A Ramadan Reflection: Trump, Muslims and American Islam
The month of Ramadan just begun for Muslims is not merely about the rigors of fasting and prayers, it is also about meditating on man’s responsibility in this world and accountability in the next. One of the most urgent issues for Muslims at the present time is take responsibility for those who commit violence against innocent people in the name of Islam, and unequivocally repudiate them and their theology that defiles Islam and makes a mockery of God’s revelation to Muhammad that first occurred, as tradition records, in the month of Ramadan.
But nearly fifteen years after 9/11 and counting, Muslims in America as elsewhere remain in denial of Islam’s role (or a perverse theological rendition of Islam) in the terrorist violence that spread from the Middle East around the world. This explains in part why any expectation that so-called “moderate” Muslims in sufficient numbers will publicly repudiate their religious compatriots who engage in terrorism as an act of religious obligation, or jihad (holy war), has not materialized yet and likely will not unless there is some significant change in majority American view of Islam that presses upon Muslims.
The emergence of Donald Trump as the Republican nominee for the presidential election in November could be the spur for a sufficient number of Muslims, if they have courage and imagination, to break from their past. A Trump presidency might well facilitate the making of an American Islam as an effective counterweight to political Islam, or Islamism, that has been ruinous for Muslims everywhere in modern times.
Trump’s call for a ban on Muslims last December “from entering the United States until our representatives can figure out what is going on” followed the Muslim rampage of terror and murder in San Bernardino, California, on December 2, 2015, and the horrific terrorist attacks several weeks earlier in Paris. This suggestion of Trump at a minimum is a prudent choice in defending Americans against those who wish to do them harm.
There is no sign of Islamist terrorism ebbing in the near future. Instead, in the Arab-Muslim world Islamist terrorism has become a daily occurrence, destroying whatever little remains of a culture and civilization that once rivaled that of ancient Rome and Persia.
Trump’s candidacy offers Muslims in America a rare opportunity to take the stage as American Muslims, and repudiate Islamism publicly and categorically.
But why with Trump?
It is because Trump refuses to coddle Muslims, or Islam, in America. In an interview with Anderson Cooper of CNN during the Republican primaries Trump said, “I think Islam hates us.” He went on to state the war America has been waging since 9/11 is against radical Islam, but it is “very hard to define. It’s very hard to separate. Because you don’t know who’s who.” This leaves an opportunity for Trump to acknowledge difference between Islam and radical Islam, but the onus remains upon Muslims to illustrate that difference by their conduct. Hence, only American Muslims, by renouncing Islamism, might have some credibility in engaging positively with Trump.
Unlike President Obama, and President Bush before him, Trump’s refusal to coddle Muslims, to appease them, or to speak in politically correct language about Islam as a “religion of peace” marks a refreshing break from the suffocating speech-code that turns any discussion in the West about Muslim history and politics into abject hypocrisy.
This refusal on the part of Trump to coddle Muslims can also, ironically, liberate sufficient number of Muslims to speak out publicly what many in fearing political correctness among Muslims generally have refrained from doing.
"Muslim" is not an ethnicity, and Islam is not an ethnic religion. It is political correctness among Muslims enforced violently by Islamists that makes for Muslim denial of objective facts in regard to their religion and culture staring at them.
The politics of victimhood that Muslims in general have bought into is demeaning and dishonest when the overwhelming reality is Muslims have thrived in America, and the West in general, in contrast to the increasing impoverishment of Muslims across the world of Islam.
Presidents Obama and Bush mistakenly believed that deference to Muslims and their faith-tradition would facilitate mutual respect. Indeed, they repeatedly indicated America is a friend, an ally, and a partner with Muslim countries and supports them in their effort to become economically and politically modern societies.
The history of America’s relationship with the Muslim world since 1945 has been overwhelmingly positive. During the Cold War years American support assisted Muslim countries vulnerable to communist penetration to resist falling into the Soviet or Chinese orbit. Without American intervention, war and genocide against Muslims in the Balkans, for instance, would not have been halted. And throughout this period America has kept open her doors to Muslims without any undue reservation.
The response from the Muslim world, however, has been quite the opposite. The Iraqi journalist flinging his shoe in a press conference at President George W. Bush during his final visit to Baghdad has symbolized the attitude of great many Muslims, perhaps a majority, toward America. More sinister, as an example, is the conduct of the Pakistani government, an ostensible ally of America and recipient of billions of dollars in economic and military assistance, hiding Osama bin Laden within the vicinity of a military cantonment.
Trump’s challenge to Muslims in America, in contrast to the pandering of Muslims by Obama and Bush, is whether they are prepared to set aside the mind-set they brought with them. It is long past the time for Muslims to engage in self-emancipation from a culture and ideology profoundly at odds with individual freedom and democracy that American culture represents.
It is common among Muslims everywhere, especially among the middle class and college educated, to dwell nostalgically on more or less an imagined past of Muslim glory. They refer readily to the period of Muslim rule over Spain, or al-Andalus, as an illustration of Islam’s “golden age.” And embedded in this nostalgia, in this “Andalusian” myth-making, is their wish to return to a similitude of that past while living in denial of the present.
This Muslim state of mind, or temperament, which dwells excessively, even pathologically, on the past to find some pride, hence dignity, in the present day world is easily susceptible to Islamism that thrives on the politics of grievance, victimhood, and repressed anger toward others. Such a state of mind tends to be volatile, as it is in a tenuous equilibrium between undue deference and abrupt excitability that can trigger violence.
The simple undeniable fact for Muslims to contemplate is that they never ever in their history have lived anywhere as well in prosperity and security as they do in America. The al-Andalus of Muslim fantasy does not compare at its most glorious moment of convivencia with the even greater reality of coexistence among people of different faiths in contemporary America, and the equal treatment for all in law as provided by the American constitution that was non-existent in Muslim Spain.
In acknowledging this undeniable fact of history, American Muslims can begin to free themselves from the hold of political Islam, renounce the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) as the fountainhead of Islamism, and sever all ties with organizations, such as CAIR (Council of American-Islamic Relations) and ISNA (Islamic Society of North America). There can be no American Islam so long Muslims in America remain bound by loyalty to any of these MB-related organizations, or seek their religious teachings from mosques run by, or associated with, members of such Islamist organizations.
The demands on Trump to soften his views on Muslims and Islam will increase from those in American politics who have made a fetish out of identity politics and the misbegotten doctrine of multiculturalism. But any softening of Trump’s views will only assist Islamists and their apologists, while relieving pressures from the majority of Muslims in America to embrace rethinking the fundamentals of their faith-tradition.
It should be indisputable that only in a free society are Muslims -- especially the majority belonging to the mainstream Sunni and Shi’a traditions of Islam -- in a position to emancipate themselves from the closed circle of their religious thinking and practice stipulated as obligatory by their ulema (religious scholars) more than a millennium ago.
Muslims are free in America to affirm their faith in the purity of Abrahamic monotheism that in essence is Islam, while jettisoning much if not all of the theological and jurisprudential constructions -- otherwise known as Sharia -- that came to define Islam as a system of law and society from the early centuries of Muslim history.
The case for enlightened reform of Islam -- not to be confused by Wahhabism, the official version of Islam in Saudi Arabia, once mistakenly viewed as a reform movement -- has been a wish for a long time among a substantive number, if not a majority, of mainstream Muslims. Such a wish can only be translated into reality by Muslims in America where they are free, where their freedoms are protected, and where they may practice their faith independent of politics.
Trump’s refusal to coddle Muslims paradoxically can be a boon for Muslims in America, finally setting them free in a republic founded on the idea of liberty. And American Islam, cleansed of the dross of Muslim history, could then hold the promise for renewal of what was in origin an irresistible invitation to worship one God and seek refuge in His mercy.
Salim Mansur teaches at Western University in London, Ontario and is the author of award-winning Delectable Lie: a liberal repudiation of multiculturalism.