advisor, General Flynn, are insisting that our religion isn’t a religion at all.
Words Have Meanings
Flynn characterized U.S. counterterrorism efforts as “a world war against a messianic mass movement of evil people.” Flynn seems to use the term “Islam”, the title of a religion with 1.6 billion adherents, very loosely; failing to differentiate it from extremism and terrorism.
He stated, “I’ve been at war with Islam, or a component of Islam, for the last decade.” In a speech earlier this year, he called Islam “a cancer” and “a political ideology” that “definitely hides behind this notion of it being a religion.”
Once amplified from the highest offices in the country, these statements put people like us, and our children who are being raised as Muslims into quite a precarious position.
Is Islam just a political Ideology masquerading as a religion? Our personal experience as practicing Muslims suggests otherwise, and so does history.
7th Century: The Prophet Muhammad announced the message of monotheism in Makkah ― the hub of Arabian polytheism. Makkan idolaters oppressed those who chose to follow him ― through torture, killing, imprisonment, and boycotts to force them to recant their monotheistic convictions. The Prophet himself survived repeated assassination attempts. The Muslims endured this for ten years.
During his time in Makkah, not once did the Prophet challenge its political framework. As a matter of fact, the idolaters offered him political leadership in exchange for giving up the call to monotheism. He refused.
Finally, the leaders of a failing city invited the Prophet Muhammad to be their head of state. The city, later known as Madinah, had been plagued by inter-tribal wars and instability. Their offer promised the persecuted Muslims of Makkah safe haven, while giving the population of Madinah, many of whom had embraced Islam, new hope.
The Prophet accepted the invitation, not because he was seeking to establish a state, but because living in Makkah ― the city he loved ― had become almost impossible. As a result, the Muslims of Makkah began an exodus, known as the “hijrah”, to Madinah.
If not for the dire circumstances, the Prophet Muhammad would have stayed ― ultimately, he was amongst the last of the Muslims to leave Makkah.
Upon his arrival in Madinah, the Prophet enacted peace treaties with neighboring societies, managed trade routes, and maintained social order; not because Islam is a political ideology, but in order to address the natural needs of a new city organically.
Politics in Early Islam
Historical documents provide evidence that the Prophet Muhammad, as head of state in Madinah, communicated with kings and emperors. Rather than discussing political ideology, his was a focused message of monotheism.
The Byzantine Emperor Heraclius, heard the following words ― sent from the Prophet ― read aloud in his court:
“O People of the Scripture, come to a word that is equitable between us and you - that we will not worship except God and not associate anything with Him and not take one another as lords instead of God.” (Quran 3:64)
The Abyssinian King, a devout Christian, also received a similar message of monotheism:
“...God: there is no god deserving of worship except Him, the King, The Holy, The Peace, The Securer, The Protector. I testify that Jesus the son of Mary is the spirit of God and His word that He placed on the pure, chaste, virgin Mary... Surely, I invite you and your followers to God, the Sublime, the Majestic.”
The King of Abyssinia chose to embrace Islam, yet the Prophet Muhammad never sent him any blueprints for a political ideology to implement in his kingdom.
Politics in Judeo-Christian Traditions
Jewish and Christian history also demonstrate the way politics can be intertwined with religion.
After the exodus out of Egypt, the Prophet Moses implemented laws in his new society. The Mosaic Law not only provided a moral code, but according to Jewish sources, it outlined rules for governance, a social order with regulations regarding non-Jewish “gentiles”, and included a detailed system for crime and punishment.
After Jesus’ time, Paul ― a Roman Jew who converted to Christianity after seeing visions of Jesus ― introduced a new law ― rendering the Mosaic Law obsolete.
Paul may have erased the Mosaic law, but he gave premise for the divine right of kings; instituting the belief that kings ruled on behalf of God and thus, had to be obeyed:
“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” (Romans 13:1)
Essentially, Paul replaced the Mosaic Law with the laws of rulers.
The Byzantine Empire, with Constantinople at its center, embraced Christianity, making it the official religion. It’s counterpart towards the West, the Holy Roman Empire was led by kings coronated by the Pope.
Both of these empires used the political doctrine, the divine right of kings, to justify submission to the monarchs.
Do the Mosaic Law and Paul’s Law, with their political and social elements, disqualify Judaism or Christianity as religions, rendering them merely political ideologies? The ones exclusively labeling Islam as “a political ideology hiding behind the facade of a religion” fail to do the same with other world religions.
We must ask, why?
The presence of political or social elements does not disqualify religions from being religions. Still, some criticize religions for their apparent roles in strife and conflict over the millennia. There’s no doubt humans have misused religion for their own political agendas. It is often people who are hiding behind the facade of religion.
What’s important to know, is that Islam itself prevents or prohibits much of the problems people tend to accuse it of causing.
In short, religions don’t kill, people kill.
Islam: Nothing to Fear Here
Not only does Islam prohibit its imposition on others, it forbids treachery and honors agreements without compromise.
Renowned Muslim scholars such as Imam Shafi have asserted that Muslims who are granted safe passage ― even into a nation at war with their own ― must not harm anyone from the enemy state. If this is the case for Muslims temporarily entering a belligerent country, then it follows that a Muslim must uphold the agreement promised by citizenship or any type of visa as an even greater trust.
Of the pillars of Islam ― not one of them has anything to do with politics. Islam is a religion. It’s one that millions of Americans practice daily; cherished by nearly 2 billion people worldwide.
It’s not a scary political design lurking in wait for a moment to attack all that we hold dear. It’s a religion of children, elderly, of marriages and funerals, of personal prayer in moments of solitude.
If there is something to oppose, it’s the ideologies hiding behind words of division, of distrust and fear. The people ― regardless of their claimed creed ― who seek to disunite us; to make us fear you and you fear us.