By IMAM TALIB M. SHAREEF
Excerpted from- WISE Up- Knowledge ends Extremism 2017
Not long after the Declaration of Independence granted Americans their freedom from tyranny, the founding fathers gave Americans the greatest gift of all—the constitutional right to religious freedom. The value of this inalienable human right is made clear, as it was the very first amendment added to the Constitution, which states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” In examining the foundational values upon which our nation was established, we find that at its core, the values that brought the pioneers to America, in search of democracy and religious freedom, contain aspirations and ideals that Muslims can accept, identify and share with other Americans. Both, the religion of Islam and America, started with freedom of religion as the first of the freedoms. Therefore, the religion of Islam has a natural relationship with American philosophy and with the spirit that is found in the United States Constitution.
The First Amendment is rooted in the fact that, from the very beginning, the fight for religious freedom preceded the fight for all other freedoms. Realizing that mankind was created to have independence and freedom of worship, the Pilgrims came to these lands because they were persecuted and couldn’t exercise their religious rights in Europe. So, they came here to start their lives anew with the opportunity to live their Christianity to their choosing, without hindrance and denial from the governments they fled. In doing so, they wanted that to be the standard for all in the new democracy, which included Muslims, as noted by President Obama in his address during his first visit to an American mosque in February 2016. He said, “Islam has always been part of America. Starting in colonial times, many of the slaves brought here from Africa were Muslim. And even in their bondage, some kept their faith alive. A few even won their freedom and became known to many Americans. And when enshrining the freedom of religion in our Constitution and our Bill of Rights, our Founders meant what they said when they said it applied to all religions.” And Thomas Jefferson explained that the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom he wrote was designed to protect all faiths, which included “the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mahometan [Muslim].”
We find these core values expressed by many during the course of American history. Among those is President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who said in a speech to Congress that religious freedom “is the freedom of every person to worship God in his own way, everywhere in the world.”
President Obama, in his February 2016 visit to the Islamic Society of Baltimore, reminded us of the words of President Dwight Eisenhower: “In 1957, when dedicating the Islamic Center in Washington, D.C., President Eisenhower said, ‘I should like to assure you, my Islamic friends, that under the American Constitution . . . and in American hearts . . . this place of worship, is just as welcome . . . as any other religion.’”
Many among the founding fathers of this great nation and those connected with their struggle for independence and freedom of religious expression, were guided by universal aspirations to establish spiritual life as the way for the betterment of society so that society could exist, have a good future, and progress in the matter ordained for it by the Creator. This idea of the Creator is highlighted in the foundational documents upon which the First Amendment is based and is in the language of the founding fathers: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator.” Here in the language of the founding fathers is the recognition of Almighty God as the Creator and a recognition that all men have inalienable rights that the government can’t give to them. They acknowledged that all were created with those rights—inalienable rights—among these life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
These are statements of strong faith and allegiance to God and they underscore how the First Amendment was meant to be interpreted in terms of religious freedom for all religious communities and people of faith. In the language of the founding fathers was the idea that would connect man to Almighty God; and it would insist that government recognize this connection that it, the government, didn’t make and cannot break. Essentially, they were forcing government to recognize that connection and treat all citizens as the creation of Almighty God, the Creator. This idea is at the core of what makes America beautiful. This idea of a government, a society that acknowledges that there is a Superior Authority other than man and that people are accountable to that authority, their Creator, who gave them their life, is what establishes a true democracy.
It’s consistent with what Muslims believe which is that Almighty God is the Creator, of everything. It was intentional that the founders gave acknowledgement to “the Creator,” rather than using a specific or proper name. In the history of Islam, when the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) received the first words of revelation, the name Allah (swt) was not mentioned. On the initial visit and words to Muhammad, in the first five verses, the only references to Allah are “Lord and Creator.” In other words, Almighty God introduced Himself to the Prophet (pbuh), first, as the Creator, and the name Allah came later. Herein is the wisdom also of the founders in their use of “Creator.” By reasoning, they concluded that every religion that recognizes Almighty God, “the Creator,” as the One who is responsible for what we see in the skies, for the earth that we live on and whatever comes out of the earth, and is responsible for man’s own existence, can live and coexist with others. Not only live together, but also work together, have mutual respect for, and cooperate with one another for the future of humanity; because that is the precious idea that makes it possible for us to progress with our human life in society.
George Washington stated in his first Inaugural address, “We ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained.” So, America recognizes that this is the beauty and strength of our Constitution, and it’s what holds our society together. Imam W. Deen Mohammed, in an address to an American Muslim Military Conference in Washington, D.C., said, “This country gives us more religious freedom than most of our own Islamic nations or countries, but we have to soberly in the mind see these facts and realities, and register and appreciate them. . . . If we can recognize these realities, this change, and heal ourselves, and embrace the good, and embrace the progress, and embrace the good aims and good purposes for which this nation was envisioned or created by its Founding Fathers, and how the spirit and language that they left with us has gained support . . . then we are in a good situation to make progress in this society.”
Imam Mohammed was asked, “How do I serve my country?” His answer: “I serve my country as a citizen of this country, as a believer in Almighty God.”