Tuesday, June 28, 2022

The Foreigner Who Wants To Be A Citizen: A Fourth of July Sermon

 This is a draft of my sermon for this Friday, July 1, 2022 at ISGH Main Center.

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اتَّقُوا اللَّهَ وَقُولُوا قَوْلًا سَدِيدًا (الأحزاب: 70)

[O, Community of Faith, be God conscious and aim your words carefully (Allies: 70)]

Muslim narrated on the authority of Abu Hurayra (r) that the Prophet (p) said:

بدأ الإسلام غريباً و سيعود غريباً كما بدأ فطوبى للغرباء

[Islam began as a foreigner, and it will again become a foreigner as it had begun, so blessed are the foreigners.]

And Bukhari narrated on the authority of Abdullah ibn Umar (r) that the Prophet (p) held him by his shoulders and told him:

كن في الدنيا كأنك غريب أو عابر سبيل

 [Be in life like a foreigner or a wayfarer.]

We find comfort in these teachings, and accept being perpetual foreigners in this sense, both in our native and adopted countries. 

But we also want to be citizens, and the legal basis for my naturalized citizenship of the United States, and for my children's natural-born citizenship, is the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. Article 1 reads:

"All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

It was devastating late last week when the Supreme Court of the United States took away from American women a constitutional right that had been anchored fifty years ago in the same Fourteenth Amendment.

Leading legal scholars have noted that the ruling is oppressive to Muslim women, enumerating the different views on abortion in contemporary Islamic jurisprudence, while others have noted that several Muslim-majority countries allow legal abortion and many medieval Muslim jurists had allowed it in different circumstances, especially during the first trimester. 

But I would argue that as Muslim Americans, the dictates of Islamic jurisprudence on abortion are not relevant factors in defending the legal rights of others. To explain by analogy: I observe the Islamic prohibition of alcohol meticulously, but this does not mean that I would advocate for returning to early twentieth century prohibition laws (imposed by the Eighteenth Amendment in 1919 and repealed by the Twenty-First Amendment in 1933). 

We are all protected by the separation of church and state. Whether it is the Taliban of Afghanistan, the Ayatollahs of Iran, or the so-called "religious scholars" of my native region, appeals to religion to take away human rights are nothing more than naked power plays -- which vary only to the degree that states allow it. 

In this regard, Al-Tabari narrated that Ali ibn Abi Talib (r) criticized the Khawarij who had insisted that only the Qur'an should settle the great dispute of his time by saying:

هذا القرآن إنما هو خط مسطور بين دفتين لا ينطق إنما يتكلم به الرجال

["This Qur'an is just a set of written words between two covers; it does not speak, but men speak with its authority."]

The same is true of the U.S. Constitution: Written words interpreted by men. No system is ever perfect, and we should strive to make progress by choosing interpretations that progressively increase human rights.

The constitutional right to abortion under Roe was anchored in the Fourteenth Amendment right to privacy (as part of liberty). In this regard, ACLU and other civil rights organizations had argued that the types of surveillance, manipulation and entrapment to which our community has been subjected in recent years were violations of our Fourteenth Amendment rights to privacy. Alas, in March of this year the Supreme Court dismissed disputation of the legality of sending undercover agents as spies who apparently  attempted to radicalize and entrap Muslims in Southern California. To be clear, our community, if anything, is excessively eager to cooperate with law enforcement, but nobody benefits when overzealous agents try actively to radicalize vulnerable people.   

The methodology that the Supreme Court used in Dobbs to overturn Roe, is so-called "originalism": The justices ask what the framers of the constitutional amendment meant at the time of writing. The basis of their ruling was that women did not have the right to abortion when the Fourteenth Amendment was drafted in 1868. This methodology (and I must say that the same applies to much of what sadly passes for "Islamic jurisprudence" today) is fundamentally ahistorical in its lack of respect for historical trajectory and modern advances in Humanities, Social Sciences and Legal Theory. 

The same legal methodology in Dobbs can be used to prevent or take away Fourteenth Amendment citizenship from naturalized citizens like me and natural-born citizens like my children. Indeed, the same Mr. John Eastman, now of the January 6th insurrection infamy, had argued before congress in 2005 that the Fourteenth Amendment should be interpreted within the narrow confines of its intended nineteenth-century goal of granting citizenship to emancipated slaves and their progeny. Native Americans were not granted citizenship at the time, because they were viewed as subjects of the jurisdictions of their "Indian nations," and hence not of the United States. This pseudo-historical legal jujitsu has been a mainstay argument for opponents of immigration and birthright citizenship.

We wish to defend our citizenship rights, and the best way to defend these rights is to defend the rights of others. In this regard, I close with another story attributed by Al-Tabarani and others to Ali ibn Abi Talib (r) as he predicted his own tragic murder a few years after the tragic murder of Othman ibn Affan (r):

There were three bulls in the forest -- one red, one black and one white. They were too strong together for the lion to attack any of them. One day, the lion told the black and red bulls that the white bull was visible from afar and dangerous to them. "If I eat him," he said, "you both will be safe in the forest." They let him. A week later the bull convinced the black bull that the red one is too arrogant because of his fancy color, so he let him eat the red bull. The lion came the following week and told the black bull "I'll eat you now," to which the black bull replied: "No, I was eaten on the day that the white bull was eaten."


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