September 19, 2010. Thanks to a fellow Examiner Charles Martin Cosgriff I was awakened to a reality as a Muslim and American I have been taking for granted. I realized that there is an aspect about us that people may not understand as a consequence. As Muslims we believe in a pluralistic reality.
Pluralism is a “state of society in which members of diverse ethnic, racial, religious, or social groups maintain an autonomous participation in and development of their traditional culture or special interest within the confines of a common civilization.” In other definitions it is also considered a theory. A theory of how to live.
In Islam the “other” is treated to exist in society by their own set of rules based on their beliefs. All Americans are familiar with the saying ‘to each his own.’ The full sentence is “Justice is the giving to each his own.” Islam has the same kind of concept, when pluralism exists beyond the Muslim community. Where there are Muslims and others living in the same society, Muslims are to judge the others on their own criterion.
This lack of understanding has led many to think that if a Muslim were in some position of power they would impose Islamic law (shaira) on everyone else. This is not the case. Muslims are judged by their criteria within which exists a plurality of its own. Outside of Muslims the other is judged on their own criterion. So, for example, a Jew would judged by their own Talmudic law and only if asked to by that community. It would be the typical case that the Muslim community would defer to the Jewish community to deal with its own people in its own way.
This understanding of pluralism allows Muslims to make political alliances with groups that might not at first seem to make sense. One example of this is the gay/lesbian community. In Islam humans engaging in same sex acts is forbidden. It is not encouraged, and in an all Muslim society where a professed Muslim admitted or was proven by the criteria to be a committing homosexual acts may be punished. This does not however, automatically apply to a person who is not Muslim living in Muslim lands. Their own criteria should be applied to them.
However, if Muslims are living in a land like America, where there are homosexuals who are their neighbors and are not Muslim the obligation a Muslim has toward that individual is to ensure that they are treated equally with the same human rights that all enjoy under the law. In classical Arabic there is not a word that establishes people who have the desire or behavior to be with someone of the same sex and a separate category as we have in American English. Rather, they are human beings with such and such a tendency. The same applies to all who fit under the category of other than Muslim.
As Americans we seem to really appreciate people and places and things after they have died or some event makes us stop and consider them. We see this with great artists like Michael Jackson, Picasso, and so forth. Events can also make us reevaluate our beliefs as a society. America also has a long tradition of questioning its relationship with equality and the rights of people.
When 9/11 happened, the event opened a magnifying lens on America’s relationship with equality, religious freedom and the rights of people and revealed it still has a lot of work to do. It has a relatively new and growing group that it feels it does not know well enough, has some fear of and has not been able to treat equally; namely Muslims. When the negativity dissipates, we may want to consider that the Muslim community could help America become great again by being able to understand, and live in a pluralistic society where justice is shared by all by all having the opportunity to be judged by their own sub-community’s criterion.