A commenter on a previous post about the importance of voting took exception with my feeling that voting is a religious duty. I may frequently assume that what is obvious to me must be obvious to others, but this is not always the case. So, I took the opportunity to express in some detail my sense of the necessity of participate in the American political process and the obstacles American Muslims face trying to be part of the political scene (not all issues will be raised in this posting).
A large number of American Muslims are transplanted from other societies. Early generations of immigrants tend to avoid political involvement in their adopted communities for many reasons, and under many pretenses. Their focus is usually on establishing sound economic foundations for their offspring.
Many also tend to be 'non-engaging' with their new communities for fear of losing their culture. Such desire for non-engagement plagues even some Muslims who are no longer immigrants or first generation American Muslims.
Other Muslims also like to cite their reason for non-participation in politics to be that it is important to hear explicit approval from the different Sheiks, Imams, etc, before getting involved. They also take the lack of repeated and explicit opinions on political American issues by most Muslim clergy to reflect that something is wrong with being part of the American political system.
I do not agree with these assumptions and reasoning, so I will state my case.
I doubt anyone would disagree with the fact that it is my religious duty as a Muslim to do what I believe to be beneficial to my community, Muslims and non-Muslims.
I doubt many would disagree that being part of a society is a choice that comes with some obligations. Citizenship entitles you to some benefits that you should take advantage of only if you agree - implicitly at least - to be in a social contract with the society. You are obliged to pay taxes, and defend the society if it is endangered. You are also in a contract to change the society only in the manners accepted by that society, and out of desire to benefit the society - your society - and not out of hatred for it. If someone does not feel such obligation to their society of citizenship, then they are not good citizens. And for them to be honest, they should strive to find another society to be belong to. And for the immigrants amongst you, do you remember the citizenship ceremony and the citizenship oath you took?
The American society agreed to govern itself in a public and participatory manner.
- Those who have ideas to change and improve the society, i.e. candidates, put their thoughts forward.
- The others , i.e., voters, make a 'judgment call' or better yet 'an educated guess' as to whether the plans are possible to implement, will indeed be useful, and whether the candidates seem honest enough to be trusted implementing their proposed plans.
- The America society then asks its members to 'give a testimony' as to which candidate they believe is better for our society.
If I think of myself as a citizen of this country, and as a responsible Muslim; if I have thoughts and feelings about the proposed changes put forward by different political candidates; and if I know in my heart that the proposals will have an impact - positive or negative - on American Muslims, American non-Muslims, non American Muslims and the rest of the world, THEN it is my religious duty to testify. It is my religious duty to vote.
As for religious opinion by Muslim scholars: there are many who have absolutely no problems with voting and political participation. Still, I do not need their approval to feel the way I feel about my civic duties, and my religious duty to my community. Islam is not Catholicism.
Of course, it will be great if our clergy -- and I am using the term loosely, as there is no clergy in the literal sense of the word in Islam -- put their minds together in public forums and engage in lively and free discussion with their communities and outside their communities but that, unfortunately, is just not part of 'our culture'.
We need them to go outside their immediate mosque communities, reach out to Muslims and non-Muslims outside the close circle of their followers, write Op-Eds and publish it on local and national media with what they feel is an Islamic religious opinion that relates to our Muslim community and American society issues.
By doing these things, their knowledge will have the impact that they hope for on all of us; Muslims and non-Muslims. An they would be fulfilling their roles as thought leaders in their communities.
But even then, if we were to wait for a consensus amongst them, we will have to wait forever. So far, we cannot even agree on starting Ramadan, the month of fasting, together or to cerebrate 2 days a year of Islamic feasts together.