Flag Burning and Other Contradictions
If you listen closely to the way American conservatives talk about “the flag” and the Constitution, the way they speak is very reminiscent of how Muslims understand the symbols of Islam. And that makes sense because for Americans, America itself is a religion, and like all religions, it has sacred symbols and rites.
If we can make that comparison, then what would be the analog of flag burning for Muslims? Burning or otherwise blaspheming the Quran, right? And the kinds of sentiments we would have as Muslims would be very similar to how the politically conservative in this country feel about flag burning. So, I think, in some sense, we can empathize with these conservatives. The pain that they feel at the sight or thought of a burning flag is not something that is alien or incomprehensible to us.
This has interesting implications for the idea of accommodating other faiths. When Allah says: “And do not insult those they invoke other than Allah, lest they insult Allah in enmity without knowledge. Thus We have made pleasing to every community [ummah] their deeds. Then to their Lord is their return, and He will inform them about what they used to do.”
Given that “Americanism” is a religion, wouldn’t the surface-level implication of this ayah be that Muslims oppose flag burning, seeing as that is the ultimate insult to a large segment of the American population?
But, then, what if the flag as this sacred symbol represents something evil for some other people? What if it represents something truly detestable such as a long history of oppression, subjugation, or even mass murder? What if, for some people, the American flag is something akin to the swastika? Are they justified in burning the religious symbol in that case?
And if it is ok to burn or destroy religious symbols on the basis of evil that those symbols may stand for, what implication does that have when the religion in question is not “Americanism,” for example, but a religion in the traditional sense like Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, or Islam itself?
And if you’re still wondering what I am getting at: If Prophet Ibrahim -s- were here today, would he be a “flag burner”?