In last week’s second khutbah, I spoke about the increasingly restrictive, increasingly racist atmosphere against Islam and Muslims in France, but also more generally, unfortunately, in Europe. As we noted last week, the way this racism is expressed in countries like France is through targeting Muslim women, and in the case of France, outright banning any Muslim woman under the age of 18 from wearing the hijab. Although in France, underage drinking and underage drug consumption is extremely widespread; although sexual conduct among children under 18 is extremely widespread; and although in French literature and movies, underage sex is glorified to the point that a girl as young as 15 or 16 will appear on camera nude and having sex - although the French are very proud of all of that - a girl under 18 cannot wear the hijab in France. Apparently, for children in France, it is okay to shed your clothes and engage in the immense responsibility of having a sexual relation, but not the hijab.
And in France, as we know, if you wear the hijab, you cannot teach at a public school, and you cannot have any type of state employment. With new proposed restrictions (I have not been able to verify the status of its passing), hijabi mothers would be barred from accompanying their minor children, male or female, not just on field trips but in general, and could be subject to a fine if they were to do so.
As we said last week, this cannot be separated from the history of colonialism - especially colonial French culture - which often spoke of Muslim culture as inferior and therefore justifiably subject to domination and colonization. Colonial culture often used the state that Muslim women were in as justification for very violent colonial projects, all while eroticizing and sexually exploiting Muslim women throughout the Muslim world. The same was done by the British countries like India and Egypt, and by the Dutch and their Muslim colonies. However, French colonialism exceeded all others, turning it into a systematic ideological project that has impacted the Muslim world to our very day.
But since the khutbah last week, we have seen a rather demonstrative example for those who reflect on the type of problems that plague our Muslim culture in very nuanced, yet significant ways. It was immediately noticeable that although France has targeted Muslim women in their anti-hijab campaigns for a long time; and has targeted the Islamic faith now for centuries; and has had a long history of racism and colonialism towards Muslims and the Islamic faith - if you observe the interactions between France and the Muslim world as all of this was unfolding, in just the past couple of years, the racism has greatly increased: the closing down of mosques all over France; the French government’s insistence that it appoints all the imams in all mosques all over France; the closing down of Muslim schools; the numerous abuses committed by French police against Muslim immigrants and France’s five million Muslim citizens.
And, of course, there are these hijab laws that we have been talking about. In regards to all of it, the Muslim world itself has been as oblivious as it has been to the genocide against the Uyghur Muslims in China. It is as if France does not have a colonial history. It is as if there is no racial problem. It is as if France is not targeting Muslims at all. The Muslim world is living in a different universe. Nothing France does or can do affects the amount of traffic between Muslims and France. And it is not the French who are traveling to the Muslim world as consumers of culture and fine arts. It is Muslims who travel to France to consume their fashion and their luxury items, and to enjoy themselves in French cities.
There has been no impact on the status of France intellectually or culturally from the Muslim world. There have been no significant voices in the Muslim world talking about French hypocrisy - even when it has become well-documented that influential French philosopher Foucault was a pedophilic abuser of Muslim children everywhere he visited in the Muslim world. No significant voices in the Muslim world talk about Foucault's hypocrisy, the hypocrisy of the French anti-colonial intellectual movement, or even the hypocrisy of the French colonial movement. There has simply been dead silence - silence reminiscent of the way Muslims are dealing with Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa masjid and the state that they have reached.
But moreover, you notice that even among Muslim organizations in the West and all over the “free world,” the reaction is muted, defeated, shy and hesitant. Even those who condemn these injustices simply point to it as yet another example of the persecution of Muslims in modern history, but then move on to talk about all the idiotic theological topics that Muslims love to debate online endlessly. They will get worked up about how Sunnis feel about the Shia, far more than they will get worked up about something that is supposed to be dear to their hearts, such as whether their children have the option of wearing hijab in France or not.
Many of you have heard me say that this is typical of the reaction of a defeated people. Some of you asked me, "What does that mean? Is it simply that a defeated people no longer believe in resistance, and so they do not resist? Or, is it that a defeated people lose perspective as to priorities in the social and political causes and that confront them?" Yes, but there is also more. A defeated people have a messed up relationship with power itself. A defeated people no longer see power as an institution that they can negotiate with through rational, accountable mechanisms and methodologies. A defeated people have a reactive mode to power. When power manifests itself, they tend to cower and fall back on generalized assertions, the main purpose of which is to stroke their egos vis-a-vis power.
But none of these assertions modify the nature of power that a defeated people confront. Meaning, you are confronted with power so you choose to respond by uttering a bunch of phrases about how it is unfair, unjust, ugly, disgusting, misguided or whatever you want to describe this power as. But ultimately, you have no plans of engaging, challenging or modifying this power in any significant way. Your declarations are not even intended to reach the bearers of power, their main purpose is simply to make you feel good about yourself. So, you utter a small statement, think, "Now that I said it is unfair, I have done my job," and move on.
But there is also a second aspect. That being the twisted, ill relationship to power that makes you unwilling to challenge those who have power over you in direct, honest ways that have long-term consequences, so instead the power leaves you feeling defeated and broken. Power leaves you with a bruised ego, yet again, so you turn around after having failed to challenge the power of the powerful, and find space within your own domain to exercise your own hegemonic, brute power over others. In other words, you fail to challenge those who oppress you, but you oppress those who are under you.
That is the pathology that Muslims have with power, and what I mean by the reaction of a defeated people. A defeated people will speak very little about institutional changes that can address concrete problems in a rational, comprehensive and critical fashion. But, they will speak erratically, emotionally and even psychotically about things that relate to power over them. They will then turn around and exercise that same irrational type of power over those under them. When God tells us to reflect upon the stories of those who came before us, the stories of the nations and people that came before us, God is saying, "Reflect upon history like you would reflect upon the laws of nature." And if you reflect upon history, you will find that this is at the heart and soul of what happens with a defeated people. They are cowards when power is exerted over them, but they are also cowardly when oppressing those who are under them.
This is precisely why social sciences, philosophy and intellectual endeavors are failing to thrive among Muslims. Social sciences demand that you have coherent, rational ways about speaking about institutions and social, political and cultural theories. But, if you are a defeated people, you have no use for rational discourse about institutions, culture, society and political institutions. You want to understand the psychology and sociology of a defeated people? While there is near complete and absolute silence towards all the racism that is sweeping Europe - racism that is so serious that it threatens to give rise to the next holocaust - all it would take for Muslims in Europe to confront what Muslims in China are now confronting is a few right-wing parties to come to power in some key European countries. It is that serious. Muslims sit around as they see what happens to Muslims in Kashmir and do nothing; what is happening to Muslims in India and do nothing; what is happening to Muslims in Palestine and do nothing; leave alone, of course, what is happening to Muslims in Burma and in China, and again, do nothing.
At the same time, the same people who cannot be bothered to simply retweet a message of a Muslim speaking about these serious issues, will react just as they did this past week. They might look at their wife, their sisters or their daughters, and demand that the hijab come down to nearly touching the eyebrows. Or the same parents who cannot be bothered about any of the things that we have talked about, will fly into a tirade because they are convinced that the toes of their daughter must be covered and will have hell in their family because they insist that their daughter should not wear open sandals. They will step into their mosque, after having failed to even simply retweet a message, and have a fit because women are not properly segregated.
Every single week for the past 10 years, I have received messages from young women who complain about the oppressive atmosphere that male guardians put them through in the United States, in Europe, in Australia, in New Zealand. The narrative is always the same. ‘My father, my older brother, my uncle, whoever, seems to think that the rise and fall of Islam depends on whether I am a fitna (temptation) or not. Whether my hair is properly covered or not, whether my hijab is low enough over my forehead or not, and whether my toes or my feet are properly covered or not. Or whether our voice in the mosque can be heard or not, or whether when we step into the mosque, we are visible behind a curtain to any degree or not.’
The sad reality is that it is not just colonialists who use the body of women to play their power games, but the defeated Muslim male does just the same. Colonialists play it from the perspective of the winner, of the hegemon; while the male Muslim plays these same games from the perspective of the loser, the non-hegemon, the defeated, the broken. What suffers through all of that? Well, look at how much ammunition we have given Islamophobes. It is simply unreasonable to expect our children to believe in a theoretical Islam if their lived experience with Islamic culture does not make them feel proud, liberated or happy. It often is as simple as that.
Very few people in the world have the capacity to think in abstract terms. Very few people in the world have a sustained theoretical ability. Most people of the world relate to the world through attitudes, not through fully formed ideas and thoughts. Is it unfortunate? Yes, of course. But if you raise your daughters such that their primary experience with Islam and what it is to be Muslim are unhappy experiences, no matter how much theory you give them, the project has failed. If your daughters do not learn how to think about how to claim dignity before power, in other words how to stand up for their own dignity when thinking about power, there is no way that your daughters are going to be good mothers. There is no way that these daughters can raise a generation that is free of the ailments of defeatism.
Good mothers will raise good children. You can put a hundred men together, and they still would not have the impact of a single mother upon her child. It begins and ends with mothers. But before that, it begins and ends with your daughters. And if you raise your daughters thinking of Islam as plagued with hypocritical, cowardly, irrational and emotional followers, followers who live double lives, who go to work and smile at their female boss but then step into a mosque and suddenly put on stern face as if God's anger has descended upon them, your daughters will not grow up to be good mothers. Instead of raising a liberated people, they will raise the next generation as a defeated people. Only a liberated people can bear the burden of carrying the Islamic covenant - and can do it justice. Only a free people can do that. Not a broken people, not a defeated people, not a cowardly people, not a hypocritical people, and definitely not a misogynistic people.
The pathologies and ailments that arise from defeatism are numerous. It is not just a failure to achieve societies that are, at the very least, not despotic and not corrupt. It is not just a failure to resist misogyny and resist racism, as racism is also one of the ailments of a defeated people. But among the first things that go out the window in defeated cultures, after transparency and honesty, is just simple compassion and mercy. When the male ego is broken in its confrontation with power and it no longer seeks to negotiate with power through rational means, history tells us what follows is that that male ego, when it has the opportunity to practice its own power over those under it, would do so without compassion, empathy or mercy.
But beyond that, while affirming everything that all the high principles that Islam stands for, you find that Muslim cultures even here in the West, where Muslim immigrants have had an opportunity to at least work on themselves and attempt to reconstruct, that there is a bizarre level of obliviousness to the struggles of fellow Muslims that cause Muslims to be triggered about their insecurities vis-a-vis power.
An example comes from a conversation with a dear friend who works in Muslim prisons. Among the things mentioned to me is that there is a surge of Islamic belief in American prisons. After all, it is where Malcolm X converted to Islam. But many of these Muslim prisoners who are serving long prison sentences or life terms have a very simple concern. They are worried that once they die as indigents - without money; or if their family just does not care to spend money on them - what the state will do is cremate them and put their ashes in a pauper’s grave.
For many of these incarcerated Muslims, their biggest worry is, "I just want to have a decent burial. I do not want to die, have my body cremated and then God only knows what would happen to my ashes." So, my Muslim friend has been trying to raise money from the Muslim community to buy burial plots, to give some comfort and peace of mind to these prisoners. And, as soon as she told me about this, I was going to finish her sentence for her, "And, of course, no one gave anything."
In my experience, we do not like to think about Muslims in prison because we instead like to engage in the mythology that either these Muslims deserve to rot in prison, or that any association with these Muslims in prison is degrading to us. We are adopting the exact frame of mind of a defeated people. They look at who amongst them falls through the cracks, and instead of extending a hand to help them up again, they create a mythology that those who fall deserve what they get and want to move on.
No religion emphasizes repentance as much as Islam. You get a full opportunity to rebuild everything from scratch. And although we are taught that God forgives and cleanses the slates of those who repent, and although Malcolm X - probably the most important American Muslim leader of the 20th century - found his way to Islam while incarcerated, I can tell you having worked on prison cases, that Muslim inmates are fighting for a right to break their fast in Ramadan or to pray jumu’a. But getting “mainstream” Muslims to show any interest in fellow Muslims in prison is an absurdly difficult job.
People who should know better have asked me, "Why are you spending so much time working on these prison cases?" My answer is, do you see what power does? It is because these Muslims, who are engineers or doctors, think it is not a good look, it is not “prestigious” enough, it does not feel part of the dominant colonial white culture to care about prisoners, to extend a helping hand to prisoners. After all, the institutions of white power condemned these prisoners, and the pathology of a defeated people would not dare to challenge that condemnation, would not dare to say, "But they are still human. They still have rights. They are still Muslim. They are still our brothers and our sisters."
In Islamic centers, time and time again, I have asked imams to just mention Muslims in prison in khutbahs. Not once has an imam agreed to it. Instead they say, "We can talk about it in private." That is the pathology of a defeated people. When these Muslim inmates die and if there is no money to bury them as Muslims and so they are cremated, the sin of what happens to them is shared by all of us Muslims - first, the city they died in, then, the state they died in, then the country they died in, then the world they died in. All of us will come in the Hereafter carrying our share of the collective sin of American Muslims dying in prison and not even being afforded an Islamic burial.