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June 19, 2006

A Note to Muslims: Stop Saying Crazy Things
Posted by Shadi Hamid

I was quietly sipping coffee and checking my mail when I stumbled upon what I, initially, found to be an interesting and relatively inocuous article, the kind that Muslims always send to each other on Muslim listservs because it makes us feel "good," or at least mildy validated.

It's a fairly long piece. And apparently Laurie Goodstein likes to include the whoppers at the end of her articles, and preferably nestled in the very last paragraph. The article talks about two American Muslim clerics, Hamza Yusuf and Zaid Shakir. They are "traditionalists." Traditionalists are usually consistent in condemning Islamic extremism and terrorism and seem to evince a sincere hatred of Bin Laden, Zarqawi, and their ilk. That's the good news. On the other hand, they are deeply suspicious of Western liberalism and pretty much all the foundational tenets of post-enlightenment thought. They are not liberals and they are not democrats. They are often - I'm not sure what else to call it - absolutists.

In any case, here's the part which awoke me from my stupor (also known as the WTF effect):

He [Zaid Shakir] said he still hoped that one day the United States would be a Muslim country ruled by Islamic law, "not by violent means, but by persuasion." "Every Muslim who is honest would say, I would like to see America become a Muslim country," he said. "I think it would help people, and if I didn't believe that, I wouldn't be a Muslim. Because Islam helped me as a person, and it's helped a lot of people in my community."

I had to read it over, because I couldn't believe that a mainstream American Muslim leader would say something so stupid and, well, frightening. It's one thing for him to believe that America should be ruled by Islamic law. It is altogether another for him to imply that all "honest" Muslims believe the same thing. As such, it is incumbent upon moderate Muslims who believe in freedom, democracy, and the US constitution to repudiate such remarks. My God, what's up with Western Muslims wanting to be ruled by shariah? I'm curious, though, how non-Muslims interpret Shakir's remarks. Feel free to post your comments or email me directly with your thoughts.


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I read the article and thought over how I'd react if a Christian leader said something similar. First, I broke down my view into a fee sections.

1) Wanting my religion to be the majority religion.
2) Wanting the U.S. to be a "Christian nation."
3) Wanting religions law.

I think going to stage one is well within most people's comfort zone. I may be a little worried when some other religion or denomination talks about getting a lot of converts. However, those concerns are hypocritical because I'd like lots of recruits for my denomination. I wouldn't say all members of a universalistic religion, like Christianity or Islam, hold this view. However, I wouldn't get excited if someone made such a generalization.

Stage 2, being a "Christian nation" or a "Muslim nation" bothers me. I'm a pluralist and like to have my church and state seperated. However, saying that the U.S. is a "Christian nation" is well within the mainstream of religious discussion. I'd argue with someone that said "All Christians want America to be/stay a 'Christian nation.'"

Stage 3, Talk of religious law, leaves the mainstream. I'd consider any Christian advocating such a thing a radical. I'd say that Judge Ray Moore, the guy who liked displaying the ten commandaments, seems to be more in the "Christian nation" camp than the "Christian law" camp. As far as I know, he isn't advocating locking anyone up for dishonoring their father and mother, let alone for making a graven image. I'm sure there are Christian theocrats who are advocating Christian law, but I consider them to be fringe groups.

It seems natural to a certain extent to desire that your religion dictate the direction the country will take. Us Christians struggle with this a lot (as you can tell). It's such a blurry line between letting your faith inform your politics and making politics a vital part of your faith.

I can see where this guy is coming from in some ways, although he does get over the top with the implications of a self-evident truth that all Muslims should see. I'm sure Muslims are all over the map politically, and reflect the values of their upbringing, culture, and education.

Ultimately, I wouldn't worry about it too much. There are factions in Christianity and Islam alike that desire some sort of theocracy in America, and factions in both religions that can be more sensible about coexistence with a diverse range of people and ideas. If this man's ideas aren't viable politically, they won't amount to much at the end of the day.

I actually know Zaid Shakir fairly well, and I don't believe that he's advocating a "United States of Shariah" or claiming that everu "honest" Muslim wants that, pe se; but rather a country that has laws & regulations rooted in Muslim/Islamic principles. There is a very big difference between the two. Many of our current laws are rooted in Christian principles with Puritanical leanings at some levels. Many others, however, appear to be arbitrary in contrast because they are based on economic ideals rather than moral ideals.

The real issue in the statement that intiated your WTF reaction is the generalized use of "every honest Muslim." What is missing from this statement is the qualifying context. It may be true that most honest Muslims who adhere to a "traditionalist" perspective might agree with him.

However, the vast majority of Muslims in the United States are Eid-Muslims; just like the vast majority of Christians in the United States are Christmas-Christians. Ramadan, Eid, and the occasional Jummah prayer are enough for most of America's Muslims. I've been to all the big Mulsim events, traveled around the country to different Muslim communities, attend fundraisers, mosques, and volunteer meetings. I see all the same people everywhere. It is difficult for me to believe that most of America's 6-10 million Muslims even take part in any form of public/communal religious observance whatsoever.

His claim is not an accurate one, but a hopeful one from his perspective; albeit one that I would have edited were I charged with producing that article because it is a sweeping generalization that either incorrectly includes some people or potentially annoys others. I, for one, believe that the moral and ethical tenets of Islam would benefit this or any country if they were used as part of the legislative foundation. I do not believe, however, that implementing Shariah (as we know it) is a practical, reasonable, or potentially successful approach for the United States.

I came here via Ezra Klein's post @ Tapped, and I'm heartened by the (negative) response to your stupid post.
I'd like to convince the majority to the citizens of this country to give up religion, and I'm not ashamed to admit it. But I'd also like to convince Brazilians that their team is not god's gift to football. I doubt I'll ever get my wish in either case, but I see no reason to condemn Muslims or Brazilians for the desire to proselytize.

As a Jewish American, I don't feel the least bit threatened by the statement, but that may be a function of the minimal amount of influence the American Muslim community registers on our national debates. I'm more concerned about Pat Robertson's belief that no American Muslim could ever become a Federal judge, therefore, no one should be fearful of Christainizing America.

OTH, a statement like this will be used by the "respectable" would-be Muslim-denigrators, like Malkin et al, who routinely portray CAIR as disciples of Osama you-know-who, so, thanks for reminding us how extreme and unrepresentative of mainstream American values someone like Malkin is.

I took it as no different from the kind of statement James Dobson and Pat Robertson and his ilk make all the time. They want their version of "Christian law" to rule.

So long as nobody uses or advocates violence, and merely advocates democratic change and verbal persuasion, I have no problem. I entirely disagree, of course, but I disagree with people in our body politic all the time, as it happens.

To be sure, many will and do interpret such statements of either flavor as more threatening, and doubtless there are those who are more threatening, but absent evidence that people mean more than they say, I'll listen to what they say, and try not to over-interpret.

Tactically, being more prudent about such statements might be wise for anyone, Muslim, Christian, whatever. But that's a different question than you asked.

I actually blogged the original article; I contemplated adding words to the effect of above, but I get bored with paying too much attention to, or anticipating, crazed right-wingers, since there are so many, and one could make a thousand full-time jobs of that sort of thing, so I didn't.

I guess that the number of Americans who think the country ought to be governed by sharia, or even under Islamic principles, is about the same as the number of Americans who think our people ought to live by the teachings of Falun Gong, and is substantially smaller than the number of Americans who mourn the demise of the Confederacy. For that reason I don't think what Zaid Shakir said is anything out of the way.

That, though, is the only reason statements like his don't bother me, or most Americans. The introduction of "Islamic principles" to government is a prescription for some of the world's most backward societies, the ones many American Muslims came to this country to get away from. This prescription doesn't offer a lot to us, and I'd be pretty concerned if any large number of people living here thought it did.

while certain elements of democracy, etc. might share commonalities with some principles of islamic shari'ah, i find it quite perplexing that a muslim would prefer a man-made system vs. a divinely revealed one.

Perhaps the wish for a Muslim country governed by Islamic law is parallel to the wish for a Christian nation governed according to Christian principles, or perhaps it is for sharia law which might be more parallel to asking to be governed by strictly literal Biblical rules. None of the four appeals to me but all are advocated by at least some of the religious "leaders" of each faith.

The claim that "every honest" Whateverist wants a Whateverist government may be denied by what Basil refers to as "Eid-Muslims" and "Christmas-Christians", but to those who believe that their faith clearly demands committment to its establishment in law, those who do not make that demand are legitimately cast as dishonest.

In the case of Christianity, disestablismentarianism is so evident in scriptural teaching that to any reasonable person (ie anyone who agrees with me) it is clear that it is actually those who would establish religious law who are making a dishonest interpretation. Unfortunately, for Islam, so far as I understand it, this is not the case.

I don't think by any means should we rule out the fact that America just might be be a greater country by implementing the shariah. Whats wrong with that idea? Its based on peace, strength, self empowerment and self sustenance. Very much like what we already have in the united states just more sufficient.
I would like to believe there isn't one person out there that could deny the fact that a lot of people have died senseless deaths and it could have been avoided. America is the land of the free but it does have laws and we r in constant search for a better government within the realm.
I'm not saying the time and place didn't make it seem like what he had to say wasn't "threatening" but that's just our unconscious talking. No one said it had to be forced nor that Muslims would form a "jihad" to implement it.
Generally speaking we r affected by the governments laws on a very minimal level depending on how involved you want to get. If America was "free" by its real definition and there still was instead of the united states of bush's law there the united states of sharia law's what difference would make to you?
Do you even know what you are against? Honestly compare the two. And don't use what you see on TV as fact!
If someone said they wish America to be a utopia no one would say anything.. why do we jump to the account of this?
America did not start out christian! nor has it been formed strictly on only Christianity. The law is based on all different faiths cultures brought together to accommodate the people living in it. THAT'S what the Constitution is based on. Who r u to say Islam would rule that out? Islam is merely a name to a law, that has bean turned into whatever label suits those who are afraid of it.
I believe he said that out of faith. I believe he implies to say those whom don't believe Islam to be ideal, Don't understand it! There for because he believes in the prosperity it would bring its natural he would think it to be just right.

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