"WHAT GOD EXPECTS FROM US"
15 November 2019
Dr. Abou El Fadl reminds that Allah gave humans the blessing and charge of caring for this earth until the Final Day, when we will be held accountable for how we discharged this obligation. Allah directed us to create divinity on this earth. Allah tells us it is impossible for the Divine to be unjust because God will never allow Godself to be unjust. Injustice, oppression, and tyranny (zulm) is forbidden for God and by God, and thus, apriori, justice is an obligation for human beings as well. God warns us that the consequences of injustice are disastrous.
In Surah Hud, Allah promises that when people collectively fail in the obligation of justice, Allah allows the natural consequences of injustice to befall them. The results of injustice are sweeping and comes in like negative energy, tearing apart the very fabric of an unjust society.
Contemporary Muslims are unfamiliar with the buzz that the Islamic revelation created among the people of the Near East, and which brought people in droves. The possibility of individual salvation—without the intercession of another human power (ie. a priest or a soothsayer or witchdoctor) to mediate either one’s relationship with God or one’s possibility of salvation—was a very powerful idea. The second very powerful impulse that Islam brought was that it was a faith of dignity and justice. The aspiration for a just society was a dream that created energy and excitement in people, so much so that it was precisely what made women of the first century of Islam very visible and active as poets, theologians and jurists. It also exploded the artistic movement that inspired calligraphy and the wisdom of shapes; understanding the relationship between space and light, and time and space and sound. Islamic art and architecture dreamt of the ideal of justice through the artistic symbols that Muslim craftsmen imagined. Islamic poetry and music were animated by the dream of justice and dignity.
By the time of Islam and Muhammad (pbuh), humanity had fallen into an intellectual lull and the tradition and intellectual legacy of the ancients had been forgotten. But the excitement about the possibilities of justice, dignity and countering zulm (injustice) inspired the early Islamic civilizations to not just discover the grammatical rules for the Arabic language, but to develop the ability to translate very widely from the Persians, the Greeks, from Latin, Syriac, Aramaic and Hebrew. Without the dream of justice, there is no hope, no fight and no aspiration. You look at an ill person and don’t do more than mutter a few prayers. But if you are animated by a principle, a dream, or hope, then you see suffering and illness as a form of zulm, and start doing research to discover a cure. That is also why the fields of medicine, physics and mathematics exploded in the Islamic civilization.
When Allah tells us that societies that have acquiesced and made peace with zulm are doomed, many Muslims think what Allah is talking about is some natural disaster coming as a form of punishment. That is possible, but not necessarily what the Quranic verse is talking about. The death of a hopeless, dreamless society is in itself an agonizingly slow and painful death, as if it is a curse from God. It is like, you have given up on yourself, so has God has given up on you.
Honoring Allah’s trust and legacy on this earth cannot include accepting zulm. By Islam’s very premises, humans cannot honor the Divine by tolerating what is the opposite in nature to the Divine. In the same way that darkness comes from every place that is not Divine and life comes from the Divine, justice comes from the Divine and injustice comes from the opposite of the Divine.
In all ailments of human beings, before the ailment sets in, there is a psychological acceptance of the inevitably of zulm in one situation or another. Put simply, people simply give up. If one does not believe in the possibility of justice, it will not be long before one abandons the ideal of justice. If one does not believe in ideals, then it is not long before one abandons all idealism. If one abandon idealism, then one accepts statism—the notion that what something IS, as a fact, cannot be improved upon. That is where injustice digs in and becomes a permanent part of society—but a rotten, foul, eroding part. This is what Allah is warning about--the societies that curse themselves by their own injustice.
Allah is talking about those who have abandoned hope and accepted zulm as part of the reality of life and has lost even the desire to fight it. This is when human beings begin to philosophize what started out as despair, as a normative stance in favor of injustice. Philosophizing is when we don’t want to say, “We are losers and there is nothing we can do about it,” but instead, we tell ourselves, “Well, there is a lot of wisdom in putting up with injustice.” We spoke in previous khutbahs about those who say Islam is about sabr (patience) in the face of injustice. That is philosophizing in response to simply abandoning hope in making change.
If one abandons hope in making change, then one has also abandoned the presence of the Divine. As long as Allah exists, nothing is impossible. That is the passion of iman (faith) and what iman means—the insistence that mercy and a higher state is always possible because the Divine is always present.
Often Islamic history preserves to us the values that animated early Muslims, not just through the Quran or hadith, but through widely accepted literary devices that spread so widely among early generations, repeated so often and memorized such that it is believed to be a hadith. One such quote, not a hadith but a normative tradition often repeated by the companions of the Prophet (pbuh) was: “Allah will curse (or allow to be cursed) a people that have not sustained and preserved haqq.” Put differently, if people have not preserved rights, which is an essential component of justice, or haqq, then there is zulm. Without haqq, there is injustice. A people who have not preserved justice are a cursed people. At one time, every educated Muslim knew this statement, and it had weaved itself into the fabric of Muslim consciousness to the point that people thought it was a hadith, but it is not. It is part of the interpretive tradition of Islam. Among the most important fights in our time is to convince modern Muslims that iman (faith) means hope, that hope means insistence on an ideal, and that they should never give in to simply accepting what is wrong because they see the path to changing what is wrong to be insurmountable. Hope and aspiration are what keep a human soul healthy, and despair is what kills the soul and makes it pedantic, marginal and insignificant.
Recently, Muslims celebrated the momentous occasion of the birthday of the Prophet (pbuh). In an Egyptian celebration, the Shaykh of Al Azhar, the oldest and one of the most important institutions in the Islamic civilization, spoke. Sitting in the audience was President Sisi and members of the Egyptian government. The Shaykh spoke about how in the Prophet’s final speech, the Prophet (pbuh) emphasized justice three times and talked about how nothing was more thoroughly denounced by the Quran than zulm; more than anything, the Qur’an denounces injustice 170 times. But, Shaykh Al Azhar also began his speech by praying for the health and long life of Sisi, and praising Sisi for all the good he has done for Egypt. The Shaykh also promised Sisi to renew Islamic discourses, so that Islam will become “more moderate.”
This creates a significant paradox that Muslims are confronted with. Here, the Shaykh refers to the Prophet’s intolerance for injustice, but then praises one of the worst tyrants in modern history. This creates a dilemma for Muslims who want to believe that Islam is the upholder of the ideal of justice, but then witness tolerance for injustice. This scene represents our entire dilemma in the modern world. Young Muslim minds, when confronted with this type of paradox, either will only care about the insignificant and pedantic, or they will drift away from the religion all together.
The Prophet (pbuh) and the Quran teaches us that all Muslims, whether in the West or elsewhere, are but one as brothers and sisters. Muslims, as a single ummah, are all affected and influenced by what happens to any of us at any place and any time.
Reflect upon Surah Al-A’raf, verse 164. The Quran is talking to us: “Some people say, why do you speak amongst the people where there is no hope? There is so much injustice that these people are already doomed. There is no point, so why even bother?” The Quran answers: “We do it because of our relationship to Allah; because Allah expects us to do it, whether we think anyone is listening or not.”
Imam Ali (ra) said, “Don’t you dare, as you walk in the path of truth, look around to see that no one is walking with you and stop marching forward, because the only thing that Allah expects from you is to continue marching forward, even if no one accompanies you along that path.”