The message of your Lord has been completed in truth and justice - anchored in the easily recognizable human qualities of truth and justice. The challenge is to live as truthful people; live in truth with ourselves and against ourselves; truth with others and against others; and justice for ourselves and for others. This is the essence of the message of the Lord; the essence of the monotheism of Islam.
God warned us that it is no easy task to live in truth and in justice; and, in fact, raised the question, "Do they not reflect upon the Qur'an, or is it that their hearts are sealed?” The natural inclination for human beings is to avoid that which speaks truth to them. The natural inclination of human beings is to continue to live in whatever delusions they have constructed for themselves, which give them a momentary feeling of comfort - psychological aids that deconstruct and provide that passing moment of feeling good.
But life is far more serious than this. Life is not about the short fix in which we prop up our emotions, but about these fundamental principles: truth and justice. Life is about living a principled existence according to the constitution of a revealed book - a revealed book that acts as a constitutional document for our existence - aiding us, but often challenging us. Aiding us to plow through life, but challenging us to rise to its principles and standards, as difficult as that might be.
I often reflect, as the Qur'an teaches us to do, upon this very story of religion on this earth - what religions sprouted out into being, what systems of faith exist, what history tells us about systems of belief - to better understand the role of Islam in this human saga, our challenges as Muslims, and what responsibility lies upon us. The core of our faith. The monotheism of our faith. The very belief in the one and only God, the God to whom we surrender. We surrender to no other, and we give our will power to no other. We submit to no other and follow no other in the way that we follow God. In this surrender is an ethical standard that stands very clear in the teachings of the Prophet.
In one of the famous hadiths from our prophet, the Prophet resonates a core principle of the Qur'an. The Prophet asked the companions, "Shall I tell you the best of deeds? Something that is most esteemed in status and position with God. Something that is better than wealth and gold and riches, and something that is better than any military jihad that you could possibly engage in." Of course, the companions say, "Yes," and the Prophet answers, “Dhikr” (Remembrance of God). How often does the Qur'an, from the very first revelation, emphasize dhikr, that purposeful intentional slowing down of time. When you engage in dhikr, you force yourself to slow down time.
Life engages you in a set of distractions, one after the other, speeding up time incredibly; so that you do not know where the day went. You do not feel the morning as it passes and the night as it comes, and you do not feel the sun as it rises. You do not feel the passage of days and weeks and months. Dhikr forces you to hit the brakes on life itself, and to say in the midst of all of this, “I must take myself out of the churning pool and be with God in nothing but remembrance.” The Prophet teaches us that dhikr is better than everything; better than wealth, better than jobs, better than all the affairs of this world, and even better than any war that you may be engaged in for the sake of God. It is an incredible building block for truth and justice. The ability to sit with yourself and with God, away from all distractions, doing nothing but simply remembering God.
It is a simple, basic act, but one that Muslims rarely engage in. Muslims all over, but especially in the West, fail to teach our children the value of dhikr. We do not teach ourselves the value of dhikr. So many Muslims do not even know what dhikr can possibly mean. If we want to follow the sunnah of the Prophet, as I have said repeatedly, this is the sunnah of the Prophet. You cannot get more core and more basic about what the sunnah of the Prophet is than dhikr. Simple dhikr. Not the formality of prayer, but the informality of dhikr, of being with God, conversing with God, communing with God. A highly individualistic act, but an act without which truth and justice are but delusions. It is the nation - the people - of dhikr that can possess the purity of heart and the purity of soul to even start to conceptualize what truth and justice might look like.
Another thing core to our faith and core to the sunnah of the Prophet is shown in this hadith. A companion of the Prophet asked the Prophet for advice on how to be a good Muslim. "Give me my task, my job; the performance of which enables me to go down the road of constructing a true Muslim identity." The Prophet asks that companion, "Do you have control over your hands?" and the companion says, "Yes." The Prophet asked, "Do you have control over your tongue?" and the companion says, "Yes." The Prophet said, "If that is so, then do not employ your hands in anything but goodness. Do not use your tongue to utter anything but goodness.” This body that you employ, including the intellect that is at the center of the body, and the heart, the hands and the tongue, is given to you by your Lord for a purpose. If you want to be a good Muslim, you have no choice but to use this body for goodness and only goodness. The hands should do nothing but good, and the tongue should say nothing but good."
It is such a straightforward, core lesson. The essence of the sunnah of the Prophet. If we want to teach our children to follow the sunnah of the Prophet, this is what we should teach them; this holistic picture where the Qur'an challenges us to live by its constitutional standards. The Prophet teaches us truth within ourselves and truth with others, which can only be built up and strengthened when you are comfortable with yourself. When you are able to be generous with your time and your material possessions, and spend both in a way that it becomes a form of dhikr. Where this body you inhabit is used only for what is clean, what is good, what is truthful, what is healthy, and what is pure.
This is the monotheism that was given to humanity. Let me be very clear, because so many Muslims lose sight of the fact that they are the only true bearers of the monotheistic message on the face of Earth. Monotheism was revealed to the world repeatedly, and it was always corrupted by power and egoism. It was revealed with the Prophet Ibrahim, but what remained of the Prophet Ibrahim's monotheism became inextricably interlinked with polytheistic mythologies of gods of every different type.
The Judaism that we have today is not the Judaism that existed up to the building of the first temple in Jerusalem. The Judaism that we have today is the Judaism that existed when the Torah was written, after the destruction of the first temple. If you read the Torah, mythologies of polytheism are inextricably interlinked with the message of monotheism. The Torah speaks of God as the best of gods; as the greatest of gods. Kings are called gods in the Old Testaments. Prophets are often given semi-divine status where they wrestle with God and defeat God.
The Judaism of the diaspora is Judaism obsessed with a sense of vindication against its enemies; the Persian kings who defeated the Jews and destroyed the temple. A Judaism that is obsessed with the idea of a promised land for a promised people. A Judaism that is obsessed with vindicating and defending the idea that one race on the face of this earth is chosen above and beyond all others, and that that race is given a promise, by God, in one spot of land - above and beyond all others.
The Old Testament is replete with references to polytheistic deities or systems of belief. The Old Testament became not the book of Moses, but the book of the Israelite tribe; a narrative of the struggles and tragedies and drama of the Israelite tribe in its confrontation with its enemies. The monotheism of Moses was unsalvageable. There is no way that you can read the Old Testament, leave alone the Talmud, and come out believing in a coherent monotheism. It is a monotheism of a chosen people and its promised history that leaves a very serious question as to truth and justice.
What about the un-chosen people? The people that live in the so-called Promised Land? You can read for yourself what the Old Testament says about handling those that already inhabit the so-called Promised Land. The Old Testament is brutal in the way that it speaks about what should happen to them: Kill all the men, enslave all the women and children, and kill the babies if you wish. This is not the monotheism of Moses. Keep in mind that the Judaism of the Jewish tradition, that exists in the books of the Old Testament, is a Judaism that was written during a period of military defeat.
Christianity did not fare any better. The monotheism of Jesus quickly confronted persecution and defeat. Early Christians were a powerless people, but that is not the Christianity that we have today. The Christians of Jesus Christ were not the ones who wrote the Bible. The Bible was born after the first generation that experienced Jesus Christ himself. The monotheism of Christianity quickly had to make peace with and adapt to the power structures of its age, the prevailing polytheism of the Roman Empire, in order to survive at all. Once again, God needed interceders, and that interceder became Jesus Christ.
The logic of polytheism includes that God is only appeased by sacrifices. Polytheism demanded sacrifices, including human sacrifices. Very quickly, that Christianity succumbed to the logic of that polytheism and adopted the idea, ‘What better sacrifice than the Son of God, himself?’ It is the Son of God that intercedes for us with God, and it is the Son of God that is the sacrifice to appease the god.
By the time Christianity gained political power, when Justinian converted to Christianity, it was already too late. The system of belief in monotheism had become mixed with polytheistic ideas and theology. It reached the point of absolute absurdity that you can do what you will, as long as you appease the Church of Jesus Christ. Even after the Reformation, you can do as you will, as long as you accept that Jesus Christ sacrificed himself for the grand deity. Of course, in order to try to reconcile this idea with monotheism, at times Jesus Christ was elevated to a status equal to God. But how equal to God the Son of God could be was the greatest question that was never answered and will never be answered.
The only monotheism that preserved its pristine pureness is the monotheism of the Qur'an. Power was not deposited in individuals or institutions, but in a book. That is why tadabbur [to ponder and reflect upon the] Qur’an is so critical. It is when Muslims stop reflecting upon and lose their connection with the Qur'an that they may very well become like the Jews, who developed their theology in a racial identity. Or like the Christians, who mixed the mythology of polytheism, intercession and sacrifice. Islamophobia is a response to the purity of this monotheism. Islam unsettles those who know that it is the only true statement of monotheism on the face of this earth.
What protected the Islamic message was not just the survival of the Qur'an, but the existence of a state that prevented the corruption of the text of the Qur'an, that stood as a bulwark against the need to adapt what its discourse is to the whims and privileges of the aristocratic class. Judaism lived the tragedy of defeat and the plight of loss, and its narrative developed in direct response to the powers of the nations that conquered it. Christianity adapted itself to the powers of the prevailing empire of the day and its polytheistic mythologies, and carved a system of belief that could find a home among the polytheism of the Romans.
Notice that, to this day, the colonial period was an aggressively missionary period on behalf of Christianity. Christians widely divorced Christianity from the affairs of the state in the West. They colonized the world to spread the gospel, but it was an odd gospel. Its gospel, its version of truth and justice, was used to colonize, enslave, and massacre people in the millions. All of that is consistent with Jesus Christ, because Jesus Christ sacrificed himself for us.
Islam was able to resist. This is why we live at a critical historical juncture. Muslims have lost their political power. The only thing we have is our resolve and our book. What a test from God. To the extent your resolve is weak and fragile, and your relationship to the Qur'an is tangential or passing, you are betraying the entire Muslim ummah and the entire message of Tawhid (monotheism); because we no longer have armies, economics, or anything else that protects this message from corruption. The only thing we have is the purity of our intention and the power of our words. The sooner we learn and internalize this lesson, the better we will be.
So often, Muslims lose sight of the role that the Islamic message plays on the face of this earth. You even get the sense that many Muslims are unsure in what way Islam is a unique religion or what its main contributions are.
From an Islamic perspective, Islam is the truth. It is the truth that God does not play favorites with genealogy. God does not play favorites with tribes, God does not choose people and give them the rights of others. God does not say, "You can have this land, and those who already inhabit the land and have made it their homes can go to Hell. I do not care about them."
Remember that all these so-called Muslim governments are still living in the shadow of colonialism. Their minds, their hearts, their institutions, their systems are still colonized. They are far removed from Islam, as a result of the colonial administrations that were appointed by the French, British or Dutch to rule on their behalf. Muslim governments are still the colonial native. But, the individual, private Muslim must take responsibility for this religion, and must bend in the way of God. They must create the institutions of learning and support the scholars of learning that are able to defend, articulate and clarify the beauty of the Islamic message; why it is truly taking people from darkness to light.
Our problem is that the best of our intellects are left to rot. The worst of our intellects receive support and are put forward to represent the Islam of today. As the consequence, every time Islamophobes come up with something, we are at a loss to respond. Your response is as good as the intellects that represent you. The people that we have put in charge to speak on our behalf for Islam are simply not competent and not sufficiently educated. They cannot respond to Bernard Lewis, Fouad Ajami or Martin Kramer. Many of them are politicians through and through, that have nothing to do with scholarship. They know how to socialize with Christians and Jews and other non-Muslims; they know how to appease them - to smile, laugh and be polite as their faith is being slaughtered by Islamophobia left and right.
There is a new fad in the Gulf countries, where Islam was born, which is the conversion of Gulfies to Judaism and Christianity. Just this last week, a Kuwaiti singer converted to Judaism very publicly and denounced Islam. Meanwhile, the wealthy people that live in Beverly Hills and in Orange County wonder, "How does Islamophobia affect us?"
It has not been that long since Biden was elected to office. Just the defeat of Trump and the election of Biden to office got countries like Saudi Arabia to release a number of prominent political prisoners like Loujain al-Hathloul, and Egypt to release a number of prominent political prisoners; notably, all of them of the secular orientation, rather than Islamic orientation.
It is remarkable that these countries that position themselves as Muslim countries are the ones responsible for the Holy sites. If the President of the United States is someone like Trump, then they feel comfortable slaughtering their own citizens without any reservation. But when the President of the United States changes to someone like Biden, suddenly the same individuals that claimed their own people were so dangerous that they could never release them, immediately released these individuals. It tells you who truly governs and rules Muslim countries.
Sadly, because the Biden administration does not seem interested in Islamists in prison, Egypt has not released any of the Islamists, so Ahmed Sabee’ remains in prison, despite the fact that he has not done anything wron; purely for engaging in the type of discourse that I just engaged in. Salman Al-Ouda, contrary to the rumors, is still in prison.
When we see the weakness of Muslim countries, it just underscores the responsibility that we have as American Muslims, because we are citizens in the seat of real power. As an American Muslim, you are far more powerful than any Egyptian in Egypt or Saudi Arabian in Saudi Arabia because, if you influence the policymaking decisions in D.C., you effectively rule the Muslim world. That puts a very heavy responsibility upon us. It is not at all different than those who understood to serve the Armenian cause from the United States. Look how the narrative of history about the Armenian genocide has changed, just because of the influence of Armenians in the West.
Obviously, it is not at all that different from those who serve the Zionist dream. From beginning to end, from D.C. and London, they understood that they sit in the seat of power. Because they are positioned where they are positioned, they can leverage power to change the course of history. I pray that someday Muslims wake up, get real, and become serious about the heavy legacy that they carry.