In the name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful
Coming together on common values is an important objective in Islam. Our values are based in the primordial natural religion, or what I call natural Islam, that was revealed to all the Prophets and are embedded into the universe itself. When we agree with other people on our cherished values, they grow closer to Islam even if they are not practicing Muslims.
The current political climate in the United States, and the West more generally, is understandably frightening for Muslims. Far-right political candidates are making in-roads into mainstream politics with promises to crackdown on Muslims as a whole. A new wave of Islamophobia threatens to curtail domestic civil liberties and to damage foreign relations with Muslim-majority countries.
Even so, it is important to remember that the situation was not always like this, nor will it stay this way forever. History is full of periods of coexistence, mutual cooperation, and peace between Islam and the West.
Recent evidence of this fact is that less than 40 years ago the 96th US Congress ratified a resolution honoring Islam on the 1400th anniversary of its founding. Here is the text (verified from the digital archive):
Whereas November 21, 1979 marked the fourteen hundredth anniversary of the founding of Islam, an event which will be commemorated throughout the world, including in the Holy Cities of Islam; and,
Whereas Islam is one of mankind’s great religions in history and today, followed by approximately eight hundred million people encompassing every major region of the world; and,
Whereas the word “Islam” derives from Abraham’s willingness to accept all God’s commands, an example profoundly meaningful to all monotheistic religions; and,
Whereas the “House of Islam” extended gracious hospitality to philosophy and science in both the East and West when these scholarly disciplines were threatened by narrowness and prejudice, thus preserving this precious heritage for subsequent generations; and,
Whereas Islam strives for a worldwide community which, in the words of one Islamic poet-philosopher, “does not recognize superficial differences of race, or history, or nationality”; and,
Whereas the United States and countries of the Islamic world hold in common many benefits and values, including the concept of world community, which inspired the Founding Fathers of our own country; and,
Whereas international understanding and peace are strengthened by free and open communication among nations representing various historical and religious traditions:
Now, therefore, be it resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring),
That Islam is hereby recognized for the rich religious, scientific, cultural, and artistic contribution it has made to mankind since its founding.
The Congress takes note of the contribution of Islam and wishes success to the fourteenth centennial commemoration.
On the occasion of this anniversary, the Congress pledges its efforts to achieve better understanding, reduction of tensions, and the pursuit of improved relations with all nations of the world.
The Congress requests that the President forward a copy of this resolution to the Chief of State of each country where Islam has a significant following and where celebrations will mark this important international event.
S.Con.Res. 43 (96th): A concurrent resolution honoring the Fourteenth Centennial of Islam.
H.Con.Res.193 (96th): A concurrent resolution honoring the Fourteenth Centennial of Islam.
The resolution honors Islam as one of the world’s great religions, acknowledges Islam’s contribution to humanity, and affirms our common values including the concept of a single humanity undivided by race and tribal or national prejudice. This is a message greatly in need of renewal during our current time of conflict and anxiety.
The West as a whole is not an enemy to Islam, nor is it hopelessly devoid of divine values. Many people in the West share the values of Islam, although they might not realize it. We should hope that people who value justice, mercy, and kindness will prevail in Western society, even if they are not Muslims. Just as the Muslims rejoiced when the Byzantine Roman Christians prevailed over the Persian idolaters:
غُلِبَتِ الرُّومُ فِي أَدْنَى الْأَرْضِ وَهُم مِّن بَعْدِ غَلَبِهِمْ سَيَغْلِبُونَ فِي بِضْعِ سِنِينَ ۗ لِلَّهِ الْأَمْرُ مِن قَبْلُ وَمِن بَعْدُ ۚ وَيَوْمَئِذٍ يَفْرَحُ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ
The Romans have been defeated in the nearest land, yet after their defeat they will be victorious within a few years. To Allah belongs the command before and after, and on that day the believers will rejoice.
Surat al-Rūm 30:2-4
The Muslims rejoiced when the Romans were victorious over the Persians because they had much more in common with Christian values than the idolatry of the Persian regime. We should always rejoice when our values prevail, regardless of whether they are Muslims or not.
On the contrary, extremists in both the West and Muslim world are trying to eliminate what they call “gray zones.” These are areas in which Muslims and non-Muslims coexist peacefully, tolerating each other or even cooperating with each other for the common good. Muslim extremists want to destroy these zones to increase their recruitment and validate their binary worldview, while Western extremists are benefitting politically by exploiting the fear and ignorance of the masses. In either case, they obscure or deny the truth for selfish reasons.
As believers or simply people of conscience, we have to reject them both. Allah did not create people to be locked in an eternal battle with one another.
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُم مِّن ذَكَرٍ وَأُنثَىٰ وَجَعَلْنَاكُمْ شُعُوبًا وَقَبَائِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوا
O people, We have created you male and female and made you nations and tribes that you may know one another.
Surat al-Ḥujurāt 49:13
The divine purpose is not a zero sum game between religions, but rather it is for us to find a win-win situation. Prophet Muhammad actively looked for ways to cooperate with anyone in the cause of justice. Our model in this respect is the alliance of Al-Fudūl (ḥilf al-Fudūl).
The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
لَقَدْ شَهِدْتُ فِي دَارِ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ جُدْعَانَ حِلْفًا مَا أُحِبُّ أَنَّ لِيَ بِهِ حُمْرَ النَّعَمِ وَلَوْ أُدْعَى بِهِ فِي الإِسْلامِ لأَجَبْتُ
Certainly, I had witnessed a pact of justice in the house of Abdullah ibn Jud’an that was more beloved to me than a herd of red camels. If I were called to it now in the time of Islam, I would respond.
In other words, nothing in Islam prevents us from seeking common ground with non-Muslims if it benefits all humanity. The Prophet would make such a pact with idolaters if the opportunity presented itself.
Our world needs voices of reason and justice to speak up now more than ever. Extremists offer a dark vision of the future, of walled-in cities, barbed wire, and refugee camps. Our Islamic values have something better to offer. Glimpses of it can be seen in peaceful periods of the past, like when the Congress affirmed its common values with the Muslim world. Building upon these incidents in history, we can put forward an enlightened vision of a city in which different people live together, work together, and respect each other’s humanity.
Success comes from Allah, and Allah knows best.