Tribal Loyalty

By Khalid Baig

Prominent American Muslim and career diplomat, Dr. Robert Crane, recently weighed in heavily on the side of a controversial Sufi Sheikh in America, Hisham Kabbani. In a forum at the State department, and in other high level meetings, Kabbani had stated that 80% of American Islamic Centers and Mosques, most of Muslim charitable organizations, and the largest body of Muslim students in the US, posed a security threat to the US because they had been hijacked by extremist ideology. Stunned Muslim organizations from across the spectrum condemned his false and baseless accusations while the notorious Israeli propagandist Steven Emerson applauded it.

Dr. Crane suggested that Hisham Kabbani represented the views of American-born Muslims who have loyalty only to the wisdom of Islamic teachings and who do not care much about the plight of Muslims outside the US borders. The immigrant Muslims, on the other hand, had a tribal loyalty to themselves and their control of the Islamic institutions in America was threatened by Kabbani's bold statement. It is interesting that Hisham Kabbani who came to the US in 1991 represents the American-born Muslims while Warith Deen Muhammad and thousands of his followers who have lived here for generations are to be considered recent immigrants!

But, the issue is important. Islam rejects tribal loyalty and when a Muslim is accused of harboring it, it is a very serious accusation. So it is important to examine the issue rather closely. We know that tribal loyalty has been the backbone of tribal societies. Without it, they could not offer any protection or stability to their members. At the same time, tribal loyalty has been a force for the evil because it demands blind following without asking the questions of right and wrong. It was tribal loyalty that kept many members of the Jahiliyyah Qureish society from accepting Prophet Muhammad, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, as the true Prophet while in their hearts they were convinced that he indeed was the Prophet. Moreover, it was tribal loyalty that encouraged many of them to persecute the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, and his companions. Those who accepted Islam, on the other hand, renounced their tribal loyalty and declared their allegiance to Allah and His Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, and the community of believers. Their loyalty was to the Truth, not to the Tribe.

Today the ancient idea of tribal loyalty continues in other forms. The tribe is not a small group of nomads in the desert, but it may be a large group of people brought together by geography. Tribal loyalty --- my people, right or wrong --- continues to flourish under such names as patriotism and rallying to the flag. Islam, of course, does not permit any blind following. It requires Muslims to judge every situation on the basis of truth and justice before taking sides. It is for this reason that Muslims raised their voices, and must raise their voices, against oppression, injustice, exploitation, and murder, whether in Bosnia or Palestine, Kashmir or Kosova. This is not loyalty to a tribe, it is loyalty to truth and justice. It is not based on the hatred of another tribe, either. It is based on hatred of oppression and injustice. In fact, by attempting to stop them, it aims at protecting the perpetrators who otherwise one day must face the consequences of their actions. On the other hand, blind following of a Sheikh --- no matter how wrong he may have been --- as displayed by some of the zealots of the Kabbani tribe is certainly tribal loyalty.

Dr. Crane also talks about loyalty to Islamic wisdom. However, the way he puts it is very problematic. His extraction of Islamic wisdom is just a ball of wax that can be molded in any shape or form as one desires. Islam is not --- cannot be --- content with loyalty to such an extraction. It obviously demands loyalty to its teachings and its commands. Islam is not ten commandments or a few Boy Scout principals to be applied, ignored, or modified as we see fit in the real life. Its teachings and its commands do contain its wisdom, but our following is not contingent upon our grasping of the wisdom behind them. To deny that is to deny the simple declaration of Faith that even an elementary student of Islam knows as Iman-Mujmal: "I believe in Allah the way He is as shown by His Names and His Attributes and I accept all of His Commands."