THE THEOLOGY OF DESPOTISM AND REFLECTING ON THE CORONAVIRUS
14 February 2020
Every week, there is so much that takes place in the Muslim world, in what is supposed to be a single Ummah, bonded by faith and a deep sense of compassion and empathy for one another; bonded by a common cause and purpose. This Ummah collectively embodies and represents Islam on this earth, united in the very hope, purpose, and aspiration of coming to know God, and coming to know one another in God.
But knowing God is impossible without love and without loving God. Strict obedience, if unthinking and unfeeling, is a form of hypocrisy towards God. That obedience is a form of deception and lying; you are obeying because you are calculating the costs and benefits for entirely selfish, idiosyncratic and narcissistic purposes. While that obedience is better than disobedience, it is not a lofty objective on the moral plane. If you do not learn to be truthful towards your Lord, you do not learn to be a truthful human being. A person who obeys solely out of fear is someone who lacks truthfulness and honesty, and who will not come to know the Lord.
To have a loving relationship with God, you must first commit yourself to transparency and honesty about your relationship with God; you must commit to something other than simple, blind, unthinking, unfeeling obedience. As an Ummah, that is supposed to be our aspiration. If we are diligently working towards that aspiration, we learn to be truthful human beings. If we are truthful human beings, the bonds between the Ummah itself grow to become sincere and truthful bonds. The Ummah becomes accustomed to being truthful about itself and with itself.
So much happens every week that affects our Ummah and yet, when you look at the discourses of this Ummah – if we take jumu’as as a yardstick – you do not get a sense of transparency or truthfulness at all, as if we are in a state of cognitive dissonance and collective denial. Our jumu’as exist in a state of complete artificiality; khatibs at jumu’a speak of nothing that connects to the real living life in which we exist. With all that confronts our Muslim Ummah in today’s world, what the representatives of this Ummah continue talking about does not show a real engagement with themselves, others or indeed with God. This artificiality is the complete antithesis to the sunnah of the Prophet in the practice of jumu’a. The sunnah of the Prophet was that jumu’a was a demonstrative example of how the concepts of iman (faith) are applied to the practical life.
One cannot engage in self-determination without being honest with oneself about themselves, others, and God. One of the most often-quoted and misrepresented Quranic verses that disempowers Muslims and robs them of their sense of self-determination is taken from Surah An-Nisa (58-59) and states in part, “All believers, obey Allah, obey the Prophet, and obey your rulers…”. The implication is that obedience to rulers is the equivalent or equal to obeying God and the Prophet, and basically conveys that the way you practice your faith should be subservient to those in power; that those in charge should decide all material matters that affect your life, and that your job is to simply do rituals without turning the rituals into a means of empowerment; that self-determinative autonomy is left to those in power, not you.
This is a complete and total corruption of God’s revelation. Every imam that cites this Quranic passage to justify injustice, suffering, inhumanity, narcissism, self-interest or the destruction and deconstruction of the Muslim Ummah is corrupting God’s word.
First, God gives us a penultimate statement: your guide and objective is justice. Second, in principle, you should aspire to obey God, the Prophet, and whoever is in charge. However, if there are disagreements – not disagreements with God or with the Prophet, but disagreements among the people, which includes the rulers, then there must be a method, procedure, or instrumentality to resolve such disputes so that taghut (injustice, despotism, oppression, corruption, lies and deception) will not prevail.
Rulers are considered to be among the people (“minkum”), not over the people. Rulers must represent the will of the people. God made it clear in Surah An-Nisa that those who rule over you must in fact represent you, but beyond that, your compass in life must be justice. If there is a conflict between you and the rulers, taghut must not prevail. By God’s command, we follow justice and we do not obey despots or tyrants. Anything that involves secret prisons and torture, sexual assaults, disappearances and suffering cannot be part of God and the sunnah of the Prophet. These things are part of taghut, and taghut is part of the demonic. Further, whoever supports taghut becomes one of them; part of the problem and not part of the solution. Blind obedience is taghut. To fight taghut, one must stand for thinking, loving obedience. One must say, “If you don’t earn my respect, my understanding and my love, I will not obey.” This is how we raise our children to be proud Muslims – to say, “In our Islam, we don’t talk about racial affiliations and tribal loyalty. We talk about enlightenment, understanding and love.”
Reflecting on the Coronavirus and the affliction that has hit the world. Ours is the religion that 1400 years ago, the Prophet said, “If you are in a place, in a town, in a city that becomes afflicted by the plague, neither enter nor leave.” In other words, quarantine. This if not remarkable for our day and age, but it is remarkable that the Prophet was teaching the procedure for quarantine 1400 years ago. When the Prophet was asked, “But if we stay in the city, we might die,” his response was, “Yes, you might die. But then you are sacrificing yourself for the good of others and you die a martyr.” Muslims would willingly stay. This was a religion that taught the ethics of humanity before philosophical ethics matured to what it claims to be today.
There is a debate on if the corona outbreak is a punishment from Allah. We are taught whenever hardship afflicts a people, it is an opportunity for those people to reflect upon their faults and failures and work to improve themselves. For example, China and the world will hopefully use this opportunity to think carefully about the immorality of eating and mistreating animals with cruelty. As Muslims, God forbade us from eating terrified, mistreated and tortured animals, and animals that have fangs, like bats, not to mention the repulsive practice of eating dogs, which is taghut it itself. Moreover, before this plague, people were calling upon world governments and companies to boycott Chinese products because of China’s abuse of Muslims. Now, the financial losses brought upon China by the coronavirus are much greater than anything that would have resulted from a boycott.
So many issues. A recent documentary by Al Jazeera on the 1979 siege of Mecca revealed that approximately 5000 people were slaughtered in the sanctified space of the Haram in Mecca, while the Saudi government only claimed 300 were killed, the vast majority of which were pilgrims. The sanctity of the Kaaba, where even the bloodshed of an animal is prohibited, was ignored, and there is no means to investigate or hold anyone accountable. A government that kills 5,000 people in a holy site with no accountability is taghut. To not speak out against the corrupt actions of our governments, because we must obey our ruler, is not Islam. Islam is about justice. Anyone that avoids confronting injustice and upholds taghut through their silence is a hypocrite. As the Prophet taught, anyone who is silent before injustice is a muted devil. Every imam in every jumu’a must use their voice to defend the oppressed and speak out against injustice. If that day comes, Allah will elevate us to the purified and loving state that Allah intended for us. But until we testify for Allah and for justice, we will remain orphaned as we are.