This past week, I was lucky enough to visit the Gettysburg National Military Park. Standing at the helm of the Union side I envisaged troops flooding the battlefield ready to die for their cause, their nation. Some families even had family members fighting for both the Union and the Confederacy. As the month of July is synonymous with patriotism in America, the scene at Gettysburg made me consider Islam’s position on loyalty to one’s homeland.
The primary authority in Islam is the Qur’an. Commenting on citizenship the Qur’an states, “O ye who believe obey God and obey the Prophet and obey those in authority from among you” (4:60). Contradicting the position of extremists, the phrase “In authority from among you” demonstrates that a Muslim is mandated to obey the ruler, irrespective of their religion. There is also a subtle indication that obedience to the ruler has an effect on one’s spirituality, as here “believers” are addressed instead of “mankind”. In accordance with the Quranic directive, Prophet Muhammad declared, “He who obeys his authority obeys me; he who disobeys his authority disobeys me” (Sahih). Again, he declared, “You are obligated to hear and to obey in prosperity and in adversity, willingly or unwillingly, and even when you are treated unjustly” (Sahih).
Understand that obedience to the ruler does not exclude disagreement or dissent. Striving to continuously improve one’s nation is itself a form of patriotism. Rather, whatever a Muslim does, it must be done within the boundaries of the law. We observe this principle during Muhammad’s life as well. For 12 years while in Mecca, he attempted to spread the message of Islam to his countrymen and reform the society. While he gained a sizeable number of converts, the majority of people treated his community with disdain and subjected them to unimaginable hardships. Even children were not spared. Still, Muhammad instructed his community to maintain the rule of law. Even measures such as civil disobedience were not allowed because it would disrupt the society.
The well-known migration (Hijra) from Mecca to Medina serves as a fitting rebuttal to those who argue Muslims can disobey their governments and take the law into their own hands. Despite Muhammad being a native of Mecca and his family being responsible for the development of Mecca, he ultimately ordered his community to migrate from Mecca to Medina. Since Meccans would not allow Muslims to practice their faith, the only option was to migrate.
While these examples demonstrate that loyalty to the homeland is an Islamic tenet, what happens during wartime? Boxer Muhammad Ali notoriously refused to enter the draft on moral grounds. While Ali may have personally justified the decision, the Qur’an and Hadith do not support it. If a Muslim is living and benefitting from the country in which he resides, he cannot reject military service if the country mandates it. If morality is such a motivating force in one’s life, the individual should leave the country far before such a situation arises. To not do so and then object to military service on moral grounds is hypocritical. Among various motivating factors, many of my Muslim friends have served, or are currently serving, in the US Armed Forces for this very reason.
So, looking over the battlefield which definitively shaped America I concluded that Islam, to a great degree, would agree with what Gettysburg symbolizes to this day – the Union above all else.
(Originally Published FL Times July 2010)