Monday, September 26, 2011

Three Queries For Islamists From An Amman Imam

By Mustafa Husayn Abu Rumman
As an imam at a mosque in Amman I have been following the dramatic developments across North Africa and the Middle East with a combination of high hopes and grave concern. That young people are organizing peacefully to demand political reform, economic opportunity and human rights is a source of pride for me; numerous worshippers in my mosque are among them.
However, the mounting lethality of conflict between state and society in many Arab states is terrible to behold. So is the tragedy of burgeoning crime, economic struggles and insecurity in nations undergoing dramatic transformations.
Today, the role of Islam is essential and Arab societies seem to know it. I can tell from the growing number of worshippers in my mosque. Young people draw comfort and inspiration from Islam as they face an uncertain future.
At the same time, analysts raise concerns about the role of so-called “Islamist” groups in ongoing political transitions. Members of my own congregation often ask me for counsel on this issue. In response, I have been trying to articulate the distinctions necessary to ensure that the tenets of Islam are properly applied – and that the language of Islam is not co-opted by opportunistic political movements.
In the Arab world, there is now robust competition for political popularity in a new marketplace of ideas. When assessing any political figure or movement claiming to draw legitimacy from Islam, one should pose several questions and demand unambiguous answers.
The first question is: Do you support equal political, social and economic rights for all citizens, regardless of ethnicity, gender or sect?
The answer should be yes. The Koran and prophetic traditions present a vision of social justice in all its forms – not only for men but also for women; not only for Arabs but also for other ethnic groups; not only for Muslims but for all humankind. This is my conviction as a lifelong student of Islam. Many texts prove this, but the Koran’s vision of equity and justice is addressed not to any subset of humankind but to all “Children of Adam” (7:26).
Interpretations of the Koran and prophetic tradition have varied. Some have been incompatible with essential Koranic values. The most accurate interpretation would never differ with the principle of universal equity and justice, or deny political or economic opportunity to anyone. Such an interpretation can and should be achieved by “ijtihad,” the practical application of the human mind to the world’s ever-changing circumstances.
The second question is: Do you believe that Islam is compatible with a definition of the rule of law that transcends a particular religion’s jurisprudential precepts?
The answer should be yes. From a contemporary Islamic perspective, Sharia is not a document that supplants the legal system of a country. To the contrary, it is a set of principles that demands of believing Muslims that they respect the laws of the country they live in, provided these are compatible with the universal values of social equity and human rights. Moreover, in the event that a given law is inequitable or unjust, Sharia demands that believing Muslims work within a legal and democratic framework to amend the law. Islam stresses the principle of “shura,” or consultation to reach decisions that affect the body politic. Those “whose affairs are a matter of counsel” (42:38) are considered worthy of divine reward.
Finally, the third question is: Do you maintain that your political platform is a flawless rendering of the precepts of Islam?
The answer should be no. The Koran attests to the fact that humankind, granted worldly power, is prone to error and corruption: “[Humankind is liable to] break the covenant of God after ratifying it, and sever that which God ordered to be joined, and make mischief in the earth” (2:27). Islam is innocent of the errors of those who presume to interpret or apply it. Because it is hubristic and suspect to suggest that someone is without flaw, it is equally hubristic and suspect to claim to speak in the name of Islam. Moreover, to claim to speak in the name of Islam is to assert superiority over other political platforms – a position that leads to totalitarianism.
Islam, as I understand it, demands that humankind negotiate over difference and govern consensually. There are no modern-day prophets or rightly guided caliphs. We must collaborate to heal our region and the world.
-This commentary was published in The Daily Star on 26/09/2011
-Mustafa Husayn Abu Rumman is the imam of the Ibn Sinan Mosque in Amman, Jordan

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