We are in the month of Muharram, the beginning of a new Islamic year. With everything that entails, we must always think about the legacy we leave behind in years past as well as the trajectory of our future. It is of great significance that the Islamic year begins with Muharram, a month that starts the year with a strict prohibition against everything that is conducive to rancor, struggles, fights and violence. It is also a month in which committing major sins is a more serious offense.
In the modern age, most Muslims do not raise their children with this, so it has become largely forgotten, but for centuries, it was something that every Muslim knew as elementary to their faith. They knew it until Muslims lost their sovereignty and autonomy.
It is not just the rights of human beings that are rendered more sacrosanct in Muharram, but also the rights of God. It is a month in which Muslims are commanded to resolve conflicts and anything that would rip apart the fabric of society. Similarly, in the month of Muharram, any acts of charity, kindness and goodness are rewarded more significantly than in other months. Because of its increased rewards for good deeds, Muharram is often described as the month of bounties and goodness in the Islamic tradition.
Muharram is a month in which Muslims are commanded to reflect upon the seriousness of sanctities and rights. Transgressing against the rights of other human beings, or transgressing against the sanctities of God, in the month of Muharram is a much more serious offense. In the month of Muharram, Muslims are supposed to work fervently at strengthening the bonds that hold the Ummah together. It is meant to be a month of moral reflection about where Islam is and where Islam will be in the life of Muslims.
Sadly, so much of that is forgotten to the point that Muharram will come and go with millions of Muslims not even realizing; many Muslims are unaware of the significance of the Islamic calendar and Islamic time. Islamic time is supposed to be a continuation of the moral mission of Islam.
It is not a coincidence that the disaster of the killing of the Prophet's grandson, al-Imam al-Husayn, occurred in the month of Muharram. In fact, many Muslim jurists believe that God willed to teach us through the martyrdom of the Prophet's grandson about how wrong things can go if Muslims do not learn to sanctify what God has sanctified and to invite Muslims to reflect upon the consequences of injustice, despotism and tyranny.
It is as if the martyrdom of al-Imam al-Husayn is there to prosecute the Muslim conscious throughout history, to stand as a testament to what the Prophet’s family was willing to sacrifice to uphold principle. The principle in Islam is not an issue of bloodline, but of substantive justice as a moral value in the Muslim Ummah. Islam also upholds the principle that, in the Ummah, people should be ruled according to the principle of shura (consultation and choice), not according to a tribal affiliation or aristocratic class that dominates because of its financial power.
Al-Husayn stood against the Umayyad dynasty that ruled the Islamic empire at the time. As a clan, it ruled by paying those who were loyal to it and punishing those who opposed it. Al-Husayn stood for a simple principle: That it is not the wealthy that are entitled to govern, nor a particular clan, ethnicity, or race entitled to rule, but it is the popular will of the Ummah. While al-Husayn did not have financial resources or dirty politics on his side, he did have moral principles and ethics. There's much evidence that al-Husayn knew he was going to be martyred in the process, but still went ahead with the rebellion. As sacrosanct as the month of Muharram is and as important as all the technical legalities are, substantive justice is what brings life to an Ummah. The absence of substantive justice is what brings death to an Ummah.
I sometimes wish it was possible to simply reflect upon history and theology while ignoring the realities of our modern moment, as our modern moment is often unpleasant. But that would be the type of sin that al-Husayn martyred himself to fight against. If you ignore the realities of the absence of justice, you are part of the problem. Stand for a principle and let God worry about the results, do not get pulled into the maslahah (public interest) based logic of weighing the pros and cons. This empiricist approach, rather than thinking ethically and principally, is often nothing more than a way to legitimize one’s own desires; it is the door to the devil. That type of pragmatism allows for the dissolution of all morality and ethics in life. We cannot bury our heads in the sand and ignore the realities that surround us. Regardless of how comfortable it would be to do so, it would defeat the very nature of the religious mission that God has entrusted us with.
Yet another rabid Islamophobe won a primary election, a woman named Laura Loomer. Loomer has a record of Islamophobia so rabid that she's been banned from many companies, including Twitter, Lyft and Uber, for saying obscene things about and threatening to Muslims. In today's politics, bigots and racists are increasingly finding a platform within the Republican party. President Trump congratulated Loomer for winning the Florida primary, granting her further legitimacy and, as the president of the United States, sending a clear message that it is acceptable for civic discourse to trash, threaten and hate upon Muslims.
The very concept of democracy doesn't work unless we accept the idea of civic society, civic responsibility and civic conduct. Civic conduct means that although we may, behind closed doors, say and do whatever we want, once we step out in the public arena, we must act according to the code of civic responsibility. In order for a democracy to work, everyone must act in a civil way. Democracy only works in a society in which raw power doesn't speak the loudest, but process, procedure and the rule of law speak the loudest. If we are not willing to accept the logic of civic discourse, civic responsibility, and civility, the entire edifice of democratic governance falls apart.
Since coming to power, Trump has been congratulating racists and bigots, making it clear that, as far as he's concerned, Muslims have a right to live as long as it's not in the United States; as long as they're not a part of Western civilization; and as long as they are subservient and inferior to superior people - to people like himself, the Europeans and the Israelis. Trump has been very clear about this from the very beginning.
We all too often forget that the United States is a very young, very flawed democracy. The US has been unable to break from the two-party system, which entrenches the corruption of power and facilitates the rise of a political elite that becomes much like the Umayyad empire - people who rule by virtue of their privilege, not by the virtue of their ideas. The rise of those who are far more committed to their bigotry, racism and classism than to democracy, translates into a serious threat to the survival of democracy and every relatively disempowered class within it. I fear that the United States I knew will be a very different United States in the life of my children and grandchildren.
Recently, I read a report titled, “A New Political Vision for Muslim Americans” by Abdullah bin Hamid Ali, a professor at Zaytuna University. This article provides an example of muddled thinking and what a poor education does to the human intellect. The basic argument is that Muslims should be practical and unopposed to Trump and his bashing of Islam and Muslims. The article argues, ‘Isn't it better to have a president who's honest about their hatred of Muslims rather than one who engages in the dynamics of civil discourse by believing one thing and acting publicly in a different way?’
The report claims that Trump has killed fewer Muslims than any other modern president and that Muslims should not get caught up with things like the separation of children from their parents, the Muslim ban, the protests against police brutality and Trump's constant support for racist people. Instead, Muslims should look at all of that as Trump playing politics. Muslims should engage in the empiricist pragmatism of weighing the pros and cons as opposed to using ethics and values. If Muslims do that, they will see that Trump is actually good for them. This article also references the Quran and several hadiths, a remarkable example of opportunistic theology and how one can twist God's revelation in order to support someone who hates God.
Imagine if you showed the Prophet everything that Trump had said about him and his faith, and Trump’s consistent support for Islamophobes. Can anyone who has read the Quran or studied the sirah seriously claim that the Prophet would say, ‘It's just politics. It's okay to trash Islam and trash me because of the unsubstantiated claim that Trump killed fewer Muslims than other presidents’?
The issue is the place of ethics and morality in Islam. The issue is that this is not an individual, this is a movement represented in an institution, the Zaytuna Institute. The Zaytuna Institute is represented by a figure, Hamza Yusuf, who is represented by Bin Bayyah. Bin Bayyah represents an ideal that is supposed to be Sufism, but it is actually opportunism.
We have a Muslim supporting Trump, Trump’s Muslim ban and Trump’s racist discourse and policies, because of Emirati money, influence and politics. The Emirate now represents a movement against what they define as political Islam, but it is really the Islam of CAIR, MPAC, and any political organization or system of thought that is concerned with issues of justice.
The issue is not simply that a Middle Eastern country is giving money to Islamic organizations to support a certain type of Islamic discourse. The issue is that Trump represents a moment of extreme political opportunism in which principles and ethics, including human rights and democracy, stand for nothing. It is a moral regression for America and for the rest of the world. The rise of Trump is what allowed for the rise of MBS in Saudi and MBZ in the Emirates. The rise of Trump is what allows the slaughter in Yemen and Syria to continue.
It has become clear that Saudi Arabia and the Emirates played a pivotal role in inviting Russian intervention in Syria, ensuring the complete defeat of the Syrian revolution because, in the mind of Emiratis and Saudis, the Syrian revolution threatened to bring political Islam to power. They would rather have half of the Syrian population slaughtered than allow the rise of political Islam. The election of Donald Trump is what allowed for this brute logic of violence. His election is what moved the American Embassy to Jerusalem. It is what allowed for the rise of the Neom Project in Saudi. It is what has allowed Sisi of Egypt to imprison and torture thousands of Egyptians. It is what has allowed the entrenchment of the Christian fanatic state in Ethiopia.
Many Muslims think that Abiy Ahmed, the president of Ethiopia, is Muslim, but he is a fanatic Christian protestant with a nationalistic project that includes the destruction of mosques and persecutions of Ethiopian Muslims. Because of Muslims’ apathy, Ahmed, who has murdered thousands of Muslims in Ethiopia, received the Nobel Peace Prize. This man, who has inflicted so much terror on Ethiopian Muslims, is touted as a good guy by a major Muslim institution, solely because the Emirates support him.
As Muslims, we have a responsibility to testify what is truthful, not what is political. We have a responsibility to stand for something. We, as representatives of Islam, cannot stand for the proposition of opportunistic politics, manipulations and raw calculations of costs and benefits. At a minimum, we must stand for the idea that it's not okay to trash Muslims, our Prophet or our Quran.
Last khutbah, I talked about the "peace" accords between the Emirates and Israel. Immediately after signing this accord, Israel has been bombing Gaza for the past ten days. It just so happens that Netanyahu is experiencing political problems, so at the same time he is confronting the threat of prosecution, he remembers that Palestinians need another thorough beating, using the excuse that Palestinians are sending incendiary balloons across the border. Note, these balloons haven't burned a single Israeli structure, nor have they injured a single Israeli.
Is it a coincidence that every time Netanyahu has domestic political problems, he discovers a Palestinian threat? The unethical world that we live in is so ready to accept the narrative of Netanyahu's government so that Israel can bomb Gaza. Ten days of bombing and there is hardly a mention in the news.
In this Muslim New Year, Palestinians are slaughtered. Kashmiris are persecuted. Muslims all over India are suffering under the rise of Hindu nationalism. Muslims in Ethiopia are suffering under the rise of Christian Nationalism. Muslim countries are ruled by despots. The slaughter of Muslims continues from the Rohingyas to China, to Yemen, to Libya, to Syria. The guardians of the two holy sites invited Russians to slaughter Muslims in Syria, and are attempting to do the same in Libya.
The logic of Islamophobia rules the world and it can all be traced back to our president. We have a major Muslim institution telling us that it's okay to have a racist, bigoted, Islamophobic, white supremacist, Christian-Nationalist in the White House; telling us to embrace this new world in which Muslims are demeaned, degraded, humiliated, despised and marginalized; that instead, our responsibility is to teach our children how to pray correctly, eventually die and meet God. It's time that we impose standards for Muslims who supposedly represent us. It’s time that we vote by refusing to send our children to institutions that uphold immorality, and that don't stand against racism and religious bigotry.
Some may wonder what to do. One, leave the results to God. God told the Prophet himself, "Your obligation is to speak the truth. What happens after that is up to God. Your obligation is du’a. The ijabah (response) is on God." Act ethically, even in the realm of politics. Politics doesn't absolve you of your moral responsibility. At a minimum, supporting a racist and religious bigot is unethical.
Second, we see a re-emergence of the asinine idea that democracy is haram, meaning it is haram to vote. This old Wahhabi trope comes from Saudi and the Emirate, who hate nothing more than democracy. The coup in Egypt, the slaughter in Syria and the slaughter in Yemen are all because these countries didn't want a democracy. They found ready allies in the US, Russia and Israel because these countries also don't want democracy in non-white countries, especially Muslim countries. The idea that voting is haram is so backwards that, if this is truly what one believes, they have an obligation to leave the West immediately, because the same theology that they ascribe to says that living in the land of Kufr is haram.
Finally, if you complain that you are walking on a road and that road has become so dark that you keep getting lost, but are reminded that you have a flashlight in your back pocket, the most logical action is to turn on your flashlight and re-attempt to find a way out. God has given us that flashlight in the form of the Quran, but we have become so backwards that we often forget that we are carrying a flashlight. Worse, even when we remember the flashlight, we don't know how to turn it on. The vast majority of Muslims may be able to read the Quran, but understand very little. The vast majority of those who teach the Quran in the West are woefully unqualified.
I have started a new Quran Tafsir project precisely because of this. If you want to know whether the Quran can speak directly to you and guide you personally in the affairs of your life, check out the new Tafsir sessions. It is not a line by line Tafsir. Ayahs are not plucked out of context. This is a journey in the ethics of the Quran, a gift of light in the midst of this dark confusion that we dwell in. I can't think of something more worthy to do when there is so much ugliness that surrounds our life than to hold steadfast to the heart of beauty that is the Quran; the luminous source in the midst of all the folds of darkness that surround us.