Three Questions for Islamists
Mustafa Husayn Abu Rumman
As an imam at a mosque in the Jordanian capital of
Amman, I have been following the dramatic developments across North
Africa and the Middle East with a combination of high hopes and grave
concern. The phenomenon of young people organizing peacefully to demand
political reform, economic opportunity and human rights is a source of
pride for me; numerous worshippers in my mosque are among them. On the
other hand, the mounting lethality of conflict between the State and
society in so many Arab countries is terrible to behold as is the
tragedy of burgeoning crime, economic struggles and insecurity in
countries, such as Egypt, that are undergoing dramatic transformations.
In these riveting times, the role of Islam is essential, and Arab
societies seem to know it. I can tell just from the growing number of
worshippers in my mosque, which overflows every Friday during weekly
prayers. Young people draw comfort and inspiration from Islam as they
face an uncertain future.
At the same time, political analysts, both within Arab societies and in
the world at large, are raising concerns about the role of so-called
Islamist groups in the ongoing political transitions. Members of my own
congregation often ask me for counsel on this issue. In response,
through sermons every Friday as well as more intimate conversations, I
have been trying to articulate the distinctions that will be necessary
to ensure that the tenets of Islam are properly applied and that the
language of Islam is not co-opted by opportunistic political movements.
In the present state of flux in North Africa and the Middle East, there
is robust competition for political popularity in a new marketplace of
ideas. When assessing any political figure or movement claiming to draw
legitimacy from Islam, one should pose several questions and demand
The first question is, Do you support equal political, social and
economic rights for all citizens of your country regardless of
ethnicity, gender or sect?
The answer should be yes.
The Qur’an and prophetic traditions present a vision of social justice
in all its forms, not only for men but also for women; not only for
Arabs but also for other ethnic groups; and not only for Muslims but for
all humankind. This view is my conviction as a lifelong student of
Islam. The texts that prove this assertion are many but suffice it to
say that the Qur’an’s vision of equity and justice is addressed, not to
any subset of humankind, but to all “Children of Adam.” (7:26)
Over the centuries, interpretations of the Qur’an and prophetic
tradition have varied, and some of these interpretations have been
incompatible with essential Qur’anic values. The most accurate
interpretation would never differ with the principle of universal equity
and justice nor deny political or economic opportunity to anyone. Such
an interpretation can and should be achieved by the principal of
ijtihad, the practical application of the human mind to the world’s
The second question is, Do you believe that Islam is compatible with a
definition of the rule of law that transcends a particular religion’s
The answer should be yes.
From a contemporary Islamic perspective, sharia is not a document
that supplants the legal system of a given country. To the contrary, it
is a set of principles that demand of believing Muslims that they
respect the laws of the country in which they live, provided that the
laws are compatible with the universal values of social equity and human
rights. Moreover, in the event that a given law is inequitable or
unjust, sharia demands that believing Muslims work within a legal
and democratic framework to amend the law. Islam stresses the principle
of shura, or consultation, as a means of reaching decisions that
affect the body politic. Those “whose affairs are a matter of counsel”
(42:38) are considered to be worthy of a divine reward.
Finally, the third question is, Do you maintain that your political
platform is a flawless rendering of the precepts of Islam?
The answer should be no.
The Qur’an attests to the fact that humankind, granted worldly power, is
prone to error and corruption: “[Humankind is liable to] break the
covenant of God after ratifying it, and sever that which God ordered to
be joined, and make mischief in the earth.” (2:27) Islam, for its part,
is innocent of the errors of those who presume to interpret or apply it.
Because it is hubristic and suspect to suggest that someone is without
flaw, it is equally hubristic and suspect to claim to speak in the name
Moreover, to claim to speak in the name of Islam is to assert
superiority over other political platforms—a position that leads to
Islam, as I understand it, demands that humankind negotiate over
difference and govern consensually. There are no modern-day prophets or
rightly guided caliphs. We must endeavor to collaborate in healing our
region and the world as best we can.
* Mustafa Husayn Abu Rumman is the imam of the Ibn Sinan Mosque in
Amman, Jordan. This article was written for the Common Ground News
Source: CGNews, Sept. 20, 2011, <www.commongroundnews.org>.
Copyright permission is granted for publication.