Al-Jumuah is my favorite Islamic magazine. There are several publications geared to Arab-American concerns, but like many publications with an immigrant readership they seem bent on showing how successful Arab-Americans are at getting their slice of the American pie. They are completely secular, complete with photos of folks attending the latest Arab cultural heritage gala and announcing who’s moving up with the latest promotion at work.
But Al-Jumuah (roughly “day of the congregation”) is decidedly Muslim and at the same time oddly familiar. There are sections in it on family life and youth that with only slight revision could make easy transition to any generic Christian publication. Readers of Al-Jumuah deal pretty ordinarily with the ordinary vexations of family life in America: How to stay connected with your kids, how to raise good kids who know the value of study and hard work, how to improve a marriage, all these from a Muslim perspective are explored, more or less in the same way they are examined in a Christian family magazine.
There is even a section that might best be described as “Ask the Pastor.” In this case it is titled “Fatawa: Islamic Answers to Contemporary Questions.” Of course it depends on how you define contemporary and the questions and the answers do seem unconnected to any concerns Christians might express to their pastor.
Does incontinence, for instance, “nullify” the state of purity necessary to make a “correct” salah (the prescribed formalities in prayer)? This gets involved; nearly all the answers do, but, well, technically, yes. Yet people who “cannot restrain their urine or gas” may continue to make salah after making ablution each time. This advice is offered by Dr. Salah Al-Sawy, general secretary of AMJA, the Assembly of Muslim Jurists in America.
I have looked without success for any rulings on cell phones ringing during worship, but I hope the penalties, if any, are quite harsh.
Health insurance, surprisingly, is the subject of another lengthy response. A simple question, “Is it permissible to pay for health insurance at work?” Here Shari’a law, that bugaboo of Oklahoma legislators (the state declared itself a Shari’a free-zone), comes into practical play. Commercial insurance contracts are forbidden because they are based on “ambiguity” and “gambling,” betting on mortality tables, it would appear.
Before you scoff, there is hardly a fraternal church-related insurance company—Thrivant for Lutherans, for instance—that does not have in its history from a century and a half ago the early experience of stern opposition from pastors on exactly those same grounds. Once upon a time, having any sort of insurance was to doubt the providence of God. It sounds ridiculous nowadays, what with Thrivant selling a dozen load funds and annuities galore, but there it is.
But there are some exceptions, says Dr. Al-Sawy. Insurance is permissible “in cases when the [U.S.] law enforces it and one cannot ... avoid it,” and—this will curl some hair, betcha—“if it is from the government (my emphasis) and is not implemented to make a profit but to assist employees and look after their affairs,” all insurance can be lawful. As for what that answer might do to quash the silly rumors that Obamacare in fact is a secret plot by Muslims (a rumor I have invented right here on the spot), Dr. Al-Sawy does not go into it.
Al-Jumuah is written for Muslims trying their best to live in America and not become whatever equivalent of mainline Protestantism exists for Islam. It is not easy and sometimes the cultural ties to the old country seem to trump everything. An earlier article in Al-Jumuah explained why no true faithful Muslim could ever be president of the United States. The constitutional oath precluded a Muslim’s first loyalty to Allah. There is nothing at all in my reading suggestive of any appeal to radicalization, but the perspective clearly is live in the West, but do not be conformed to it.
This is one of the reasons Al-Jumuah was caught completely off-guard by the Arab Spring in Tunisia and Egypt. The December/January issue this year contained a lengthy article on the concept of Islamic justice in society, and that includes an independent judiciary. Otherwise, liberally sprinkled with Quranic verses, things lean toward a “strong man” of justice, a single leader leading, governing well and restraining corruption for the benefit of the people.
The ruler who administers justice among his people . . . and carries out his responsibility toward them is found to earn his people’s love and affection. His people will certainly take what he says into account, obey his orders, be loyal to him and sincere in whatever they say and do when dealing with him, consider him a blessing that God has bestowed upon them . . . and strive hard to give him full support in undertaking his duty.
When Al-Jumauh did publish an article in the April/May issue addressing recent upheavals (“A Sea-Change in the Middle East”), it emphatically was not in praise of democratic movements in Tunisia and Egypt. Condemnation to be sure was heaped upon “ruthless and corrupt secular dictators [who had] become synonymous with tyranny,” and we can all be glad they are gone. But the word to watch here is “secular.”
Those rulers were all of a piece: ruthless, corrupt, and secular, Al-Jumuah’s trinity defining Middle East dictators. In Al-Jumuah the revolutions will succeed to the degree that “change brings people closer to Allah and gives them a chance to live their lives in accordance with His commandments.” There are other positive criteria for success, one being a return to the original Islamic principle of “no compulsion” in religion. But even that is tempered with the expectation that the virtues of Islamic justice—rule of law and equality before the law—will persuade non-Muslims to conversion, eventually, even if Islamic law does not compel it immediately.
Americans have this romantic feeling that every oppressed man, Arab and otherwise, at heart is an American like them, aching to go to the polls in Ohio and vote Republican. Reading Al-Jumuah through the years, I conclude, that is not quite the case. Instead, what Al-Jumuah might applaud is an honest caliphate.
A pastor of the North American Lutheran Church Russell E. Saltzman is the author of The Pastor’s Page and lives in Kansas City, Missouri. His previous On the Square articles can be found here.