“Who We Care About”: A Commentary on The Affordable Healthcare Act by Nabeela M. Rehman

Nabeela Rehman, Ph.D

On Monday, March 26 2012, the United State Supreme court began hearings to determine the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, and while the court jurists will examine the legality of the behemoth law, the rest of us may find ourselves not in a policy debate, but rather returning to a deeper, moral conversation: what kind of people are we? What kind of country do we want? Who do we care for?

The Supreme Court hearings ended on March 28, 2012, covering three different aspects of the Affordable Care Act, and their decision will probably arrive in the early summer. A variety of developed nations have adopted different strategies for distribution of health care services, and in 2009 the USA adopted legislation which would allow individuals to purchase affordable health insurance coverage through an insurance marketplace. The health insurance industry reluctantly agreed to massive reforms, such as abolition of lifetime caps, no increased rates for people with pre-existing conditions, free preventive health screening, etc, on the condition that every American be required to purchase health insurance. Health insurers claim they need a pool of healthy people to invest in the system before their companies will be able to manage the financial risks of reform. Seven states which had previously enacted pre-existing condition laws without mandating coverage saw insurers dropping out of the market, no new individual policies, and/or massively increased premiums. At the heart of the Supreme Court hearings will be the question of whether the individual mandate, sometimes called the individual responsibility, to purchase health insurance is constitutional. If the individual mandate or personal responsibility clause is struck down by Supreme Court, the next question is what will happen to the rest of the Affordable Care Act. The other case which will be heard by the Supreme Court is that a number of states have rejected the expansion of Medicaid  to +133% of the poverty level under the Affordable Care Act.

The conservative push-back to the Affordable Care Act, funded in a large part by the Koch brothers, has been substantial. The argument by conservatives runs along the lines “the government is forcing me to buy something”, they are “infringing on my liberty”, and “next they will force me to buy carrots”.

The government’s rationale is that you must pay your fair share of health insurance because when you do not pay you infringe on the liberty of everyone else in the community. When you cannot pay your hospital bill, the hospital takes an economic hit which it then passes onto the insurance companies, which then pass the cost onto all consumers in the form of increased premiums. Mandating the intake of carrots or broccoli is not the same as mandating healthcare coverage. These are very different markets. No one comes into the grocery store and claims they will drop down dead on the spot if they are not given $20,000 worth of broccoli. If they did, we probably would see some kind of reform in the produce department.

At the core of this conservative argument is the premise, “I am most fully an American when I stand alone. Americais about personal freedom. A mandate for the common good makes me less of an American.” And this is the crux of our moral conversation. What is our personal responsibility for the common good? The individual mandate requires individuals to purchase insurance, particularly young, healthy people, but despite the hysteria, it will not affect most Americans. Americans are being asked to financially contribute to a system they may not use in order to pay for the health care of the poor, elderly, extremely sick, and handicapped. In order for the Affordable Care Act to function, we must make financial sacrifices and have faith that the government will act with justice. If you feel that our government cannot act with justice, then we need to have that conversation. If you firmly believe “society can’t say nuthin’ to nobody” because it impinges on personal freedom, then we need to talk about what kind of a society you do envision.

If Muslims are taught hadith such as “A Muslim wishes for her neighbor what she wants for herself”  or are reminded of scripture “You will never come to piety unless you spend of things you love; and whatever you spend is known to God”(Qur’an 3:92), then where do these ethics lead us? At what cost are we willing to fulfill these precepts of our faith?

The values that I bring to this debate are based on the stories that people have told me. I have heard parents of handicapped children working two or three jobs to cover their child’s medical expenses, a neighbor who hasn’t had a preventive Pap smear test in ten years because it isn’t covered by her medical insurance, a woman who was diagnosed with a complicated pregnancy and flew back to Palestine for medical treatment, a man with tears in his eyes telling me he and his wife are just praying she can make it to age 65 when her brain cancer can be treated through Medicare- in the meantime she is having seizures and his company insurance won’t cover her treatment, a girls’ basketball team from a very poor inner-city neighborhood unable to compete at the state championships because not all the girls were vaccinated, and the list goes on. But the story which initially motivated me is by far the most personal: my own uninsured mother fighting metastatic breast cancer as my father’s lifetime of financial gain collapsed into an overwhelming debt of medical bills.

The funny thing about stories is that they can be interpreted different ways. Watching my parents’ experience catapulted me into a realm of grassroots activism, while my mother’s death had a completely different effect on my father. He continues to vote Republican, subscribes to the ideas of Ayn Rand, and believes that we should all fend for ourselves.

 Nabeela Rehman, PhD is a freelance writer in Willowbrook, Illinois. Her work has appeared in the Islamic Monthly, Chicago Parent, Chautauqua and Darien-Illinois Patch. She has also volunteered for the Illinois Campaign for Better Health Care to promote health care justice. Email: nabeelar@hotmail.com

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“Death by tweet?: How Hamza Kashgari’s fate will shape the face of Islam today”: Adeel Ahmed

ADEEL AHMED

On the occasion of Mawlid, the birth of the Prophet Muhammad, a young 23-year-old former columnist for Saudi Arabia’s Al-Bilad newspaper tweeted a conversation he imagined he would have if he were to meet the Prophet Muhammad.

-On your birthday, I will say that I have loved the rebel in you, that you’ve always been a source of inspiration to me, and that I do not like the halos of divinity around you. I shall not pray for you.

-On your birthday, I find you wherever I turn. I will say that I have loved aspects of you, hated others, and could not understand many more.

-On your birthday, I shall not bow to you. I shall not kiss your hand. Rather, I shall shake it as equals do, and smile at you as you smile at me. I shall speak to you as a friend, no more.

Almost immediately after the posts he was running for his life. He hopped a plane in Jeddah hoping to reach New Zealand. In Malaysia, where he had to change planes, he was stopped and held until a private plane arrived to take him back home to Saudi Arabia. Now, he sits in a Saudi jail awaiting a possible death sentence.

Yes, death.

Saudi cleric Nasser al-Omar called for Kashgari to be tried for apostasy. Outrageous, I first thought, living here in the Western world. Although I don’t believe that the tweets validate in labeling Kahsgari as an apostate even if he did insult the Prophet Muhammad, let’s just agree with al-Omar’s point of view. If Kashgari is an apostate like al-Omar says, we must look into what Islam says about capital punishment, apostasy and those two linked together.

The Qur’an states: “…Take not life, which God has made sacred, except by way of justice and law. Thus does He command you, so that you may learn wisdom” (6:151). Key words here are “by way of justice and law.” It is clear that capital punishment can be applied by a court as long as it is justifiable and lawful, which fall under two crimes: intentional murder and Fasad fil-ardh, or spreading mischief in the land. The term “spreading mischief in the land” is generally interpreted as crimes that affect a community as a whole and destabilize society. These include treason/apostasy, terrorism, land, sea and air piracy, rape and adultery.

That being said, it must mean that al-Omar’s argument to punish Kashgari with the death sentence for apostasy is valid, correct? No. What al-Omar fails to realize is how that ruling originated and under which circumstances.

During the time of war, if one were to abandon his Muslims by committing treason and declaring himself as an apostate and then fight against Muslims, it would be valid to punish the individual with the death sentence. However, Kashgari is not fighting against his home country, and as a result, is not committing treason. The problem rests in that al-Omar, along with many others, tie apostasy to treason instead of realizing that apostasy is not always linked to war and treason, especially not in this day and age. So, if he is an apostate, should the death sentence apply? Is speaking ill of the Prophet Muhammad considered an act of mischief large enough to punish Kashgari with capital punishment, given that he is considered an apostate?  This is where I searched further to see what Islam says about punishments for the act of apostasy on its own, without being linked to treason.

In Surah 4: 137, the Qur’an reads, “Behold, as for those who come to believe, and then deny the truth, and again come to believe and again deny the truth and thereafter, grow stubborn in their denial of the truth, God will not forgive them, nor will He guide them in any way.” With this passage it’s evident that even after rejecting Islam twice, no punishment is prescribed for the apostate.

Furthermore, Dr. Maher Hathout, a leading American Muslim spokesperson, underscores in his recent book “In Pursuit of Justice: The Jurisprudence of Human Rights in Islam” that while apostasy may be a sin in the eyes of God, it is not considered criminal behavior.

Subhi Mahmassani, an Islam scholar and jurist from Lebanon, has observed that the death penalty was meant to apply not to simple acts of apostasy from Islam, but when apostasy was linked to an act of political betrayal of the community. The Prophet never killed anyone solely for apostasy. This being the case, the death penalty was not meant to apply to a simple change of faith but to punish acts such as treason, joining forces with the enemy and sedition. [Arkan Huquq al-Insan fi l-Islam (Bases of Human Rights in Islam), Beirut: Dar al-‘Ilm li-l-Malayin, 1979, cited in Kamali, as above]

Executing a person because of conversion to another faith or out of faith clearly contradicts the Qur’an, the ultimate source of Islamic law. Without the apostasy being linked to treason that leads to a matter of national security or security of a Muslim community, capital punishment cannot be permitted.

The question now remains, if Islamic law prohibits capital punishment for apostasy, where did Muslims get the idea that it is valid? In Josef Van Ess’s book “The Flowering of Muslim Theology” he observes this issue and the first execution of someone who spoke ill of the Prophet Muhammad. Dating back to the 8th Century, Syrian scholar Muhammad Ibn Said Al-Urdunni was executed for statements he made about the Prophet Muhammad. Al-Urdunni stated that, although Prophet Muhammad was the last prophet, if Allah wanted, He would and could create another Muhammad. He simply was stating that Allah, the Almighty, has the ability to do whatever he wants, which includes creating another Muhammad. It is as unknown as to whom exactly made the final decision to charge Al-Urdunni with apostasy, but the Syrian government issued the death sentence for disrespecting the Prophet Muhammad by even imagining that there could be another prophet after him. The intentions behind the Syrian government are unknown, however, one is to assume that they could have been trying to set an example for Muslim citizens—if Al-Urdunni is executed, people will not dare to speak ill of the Prophet. It seems that al-Omar is using the same philosophy of the 8th Century government in Syria. But we sit here now, in the 21st Century with the same problem that Syrians tried to squash in the 8th Century. So, does al-Omar really believe that the death sentence will in fact put fear in citizens from talking badly about the Prophet?

It is unfortunate that Muslim scholars don’t stand together to stop al-Omar and the Saudi government from this to move forward. Apostasy is not the equivalent of treason. Kashagri wasn’t out to destroy a Muslim community. There should not even be a trial. Under Islamic law, people of other faiths and people who leave Islam are not to be harmed.

The problem is that Saudi Arabia strives to both move forward in the world of high technology while they govern strict limitations and boundaries upontheir citizens. Their strong and strict Wahabbi interpretation of Islamic law will be a crutch for Muslims all over the world, especially the Western world, where Muslims constantly try to prove that Islam is a religion of peace and forgiveness and that Muslims can coexist in a world with other religions. The decision on Hamza Kahsgari’s case will leave a mark. It can either be a huge step in the right direction or send Muslims back another ten.

Adeel Ahmed is an actor and writer. His work has been featured at Sundance and SXSW. Credits include Law & Order CI, Saturday Night Live, Domestic Crusaders. He will next be seen on Hum TV’s drama series Hum Tho Huay Pardesi as well as Rangoon on Theatre Row in New York City.