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Schouborg, Gary (2003). "A Challenge to American Islam". (online link)


A Challenge to American Islam


Gary Schouborg


It is time for American Muslims to earn the trust of their non-Muslim compatriots. The principle of innocent until proven guilty doesn't apply. It's fundamental as a legal principle, but in everyday relationships trust is a bond that we each must earn, not a right that we can demand.


The new kids on the block must always earn trust simply because they are different from those who are already there. Tolerance understands that not all differences are dangerous. It is therefore genuinely and even eagerly open to learning from new information and new perspectives. But suspicion understands that some differences are dangerous. It therefore avoids a promiscuous tolerance that blithely celebrates differences without reasonable investigation.


A minimum dose of suspicion toward Muslims is therefore reasonable solely because they are relatively new arrivals who are unfamiliar to the majority of Americans. That a dangerous new terrorism associates itself with Islam gives added cause for suspicion. However, the deepest source of suspicion is Islam itself, with its distinctive emphasis on following specific divinely given rules.


The core of Islam is to follow the rules of the Qur'an, which govern political as well as individual behavior. Their emphasis makes the status of non-believers, who do not follow those rules, religiously problematic. How are Muslims to tolerate non-believers, especially as Muslims gain political power?


The tolerance of Islam does not appear to be that of the democratic West. At worst, some passages suggest that other religions must be destroyed. At best, Islamic tolerance is more like what used to be white tolerance of blacks . . . as long as they knew their place. Other religions are tolerated subordinate to an Islamic theocracy.


These teachings raise a question which we cannot rationally dismiss. Do Muslims tolerate American traditions only while Muslims are a relatively powerless minority? What is there in the Qur'an that might teach tolerance toward non-believers when Muslims achieve greater political influence?


Two principles at the core of Christianity have fed into American history to provide a rationale for U.S. tolerance of different forms of religion.


The first principle is Christ's teaching to give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's. That distinction legitimizes secular laws that are not laid down by divine command. The absence in the Qur'an of a similar distinction makes it unclear how Muslims might justify any political form other than a theocracy.


The second principle is the two great commandments: to love God above all else and to love one's neighbor as oneself. They keep any rule from being absolute, requiring us to assess it according to how well it helps achieve those commandments. In the U.S. Constitution, they translate into the doctrine that all human beings are created equal.


Is there anything in the Qur'an equivalent to these two principles to justify and encourage Western-style tolerance? Perhaps we can find the answer in the very word 'Islam', which means 'surrender'.


The issue is, surrender to what? If one is to surrender only to established Islamic rules, then there is little room for Islamic tolerance, since one either follows those rules or one does not. However, if one is to surrender to the deepest impulse within each of us, and if that impulse impels us to respect and live peaceably with one another, and if rules are merely adaptable means for achieving that goal, then there is a basis within Islam for tolerance of other religions even when Muslims wield political power.


The daily challenge for religious people all over the world is to decide for themselves precisely what it is to which they surrender their minds and hearts. The challenge for American Muslims is to decide if that to which they surrender is compatible with American democracy. The challenge for American non-Muslims is to insist that American Muslims clearly communicate the relationship of their religious commitment to American democracy.


Gary Schouborg, PhD is partner of, Life and Communication coaches.


Gary Schouborg, PhD

Walnut Creek, CA


For related literature:

Title: Terrorism Resources
Description: terrorism related news, books and web resources