Muslim & American?

A letter asking the question "Can a good Muslim be a good American?" has been circulating by e-mail and on blogs for some time, apparently. I just saw it this week when Texas Fred posted it.

Can a good Muslim be a good American?

I forwarded that question to a friend who worked in Saudi Arabia for 20 years.

The following is his forwarded reply:

Theologically - no. Because his allegiance is to Allah, the moon God of Arabia.

Religiously - no. Because no other religion is accepted by his Allah except Islam. (Qu ran, 2:256)

Scripturally - no. Because his allegiance is to the five pillars of Islam and the Qu ran (Koran).

Geographically - no. Because his allegiance is to Mecca, to which he turns in prayer five times a day. MORE

It goes on from there with the same theme, and concludes that no, one cannot be both a good Muslim and a good American. Such generalizations are usually dangerous, and this one is no exception.

I am not an expert on Islam. However Google quickly led me to a couple of discussions about this particular letter where people take issue with the various points. Look here and here. The answers are not nearly as clear-cut as the original letter makes it seem.

My issue is with the initial premise of the letter. I think there is probably wide variation on exactly what constitutes a "good Muslim." To understand this, consider the religion most Americans are more familiar with: Christianity. Exactly what is a good Christian?

There are a lot of ways to answer that question. Christianity includes Roman Catholics, several varieties of Orthodox churches, a bunch of Middle Eastern sects like the Coptics, hundreds of Protestant denominations (Episcopalians, Methodists, Lutherans, and many varieties of Presbyterians and Baptists), plus offshoots like Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventists. Then there are tiny cults like the Branch Davidians.

All these groups can read the same scriptures and study the same history, yet they still come up with radically different theologies and ideas about being a "good Christian." At times the disagreements have become violent, all completely under the umbrella of "Christianity."

Given this, I have a hard time believing that a billion Muslims are in monolithic agreement about much of anything. Christians certainly aren't. That's not the way it should be, but it is a fact.

If someone is already inclined to evil, it's not hard to justify it from Scripture. For example, the story of Elisha and the bears (II Kings 2:23-24) might lead you to think God enjoys sending his creature to kill children. To reach that conclusion, though, you have to take the story out of context and ignore the real meaning of it. Likewise with Psalm 137:9, which a casual reading would lead you to think we should take the children of our enemies and dash them against the rocks. I would not be surprised if many of the Koranic verses that are used to justify jihad are of a similar nature.

To take the analogy further, history gives us many examples of Christians doing terrible things to one another as well as to non-Christians. Does the fact that a small group of Christians decides to kill Jews and blacks mean that Christianity itself is aligned against Jews and blacks? No, not at all. Those individuals are wrong. It is equally wrong to extrapolate their misdeeds against an entire population of people that does not join them.

So is it possible for a good Muslim to be a good American? I think so, but it's probably very difficult. Islamic culture and attitudes are different from what we have in the U.S. (I could argue, incidentally, that it is very hard for a good Christian to be a good American, too, if by "good American" you mean the full embrace of our increasingly depraved and materialistic culture. But that's another subject I will have to address later.).

It does not follow from this that all Muslims mean harm to Americans. Islam and Christianity co-existed on this planet very nicely for hundreds of years, with only occasional conflicts - many of which were instigated by the Christian side.

If, as we are told sometimes, the Muslims hate us for our freedom, why did they wait so long to do anything about it? In fact, in the early years of independence the U.S. got along fine with numerous Muslim nations. Eighteenth and nineteenth-century Muslims were not on a jihad against the West.

The Koran has said whatever it says for centuries, but it's only in the last fifty years or so that we see it being used as inspiration for war on the West. Why? You can sum it up in two words: Israel and oil. These are the flashpoints, are they not? All our conflicts grow out of those two disputes.

Now resolving these conflicts, now that we are in them, is no simple thing. I would submit that demonizing the other side is not likely to help and may even hurt. Letters like the one quoted above serve mainly to inspire Americans to blind hatred of Muslims. Since relatively few Muslims are doing violent things to us, this hatred accomplishes little except to make the conflict bigger than it already is. It makes people like Texas Fred decide that genocide against Muslims is the answer to our problems.

Clearly, some Muslims are our enemies and we have to deal with them. Equally important are efforts to keep those who are not already against us from becoming so. We have enough challenges already without manufacturing more of them.

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