The name of your book is "What's Right with Islam," and sections of it address "What's Right with America." What is right with both?
What's right with Islam is what's right with America, in the sense that the fundamental ideals of Islam, the idea of what the right society should be, are very similar to what the American idea of what the ideal society should be, as expressed in our founding documents.When Jesus was asked what are the greatest commandments, he said "love God with all your heart" and, co-equal to that, "love thy neighbor."Islamic jurors basically expanded it. They said all the law--how God wants us to live--is to protect and further five fundamental human rights: the right to life, freedom of religion, family, property, and mental wellbeing. What I do in the book is map that to the American Declaration of Independence.It's interesting that you call America a sharia-compliant state.It really means there's a religious commandment to build the right society, to have a sense of social justice and a social safety net, to have laws that take care of human beings, that aren't prejudiced against people.You say that, contrary to what some non-Muslim Americans believe about Muslim countries, such societies can be religious and yet respect other religions and not be dominated by one religion.Absolutely. To a large extent that's what happened in much of Islamic history. It may not have been ideal. But, for example, [during] the Ottoman caliphate, Greeks lived throughout Turkey. Two-thirds of Smyrna was Greek until 1922.So there are definite precedents for a Muslim country to be more tolerant than perhaps some people today perceive.Yes. But in the 20th century, the Muslim world created a vision of religious nationalism. Turkey, for example, had to be ethnically Turkish. Kurds, Armenians, other minorities didn't have a place in such a vision of a nation-state.Towards the end of book, you outline a solution for the apparent conflict between the West and Islamic nations. What are the highlights?The ultimate vision is to instate in the Muslim world the notion of multiculturalism, which is part of our heritage and history, part of the fundamental, mainstream ideals of Islam. We also have to improve the separation of powers [idea] that we have developed in the West. What's brilliant about the United States system of government is separation of power. Not only the executive, legislative, judicial branches, but also the independence of the military from civilians, an independent media and press, an independent central bank.
The business world can help in transmitting to the Muslim world the notions of capital formation. What leads to a successful economy is the financial infrastructure. Helping people create wealth.You're saying if we're more interconnected financially, that might help overcome tensions?Yes. About the media: Muslim leaders frequently condemn terrorism, but many non-Muslim Americans don't seem to be aware of that. Why is there the perception that no one is speaking out?The media is not amplifying the message of these condemnations as much as they could. Another reason is that American foreign policy has contributed to a lot of the rage and anger in the Muslim world. It's important that America is seen as even-handed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It's also important that America not be seen as a marketer of ethics which are not acceptable not only to Muslims, but to believers, whether they are Muslims, Christians or Jews. We don't like pornography, something which reduces family values, the violence we see from Hollywood. That's the picture people are seeing of America. You talk about all Americans voting with our pocketbooks with regard to Hollywood. What can American Muslims, specifically, do to help defuse tensions?
We want the Muslim-American community to be the mediator, to say to each side "the picture you are seeing of each other is false." That's why the book [addresses] what's right with America and what's right with Islam. We have to look at what is right in both traditions and see how similar they are. You say U.S. Muslims are uniquely positioned to help "wage peace."Correct. If you personally had been completely in charge of the American Muslim response to 9/11, what would you have done? Well, we did condemn the actions of 9/11 saying it was outside of Islam. It was condemned by nearly every Muslim nation and scholar. We encouraged people to understand that Islamic values are part of the Abrahamic system of values. Our commandments are the same as those of Judaism and Christianity. We tried to address the issues that fueled it, issues of power and economics. People in the Muslim world feel disempowered and economically deprived. After 9/11, we ran an essay by Khaled Abou el Fadl, who said he would have encouraged Muslim Americans to visit Ground Zero and bring, say, a flower. What you're talking about is obviously more broad-based.Yes, those things are very powerful symbols of American-Western sharing in the grief and mourning for what happened. I've participated in a number of different interfaith memorial services for those who have died.