Iowa Signals Hope - Lessons for American Muslim Voters

The election season is well underway and all of us as patriots should be plugged-in and engaged. Not only does the future of our nation depend on the choices we make but also the future of the world hangs in balance.

Politics in America has been on a bitter path of divisiveness, discord and dissonance. Major Republican political figures like Mitt Romney and Rudolph Giuliani were projecting their candidacy standing on what many Muslims perceived to be virulently anti-Muslim platform. On the Democratic side, the shrillness was noticeably lower but nonetheless, Hillary Clinton, partly because she carries a famous last name, was herself a polarizing figure.

Then came Iowa.

In a state with 95% white voters, Barrack Obama - an African American and with a middle name Hussein, not only won the Democratic primary but more importantly signaled a paradigm shift.

Iowa showed voters not only gravitating toward change, but signaling that they prefer healthy disagreements over demonization of the "other" (whoever that "other" maybe). On the Republican side Mike Huckabee's strong showing, also signaled that voters, at least in Iowa, do not like negative campaigns.

The Iowa caucuses showed strong contrasts between Republican and Democratic voters. While the Republican voters preferred candidates that were most likely to represent their values (mainly Christian conservative), Democratic voters preferred someone who signaled change and who projected an image that could unify the country across racial, ethnic and even religious divides.
This preference for change and unity was indeed the most hopeful lesson of the night.

Election 2008 may prove to be a historic turning point where American voters vote on the strength of their convictions and not be intimidated by fear and paranoia.

For America's Muslims it bears reminding that religious consciousness is not possible without a social ethic. Islam is not an abstract philosophy nor is it a series of meaningless rituals. To be a person of faith requires that we be immersed to working for social justice and social good. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) remembered God Almighty by engaging in the service of God's creations. He served God, by serving his fellow human beings.

One story in particular story from the life of Prophet Muhammad is very instructive. Early in Prophet Muhammad's (peace be upon him) youth (before he was chosen to be a Prophet), a Yemeni merchant visiting Mecca had been a victim of wrong while in the city. Rather than keep quiet he publicly appealed to the nobleness and dignity of the Quraysh tribe, imploring them to give him justice.

Abdullah ibn Judan, the chief of the Banu Taym tribe, a sub-tribe of the Quraysh, heeded the Yemeni's request. Judan invited to his home anyone who wished to end the oppression and injustice that had so engulfed Mecca at that time. The young Muhammad attended the meeting, as did Abu Bakr, a friend and companion of Prophet Muhammad.

The outcome of the meeting was an alliance called hilf al-fudul, the Pact of the Virtuous, in which tribal leaders and members "pledged that it was their collective duty to intervene in conflicts and side with the oppressed against the oppressors, whoever they might be and whatever alliances might link them to other tribes."

Years later when he had become a Prophet, Muhammad recalled the terms of that pact and said: "I was present in Abdullah ibn Judan's house when a pact was concluded, so excellent that I would not exchange my part in it even for a herd of red camels; and if now, in Islam, I was asked to take part in it, I would be glad to accept."

There are three lessons to be drawn from this story.

First, the principles of justice and morality are not the exclusive domain of any one group or ideology. Islam is not a new message but a confirmation of universal values.

Second, the Prophet acknowledged the validity of a pact and nobleness inherent in the idea of the Pact of the Virtuous although it was established by non-Muslims. He saw nothing in that pact that contradicted the values of Islam, namely seeking justice and the common good of society.

Third, the message of Islam is by no means in conflict with other universal values. The Prophet strove to develop the believer's conscience through adherence to principles and values. The value and the principles were more important than the source of those values. He showed a way to transcend group allegiance in favor of primary loyalty to universal principles themselves.

This is a lesson that can inspire all us as Americans to transcend our parochial interests and return American politics to be once again be rooted in universal values of peace, liberty and justice for all.