The Role of the Mosque at the Dawn of a New Era: It’s Justice, Not “Just Us”

by Robert D. Crane

  1. Introduction

As the impressive structure of the “high rise” cultural center, known as The Islamic Center of San Gabriel Valley, nears completion, even more impressive are the contents of its new journal, Quba Magazine. Its first issue, devoted to the theme “The Dawn of a New Era”carries inspiring articles about the Center’s already on-going projects, which in themselves justify the title, “The Dawn of a New Era”.

The most striking for me was the article by the neurologist, Dr. Faisal Qazi, entitled “The Rise of Muslim Charitable Health services”. A quarter century ago, when I was Director of the Dialogue Commission at the most successful interfaith organization at the urban level in America, The Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington (IFC), I initiated a project for free health care clinics for the indigent and those without medical insurance.

Within a week, I had lined up twenty Christian doctors and twenty Jewish doctors to donate an hour a week to a free clinic or even to donate their own clinic free for a week. A month later only one Muslim doctor showed any interest. This was an Egyptian obstetrician who exclaimed, “This is a great idea. I’m going back home immediately to start such a program in Cairo”. Of course, he missed the whole point.

Your local medical leader, Dr. Faisal Qazi, is the Vice-President of the AMHP, American Muslim Health Professionals, and is developing the Muslim Free Clinics Council (MFCC) to network the more than thirty Muslim Free Clinics across America in order to share logistical and financial resources to support the growth of new clinics. A leader in one of the earliest such clinics, the Al Shifa Clinic in San Bernardino, said he was responding to President Kennedy’s famous call for Americans to ask what they can do for their country.

Dr. Qazi concludes his article on page 36 in Quba Magazine with the following insights: “These charitable health organizations tap into a feeling among Muslim Americans that service in local communities is central to their identity as American citizens. These Muslim Community-Based Health Organizations (MCBHOs) seek to establish a compassionate, generous, healing presence in their communities. While only one window into American Muslim identities, this growing movement of energetic Muslim Americans both reflects and shapes the meaning of American Islam, and provides a fresh perspective on the role of religion in the American public square”.

  1. It’s Justice, Not “Just Us”

Yesterday, just before I flew out here from Washington, D.C., I was informed that I am to speak about “The Role of the Mosque”. What an appropriate topic for launching a mega-mosque. We have all seen mega-churches, which is a sign of the times. But where are the mega-mosques. Now we know that they have joined the new kids on the block to enrich the public square with the insights that gave rise to The Great American Experiment in peace, prosperity, and freedom through justice.

The question posed to me is simple to answer. The answer to the question, “What Is the Role of the Mosque”, is another question. “What is the role of Islam”. An Islamic mosque, as distinct from an un-Islamic one, has a minimum of at least eight purposes.

  1. Center of Worship. We were created to worship God, Allah, in three ways, namely, by acknowledging three things: First, God’s presence in our personal and public lives; Second, God’s justice in this world and the next; and Third, our responsibility to be what the hadith qudsi calls God’s eyes and God’s hands in the world. Throughout the Qur’an this is the definition of a generic Muslim.

Professor Ihsan Bagby’s study of the mosque in America indicates that 60% of mosque goers say that the mosque is primarily a place to join the Muslim umma in both formal and informal prayer.

  1. Center of Knowledge. The mosque functions to facilitate learning and teaching about the essence of Islam and to help us practice it contextually, that is, in accordance with the circumstances of our life in America.

The essence of Islam may be understood best by contemplating the prayer of the Prophet Muhammad, salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa salamAllahumma, asaluka hubbaka, wa hubba man yuhibbuka, wa hubba kulli ‘amali yuqaribuni ila hubbaka, “Oh Allah, I ask you for Your love, and for the love of those who love You, and for the love of everything that will bring me closer to Your love”.

The essence of Islam is further contained in the Qur’anic ayah, tamaat kalimatu rabbika sidqan wa ‘adlan, “The word of your Lord is perfected in truth and in justice”.

We may ask, what is justice? Justice is the maqasid al shari’ah, which are the purposes, also known as the kulliyat or universal principles, of normative Islamic jurisprudence. These purposes provide the guidelines for interpreting and applying the fiqh or rules and regulations associated with Islamic law.

There are eight of these purposes, each one of which is explained in a chapter of a book that I wrote a couple of years ago but have not yet published. These consist of two sets. The first four are guiding principles for the second set. In order of cause and effect the first four are:

  1. Haqq al din, the duty to respect freedom of religion. This is discussed at length in my book, The Natural Law of Compassionate Justice, An Islamic Perspective, which was written in 2006 and 2007 but was not launched until January, 2009, at the Rumi Forum, when it became available on Amazon.
  2. Haqq al nafs, the duty to respect the dignity of the individual person. This first-order purpose includes the the right to life, haqq al haya, which is known as the main hajja or second-order goal under its parent principle, haqq al nafs.
  3. Haqq al nasl, the duty to respect the sacredness of the human community at every level from the nuclear family to the organic nations at the global level, because communities derive their sacredness from the individuals within them.
  4. Haqq al mahid, the ecological duty to respect our physical environment on planet earth. This was added recently by Professor Hossein Nasr to the classical list of universal principles of human responsibilities and rights.

The second set of four, which are designed to implement the first four, are:

  1. Haqq al mal, the duty to respect private property in the means of production. This includes the right of every human being, especially in a capital intensive economy, to earn not only from one’s labor but from ownership of productive wealth. Only by overcoming the barriers to expanding capital ownership by acknowledging future profits as collateral can we reverse the power concentration that has produced an unsustainable wealth gap within and among countries.
  2. Haqq al hurriyah, the right of political self-determination, known as political freedom. The second-tier of goals within this higher purpose are: khilafa or the responsibility of both the rulers and the ruled primarily to God; shurah or the responsibility of the rulers to the people; ijma or the responsibility of the opinion leaders in society to express the popular consensus in order to guide the rulers; and an independent judiciary. Political freedom or haqq al hurriyahrequires haqq al mal, because whoever controls money and the means of production owns the government.
  3. Haqq al karamah, the duty to respect human dignity as the basis of all the other maqasid, but especially in gender equity.

Unfortunately, most of the eight highest principles in this set of human rights and responsibilities have been observed primarily only in the breech, because the various empires and tyrannies in the history of the Muslim world, as well as everywhere throughout human history, generally regarded human rights as subversive of their own power. Almost all of the greatest Islamic scholars have been imprisoned for years, decades, or for life by the ruling dynasties of their day for their commitment to delineate, advocate, and defend human rights.

  1. Haqq al ‘ilm, the duty to respect knowledge. This has a second tier of implementing goals or hajjiyat known as the freedom to disseminate knowledge through free speech, free publication, and free assembly.

3) Center to Strengthen Muslims Identity. This applies to every person and to every community or umma, both locally and globally.

Allah tells us in the Qur’an, wa min ma halaqna ummatun yahduna bil haqqi wa bihi ya’adilun, “And among my creations is a community that is guided by truth and practices it through justice”. Further the Qur’an tells us that, “You are the best of people”, meaning that this is your identity in potential, known fully only to Allah, so seek it as best you can and become what you already are.

Every one of us has multiple identities. For example, you may be a Muslim, an American, and a Californian, just as I am a Cherokee Native American, a tree-hugger, and a life-long ultra-marathon runner. All of these are compatible with each other and can be even mutually reinforcing.

We should remember that 80% of Christians in America say they are Christians first, and Americans second.

4) Center for Interfaith Outreach. A major purpose of every house of worship, and especially of every Islamic mosque, is to develop increasingly higher levels of cooperation from tolerance, to diversity, to pluralism. Tolerance means merely, “I won’t kill you yet”. Diversity means, “You are here, and I can’t do much about it”. This is sub-optimal level of “peaceful co-existence”. Pluralism, which is the highest level, means, “We welcome you because we each have so much to learn from each other”. Advancement from tolerance to pluralism helps us move from interfaith dialogue and understanding to interfaith cooperation.

5) Center for Engagement. A fundamental task of every Islamic mosque in society is to rehabilitate the role of religion as the most effective paradigm and cure for problems, not as the inevitable cause of them. The task is to move from the extremes of rejectionism and assimilation, both of which are suicidal, to pluralist integration designed to bring out the best of each religious tradition together in serving the Will of God.

6) Center for Sadaqa Outreach. Charity or sadaqa is one of the five pillars of Islam in action. It serves to help the marginalized in society, for example, by providing free health clinics open to all in a society when the existing institutions are defective. The Youth Group of The Islamic Center of San Gabriel Valley, partly under the guidance of Muhammad Khan, has been active in several such activities, including helping on skid row as part of a model for other mosques. This outreach is part of the purpose of proactive participation in society, which is a key to civil governance.

7) Center for Political Education. Every Islamic mosque in America has an obligation to help all Americans in their efforts to help America fulfill its mission and, in sha’a Allah, its destiny as a moral, economic, and political model for applying the eight universal purposes of natural law embodied in the maqasid al shari’ah.

The guidelines were laid out in Thomas Jefferson’s writings on separating organized religion from organized political power, which he said is necessary in order to assure that faith and governance will support each other. He wrote, “No people can remain free unless they are properly educated. Education consists of learning virtue. And no people can remain virtuous unless both their private and public lives are infused with awareness of and love of Divine Providence”, by which he meant God.

Jefferson penned the preamble to the American Constitution, which posits five purposes in forming a “more perfect Union”. These are to secure justice, domestic Tranquility (or order), national defense, prosperity, and “the Blessings of Liberty”. Justice comes first, as it did in the writings of all of America’s founders, and liberty came last as its product. This set of priorities is thoroughly Islamic and comes from the Scottish Enlightenment of Edmund Burke, not from the secular European Enlightenment, which gave rise to the totalitarian French Revolution.

An essential sub-principle of political education and action is recognition that the mosque, as part of organized religion, is not a proper venue for seeking political power. Its purpose is to seek an enlightened and compassionate justice, not power, for example through bloc voting, as an ultimate end.

8) Center for the Transmission of Traditionalist Wisdom. The eighth, but not the least, of an Islamic mosque’s purposes is to serve as a center for transmitting the knowledge and wisdom of enlightened Islamic scholars to individual Muslims. There has always been a disconnect between the Muslim scholars and the rulers, just as now there is a disconnect between the scholars and 90% of the Muslims. Most Muslims are unfamiliar with the breadth and depth of Islamic thought and with the vast tradition and wisdom within the scholarly community. This lack of knowledge makes them vulnerable to extremists who may know even less than they do.

The challenge is not merely for the mosque leaders to develop receptivity to this knowledge. The greater challenge is to the scholars, who must develop a language understandable to non-scholars, as well as to non-Muslims, and to develop think-tanks for this purpose. Think-tanks are the new link between academia and policy makers as a means to bring out the best of America.

III. Accentuate the Positive and Eliminate the Negative

One of the most popular World War II songs in America had the title, “Accentuate the Positive, and Eliminate the Negative, and Don’t Mess with Mr. In-Between”. As an advisor and sometime speech writer for three presidents, Nixon, Ford, and Reagan, I have learned that the greatest challenge is to be aware of the worst in America in order to bring out the best.

As a conservative, Richard Nixon addressed both equally. In his last book, Beyond Peace, Nixon wrote:

“With the end of the Cold War we must ask ourselves what we stand for in addition to national strength and prosperity. Democracy and capitalism are just techniques unless they are employed by those who seek a higher purpose for themselves and for society.

“Today our enemy is within us. The real threat in the world lies in the fact that our country may be rich in goods, but we are poor in spirit. Poor-quality education, rampant crime and violence, growing racial divisions, pervasive poverty, the drug epidemic, the degenerative culture of moronic entertainment, a decline in the notions of civic duty and responsibility, and the spread of a spiritual emptiness have all disconnected and alienated Americans from their country, their religions, and one another.

“Our crisis of values at home, coupled with our lack of a coherent mission abroad, has created a ‘dark night of the soul’.”

Nevertheless, Nixon was also profoundly optimistic. In this same book, he wrote, “The twentieth century has been a period of conflict between the West and the Muslim world. If we work together we can make the twenty-first century not just a time of peace … but a century in which, beyond peace, two great civilizations will enrich each other and the rest of the world”.

Another great visionary, who was caught in the meat-grinder of Washington politics and accomplished little other than saving his own soul, was Ronald Reagan.

Throughout his life, Reagan focused on the wealth gap caused by the concentrated ownership of productive wealth and on the means to remove the barriers to broadened capital ownership without taking away from the existing owners. He was a labor leader in Hollywood and admired President Roosevelt as his mentor.

In an unpublished letter to the New Orleans Times Picayune, based on a note from John McClaughry, Senior Policy Advisor, Reagan-Bush Committee, on October 31st, 1980, a few days before his election as president of the United States, Reagan wrote:

“Our Founding Fathers well understood that concentrated power is the enemy of liberty and the rights of man. They knew that the American experiment in individual liberty, free enterprise, and republican self-government could succeed only if power were widely distributed. And since in any society social and political power flow from economic power, they saw that wealth and property would have to be widely distributed among the people of the country. The truth of this insight is immediately apparent.

“Could there be anything resembling a free enterprise economy, if wealth and property were concentrated in the hands of a few, while the great majority owned little more than the shirts on their backs? Could there be anything but widespread misery, where a privileged few controlled a nation’s wealth, while millions labored for a pittance, and millions more were desperate for want of employment?

“It should be clear to everyone that the nation’s steadfast policy should afford every American of working age a realistic opportunity to acquire the ownership and control of some meaningful form of property in a growing national economy. This is not to say that the government should confiscate from the ‘haves’ and bestow upon the ‘have-nots’, beyond the requirements of a compassionate welfare program to provide for those who cannot provide for themselves. Far from it. But it is to say that our duty is to foster a strong, vibrant wealth-producing economy which operates in such a way that new additions to wealth accrue to those who presently have little or no ownership stake in their country”.

The question, of course, is how can this be accomplished. To answer this question, President Reagan, at the urging of Norman Kurland and myself, who were co-founders of the Center for Economic and Social Justice, convened the first Congressionally-established presidential task force, the Presidential Task Force on Economic Justice, for which I was Chairman of the Financial Markets Committee.

This task force was based on President Reagan’s call for a Second American Revolution, the particulars of which were laid out in the many books and position papers now available atwww.cesj.org, as well as in the home page of The American Revolutionary Party, www.americanrevolutionaryparty.us.

The ideological framework for this Task Force was laid our three years earlier in 1983 in President Reagan’s first major foreign policy pronouncement to commemorate Presidents Day, in which I had a small part.

His basic thrust was to emphasize our “responsibility to work for constructive change, not simply to preserve the status quo”. “History”, he declared, “is not a darkening path twisting inevitably toward tyranny. … It is the growing determination of men and women of all races and conditions to gain control of their own destinies”. In this foreign policy manifesto, President Reagan showed his courage by recognizing the Palestinian nation and asserting that satisfaction of this “people’s legitimate rights is a fundamental objective of our foreign policy”.

President Reagan called for American policy-makers, both Republican and Democrat, to recognize, as he put it, “the central focus of politics – the minds, hearts, sympathies, fears, hopes, and aspirations not of governments, but of people – the global electorate”. He concluded, “The American dream lives – not only in the hearts and minds of our own countrymen, but in the hearts and minds of millions of the world’s people in both free and oppressed societies who look to us for leadership. As long as that dream lives, as long as we continue to defend it, America has a future – and all mankind has reason to hope”.

  1. Conclusion

As a concluding insight, it is apparent to me that we are in the middle of a profound renaissance, al hamdu li Allah, in all fields of Islamic scholarship, thanks perhaps in part to the decline of civilization worldwide and to the resulting Islamophobia among those who are burdened with existential angst. Ironically, this has brought the essence of Islam to the forefront in the interfaith task of rehabilitating the role of religion as the source of justice. This, in turn, has revived justice as the only paradigm adequate for the pursuit of peace, prosperity, and freedom.

The leadership of Muslims in America will soon pass from one generation to another, namely, to those who have never had any social identity other than American. The Islamic Center of San Gabriel Valley is paving the way for such a transformation of Islam in America. Its most important old/new message for all generations of Muslims in America should be, “It’s justice, not ‘just us’!”

Dr. Crane gave this presentation on May 8, 2011, as a guest speaker at the very successful fund-raiser for the new mega-mosque,

The Islamic Center of San Gabriel Valley, located near Los Angeles.



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