Naturalization and the Rights of Citizens

The subject of naturalization, which is an integral part of the concept of identity and its related problems, has been an issue in the Muslim world since its first contacts with western thought, culture, military, and politics. Even though the matter was decided, in practical terms, by the emergence of ethnic and geographic nation-states out of the wreckage of the Ottoman Empire, it remains an open topic at the cultural and academic levels. In fact, whether it is addressed as a challenge, an excuse, or as a means to an end, it remains a major and very sensitive question. As new ethnic and regional Muslim nation-states begin to show signs of instability, the subject grows more complex: it takes on new aspects of identity and affiliation and seeks to discover the best way of ordering relations between the peoples of each region or between them and the (factional, military, or otherwise) elitist governments controlling them.

With the stirrings of a new Islamic movement and its members' belief that Islam represents a viable political alternative, the question of naturalization has become a major challenge to them. In fact, it is often thrown in their faces by their secularist opponents. Thus the question has become instrumental in the current political struggle taking place in the Islamic world. Many Muslim governments cite indigenous non-Muslim minorities as an excuse to deprive their Muslim majorities, who often represent 98 percent of the total population, of the right to be ruled by the Shari'ah.

These are the same governments that discredit Islamic movements by viewing their very presence, principles, demands, and objectives as a threat to national unity. To counteract this "threat," then, they promulgate "emergency measures" and suspend constitutional legal codes.

Naturalization is the basis of nationalism, which gives identity to the modern state, and may be defined as an affiliation with a geographically defined region. Anyone who traces his/her lineage to that region is subject to all accompanying rights and responsibilities. Thus the bond between them is secular and worldly. The same is true of bonds between states, for they are entirely secular and m e a s d in terms of profit and loss. It is essential that all citizens, regardless of their religious, ethnic or sectarian background, melt into this regional and profitable affiliation by casting off those parts of their background that might lead them into conflict with the state. In this sense, then, naturalization must take place in an atmosphere in which secular concepts, order, and methodology reign supreme. It was for this reason that secularists in the Muslim world saw the presence of non-Muslim minorities as a powerful argument that could be used to quell the demands of the Islamic political agenda. As a result, they opposed the Islamists and called for a "civil Society," or what they suppose to be the opposite of a "religious society."

Several Islamist leaders have sought to deal with this issue by emphasizing that the Islamic agenda can create the desired "civil society," but within an Islamic framework. They have also asserted their readiness to accommodate many of the foundations of western society, as it is considered the best example of "civil Society." Even so, many secularists remain unconvinced. For their part., Islamist leaders have given a great deal of thought to the secularists' objections to the Islamic agenda. Many have written on democracy, for example, and have proclaimed their acceptance of it and have found precedents for it in authentic Islamic sources. They have even announced their acceptance of the concepts of political pluralism, as one of the foundations upon which democracy is built, and of civil liberties, though some have done so with certain reservations. Rashid a1 Ghannushi, in his The Rights of Citizens, states clearly that Islam can accept naturalization, as it is popularly understood, and then proceeds to cite and explain the reasons for his claim and to give precedents for it. However, some secularist groups continue to reject and fear the Islamic political agenda. It seems that they prefer to live in the shadow of dictatorship and repression rather than accept the Islamic political agenda, regardless of how it may be altered.

We now come to a point of fundamental importance: understanding that the logic of Islamic thought (i.e., the basis of the Islamic agenda for civilization) is based on the constants, and not the variables, of Islam. Thus when the Islamic agenda for civilization looks at these variables, it does so from within the framework of those constants. In addition, borrowing concepts from a civilization with pagan roots and a significantly different system of principles differs considerably from borrowing a few simple words or translating mechanical, agricultural, industrial and other terminologies. Certainly, there are underlying ideas that must not be overlooked in terms of their effect on thought and culture. Still, there is less danger in borrowing terms from those fields mentioned above than there is in borrowing such terms based on underlying ideas and values that may have an affect on practical life-"nationalism" and "democracy."

In what follows, some examples will be given of the dangers inherent in borrowing key concepts from entirely different civilizations. There is clearly a need to establish suitable regulations and standards for this type of borrowing so that the division between a society's variables and constants remains intact.

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