SUMMARY DESCRIPTION: We are in the month of Sha'ban, preparing for the coming month of Ramadan, the marker by which we count our lives. Ramadan is the month in which you review what you have done and think about the trajectory of your life and where you are going.
A Muslim must undergo an internal review about their own beliefs, convictions and actions. They must also conduct an external review, looking at the state of the Islamic world, the ummah, starting with the community closest to them and extending outwards until they reflect upon the entire Muslim ummah. As Muslims, our attitude should be, "What can I achieve within what is available to me and what is possible to me?"
What is exceptional about this Ramadan is the world is confronting a global challenge, one that none of us imagined. There will be no collective iftar or prayer in the mosque. Those who are afraid of themselves will find no escape from themselves and those who are easily distracted may find it much harder to be distracted.
There are hundreds of thousands of Muslims around the world who will confront this Ramadan in severe hardship: Muslims who are jailed unjustly and oppressed around the world. We cannot forget these people in our prayers.
Ramadan is like a barometer that checks the well-being of the Muslim ummah: how one can improve as a Muslim, and what can one contribute to the ummah and the world.
There is a flood of young Muslims confused and skeptical about their faith. Many Muslims are unsure about their place in the world, what to do with their lives, and if not worse, are ambivalent about their Muslim identity. There is a definite generational gap in this dynamic. Many young Muslims are disappointed in the generation that raised them, wondering if their elders have done a horrible job with the lives that they were given because of the state of the Muslim world. Young Muslims were raised in the age of Islamophobia and mass communication, in an environment that is colonized by Islamophobic discourses. If raised in a Muslim country, they were raised with despotism, injustice and hypocrisy. If raised in a non-Muslim country, they were raised with discontent, double standards and a disassociated state in the Muslim community; the world of action is very different from the world of speech, platitudes and dogma. Few of the younger generations can confront the older generations with their disappointments.
Few of the older generation are satisfied with the world they are handing over to their children, but there is no adequate language to tell their children why the world has become the way it is. If parent and child spoke honestly, they would find a mutual confusion and disappointment about the state of the Muslim world, that the feeling of alienation is shared among them.
The Quran is the living prophet. It came to speak to us in every day and age. the way it was revealed and what it said to the Prophet were intended as a living example to address every day and age to come.
The beginning verses of Surah Al-Baqarah addressed the early Muslim community in Medina that confronted an environment that was as hostile to Islam as the world in which we live in today. Like the day we live in, there were those who were openly hostile to Muslims and openly oppressed Muslims, but there were also those who had a complicated, ambivalent relationship with the Prophet and the community of Muslims. There were also those who are described as the hypocrites, those who were nominally Muslim, but mocked Islam, the Prophet and his followers. In our current situation, there are external enemies, but from within, there are also the hypocrites. How does Surah al Baqarah address us in these circumstances?
God begins, “This is the book, there is no doubt in it. It is a guide for those who are mindful of God.” (Q 2:2) It is as if God is telling us that God knows we are going through the hardest time and the road ahead is difficult; that God knows that we exist as an island in a sea of hostility. But if we want to walk through this journey, the starting point is the Qur’an. This is the truth and there is no doubt in it. There is a fundamental question that the Quran posits numerous times: Is God’s word good enough or not? No one can convince you this is a book from God unless you are willing to accept the testimony of God. If you are not sure that God is testifying, then you actually don’t know if you are a Muslim, and there is a problem from the get go.
God assures you that the Qur’an is a guide for those for whom God is an important part of their existence. Perhaps the most important part: “…who are steadfast in prayer and spend from their wealth that We provided them; those who believe in the revelation sent down to you [Muhammad], and what was sent before you [meaning the prophets before Muhammad, e.g. Abraham, Moses, Jesus]; and firmly believe in the life to come in the Hereafter. They are the people who are rightly following their Lord and it is they who shall be successful.” (Q 2:3-5)
After telling us the truth that should anchor our lives, the Quran address the sources of confusion, ambivalence, alienation and displacement both in the psyche of early Muslims and our psyche today: “…As for those who are bent on denying the truth, it makes no difference to them whether you warn them or not. They will not believe. God has sealed their hearts and their ears, and over their eyes there is a covering, and they will receive terrible punishment.” (Q 2:6-7)
If your relationship to the truth is affected by who believes and who doesn’t, then God is speaking to you. Your belief in God cannot be made contingent on your relationship with other human beings or you have a hard road ahead of you.
So there are the believers, the deniers, and the most dangerous category: “…There are some who say, ‘We believe in God and the Last Day,’ and yet they are not really believers. They seek to deceive God and the believers but they only deceive themselves, though they do not realize it. In their hearts is a disease which God has increased…” (Q 2:8-10) If one seeks beauty and goodness in life, God will help them achieve it; if one seeks hypocrisy and ugliness in life, God will help them achieve it. God enables us to do what we want to do.
Continuing, “…they will have a painful punishment because they have been lying. When they are told, ‘Do not cause corruption in the land,’ they say, ‘We are only promoters of peace,’ but it is they who are really causing corruption though they do not realize it. And when they are told, ‘Believe as other people had believed,’ they say, ‘Are we to believe just as fools have believed?’ Surely, they are the fools, even though they do not realize it.” (Q 2:10-13)
The third category are those who are nominally Muslim, who say the shahada, call themselves Muslims, believe themselves to be good people, but when it comes to prayer or fasting or morals, they are very artificial or cheat. These poor examples of Godliness are most trying for Muslim youth because they break Muslims from the inside; officially they are Muslim but their conduct betrays ugliness that cannot be reconciled with Islam. The Quran calls these the hypocrites and teaches us a valuable lesson: identify Muslims by their conduct, not their words.
Dr. Abou El Fadl recently finished two books that left him reflecting again on Surah Al-Baqarah and the state of Muslims in the coming Ramadan: 1) “In the Hands of the Soldiers” by David Kirkpatrick; and “MBS” by Ben Hubbard. Kirkpatrick’s book discusses the failed Egyptian revolution and the strong role American politicians play in Middle Eastern politics. These politicians, including senators and members of the president’s cabinet have an attitude of absolute hostility towards Islam. Yet, ambassadors from Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia and the Emirates work with these politicians to create a paradigm that empowers Muslim leaders who also believe Islam is evil and flawed. Many leaders from the Muslim world receive their education in the United States and are trained in institutions that possess rabidly Islamophobic worldviews. As a result, their understanding of Islam is deeply influenced by Islamophobia. These leaders also choose to host and celebrate corrupt Muslim figures, who preach misinformation about and criticize Islam.
Hubbard’s book sheds light on the life of Mohammad bin Salman, his connections to American politicians, the millions of dollars spent on lavish parties and possessions, and the extent that he is alienated from any semblance of true Islam – yet he is currently effectively the custodian of Mecca and Medina. The money that MBS or MBZ spends on a single yacht or night of partying could be used to sustain 30 scholars for a lifetime, or to a Muslim institution to combat Islamophobia; we would be in a very different world.
Why does this all matter? As we reflect upon Ramadan and our faith, given all of this, I believe that the corona pandemic is a warning. The least we owe our youth is an explanation on how we arrived at this point; who the hypocrites are; what the cause of illness in Islam is; and who works with world superpowers, nominally as Muslims, but in truth who are sworn enemies of this religion. These individuals have empowered Islamophobes in the West that will affect generations to come.
Even if we view ourselves as autonomous thinkers, our psychology and attitudes are shaped by the mass media. The people who control this mass media are closely allied with corrupt Muslim leaders. We owe our youth an explanation as to why whatever we say about Islam is not enough to combat the deluge of skepticism and doubt that is thrown at them about their Muslim identity.
Surah Al-Baqarah teaches us to raise our children to believe what happens in the Muslim world is their business. They should dream of the day when they can influence American politics to no longer support corrupt Muslim leaders and instead support those who are just and ethical. Islamophobic politicians should not decide US policy toward the Muslim world or who rules the Muslim world.
This is a difficult, important, complicated topic. We cannot let another Ramadan pass without achieving some progress toward honesty and transparency about our Muslim institutions, Muslim condition and Muslim reality.
"UNPACKING THE STORM: WHEN ISLAMOPHOBES AND HYPOCRITES ALIGN"
10 April 2020
Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl elaborates further on topics raised in the khutbah he delivered during Friday prayers earlier the same day presenting the geopolitical landscape of the powers and influences that have shaped the current state of the Muslim world today; the direct result of the collaboration between Islamophobic forces - non-Muslim and Muslim - at the highest level of power. It is the explanation that Dr. Abou El Fadl says in the khutbah that we owe to our Muslim youth to explain the state of the Muslim world that is being handed to them from the older generation.