Dr. Abou El Fadl begins by reminding of the often recited prayer (du'a) taken directly from the Qur'an that asks God to not allow us to be a source of misguidance (fitna) to others, and especially not to be a source of misguidance to those who do not believe in God. He reflects on the deeper meaning of this Qur'anic verse, and the ways in which Muslims, despite all good intentions, could be a source of misguidance for themselves or for others--especially those who are not Muslim, or do not believe in God at all--either through misrepresenting God's message through ignorance or insufficient knowledge; or by conducting themselves in such a way as to repel others from Islam or Muslims.
He recalls another prayer (du'a) reported to be regularly recited by the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in which the Prophet tells God that he takes it upon himself to be the first Muslim, meaning that he takes the covenant with God of being God's representative on earth as a great personal responsibility. He discusses the implications of this understanding and personal commitment to Islam upon Muslims in our day and age; if Muslims truly took this du’a to heart, their concerns about fitna would not be about covering or minding women, but rather about whether or not their own conduct as Muslims invites others to the beauty of Islam, or repels them away from Islam.
He reminds that it is not enough simply to have good intentions; intentions must also be followed with action. Further, context matters, and it is important to understand one's actions in light of their current time as well as their social, cultural, political and economic circumstances. In other words, the good conduct of a Muslim, whether in words or behavior, must be recognizable as such to other human beings within their own time and context. Muslim are ambassadors of the faith, and will answer to God on the final day for the impressions and reactions that their words or conduct creates for Islam. So for example, groups like ISIS and Daesh, who post horrific videos of murders and executions while yelling “Allahu Akbar” will not only answer to God for these killings, but will also answer for the way in which they represented Islam, God, God’s message, and the impressions that these vile images created in the hearts and minds of both Muslims, non-Muslims and those who do not believe in God.
Dr. Abou El Fadl discusses the importance of ethics and virtue at the foundations of the Islamic message, and underscores the necessity of living virtue. It is not enough to understand and believe in abstract theories of justice and ethics, but theories must be coupled with the reality on the ground. Dr. Abou El Fadl recounts two traditions that demonstrate how ethics is at the core of the Islamic message--one in which the Prophet runs to his wife Khadijah after receiving revelation, and what she tells him about his character that reveals the authenticity of his Prophecy; and a second in which an ethical man comes to the Prophet to convert to Islam and what the Prophet tells him. Both of these traditions emphasize the centrality of ethics and living virtue to the Islamic message.
Importantly, Dr. Abou El Fadl further develops his discussion from a previous khutbah about the great source of misguidance of our day - the Internet - and likens it to what the Prophet called the worst place in his time - the marketplace. The internet has become the modern day "marketplace," in which people are easily exposed to all sorts of dangerous misguidance (fitna), much of which is intentionally promoted by the Islamophobia industry against Muslims to plant seeds of doubt in their faith. He gives key examples of supposed "proofs" about the so-called falsehoods of the Qur'an and Islam, which are being promoted on YouTube and across the internet. Such videos make scholarly claims designed to target mainstream Muslims who, unlike trained scholars, do not have the knowledge to counter such claims, but which do leave Muslims in doubt. He advises Muslims who do not have the requisite training in ancient languages, history, religion or the like to avoid such intentional and targeted “fitnas” against Muslims by "lowering the gaze" by way of NOT clicking, and not watching or engaging such "marketplace" temptations as a way to practice humility in the age of the net. Delivered 16 August 2019.