The immediate reactions to Dr. Ben Carson’s fallacious view that Muslims can’t respect America’s Constitution have dissipated — but the invidious suspicion that he might be right lives on in the thinking of too many Americans.
The supposed incompatibility of Islam with American constitutional democracy deserves immediate disposal in the trash heap of history, where ignorance, prejudice and stupid thinking belong.
Since Carson and his many sympathizers continue to insist on the fundamental opposition of Islam to the prevailing moral system of America, we insist with equal conviction that the Islamic faith is indeed compatible with constitutional democracy — in America and everywhere else.
Islam is an Abrahamic faith. Our Constitution also comes from the Abrahamic tradition of fulfilling responsibilities. Thus, Muslims have the same affinity with the constitutional principle of public office as a public trust as Christians and Jews do.
Our Constitution requires those who hold public office to take an oath that they will be faithful stewards of that office. This tradition of stewardship goes back to I Samuel 8 in the Old Testament. It was used in the Magna Carta 800 years ago to restrain King John. John Calvin reaffirmed the ministry of public office under God and the law. His views inspired, first, the English revolution against royal tyranny, then John Locke’s ideas on government and later the American Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.
The Qur’an (2:30) describes humanity as stewards (khalifa) of God in protecting and nourishing his creation. The Qur’anic idea of authority as Khalifa holds that all of us are responsible for our trusteeship duties to advance the public good and help one another.
The Qur’an (23:8) describes those who walk in the ways of God as “those who are attentive to their trusts and covenants.” It further (4:58) states, “Indeed, God commands you to render trusts to whom they are due and when you judge between people to judge with justice.”
The prophet Mohammed taught his followers that on the Day of Judgment God himself would be a plaintiff against three types of wrongdoers: one who undertook a trust in the name of God and then betrayed it; one who enslaved a person for profit; and one who hired another, made use of his service but did not give him his wages (as recorded by Bukhari).
The prophet also taught that a hypocrite is known by three traits because the hypocrite lies when speaking, reneges upon promises and betrays what is entrusted (as recorded by Bukhari).
The steward concept of Khalifa in Qur’an and the shepherd metaphor in the Old and New Testaments of the Judeo-Christian scriptures both validate the American constitutional requirement that the powers of government are held in trust for the common good. That is why those in public office must — under the compulsion of impeachment for breach of their trust responsibilities — follow the law of the land and not their own ideas nor even their most personally precious religious beliefs.
Thus, our Constitution separates public power from religious tests and commandments in order to uphold the trust of only serving the common good as provided for by the rule of law.
Under the rule of law and all constitutional principles, public officials are bound to a course of deliberation and compromise in making their decisions. They are the servants of the people, not their masters.
The Qur’an (42:38) also affirms this constitutional process of deliberation, consultation and collaborative agreement in political decisionmaking (Shura), thus reinforcing this important democratic principle.
American administrative law has evolved to protect the right of the people to have access to shura in the day-to-day working of all their public authorities.
There is no passage in Qur’an which calls for or justifies tyranny or abuse of public power. On the contrary, the Qur’an is explicit in rejecting corruptions of all kinds.
The ideology of certain extremists making government subordinate to the tyranny of human whim and error is hard to justify from the Qur’an. That interpretation places human will over God’s will and is a form of idolatry rejected in the Qur’an just as it is rejected in the Bible.
Where Muslim societies have lived under oppressive rulers, the oppression revealed a failure of such leaders to rule justly according to Qur’anic teachings.
These fundamental Qur’anic teachings can be found expressly in John Locke’s Second Treatise on Government, which is the founding theory supporting our Constitution.
Thus, Muslims are theologically directed to be good stewards of their trust responsibilities and so are easily able to uphold our Constitution with conviction.
Stephen B. Young is global executive director of the Caux Round Table. Imam Asad Zaman is executive director of the Muslim American Society of Minnesota.