American foreign policy is now in a new period of containment, similar to that inaugurated forty years ago by George Kennen in his Mr. X article in Foreign Affairs. The problem is that there is no longer a simple bipolar world in which there was only one big threat to contain and for which technology, albeit very expensive, provided a simple answer. Today there are no poles, and the threats range from ethnic conflict, religious extremism, terrorism, and nuclear proliferation to narcotics, economic imbalances, population explosion, and ecological genocide.
The masters of the universe in the White House are expected to solve or contain immediately all the problems of the world. Otherwise they will be accused, in the words of E. J. Dionne, Jr., of having "the guts of Neville Chamberlain and the operational skills of the guys who brought us the Bay of Pigs." Faced with the threat of political losses at home, the politicians have tasked their gurus to save them from the threatening world abroad by coming up with a foreign-policy-equivalent of the unified theory of physics.
The most gallant such effort is Samuel P. Huntington's breathtaking proposal that, during the coming century, civilizations, not states, will be the real actors in international affairs. Since he has not yet escaped the blinders of the Cold War mentality that sees the world as a universe of threats, our future thus becomes "The Clash of Civilizations." The only logical foreign policy thus must aim to contain whatever civilizations or alliance of civilizations might destroy the world as we know it, i.e. might upset the status quo.
The major threat to America's interests, according to many in the intelligence and foreign policy communities, will be the Muslim world. Huntington goes them one further by forecasting an even greater threat, namely, two civilizations, the Sino or Confucian and the Islamic, in alliance against America and the rest of the world. The task thus becomes how to contain this threat.
This essay or position paper accepts the basic thesis that civilizations as the highest form of human self-identity will be increasingly important in the "global village" during the century ahead. But it suggests that we should shift to the opportunity mentality that can transcend the Cold-War psychosis and make possible a century of peaceful engagement designed to promote the interests of all civilizations, nations, and persons.
Globally, we may now be where we were in 1967 when Zbigniew Brzezinski introduced the new paradigm of "peaceful engagement" to destroy Communism. The difference is that Islam as a civilization does not aim to destroy America, though many Muslims in the world have been radicalized by centuries of felt injustice. We required twenty years from the beginning of "containment," focused on threat, to reach the maturity of Brzezinski's new framework for American foreign policy. Another twenty years, from 1967 to 1987, were required for it to reach fruition.
Although self-fulfilling prophecies have begun to create the very threat in the Muslim world that we are now trying to contain, we should hope that a policy of opportunity-analysis and initiatives would bear fruit very soon. The PLO-Israeli Accord can be the first step, but only if it is part of a grand strategy of peaceful engagement not merely with a few unrepresentative and isolated Muslim governments but with the one billion Muslims, a fifth of the world's people, living largely in a 1000-mile-wide swath reaching from the Pacific westward all the way to the Atlantic.
The alternative is a world of warring economic blocs and the spiritual and moral dissolution of the United States from within. An American foreign policy focus on threat at the expense of opportunity is highly risky also because it would surely produce the one threat we are most urgently trying to prevent, namely radicalized populations and unrepresentative governments with a terrorist mentality leading to eventual nuclear war.
This chapter calls for a process of civilizational dialogue between the "Western" and the Islamic civilizations rooted in an understanding that the basic principles of law in Islam and its basic religious beliefs and practices are very similar if not identical to the basic premises of America's founding fathers, though both Muslims and Americans have lost much of this common heritage. Although the enlightened self-interests of both the Muslim world and America are identical, they each often follow parochial policies designed to play in a zero-sum game, whereby any gain by one must be a loss to the other. The two major threats to peace in the world are a parochial American strategy to consolidate a new world order based on maintaining the existing status quo, and a parochial Muslim strategy to overthrow the existing world order in order to promote justice. Each party rationalizes its strategy by demonizing the other in a spiraling process of self-fulfilling prophecy.
The only solution is for the United States to recognize that basic change in the world is inevitable, and for the Muslims around the world to recognize that the only way to achieve justice is to work with Americans in addressing the challenges and opportunities common to us all.
The unified field theory of global affairs was well articulated by a leading Washington strategist, namely, the First Lady, Hillary Clinton. In summarizing the purpose of her new role, she said, "I have a burning desire to do what I can, a desire to make the world around me - kind of going out in concentric circles - better for everybody." In an interview in her West Wing office with Martha Sherrill, she called for a "politics of meaning," whereby her own life and our life as a nation can become "integrated," so that our "emotional life and physical life, spiritual life and political life, all fit together in sync, an orchestra sitting down to play the same song." She would "rather convince you of something slowly - by deed - and she would rather change your mind permanently - about the world or people or politics - than make you laugh right here and now." President Clinton has a master strategist in the White House, because the master is always the one who can define the issue. Unfortunately, few politicians can understand what real vision is all about, so grand strategy becomes irrelevant, and all that is left is tactics with nowhere to go.
I. Civilization as a New Macro-Paradigm of Conflict
Since the end of the bipolar world only five years ago with the advent of Boris Yeltsin and the destruction of the Berlin Wall, we have had two paradigmatic revolutions in viewing the dynamics of world affairs.
First we had "the new world order" of Francis Fukuyama, who asserted that Communism had died, liberal democracy had won, and history had ended in a new world order dominated by secular elites governing from the United States. This "new world order" paradigm, based on a Marxist model, turned out to be wishful thinking and even irrelevant, though it remains as an imperial alternative for frustrated politicians. For a couple of years, policymakers, and especially the policy advisers who inhabit Washington's think-tanks, were lost in what clearly was a new world with no familiar landmarks. They were buffeted by micro-cosmic events unfolding in Bosnia, Somalia, Kashmir, Tadjikistan, and countless other places, but could not produce a coherent set of guidelines to determine how the United States should react to each individual event, if at all. Therefore they felt obliged to come up with some macrocosmic paradigm of thought that could help them make sense of what otherwise seemed to be an unfolding, universal chaos without pattern, purpose, or any handles for external control.
To their rescue came Samuel P. Huntington, Director of a major global think-tank, the John M. Olin Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard University. Huntington had staked out a claim to intellectual leadership a generation earlier when he led the assault on the Western paradigm of "nation-building," whereby progress in the Third World depended on the abolition of indigenous cultures and their substitution by the secular civilization of the West, which was to "mobilize" the natives into clones of their new secular mentors or would-be mentors in the United States. Huntington helped win the battle during the Vietnam era of the l960's against the utopian optimists who had hoped and worked for U.S. unilateral dominance in the world.
In 1993, Huntington decided to fill the paradigmatic vacuum in Washington by updating his ideas to guide U.S. policymakers in the century ahead. He did so by publishing a magisterial article in the Summer, 1993, issue of Foreign Affairs entitled, "The Clash of Civilizations."
He theorized that after the end of the post-bipolar world, which was dominated by two super-states, there would be no dominant states. In fact, international affairs would not be dominated by states at all, because the role of the state as the ultimate or real actor in international affairs would be replaced by civilizations. He identified eight civilizations: Western, Confucian, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Slavic-Orthodox, Latin American, and possibly African.
His presentation of the new paradigm was so breathtaking and seductive that it may occupy center stage in one form or another in policy discussions for many years to come. Although most younger scholars and non-academics acted as if Huntington had invented the first wheel, in fact, Huntington was merely reviving an old policy dispute that dates back to the time of Ibn Khaldun in Tunisia six centuries ago. Ibn Khaldun wrote many volumes to support his thesis that ideas control history and the ultimate force in man's individual or collective life is religious, i.e., the search for ultimate meaning in a transcendent purpose.
Oswald Spengler, author of the multi-volume Der Untergang des Abendlandes, at the beginning of this century, forecast that the West would decline as a civilization and die out because it had lost its spiritual dynamo.
Half a century ago, Arnold Toynbee gained fame by explaining, also in many volumes, that civilizations are the substance of history and that they rise only when there is a critical challenge and an inspired response. Toynbee called Ibn Khaldun the greatest historian of all time.
World War II gave rise to an intense ideological struggle between the civilizational versus the nationalistic explanation of human action. Toynbee, Quincy Wright, and Parkinson led the field of macrocosmic theoreticians who said that no individual state could act independently of its parent civilization. This, of course, would mean that Stalin and Hitler were natural products of Western civilization. Their opponents, above all Hans Morgenthau and Raymond Aron, took the micro approach and said each state is unique, just like an individual person, is motivated by power not principle, and acts independently in nurturing its own culture for good or bad.
This whole subject of the microcosmic versus the macrocosmic explanation of human group dynamics was hotly debated in academic circles as well as in the intelligence and policymaking communities in Washington during the l960's and l970's. Intelligence managers debated what indicators served best to predict threats and a few policymakers debated what indicators were best to predict opportunities as well as to judge the success or failure of policies addressing either. A whole new discipline of quantitative behavioral science began to form in response to the new requirements, but it served mainly to disinform rather than to enlighten because the most easily observable indicators are by nature superficial.
During the l960's, when behavioral science had been carried to absurd extremes during the Vietnam war, a new guru of the macrocosmic began to influence elite thought in America and to bring a perception of order in the world for confused policy advisers. This was Fernand Braudel, a Marxist-Leninist in liberal clothes, who taught that there are three levels of human action relevant to policymakers. The first, most superficial level, is the world of current events, which one reads about in the daily newspapers. This has little meaning, because it is influenced and even determined by a deeper level of institutional change, which is much less observable and therefore less amenable to manipulation by policymakers. Underlying this as the agent of change in human affairs is the level of paradigmatic thought. As popularized at the time by Thomas Kuhn, a paradigm is a framework of reference against which all concepts of truth and rightness are measured. Changes at this deepest level take place glacially or else in sudden qualitative leaps, in accordance with modern chaos theory, but can no more be stopped or directed by conscious human action than man can stop or accelerate a glacier itself. This tri-level view of reality was considered by a few policy professionals as the best lens for either the intelligence or the policy communities to use in viewing the world, because it sheds insight on the environment and the limits within which policymakers can effect change. And it also created a policymaking environment conducive to the new science of "management by objectives," wherein the development of vision and grand strategy could find a home.
With this background of cultural development in the art of foreign policy analysis, it was perhaps natural that in 1993 think-tankers in Washington and the academic community would search for meaning in a seemingly crazy world by looking for permanent actors with permanent interests. The only ones that still exist, according to Samuel Huntington, are civilizations, because every civilization by definition constitutes a unique paradigm of thought and action, and each has an organic need to pursue its own interests in survival and prosperity, either by cooperation with other civilizations or through conflict with them. By sublimating the arena from one of micro-nations to that of macro-civilizations, the world could be tidied up at least intellectually, though the potential for serious errors in discernment and policy prescription might be greatly increased.
II. Civilizations as the Ultimate Source of Conflict
The first theorists to address this renewed macrocosmic explanation of international affairs saw the entire world as a universe of threats, simply because this was the perspective they inherited from the bipolar era, when nothing made sense outside of the threat posed by Communism to the free-world. The analogy that sprang to mind to explain the threats to America was the geology of tectonic plates, whereby earthquake events and even the growth of mountains are triggered by massive blocks of the earth's crust forced against each other by nuclear or other energies powerful almost beyond human imagination. Each civilization serves as a tectonic plate and all are moving inexorably toward confrontation.
The analogies were striking. Just as the Himalayan mountains have been created by the movement of the Indian plate colliding with the Central Asian plate to the north, so also an equally gigantic confrontation may be shaping up as the unstoppable Hindu civilization grinds inexorably against the immovable Muslim civilization that stretches across all of Asia from central China to the Mediterranean and beyond. Other plates may grind sideways but with perhaps even more dramatic results.
By analogizing from the tectonic plates that drive the surface changes on the planet earth, Huntington concludes that "the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between civilizations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future."
Huntington explains that "a civilization is the highest cultural grouping of people and the broadest level of cultural identity people have short of what distinguishes humans from other species. ... Civilizations may include several nation states ... or only one, as is the case with Japanese civilization, ... and may include sub-civilizations. Western civilization has two major variants, European and North American, and Islam has its Arab, Turkic, and Malay subdivisions. ... Civilizations are dynamic; they rise and fall; they divide and merge. And, as any student of history knows, civilizations disappear and are buried in the sands of time."
He suggests that the clash of civilizations will intensify for a number of reasons during the coming century. First, the interactions among peoples in the "global village" may not bring harmony but rather intensify civilizational consciousness and therefore invigorate differences and animosities that reach back deep into history. In economics, regionalism in the form of trading blocs will reinforce civilizational consciousness, and the process may be reciprocal because economic regionalism may succeed only when it is rooted in a common civilization. "Decreasingly able to mobilize support and form coalitions on the basis of secular ideology, governments and groups will increasingly attempt to mobilize support by appealing to common religion and civilizational identity." Politics, economics, and religion will become tools of each other.
Furthermore, Huntington concludes that the modernization process worldwide is separating people from the nation as a source of identity, and religious fundamentalism is rushing in to fill the gap as part of a return to the roots phenomenon, focused outwardly against the source of the identity problem, the West. And he adds, "Cultural characteristics and differences are less mutable and hence less easily compromised and resolved than political and economic ones. ... In class and ideological conflicts, the key question was, 'Which side are you on?' and people could and did choose sides and change sides. In conflicts between civilizations, the question is 'What are you?'" The answer he fears during the twenty-first century may be really a matter of life and death, for uncounted millions.
The major question in policymaking therefore is which civilization will clash with and perhaps bury another or others. If there is to be a global civilization, which will it be, or will they all destroy each other and give rise to something new. The answers will depend, one would conclude, on which civilization can best recognize the dynamics and orchestrate them to its own advantage.
III. The Sino-Muslim Axis
Having set the intellectual stage for a policy conclusion, Huntington then proceeds to invoke the spectre of an alliance between Islam and its many component nations with the Confucian civilization, which includes China but extends beyond it. He thereby invokes an almost genetic fear of the two forces that invaded Europe, the Ottomans and the Mongols, and the tribal fear of inundation by alien peoples who today each number more than one billion persons, each more than the total population of the West.
In order to build on the originators of the current campaign against Islamic civilization, Huntington quotes the "new Orientalists," starting with the Indian Muslim author, M. J. Akbar, who writes that, after the end of Communism, the West's "next confrontation is definitely going to come from the Muslim world. It is in the sweep of the Islamic nations from the Maghreb to Pakistan that the struggle for a new world order will begin." Huntington reinforces this position with Bernard Lewis's similar conclusion in his Atlantic Monthly article of September, 1990, "The Roots of Muslim Rage," which prepared the way for Desert Storm: "We are facing a mood and a movement far transcending the level of issues and policies and the governments that pursue them. This is no less than a clash of civilizations - the perhaps irrational but surely historic reaction of an ancient rival against our Judeo-Christian heritage, our secular present, and the worldwide expansion of both."
Huntington warns American policymakers that, "In Eurasia the great historic fault lines between civilizations are once more aflame. This is particularly true along the boundaries of the crescent-shaped Islamic bloc of nations from the bulge of Africa to Central Asia. Violence also occurs between Muslims, on the one hand, and Orthodox Serbs in the Balkans, Jews in Israel, Hindus in India, Buddhists in Burma, and Catholics in the Philippines. Islam has bloody borders."
One would expect that Huntington would ask himself what the significance is of the fact that, even before Bosnia, 80% of the refugees of the world were Muslims. The Islamic world does have bloody borders, but the blood comes at the hand of the Communists in Sinkiang, where genocide has been waged for decades; of the Russian nationalists and their fascist allies in the Central Asian republics, where in 1992 more than 30,000 Muslims in Tadjikistan were exterminated and 150,000 made homeless; and of the so-called secular government of India in Kashmir, where a tragedy equal to that in Bosnia is practically unknown to the world only because India does not permit freedom of information. One would think from Huntington's litany of gore that the Muslims are attacking the Buddhists in Burma, the Hindus in India, the Jews in Israel, and the Serbs in Bosnia, rather than trying to defend themselves against aggression.
Huntington is honest by admitting the inconsistency of the United States when it prevents the Muslims in Bosnia from defending themselves while it refuses to impose sanctions on Israel for its policies in the occupied territories. He explains this simply by his statement, "A world of clashing civilizations is inevitably a world of double standards: people apply one standard to their kin-countries and a different standard to others."
He states, obviously with approval, "Global political and security issues are effectively settled by a directorate of the United States, Britain, and France, world economic issues by a directorate of the United States, Germany, and Japan, all of which maintain extraordinarily close relations with each other to the exclusion of lesser and largely non-Western countries. Decisions made at the U.N. Security Council or in the International Monetary Fund that reflect the interests of the West are presented to the world as reflecting the desires of the world community. The very phrase 'the world community' has become the euphemistic collective noun (replacing 'the Free World') to give global legitimacy to actions reflecting the interests of the United States and other Western powers."
Perhaps the most egregious case of duplicity was the intervention by the United States in Somalia when the Muslim forces were beginning to consolidate their control and had already brought sufficient order so that crops could be planted and the famine stopped. One influential analysis justifying the intervention was published in The Washington Post of October 17, 1993, by Christopher Whalen, who writes that American intervention was designed "to protect the increasingly isolated Saudi Arabian monarchy from the combined threat of Iranian military and political power and Islamic fundamentalism. [In contrast to earlier cases] this time 'humanitarian assistance' became the sole label for the latest intervention. ... Iran's limited but growing role in East African states like the Sudan and Somalia is part of a much larger strategy to gradually encircle the prime target in the region - Saudi Arabia - with a web of regional alliances and covert military operations. Strategically, as Yossef Bodansky wrote recently in Global Affairs, 'all of this effort was aimed at a Sudanese-Iranian presence in the Horn of Africa [aiming] toward a transformation of the Red Sea into a Green [Muslim] Lake.' ... America is in the position of defending a weakling regime (Saudi Arabia) that cannot survive in its own increasingly dangerous neighborhood. It has been said that an American military withdrawal from Somalia ... would have serious consequences for the Persian Gulf. The Saudis and other fearful Arab states would believe that Washington can no longer be trusted to serve as a regional watchdog."
This analysis is grossly simplistic, yet accurate to the extent that it suggests a hidden agenda, as do most acts of governments around the world. The real policy issue was not the need for humanitarian aid, or even the wisdom of using military force to impose political solutions from the top down as part of a worldwide experiment in social engineering, but whether this was the right place to begin an attack on Islam as a growing global force.
The policies of intervention in Somalia and non-intervention in Bosnia, however, according to Huntington, are peripheral to the main arena of combat. The real center of the threat in the old Mackinder sense of continental control is Central Asia. Against the world community a new threat is now emerging, which Huntington calls the "Confucian-Islamic connection." He devotes a major section of his 27-page position paper on the clash of civilizations to this central area of global conflict.
"Those countries," he writes, "that for reason of culture and power do not wish to, or cannot, join the West, compete with the West by developing their own economic, military, and political power. They do this by promoting their internal development and by cooperating with other non-Western countries. The most prominent form of this cooperation is the Confucian-Islamic connection that has emerged to challenge the Western interests, values, and power."
He notes the emergence of what Charles Krauthammer calls the "Weapon States," which are those in the Sino-Islamic axis that no longer accept the old world order dominated by Euro-America. He notes that this has forced "the redefinition of arms control, which is a Western concept and a Western goal. During the Cold War, the primary purpose of arms control was to establish a stable military balance between the United States and its allies and the Soviet Union and its allies. In the post-Cold-War world the primary objective of arms control is to prevent the development by non-Western societies of military capabilities that could threaten Western interests."
In conclusion, Huntington forecasts that during the coming century "violent conflicts between groups in different civilizations are the most likely and the most dangerous source of escalation that could lead to global wars; the paramount axis of world politics will be the relations between 'the West and the Rest'; the elites in some torn non-Western countries will try to make their countries part of the West, but in most cases face major obstacles to accomplishing this; a central focus of conflict for the immediate future will be between the West and several Islamic-Confucian states."
This concept of a civilizational alliance against America stretching from the Pacific westward across Asia clear around the world to the Atlantic is appealing, because it suggests that Europe and America are surrounded, just as the Soviet Communists maintained a psychological war-footing by envisaging themselves as surrounded by capitalism. Mao Tse Tung must be moaning in his grave because he never thought of this stroke of brilliance. Mao reversed the Soviet concept of encirclement by claiming that his revolutionary movement would surround the capitalist citadel of Euro-America just as he had surrounded the cities of China from the countryside in his victorious sweep to power in the population center of the world. Perhaps this vision of encirclement may give coherence to American foreign policy, but it fails to recognize the real civilizational dynamics in human history, which are religious. When civilizations become secular, they always lose.
IV. The Threat of the Threat Mentality
The next issue of Foreign Affairs devoted even more space to countering the Huntington thesis than it allowed to the thesis itself, and the following issue gave Huntington the opportunity to rebut the worst that could be marshaled against him. Unfortunately, the most serious error in Huntington's thesis is shared by all his detractors. They all accept the basic premise that Western civilization is secular.
If we are indeed a secular civilization as most of our opinion elites would have us believe, then America is destined to wage mortal combat forever with every other civilization in the world, simply because all civilizations are based on religion, that is, on a sense of the transcendent and of a higher reality and purpose than man can physically observe or control. Since both the proponents and opponents of the Huntington thesis in the Foreign Affairs dialogue are secularists, they may never be able to see their own fundamental error until the growing traditionalist movement of Christians, Muslims, and Jews inside America renders them irrelevant.
The second basic fallacy behind Huntington's increasingly popular demonization of Islam and Muslims is its origin and basis in the threat mentality that always engulfs a society when it is disintegrating from within. The threat mentality causes otherwise normal people to view the whole world in paranoid terms as a universe of threats. Threat analysis in much of the world is still the paradigm of foreign policy, especially among the military who exist in order to counter threats. And the measures to which the defenders against real or imagined threats are willing to resort can include mass genocide far beyond the capability of any run-of-the-mill terrorists who simply blow up an airplane or a single building. They both can be dangerously psychotic.
The threat mentality often justifies its extremism by defining the threat as whatever the other guy does, without regard for his reaction to or perception of one's own actions, and by defining the other guy collectively as an entire people, or an entire religion, and even as an entire civilization. The result may be a catastrophist view of the world in which one's own ethnic group, or religion, or civilization is locked in mortal combat with "the other."
An extreme example is Imam Khomeini's characterization of America as the "great Satan." This psychotic approach to problems makes rational analysis of dialogue and cooperation impossible and can lead eventually to state support of terrorism and to the use of nuclear weapons in a preemptive strike. Khomeini, as well as millions of his people, were desperately frustrated by what they felt was their oppression by a foreign secular culture bent on its own aggrandizement at their expense. Once the Shah as a proxy of this foreign threat was removed, Khomeini focused on the source of this threat, which for him became an amorphous but monolithic "America." The aggressive war by Iraq aided and financed by the United States and its allies against Iran served only to further radicalize an entire nation and to justify in the minds of its radical leaders the resort to state terrorism against whatever proxy they could find and rather easily attack, especially Israel. By applying this self-fulfilling prophecy of threat in American foreign policy, U.S. strategists produced a threat that may take years to dissipate.
An even more extreme example of psychosis has been the demonization of Islam in Bosnia. The Director of the Republican Task Force on Terrorism, Yossef Bodansky, produced an ostensibly well-researched position paper in September 1992 warning that the Muslims of Bosnia are a spring-board for political radicals to attack Europe and America. Fortunately, in response to immediate protests by the American Muslim Council, the co-chairman and half of the members of this task-force resigned after they read the report that had been issued under their names.
Much more dangerous than such egregious nonsense, which can sell only to Bodansky's fellow paranoids, is the uneasiness of opinion elites at the highest levels in America and Europe over the rise of Islam as an influential religion in the post-bipolar world.
The arguments against permitting the Bosnians to defend themselves against aggression are based clearly on religious prejudice and fear. Thus Henry Kissinger stated on May 16, 1993, in a lengthy position paper, published as an op-ed piece in the Washington Post, "The most irresponsible mistake of the current Bosnian tragedy was the international recognition of a Bosnian state governed by Muslims."
This was repeated more clearly in mid-August by the British foreign minister, Douglas Hurd, who announced that Europe will never permit a country with a Muslim majority and an Islamic government in Europe. One might almost conclude that Kissinger announced the end of a multi-ethnic Bosnia on May 16th by calling for its division and the creation of a small rump Bosnia, whereas Hurd called for the elimination of even this small remnant.
A survivor of the holocaust, Henry Siegman, who is executive director of the American Jewish Congress, stated in the Washington Post of August 24, 1993, "Perhaps the real shameful truth is that the West is indifferent to the fate of Bosnia's Muslims, at least in part, for the same reason it was indifferent to the fate of the Jews in the 1930's. There was something in Hitler's hatred of the Jews that resonated in residual anti-Semitism in Western culture. Similarly, there is something in the Serbian and Croatian demonization of Bosnia's Muslims - the fear of `a Muslim state in the heart of Europe' - that finds an echo in lingering Western prejudice."
"However we rationalize our indifference to what is happening in the Balkans," he continues, "its consequences will surely haunt us in the days and years to come. For what is at stake in Bosnia is not only indescribable human suffering but the idea of the universality of the civilized norms that are the foundation of our freedom and democracy. In Bosnia, on the threshold of an unfolding new order, we have been offered the opportunity to reaffirm that fundamental truth, and we have failed the test." President Clinton saw clearly what was happening in Bosnia. He urged in a press conference on May 11th, 1993, that we must "stop this ethnic cleansing, murdering people, raping children, and doing terrible acts of violence solely because of people's religion." The juggernaut of Western "multilateralism," however, simply overrode President Clinton's compassion and horror at our inaction, because this particular religion had been declared out of bounds.
The irony of this demonization in Bosnia is that, at least until recently before the process of self-fulfilling prophecy began to take effect, the victims of the Serbian ex-Communists' religio-nationalist xenophobia and genocide have been struggling to uphold all the principles that the Americans and British hold so dear.
They are trying to uphold their belief that communities should function not to exclude or hurt each other but so people can get to know each other, as it is urged in the Qur'an, so they can cooperate in the pursuit of knowledge, justice, and prosperity.
The majority of the people in Bosnia have been fighting to maintain multi-cultural cooperation, as Muslims have throughout most of their history, and to maintain political diversity based on representative governance, which is an absolute requirement under Islamic law. The Bosnians are not an ethnic group but have always been a community of people, including Christians and Jews, who submit to the universal teachings of divine revelation. This is precisely the broadest meaning of the adjective, "Muslim."
It is appropriate that all the Bosnians who are fighting for the very principles on which America was founded are called Muslims. There is no other official designation. People are either Serbs, Croats, or a mixture of ethnic and religious groups officially termed Muslims. The designation is very apt, but the true significance of the term cannot be seen since the entire people have been demonized in the name of a religion.
It is perhaps fortuitous, or the Muslims would say the design of Allah (SWT), that the most truly practicing Muslim leader of any country in the entire world is the Bosnian president, Alija Izetbegovich. His book, written in a Communist prison, Islam Between East and West, established Izetbegovich as one of the half-dozen leading Muslim intellectuals in the world.
His only problem is that most of the Muslims of the world have lost touch with their spiritual and intellectual heritage and can no longer fully grasp what Izetbegovich is saying. He is calling for a society governed by leaders who are governed by God, which is the whole idea of the Great American Experiment, rather than, as in most other Muslim countries, by theocrats, military bureaucrats, secular tyrants, or a feudal aristocracy. He is calling for a society governed not by human whim or populist movements but by the rule of law, by the inalienable human rights given every person and community by God, the most important of which are enshrined in the Islamic shari'ah and in the U.S. constitution.
Therefore it is most ironic that the death-knell of the Bosnian Republic was rung in January, 1993, by Henry Kissinger who stated that he had read Isetbegovich's book and concluded that it represents the purest form of the mounting Islamic threat to "Western civilization." Since Izetbegovich and all the other great scholars and leaders throughout Islamic history have been calling for exactly what America's founding fathers did when they launched their revolution against foreign oppression, one can only conclude that the zealots behind the movement toward civilizational confrontation either are criminally ignorant or have declared war on the American people.
I. The Opportunity Mentality
Out of every tragedy there is an opportunity for good. The first, major, post-Cold-War application of policies based on the theory of civilizational confrontation has shocked many people with any moral sensibility into questioning the theory's premises.
Perhaps the Bosnian tragedy and the underlying theory of civilizational confrontation will expose the fallacy of the secular premise on which it is based, namely, that religion automatically or even irrevocably is a cause of conflict rather than its cure.
Since secularism among the policymakers in both Serbia and the West clearly is the root of this genocide in Bosnia, as it was in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, many thoughtful Jews have begun to question the Zionist doctrine that secularism is the secret to security of the Jewish nation or any other nation. In the book, American Jews and the Separationist Faith: The New Debate on Religion in Public Life," edited by David Dalin with an afterword by Irving Kristol, and published in 1993 by The Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., some of America's traditionalist Jews have questioned the view that religion should be rigorously separated from public life, and they have begun to argue for "equal protection" in laws and for government policies that encourage the free exercise of religion. Perhaps the utter ruthlessness of the new doctrine of inexorably clashing civilizations has shocked some of America's opinion elites enough and in time to seek in the religious basis of all civilizations the real meaning of history and the solution to the problems of the world.
The lights are coming on all over the world of Judaism. At the ancient Ansche Chesed Synagogue in New York, which is home for Michael Lerner's vehicle for civilizational renewal, Tikkun, Rabbi Rachel Cowan worries about the n'shama, the soul, of Judaism. She continues the teachings of Rebbe Abraham Izaac Kook of Palestine and of all this century's great Jewish spiritual leaders when she explains with passion that, "God's purpose for the Jews continues. We are here for a purpose: to combine our passion for making the world a better place with our mission to bring holiness into the world and maintain our rich spiritual path."
Although the recent PLO-Israeli accord results from many factors, the underlying impetus that made it possible seems to be a growing willingness worldwide to shift the framework for decision making from the constricting mentality of threat forecasting toward an openness to opportunity. The greatest opportunity is to question the entire paradigm of civilizational confrontation, based on the mentality of threat, and to explore whether religion is the only adequate source of justice, and justice the only means to peace.
II. The Search for Justice
Although all of the world's major religions agree on the essential spiritual truths, of course with dissenting factions within each one, and on the moral verities that underlie the formation of character, each religion has its own unique paradigm of thought and can be understood only within its own frame of reference.
In Islam, this paradigm is the shari'ah or Islamic law, just as in Judaism the paradigm is the Torah and for most Jews also the Talmud.
Some narrow-minded 'ulama or professional clerics define the shari'ah very narrowly to consist only of a set of dogmatic rules essentially divorced from everything of spiritual, social, or political substance. Others take a diametrically opposite view of the shari'ah by defining it in Qur'anic terms as the shar' or way of life that was taught by all the prophets, from Adam to Moses to Jesus to Muhammad (SAWS) and was developed by centuries of the world's best minds into a paradigm of thought in the form of a hierarchy of purpose. This holistic approach necessarily encompasses every aspect of morality, including political, religious, and intellectual freedom.
Although Imam Shafi'i, two centuries after the time of the Prophet (SAWS), was the first scholar to develop the holistic approach inherent in the Qur'an to the level of an art, the earliest jurists, even at the time of the Prophet himself ( ), followed the holistic approach for which Islamic scholarship became famous, even though they had no terms to describe their techniques.
The classical shari'ah, which reached its high-point of systemic development in the 30 volumes of Ibn Taymiyah and in the writings of his students Ibn Qayyim and al Shatibi six centuries ago, can be explained in terms of its premises and its purposes.
The first premise or basis of the shari'ah is its holistic ontology. Allah is One. Therefore the entire created order exists in unitary harmony. The things and forces we can observe are real, but their reality is derivative from Allah (SWT). They do not exist independently of His purpose in their creation. This ontological principle, known as tawhid, is critically important in Islamic law because it means that the whole precedes and is greater than the parts. Purpose and meaning therefore derive deductively from preexisting knowledge of the whole, revealed by God both directly and through His creation, and are not derived inductively by analysis of the parts.
The second premise of the shari'ah is its esthetic. The nature of transcendent reality, and of all being, is beauty, which precedes and is independent of cognition. The flower in the desert is beautiful even if no person ever sees it. Beauty consists of unity, symmetry, harmony, depth of meaning, and breadth of applicability. The greatest beauty is the unitive principle of tawhid itself, because without it there could be no science and no human thought at all. This is of controlling importance in the shari'ah, because it means that the ideal system of law should be simple, symmetrical, deep, and comprehensive.
The third premise is epistemological. All knowledge is merely a derivative and an affirmation of the unitary harmony inherent in everything that comes from Allah (SWT). All creation worships Allah because He is One. Every person is created with a need and a corresponding intuitive capability to seek and know transcendent reality. The human spirit, the ruh (which is always in direct contact with Allah), and soul, the nafs (i.e. mind, or decision-making power), and the power of reason (or material brain) are designed to know reality and to facilitate submission to Allah (SWT) in thought and action. To this end, everything in creation is a sign, an ayah, of Allah (SWT), designed to manifest the beauty and perfection of His will for our instruction. For example, the constant movement of the clouds shows the nature of the universe as a flux or state of constant change, so that we will seek the stability of peace only in Allah (SWT). Similarly, the variety of sunsets we see shows the freedom for diversity inherent in Allah's design for the universe, which in turn shows the uniqueness ordained for every individual person. Both the clouds and the sunset have powerful lessons for every branch of human knowledge, from the fitric or microcentric disciplines of physics and psychology to the ummatic or macro-oriented disciplines of chemistry and sociology or politics.
This epistemological premise reinforces the first two, because it indicates that Islamic law serves to give meaning to everything man can observe. And meaning comes from Allah (SWT), Who gives purpose to everything He has created.
A second way to understand the shari'ah as a holistic guide to the rule of law is to analyze its practical purposes, because it is above all an educational tool designed to provide guidance. To the extent that the lower level of requirements must ever be enforced, the purpose of the shari'ah for human society has failed.
This purposive nature of law in Islam differs radically from the static nature of law in Indo-European cultures, where law serves to maintain order, continuity, and stability, and where law by definition exists only where it is enforced. This radical difference in nature is evident in the very concept of being. In Greek thought, from which Western secularism derives, "being" is known as ontos, hence the term ontology as the science of being. It is a static concept or at most conceives of being as cyclical and tending toward death in accordance with the second law of thermodynamics.
By contrast, in Semitic thought dominant in Judaism and Islam, and also in traditionalist Christianity, being is defined by the word kun in the sense of God's command to the universe, "be," and it was. All of creation arose by personal command with a divine purpose, and it is the task of man to find this purpose as best he can in the cosmology of the stars, the pattern of divinely guided evolution, and in his own nature and to transform both himself as a person and the surrounding universe in accordance with it.
When the status quo contains injustice, man's duty is to change the status quo, which is why superficial stability can never become a false God for Muslims. This carries powerful meaning not only in the field of law but in every field of knowledge, especially human relations and international politics. Existence is purposeful movement and we can be real only if we become a component part.
The highest purposes of the shari'ah are six in number, though some scholars in the early centuries, like Abu Hamid al Ghazali, identified only five. Each of these six universals (kulliyat) or essentials (dururiyat) or goals (maqasid) of the shari'ah provides guidance in identifying and addressing the issues of conscience in any society. There may be many valid Islamic positions on each of the major issues, but there can be only one Islamic approach, which is to address the underlying spiritual and moral causes rather than their outward manifestation in the chaos of injustice and evil.
To understand the nature of Islamic law in any country of the world we need only look at illustrations of how each of the six would apply in America. Since the problems of human society are basically the same all over the world, the essential meaning of Islamic law would not vary among countries, though the means of enforcement would depend on the extent to which the people felt themselves bound by this higher law. No-one is bound by Islamic law unless he or she accepts its binding nature. As a system of guidance, what would apply in America would apply with minor adaptations in Nigeria, Egypt, Tadjikistan, Sinkiang, and Indonesia.
The first three of these six highest purposes deal with what is essential for survival:
- Life. The first is known as haqq al haya, the responsibility to respect or protect life. This would include the obvious issues of abortion on demand (half of the 3,400,000 unintended pregnancies in America every year end in abortion) and suicide (depression leads 30,000 Americans every year to take their own life). The responsibility to respect life also includes such issues as the quality of life of the aged and disabled, and guaranteed health care of high quality for all Americans.
Haqq al haya includes many issues of national defense and foreign policy, including the worldwide problem of refugees, most of them Muslims. All of these foreign policy issues are rooted in the fundamental Islamic principle that peace comes most basically not from efforts to maintain stability through military power but from pursuing justice.
This haqq al haya also gives special meaning to the new agenda of the global environment, which is so heavily emphasized in the Qur'an and hadith, and now is threatened by a materialistic indifference to man's responsibility both to the Creator (SWT) and to His creation.
- Community. The second basic responsibility, haqq al nasl, is the duty to respect the family and community. This brings our moral focus onto the problems of divorce (the already horrendous rate has doubled in the last decade and has not gone still higher only because couples increasingly live together without bothering to get married), the care of children (in the inner cities we have a whole generation of de facto orphans), and family life programs (geared to "safe sex" without the slightest concern about moral obligation). And, of course, we have the problem of homosexuality, lesbianism, and AIDS, which are a direct result not only of the general anomie or lack of meaning and purpose in life but of the concerted attack by special interest groups and most of the levers of power in society on the traditional family.
- Property. The third dururiyah or essential goal of the path and pattern of perfection known as the shari'ah is haqq al mal, which most simply is the duty to protect and promote private ownership of the means of production as a fundamental human right. In principle, whoever does not own and control the tools he uses to earn a living is in fact a slave of whoever does own them.
This human right and responsibility is based on the fundamental virtue and moral principle of infaq, which is the habitual inclination to give rather than take in life. Infaq is the basis of charity, that is, of zakah and sadaqah, which form one of the five pillars of Islamic action, but it requires much more than merely redistributing wealth to the marginalized and helpless in the community. Haqq al mal, and the principle of infaq on which it is based, require everyone to try to multiply the material bounties of Allah (SWT). Allah has revealed in the Qur'an that there can be no shortage of natural resources, because Allah (SWT) has provided all the resources we will ever need, including our own intelligence to develop them. Therefore we should fight poverty not directly by redistributing existing wealth but indirectly by helping every person and every community build prosperity through entrepreneurial action.
This process of producing wealth through individual incentive, which relies on the human nature given to us for a purpose by Allah ( ), has one overriding requirement. If haqq al mal, the ownership of private property as the means to earn our living, is a universal human right, then such ownership should be truly universal. This means that the financial institutions and practice of society, as well as the most basic concepts of corporate law, should serve to broaden access to wealth rather than to concentrate it in the hands of a few.
The codeword here is not equal results but "equal opportunity." The great evil identified in Islamic economics, according to the holistic perspective of the classical shari'ah, is not interest-burdened finance, as most scholars would have us believe, but the underlying evil of concentrated wealth in society, to which financing through loans rather than equity investment contributes.
The model of Islamic finance is the employee-ownership program instituted by the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan al Muslimun) of Egypt during the period immediately preceding the advent of Gamal Abdel Nasser. The early Islamists condemned the basic Marxist principle that wealth is created by labor and that therefore the ownership of machines should be turned over to the State. The Ikhwan or Brotherhood contended that in capitalist society wealth is produced primarily by machines, so the key issue of justice is how to broaden capital ownership. Their solution was to develop an embryo of what is now known as the creative credit revolution through the ESOP or Employee Stock Ownership Program in America, whereby employees leverage the assets of the companies where they work to obtain outside financing so they can purchase stock in these companies, to be paid back out of the future profits produced by the machines the employees now own. These pioneers of Islamic economics in the modern age of capital-intensive economies developed 70 employee-owned companies. These were so highly successful that Nasser immediately nationalized them when he took power and either executed or exiled all the business executives. The U.S. government has talked of privatizing para-statals in recent years, but has opposed efforts of Muslims to implement the basics of Islamic economics by privatizing the remnants of socialism through the development of institutions designed to broaden share-holding opportunities. Many Western economists are fully aware that Islamic principles of economics, if ever permitted to be applied, would undermine the basic premise of American development economics and development politics, namely, that decision-making power must be concentrated at the top.
The last three of the six essentials of Islamic law concern quality of life.
- Self-Determination. The first of these three qualitative essentials of the just society, haqq al hurriyah, is the right of responsible political freedom, and the corresponding duty for all persons and every interest group to help determine the directions and priorities of the polity in which they choose to live. This is Islamic self-determination. Unfortunately, this aspect of the Islamic heritage has been observed primarily in the breech and therefore is not well known among most of the Muslims in the world today, including most of the Muslim immigrants who have come to America precisely to escape tyranny in their own homelands. All the great scholars of Islam throughout the past 1360 years have been imprisoned, often for decades, for teaching the three basic principles of Islamic political thought. These are: 1) khilafa, which is the responsibility of the rulers, as well of the ruled, to Allah (SWT); 2) shura which is the responsiveness of the ruler to the ruled and the duty of the entire polity, both rulers and ruled, to establish formal political structures by which this shura can be reliably maintained; and 3) ijma, or consensus, which requires all the members of the community, especially the opinion leaders, to develop a political consensus adequate to sustain the first two elements of the just polity, namely, shura and khilafa.
This is the source of the absolute requirement that every Muslim in America become politically active in whatever way he or she can, including at the local level and in local issues, because this is "where it's at," that is, where the destiny of representative governance and the justice that results from it will be decided.
To these three political elements of the free society in the practice of the Prophet (SAWS) and in classical Islamic thought is a fourth, which has always been simply assumed and therefore has often been ignored but never attacked. This is the shari'ah itself and an independent judiciary to protect and apply it in order to sustain the integrity of the executive and legislative process.
This last element of the fourth goal or purpose in Islamic law is what distinguishes the American Revolution from the French Revolution, because the American revolutionaries all agreed that our basic rights and duties come not from collective man, elevated to the status of a false god, but from our Creator (SWT), Who sustains each one of us individually and is the only source and purpose of our liberty, equality, and brotherhood, and Who alone is the ultimate and true Legislator. America's founding fathers distinguished their traditionalist political thought from the secular thought of the French Revolution by condemning democracy, or rule by the demos or people, and calling their new system of governance a republic.
- Dignity. The fifth of the dururiyat or essentials of the shari'ah is haqq al karama, which is the duty to promote the dignity of the person and of the moral community. In Islamic thought, freedom of religion and freedom of thought and expression derive not from the principle of freedom itself but from the dignity inherent in the human soul and its power to respond to the love of Allah (SWT). Freedom to pursue truth and to worship Allah (SWT), of course, can never be taken away, even in a concentration camp. The social and political duty of haqq al karama is to facilitate maximum freedom to practice these two highest duties of man, namely, the pursuit of truth and the worship of our Creator and Sustainer (SWT). Despite the extreme injustice of slavery, which was attacked by America's founders as an abomination but was accepted by many in practice, this duty to respect the dignity of man was the key principle of American social thought just as it has always been among the great scholars of Islamic law.
The specifics of applying haqq al karama in America will differ from those in other countries only in degree. In America, it means first of all that we must act responsibly in every way possible to address the issues of unemployment, drugs, the homeless, affordable housing, prison warehousing and recidivism, as well as some of the underlying causes, including racial discrimination and the failure of some of the intended remedies.
Secondly, and even more importantly, we must address the major underlying cause of all our problems in America, which is the secular-humanist attack on all religion under the guise of separating church and state. The issue of "separation of church and state" is used hypocritically by the enemies of everything sacred in our society not to protect religion from state control, which was the original constitutional intent of the founders of our country, but to protect the secular state, including public education, against any moral influences from the concerned citizenry.
- Knowledge. The biggest issue within the area of haqq al karama is the sixth kulliyah, namely, haqq al 'ilm, which is the universal right and duty freely and responsibly to educate oneself and one's children. This issue demands our highest priority, because whenever any people lose control of either their own or their children's education, they have truly lost the future of all succeeding generations.
The biggest threat for Muslims comes from within, namely, from the effort to "Islamize knowledge" by adopting the secular paradigm of thought inherent in the disciplines that are standard in American universities and by trying somehow to adopt the best from the West by trying to sanitize it of un-Islamic baggage and fit it into such a secular framework. This is merely a Muslim form of what Catholic scholars for more than a century have called "modernism," which is the death of all real knowledge and would spell the end of every revealed religion. Knowledge by definition cannot be Islamized. As Mortimer J. Adler, America's greatest professional philosopher has said in his The Four Dimensions of Philosophy: Metaphysical, Moral, Objective, and Categorical, Macmillan, 1993, footnote on page 6: "Knowledge always has the connotation of truth possessed by the mind. The phrase 'false knowledge' is a contradiction in terms; what is correctly judged by the mind to be false is not knowledge." The key policy priority should be to guide the formulation of voucher education, with policy priorities on equality of access and quality of education. The second level of purposes in the shari'ah's hierarchy of purpose, below the universals or kulliyat is the hajjiyat, that is, the level of objectives necessary both to explain and carry out the higher level goals. The lowest level, known as tahsiniyat, contain the courses of action needed to transform policy into action. The two hajjiyat in the field of knowledge and education, namely, equal access and quality, are equally important.
Voucher education originated as a way to segregate children racially, but its modern version was designed by African-American Muslims specifically to overcome racism and provide for the first time equal funding for suburban children and those in the inner cities. The famous Wisconsin experiment was designed in part by Kalim Wali, aka Ronald W. Hendree, of Milwaukee, to permit parents to designate the school of their choice as the recipient of their school taxes, with state subsidies for those schools that otherwise would fall below the budget standard required for all schools. The most successful such experiment in parental control was in Harlem, where the children reportedly went from the lowest 15th percentile in standard tests to the highest 15th percentile within two years. One of the most important elections in America in recent years was on Proposition 174 in California on November 2, 1993, which called for the institution of voucher education. Unfortunately, the California Teachers Association outspent the proponents by ten to one, while Muslims remained largely on the sidelines, despite the fact that voucher education nationally would provide several hundred million dollars to Islamic schools. This proposition is important because whoever controls the education of our children controls the country, and California usually leads the way for either good or bad throughout America. The secularization of our public institutions, especially the schools, has poisoned three generations of Americans. The result is not only that our prisons are inundated with both petty and major criminals, but that we no longer have a consensus on values, without which no civilization can endure. Immigrants come to our shores generally with the same basic values found in every major religion, only to find that for this very reason they are considered to be alien by the secular establishment in America which opposes the growing movement toward consensus on traditionalist values.
The format of these six basic principles of the shari'ah represent the best thinking of the combined Islamic community throughout the world over the past fourteen centuries. Applying these guidelines to the issues that confront people in any society, whether it is governed by Muslims or not, is the challenge envisioned by all thinking Muslims, and, Muslims would say, is the challenge to all Christians and Jews, and members of every other religion as well. Muslim leaders perceive a responsibility wherever they are to develop a "traditionalist movement" of like-minded people in order to transform themselves and the world together through action, spiritual, social, and political. They believe that if this is Muslim fundamentalism, or Christian fundamentalism, or Jewish fundamentalism, then perhaps we should redefine the term as something we all should be so that we can work together more effectively against those whose paradigm of thought and action is alienation and violence.
Muslims believe that this is why Allah (SWT) revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) in Surah al An'am 6:115, "The Message of Allah is perfected in truth and justice," and in Surah al An'am 6:9, "O you who believe! Be ever steadfast in your devotion to Allah, bearing witness to the truth in all equity; and never let hatred of others lead you into the sin of deviating from justice! Be just: this is closest to being conscious of Allah. And remain conscious of Allah. Verily, Allah is aware of all that you do."
III. The Quest for Virtue
More important in any religion than mere knowledge (`ilm) of what is right and wrong is the practice of virtue (akhlaq). In Islam, faith without works is a contradiction in terms. Faith is measured only by action. This is true especially in the orthodox Sufi orders. The leader of the Naqshbandi Owaisia order, for example, says that the only criterion for a good Sufi is whether he does his daily job better than anyone else. Muslims therefore distinguish sharply between knowledge and virtue. Akhlaq or virtue is the praxiology of applying truth in one's own life as a person and as a member of one's community, starting with the family and reaching out to the community of mankind.
This praxiology is expressed in the articles and pillars of faith, described below, which Muslims, Jews, and Christians share to a remarkable degree. Underlying these articles and pillars of faith is commonality of belief in the nature of faith itself.
Faith, from the Islamic perspective, might be summarized as an openness to God, and even as a suspension of the intellectual process in order to be more conscious of God and more responsive to His personal inspiration as guidance for one's own life, as well as an emotional commitment to submit one's life to Him out of complete trust in His love. One may be a Muslim simply by recognizing the existence of God and all His revelations to man. But one can be a mu'min, which is the adjectival form of iman or faith, only if this is manifested in action. In the Qur'an, Surah al Anfal (8:2-4), Allah (SWT) defines a believer as follows: "Believers are only they whose hearts tremble with awe whenever Allah is mentioned, and whose faith is strengthened whenever His messages are conveyed to them, and who in their Sustainer place their trust - those who are constant in prayer and spend on others out of what We provide for them as sustenance: it is they who are truly believers! Theirs shall be great dignity in their Sustainer's sight, and forgiveness of sins, and a most excellent sustenance."
Faith is a response to the transcendent instincts implanted in our nature, as well as to objective study of the universe. The mental and emotional outlook of the man or woman of faith protects against the totalitarian mentality that feeds on the arrogance of rationalism.
This linkage between the totalitarian mentality and rationalism, i.e., denying the existence of any and everything beyond one's own immediate understanding, has been shown repeatedly in the modern world, but its verity was imprinted forever on the Muslim conscience by the Abbasid Caliph Ma'mun, who ruled in the third Islamic century. He established the rationalism of the Muta'zilites as a state religion, and proceeded to introduce for the first and last time in the history of Islam the mihnan or Inquisition based on a paradigm of thought that rejected all limits to one's own ignorance, even those of the shari'ah, and elevated man, and especially the Caliph himself, to the status of God.
The intellectual accomplishments during this 20-year period of inquisition sowed the seeds of the European Renaissance and the subsequent wars of religion in a culture that, unlike the Islamic, had no concept of tawhid and therefore could not incorporate the useful aspects of Greek thought without threatening religion itself and everything sacred in life. Since everything is sacred in Islam, and nothing is profane, "religion" as the opposite of the "secular" is inconceivable, and the very thought that science can conflict with faith is absurd.
Faith in Islam is beyond the limits of scientific observation, because some of the most important truths are beyond the power of man to know through his unaided intellect alone. He cannot reason to them. These are known as the 'aqida or articles of faith, and they all come from Revelation.
In the narrowest sense, 'aqida encompasses seven cardinal doctrines, all of them common to Judaism and Christianity, namely, belief in the Oneness of God, in the instruments of Revelation, namely, angels, prophets, and books, in the resurrection and accountability of every person, and in the absolute power of God reflected in the popular concept that "man proposes, but God disposes."
This seventh article of faith, known as qadr, is expressed Qur'anically in the Revelation that man may plan the future but he cannot control it because the best Planner is God. Every person as a khalifa or viceregent of Allah (SWT) has the responsibility to promote the good and oppose the bad, but the results of his actions are up to Allah (SWT), Who not only created man but sustains him in love, mercy, and justice throughout his life.
IV. The Pillars of Faith
Since the essence of faith is submission to God not only in belief but also in action, for this purpose God has revealed five practices, known as the arkan (sing. rukn) or "pillars of Islamic faith," which constitute the essentials of faith in action. Like the seven articles of faith, these five required actions are essential elements of Judaism and Christianity. They are all external acts by which each person changes both himself or herself and the entire world. Not only are they good in themselves, but without them no person can remain close to God, which is the ultimate purpose of everyone's life.
A. Declaration of the Shahada
The first of the five pillars, the constant declaration that God is ultimate and therefore without rivals and that He sent messengers, including the Prophet Muhammad (SAWS), to teach man what he otherwise would not know, is an act and promotes action in accordance with the belief that God is absolute in every way, and therefore is One and unique. Christian mystics, such as the unparalleled Meister Eckhard of 13th century Europe, share the Islamic concept of Allah (SWT) in their belief that the trinity is transcended by the Godhead, which is Beyond Being. Many Christians, if not all, pray to the Godhead, which is Allah, subhanahu wa ta'ala. The function of this first pillar is not to formulate one's thought but to direct one's every action in life. It requires one to avoid the de facto worship of anything else as absolute or ultimate, because this is idolatry or shirk. As the British diplomat, Charles Le Gai Eaton, expresses it on page 56 of his book, Islam and the Destiny of Man, "Idolatry is, in essence, the worship of symbols for their own sake, whether these take the form of graven images or subsist only in the human imagination. ... The ultimate 'false god,' the shadowy presence behind all others, is the human ego with its pretensions to self-sufficiency." This is the cardinal sin of every secularist paradigm in foreign policy. The false gods, which all Jews, Christians, and Muslims are commanded to reject, include not only the crude pursuit of wealth, power, prestige, and pleasure as ultimate goals in life, but the worship of hidden, false gods, which is known shirk al khafi. These may lurk in intellectual premises and paradigms of thought, or in ultimate values, or even in loyalties to human persons or institutions that may replace God as the center of one's life and lead away from Him.
The Qur'an distinguishes between the Jews and Christians who have a "disease in their hearts," and those who are sincere in their beliefs, worship, and lives. The former must be regarded as enemies, because they are, whereas the latter can "come to common terms ... that we worship none but Allah" (Surah al 'Imran, 3:64), knowing that "Our God and your God is One, and it is to Him that we submit" (Surah al 'Ankabut, 29:46). In order to enlighten the "exclusivists" among the Muslims, Christians, and Jews, Allah (SWT) has revealed that "to each of you We have prescribed a law and an open way. If Allah had so willed, He would have made you a single people, but His plan is to test you in what He has given you; so strive as in a race in all virtues. The goal of you all is to Allah; it is He that will show you the truth of the matters in which you dispute" (Surah al Ma'ida, 5:51).
The open way for Muslims is provided not only directly in Divine Revelation from Allah (SWT) but indirectly through the model of His Messenger, Muhammad (SAWS). This is why the first pillar of Islam is of two parts, la ilaha ille Allah, there is no god except Allah, and Muhammad al Rasul Allah, Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.
Of all the drives implanted in human nature, including hunger, sex, and love, perhaps the strongest is the craving for orientation, for the right direction in fulfilling one's role as God's steward on earth, because our eternal future depends on how well we fulfill this responsibility. The goal is Allah (SWT), as indicated by the first half of the initial pillar of Islam, and the direction to this goal is found in the model of the Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) as the perfect exemplar (al insan al kamil) of man created in the image of Allah (SWT).
A healthy community depends on the healthy personalities of its members. The personality of the Muslim is healthy only to the extent that all of his or her activities and habits are integrated within a divinely ordained pattern. Allah (SWT) designed the life of the Prophet Muhammad in all its details to provide this pattern, but he warned repeatedly, that in their love of the Prophet (SAWS) Muslims should avoid "overstepping the bounds of truth" (Surah al Nisa'a, 4:171). The greatest "universal genius" of Islam, Abu Hamid al Ghazali of the fifth Islamic century, wrote that the true Muslim is one who "imitates the Messenger of Allah in his goings out and his comings in, in his movements and times of rest, the manner of his eating, his deportment, speech, and even in his sleep."
Paying close attention to such external details does not indicate a superficial outlook on life, as it would in a secular culture, but rather the opposite, because, for the devout Muslim, Allah (SWT) has given meaning to absolutely everything. It is precisely through the externals in life, al dhahr, that we can gain access to the inner reality, al batin. In the desacralized world of secular man, nothing has any inner meaning. In a world where everything is sacred the effort to give direction to one's life by following even the most minute details of the Prophetic model is a most joyous form of prayer.
Everything the Prophet did and said, known as the sunnah, was an effort to submit to Allah (SWT) in one way or another, so his life offers an inexhaustible wealth and diversity of ways to practice virtue. Following his example thereby gives both diversity and stability to life, because it avoids the uniformity and ephemeral nature of worldly fashions.
Following the Prophet's model thus offers unlimited opportunities to be one's true self, which is the person Allah (SWT) has created one to be. Allah (SWT) revealed in the Qur'an (Surah Ahzab, 33:6) that the Prophet (SAWS) is "closer to the believers than their own selves." Members of some Sufi orders during prayer are transported into the presence of the Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) , just as in the isra' he was transported into the presence of all the great prophets ( ) in Jerusalem before his ascension (miraj) into the presence of Allah (SWT). For those so favored, the meaning of this passage in the Qur'an is very clear. For others, the meaning is equally striking because, as Charles Le Gai Eaton writes in Islam and the Destiny of Man, it means that the Prophet "is the believer's alter ego, or, to take this a step further, more truly 'oneself' than the collection of fragments and contrary impulses that we commonly identify as the 'self'."
The most visible examples of such external modeling, other than the formal prayer itself, is the sunnah whereby men wear beards and women cover (hajaba) their hair as a sign of modesty and submission to Allah (SWT). The symbolic meaning of hijab was strikingly presented in August 1987 when the demented President Bourguiba demanded the execution of Shaikh Rashid al Ghannouchi and the other senior leaders of the Renaissance Movement, which is the leading Islamist organization in Tunisia and forswears all violence in either gaining or maintaining political power. It was, and still is, a criminal offense in Tunisia for a man to wear a beard in public and for a woman to wear the Islamic headcover recommended for those who want to follow the sunnah, because these are symbols of submission to Allah (SWT) rather than to the secular state. At the first hearing of the kangaroo court, in which the chief judge was the Chief Prosecutor in the Interior Department, and which the present author managed to attend as a human rights observer, all ten of the wives of the senior Islamist leaders showed up in the identical light-tan hijab, tinted with the color of rose, each clearly demanding by this symbolism: "If my husband is to be executed for his religious beliefs, then I must be executed beside him."
Following the sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) clearly is not merely a form of prayer but also a statement of belief and of community cohesion.
The second pillar of Islam, and the second result of faith and its clearest expression in the lives of all the Abrahamic peoples, is formal prayer, salat. Allah (SWT) has prescribed specific forms of prayer as a minimum requirement to help us "remember" Him in everything we do throughout the day. We are forgetful of Allah (SWT). The very word used in the Qur'an for man, al insan, comes from the verb "to forget." Muslims pray five times every day, and as a Franciscan monk of the Third Order the present author was urged to pray eight times daily, as many Christians have done for centuries, by adding prayer in midmorning and twice at night (corresponding to the optional prayers in Islam of the shaf/witr and tahajjud), because if we forget Allah (SWT) as the center of our life, then we will be helpless in the face of the temptations and evil forces in the world. Muslims do not even have a word for "sin," because evil does not consist so much in the actions themselves as in the elimination of Allah (SWT) from our lives, which is the cause of all evil.
The root of the word for man, ins, is also directly related to the word uns for intimacy, which occurs when one forgets oneself and thinks only of the other. All informal prayer in Islam is called "remembering" Allah, zikr, and this, in a single word, is the purpose of human life.
Remembering Allah (SWT) makes possible forgetting oneself so that in comparison to Allah (SWT) all created existence seems to disappear and only Allah remains. This "union" with Allah, known as wahdat al wujjud or "Oneness of Being," is purely subjective. The great Islamic saints or awliya have all learned that the more aware one is of Allah (SWT), the more clearly one sees beyond the impression of Oneness, wahdat al shuhud, to recognize the immense distance between the Creator (SWT) and the creature. Only then can one understand the true meaning of the Prophet Muhammad's teaching ( ) that every person is created as a viceregent or deputy, khalifa, "in the image of Allah," that is as a theomorphic being, and that every human community should be not theocratic (run by professional clerics) but theocentric (led by persons who are led by Allah (SWT).
Only through prayer can any person understand his or her real identity by recognizing that one's purpose, as the modern Christian mystic, Thomas Merton, phrases it, is "to become the person that God intends one to be," that is, that one's identity is one's destiny known to Allah (SWT), Who is beyond space and time, in accordance with Ecclesiastes 3:15, "What has been is now, and what is to be has already been." And only then can one understand one's true closeness to Allah (SWT) by recognizing that one's spirit (ruh) was created in the presence of Allah (SWT) "before" the creation of the universe, i.e. outside of space and time, and that the entire universe is nothing compared to one's own role in the Divine Plan.
As Meister Eckhart put it, "God might make numberless heavens and earths, yet these ... would be of less extent than a needle's point compared with the standpoint of a soul attuned to God." Everything in creation, the stars and the trees, praise God by being what they are and in ways "you do not understand" (Surah al 'Isra',17:44), yet only man is capable of "naming things," that is, of knowing the conceptual before the concrete, and of meaning before its symbolical representation, and of self-transformation through dialogue with his Creator (SWT).
As Charles Le Gai Eaton puts it in his chapter on "The Human Paradox," "Man prays and prayer fashions man. The saint has himself become prayer, the meeting-place of earth and heaven; and thus he contains the universe and the universe prays with him. He is everywhere where nature prays, and he prays with and in her; in the peaks that touch the void and eternity, in a flower than scatters itself, or in the abandoned song of a bird." This highest level of prayer is known as ihsan.
The third pillar, charity, is produced by the first two, because each of the pillars is designed to make possible the next, more demanding pillar or habitual action. At the same time, none of the five actions can survive elimination of the other four. Thus, without charity there clearly is no faith, because faith is expressed in good works or it is not at all.
Charity in Qur'anic language is known as infaq, which is the inclination or desire to give rather than take in life. If one has faith or iman, one will want to make an effort to help other people, because one would be unhappy not to do so. In this way selflessness, which is just as much a part of our nature as the instinct for personal survival, becomes a permanent character trait.
The generic term, infaq, includes zakah, sadaqah, hadya, and 'anfus. Zakah is a specified amount of one's wealth required to be given to the needy as an institutionalized social responsibility to purify oneself from any arrogance and shirk that may come from one's success in accumulating more wealth than is needed for normal survival. Such purification is needed, just as is the ritual washing before formal prayer, so that one may grow in both love and righteousness. The root z-k-a expressed a philosophy combining both purification and increase, based on the teaching of the Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) that giving of oneself is, in modern terms, non-zero-sum, because the more one gives the more one has to offer, both materially and spiritually.
The required amount of zakah varies in proportion to the capital intensivity of the means of production, so that capital owners, and especially owners of mineral wealth created essentially by Allah (SWT), pay progressively more as a percentage of their wealth than would simple laborers. Unfortunately many of those who claim to own the oil resources of the world seem to have little knowledge of this pillar of Islam.
It is best to give additional amounts, sadaqah, hadya, and 'anfus, as a sign of the truthfulness or sincerity of one's infaq, because this third pillar of Islamic prayer life serves primarily to develop concern for others as a trait of character.
The fourth pillar of Islam, and of faith among all the Abrahamic peoples, is siyam or fasting. This is an essential part of prayer, because it strengthens our remembrance of Allah (SWT). Siyam means to hold something fast. We hold ourselves fast by self-discipline through fasting so that we will not forget the purpose of our relationship with Allah (SWT) and our origin and end. Fasting is so important in Islam that an entire month, Ramadhan, is required as part of our faith to strengthen our taqwa or consciousness of Allah (SWT) and of His purpose for us during our time of testing in this world. Devout Muslims, especially the unmarried, fast often throughout the year, but the Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) disapproved of any excesses beyond the practice of the Prophet Da'ud (David, ), who routinely fasted every other day of his life.
Taqwa, usually mistranslated as "fear of Allah," is the essence of faith and is the beginning of wisdom, because it is based on both awe and love of Allah (SWT) and on the consequent fear of separating oneself from Allah (SWT) by neglecting to live one's life as a form of prayer. Taqwa eliminates indifference (qhafla) and produces an intention and a deep commitment to submit one's entire life to Allah by choosing the very best, rather than merely the minimally acceptable, as the only purpose of all one's plans and actions, and as the only criterion for deciding what to do and what not to do.
The Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) warned that, "Allah (SWT) does not accept any deed unless it is done purely for his pleasure." And, "The greatest punishment on the Day of Punishment will be meted out to the learned man to whom Allah has not given any benefit from his learning. ... The learning and actions that have no connection with Allah are fit to be entirely rejected by the wise and those who seek wisdom."
E. The Hajj
The fifth pillar of Islam, the hajj or pilgrimage to Makkah, is the least understood and the most misunderstood of the five pillars, especially in America, where it is usually regarded as a bunch of rituals that one has to go through, fortunately only once in a lifetime. One reason for this ignorance is the absence of a single good book on the hajj in English, though 'Ali Shari'ati, the intellectual Godfather of the Iranian Revolution, made a noble effort.
The hajj is a grandiose and complex symbol, revealed by Allah (SWT) in the process of all its details in order to present symbolically all the teachings of Revelation. Like all the elements of the articles and pillars of faith, man could not produce the hajj through his own reason, because the concept of the hajj in all its ordered details was revealed as signs of Allah (SWT) for us to contemplate and use as directions for our personal and community life.
Although the symbols of faith are often different in Judaism and Christianity, they reflect the same substance, and we can only regret that the People of the Book cannot experience in the hajj the unity of all believers in God-consciousness and love.
The purpose of the hajj is to orient us toward our true qiblah, Who is Allah, subhanahu wa ta'ala. The core teaching of Allah (SWT) for all Muslims, Christians, and Jews is the primacy of personal change. In Surah al Rad, 13:11, Allah (SWT) admonishes us: "Verily, Allah does not change a people's condition until they change what is in their inner selves." This is the most obvious truth evident in the divinely ordained pattern of the hajj.
The first half of the hajj emphasizes the wisdom of the early Makkan surahs in the Qur'an, which teach the centrality of everyone's personal submission to Allah (SWT), out of which grows the unity of tawhid, which should be the governing principle in every person's thought and action.
Each half of the hajj contains three major symbols. In the first half of the hajj these three elements are: 1) the honesty and purity of intent, symbolized in the ihram or seamless white robe of the pilgrim, 2) the Oneness of Allah (SWT) and the resulting unity of His creation, so powerfully demonstrated in the tawaf around the Kaa'ba, and 3) the submission to His will in the sa'i between Safa and Marwa. All are designed to teach us that the path of perfection consists not merely in what we do but in living so that everything we do is a form of prayer, that is, so that the shari'ah and the three sources of knowledge, haqq al yaqin, 'ain al yaqin, and 'ilm al yaqin, on which it is based, become 'ibadah or a life of prayer in submission to Allah (SWT).
The second half of the hajj teaches us the power of our combined efforts when we work selflessly in a global movement. This is particularly important in the modern era of polytheism, which is unmatched in human history.
This message of power in movement is highlighted by: 1) a day of recollection and listening to Allah (SWT) in the midst of the tumult of 'Arafat, 2) commemoration in Mina of the sacrifice of Allah's perfect servant, the prophet Abraham ( ), and 3) the stoning of the false gods of power, prestige, pleasure, and wealth, as well as such hidden false gods as collective self-worship, manifested most clearly in secular nationalism, which the devil, al shaitan, places before us throughout our lives in order to tempt us toward moral or intellectual arrogance.
The great movement from Makkah to 'Arafat and back in the second half of the hajj is designed to teach us our social obligations revealed in the later Medinan surahs. Its purpose is to strengthen each one of us as a mujahid in the eternal jihad of mankind against the arrogance of nifaq, taghut, sheqaq, and kufr, that is, dishonesty, impurity, selfishness, and hatred of the truth. The purpose is to teach us the opposite of this, namely, honesty, purity, selflessness, and love, and to consolidate our commitment to social, economic, and political justice based on the Islamic principle of mizan or balance, so that His will not ours will be done.
In his Washington Post interview of October 15th, 1993, President Clinton regretted that he had failed to enlist the nation more fully in what he called "the great national debate" over America's role in the post-Cold-War world, and he asked Americans to help "build a consensus on what our role in the world will be and how we will define it. ..." He was discussing our basic identity as a nation. This is important because no nation or civilization can survive without a consensus on so important a matter.
We should begin and continue this debate by recognizing that the ultimate actors in the world are neither civilizations nor states but individual persons. This is the basic thesis of representative government embodied in Islamic law and in the American Constitution. And the ultimate goal of every person, just as of human community at every level, whether we recognize it or not, is to be what God intends us to be.
Every form of life on earth, according to the Qur'an, exists in pairs and in community. We can carry out our purpose therefore only in community. The purpose of community is not to look inward and be exclusivist in our perception of reality, because this breeds the threat mentality. Community exists, according to the Qur'an, so that we can get to know other persons through interaction with their communities in pursuit of the goals that we all have in common. This pursuit both requires and generates the opportunity mentality.
The highest level of community is known as a civilization. It is defined, like a nation, as a group of people with a sense of a common history, with common values, and with common hopes for the future, but it differs from a nation in that it usually transcends any individual nation and forms the largest grouping of people in which nations can find identity.
Civilizations necessarily are based entirely on a religion, in the sense of a coherent set of beliefs and symbols that express ultimate reality and ultimate purpose for every person and community in the civilization.
Like any community, civilizations can be vehicles for either conflict or cooperation. Especially in the modern era of global community, civilizations are the major actors on the international scene. Therefore governments should promote understanding of their own and other civilizations in order to share common values and pursue their resulting common interests in justice and peace. Civilizations can be the ultimate source of cooperation among peoples globally, or the ultimate source of conflict, depending entirely on whether policymakers see them as opportunities or threats.
Conflict and violence can be combated effectively and over the long term only if we enlist the leaders of the world's religions to help shift the paradigm of foreign policy from threat to opportunity and if we look for opportunities and are willing to take risks in order to seek peace through justice. This process of risk-taking is known as the paradigm of peaceful engagement.
A foreign policy focused on opportunity necessarily will have to risk accepting others' perception of themselves without assuming that they must have some hidden agenda. The threat mentality, based on the paranoid assumption of hidden conspiracy, is the origin of all self-fulfilling prophecies.
If U.S. policymakers state that our policy is not targeted against any religion, they should not act in accordance with the conspiracy theory that Muslim leaders want "one man, one vote" but only "one time," whereby Islamist leaders allegedly want to use democracy to gain power only so they can abolish it and reinstall tyranny. If U.S. policymakers are serious, they should support the global Muslim leaders, like Professor Ahmad al Tuwaijri in Saudi Arabia, imprisoned by the Saudi police state in 1993, who may be Islam's greatest living intellectual, and the ex-philosophy-professor, Shaikh Rashid al Ghannouchi, in Tunisia, whom Imam Khomeini denounced as an un-Islamic pacifist. Shaikh al Ghannouchi, who has led the Renaissance Movement (al Nahda) for almost two decades, opposes calls for violence, because he says that whoever uses violence to take power must use violence to keep it, which would be thoroughly un-Islamic. He also opposes the demand for the establishment of an "Islamic State," because any popularly elected government in an Islamic country would include institutions that produce responsive and responsible government, as in the United States, and would respect Islamic values.
The best strategy for peace is to promote the democratic process around the world, rather than oppose it as the United States has done in most Muslim countries, not only because representative government is the best road to justice but because history reveals that democracies rarely start wars.
The best strategy to transform confrontation between the Muslim world and America into cooperation is to inaugurate a policy of inter-civilizational "peaceful engagement" by accepting Islam as the most powerful ally of the United States in promoting the "democratic transition" throughout the world.
The basic principles of Islamic law are identical to the basic premises of America's founding fathers, but both Muslims and Americans have lost this common heritage. The best strategy for justice, security, and peace is to revive the common traditionalist heritage of Americans and Muslims in order to begin a process of civilizational renewal both in America and throughout the world.
..:BACK TO ARTICLES & PUBLICATIONS:..