Islamic Studies

Living Islam – Not just performing it

By Dr. Murad Hoffman

Muslims have always been accustomed to living with people of diverse faiths. Islam is in fact the world’s first ecumenical religion, not only accepting but guaranteeing a structural pluralism. Allah instead of promising Muslims to become the dominant religious community on earth wants them to compete with each other in piety and good work (Quran 5:48).

Islam was meant from the outset to be a universal religion, and today thanks to massive migration in the West and new communication mediums, Islam is a truly global phenomenon. It is the second largest denomination even in places like Sweden. Yet increased contact has not reduced prejudice against Islam and Muslims. This is partially the Muslim’ fault. Many ‘cultural’ assimilated Muslims are an embarrassment for the entire Ummah. Also, many traditionally Islamic scholars are in capable of reaching Western hearts and minds.

There is no better way for Muslims to promote the message of Islam than living Islam and not just performing it. Their neighbors will not know they are Muslim by the number of times they pray or fast but by their honesty, truthfulness, compassion, reliability, cleanliness, sense of justice and civic responsibility. Such an approach is not to lead to a specific “American Islam” but the avoidance of a subculture that would seem alien and remote to the local population. Muslims can avoid such a trend if they become an expert in distinguishing between what is truly Islamic in terms of religion, and what is merely a cultural import from their homes countries.

For Muslims to live in non-Muslim countries is not a new situation. The first such experience was made by those early Muslims who temporarily migrated to Christina Ethiopia. All Muslim legal schools (madahib) developed doctrines for that eventuality. In particular Imam Jaafar as-Saadiq, Imam Shafei’ and the Hanafi school considered Muslim minorities a legitimate and even advantageous to Islam. Admitting pockets of dar al-Islam (abode of Islam) could exist wherever Muslim enjoyed justice and religious toleration.

The Message of Islam cannot be transmitted in the West as along as Muslims play hide and seek with the issues of “democracy” and “human rights”, including the rights of women. The fact that some of these concepts may not be specifically mentioned in the Quran and that they have been abused by Weestern imperialist colonizers, it does not mean that they are incompatible with Islam. What counts are the relevant Quranic principles (maqasid), including al-shura and the institutions of amir or khilafa (vicergerency of all human beings) and the early Islamic political history with its record of elections and free speech. One of these foundations is that it is possible to construct the model of an Islamic State – like – Malaysia – is democratic, essentially republican, pluralistic, with division of power, the rule of law, the protection of minorities and a parliament.

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There is no doubt that all sovereignty rests with Allah . It is, however, equally true that it takes people to translate that sovereignty into policy. Undoubtedly, Islamic Law is not made but discovered from the Quran and Sunnah and further developed into fiqh. If Muslim lawyers had been more imaginative they would have been quick to point that the core of the Western universal human rights charter are anchored in the Quran – and therefore more secure than rights invented at a conference table. Men and women are biologically not identical (Quran 3:36). In theory only, the West refuses to draw legal conclusions from this reality. The less fictitious Muslim standpoint says that it is not discrimination if Islamic law deals differently with the genders, as far as this is biologically warranted, for instance in the different codes of Islamic dress. The Quran does, however, not confer on men a superior status nor is it justification for reducing Muslimat in practice to second class citizenship.

Muslims should highlight Islam as the most rational, without sacraments, a clergy, a Pope, a church, or a hierarchy and thus the religion for emancipated and pluralistic minded, post-modern people.

Finally, we need to inform the world that the Muslims form a warm-hearted, mutually supportive, worldwide community of committed people-the very thing Western people are craving for. The business community might be particularly impressed if the prohibition of riba is presented to them in its correct form: profit-and-loss sharing being a safeguard for the maintenance of the entrepreneurial spirit on which the capitalist economic system depends.

Dr. Murad Hoffman is a retired German diplomat who has been an Ambassador to Algeria and Morocco

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