The fervent mosque-haters have this much right: Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the Sufi leader of the Cordoba Initiative that plans to build an Islamic center on Park Place near the site of the World Trade Center, is subversive. But what he wants to subvert is not the United States of America. What he wants to subvert are dictatorships in Islamic nations.
Imam Rauf’s third book, published in 2005 but unavailable to me last week when I wrote about him and his earlier work, is called What’s Right with Islam is What’s Right with America. In these pages, Rauf proves just as Islamic as his detractors say. He is downright idealistic about Islam and hearty about its prospects. He has been scouting out America for a long time. And what is it that he finds here to gladden his Islamic soul? It’s right there on p. 176:
“…the American Declaration of Independence and Constitution.”
The imam goes on to say that these documents “express the Islamic ideal, which is itself but an expression of the Abrahamic ethic.” Yes, “the American Constitution and system of governance uphold the core principles of Islamic law.” And here’s a way of putting it that never tempted Sarah Palin or Newt Gingrich: “The overarching American religion that all Americans live under is ‘Islamic’ in the sense that it is fully compliant with and expresses the Islamic Shariah.” In Rauf’s understanding, Sharia is predicated on religious pluralism, which is “a fundamental human right under Islamic law.”
In fact—don’t tell Sean Hannity—it’s too late to resist. Satan is well ensconced here. “America is substantively an ‘Islamic’ country, by which I mean a country whose systems remarkably embody the principles that Islamic law requires of a government.”
No wonder the Imam is at this moment lecturing in the Gulf States on the State Department’s dime, to discuss “Muslim life in America and religious tolerance,” according to the AP—a trip that Governor Tim Pawlenty, guzzling a lot of tea in a hurry, calls “disgusting.”
No wonder the Bush State Department made similar use of him to win hearts and minds. He’s promoting the American social and political system. He believes that “democracy and liberty, in a peculiarly American way, provide a manifestation of the Abrahamic ethic.” If Muslims outside America “recognize in the American form of governance a genuine substantive workable expression and model of their centuries-old longing for the kingdom of heaven on earth,” he continues, “they can formulate their understanding of an Islamic state along these lines.” In other words, he wants to Americanize the Muslim world in the way that counts—by promoting our political institutions. You can see what Republicans object to, though: He says nothing about promoting the filibuster or repealing the Fourteenth Amendment.
Imam Rauf’s revisionism extends so far as to trash most putatively Islamic states—since 656 C.E., that is, when “the Muslims succumbed to dynastic rule, a paradigm of governance that did not display Islamic religious values.” No wonder it’s been a rough 13+ centuries for Islam ever since. But the moment, he argues, is ripe for American Muslims, for “no contradiction exists between Islam’s theology and the longing of many Muslims for democratic values and equality of opportunity. … Islam’s theology and jurisprudence demand it.” That is, the American system is the answer to an Islamic prayer.
The book closes with an appendix containing a fatwa issued by five Muslim clerics on September 27, 2001, at the request of the most senior Muslim chaplain in the American armed forces. Ending his book with a fatwa! Yes! Cunningly, it’s a “Fatwa Permitting U. S. Muslim Military Personnel to Participate in Afghanistan War Effort.”
What’s Right with Islam, by the way, was published by HarperSanFrancisco, which last I looked is owned by Rupert Murdoch.
Does he know what kind of poison bears his imprimatur?
Todd Gitlin is a professor of journalism and sociology and chair of the Ph. D. program in Communications at Columbia. His next book, The Chosen Peoples: America, Israel, and the Ordeals of Divine Election (written with Liel Leibovitz), will be out in September.