Can a good Muslim be a good American? M. Zuhdi Jasser, founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD) audaciously asked at a recent Heritage event. “And I think if you can answer yes to that, it’s not just about being a good American, it’s about believing in liberty and I think the bigger question for the Middle East as we see these mobs in Libya and Yemen and Egypt– can a good Muslim believe in liberty?” he said.
Those Muslims who believe in liberty over Islamist theocracies do need encouragement, argued Ayaan Hirsi Ali in a recent Newsweek column. “America needs to empower those individuals and groups who are already disenchanted with political Islam by helping find and develop an alternative,” she argues. “At the heart of that alternative are the ideals of the rule of law and freedom of thought, worship, and expression. For these values there can and should be no apologies, no groveling, no hesitation.” Ali critiqued the U.S. government’s potential handling of the video, “Innocence of Muslims,” saying that she hopes that America does not handle this incident as Europe would. Jasser agrees. He said that “the second thing I hope you get from my book is that at the core of the struggle is not grievances about Muslims concerned about interferences in their countries or it’s not grievances about islamophobia and all these things.” Jasser is the author of A Battle for the Soul of Islam.
“AIFD believes that the root cause of Islamist terrorism is the ideology of political Islam and a belief in the preference for and supremacy of the Islamic state,” states the group’s website. “Most Islamist terror is driven by the desire of Islamists to drive the influence of the west (the ideas of liberty) out of the Muslim consciousness and Muslim majority societies.” In his lecture Jasser advocated strongly for the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause as a model for nations abroad. He implied that Muslims should believe their private faith is what brings them closer to God and not the establishment of state functions such as Sharia law.
This truth, he said, needs to be expressed to Islamic youth by their parents as well. He counsels that “you tell them that real faith is realized when you have choices to sin or not sin.”
The true concepts of liberty is that real faith is realized when you can drink or not drink as a Muslim, he said. “I learned that my fast in Ramadan was most, was actually more real when my friends were eating lunch and swimming and doing all the things that I might not be able to do in Ramadan and yet the Saudis when they fast, you find the businesses are closed during the day.” Rather, “They shift their schedule to the evening, businesses are open at night, and is that really a challenging fast or is it better to be thirsty and see others not fasting and that that choice, that dilemma, allowed me to feel that a society that challenged my faith was actually the one that let me be more free and more truly Muslim and that you didn’t–once you started ascribing a Muslim label to it or calling it an Islamic state, you actually then abrogated faith because you coerced it.”
Ayaan Hirsi Ali noted in her column that she was “secularized” after the events of September 11, 2011. However, she writes, it is the choice and potential folly of Libyans who may “follow the lead of the Egyptian people and elect a government that stands for ideals diametrically opposed to those upheld by the United States.” “But if they do, we should not consider them stupid or infantile,” she writes. “We should recognize that they have made a free choice—a choice to reject freedom as the West understands it.”
“After the disillusion and bitterness will come a painful lesson: that it is foolish to derive laws for human affairs from gods and prophets,” she writes. Ali optimistically believes that in two or three decades “we will see the masses in these countries take to the streets–and perhaps call for American help–to liberate them from the governments they elected,” but that this process will be “bloody and painful.”