by Salahuddin Muhammad
W. D. Mohammed encouraged his companions not only to embrace the best of America’s brand of democracy, but also help make it better. He believed that the best approach is to become a part of the American fabric through civic engagement Keith Ellison, the first Muslim Congressman exemplifies W. D. Mohammed’s approach. Congressman Ellison, who was familiar with W. D. Mohammed’s interpretation of Islam in the context of the American society, explains, “I remember shortly after I won my election, he came, he left Chicago and came to my parents’ home. I happened to be in Detroit at the time. I’m from Minnesota, but my parents are living in Detroit. And he sat in my living room and we talked for a good half an hour, and he gave me a lot of pastoral advice which is ringing in my ears right now.”
This approach of embracing American society is one of a calculated integration. Specifically, it means that Muslims should not assimilate into the American society and compromise their Islam, but integrate the values that Islam and democracy share. Civic involvement in the American society is the antidote for Muslims contribution to making America a society where Muslims can live and prosper. Civic involvement is what W. D. Mohammed envisions for Muslims.
W. D. Mohammed explained that Western democracy is something Muslims should not fear, but should plan their Islamic life around the positive aspects that Western democracy offers. The next step was to make American Muslims aware of their responsibilities as American citizens. W. D. Mohammed was truly a patriotic American; he described his patriotism as part of a New World. “What I mean by New World, is the unfolding or revealing of something that was with this country when the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution. That desire for a world wherein all the good human aspirations would be respected by the nation and by the people of that nation, and that no one would be denied the free expression of his noble human aspirations and he would be able to pursue those aspirations.” W. D. Mohammed’s patriotism aligned with what the Founding Fathers envisioned for the American society. “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” This statement from the Declaration of Independence inspired W. D. Mohammed to embrace America as a society that recognized and respected the Creator. He also believed that the rights of America’s citizens were vindicated by simply being part of God’s creation. He spoke about this inherent right that every citizen has by explaining what the Declaration of Independence meant to him.
He said: The Declaration of Independence, the premise to which the Constitution of these United States was formed is saying what Allah (the Creator) said of our common inherent worth. The formers of this enduring document (the Declaration of Independence) held that every person is born qualified for what we are granting the citizens of the United States. It is saying that every person by nature is born, birthed into the world qualified for the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The Founding Fathers saw themselves as the defenders and the promoters of our inherent properties (rights) and not as our benefactors. The Founding Fathers supported by their own inherent virtues point us to our ‘Creator,” and the language, “endowed by their Creator,” points us to the Creator (Allah) and hence says Allah is our Benefactor. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. That among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
W. D. Mohammed’s philosophical assumption of Western democracy is that God sits at the core or essence of Western democracy and the rights he gives to His creation are immutable. These rights are not and cannot be the construction of man, but are given to us as our birthright as human beings. W. D. Mohammed believed that the essence of democracy is what Islam endorses. When American Muslims study the basis of Western democracy and what it stands for, they will be able to see that it is not that foreign from Islam and that Islam has also influenced it.
Salahuddin Muhammad comes from rich religious traditions on both sides of his family and is a third generation Muslim American. He is married with three children; two girls and one boy. He was born in Durham, NC to Oliver and Rhonda Muhammad. His maternal grandparents, Kenneth and Margaret Murray Muhammad were instrumental in bringing Islam to North Carolina in 1955 as members of the Nation Islam. His entire family transitioned to Islam proper under the leadership of Imam Warith Deen Mohammed.
Salahuddin Abdullah Muhammad has a Master degree in Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations from Hartford Seminary in Hartford, Connecticut. He is also a student of the late Imam Warith Deen Mohammed. Salahuddin introduces Imam Warith Deen Mohammed’s comprehensive understanding and application of Islam in the context of the American society. He also shows how Imam Warith Deen Mohammed’s perspective of Islam promotes inclusiveness for Muslims living in America.
He is the author of the newly released book America’s Imam: Warith Deen Mohammed’s Interpretation of Islam in the Milieu of American Society.