Is America Islamic?
by Irfan Al-Alawi
Americans, as well as moderate Muslims around the world, must have been quite surprised to learn that, as reported on The New York Times' political blog Tuesday [June 2, 2009 at http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/06/02/obama-signals-themes-of-mideast-speech/?hp], President Barack Obama believes the U.S. could be classed as "one of the largest Muslim countries in the world." The American president told Laura Haim of the French television network Canal+, "If you actually took the number of Muslim Americans, we'd be one of the largest Muslim countries in the world."
Even if the U.S. had 10 million Muslims, it would not be a Muslim country. As sustained by traditional and moderate Islamic authorities for centuries, a Muslim land is one in which the majority are Muslims.
Muslims around the world are aware that America does not have a large Muslim population. The Arab American population, one should note, is only one-quarter Muslim; the rest are Christian or profess no religion. Those who pay attention will doubtless wonder how a view of the U.S. as a major Muslim country emerged. Unfortunately, however, one group will take considerable comfort from such a claim: the Muslim fundamentalists led by Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, who have put forward the opinion, through the so-called European Council for Fatwas and Research (ECFR), that the whole world is now open to Islam, and therefore that all countries are in some sense Muslim.
Moderate Muslims reject these arguments as expressions of aggressive expansionism - the "religious colonialism" supported by Saudi Wahhabis, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Pakistani jihadists. The Centre for Islamic Pluralism has thoroughly analysed such recent and dangerous views in our new report, A Guide to Shariah Law and Islamist Ideology in Western Europe, 2007-09, accessible as a free downloadable .pdf at www.islamicpluralism.org and www.islamicpluralism.eu.
Christians, Jews, and other non-Muslims are rightly dismayed to hear such rhetoric. Muslims must respect the historical and cultural character of the non-Muslim countries, especially if they migrate to live under non-Muslim governments. Traditional Islamic guidance cites a precedent from the time of the Prophet Muhammad himself, when early Muslims fled Mecca for the Christian-ruled kingdom of Ethiopia , and the Prophet cautioned them to accept the laws and customs of non-Muslim lands. We believe the teaching of the Prophet of Islam on this principle cannot be superseded by latter-day opinions. Believing that the whole world belongs to Islam endangers Muslim minorities in the West, and similarly, protection of the community from disfavor is also a long-established Islamic principle.
President Obama lived as a youth in the world's most populous Muslim country, Indonesia , which has 240 million inhabitants, of which 86 percent are Muslim. The next five countries with large Muslim communities, listed by total population and Muslim percentages, are Pakistan (176 million, 95 percent Muslim), Bangladesh (156 million, 86 percent Muslim), Nigeria (150 million, half of them Muslim), and Egypt (83 million, 90 percent Muslim).
Estimates of the Muslim population of the U.S. vary wildly, and have been politicised by radicals hoping to make the community appear larger in size. A low figure would be three million, while extreme approximations range to 10 million. The U.S. census does not count religious communities.
It is also regrettable that the U.S. president has adopted the term "Muslim Americans," which suggests that Muslims are an ethnic, rather than a religious group. "American Muslims," referring to Americans who profess the faith of Islam, is accurate. They include a plurality of born Muslims from Pakistan , India , and Bangladesh , followed by African American "new Muslims."
America is not an Islamic country. This is a topic on which traditional and moderate Muslims are clear.