We, the American Muslims, are at the right place at a critical time in history to make a difference. We are most urgently needed to help the world avoid a confrontational and destructive phase, and to help lead humanity in a positive direction for generations to come. If we do not recognize this opportunity and responsibility, this could lead to great failure.
Now is a compelling occasion and context when the diverse community of the American Muslims should come together on the burning issues in our time — to reconcile the two largest sects of Islam, and to help bring about an effective voice of moderation and reason in a turbulent time within the Muslim world. This is the opportunity we must utilize to consolidate our leadership and to help built consensus on issues. If we succeed in this goal, it would be most effective for peace, justice, and progress in the short term and in the long term.
We are the citizens of the superpower of our time, and we are the members of the Muslim ummah of 1.3 billion people. We are the common denominators, with unique and extra-ordinary predispositions to become mediators and peace-builders in our time. The Quran declares that a small number of people — by keeping trust in God and fighting for the right cause — can defeat and overcome a large number of people. Gandhi, recognizing this truth, repeatedly asserted during his lifetime the following: “A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.”
With an earnest prayer to Almighty for guidance and help, let us take this time to become highly resolved to work relentlessly in order to help bring about a better world.
To Move Forward: Not to Live in the Failures of the Past, But To Lead the Ummah to a Better Future
Today the Muslim world is inundated with dire problems, in which countless men and women exist among inhuman suffering and hopelessness. A huge and ever-increasing young population is utterly frustrated and increasingly angry with the failures of their societies and the conditions they presently live in — extreme concentration of power and wealth, rampant corruption, ineffective leadership, dysfunctional due processes, and poverty.
This is a fertile ground for extremism and terrorism. In this context different types of conflicts — conflicts that can normally get settled through constructive engagement, understanding, and dialogue — become aggravated and morph into confrontations, violence, and instability.
If these destructive propensities do not change, the Muslim world will become stagnant and will be left behind for a long time. This volatile and destructive chemistry must change through an effective leadership of moderation and vision. The American Muslim leadership should spearhead that process of transformation.
They should come together to help create a mindset that is positive and forceful, displacing anger, extremism, rivalry, injustice, and turbulence with understanding, moderation, cooperation, justice, peace and progress.
Our preoccupation should not be about the failures of others and of ourselves in of the past. Our focus should be how to bring about a better future. It is contrary to the Islamic spirit to get overwhelmed by a sense of failure soaked with humiliation, anger, hatred, and complaints about others and about ourselves. It is the call of Islam — and it should be our consensus — to orient ourselves with trust in God and an undaunted spirit, in order to penetrate darkness and to help bring light and hope. Let us not live in the past. Let us work for the future.
Creating a National and International Presence
To be successful in this monumental agenda, the American Muslim leadership needs leverage. The greatest leverage can get established through the creation of a national and international presence due to an issue of extreme global importance. As an example, Iraq today is such an issue. The sectarian conflict could conflagrate the region and the Muslim world; a prolonged occupation of America could trigger a much bigger and deeper confrontation between the Muslim world and the West. All these emanations from the heartland of Islam and the most oil-rich region of the world – if they get worse — could devastate the economy of the Muslim world in particular, and the world in general. Considering the character and the chemistry of this issue, Iraq is the catalyst and the preoccupation of our time.
A united American Muslim leadership has a better chance now than anyone else to intervene and to make a difference. They are a fresh new face, hopefully with no conflict of interest or past baggage, a common denominator conversant with both Western and Muslim cultures, a group of people who are the citizens of the superpower of our time as well as the members of the 1.3 billion ummah. These are extraordinary predispositions and qualifications for mediators and peacebuilders.
Therefore, our consensus should be to focus on empowerment for ourselves and for this greater agenda in the world through constructive engagement with Iraq. We should establish our reputation as mediators, consensus builders, and peacemakers, and establish our objectivity, neutrality, professionalism, and credibility. This is the key to our success. We should be very careful about our own consolidation and unity regarding these issues and objectives. Any dissension among ourselves in this critical endeavor could rule us all ineffective or even invalid regarding the accomplishment of this great work.
Promoting Integration, Cooperation and Power-Sharing
The paramount call of Islam is towards integration, not disintegration. However, the Muslim world is disintegrating into sects and factions. This unhealthy dissension and confrontation is self-defeating and unproductive. While the entire world is moving forward with an understanding of integration through regional and global cooperation and peaceful coexistence, the exceptions often involve people who claim to follow the Message of the Quran. These exceptions often disregard the most profound message of the Quran — to do good and to serve God by seeking unity in diversity among fellow human beings [Quran 5:48].
To be united, one does not need to dissolve all the differences. One needs to recognize the fundamental commonality and common purpose of welfare and peace. The Muslim world seems to be devoid of the understanding of the power of integration and co-existence. This is an enormous failure.
One increases one’s strength and welfare by collaborating with others in recognition and acceptance of others’ legitimate concerns and interests. This increase is not linear but exponential, magnified often many times more than one can hope to achieve separately. This is the secret of progress. To share power and work for collective empowerment does not diminish one’s own position and welfare. It merely increases it manyfold. A broader decision-making process makes rule strong and foundation of governance firm. One diminishes one’s own strength and welfare along with the welfare of others when one utilizes a petty, selfish, and narrow agenda to deplete resources of both parties through dissension and confrontation.
Europe realized the power of integration, and it has benefited from the infrastructure of EEC. Our country, the USA, is a superpower today primarily because it has pursued a most progressive program of integration. This is the most open and pluralistic society in the world, and it extracts the contribution of a diverse community through integration, while agreeing on fundamental ideas of human equality, liberty, dignity, and collective power. Nations have become superpowers by incorporating the spirit the Quran expounds.
This is the spirit that this summit should drill on our consciousness, and we should embark on a program to propagate cooperation, power-sharing, and integration. This should be a point of consensus among us first.
America’s Mindset and Modus Operandi Must be Revised Towards the Muslim World. The American Muslims can be Instrumental towards that Goal.
America should be ready to listen to a voice within. The consequences of failed agendas during the Cold War, failed policies towards the Middle East, and countless wrong efforts to uphold vested interests have been extremely costly for America. If America retained its trust and goodwill it had a long time ago, this great nation could have achieved most of its objectives at the fraction of the price it paid. It still failed to achieve its goals. It is most unfortunate that America’s mistaken ideas and modus operandi have failed to establish a trusting relationship with the dynamic segment of humanity that contains 1.3 billion Muslims and controls over 75% of the oil resources of the world. This is the greatest failure of America. It failed because it failed to uphold the principles it propagates. A strategy based in fear and arrogance is a dangerous strategy, and it is devoid of moral conviction and wisdom. These values are some of the most important ingredients for long-term victory and glory.
This great nation — founded on the sound moral principles of equality, dignity, liberty and equity — has charted a progressive course to materialize these ideals, and has developed pluralistic and self-corrective characteristics which are conducive for positive transformation. It needs an agent from within — through constructive engagement — to remind itself of its ideals and its true goals in the world. After all these failures and turmoil, this time is a very good time for a Muslim leadership to surface and remind the nation that another change is long overdue.
This change might also help to change the tide in the Muslim world. Many Muslims would turn around from extremism if they saw that profound things could be accomplished through constructive engagement rather than destructive engagement. Extremism has grown in the Muslim world due to extreme frustrations and humiliations in the absence of better options. This change can be offered most effectively through the constructive engagement of an international group of Muslims, and through neutral democratic governance. History is a testament to how many times rebels and extremists have become polished politicians and bureaucrats under the pressures of democratic governance.
Our resolution should be to engage ourselves vigorously with the political and social forces of America to bring about positive changes in the mindset and policies of the US government. We should be equally resolute to bring about positive changes in the attitudes towards and interactions with the Muslim world towards this superpower. It is self-defeating to judge America only by its failures, and not also by its enormous successes in its achievements of equality, liberty, and dignity for its people. As Americans, we should become committed to expose this side of America to the Muslim world, and to help minimize prejudices and blind hatred. This is the most pluralistic and open society in the world. The Muslim world can work with America for mutual welfare and goodwill. Through constructive engagements, it is possible.
A Success in Iraq could be a Gateway to a Long-Term and Broader Agenda of Peace
A reconciliation and solution in Iraq is not an end in itself, but a gateway to a broader agenda of peace and prosperity in the Muslim world and the world itself.
A change in mindset needs a spearheading program. Iraq can be that spearhead. God willing, a success in Iraq would catapult us to prominence and empowerment. With that leverage, we should not stop and rescind. We should continue to play this role in other situations with other issues.
For that goal, we need a consensus among ourselves that this is not just about Iraq, but about a greater agenda of conflict resolution, reconciliation, consensus-building, integration, peace, and justice in the world.
Promoting Democracy in the Muslim World for Integration, Stability and Prosperity
We should also keep a common understanding of why a democratic rule is beneficial for the Muslim world. It provides a neutral rule of law and upholds everyone’s fundamental rights and freedoms irrespective of their differences. God-given fundamental human rights can best be pursued through democratic governance. A government should not be used to enforce and to promote a religion or a sectarian dogma. If it does attempt to enforce dogma, it may fundamentally violate the Quranic injunction that there is no compulsion in religion [2:256]. The primary function of a government is to provide a fair rule of law in order to make the society stable, disciplined, and secure, so that the citizens can practice their respective religions and belief systems without encroaching on others’ rights.
The establishment of justice is the essence of Islam. Justice can be most effectively pursued if the governance is accountable, transparent and neutral. Justice is better ensured if a civil society is strong and active. Justice is promoted if there is a proper balance of power, and if adequate consultation is incorporated in the affairs of a society. Democratic governance is most conducive to uphold these ideas.
A neutral system of governance based on the broad moral principles of human life and society — such as equality, liberty, dignity, equity and rights — can offer an effective due process of integration within a diverse community and direct it towards mutual benefit. These principles are also Islamic principles.
The Muslim world needs such a system of integration and stabilization to ensure its success. Any system which leaves a scope for perpetual conflict and instability cannot be Islamic. Any system that is based on an inadequate legitimacy of leadership and governance is inherently weak and prone to disturbance. A system of governance such as this would defy the Islamic spirit of continuity and harmony.
In order to achieve welfare and peace, a society must uphold justice and attain stability. A successful democratic system provides a solid foundation of continuity and harmony. History shows that a rigid and narrow interpretation of any religion or dogma creates dissension and conflict among groups who disagree with such an interpretation. A set of religious beliefs arouse deep emotions among followers. Therefore, a different set of beliefs enforced through state machinery always leaves scope for contention, disloyalty and conflict. A governance, in order to be stable and equitable to all, needs to be based on broad principles. This summit should be an opportunity to bring these ideas into our collective consciousness.
Not only can we help the Muslim world to progress and prosper, but we can also help to improve the present state of democracy in the Western world by bringing the Islamic idea of balance between individual rights and collective rights and welfare of people. An imbalance between these two fundamental rights causes a trend towards dysfunction and decay in the Western world. We can become better partners of justice and peace if we can help change this trend, and we can help establish an exemplary model of democracy.
Whatever the initial conditions or reasons, self-rule can be seen as a victory for a nation. Even if it takes place through unfavorable and unfortunate interventions or occupations from an outsider, the system will ultimately be “by the people, of the people, and for the people.” It is the people who ultimately remain in control of the situation, not the outsiders. The paramount example of our time occurred in Germany and in the larger part of Europe and Japan after World War II under the Marshall Plan. Today, the outsider does not rule the nations. The people do it themselves.
Whenever there is an opportunity for such a possibility, it should be utilized to further that nation’s liberty and welfare. A careful acceptance, an active vigilance, and a constructive engagement can help ensure that the initially negative event can lead to a long-term positive state of affairs. An effective Muslim leadership — Iraqi and/or international — could help lead Iraq towards the achievement of such goals. A visionary American Muslim leadership — as I suggested in 2003 — could have been most effective in the aftermath of the invasion to avoid the violence and bloodshed that has been most devastating for Iraqis. This Muslim group could have been instrumental in the USA to create a national presence, and to work against some of the blunders of the Bush administration which have responsible for disastrous consequences. It is better late than never. There are still many things to be done to shorten the misery of the Iraqi people and the American occupation.
We need to have a better understanding and consensus about ‘self-rule’ in the Muslim world before we promote these ideas. This consensus could be a key to progress in the Muslim world. Who can propagate and promote an idea to the Muslim world better than an enlightened group of Muslims?
The Confrontational Relationship Between the Muslim World and the West Must Change for Our Mutual Welfare
We must change this confrontational relationship between these two important components of humanity. The present confrontational state of affairs is detrimental for both of us. Enormous amount of wealth, human ingenuity, and efforts have been wasted wasted for this confrontation that can be redirected towards mutual and collective welfare.
We should make an effort during this summit to shed light on the possible differences between the present state of affairs and the detrimental direction in which it is progressing with its long term consequences, and compare that with the path that involves constructive engagement, mutual respect, and common welfare. We should keep an effective agenda of interception and transformation. That agenda can be embarked on only when we have a clear understanding of that agenda. This consensus is extremely important.
God has brought us to this place, as citizens of the most powerful and pluralistic country in the world, and we must perform this task. We need to be aware of our endowment and position and responsibility.
We Should Work from the Moral High Ground – Setting a Higher Standard
The Quran proclaims that the most gracious servants of God are those who overlook failures, frailties, and pettiness within this world and return generosity and goodwill to fellow human beings [Quran 25:63].
There is an enormous power and legitimacy when one works from the moral high ground. The Quran repeatedly exhorts its followers to be compassionate, understanding, generous, and forgiving, and to be aware of the inherent power of this moral standing. Therefore, the group that aims to penetrate the hearts and minds of the people devoid of this spirit must exemplify and promote this spirit.
A positive movement should help to raise these ideals into the consciousness to help create a transformation. We need a Gandhi or a Mandela among ourselves to call the Muslim world from the moral high ground to fight against injustices and wrongs, not to perpetrate these evils themselves.
This is a great undertaking, and I believe that the American Muslim leadership can provide it if vision and wisdom prevail. They have the legitimacy and the responsibility to do such monumental work. They have the context and the predisposition most suitable for such international leadership. They are the ‘cream of the crop’ of many lands, and their exposure, education, and expertise gives them the edge to become the natural leaders of this work. It is most unfortunate that a lot of time has been wasted and that a lot of opportunities have been missed. It is of extreme importance now that we do not waste time anymore.
(Author: Ruby Amatulla – Washington Post. Reprinted from ikhwanweb.com)