In recent years, the right wing’s increased outward animosity towards Islam and Muslims has driven Muslims to become disillusioned with the conservative Republican party. Muslim immigrants to the United States used to disproportionately vote republican in the years preceding 9/11. George W. Bush’s campaign made calculated attempts to win over Muslims. Analysts attribute this behavior to republican politician Grover Norquist stating that because Muslims are socially conservative, they would be optimal as consistent right-wing voters . Norquist continued this sentiment throughout 2010, when he stated that opposition to the proposed Ground Zero mosque was counterproductive to election efforts to win over Muslim votes . This sentiment ultimately proved unpopular amongst right-wing figures and animosity towards Muslims consequently spread.
In response to the sensationalization of rhetoric espoused by right-wing figures as well as their support for Israeli abuses in Palestine (though not contemporarily distinguished from the left-wing), Muslims polarized significantly towards the left. According to Pew Research Center, a mere 13% of Muslim American adults reported identifying as Republicans in 2017 . Even amongst the small share of Muslim Republicans, half of them agree that President Trump is unfriendly towards Muslim Americans. It’s clear that liberal sentiments reign supreme amongst Muslims in America–at least politically. Unsurprisingly, this is accompanied by increased support for liberal social groups among Muslims.
A mutual, unstated partnership exists between liberal institutions and certain Muslim sociocultural and academic organizations. Online publications such as Muslim Girl, which actively promotes liberal sentiments and degrades traditional Muslim dispositions, are endorsed by liberal institutions through prominent Muslim figures such as Dalia Mogahed. Mogahed is the director of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) and regularly platforms proponents of liberal though on issues such as abortion, LGBT, and gender identity . The ISPU routinely platforms Muslim Girl, promoting its content to their audience and pushing the dissemination of liberalized Islam. Typical ISPU media production involves invoking support for Muslims by urging them to “get intersectional” by supporting positions antithetical to Islamic principles to amalgamate their supposed groups of concern into one effort . Similarly, Ilhan Omar, representative for Minnesota’s fifth congressional district, who erected her platform upon the tokenization of her Muslim identity, took political action to target USA Powerlifting for carrying out a ban on transgender individuals competing against biological women . Ilhan’s participation in a LGBT pride parade invoked praise from other participants, with one statement reading, “What Ilhan is really good about is […] not only standing up for her identity, but for standing up for everyone who has a marginalized identity. She gets that — that none of us are free until all of us are free” . Mutual promotion between Muslim figures that present themselves as authorities within Muslim communities and liberal institutions are growing their hegemony over American Muslim cultural development, and popular existing organizations have demonstrated that they are uninterested in respecting traditional Muslim values.
Academia is overwhelmingly dominated by liberal and even leftist sentiments, with professors openly espousing their dispositions and departments shaping their curriculums around the dissemination of said world-view . Published in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion is Emory’s Islamic studies professor Richard C. Martin’s reflection titled Islamic Studies in the American Academy, wherein he writes, “I began to wonder about the new enthusiasm […] with the Progressive Islam movement […] My concerns had to do mainly with my conviction that a scholarly professional society, responsible to institutions and the public whose interests it serves, ought not to privilege one theological interpretation within a larger religious tradition which is also in dialogue and even conflict with others” . Martin saw academic institutions and organizations exhibiting a severe bias towards scholars that espoused interpretations of Islam consistent with liberal sentiments. This flavor of Islam became known as “progressive Islam,” and was largely kickstarted by Duke’s Islamic studies professor Omid Safi’s Progressive Muslims: On Justice, Gender and Pluralism . The Advocate, known as the oldest and largest LGBT publication in the United States, cites Safi as an inspiration in an article titled “Queering Islam” . Professors that identify as Muslims such as Amina Wadud, Kecia Ali, and Omid Safi continue to dominate academic panels and the trajectory of Islamic Studies departments across the country.
Muslims across America must come to the realization that popular Muslim organizations that are closely associating with liberal institutions and their ideologies are not interested in the preservation of Islam. Rather, their interests are merely the improvement of Muslim quality of life insofar as physical comfort and emotional affirmation go. In terms of the preservation of Muslim values and religious traditions–essentially anything with more metaphysically primordial value than earthly physical utility, Muslim entities involved in this pact view them as expendable. Construction and maintenance of beneficial, authentically oriented Muslim institutions must come from within Muslim circles and rely solely upon support from Muslims that benefit from their work. Researcher and strategist Rashid Dar states that “liberalism is very tied to an exaltation of the individual’s freedom” . The liberal ideology inherently ignores the existence of factions amongst humanity that derive their governance from sources independent of the zeitgeist. Once validation is sought from liberal institutions, Muslim organizations will see that liberalism’s prioritization of individual exemption from divine law will prompt them to mold the extended Muslim hand into a list of ideological and philosophical demands to accomodate a liberal worldview above all else.
Public advocate Greg Lukianoff and NYU Stern professor of ethics Jonathan Haidt write in their The Coddling of the American Mind, “If the telos of a university is truth, then a university that fails to add to humanity’s growing body of knowledge, or that fails to transmit the best of that knowledge to its students, is not a good university” . The teleology of Western academic institutions is not to disseminate and produce accurate information, but to steer society in the dominant vision of its constituents. Western universities and a multitude of academics have demonstrated that they are not interested in representing Islam in an authentic manner. University departments, particularly across the Ivy League and other top institutions, notoriously limit the scope of their courses to liberalized versions of Muslim values. With the dominating institutions adamantly shilling for the aforementioned interpretation of Islam, Muslims of different theological inclinations must fund private institutions to train competent scholars of Islam. Prospective students of Islam seeking positions in academia must understand that they will be working against a well-oiled machine meant to filter them out of the system. Independence and self-reliance is the Muslim community’s key to surviving the constriction of liberal intolerance both culturally and in the academy.
After the French revolution, politics took a turn to a more generalized dichotomy of left and right wings. This represents the current state of affairs in almost the entirety of the Western world, including the United States. Study of Islamic law and ethics finds that Muslim principles do not cleanly fit into the simplistic, two-dimensional realm of Western political definitions. The diversity within the Islamic legal tradition produces conclusions (at times on the same topic) that would be considered left-wing, right-wing, centrist, and sometimes none of the above. The reason for this incompatibility begins at the root, as a Muslim’s worldview is essentialistic and rooted in metaphysical realities. These put Islamic epistemology completely at odds with that of Western Enlightenment philosophy. The only route, then, for the production of genuinely unique politics in line with the Muslim vision is to operate in a worldview outside of the confines of the political binary. As described in Traversing Tradition’s article, Envisioning Politics Beyond Left and Right, “This worldview must take into account our ontology (why we exist), our deontology (the moral imperative of our actions), and our teleology (the end purpose of what we are doing – the afterlife is indivisible from life, and Muslim actions are oriented in a way that reflects our constant awareness of our afterlife)” .
Although traditionalist Muslim commentators continue to (rightfully) encourage the construction of infrastructure to eventually facilitate propulsion beyond the confines of the binarized political field, valid concerns are raised in terms of whether Muslims are to continue participating in what the binary has to offer in the meantime. Discouraging Muslim participation in the current political climate would result in the silencing of Muslims regarding issues that affect them, and this threatens to neutralize any amicable treatment towards Muslim communities. Muslims are thus left with a decision to either vote for the left-wing, which threatens the substance of their faith, or vote for the right-wing, which threatens their corporeal safety. Reflecting upon this question invokes the Qur’anic phrase, “and fitna (to create disorder) is more grave than qatl (killing)” . As of now, Muslims are overwhelmingly opting for theological fitna. However, there is merit in the counterargument that the left-wing currently provides the easiest route of entry into positions of influence for Muslims. This argument is shortsighted–perhaps on the path of realpolitik, as it prioritizes immediate acquisition of seats without focusing on the ethical quality of individuals prior to acquiring those seats.
Regardless of approach, it’s important to refrain from confusing the means with the ends. Muslim participation in Congress is treated as an end by many left-leaning Muslims, but it should be understood as a means to securing influence to protect the Muslim way of life in America. Without sight of the true end, a seat at the table offered by the left-wing is operationally useless. In fact, it may be harmful, as the seat often filters for individuals that betray their Muslim values for the shelter of the liberal umbrella. Muslim political participation in the West should be about sound theological fortitude, not unification under one party. The endearing gestures of liberals instigates a mindless migration to their camp without any critical thinking, putting Muslims in a vulnerable position. Although the liberal asylum promises physical and emotional safety, this is contingent upon Muslims offering their own religious tradition as a sacrificial lamb. Muslims have forgotten that they sacrifice only by and for God. Instead, they’ve sought intercession with the left-wing and invoked a name other than God over the flowing blood of their religion. Muslims must examine their pact with the devil and cleanse their hands of dependence upon those that seek them only as a symbol. If the liberal bedlam won’t sacrifice the strings attached to their harborage, then they ultimately have nothing to offer but a slow, beguiling demise.
 Richard C. Martin, Islamic Studies in the American Academy: A Personal Reflection, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Volume 78, Issue 4, December 2010, Pages 896–920, https://doi.org/10.1093/jaarel/lfq089
 Lukianoff, Greg, and Jonathan Haidt. The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure. , 2018. Print.
Disclaimer: Material published by Traversing Tradition is meant to foster scholarly inquiry and rich discussion. The views, opinions, beliefs, or strategies represented in published articles and subsequent comments do not necessarily represent the views of Traversing Tradition or any employee thereof.
Wassim Hassan is currently a medical student as well as a student of traditional Islamic disciplines. He has focused his traditional training on the study of Kalam. His general interests include Islam, Western Philosophy, Bioethics, Translation Studies, the Arabic Language, and science.
3 thoughts on “Reconsidering the Liberal Asylum”
The Dunya vs Akhira dichotomy you use is simplistic. Islam does not operate in a secular way. Dunya is better than Akhira (see for example 87:16-17), but we have to tackle the Dunya to get to the Akhira. Thus worldly good deeds such as working to provide for your family, and participating in the community for its betterment can be considered as acts of worship if done sincerely and with the right intention.
We as Muslims should not forget the whole point of Islam – to worship, obey, and please Allah.
There is nobody who says “I believe” except they will be tested. When Muslim life and autonomy are in jeopardy, Allah wills it. He is testing us to see if we are willing to compromise in our Islam.
As the author interpreted from the Qur’an (2:217) – fitna is worse than killing. That verse mentions amongst other things hindering people from the Path of Allah, and disbelieving in Him. These are worse than killing.
We should take lessons from the Jewish community in the US. After the tragedy of the Holocaust the Jewish community, fearful of another genocide, banded together and built their dunyawi influence, resulting in much wealth, and many prominent positions in business, Government, and academia.
In the process they were overly pragmatic and compromised the values of Judaism. As a result nearly half of Jews are atheist, most do not follow Jewish law, and they rate monotheism as low on the list of what it means to be Jewish.
In contrast, in our Islamic history our pious predecessors chased the Akhira and were rewarded the Dunya as well. In contrast when our predecessors abandoned their values they lost the Dunya. Thus, when a Muslim ruler executed the messenger of Genghis Khan despite the immunity of messengers, the Muslim lands fell.
We should be unashamed of Islam and unashamed to communicate its message truthfully and with good words. The Messenger peace be upon him did not modify Islam to appeal to the Quraysh or to any other Arab tribe. Rather he patiently communicated the message, endured the hardships and persecution, and won the hearts of the people.
This article is a good microcosm of why Muslims, even in devout Muslim countries, have great trepidation about letting “religious” Muslims run things. Because of this concept of akhira over dunya. Or as the author sneeringly puts it, prioritizing “physical and emotional” comfort.
Breaking news, success in life, whether as a minority in a hostile country, or as a majority trying to build a nation, requires you to make decisions based on what works. Some of these decisions will inevitably clash with Islamic orthodoxy. Pre-modern Muslims understood this better than we do today, and more often than not made the “right” choice rather than the “Islamic” choice, choosing to protect the strength of the Muslim-state and Muslim minorities.
Unfortunately, in the wake of the post-colonial “Islamic-revival”, we have a lot of zealots running around who will cry all day about the subjugation of Muslims globally, while themselves contributing to it by advocating for Muslims to make stupid decisions because they are Islamic. Then, after consigning the Muslims to a life of humiliation, they have the nerve to smear their victims as weak liberals overly concerned about physical and emotional comfort (dunya).
Yes, liberalization of Muslims is a threat to Islam’s survival. Do you know what’s a far greater threat? Making Muslims choose between having dignity/success in life, and being a “real” Muslim. 90% of Muslims will choose the former. We need to make the best choice we can with good intentions (preservation of Muslim life/autonomy, and thereby Islam) and let God judge us based on our intentions.
A new generation of Muslims has been born into this political climate and raised the ideas of liberalized Islam. Through no fault of their own, many have a secular identity that they hold above their identity as a Muslim. Without studying Islam, they validate their faith based on what they’ve been told are Islamic principles which agree with left political views. Such a generation is at the risk of loosing their faith upon realizing the true Islamic values. I completely agree that we need to return to cleanse the Deen of the pathogenic politics of liberalized Islam, but this requires a nuanced approach at reorienting Muslim youth (and both Muslim and non-Muslim academics) toward the idea of an unquestioning reliance on revaluation as the source of our morals (we must use logic to arrive at the conclusion of God, not to analyze his commands once we have realized his ultimate authority). Do you believed that we are in a place to approach this reorientation, or is the corruption of Islamic political philosophy to large a threat to put after the re-education (and re-Imaning) of our youth? Because truly I do not know anymore.