(By John Andrews, Centennial Fellow) Can a good Muslim be a good American? Brian, a constitutional scholar, put the question to Michael, a national security expert, as we passed the Washington office of Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim to serve there. Ellison’s decision to be sworn in on the Quran still echoes controversially.
Holy war proclaimed against the United States in the name of Islam by Osama bin Laden in 1996 was not taken seriously until his terrorists struck here in 2001, shouting Allah’s name as they died. Even since then, President Bush has insisted Islam is a religion of peace and the global jihad is a perversion. But is it? Coloradans need to ask ourselves.
Note: This piece is taken from my new book, Backbone Colorado USA: Dispatches from the Divide (CreateSpace, 2015) which collects over a hundred brief essays on the great issues of our time, from radical Islam to over government to the culture wars. Like most of the material there, it has only gained urgency since first appearing as a Denver Post column in 2007. Order here.
Almost one percent of our US population are now Muslims, about 2.35 million in all. Most people know some, and we find them decent folks, pleasant to be with, no less than any other religious group. Unfortunately, that’s beside the point for Brian’s question to Michael.
Muslims can obviously be Americans. More and more are, by birth, immigration, or conversion. The qualifier “good” is where it gets uncertain. If a good American is one who lives in fidelity to our nation’s founding principles in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and a good Muslim is one who lives in fidelity to his God-given scripture, the Quran, the concern is whether you can do both.
If you can’t, American liberty might wither in a world where Islamic dynamism is high, Western self-confidence is low, borders are porous, and multicultural tolerance reigns supreme. We’d face a nervous future where individuals must choose between being loyal citizens or Quranic literalists. Nobody wants that, but wishing it away won’t do. We must look at the evidence and have the conversation.
Researchers William J. Federer and Robert Spencer are troubled by the evidence they’ve found. Federer’s well-documented book, “What Every American Needs to Know about the Quran: A History of Islam and the United States” (Amerisearch, 2007), questions the compatibility of the two belief systems. How can Muhammad’s teaching that women and unbelievers, especially Jews, are inferior square with Jefferson’s “all created equal”? Spencer raises similar concerns in “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam” (Regnery, 2005).
By some interpretations, the Quran forbids a good Muslim from giving any allegiance whatsoever to the nation-state, and hence from obeying civil laws made by any secular government. Sharia, the religious laws proceeding from Allah’s books and clergy, alone warrant obedience according to this strain of Islam.
No problem, says the optimist, we’ll simply encourage the less absolute and more democratically-minded strain of Islam here in the good old USA. We’ll do as Australian premier John Howard did and tell the extremists to embrace our values or leave. Only we won’t; all our secularized instincts forbid dictating to any group that way.
We’re stuck with the hard reality that “good Muslim” isn’t something externally defined, it is fought out among the faithful themselves. And recent history, from the persecution of Salmaan Rushdie and Ayaan Hirsi Ali to the cartoon riots to bin Laden’s attacks on his own Saudi homeland, shows how ruthlessly the Quranic literalists are determined to crush the moderates.
Last week I was with Muhammad Ali Hasan, the Coloradan who founded Muslims for America. His organization, according its website, “has zero tolerance for any kind of terrorism, in following the example left by Prophet Muhammad.” Hear, hear.
Clearly this young businessman and patriot is a good American. But is he also a good Muslim? Of that we unbelievers cannot judge. Some of his fellow believers would say that unless he embraces jihad and seeks the restored caliphate, he is not. They might even threaten his life to make their point – and therein lies the great challenge of this century.
John Andrews took on the role of Centennial Institute Distinguished Fellow in American Thought at the turn of the year, after serving as the Institute's director for the past seven years. Backbone Colorado USA: Dispatches from the Divide, his second book on 21st century politics and policy, from which this piece is taken, can be ordered here. To arrange for a personally inscription, contact him at AndrewsJK@aol.com.