If Muslims did nothing more than reflect upon the often-repeated supplications that are at the core of their faith, Muslims would transform themselves and transform the world that they live in. So often, we repeat supplications, but their effective force and ability to transform have become vacuous.
Recently, my younger son asked me a profound, yet simple question: "What does it take to be a good Muslim? What does it take for me to grow up knowing that I'm a good Muslim?" There are many ways to answer this question. I could have told him that the Prophet said, “If you love, welcome and cherish meeting your Lord, God in turn will cherish and love meeting you.” To be a good Muslim, think to what extent do you actually look forward to meeting God? If you look forward to meeting God and you are confident that you are worthy of meeting God, God will love and cherish meeting you.
I could have replied with the truth the Qur’an so starkly repeats in Surah Al-Zumar, when God, speaking to the Prophet, says, "When all is said and done, what awaits you is death. Do whatever you will, whatever you want. The end of the story on this earth is death. You will die and they will die. And, after death, there is an inescapable fate that awaits you.”
Or when God, speaking to humanity, says, "You spend your entire life running away from death, but there is no escape." So much of what we do on this earth is indeed running away from death. Nearly every sin that is committed is done so because we want to distract ourselves from the inevitability and foregone conclusion of death. Every relationship, every wasted time, every wasted money, every wasted opportunity, every gossip, backbiting, theft, fornication or adultery, every murder, every injury is an attempt to escape the inevitable conclusion of death.
I also could have said, as God reminds the Prophet, "When all is said and done, you will return to God." I could have said all of that. The problem is that we human beings have become so adept at distracting ourselves from the inescapable conclusion that we will face our Lord and that there will be an accountability. We have become so good at distracting ourselves. We have created schools, universities, jobs, banks, financial institutions, loans, technology, movies, computers. We have created everything that gives us the illusion of eternity; that gives us the illusion that just because we might live until we are 80, 90 or 110, that that is an accomplishment and that we have escaped something. We have become so adept at that, that in a country where at least a thousand people die every day from a pandemic, talking to people about death does not resonate.
So, what I told my son is that what God expects from you is to be a khalifa (caliph). Don't wait for a caliph to come and lead you. You have been appointed a caliph, and your appointment letter comes from God directly. What does God want from us by appointing us caliphs? In my opinion, God wants you to live as a dignified human being. But what does it take to have sincere and honest dignity? What it takes is to be truthful with yourself and others, to follow a very simple rule: Don't lie. You want to follow this golden rule to be a good Muslim. To make a commitment to live a dignified life, a life where you do not turn to any other as your caliph, because you have been appointed caliph.
You want to make a commitment not to lie because God is with you wherever you are, and God knows the truth. Even when you lie to yourself, God knows. People lose their dignity because they lose self-respect, and they lose self-respect when they learn to lie. When they learn to lie to themselves, to others, and even convince themselves that they can lie to God, it often becomes the case that they eventually no longer like themselves – to the point that you actually have no self, you have compromised the self so much that you are a non-being. When you don't know who this self is anymore, because you have lied enough that things have become very confused, not only does God abandon you, but you abandon yourself. And when God abandons you and your own self abandons you, you have no dignity. You no longer know what it means to have a dignified existence.
My heart breaks for my son and for every Muslim child growing up in our world today, because we are a people living without a sense of dignity. We are a people who have become so adept at lying to ourselves, that we no longer have a self.
Just reflect upon our affairs and ask whether God is truly with us. France insists that because of its “secular, moral values,” they have the right to vilify the Prophet, print obscene images of the Prophet and post them on government buildings. To them, it is “a matter of principle and freedom of speech, and because of this principle that we believe in, we are willing to pay any price." Muslims have since boycotted France, and France has sustained serious economic setbacks as a result. But, they insist that their dignity is above all, so they basically say, “We are not sorry. We will insult and defame your Prophet. It is true that we do not allow anyone to say anything that is antisemitic. It is true that, in France, criticism of Israel can get you fired from your job, but because we consider defaming your Prophet a principle, people can do whatever they want.”
Not only that, France has since barred religious holidays for Muslims. Now, you cannot take Eid off from school, because that would be against the new secular laws directed at Muslims. You can take Christmas off, you can take Hanukkah off, but not Eid. France has closed down a bunch of mosques, as well as a bunch of Muslim charitable institutions.
What is the response of Muslims? In Saudi Arabia, there is a call to boycott Turkey, but not France. The Emirates assured France that they will make up for their financial losses. But the golden prize goes to the President of Egypt, who visited France and told them that their laws are just, because they are really at war with the Muslim Brotherhood and with Islamic terrorism, so Egypt supports France fully and without reservation. To the French government, the message is clear: You can spit upon the Prophet and Muslims have no sense of dignity. You can take away Al-Aqsa Mosque and they will rush to make peace with you. You can treat them as less than human beings, and they will say, “We forgive you.” You can insult their Prophet and they will rush to join your fight with fellow Muslims.
Contrast this with the story of Ahmad Sabee’, a man who knows Aramaic and Hebrew, and who studied the texts of the Old Testament and the New Testament. Initially, I thought Sabee’ was arrested because he tweeted his support to boycott French products. It turns out that Ahmad Sabee’ was arrested not just because of the tweet, but because he, a scholar of the Old and New Testament, convinced some Christians in Egypt that the claim that the Bible is authentic and uncorrupted is ridiculous. As a result, some Christians in Egypt converted to Islam, and the Coptic Churches in Egypt intervened to personally ask Sisi's government that Sabee’ be arrested. Now, Ahmad Sabee’ is in prison. The charges against him will put him in prison for 15 years, if not more. He is charged with sedition, joining a terrorist organization and has already confessed as a result of torture.
What was his crime? Free speech. Did anyone speak for his right to free speech? Supposedly, the ability to speak freely is so important to France that they were willing to upset the entire Muslim world for what they consider the sacred principle of free speech. Yet, Ahmad Sabee’ is imprisoned because some Christians listened to him and converted. Actress Scarlett Johansson spoke up on behalf of Egyptian activists who were imprisoned because they were advocating for the rights of gay people in Egypt, and those activists were properly freed. Who will speak for the Muslims who are imprisoned because they exercised their right to free speech?
In Egypt, there is a very active evangelical movement that converts Muslims to Protestant Christianity and Catholic Christianity. They go to the villages and offer unemployed, uneducated villagers money and support so that they convert to Christianity, and no one intervenes. The Egyptian government does not imprison a single one of those evangelists who come all the way from the United States to Christianize Egyptians. But when one Muslim in Egypt causes the conversion of a few Christians to Islam, the Coptic Church have him put away, potentially for life. So many Muslim organizations brush issues like this off and say, "Well, that's Egypt." When you bring up France, they say, “Well, that’s France. That’s Muslims in Europe.” When you bring up Muslims in India, they say, “Well, that’s Muslims in India…”
When Marine Le Pen's fascist, strongly anti-Muslim party in France were going bankrupt, to the point that they could not receive any more loans from European banks, who bailed them out? The United Arab Emirates. Muslims are paying the people who hate them. Yet, so many Muslims in the United States follow Muslim leaders, like Hamza Yusuf, who are in bed with the Emiratis. When it gets to the point that you can see Muslims supporting those who insult our Prophet and our Qur’an, one has a choice to make. Do you recognize this as a moral failure, a basic lack of dignity that is disqualifying; or do you say, “Brother, there are reasons. Brother, let's read Hadith and Sunnah”?
This is why I feel sorry for my son. He is going to grow up knowing that a Muslim ban can be implemented, and that there are Muslims that will support and defend the person who created the Muslim ban. Trump can insult Muslims left and right, and there are still Muslims who support and defend him. Muslims will bankroll an anti-Muslim party so that they can continue attacking Muslims. Do you think our children are not going to grow up confused? Can they look at their parents and say, "At least my parents have their head on straight and provide guidance”? Otherwise, they may grow up not knowing what it means to be a Muslim.
Every single week, I get messages from Muslim kids around the world with crises of faith. Every single week, I get messages from Muslim women who want to marry outside of Islam. Muslims have become so backwards that they do not know the value of a scholar who teaches awareness. So many times, as a professor, I hear fellow Muslims say, "A professor is a cult personality. A teacher is a cult personality. An educator is a cult personality.” They are so ignorant that they do not know the value of education. You think the person who educates you is a cult personality, instead of believing that education is the leverage to dignity, and dignity is the leverage to the khilafa and the khilafa is the path to God? Many ask, ‘In what way do you benefit our children?’, ‘Why should we support The Usuli Institute?’, ’Why should we support Project Illumine?’ Because your children write to me every single week saying they are not sure they want to be Muslim. Your children are marrying outside of Islam.
When will the hypocrisy end? When will this curse upon Muslims come to an end? When are we going to stand up against those who support dictatorial, totalitarian governments like the Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt? When are people like me not going to be banned from the Islamic Center of Southern California and not welcomed at any Muslim institution, while being honored by the American Academy of Religion? Maybe when that happens, our children will grow up to find a different world.