In the name of Allah, Almighty God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful. Many of us have been captivated in recent days by the protests happening throughout the Middle East. Most people are encouraged by the events and welcome the overthrow of fascistic dictators. Still, some are only cautiously optimistic. The fear is that even though these calls for democracy are good, there is reason to worry that whatever comes up in place of these fascist dictators may be no better or even far worse.
Most Muslim majority countries, for the past hundred years or so, have been divided between one of two political camps. Either they are nationalistic/fascist dictatorships like Egypt under the current regime, Iraq under Saddam Hussein, or Tunisia, Algeria, or even to some extent Turkey. Or, if not nationalist/fascists, you have theo-fascists like those in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan under the Taliban, Pakistan, or Iran under the Ayatollah.
The nationalist/fascist movement in the Muslim world derived from influence from European colonialist activity. In essence, these regimes took their ideas from European ideas of nationalism, fascism, and imperialism. In these regimes they largely subvert public displays of religion, for example banning Muslim women's headscarves.
Theo-fascist regimes come from movements such as the Wahhabi movement in what is now Saudi Arabia or movements like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, founded upon the teachings of Sayyid Qutb (one of the people who Osama Bin Laden cites as a primary influence). This ideology rose in part out of a rejection of 'foreign' influences (ie the European colonial influences that gave rise to nationalism/fascism), but also in part because of a relatively new and deviant theological ideology that basically claims that, "because the whole of the Earth belongs to God, it is God's right that it be governed by His law, i.e. "Islamic law". It is this ideology that has given us much of what we now know as Islamic terrorism.
Given that these two ideologies have been basically the only two choices that people in the Muslim majority countries have had, it is no surprise that we have such turmoil. In many ways, The Middle East today is very much like Europe prior to the Enlightenment. Europe during the "dark" ages was basically a rotting cesspool of violence and tyranny at the hands of imperialistic monarchs and corrupt and intellectually dead churches. In the Middle East today, we have the same thing, only instead of monarchs we have tyrant dictators, and instead of intellectually dead churches, we have inept, moronic 'clerics' who's only apparent credential is that they have a long beard and wear a turban. So what is the answer? Well, those who don't learn from the mistakes of the past, are doomed to repeat them. So, maybe we should look to what brought Europe out of the dark ages and into the enlightenment.
One of the primary things that brought about what we know today as the enlightenment was the American Revolution. In particular, it was the ideals embodied in that revolution. The great American experiment was essentially, "can man rule himself?". Throughout the entirety of human history, man had always been ruled by either kings or the church. The American founding fathers had the bold idea that man is created to be subservient to no other but God, and that the church did not necessarily represent that. Many of the founding fathers spoke extremely harshly about traditional Christianity as it had been practiced by the Catholic and Protestant churches of Europe. Thomas Jefferson was so full of vitriol for the "church" that if he spoke today he would NEVER be elected. The way that the founding fathers saw it was that every individual is responsible for their relationship with God, and thus, every individual was responsible and endowed with the unalienable right to pursue their life according to their own terms, and to understand their purpose on this Earth on their own terms. This meant that a government that embodied this idea, had to be a minimal government, with as little power over the lives of men as possible. Thus, the US Constitution was born, and to date, America has become the most prosperous, just, charitable and diverse nation in the history of human civilization.
Muslims in the Middle East can and need to learn something from this. Allah, God Almighty says in the Qur'an, "let there be no compulsion/coercion in matters of religion" (Qur'an 2:256). Governments exist only for the purpose of coercion. This may seem odd to some but the fact is that government exists to create and enforce law; that's all. Governments never produce anything, they don't effectively "take care" of people as the failure of communism proved, the only thing that a government exists to do is to coerce people to obey the law. This type of coercion is necessary otherwise you'd have chaos. Therefore, this verse of the Qur'an leaves only ONE feasible option for legitimate government, and that is a government that governs best, is the government that governs the least (roughly a Ronald Reagan quote).
Many Muslims would say that, "in Islam there is no separation of religion and politics" or that "Islam is a complete way of life". They are right in a sense, but often not in the sense that they think. People who say this are usually "Islamists" or people who have been unwittingly influenced by "Islamists"( people who's political ideology is the establishment of Islamic religious law as the law of the land). They are right in the sense that the Islamic scriptures, often known as 'shariah', do mention concepts of government. They mention them in the sense that shariah dictates, as per the above Qur'anic verse, that religious law CAN NOT be imposed as the law of the land. If governments only purpose is to coerce in the name of upholding rule of law, then "matters of religion" or "shariah" cannot be law. Therefore, according to "Islamic law", you cannot make a law that says Muslim woman MUST wear a headscarf. You cannot make a law saying that people must pray. You cannot make a law stating 'Islam' as the state religion or otherwise inhibiting the practice or display of other religions.
This is why "shariah law" based political movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood and the Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia are illegitimate and actually "un-Islamic". Likewise, if there cannot be any compulsion or coercion in matters of religion, as per the Qur'an, then the PROHIBITION of any aspect of religion would also be equally un-Islamic. So making laws banning women's headscarves, or prohibit people from praying, etc, are also equally wrong and "un-Islamic". So that means that the nationalist/fascists regimes are also not acceptable.
In reality, the American concept of "can man rule himself?", is in all actuality the basis of worldly life in the Islamic tradition. Allah also says in the Qur'an, "Say..Shall I seek a Lord other than God, when he is the creator of all things? Every soul draws the mead of its own actions, and no bearer of burdens bears the burden of another. In the end your return is to God, and he will judge between you in that which you disputed" (Qur'an 6:164)
This verse tells us that not only 'can' man rule himself, but he indeed 'must' rule himself. It is for this reason that I would now implore my brothers and sisters from Egypt, Tunisia, Lebanon and all over the Middle East to reach the conclusion that I did, which is that America, embodied in its Constitution, is probably the most "Islamic" nation every to have existed on Earth since the time of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him. I believe that despite the fact that the American founding fathers were Christians, Allah worked through them in profound ways that even they, as brilliant as they were, didn't truly realize. I believed Allah favored them because they were people who utmost concern was justice, and Allah tells us that He will always support a nation wherein there is justice. To all my brothers and sisters out there in Egypt and other nations who are now rising up to shake off these tyrannical regimes, PLEASE, read the US Constitution, read the federalist papers if you can, understand that the cause of liberty is not just some arbitrary 'American' idea, but it is a universal idea and it is an Islamic idea. Don't rely on anyone else to solve your problems and at the same time do not sit on your hands and do nothing. Don't blame everyone else for your problems, hold yourselves accountable and take your futures and your liberty in your own hands. May Allah guide us all and protect us from evil around us and the evil within our own selves.
...And Allah Knows Best...