"The Unshackling of Human Beings"


SubhanAllah, who has left us with the eternal message; the continuing, perpetual and eternal prophecy of the word of God until the Final Day. The Qur’an is like a living prophet, it speaks to us. But the prophecy does not have an impact in this world unless there is an audience that is willing to listen to the words of the Prophet and implement these words into an actual methodology, an actual way of life.


The Prophet died and left with us the actual, eternal word of God. But where are the sahaba? Where are these companions that receive the word of God and take on the charge and the obligation of inheriting the Earth and fulfilling the covenant with God? Jewish people often speak of their covenant with the Lord, and Christians speak of a different covenant. But both feel that they are bonded with the Lord by an agreement, a contract of sorts. Something that actually spells out the terms of the relationship.


The Qur’an repeatedly emphasizes the covenant that binds Muslims to God, and its obligation that we bear witness for God. It is remarkable that a book like the Qur’an can witness Muslims in the condition that they are in today. If only the Qur’an could speak, I wonder what it would say about modern Muslims and their relationship to itself?


Yesterday, I spoke to a delegation from Indonesia, and I was asked a question that I often get when I speak to Muslims from outside the Arab world. This person said, as a Muslim, he looks at the affairs of the Middle East and the Arab world in particular, and he sees all the oppression, suffering and hardship. This makes him wonder, why did God choose to put Islam in this spot of the world?


Indeed, for the birthplace of Islam, this is the most uncomfortable reality, because anyone that becomes a student of the Qur’an, who studies and reflects upon the Qur’an, will experience a dizzying sense of cognitive dissonance. For the simplest example, we look at Surah Al-A'raf, when God calls upon non-Muslims, particularly Jews and Christians, and says, "Follow this Prophet," and reminds them that this apostle, this messiah is mentioned already in the Torah and in the Old and New Testaments.


But, that particular verse has even a bigger significance. It is alerting them to the perennial truth that Muhammad comes with, which represents the truth of Judaism and the truth of Christianity. Let us remember that the Torah, without corruption, would call for the worship of the one and only God; it would play no ethnic favorites and would not have a racial group as the chosen people, but would choose those who believe in the one and only God - a God who is just, a God who is merciful and a God who is compassionate. A God that does not favor one group of people over others and does not commit injustice. Again, the New Testament calls for the worship of the one and only God. The God who is the father of all, the God who sends the Holy Spirit as a messenger of God, from and to God. Notably, Jesus never said that he was a God. Nowhere, even in the New Testament as it exists today, does Jesus claim to be God. The only son of God that is mentioned in the New Testament is the old Hebraic reference to numerous people as sons and daughters of God.


The original monotheism, that in their hearts they know to be true, is the message of Muhammad. They are reminded of the most remarkable and basic fact that this message is fundamentally about al-amr bi’l ma’ruf wa al-nahy ‘ann al-munkar (“enjoining the good and forbidding the evil”); morality, virtue and ethics. In its most fundamental sense, al-amr bi’l ma’ruf wa al-nahy ‘ann al-munkar is a virtuous life. It is a life that requires you to reflect upon the natures of goodness, beauty, and ugliness.


Then comes the most remarkable statement by God, that this message is about liberating human beings from the burdens that crush them in existence and from the shackles around their neck. It goes back to the most fundamental, basic theme in the Qur’an; that the path of the Prophet Muhammad and the path of the Lord is the path of light. It often boils down to a question of, do you carry and embody the light of the divine? Or, do you carry and embody the darkness of the absence of the divine?


Islam, from the very beginning, held the basic notion that it stands for the removal of burdens that crush the human soul and spirit; it stands for the removal of shackles, oppression, and subjugation. It is like when Ja'far ibn Abi Talib went to Abyssinia and the Meccans sent a delegation after him to bring him back, so that the kufar of Mecca could continue oppressing Muslims. Ja'far ibn Abi Talib defended himself in front of the Abyssinian king, his words simple and straightforward. He informed the Abyssinian king, “We were fundamentally a people without morality. We would steal from each other. We would rob each other. We would commit assaults against each other. We would oppress each other. Then God sent us a Prophet that taught us simple, basic, straightforward morality. Now, we are kind to our guests. We honor our parents. We honor our family. We honor our neighbors. And we do not allow the strong to oppress the weak among us.” It was a very straightforward, simple representation of the Islamic message.


Of course, there are the literalists who claim that in Judaism and Christianity, there used to be commands that were oppressive, and Islam came to abrogate these commands. It is a claim without substance, because we do not truly know what these oppressive commands in Judaism and Christianity were, and what commands Islam came to abrogate. If anything, Islam came with laws and restrictions that did not necessarily exist in Judaism and Christianity, such as the prohibition against drinking alcohol.


It is clear that the Qur’anic discourse is talking about a concept that hearkens back to the covenant between God and Muslims, that is inherent in the very idea of “ibadah,” that we worship the one and only God. So, we are a people that embrace our dignity and our freedom; our freedom to choose, our freedom to reflect, and our freedom to pursue the rights that human beings are entitled to. The idea of oppressed, subjugated, powerless Muslims does not cohere with the Qur’an.


As to my Indonesian friend, he has a point. How can the region in which the Islamic message originated, a message that was once clearly identified with the idea of human liberation, liberation from the oppression of caste systems, liberation from class structure, liberation from slavish obedience to landed noblemen - the very system that was a general call for justice in living a basic right to dignity - now be plagued with so much corruption and oppression? It is exactly dignity that allows human beings to flourish and that allows human beings to create civilizations. No civilization in human history was founded by people that did not have a sense of their own dignity. People who do not have a sense of dignity are defeated. They are unable to think or invent creatively. They do not flower into something meaningful. They become a redundancy and eventually die with very little effect in this world.


If Islam did not liberate the human soul of its followers, it would have never flowered into the civilization that we have seen throughout history. This same Qur’an liberated the human soul long before the Founding Fathers of the United States told human beings, "Cast off your shackles." The rallying cry of the American revolution was one of liberation to cast off the shadows of oppression. Hundreds of years before that came the Islamic revolution with the same cry, "Cast off your shackles."


My answer to my Indonesian friend is to remember that Christianity was born in Palestine and was a religion that initially emerged among a Semitic people, a people who, at the time, did not even have the Hebrew language. The Hebrew language itself was the language of the inhabitants of Palestine, who at the time, were not actually Jews. But, as the followers of Moses settled in Palestine, they borrowed the Hebrew language and the land from the inhabitants of Palestine. Moses and his followers did not speak Hebrew. Remember that although Judaism started in Palestine, the complex narrative of religion did not unfold in Palestine. And although Christianity was also born in Palestine, the complex narrative of the Christian faith did not unfold in Palestine. The nature of religions, if they are real religions, is that they are a message of liberation that do not remain wedded to their historic and geographic circumstance.


Although we are living in a moment where it seems as if Arab and Muslim are nearly indistinguishable from one another, this is not an inevitable situation, or even a necessary situation. The history of Islam indeed, if it was limited to Arabia, would have never become the history of Islam. The history of Islam is a history of Persians. The history of Islam is the history of Turks. The history of Islam is the history of South Asians. It is a fallacy to simply look at where Islam originated and the amount of oppression that goes on there, and say, "Well, Islam is in deep trouble”. We must transcend ourselves and understand that the real Islam, the true Islam, is wherever the message of the Qur’an is received, regardless of ethnicity or geography. And the true Islam is where every human being can throw off the shackles that oppress them and reclaim the basic, fundamental sense of human dignity upon which everything else is built.


Once again, the Qur’an reminds us that a Muslim cannot be Muslim if they do not call for the removal of shackles of oppression, or if they do not even notice the shackles of oppression. I keep referring to something that should weigh heavily on the conscience of every Muslim in the world, and that is the abysmal human rights record wherever Muslims dwell. You find that the oppressed are inordinately Muslim. And sadly, the oppressors are also Muslim. Of course, that is not always the case, such as in Burma and China, where the oppressors are clearly not Muslim and the oppressed are clearly Muslim.


But those who tolerate the oppression of the Rohingyas and the Uyghur Muslims are not Muslim. There are some who think that to tolerating oppression, living in despotism, or accepting dictatorship and injustice can somehow be made consistent with Islam. Particularly Islam! Because you can read the Old Testament, the Torah and the Gospel all you want, but you will find nothing in them that tells you to remove the shackles of oppression and break the shackles of bondage. You will not find that in these books. But you will find it repeatedly in the Qur’an.


And yet, we live in a day and age where the most oppressed people on the face of this Earth are Muslims. We do not get into this situation simply by accident or overnight. We get into this situation when generations of people - who could have made a difference - observed and experienced what is wrong and chose to tolerate it, because they chose safety over the truth. All of us, whether we are born Muslim or became Muslim later on in life, bear the sins of our forefathers who tolerated the shackles of oppression and did not rebel against them, because all of us are forced to wrestle with the same historical questions. How could it be that this religion - the religion that came to liberate human beings from oppression - became marred in the ugliness in which it is marred today?


To the extent of the sins of our forefathers, is our obligation to correct the path. This is why the generation that must correct the course in Islamic history bears a responsibility far greater than any of the generations of the past. You cannot correct the past by bringing back the Islamic message to its pristine clarity and luminosity without major corrective action. Major corrective action requires an enormous investment. It requires an investment in material resources, but also requires a great amount of sacrifice by the best kind of people. The best of Muslims must be willing to sacrifice their entire life to correct the course intellectually and educationally to its place in Islamic theology, to restore the idea of the breaking the yokes of bondage. One is not going to do this by being a medical doctor during the week and focusing on Islam on the weekends. One is not going to do this by opening a sports shop and focusing on Islam whenever they can on their days off.


That is the past. We are today. Today, knowledge is very complex. This is only possible if enough of the best Muslim minds are willing to sacrifice their entire life educating fellow Muslims, teaching fellow Muslims and correcting the path of history; challenging the burdens of despotism and pointing the finger at what is wrong and saying, "This is wrong and we cannot tolerate it."


Right before I was about to begin the khutbah today, I received a message from the granddaughter of Yusuf al-Qaradawi, thanking me for mentioning her parents in one of my khutbahs. This poor woman, her mother and father, the daughter of Yusuf al-Qaradawi and her husband, have been imprisoned in Egypt for a number of years now - in solitary confinement, in conditions so abysmal that under any human rights standard, it rises to the level of torture. There are numerous reports that her parents, in fact, are being subjugated to a slow and torturous death. Their only sin is that they are the daughter and son-in-law of Yusuf al-Qaradawi.


I still remember a time when Yusuf al-Qaradawi was considered a superstar among Egyptian Muslims and tolerated by the Egyptian government. He was even honored by the Qatari government. I remember when Yusuf al-Qaradawi attended a conference in Qatar, and a huge crowd formed around him, just trying to shake his hands. I remember the long list of shaykhs, including the former mufti of Egypt, Ali Gomaa, all waiting humbly and patiently just to have five minutes with Yusuf al-Qaradawi.


In that visit to Qatar, I was not even allowed two minutes with the man, because I was not important enough. He was a superstar. And I remember distinctly as I watched the long line of shaykhs waiting just to greet Yusuf al-Qaradawi, just to sit with Yusuf al-Qaradawi for two minutes, because taking a picture with Yusuf al-Qaradawi was considered great prestige. It was such a prestige, that they could come back to the U.S. and hang up the picture somewhere and use it to be elected the chair of the board, or to be elected the imam of this mosque, or the imam of that center.


It occurred to me, and this was back in the '90s, "I wonder if, if a day comes where the Qatari government becomes angry at Yusuf al-Qaradawi and expels him, whether all these people would stick around or just disappear?" And I remember thinking to myself, "You know what? Don’t think badly of people. Shame on you." But, you know what happened? Yusuf al-Qaradawi became a persona non grata in Egypt, and Saudi Arabia turned on him as well. The Emirate turned on him. The only place where he could exist safely was Qatar. But, if he would set foot in Egypt, he would be promptly arrested and probably killed. And, all those great names that flocked around Yusuf al-Qaradawi disappeared.


Yusuf al-Qaradawi was considered such a superstar, that everyone claimed to be a student or a friend of Yusuf al-Qaradawi, even if they only met him once for two minutes. Yet suddenly, when Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt turned on Yusuf al-Qaradawi and made him a persona non grata, all these former students and friends suddenly never heard of Yusuf al-Qaradawi; never met Yusuf al-Qaradawi. They did not ever know Yusuf al-Qaradawi. They did not even know what Yusuf means or al-Qaradawi means. This included his great friend Bin Bayyah, who I once saw in Egypt fawning around Yusuf al-Qaradawi, calling him the great scholar. But today, Bin Bayyah will not even lift a finger to help Yusuf al-Qaradawi.


Yusuf al-Qaradawi's daughter and son-in-law were arrested simply because of their relation to Yusuf al-Qaradawi, nothing else. They are held in solitary confinement and tortured to the point that al-Qaradawi’s daughter appeared in an Egyptian court and begged the judge to sentence her to death, because she cannot stand living anymore. Her life is filled with so much torture that she told the judge, "Please, kill me." All the great imams here in the United States, that once upon a time all claimed the honor of meeting and knowing and studying with Yusuf al-Qaradawi, now all utter not a single word. If the Sisi regime did nothing but oppress the daughter of Yusuf al-Qaradawi and nothing else - if they did everything else perfectly, but the only sin they committed was oppressing the daughter of Yusuf al-Qaradawi - it would still be enough to condemn them in this world and the Hereafter. In the same way, if the Saudi regime did nothing bad but imprison and oppress someone like Salman al-Ouda - if that was their only sin - it would still be enough to condemn them on this Earth and in the Hereafter.


You can measure the health of the Ummah by how it treats these figures. Someone like Salman al-Ouda is a scholar larger than life; Salman al-Ouda is an Ummah in and of himself. As much as I disagreed with him at so many points in my career, I have the sense, the humility and the Islam to know that, disagree or not, someone like Yusuf al-Qaradawi is an entire Ummah in himself. He has guided thousands upon thousands of Muslim youth. He has written books upon books on Islam. He has lectured for thousands upon thousands of hours. And for a scholar like that to sit in isolation in Qatar, unable to leave because he is afraid of what might happen to him if he leaves the safety of Qatar, and for his heart to bleed and break over the fate of his daughter and her husband, speaks volumes about this Ummah.


You can expand the Haram as much as you want, but if you oppress someone like Salman al-Ouda or hurt someone like Yusuf al-Qaradawi, no amount of service to the Haram can make up for these sins. One can measure the health of the ummah by looking at the shackles that this ummah owns and studying upon whose necks these shackles are tied. All nations have shackles, because power is oppressive, arrogant and ugly. But, if you study the shackles that any power has, and then you study upon whose necks these shackles are placed, it can tell you if this ummah has a chance.

When the shackles of the Muslim ummah are placed around the necks of the likes of Salman al-Ouda and Yusuf al-Qaradawi, and you find the vast majority of Muslims are silent, it is simply because they want to be able to spend their summer vacation in Egypt and go off to the beach and see their relatives. It is disgusting. We Muslims need to reclaim our representation in this world. We Muslims need a representative to speak on behalf of Muslim interests, Muslim dignity, and Muslim freedom. We Muslims must demand moral and authentic representation.


It is due time that we Muslims search all the means to recreate the institution of the Caliphate once again. Not as an imperial power, but as a moral force speaking on behalf of Muslim dignity and Muslim rights. An institution that is chartered upon the principle of speaking truth to power, defying oppression and removing the shackles that bond human beings. As it stands in the world today, we have over a billion Muslims on the face of this Earth, and yet we have no representation. We have no voice.



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