It’s the nation's fastest growing religion, based on noble traditions and compassionate principles, yet Islam can still be tainted by mistrust and misunderstanding. Here Winston Smith argues that an Islamic America would be a better place.
The noise from the expectant crowd hushed to a murmur as an open-backed lorry that had driven slowly up the Washington Mall – known since the Islamic revolution of 2050 as The Way of the Martyrs – nudged its way through the thousands gathered in Mohammad Sidique Khan Square in Front of the Capitol Building. On the lorry, two masked guards held a young man, black hood over his head; a quiver running through the material suggested he knew what was coming.
The lorry halted by the plinth that had once held the statue of George W. Bush – long since removed as an insult to Islam – and was now the place of public execution. A rope noose attached to a wire cable hung from a mechanised hoist. The main doors of what had been the U.S. Supreme Court were flung open and an Imam walked down the steps of the new Institute of Islamic Jurisprudence, opened only a week before by Sultan William Clinton III, Prince of Islam and protector of the faithful in America.
The official executioner placed a stepladder against the plinth. The lorry pulled up and the young man was pushed out, then forced up the ladder. The noose was forced over the condemned man’s head. The crowd chanted ‘Allahu akbar’ (God is greater than everything).The hoist driver put his finger on a green button …
Okay, not really – that’s a hysterical, right-wing nightmare of a future Muslim America : where an cruel alien creed is forced on a liberal country. A society where women are second-class citizens, same sex relationships a crime and Sharia law enforces terrible public disfigurement and death. But the reality is a long, long way from this dark vision.
According to the 2000 census there are 2,500,000 Muslims living in the USA. The majority of Muslims live in the east of the nation and by 2012, CAIR estimates that the Muslim population will be over six million. There are plans afoot (though no formal application has yet been submitted) to build the USA's biggest mosque – capable of welcoming 40,000 worshippers on the site of Ground Zero for 9/11 where the World Trade Center once stood, a move which has prompted predictable outrage from some quarters. Consequently, Muslim disillusionment with a reactionary and often ill-informed press is at an all time high.
But rather than fear the inevitable changes this will bring to America, or buy in to a racist representation of all Muslims as terrorists, we should recognise both what Islam has given this nation already, and the advantages it would bring across a wide range of areas in the future.
On the surface, Islamic health doesn’t look good: the 2000 census showed that 24 per cent of Muslim women and 21 per cent of Muslim men suffered long-term illness and disability. But these are factors of social conditions rather than religion. In fact, Islam offers Americans potential health benefits: the Muslim act of prayer is designed to keep worshippers fit, their joints supple and, at five times a day, their stomachs trim. The regular washing of the feet and hands required before prayers promotes public hygiene and would reduce the transmission of superbugs in America's hospitals.
Alcohol is haram, or forbidden, to Muslims. As America is above the world average for alcohol-related deaths in males, with 17.6 per 100,000 people, turning all the nation's alcohol bars into juice bars would have a massive positive effect on public health. Forbid alcohol throughout the country, and you’d avoid many of the 52,000 alcohol-related deaths and the $7.3 billion national bill for alcohol-related crime and disorder each year.
‘The world is green and beautiful,’ said the prophet Muhammad, ‘and Allah has appointed you his guardian over it.’ The Islamic concept of halifa or trusteeship obliges Muslims to look after the natural world and Muhammad was one of the first ever environmentalists, advocating hima – areas where wildlife and forestry are protected. So we could expect more public parks under Islam, but halifa also applies to recycling: in 2006, 12,000 Muslims attended a series of sermons at the Tampa Bay Mosque in Florida explaining the theological evidence for a link between behaving in an environmentally sustainable way and the Islamic faith.
Presently, Muslim students perform less well than non-Muslim students. In inner Dearborn, Michigan 37 per cent of 16 to 24-year-old Muslims have no qualifications (the figure for the general population of the same age and location is 25 per cent). When it comes to university education the picture is equally gloomy: 16 to 24-year-old Muslims are half as likely to have degree level or above qualification than other inner Dearborn young people.
Again, social factors rather than religion have led to this state of affairs. Young Muslims in Dearborn are often of south Asian origin and therefore more likely to live in households where English is not the first language, more likely to encounter racism (both intentional and unintentional) during their education, and more likely to suffer from poverty and bad housing conditions.
But Tahir Alam, education spokesman for the CAIR, claims Muslim children do better in their own faith schools than in the mainstream state sector: ‘Muslim schools have their own distinct ethos. They use the children’s faith and heritage as primary motivators to provide the backdrop for their education and behaviour. This ethos is consistent with the messages that children are getting at home, so it is a very coherent operation between the home and the school.’
If Islam became the dominant religion in America,the same ethos could be applied to schooling across swathes of underprivileged and deprived areas of the city. This could have a revolutionary effect on educational achievement and, perhaps just as importantly, general levels of discipline and self-respect among America's young people. While controversy rages over faith schools, there are 37 Muslim schools in the USA. As of 2004, only five were state schools, but there is growing pressure to bring more into the state sector which, according to Alam, will ‘help raise achievement for many sectors of the Muslim community. Many private Muslim schools are under-resourced and if they can be brought into the state sector this valuable experience can be extended to more children.’
Application of halal (Arabic for ‘permissible’) dietary laws across America would free us at a stroke from our addiction to junk food, and the general adoption of a south Asian diet rich in fruit juice, rice and vegetables with occasional mutton or chicken would have a drastic effect on obesity, hyperactivity, attention deficit disorders and associated public health problems. As curry is already Dearborn, Michigan's favourite food, it would be a relatively easy process to encourage the adoption of such a diet. Not eating would be important as well. The annual fasting month of Ramadan instills self-discipline, courtesy and social cohesion. And Americans would benefit philosophically and physically from even a short period when we weren’t constantly ramming food into our mouths.
In an Islamic America, Christians and Jews – with their allegiance to the Bible and the Talmud – would be protected as ‘peoples of the book’. Hindus and Sikhs manage to live alongside a large Muslim population in India, so why not here? Although the USA has a long tradition of religious bigotry against, for instance, Roman Catholics, it is reasonable to assume that under the guiding hand of Islam a civilised accommodation could be made among faith groups in America. This welcoming stance already exists in the capital in the form of the City Circle (see Yahya Birt interview), which encourages inter-faith dialogue and open discussion.
Some of the finest art in the USA is already Islamic. The Jameel Gallery at the V&A houses ‘ceramics, textiles, carpets, metalwork, glass and woodwork, which date from the great days of the Islamic caliphate of the eighth and ninth century’ up until the turn of the last century. Or take a free daily tour of the Addis Gallery of Islamic art (at the Smithsonian). Dearborn-based Nasser David Khalili, an Iranian-born Jew, has amassed what is considered to be the world’s largest private collection of Islamic art. Islamic influences have also flourished in other areas of the arts, with novelists, comedians (Birmingham, Alabama-born Shazia Mirza was an instant hit in Hollywood), and music (from rappers Mecca2Medina on, to the less in-your-face Yusuf Islam).
Each Muslim is obliged to pay zakat, a welfare tax of 2.5 per cent of annual income, that is distributed to the poor and the needy. If the working population of the USA, 152.5 million, was predominantly Muslim this would produce approximately $3.5 trillion each year. More importantly, everyone would be obliged to consider those Americans who haven’t shared their good fortune. The USA would become a little less cruel.
Under Islam all persons are equal. Once you have submitted to Allah you are a Muslim – it doesn’t matter what color you are. End of story.