Akhlaq e Amrikiya: A Manual for the Survival of Muslims in America (3 of 7)

Bonding with America…..

Akhlaq e Amrikiya

A Manual for the Survival of Muslims in America (3 of 7)

Professor Nazeer Ahmed

According to news reports, GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson accused Muslims who adhere to the Shariah and at the same time embrace American values of being “schizophrenic.”

In an interview with Breitbart News’ Stephen K. Bannon, Carson was asked whether he believes Muslims who are “Sharia adherent” can also participate in a Democratic society governed by the rule of law.

“Only if they’re schizophrenic,” Carson said. “I don’t see how they can do it otherwise, because they have two different philosophies boring at you. That would be very difficult.”

Two alternatives present themselves in response to Carson’s statement. One can dismiss it as outlandish, calculated to catch the attention of voters in this election year when Islamophobia is on center stage in Republican primaries. Alternately, one can take it as a challenge to answer his assertion of Islamic schizophrenia with a cogent and rational narrative. I will chose the latter and it is in this spirit that I welcome the statement of Mr. Carson. Let me explain my choice of response with an ancient story.

Abdul Khaliq al-Ghujdawani (1179) was a well-known Sufi Shaikh of Central Asia in the pre-Mongol era. I had the privilege of visiting his tomb during my visit to Uzbekistan in the year 2000.

Shaikh al-Ghujdawani was a retiring man. Some considered him to be a hermit. He shunned the distractions of mundane pursuits and spent most of his time in contemplation and prayer in the forest, away from the cacophony of city life. This retiring nature was unpopular with his wife who would have preferred it if the Shaikh spent more time with her at home.

The Shaikh was known in the land as a man of wisdom and inner knowledge. His disciples, spread out throughout Central Asia, would come to sit in his sohbets (spiritual discourses) to partake of his wisdom and seek guidance on specific issues of concern to them.

It so happened that one day, a disciple of the Shaikh who lived in a far-away village had a question about a religious issue which the local teachers were unable to answer. The discipline resolved to visit his Shaikh personally and seek his guidance on the issue.

The disciple packed up and after several days journey by foot arrived at the house of the Shaikh. Standing outside the door, respectfully, he called out for the Shaikh. After several minutes, the wife of the Shaikh answered from behind the closed door and asked who it was that was asking for the Shaikh.

“This is Abdullah, a disciple of the honorable Shaikh, madam”, answered the disciple.  “I have a subtle question about a religious issue. Only the Shaikh can guide me in this matter”.

Hearing this answer, the wife of the Shaikh burst into a tirade.

“You want to talk to the Shaikh? He does not come home for his food. He does not wear the clothes I sew but walks around in tattered rags. When I sent him some food he distributes it to the poor in the bazaar. He is a bum. He knows nothing. Why do you want to see him?”

The disciple was taken aback at this answer. Out of his adab (respect), he remained silent.

After several more minutes of ranting, the wife of the Shaikh relented and told the disciple to look for the Shaikh in the nearby forest.

The disciple went to the forest, and after some searching, found the Shaikh seated in deep contemplation under a tree. Not wanting to disturb the Shaikh, the disciple tip-toed in and sat down quietly some distance from the Shaikh.

After some time, the Shaikh opened his eyes, and seeing his disciple, enquired what had brought him there. The disciple related how he had struggled to find guidance on the question haunting him.

“How did you find out I was here?” enquired the Shaikh.

After some hesitation, the disciple narrated to the Shaikh that he had visited his house and was told by the Shaikh’s wife to go look in the forest.

“What did my wife tell you about me?” asked the Shaikh.

The disciple was silent but when the Shaikh insisted, he told him what he had heard.

“My wife is my ego”, said the Shaikh. “She shows me what I am not so that I can struggle against my ego and continuously move towards a state of Ehsan.”

The moral of the story is this: Men and women of intellect are unfazed by harsh criticism. They use it as an occasion for improvement and advancing to the next step of the ladder of attainment.

It is in this light that one must react to Mr. Carson’s statement. Are the Muslims schizophrenic about their presence in America? Let us look deep into our souls, and as Shaikh Abdul Khaliq Gujdawani did in response to the diatribe of his wife, use the occasion to improve ourselves.

Contract, Citizenship, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights


“O you who believe!
Fulfill your contracts!” (The Qur’an: 5:1)


There exists a solemn contract, a covenant, between every citizen and the Constitution of the United States. The solemn pledge of allegiance taken by citizens binds the two together in a mutuality of rights and responsibilities. This pledge comes with the birth certificate of those who are born in the US. It comes by choice with those who become naturalized citizens. In either case, it is solemn and binding on every citizen, without qualifications or disclaimers.

Who is a citizen? The Citizenship Clause of the Constitution’s 1868 Fourteenth Amendment defines citizens as “ All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside”.

Citizenship is not coercive. It is willingly entered into by every individual. If an American wants to emigrate and go to another country, the United States does not forbid it or hinder the process of relocation.


The laws, rules and regulations of the United States are binding on every citizen and on every resident. The life, liberty, property and safety of an individual are governed by these laws. The American constitution does not admit of any other law or system of laws within its territories.


As applied to the Muslim community, the bonds between the Constitution of the United States and the Muslims are even stronger. First, like all other citizens, there is the contractual obligation, willingly undertaken. Second, there is the divine injunction. The Qur’an enjoins the believers to fulfill their contracts and live within the paradigm of the laws, rules and regulations of the country where they live. The sanctity of a contract is emphasized again and again in the Qur’an (References: 2:177: 2: 237; 2:282; 3:76; 4:21; 4:33; 5:1; 13:20; 16:91; 23:8; 70:32). An American must follow American laws. A Canadian must follow Canadian laws. A British citizen must follow British laws. An Australian citizen must obey Australian laws. And so on. Fully one fourth of all Muslims, some 400 million, live as minorities in lands as diverse as China, India and South Africa. The laws of each country constitute the legal framework for the lives of the Muslims who live in that country.

Ben Carson calls the American Muslims schizophrenic. He is not alone in this position. A large number of Americans share this view. There is a great deal of alarmist discussion in the media about Sharia law. It is alleged that the Muslims harbor an insidious, secret desire to impose Sharia law upon the United States.

Muslims must share some of the responsibility for these misconceptions. There is a lack of clarity among Muslim clerics and Muslim intellectual circles about what Shariah is, and its historical application in space-time.  Specifically, the differences between Shariah, Fiqh, Maslak, tradition and culture are not clearly understood. Certainly, they are not communicated with clarity to people of our sister faiths.

Shariah derives from the trilateral Arabic root word Sh-ra-‘a, meaning that which is prescribed, ordained or decreed. The sun rises from the East. That is Shariah. The night follows the day and the day follows the night. That is Shariah. The earth compresses and dilates under galactic gravitational waves. That is Shariah. It is the law that governs creation.

Fiqh is the application of the Shariah to specific human issues in space-time. In the days immediately following the death of the Prophet there were no organized schools of Fiqh. The community followed the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet. Gradually, the sciences of Fiqh evolved with their principles, applications and deductions.

Maslak is a specific school of Fiqh. The two hundred years following the death of the Prophet witnessed a burst of creative energy.  This creative environment witnessed the development of a multiplicity of schools of Fiqh.  Gradually, for historical reasons, the community gravitated towards five major schools of Fiqh: Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’, Hanbali and Ithna Ashari. There are also other historically valid schools of Fiqh such as the Zaidi, Ismaili and others that are followed by a smaller number of Muslims.  Each school of Fiqh (Maslak) reflects the social and historical context of its times. What is common to all of these schools is the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet. There is mutuality and concomitance between the Maslaks to varying degrees. What differentiates them is the relative emphasis on Ijma (consensus of the community), Estehsan (juridical preference of a qualified judge), Qiyas (independent judgment of a scholar based on deductive analogy), and the accepted chain of transmission of Ahadith. I have provided a brief but informative discussion of the schools of Fiqh in the Encyclopedia of Islamic History www.historyofislam.com.

Culture is the way people relate to each other. Each country has its own culture. The American culture is different from the Indonesian culture. The Egyptian culture is different from the Indian culture. Tradition and culture act as super layers upon the core of religious beliefs and doctrines.

Tradition is what people have followed over an extended period of time. It is the way a people practice their religion. Tradition may or may not be a valid source of jurisprudence, however.

It should be obvious from the above brief observations that what is usually called “the Shariah law” is in fact a school of Fiqh applied in a specific cultural and temporal context. For instance, the laws of Saudi Arabia are not the same as the laws of Mauritania.

What is important is to remember that the source of the Law, the Qur’an is dynamic.  The Qur’an refers to each of its passages as “Ayahs”, meaning, Signs or Symbols. Every word of the Qur’an is a Symbol which is infinitely elastic in its inner meanings. The Qur’an declares:

“Had we brought down this Qur’an upon a mountain,
You would see it humbled,
Pulverized by fear of Allah.
And these are the similes
We bring forth for humankind,
So that they ponder.” (The Qur’an: 59:21)

Those who insist on a literal interpretation of the Qur’an miss the dynamism of this Ayah. Only a symbolic interpretation of the Divine Word allows it to be “larger than an ocean” and allows for its dynamic application in multiple locales in different ages. This is the inner meaning of Ijtihad. A symbol is limitless. It is not bound by space-time. By contrast, a literal word is static. It grounds the faith before it takes the soul on a soaring journey to the heavens.

So, when some Americans say they do not want “the Shariah Law” in America, do they mean the law governed by a certain school of Fiqh as practiced in a certain country such as Saudi Arabia? Allowing for the fuzziness between Shariah and Fiqh in the minds of many people, the concern about “the Shariah Law” has no basis for the following reasons:

  1. American Muslims are bound by covenant, as they are commanded to do by the Qur’an, to uphold and abide by the law of the United States.
  2. The presence of Muslims in America is in conformance with the Seerah of the Prophet when he sent some of the early Muslims to live under the protection of the Negus, the Christian king of Abyssinia. As related by Ibn Ishaq, “When the Prophet saw the affliction of his companions, he said to them: “If you were to go to Abyssinia (it would be better for you), for the king will not tolerate injustice and it is a friendly country.”
  3. No responsible Muslim scholar has advocated “the Shariah Law” for America. Discussions of Sharia at universities, public lectures and conventions are for edification, teaching and enhancement of knowledge.
  4. Muslims are an insignificant minority in North America, constituting less than one percent of the population. It consists mostly of professionals such as engineers, accountants, doctors, architects, scientists, entrepreneurs and government workers. This population has its horizons more on the American dream than the kingdom of heaven. How can this insignificant, secular minded, heterogeneous group hoist a system of laws other than the law of the land?
  5. The Muslim presence in America is older than the presence of other monotheistic faiths. Some scholars, citing the evidence offered by early Spanish and Portuguese explorers, assert the presence of Muslims in the Americas a century before Columbus. (Please refer to the article by Dr. Abdullah Quik in http://www.historyofislam.com). A large number of Muslims arrived in the New World aboard Spanish ships to escape the Inquisition. About 20 to 30% of the 10 to 100 million Africans who were transported aboard slave ships between 1605 and 1859 were Muslim.

In summary, the issue of “the Shariah law” in America is a non-issue. It is a canard invented by interested parties with an agenda and articulated by people like Carson and Trump to add fuel to the fires of Islamophobia raging in the land and gain political advantage from it.

The discussion so far partially answers the aspersions of Ben Carson that American Muslims are “schizophrenic”. He seems to insinuate that the Muslims do not belong in America. We will develop our response to this insinuation more fully, inshallah, in the next installment, examining from an Islamic perspective the ideas of citizenship in a modern state, democracy, sovereignty, trusteeship and delegation of God-given individual authority to elected representatives. Our objective is to show that not only are American Muslims not “schizophrenic” but are more fully committed than many others to the American vision of “one nation under God” and the ideals of “liberty and justice for all”.