Islam and Religious Freedom by Dr John Andrew Morrow – scholar of Islam
SHAFAQNA – Delivered at the Catholic-Muslim Forum in Plainfield, Indiana, on Monday, October 17, 2016,
In the Name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful. Praise be to God, the Creator of the Universe, and peace be upon all of His prophets and messengers, the recipients of revelation. We love them all, respect them all, and revere them all. Now then.
It is a distinct honor to be among you today in the presence of distinguished leaders and members of the Catholic and Muslim communities. I express my heart-felt thanks to the organizers from Sacred Heart Catholic Church and the Islamic Society of North America and extend my warmest welcome to all of the participants who are present here this evening. Marhabah. Ahlan wa sahlan. Consider yourselves in the company of family.
Now when I say consider yourselves in the company of family, I mean so both literally and figuratively. As human beings, as the children of Adam and Eve, we are very much one family. In fact, there is a tradition attributed to the Prophet Muhammad that states that “All creatures are the family of Allah” (Bayhaqi). Not only are we family biologically and genetically, we, as believers, as monotheists, are also family spiritually and religiously. In other words, we all belong to the same transcendental tradition.
Truth is simple. Shall I distill the quintessence of religion for you? Shall I do away with millions of books and thousands of years of scholarship, theology, philosophy and metaphysics? God is One. Anyone who believes in God is a believer. Call Him Yahweh. Call Him Elohim. Call Him Jehovah. Call Him Jesus. Call Him Brahman. Call Him Manitou. Call Him Wakan Tanka. And even call Him Her. So long as you believe in the Creator, you are a believer. And so long as you are good, you will be saved. Faith and deeds.
Although I do not have the time to survey every spiritual tradition in the search for signs of perennial philosophical Truth, let me focus on the Western religious tradition. God, in His Infinite Wisdom and Mercy has sent prophets and messengers to guide humanity. He sent Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad. They taught people to believe in One God and to be good. Jews, Christians, and Muslims all belong to the same monotheistic tradition: they are very much the Family of Abraham.
Islam means submission, peace, and surrender. One who submits, is at peace, and surrenders to God in belief and action, is a Muslim or a submitter. As far as Muslims are concerned, all the prophets and messengers, from Adam to Muhammad, taught the same religion: islam or submission. I am distinguishing between Islam with a capital “I” andislam with a small “i;” between definite and indefinite. As far as Muslims are concerned, Judaism is islam, Christianity is islam, and Islam is islam. As we read in the Glorious Qur’an:
The same religion has He established for you as that which He enjoined on Noah – the which We have sent by inspiration to thee – and that which We enjoined on Abraham, Moses, and Jesus: Namely, that ye should remain steadfast in religion, and make no divisions therein: to those who worship other things than Allah, hard is the (way) to which thou callest them. Allah chooses to Himself those whom He pleases, and guides to Himself those who turn (to Him). (42:13)
Now don’t get me wrong. I am not diluting or co-mingling religions. I am not espousing religious relativism or syncretism. I am not saying that these religions are identical. I am saying that they are universal. In matters of law, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are divided on some issues. However, in many matters of faith, they are united. While divinely-revealed religions may differ exoterically or outwardly, they resemble each other esoterically or inwardly. They are all, in my mind, bona fide religious paths, steps on the divine ladder of spiritual perfection.
The foundations of faith include tawhid or divine unity. As we read in the Glorious Qur’an: “Say he is God, One God, God the Eternal” (112:1-2). And again: “Allah. There is no god but He, the Living, the Self-subsisting, Eternal. No slumber can seize Him nor sleep. His are all things in the heavens and on earth.” (2:255). And yet again: “Verily, verily, your God is one!” (37: 4)
The foundations of faith include nubuwwah or risalah, the beliefs in the prophets and messengers of God. As we read the Glorious Qur’an:
Say: “We believe in Allah, and in what has been revealed to us and what was revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes, and in (the Books) given to Moses, Jesus, and the prophets, from their Lord: We make no distinction between one and another among them, and to Allah do we bow our will (in Islam).” (3:84)
The foundations of faith include qiyyamah, mi‘ad or akhirah, the belief in the Day of Judgment, Heaven and Hell, and Eternal Life. As we read in the Glorious Qur’an:
On that Day, people will come forward in separate groups to be shown their deeds: whoever has done an atom’s weight of good will see it, but whoever has done an atom’s weight of evil will see that (99:6-8)
The pillars of Islam are five.
Number One: Shahadah: the testimony of faith that there is no god but God and that Muhammad is the Messenger of God.
Number Two: Salat: the five daily prayers: dawn, noon, afternoon, sunset, and night.
Number Three: Zakat: the mandatory charity: 2.5% of a Muslim’s total savings and wealth above a minimum amount.
Number Four: Sawm: the fasting during the month of Ramadan. No food, drink, cigarettes or intimate relations from dawn to sunset. It teaches discipline, self-control, and empathy toward the poor, hungry, and needy. It encourages charity. It is the ultimate trial of sincerity.
And Number Five: Hajj: the pilgrimage to Makkah, to the Ka‘abah, built by Patriarch Abraham, upon the command of God, as the first monotheistic house of worship. Filled with richly symbolic rituals, the physical pilgrimage to Makkah reenacts the spiritual pilgrimage toward God.
Islam is a belief system. Islam is a devotional system. Islam is an ethical system. Islam is a spiritual system. Islam is a mystical system. Islam is a legal system. Islam is a socio-political and economic system. To be succinct, Islam is a worldview. It is faith in action. It is faith that moves mountains through sacred activism and the struggle for social justice.
Now that I have painted the fundamentals of faith and roots of religion in broad strokes, it is time to tackle the topic at hand: Islam and religious freedom. Religious freedom is a right, a hard-won right, that many people take for granted in the Western world. Regrettably, it remains out of reach for people in many parts of the world including, unfortunately, a couple of Muslim-majority nations. If any of you are familiar with my work, I am not one to sugar coat such subjects.
There was no such thing as religious freedom in ancient times. The religion of the ruler was imposed on all subjects. People were converted by decree. God forbid if you were a Jew or a Christian under Roman rule. To a large extent, there was no such thing as freedom unless you belonged to the political or economic elite. In ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, slavery was the order of the day. And in early Modern Europe if one was not a slave, one was a serf, a virtual slave to a Lord. It was only in relatively recent history that freedom of religion moved to the forefront.
When we speak of freedom of religion in the Western world, we point to several foundational documents: The American Constitution from 1787. The Bill of Rights from 1789. The First Amendment to the American Constitution from 1791. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights from 1948. And the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms from 1982. Prior to that, there were no religious rights, little rights, or limited rights. There was no such thing as comprehensive protection of religious freedom in the Western world. The few protections that existed were limited in scope and served the interest of the majority.
Something absolutely unprecedented took place in seventh-century Arabia; an event of unparalleled religious, spiritual, political, and social importance: the revelation received by the Prophet Muhammad in the Cave of Hira on the Mountain of Light on the outskirts of Makkah. The religion he would come to preach was not new and he never presented it as such. On the contrary, he asserted that he was renewing the religion of Jesus, Moses, and Abraham and this religion contained an important component: religious freedom.
The Prophet Muhammad preached the Word of God but did not impose the Word of God. He invited all to the ancient religion of Abraham. Islam was the culmination of previous prophetic messages. Hence, despite legal and theological differences, the Prophet acknowledged the Truth at the heart of Judaism and Christianity, and embraced the ahl al-kitab, the People of the Book, into his Ummah, his Community or Confederation of Believers. Islam, by nature, was inclusive and pluralistic from day one despite the claims of its enemies.
Religious freedom is rooted in the Qur’an:
Say: O ye that reject faith! I worship not that which ye worship. Nor will ye worship what which I worship. And I will not worship that which ye have been wont to worship. Nor will ye worship that which I worship. To you your Religion, and to me Mine. (109: 1-6)
This is religious freedom defined and religious freedom refined. This chapter of the Qur’an was revealed in regard to the Arab polytheists. Although Muslims shared common ground with the People of the Book, they had little in common with idolaters. Despite the chasm between monotheism and polytheism, the Prophet was still prepared to live side by side with them so long as the Muslims were guaranteed religious freedom. Most, but not all of the pagans, opted to persecute the monotheistic Muslims, raping, torturing, and murdering them unless they accepted to worship idols.
Islam’s view of the Other was altogether outstanding. As Almighty God commands: “Let there be no compulsion in religion” (2:256). It speaks for itself. It requires no commentary. Either you buy it or you deny it. You cannot compel people to convert to Islam and claim that you are following the Qur’an. Whoever does so follows a faith other than Islam or — to be more precise and provocative — is faithless. As we read in the Glorious Qur’an: “And if your Lord had enforced His will, surely, all who are on the earth would have believed together. Will you, then, force men to become believers?” (10:100)
God Himself refuses to force people into faith. Imagine, then, the utter arrogance and the sheer stupidity of those who defy the Divinity by coercing their convictions upon others. And if God Himself has granted people freedom of conscience, so has the Messenger of God. As we read in the Glorious Qur’an: “Admonish, therefore, for thou art but an admonisher; thou hast no authority to compel them. (88: 22-23). And yet again: “(O Prophet) proclaim, ‘This is the truth from your Lord, so let him who will believe, and let him who will, disbelieve.’ (18:30)
And while there are some Muslims who allege that all non-Muslims are unbelievers, such a position is not rooted in the Sunnah of the Prophet and is certainly not in concordance with the teachings of the Glorious Qur’an. As Almighty God explains:
Surely those who believe, and those who are Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabians, whoever believes in Allah and the Last day and does good, they shall have their reward from their Lord, and there is no fear for them, nor shall they grieve. (2:62)
And while the Qur’an commands jihad, sacred struggle, it was aimed, not at believers in divinely-revealed religions but at atheists, polytheists, and pagans, along with any of their allies, who persecuted monotheists and prevented them from exercising their religious freedom.
Religious freedom is rooted in the Constitution of Madinah. Compiled by the Prophet through the combined efforts of the early community in Madinah, which consisted primarily of Jews and Pagans, along with a small number of Muslims, it represents the first political charter in the history of humanity. And what is so significant about this charter of rights produced at the dawn of Islam? It enshrines freedom of religion: “The Jews… are one community with the believers… The Jews have their religion and the Muslims have theirs.”
The Constitution of Madinah decreed that the citizens of the Community were one and indivisible regardless of religion. Be they heathen, People of the Book, or Muslims, all those who were subject to the Constitution belonged to the same Ummah or Confederation. In so doing, the Prophet Muhammad created a tolerant, pluralistic, government that protected religious freedom.
Remember, in Greek or Athenian democracy, the only individuals considered to be citizens were free native adult males. Slaves, women, children, and foreigners, as well as peasants, who represented more than 50% of the population, were all excluded. In other words, more than half of the population was composed of human “objects” as opposed to human beings. The Republican Romans were no better. the plebeians or masses, could not rule, elect rulers or make use of land.
In the Ummah or Community created by the Prophet, however, every single member of society enjoyed equality before the law as all privileges of class were abolished. The rich and the poor; the noble and the laymen; the Arabs and the non-Arabs; the blacks and the whites; men, women, and children; as well as the members of various religions, were all protected.
The Prophet Muhammad created an inclusive Community of Believers which included members of all the Abrahamic faiths. The ahl al-dhimmah, both Jewish and Christian, belonged to the community of believers. This was the dawn of a new day and the birth of a new culture and civilization. What the Prophet created was unprecedented: a Free State, founded more than 1300 years before the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
If religious freedom is rooted in the Qur’an and in the Constitution of Madinah, it is also rooted in the Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians. As we read in the Covenants of the Prophet with the Christians of Najran, Mount Sinai, Persia, Assyria, and the World:
It is not permitted to remove a bishop from his bishopric or a Christian from his Christianity, a monk from his monastic life or a pilgrim from his pilgrimage or a hermit monk from his tower. Nor is it permitted to destroy any part of their churches, to take parts of their buildings to construct mosques or the homes of Muslims.
The Prophet Muhammad granted covenants of protection to Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians. He promised them freedom of conscience, freedom of belief, and freedom of religious practice. He protected their religious establishments and prohibited forced conversions. The Covenants of the Prophet have been passed down for 1400 years through Jewish, Christian, and Muslim sources. They have been authenticated by scores of scholars. They have been confirmed from the first Caliph down to the last Caliph.
But enough with the inspiration. Enough with nostalgic visions of an idealized and idealistic time. Enough with the world of words. Let us return to reality, grim reality. Religious freedom is under attack across the world. Just look at the actions of the so-called “Islamic” State or, as I like to call them, the Satanic State. They proudly flout the law, taking pride in violating every ethical, moral, and legal principle in Islam. For what purpose? To destroy the image of Islam, incite Islamophia, and advance the geopolitical plans of their patrons.
Religious freedom is under attack here at home. We have a corrupt woman running for President: Hillary Clinton. And we have a bombastic buffoon running for President: Donald Trump. So either I have just alienated the entire audience or I have united us, as believers with morals, values, ethics, and principles who can rise above these two despicable candidates in this freak election from Hell where the only option is between Satan and the goddess Kali. That’s quite an ethical conflict.
On the one hand, we have Donald Trump, a serial liar, a misogynist, a self-confessed sexual assaulter, a xenophobic racist, who regularly incites political violence and who has promised to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion of them — from entering the United States. Trump, however, is simply the ugly face of a deep-rooted undercurrent that has existed in this country since day one. He is simply surfing the wave of centuries-old suppressed hatred. He embodies the worst of what this country has to offer.
There is an Islamophobic industry in the Western world that is funded by multinational corporations to the tune of millions of dollars per year. They seek to convince people, parties, courts, and governments that Islam is not a religion, but a perilous political ideology; thus permitting people in power to prohibit the practice of Islam, close Islamic centers, refuse to recognize Muslim marriages, ban the hijab and establish a Muslim Registry inspired by totalitarian regimes. These people openly advocate placing Muslims in detention camps.
We are dealing with people who are both dangerous and diabolical; it is due to their control of the media that most of the American people — and most American Muslims — have never heard of the several hundred Muslim projects in opposition to ISIS presently going on, both in North America and beyond it; every Catholic and every Muslim in this country, and the world, should familiarize themselves with these actions.
On the other hand, we have Hillary Clinton, a politician-for-profit who is on the payroll of every elitist globalist. She is a chameleon, constantly changing her colors, her tune, and her political and social positions to suit the plans of her Masters: those who own her. Sure, compared to Trump many people believe that she is the lesser evil but she is evil nonetheless.
If Trump might blow up the entire planet, Hillary may only blow up part of it: a Muslim part of it. However, if she continues her policy of provocation towards Russia, all bets are off: it’s boom, boom, kaboom! Bye-bye Mother Earth. In matters of religious freedom, Hillary Clinton is not much better than Donald Trump. They both represent extremes. Clinton, like Obama and others of their ultra-liberal ilk, seek to force their radical secular philosophy down the throats of believers, people who hold firmly to traditional moral, social, and ethical values.
When members of her staff recently called Catholics and Evangelicals “backward,” they knew that such attitudes were acceptable in the campaign office. And in a 2014 email exchange with her campaign manager, John Podesta — brought to us courtesy of Wikileaks — Hillary said:
The advance of ISIL through Iraq gives the U.S. Government an opportunity to change the way it deals with the chaotic security situation in North Africa and the Middle East. The most important factor in this matter is to make use of intelligence resources and Special Operations troops in an aggressive manner.
And we know that ISIL has carried out systematic genocide against the ancient Christians of the Middle East, as well as every Muslim who will not subscribe to their Satanic policies. Every Catholic and every Muslim in this country, and the world, should familiarize themselves with revelations like this.
Donald Trump believes that Hillary Clinton needs to be locked up. Many Americans agree. However, many Americans also believe that Donald Trump needs to be locked up for the sake of sanity and the sake of humanity. It’s time to hit re-set. Start the game over again. Bring back Bernie Sanders, Al Gore, or Mitt Romney. How about Collin Powell? What about Joe Biden? Even the Bush family is better. We should be picking the most virtuous, the most righteous, the most pious, the most competent, the most intelligent, and the most qualified: not the lesser of two evils.
Enough then with my cathartic rant. It has relieved a lot of pent-up stress and anger. Let me compose myself. Breathe in deeply and return to the importance of religious freedom and dialogue in today’s environment.
Religious freedom is under attack. The time for believers to unite, organize, cooperate, collaborate, and coordinate has come. Do not believe for a second that only Islam is at stake in the Culture War, the conflict between traditionalist or conservative values and so-called progressive or liberal values. The attack against any religion is an attack against every religion. I say it again so you can hear me loud and clear: the attack against any religion is an attack against every religion.
Please allow me to put it in semi-plagiarized poetic form inspired by Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) a leading Protestant pastor, and outspoken opponent of Adolf Hitler, who spent the final seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps. Many of you will be familiar with this poem. I have simply tweaked it and applied it to current times:
First they came for the illegal aliens,
And I did not speak out,
Because I was not an illegal alien
(although Native Americans would argue otherwise)
Then they came for the refugees, the Syrians, the Iraqis, and the Somalis,
And I did not speak out,
Because I was not a refugee.
Then they came for Trade Unionists,
And I did not speak out,
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Muslims
And I did not speak out,
Because I was not a Muslim.
Then they came for us, the Christians,
And there was no one left to speak for us.
The multi-million-dollar fear factory from the Islamophobic industry wants you, Christians, to believe that we, Muslims are your enemies. Don’t allow yourselves to be duped or deceived. As God says in the Qur’an: “Hold fast, all of you together, to the Rope of God and do not be divided” (3:103)
Crimes against Muslims and Muslim mosques has reached an all-time high. In 2015, 29 mosques were attacked in this country. Hate crimes against Muslims number in the hundreds per year. In 2016, thanks to the Hate-Monger in Chief, anti-Muslim hate crimes have increased by 78%. However, crimes against Christians and Christian churches are equally alarming. Between 2007 and 2011, there was an average of 280 cases of arson against Christian churches: that’s almost one church per day. Trust me: the very same people who are burning down mosques are the very same people who are burning down churches.
The goal of the globalists is clear: turn religion against religion in order to destroy all religion and impose their New World Order. We need to unite and fight the pandemic spread of radical secularism and stand, shoulder-to-shoulder, with all believers.
The Roman Catholic Church has set the stage. As we read in Nostra Aetate, theDeclaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, proclaimed by His Holiness Pope Paul VI on October 28, 1965:
The Church regards with esteem also the Muslims. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting. Since in the course of centuries not a few quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Muslims, this sacred synod urges all to forget the past and to work sincerely for mutual understanding and to preserve as well as to promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom.
Although Muslims are distinct from Christians, the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church acknowledges that Muslims are believers in the one God. In return, all true Muslims must acknowledge that Christians are mu’minin, believers, as opposed tomushrikin or polytheists, and as opposed to kuffar or pagan infidels. This is not an innovation in the Islamic canon. It is a return to the sources, to the origins of Islam. The Prophet himself described Jews and Christians as believers,al-mu’minin, and Muslims as believers who have submitted, namely, al-mu’minin al-muslimin.
If the Sacred Synod: “urges all to forget the past and to work sincerely for mutual understanding and to preserve as well as to promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom,” so be it. Let bygones be bygones. This does not mean that we ignore the past. It means that we are not prisoners of the past. It means that we learn from the past, from all of our mistakes and shortcomings, and that we move forward, together, toward the future.
Despite the media blackout of Muslim voices, aimed at polarizing the population to divide and conquer, Western Muslims have been center-stage in the struggle for religious freedom. It would take me one hour to list all the interfaith efforts spearheaded by Muslims. Despite coming from Muslim-majority nations, many Muslim immigrants were deprived of religious freedom in their countries of origin. These countries have been ruled by secular strong-men and military dictators since the end of colonialism to current times.
The vast majority of Muslims do not come to the West because they hate our freedoms. Muslims come to the West because they love our freedoms. Muslims to do not come to the West to destroy our rights. They come to the West to enjoy our rights: the right to believe in God; the right to organize religious gatherings; the right to attend places of prayer; the right to believe without being perceived as a threat and persecuted. This is why Muslims come to the West.
However, only half of Muslims in the West are immigrants. The other half are African Americans, Caucasian Americans, Latino Americans, and even, people like me, Native Americans, First Nations, despite my light skin and green eyes. We did not come here looking for rights. We are from here. We fought for rights. We earned rights. We grew up with rights. And we will not stand still, cowardly and impotently, and watch our rights be eroded and eliminated slowly and strategically; and watch, with apathy, the criminalization of morality.
These are dangerous times. These are challenging times. We are endangered by the elites. We are also endangered by extreme elements from the gutter. We have so-called “Crusaders” in Kansas City who plotted to detonate car bombs around a mosque and a housing complex where a hundreds of Somali refugees live. These are people who fled terrorist militias in Somalia, seeking the American dream, only to be targeted by domestic terrorists.
In the words of one of the “patriotic” psychopaths: “The only f***ing way this country’s ever going to get turned around is it will be a bloodbath and it will be a nasty, messy motherf***er.” How eloquent. These people planned to break down doors and murder Muslims, men, women, and children. They were not even going to spare babies. This is the point we have reached?
We have intolerant psychopaths on both sides, some claiming to be Muslims and others claiming to be Christians. They are not Muslims. They are not Christians. How do I know? How can I say such things? Because in order to be a Christian, and in order to be a Muslim, you need, first and foremost, to be a human being. And these people have lost their humanity, not to mention their sanity.
When it comes to the People of the Book, I say what the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him said: “Whoever kills a Christian shall not smell the fragrance of Paradise though its fragrance can be smelled at a distance of forty years (of traveling)”(Bukhari and Bayhaqi). And finally: “Whoever oppresses a Christian, I will testify against him on the Day of Judgment” (Bukhari and Abu Dawud).
I leave with prayers for peace. Amen.
By Dr. John Andrew Morrow