Khaled Abou El Fadl reminds that every generation of Muslims confronts their own set of challenges. Allah gave us the intellect and the word, and this intellect can either elevate us to the greatest heights, or it can in fact take us to the lowest levels.
He reminds that Allah does not change the condition of the people until they first change what is in themselves. This is a very heavy burden and responsibility. He explains that recently, there has been a tendency for Muslims in the West to experience a state of moral and ethical regression, exhibiting all the symptoms that one finds among a defeated, colonized people.
He posits that the reason is directly related to Middle Eastern, and particularly Gulf money. When it became noticed that Muslims in the West could be an ethically progressive and pioneering force that could constitute a threat to despots and dictators around the world, Gulf money directly started controlling the institutions, and even the very discourse of Muslims in the West.
For example, the sinister doctrine or idea that has existed for centuries in the Islamic civilization that those in power are not in power because they are supported by their constituency, but because they are Allah's destiny. So, if you rebel against those in power, then you are rebelling against Allah's destiny. This is a very old idea known as the “divine right to rule”--it was also common in Christianity, Judaism, and in the ancient world.
Human beings engaged in a long struggle to liberate the human mind from the idea of the “divine right to rule”; to in effect say, "There is nothing divine about you. You are an employee serving me as a citizen." All of humanity progressed morally and ethically to that position. When humanity got rid of the notion of the “divine right to rule,” societies and cultures were liberated to get rid things like indentured service and slavery. Further, it discovered the ideas of human rights, civic rights, and civil society. None of these could have existed if the notion of “divine right to rule” still existed.
In Islam, the Prophet ruled by divine right because he was the Prophet of God. In Sunni Islam, among the most revolutionary inventions for its time and age was that Abu Bakr ruled without a divine right to rule. In other words, Muslims were ahead of the entire world. Yet now, like a defeated people, the jargon and the discourse of divine right to rule has reared its ugly head once again among Muslims in America.
He presents the example of the recent viral video in which Hamza Yusuf references a hadith that claims that those who degrade a ruler, Allah will degrade them. He explains in detail the context, authenticity and relevance of this hadith, and explains why this is an example of moral regression, which effectively places the blame on the victim.
Humanity has worked on these issues over centuries. The whole world has moved on to re-understanding that injustice and despotism are ugly, horrible and unacceptable; and has taught about democracy, human rights, and civil society. We have created things like the United Nations; the Universal Declaration for Human Rights; the covenant on civil and political rights; and the covenant on economic and cultural rights. And after all of this, Muslims converts in the United States take us backwards 1400 years and tell us, "If you insult an unjust ruler, Allah is going to insult you," or that Muslims are not ready for democracy, civic society or the like. These are the same ideas that fueled colonialism and the White Man’s Burden.
This is why education matters. There is a whole body of history and literature that educates us about politics and sociology, and anthropology and culture, that we must read before we speak. When Muslims say, "Oh yes, maybe this hadith is from Allah and it is just part of the tradition," then all the work that was done over centuries to challenge the idea of divine rule is lost.
Currently, the UAE and Saudi Arabia are investing enormous amounts of money on promoting an Islam in the West that emphasizes blind obedience to the ruler. These governments have bought many scholars and imams in the West, and have restored very reactionary and backwards ideas.
He emphasizes the importance and centrality of morality and an ethical approach to the tradition. He closes by reminding that Allah gave us the intellect to pick the light and shun away the darkness. Muslims must research the tradition and say, ‘This is beautiful. This is more consistent with what divinity is, and what the modern moment is,’ and then elevate it to great heights. And then they must go to the darkness and say, ‘This cannot be part of Islam. This has to be forgotten in the trash bin of history.’ But instead, he notes that convert Muslims are doing the opposite. "They go and they search around in the Islamic past, and they bring the trash and put it out again. And they leave us all confused.” Delivered 13 September 2019.