LP03: Muslims Share American Dream, Local Says
by Ari Armstrong, May 7, 2003
Arshad Yousufi of the Colorado Springs Islamic Society shared his experiences at the Libertarian Convention April 6. He is an electrical engineer who has lived in the U.S. for 20 years. Still, assimilation for Muslims can be a little harder, he said.
"Can you be a Muslim and an American?" Yousufi said a similar question was asked during WWII regarding Japanese Americans. Yes, the first loyalty of Muslims is to God, but that's the same with Christians and Jews. There is "no other national loyalty" for American Muslims, he said.
Indeed, as an immigrant, Yousufi said he has a unique appreciation of his home country. In living abroad, "only then do you begin to appreciate America." He described "some quality that does not exist in those other places." The American values of "tolerance and democracy" are "also Muslim values... Muslims are quite comfortable living in America," he said.
Unfortunately, there are "some Americans who view Muslims with suspicion," Yousufi said. He is concerned that some are trying to "bring Christianity into public life." He also blamed the media for presenting mostly "negative images and misrepresentations" of Muslims.
Yousufi said it's a mistake to view the conflict with some regions of the Middle East as a religious conflict. He pointed to the struggle in Ireland, in which Catholics and Protestants sometimes kill each other. Yes, that conflict is related to religion, but "not primarily religion," Yousufi believes. Instead, the struggle is mostly about "land and power."
I asked Yousufi how the Muslim community can foster the peace-loving, tolerant strains of the religion, just as those strains in Christianity have succeeded in the United States. He said, "In Islam, it is forbidden to kill an innocent person." He said violence "arises not from religious traditions."
Yousufi said "fairness and justice in the world" will bring about peace. He said Americans often are not sufficiently sympathetic with the plight of the Palestinians. At the same time, though, I wish he'd more explicitly condemned the hatred of Israelis that exists in much of the Middle East. He said the problems in the Middle East are "going to take the wisdom of Solomon to decide."
The greatest tension I saw in Yousufi's talk involved the separation of church and state. While he lamented an American political culture that's not always welcoming of Islam, he also said that in Islamic nations the state must follow the religion. "You live by God's laws, not by your laws," he replied to one question. At the same time, Muslims were once on the forefront of science and women's rights.
Jeff Wright pushed this issue, and Yousufi discussed the possibility of a tolerant Islamic state for non-Muslims. While a Muslim government would enforce the Islamic moral code for Muslims, it need not do so for non-Muslims.
I'm glad the convention's planners asked Yousufi to attend, even though I disagreed with some of his comments. Libertarians preach religious tolerance, and it's nice to see that they practice it as well. Hopefully the interaction will also encourage Muslims to explore libertarian ideas. It would be nice to see more organizations like the Minaret of Freedom.