America’s Gift: A New Tradition in Islamic Thinking

Muqtedar Khan
Muqtedar Khan Former Brookings Expert, Professor, Department of Political Science and International Relations - University of Delaware

March 9, 2007

American foreign policy sins are numerous and some are even unforgivable, like the invasion of Iraq—based on false accusations—which has resulted in much death and destruction. But to judge America by its neo-conservative foreign policy would be like judging Islam by what some radical, violence-prone Muslims have done around the world—it would be grossly unfair.

There is more, much more to America than its imprudent foreign policy in the Muslim world.

America contributes to maintaining the global order and has created and sustained some of the most important institutions of the international system, such as the United Nations and the World Bank.

In recent years, US foreign policy has resulted in billions of dollars of tsunami relief in Southeast Asia, earthquake assistance in Pakistan and economic and development aid across Muslim lands. The United States is the biggest foreign aid donor to the Muslim World.

In the past, the United States has also intervened militarily on behalf of Muslims in Bosnia, Somalia, Kosovo and Kuwait.

On the domestic front, the United States is one of the best places to live on the planet according to many. People from all over the Muslim world apply, in the millions, for visas to come to the US (even after 9/11) in search of a better future. Yet hardly any indigenous American Muslims are seeking to migrate to predominantly-Muslim countries to improve their lives. The United States, and not any one of the 55 Muslims nations, is the number one choice of Muslims for permanent relocation.

I have been living in the United States since 1992, when I arrived here from India. America took in a young man from a developing nation and after eight years of schooling, graduated an active Muslim scholar who has testified to the US Senate on foreign affairs, debated Bill Clinton in person and Vladimir Putin in writing, advised Prince Charles, held prolonged chats with Sadiq Al Mahdi, shaken hands with King Abdullah and Emir Hamad bin Khalifah, and had dinner with Benazir Bhutto.

This afternoon I had lunch with the grand Mufti of Egypt, Sheikh Ali Gomaa, in a castle in the South of England. Even when I was a poor graduate student, and now as an active scholar, I have been truly living my dream.

Because of the political and religious freedoms I enjoy in the United States, I am able to practice Islam at the highest level—that of fikr, or reflection. I publish extensively, lecture and communicate my ideas widely through the media. Muslim scholars have always maintained that true happiness comes from the pursuit and dissemination of knowledge and I found this to be the case in America.

My life as a public intellectual is enabled by America´s intellectual environment, its great universities and, above all, its open public sphere in which I participate wholeheartedly, without fear or hesitation.

I am neither alone nor the most important beneficiary of American culture. America has in recent years produced and/or nurtured many good and extraordinarily insightful Muslim thinkers like Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Fazlur Rahman, Ismael Farruqi, Khaled Abou El Fadl, Sherman Jackson, Asma Afsaruddin, Sohail Hashmi, Azizah al Hibri,

Taha Al-Alwani, Sulayman Nyang, Louay Safi, Akber Ahmad, Maher Hathout, Abdullah an-Naim, Ingrid Matteson and Amina Wadud, to list but a few whose names come to mind readily.

America has also produced noteworthy Muslim spiritual leaders who enjoy widespread appeal, way beyond America´s borders. The likes of Sheikh Hamza Yusuf are creating a uniquely American tradition in Islamic spirituality. American Muslim initiatives such as the American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences have not only inspired research in the Muslim world but have become the gold standard in Muslim scholarship.

Today, one can talk about an American tradition in Islamic thinking. Like America itself, it may be short on history but it is also rich, powerful, with global reach and profound impact.

American foreign policy may have perpetrated many injustices against Muslims, but its gift of scholars and scholarship to Islam and Muslims that has allowed Islamic thinking to re-emerge and thrive is indeed priceless.