Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Muslim and American

From a Pew Charitable Trust poll 2007:

When asked about how they think of their personal identity, only about a quarter (28%) of all Muslim Americans say they identify themselves first as an American rather than as a Muslim. This number is strikingly similar to the percentage of white evangelicals (28%) and black Protestants (33%) who say they think of themselves first as American and only secondarily as Christian. In fact, a higher percentage of evangelicals (62%) and black Protestants (55%) identify themselves first by their faith than do Muslims (47%). (About one-fifth of Muslim Americans – 18% – say they think of themselves as both American and Muslim.)

Discussions - 13 Comments

But are the "identities" comparable? Does the poll ask the groups if they are willing to fight and die for America if it is threatened? I suspect that the answers for Christians and Muslims might be very different. "Render unto Ceasar" is a Christian teaching, after all. I don't think that Islam has a comparable teaching. Sharia is fundamental to Islam in a way that Canon Law is not to Christianity.

To push it in a somewhat more philosophical direction, the very idea of "religion" as a distinct and separable part of one's identity is a Christian idea. Many of the patriots of the American revolution would have believed that worshiping God was more important than worshiping any human thing. Hence they might have answered the Pew poll the way that so many Protestants do today. Do Muslims see things the same way? Do they think that their relation to God is primary, but, at the same time, think of themselevs as American patriots? Or do Muslims think that their first obligation is to the Umma--the Muslum nation?

I thought it was God family country. If we want it any other way then we are in dangerous territory. Nationalism is not always a grand thing, especially in an era of government power grabs and curtailment of civil liberties. About the fighting and dying thing, it is an interesting question becuase the American Identity is up for grabs right now. Should a "conservative" always be willing to fight and die for America if it becomes overly socialist or fascist, and if so does that mean we are down to a sort of college football tribalism when it comes to national identity? If I hold the founding vision as my national identity then I guess it is my duty to fight against the current regime and become a traitor (in theory....I don't want to go to prison just yet DHS). I don't know though, I get the point you are making about muslims not assimilating, but I think it takes generations instead of years to do that, however, with the current state of flux in the national identity they the muslim children may be assimilated into cradle to grave socialism and government control rather than life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This entire thing reminds me of the awful museum in DC that was commented on a few months back. The one that skews history in favor of big government.

And yes, FEMA documents show that they are training chaplins to push Romans in the possibility of marshal law. Any theological scholars want to give a deeper interpretation of that particlar that does not end with: a good Christian does what his government says?

What about political parties? Vocation? Ideological affiliation? So many conservative and/or Republican bloggers to mull this over. Sorry, but the notion that one needs to/should rank any or all of these things in some kind of order strikes me as at least a little bit juvenile...

Richard – If you get a chance, you should look at the entire poll. For example, a higher percentage of evangelicals (both white and black) than Muslims say that religion is very important in their lives. The poll reports that Muslims in general favor big government (more services) but are conservative on social issues. They sound like big government conservatives. Also, at Pew is polling of European Muslims on similar questions, which distinguishes them from American Muslims. One thing this implies is that you are lumping a lot of differences into the term “Muslim,” differences that are important and should not be overlooked.

If by the phrase “Render unto Caesar” you are suggesting that the separation of Church and State or politics and religion is Christian, it seems to me rather that “render unto Caesar” was Christ’s teaching and only a Christian teaching when it was convenient or forced on Christians. I believe that your comparing canon law and sharia is inapt as they are not the same sort of thing. Was the Divine right of Kings a Christian idea? I don’t see that much difference between the views expressed or implicit in the Mayflower Compact and what you seem to be implying about Islam. On the other hand, as I understand it, for the most part religion and politics are separate in Muslim tradition. The Caliph inherited Mohammed’s political power. Khomeini’s idea of clerics ruling was an innovation. (I once read that the only book of political philosophy that Khomeini liked was Plato’s Republic.) One thing that distinguishes the dominant Shia tradition in Iraq from the teaching of Khomeini is that Iraqi shia do not think it appropriate for clerics to rule.

It is true that if one looks back to Christ and Mohammed one sees important differences with regard to religion and politics. I suppose that what this means is that Christians who dislike the separation of Church and State or politics and religion (not the same thing, I think) have a greater obstacle to overcome than do Muslims.

David. My point was that Canon law and Sharia are very different. That's connected to the differences between Christianity and Islam,and the difference between the answers to the same question. I am trying to define Christianity and Islam by what I take to be their central organizing principles, not by what a certain precentage of people who call themselves Christians or Muslims happen to believe.

You don't address the question of what percentage of the Muslims v. Christian who say that their national ideneity is not primary are willing to fight and die for the US if necessary.

The Mayflower compact organized what was, in effect, a social compact, partly because the Pilgirms were outside the boundaries of the grant the King had given. The laws they would create under that compact may have been influenced by the Bible, but they would have been enacted by and enforced by secular authority, nor would they have been heavily influenced by a Christian legal tradition going back over 1,000 years. Ministers could not hold office in colonial Massachsuetts. I believe the same was true in Plymouth. New England ministers did not make legal rulings or have their own courts. By contrast, the Caliphs were supposed to rule according to Islamic law. The Muslim equivalent of a minister is someone steeped not in theology, but in law. He is not the Caliph, but he does make legal rulings. Hence the nature of the identity of Muslims and Christians is not the same.

That's why it's important that so many American Muslims are not so religious. The more religious they are, the more difficult the problem becomes. The situation is different for Christians, due to the place of law in the different "religions."

To give one more example, the Puritans made marriage a civil ceremony. They thought that it was a mistake for the Church to intrude upon such an important civic institution. From their perspective, Canon law, like the Divine Right of Kings, was heresy. That's why they called their ministers "public teachers" of religion and their churches "meeting houses." They thought neither was sacred. They believed that the community had the right to hire a minister according to its own judgment. Moreover, the Pilgrims were Independents. They did not even believe Synods had the right to establish general, binding rules upon all religious congregations, much less the colony as a whole. Not sure they're good candidates to compare to Muslims.

Richard – it seems to me that you are picking and choosing from history to make your argument or, more exactly, taking Christianity to be Protestantism and even a certain sort of Protestantism (your Puritan examples). The Mayflower compact accepted the divine right of James to rule. This may have been a concession to prevailing views but that was my point in citing the document. James was supposed to rule according to religiously sanctioned law. He was the head of Church and State. Depending on the period and location we are talking about, I am not sure I see the sharp distinctions in these matters that you do. Your selectivity is in keeping, no doubt, with your effort “to define Christianity and Islam by . . . their central organizing principles, not by what a certain percentage of people who call themselves Christians or Muslims happen to believe.” Why you would want to do that or only that puzzles me, frankly. It means, I think as your post shows, that you end up talking about your concepts rather than the actual political issues and problems, which are after all constituted by the people who call themselves Christians and Muslims rather than by someone’s interpretation and rationalization of what Christianity and Islam mean. The distinction you make between theology and law is correct but does that not distinguish Judaism and Christianity as well as Christianity and Islam? Do you see the same problems with Jews in America as you do with Muslims? If not, why not? Do you think that it is possible that Islamic equivalents of reformed, orthodox, and conservative Judaism will develop?

I don’t know what percentage of Muslims are willing to fight and die for the US but I don’t assume that it is smaller than the percentage of other Americans who are willing to fight and die for the US. Do you? If you do, why?

Finally, you seem to believe that later Christianity (particularly what prevails in the United States today) is preferable to or more real Christianity than older Christianity. Why is this? Are you a progressive?

Richard -- one other thing. I believe that a couple of your statements in #7 apply to Muslims as well as Puritans (selecting ministers and being independents) but perhaps I miss your point in mentioning them. In general, I think your larger point (differences between Muslims and certain kinds of American Christians) is true.

To recognize James as King was not, necessarily, to have accepted divine right. The Pilgrims certainly did not accept their obligation to follow his dictates in church affairs. The difference between orthodox Muslims and Orthodox Jews is that Orthodox Jews only think that Halachah is the law for all Jews; Muslims think that Sharia is supposed to be the law for all people. That's why the modern nation-state is hard to square with Islam.

How strong is the tradition of obeying non-Sharia law and of having non-Sharia courts in Islamic lands? Several modern countries are trying it, but how effective is the effort? There have always been non-Canon law courts in Christian lands, no? That's the problem I'm pointing to.

Finally, to go back to the original point, the idea of God before country is as old as the republic. For orthodox Muslims, that also means putting Sharia before U.S. law, and perhaps putting the Umma before the U.S.

It has never been effective because the CIA always came along and undermined it. We need an enemy to justify having spies and huge military budgets and if not radical Islam then who? Mohammed Mosaddeq

Richard – As far as I can tell, obedience to non-sharia law is going well. Several years ago, a Pew Poll asked Muslims if they thought religion was a private matter and should be separate from politics. Majorities in all the Muslim countries surveyed (very large majorities in Lebanon and Turkey, much smaller in Pakistan and Jordan) answered affirmatively, although large majorities (except in Turkey) said that Islam should play a large role in politics. The typical interpretation of these results is that Muslims want Islam to provide moral guidance to political life but not dictate policy or legal proceedings. (I have read that the demand for moral guidance from Islam correlates with the level of corruption in a country.) Are the Muslims represented in this poll unorthodox in your view? I presume by “orthodox Muslims” you are referring to those who conform to your idea of Islam’s “central organizing principle.” But why is your opinion to be preferred? Why are the opinions and practice of Muslims to be ignored?

I think there is and has been diversity on these questions among Muslim scholars and in Muslim practice. Again, it seems to me that you prefer modern Christianity and Judaism to their previous theory and practice and are happy that they changed over the centuries but want to confine Islam to your conception of what it must be or in your view has been. At one time it was hard to square Christianity with the modern nation-state and squaring it was a long drawn out bloody affair. Certain geopolitical conditions did the squaring in Europe, rather than it being a development somehow inherent in the idea of Christianity (although as I noted in a previous comment the process may in some respects be easier in the Christian than in the Muslim tradition—this is my interpretation of the issue of the status of law that you raise). I don’t see any reason, especially given the facts on the ground, so to speak, to confine Islam to your view of what is orthodox.

i have read all the comments by Richard and David, but i dont seem to understand that none of you are on the right track. Muslims in America are same as they are in an islamic territory, so saying that muslims forget about their sharia in a non-islamic territory. i would totally disagree with that. i preffer you both to research on Muslims and islam agian. highly recommended.

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