Shaykh Hamza Yusuf on a Presidency of Descending Grace

21Jun09

In The Name of Allah, The Merciful, The Compassionate

Source: Tikkun Magazine

It is an extraordinary and momentous event to call you president. Your father was of the Luo clan and, as you know, it would be difficult for a Luo to be elected president in Kenya. In our country, while tribe is not an issue, color often is, but you have succeeded in overcoming both clan and complexion, and in doing so inspired millions of people around the world.

Though you preside over a nation that has drifted away from its foundational principles, you possess the qualities that can begin to change that. Winston Churchill said: “Of all the talents bestowed upon men, none is so precious as the gift of oratory. He who enjoys it wields a power more durable than that of a great king.” Your words have moved a nation-in the right direction, toward a more just, more equal, and more perfect union. Now you must call on Americans to live up to the promise of America. You must challenge them, demand of them great sacrifices, appeal to the better angels of their nature. Remind them that we are a nation founded upon the idea of liberty and justice for all, not just for Americans but for citizens everywhere.

You must restore America’s standing in the world. Resurrect the art of diplomacy that previous administrations have abandoned. Meet with world leaders who pose a challenge-in Afghanistan, in Iran, and elsewhere-and gently but firmly wage peace. Redefine the “war on terror,” so it becomes a pursuit of criminals who must be prosecuted and not nations that must be attacked.

But one of the most consequential things you can do is to call on the Muslims. Challenge them to live up to the ideals of their faith that are rooted in self-sacrifice, charity, and most importantly, the single attribute that every Muslim knows characterizes our Prophet: mercy. Your grandfather converted to Islam because he saw something good in it. But Islam is a religion currently under assault. Like many Muslims who have lost sight of the good of America, far too many Americans fail to see the good of Islam.

But Islam stands alongside its sister religions, feeding the poor, nursing the sick, and teaching the ignorant. Far too many people live in horrific conditions, without potable water, enough food, or adequate housing. Islam challenges us to address the problems of the disenfranchised. You know that faith can be a powerful force for the change we need in the world. While you are not a religious leader but a political one, you are nonetheless one whose family extends to both “them” and “us,” and religion has been central in your life.

Barack in Arabic means “descending grace.” Your middle name, Hussein, is a name that the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, gave his grandson after objecting to his father’s desire to name him “Harb,” which means war. While Hussein is a diminutive in Arabic, it actually denotes in this case a superlative and means “great good.”

It is my audacious hope that your presidency is one of descending grace and great good, not simply for this nation, but for the world.

Shaykh Hamza Yusuf is a Muslim scholar, lecturer, and author of Purification of the Heart as well as other works. He is the cofounder of the Zaytuna Institute in California, which is dedicated to reviving the traditions of classical Islamic scholarship.

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