What is MAS' relationship with the intellectual legacies of other Islamic movements, especially the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan)?
MAS is an independent American organization that aims to move people to strive for God-consciousness, liberty and justice and to contribute to a virtuous and just American society. MAS has no affiliation with the Ikhwan al Muslimoon (Muslim Brotherhood or the Ikhwan) or with any other international organization.
Towards the beginning of the 20th century, the Ikhwan evolved in many Arab countries (in many different forms) as a grassroots Islamic movement for reform and revival. As dictatorial regimes came to power, the Ikhwan became the only substantive movement that often found itself in opposition to the authoritarian regimes. To this day, other opposition groups are either fairly small, entirely secular (and hence unpopular), or extremist. Thus anyone who had an activist inclination and was motivated to get involved in grassroots efforts to improve the country in opposition to dictatorial regimes was likely to either join the Ikhwan, or be influenced by its wide-reaching programs.
Many of these activists who traveled to the United States as students and continued to have activist inclinations here, not surprisingly, played a role in establishing organizations here. Hence many immigrant organizations that were established early on would likely have had some founders who formerly had some involvement or even membership in the Ikhwan. The establishment and development of MAS was a declaration of an American Muslim agenda – a recognition that Muslims need an organization that is native to the U.S., whose agenda is to organize and integrate Muslims to be a contributing part of American society, to see themselves as Muslim Americans.
The Ikhwan are an influential part of post-colonial Muslim history, and have given rise to many prominent Muslim thinkers. This naturally resulted in the literature of those Islamic movements becoming the foundational texts for the intellectual component for Islamic work in America. We believe this had the advantage of protecting the majority of Muslims from extremist ideologies. With Muslims establishing themselves more and more as an integral part of American society, there was a need for an ongoing effort to re-evaluate the literature. This resulted in a re-examination of various authors and their contributions to the legacy. The outcome was the realization that the majority of what was written by Hassan al-Banna can be categorized as foundational thought (e.g. balanced understanding of Islam, societal reform, peaceful change, etc.) while a part of what he wrote may have been applicable to his time and place, but not to Muslims in America.
On the other hand, a great deal of literature written by other authors after Hassan al-Banna was primarily in reaction to situations and circumstances in Muslim countries, such as constant attacks and persecution by autocratic regimes. This includes particular ideas espoused in some works by authors like Syed Qutb. The critical evaluation of such literature resulted in identifying many areas where such literature was deemed irrelevant or unacceptable to Muslims in America and therefore should not be part of any foundational thought or curriculum, except within the context of understanding history and critiquing the literature.
This critical re-examination of the Ikhwan literature is by no means a contribution to the efforts to demonize them. Indeed, the Ikhwan is a very broad, diverse movement, present in many countries, with various leanings that cannot be painted with one broad brush. Several notable academics and politicians presently advocate engaging in different ways with the Ikhwan, as well as other potential proponents of peaceful, grassroots, popular opposition to authoritarian regimes in the Middle East.
MAS will continue to review all literature that is applicable to our context in the United States for inclusion and adoption as part of MAS curricula, which aid our efforts to move people to strive for God-consciousness, liberty and justice and to contribute to a virtuous and just American society.
How does MAS characterize it's approach to Fiqh?
MAS encourages all members to seek sound fiqhi opinions and study fiqh to be able to understand and practice Islam in their lives. Furthermore, MAS encourages the promotion of knowledgeable scholars who are deeply rooted in Islamic sciences, and have a deep understanding of the American context and the application of Islam here.
MAS does not generally enforce or promote any specific approach to fiqh. However, in those areas where the organization does deem it necessary to adopt a particular fiqhi opinion, all members are expected to follow those decisions. MAS leadership makes organizational decisions within the bounds of sound fiqhi opinions, in accordance with the Quran and Sunnah.
What position should MAS take with regards to Arabic terminology and language?
MAS encourages American Muslims to learn the Arabic language to enable a deeper understanding of Islamic sources.
We need to differentiate the use of language in everyday usage versus religious use. Arabic should be used in religious context. However, for everyday use in MAS gatherings and events, English should be our only language. Our everyday interactions and culture need to be open and accessible to all, including non-Arabic speakers. Quoting Quranic verses, Prophetic sayings or scholarly work can be done in Arabic with immediate English translation.
What is our understanding of MAS as a movement?
A movement is a concept that includes anyone who is trying to promote the cause, and is not necessarily a legal body. MAS is part of the movement that uses the teachings of Islam to better society, i.e. the Islamic Movement. While MAS members strive to use MAS as an effective venue to translate those ideas and improve society, we appreciate and affirm the work done by other individuals and organizations, both local and national.
What are the constants of MAS methodology?
There are 3 main types of constants in MAS methodology: fixed, tried and true, and the current practices.
The fixed category of constants are untouchable and not subject to change. These include the five pillars of faith, the 6 pillars of creed, what is considered halal (permissible) and haram (prohibited), essential moral principles, and the obligation of societal reform (enjoining good and forbidding evil), including social justice.
The tried and true category includes elements that have “withstood the test of time.” This includes things like personal development (tarbiya), organized work, gradual change, and working across ethnic and socio-economic barriers (no ethno-centricity or elitism).
The current practices are constant because we have made them so for now. This includes the tools, means and structures through which the above two categories are practiced or achieved. Items in this category are constant only because we want them to be. In this category are organizational structures, educational mechanisms and tools (study circles, courses, etc.), curricula and books that we adopt as educational materials, or even material (other than Quran and Sunnah) that we use as a foundation of our thought.
The first two types should remain constant through time, but items in the third category should undergo regular revision by MAS.
How does MAS view its connection with the larger Muslim Ummah?
The Prophet (peace and blessings upon him) advised Muslims to be one united body that should be feeling for each other. Islam also describes the body of Muslims as one Ummah who share common belief and common goals and aspirations.
MAS believes that all Muslims around the world, are part of one Ummah, or one body, who have obligations and duties towards each other, and the entire world. This feeling towards the Ummah is part of a circle of obligations and relations to many other circles. For instance, Muslims have duties towards themselves, family, neighbors, society, other Muslims, and the entire world.
Therefore, Muslims in America, MAS included, have an obligation towards Muslims all over the world. This obligation includes assisting the poor, advocating for justice, and being a role model for them.
Islam teaches that a Muslim’s obligation towards his immediate surroundings takes a higher priority over more distant communities. As such, we believe that American Muslims, MAS included, have a deep and binding obligation towards our fellow Americans. Therefore it is our priority to work for the benefit of America, over other global obligations. For instance, engaging in the American society, advocating for social justice in America, and delivering a clear message about Islam in America, takes priority in the goals of MAS over other important international goals. We believe that both priorities can be achieved within a balance.
Hence, while the focus of MAS work is domestic, we are also concerned with international issues. We are guided in this case by universal Islamic values of compassion, justice, peace, and global brotherhood.
How do MAS members understand their identity and culture as American Muslims?
Islam is a universal religion that accepts the uniqueness and differences present in any culture, while correcting any wrongs. Muslims also bear a distinct identity emanating from their religious teachings. America is a pluralistic society and holds freedom of religion and expression as one of its founding values-there is nothing in American citizenship that contradicts a Muslim’s religious identity. By being model citizens who are loyal to their country, Muslims are serving the cause of Islam and contributing to the formation of a cohesive American Muslim identity.
Islam is practiced within a culture, and not in a vacuum. MAS believes that people can practice Islam while keeping their cultural practices unless they specifically contradict Islamic teachings or the law of the land. MAS views this as a very important aspect of taking Islam to different communities and groups. We discourage the practice of people changing their culture, thinking that the adoption of another culture, Arab or otherwise, is more Islamic. This hinders Islam from becoming a natural choice for people.
In actualizing its mission and vision, MAS advises American Muslims to achieve a reasonable level of cultural competency, i.e. to be able to interact effectively with people of different cultures. This requires some level of understanding of the cultures we interact with. Furthermore, MAS advises American Muslims to be aware of the difference between religious teachings and cultural practices so as not to alienate people by making one culture dominant over another.
How does MAS frame its political philosophy with respect to political participation and reform?
We believe that societal reform to improve the lives of all citizens is mandatory upon all Muslims, and can only be fulfilled through participation in all aspects of society, including the political. Hence we believe in political participation to enable societal reform.
The scale of liberalism to conservatism from left to right does not apply to us. We are aligned with causes and not specific parties or directions.
Islam permits us to cooperate with any individual or organization with which we share some common goals to achieve societal benefit. However, we will not partner with an organization if the relationship with them will be detrimental to the cause of Islam in America and the greater good.
What is MAS' position with regards to diversity of membership?
MAS is an active membership organization, and is open to every Muslim American, and stands ready to work with all people of conscience to serve the common good. Three factors guide our promotion and recruitment efforts: quantity, quality (character and expertise), and diversity (gender, ethnicity, age). We aim to strike a balance among these three aspects. Our goal with respect to diversity is to move towards a membership that reflects the diversity in American society. We define diversity by various measures, including gender, ethnicity, age, socio-economic status, thinking and mindset, and skill set.
What does unity entail within MAS, the community and general society? What are MAS' views on cooperation and coordination?
Unity is a religious obligation upon Muslims, as stated in the Quran, Surat al-Imran (3:103): “And hold fast to the rope of Allah together, and be not divided.” Hence, regardless of specific circumstances, Muslims should feel a sense of unity and work towards making it a physical reality. Unity of Muslims should result in their cooperating with one another for the greater good, as stated in surat al-Maidah (5:2): “And help you one another in righteousness and piety.”
Unity is greatly facilitated by a common cause that is too challenging to be achieved without unity, and is important enough to justify the sacrifices for unity. The role of a leading Islamic organization is to identify a rallying call and important bigger goals that can motivate everyone, and demand unity in order to achieve them. We believe that there is no greater call for Muslims than their obligation to call people to God-consciousness and the betterment of society.
MAS believes that no one organization can successfully meet the needs of the American community by itself. We believe in collaborating and establishing partnerships with all those who are interested in working for the greater good. We do not seek to replace others but instead cooperate to work and serve the community in a more effective way. We need each other to achieve greater success. When working with others we follow the rule of cooperating in areas of agreement and excusing each other in areas of disagreement. With our work, we also accommodate differences and celebrate diversity.