It’s all about “We the People”

by: Imam Shamsi Ali*

Yesterday, May 22, I had an honor to be invited to speak at the NYC Public Advocate annual address. This event is actually an event that’s held by all branches/levels of US government. What really makes the Public Advocate annual address unique is that it’s called “State of the People”.

We know this country is all about its people. The Constitution of this country starts with “We the People”. This clearly means that all people who call themselves Americans are supposedly honored and dignified. “We the People” also implies that all people are equal and embraced equally by the Constitution.

For me personally the tittle of this event is unique and certainly appropriate with deep meaning. It represents the very nature of this country and all that America stands for. It also means that America is defined not by mere territorial bounds, neither by ethnicity, race, skin color or country of origin. Nor is it defined by specific cultures or religious beliefs. America is defined by its values.

America for long time has been proud of its financial power, global political influence and certainly its military might. But even more important than these, the true power of America is its universal values of respect of human lives, human rights, human dignity, equality. Perhaps best summed up in the phrase: “justice for all”.

As an immigrant myself, as many other Americans, who are immigrants or children of immigrants, I am highly proud of this fact. Our country’s identity is not limited by identifiers such as race, ethnicity, culture or religion. But rather by values that transcend all bounds. This makes all Americans equal citizens and have an absolute equality in every aspect of American life.

As an American Muslim, I must admit that the American values of respect of human lives, human rights & dignity, equality and justice for all are very much in line with what Islam teaches. In fact the Fiqh Council of North America considers the US Constitution as no less than a practical implementation of the Shariah Goas (Maqasid as-Shari’ah). Hence I feel comfortable and highly confident in living my life as an American and a Muslim. I see no paradox in my identity as Muslim and American. Therefore I can say with confidence I am a proud American Muslim.

Having said so, we must know that the successful implementation of American values, as in the case of other teachings, including those of religious ones, is very much determined by those who call themselves Americans (the people). As in the case of Islam, the real beauty of the religion is determined by its followers’ (Muslims) commitment to take the teachings into their real lives. Sadly, we often see a huge gap between the teachings and the real lives of its followers.

For instance, how beautiful it is to have the teaching of unity and brotherhood (ukhuwah) in Islam. Muslims all over the world with all their diverse backgrounds are all brothers and sisters and they have a very strong empathy to one another. The Prophet Muhammad illustrates the Ummah (the global Muslim community) as a single body. When a part of the body suffers, all the other parts of the body will feel pain.

It is painfully to admit that this beautiful teaching (value) of unity and brotherhood in Islam remains beautiful in books (in the Quran, Hadith), but not in reality. It looks this beautiful teaching is in one beautiful valley but the Muslims’ reality of life is in another valley. Again, there is a huge gap between the ideal teaching of Islam and the reality of most Muslim’s lives.

Similarly no matter how beautiful the American values are, without genuine and sincere commitment on behalf of the Americans to really apply these values, they will just remain beautiful in concept: beautiful to talk about and be proud of, even to propagate to people all over the world. Often America claims to exceptional because of these values.

The question is, can we see those values being reflected in the life of the Americans? And particularly in the behaviors of the American government and leadership on both sides of the aisle. American leadership often shamelessly demonstrates a double standards and even hypocritical behaviors when it comes to these beautiful values. For example, the phrase “justice for all” often turn to “justice only for some” when it comes to the right for the Palestinians freedom, human dignity and freedom.

What America really needs is honesty and consistency to their our own “claimed values”. When we claim to respect human lives, human rights and dignity, equality and justice for all, let’s commit ourselves honestly and consistently. “Stand for justice even if it’s against your selves, your parents and relatives. And do not, because of your hatred towards others, commit a crime to be unjust. Be just, that’s is near to piety”, the Quran states.

As an American myself, I must constantly remind my fellow Americans, especially those in leadership to be honest and consistent to the values we all cherish and are proud of. Otherwise we will go down in history and be judged as having a double standard and hypocritical behaviors and for not having integrity and hence having no right to claim to be exceptional.

I think it’s the time for America to learn humbleness!

Manhattan, 24 May 2024

* an intellectual, social political & religious observer, Imam live in New York.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *