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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

US Congressman taking an oath on the Quran

12/2/2006 - Political - Article Ref: IV0612-3178
By: Dr. Aslam Abdullah


The newly elected first Muslim congressman Keith Ellison must not be allowed to take an oath on the Quran, says Dennis Prager, a radio talk show host in Southern California. Why? It would destroy the foundation of American culture.

Really! If the culture is so fragile that it would disintegrate by a simple act of swearing in on the Quran, then it deserves to be analyzed carefully.

Even though the first amendment guarantees freedom of religion, and the constitution does not require people to talk an oath of allegiance on the Bible, the issue goes beyond the realm of legalities. It is a debate about the future of this country and a discussion on changing demographic, intellectual and social realities.

Changes in the demography indicate that America has become home of various religious communities that were considered insignificant a few decades ago. Muslims with over six million, Hindus with more than three million, Buddhists with about two million, Bhais with over a million and of course Jews with about seven million as well as Sikhs, Jains, Pagans, atheists and agnostics make up about 15 percent of the population. With the exception of Jews who accept the Old Testament and reject the New Testament, none view the Bible as their Holy Scripture. Muslims acknowledge the divine origin of Torah (Old Testament) and Injeel, (New Testament), but question its authenticity. Hindus have a polytheistic perspective and Buddhist don't believe in the concept of one God. Bahais view all religions equal and add that their leader was the last of the exponent of the divine message. Fifteen-percent of the population is not an insignificant number. Its religious identity cannot be ignored
and certainly commentators like Dennis Prager, himself a Jew, have failed to recognize it's existence.

Socially, these communities have their own religious institutions and many of them are actively involved in the political arena as well. To expect them to show allegiance to a Book that they don't accept as a guiding principle in their every day life is meaningless. Those who demand such an act either do not understand the significance of an oath or do not take the act seriously. They are either reacting on the basis of their chauvinistic tendencies or religious bigotry.

However, it is at the intellectual level that debate about using a book other than the Bible assumes much significance, because it is this discussion that is going to have its impact on the future of the country.

There are four different dimensions of the debate on the issue. Some tend to believe that the country is founded on Judeo-Christian traditions and the inclusion of any other religious tradition would corrupt the ideological foundations of the state. Then there are those that believe Judeo-Christian traditions are incomplete without the inclusion of Islam. Hence they argue that America should recognize it as a country guided by Judeo-Christian-Islamic values. The third group argues that in a secular polity, no religious book should be required for an oath of allegiance and the fourth group believes that everyone should be given the freedom to choose whatever book, he or she chooses to take an oath of any office.

Those who believe in the supremacy of the Judeo-Christian traditions of the country comprise three perspectives. The first one include a great majority of Americans who sincerely believe that the country is essentially Christian and the constitutional freedoms primarily refer to guarantees given to various Christian denominations. They don't view other religions worthy of impacting the social and cultural life of Americans. They believe that others can enjoy freedom of religion as long as they accept the supremacy of the Bible. The proponents of the second perspective argue that Judeo-Christian traditions of America are crucial to maintain the current political system and practices. Most of them realize that there is nothing Judeo-Christian in their theology. Jews, for instance do not recognize the New Testament and consider Jesus as a false Messiah. However, they accept the supremacy of Judeo-Christian tradition for political purposes. They view Muslims as the most vocal
opponents of their political policies and practices. In their view, Israel occupies a central status in the so called divine politics and America is seen as a country doing the divine work by ensuring that Israel fulfills the divine prophecy in years to come.

They tend to believe that the acceptance of anything else other than the Bible would erode the political support for the state of Israel as other perspectives will gain legitimacy, thus, neutralizing or softening the stand of Americans on its continued one sided support for the state of Israel. It is this paranoia that has driven commentators like Dennis Prager to express their opinion on the issue of taking oath on the Quran.

The third perspective within the Judeo-Christian traditions sincerely believes that the Quran has no place within the socio-political structure of the country. They believe that through their tireless tirade against Islam, they would intimidate Muslims to renounce Islam or at least change those portions of the Quran they don't approve. They view the Quran as a book contrary to their conservatism or liberalism promoting hatred and violence. They don't want to see the Quran finding its place in the corridors of power.

When Dennis Prager wrote his piece, he apparently had in mind the support that he would gather from the three proponents of the Judeo-Christian traditions.

And sure he did. The initial response to what he wrote came from right wing conservatives, political Zionists and extremist right wing groups. Prager knows that he would not be able to stop Ellison from taking an oath on the Quran, but he would spark a debate about the Quran raising doubts in the mind of average Americans about its relevance to America.

How should Muslims respond to the debate? From a Quranic perspective, the Muslims can take either of the two following positions. Either they line up with those who believe that no book other than the constitution should be used for an oath of allegiance or all books should be permitted for that purpose. Some Muslims will argue that the sovereignty belongs to God and by showing allegiance to the constitution they would be transferring the powers to the people who are considered the ultimate power in determining the legislative directions of the country.

However, the outcome of the debate would also be determined on the basis of Muslim's outreach in explaining to others including their opponents what the Quran is and what is its relevance to America. If they fail in this attempt, they would not become marginalized, but would become irrelevant to America as well.

Muslims have to realize that some amongst us have distorted the message of the Quran for their own political gains, some have misused it for their personal interests, and some have ignored the call of the Quran for justice and peace.

Through their behavior and constant references of the Quran they have created negative feelings about the Quran among many non-Muslims. It is this outreach that will help most Americans overcome their fears about the Quran.


Dr. Aslam Abdullah is the director of the Islamic Society of Nevada, acting chairman of the Muslim Council of America as well as the editor-in-Chief of the weekly Muslim Observer.

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