This is the first jum'ua in the month of Ramadan. As God told us in Surah Al-Baqarah, the month of Ramadan is the month where the Qur’anic revelation starts and when the gift of the Qur’an is given to humanity. It is a month of guidance. It is the month that bears the possibility of an abundance of guidance and furqan (criterion), in addition to that special gift that God gives to human beings when they can differentiate between good and evil, between a purposeful life and an aimless existence, between meaning and a state of meaninglessness, between being rooted in a path of guidance and baselessly floating from one state of being to another.
The month of Ramadan is a magnificent occasion because it always bears with it the possibility of transformation. It is as if God has dedicated an entire month of every year for human beings to have the opportunity to pause and exercise that most cherished ability, the ability as self-discipline, restraint and control.
The nature of life itself is that society, for the most part, sets our goals for us. We human beings are born into a social unit, and the processes of socialization and culture define so much for us. They define what we wear, when we wear it. They define for us what we eat and when we eat. They define for us what we learn and how we learn it. They define for us the stages of life, including what is considered childhood, adolescence and adulthood. They define for us how we seek treatment and how we are treated.
It controls the various stages of life. They often even control how we understand friendship, and how we interpret different professions. They define how we understand a marriage, what we expect within a marriage, how we relate to our children and how children relate to us. And so, that is the nature of the existence that we lead until society decides when is retirement and what it entails, until death comes upon us.
God gave us a month of each year to discover, and possibly exercise, that remarkable weapon of resistance, pause and thoughtfulness - the weapon of restraint and self-control. God reminds us that during this month is the fast, a methodology that has been decreed to us and decreed to those before us. Fasting is not just about refraining from food and drink from sunrise and sundown, but it is also an exercise of self-control, and a chance to reflect upon your life and its trajectory. It is an opportunity to reflect upon your relationship to God, and God's relationship to you.
And this is precisely why it is no coincidence that God, right after reminding us that, "Ramadan is the month of guidance," tells us, "If people ask you where I am, tell them I am right next to them, answering the call of those who call upon me." It is by exercising a degree of self-restraint and self-control that God invites you to reflect upon your relationship to the Divine and the Divine's relationship to you. Furthermore, it is an invitation to reflect upon your relationship to existence and those who exist within existence, as well as their relationship to you.
So many Muslims fail to properly embrace Ramadan as an event in their life. The number of Ramadans in each of our lives is literally numbered by the number of years that we live on this Earth, each Ramadan that passes is a deduction. But in every Ramadan, there is that basic question that you must ask yourself: Do you know for certain that the following Ramadan, you will be around? Look around and ask yourself: Do you know for certain that by next Ramadan, those who are around you will be around?
It is a month to reflect upon those who exist around you, who have an impact upon your life, positive or negative; and how those individuals influence your closeness to God. Do your social circles encourage your relationship with Divine, or do they alienate you from the Divine? From one Ramadan to another, your reflections must have results, so if in Ramadan you realize that your social circles are unhealthy, the real question becomes: By the following Ramadan, what progress have you achieved?
If you realize one Ramadan that you are woefully ignorant, unread and unlearned, by the following Ramadan, what progress have you achieved? If you realize one Ramadan that you don't know what a close relationship to God means, by the following Ramadan, what progress have you achieved? If you realize that your body and soul depend on material things to feel fulfilled, if what you eat and drink is so critical to you that it has a direct impact on your mood and on your spiritual state, then by the following Ramadan, what progress have you achieved?
That is the purpose of Ramadan. It is like the station where you pause and take account of your life. It is where you assess your current state, where you came from and where you are going. This is why God describes Ramadan as not simply a guidance, but an accounting of guidance, and the decisive mark between goodness and the opposite of goodness. Ramadan should be an event, in every sense of the word, because we have only a limited number of Ramadans in our life.
As you look around, you may ask yourself, "By next Ramadan, who among those that I know, will be around? Beyond that, who can I count on? Who might drift away? Who might stay? Who is my path towards a more meaningful, purposeful and clean life, and who inevitably has an influence upon me where my life is more distracted, more confused, less clear and more ambiguous?"
Precisely because you are aware that Ramadan is a station for reflection and worship and contemplation, you think of those who, by the following Ramadan, might not be around. Also, think about this year, everything that you should do towards them, because if they are not around and you failed to do what you knew you should have done, that is an accountability before God.
In the Hereafter, God will say, "I gave you an opportunity, an entire month where you are supposed to exercise self-restraint, discipline, moral contemplation and ethical reflection. Did you think of your parents? Did you think of your children? Did you think of your friends? Did you think of your husbands? Did you think of your wives? Did you reflect upon the fact that every relationship that you have, if it is a blessed relationship, is a gift from God, and that by the next Ramadan, those that you love may no longer be around?"
God will inevitably ask you about that station of reflection and contemplation, "Did you do what you knew you should have done towards them?" But it also works the other way. If you are a volatile human being, if you are an angry human being, if you are a cruel human being, if you are a neglectful human being, Ramadan is not just about refraining from food and drink, Ramadan is about reflection, moral progress and ethical advancement.
From one Ramadan to another, have you worked on your cruelty? Have you worked on your anger? Have you worked on your insensitivity? Have you worked on your selfishness? Have you worked on all the moral faults that plague your personality? From one Ramadan to another, what progress have you achieved? Ramadan is not about celebrations. It is not about Qur’anic recitation. It is not about the number of rakats you pray. It is not about how much Qur’an you recite. And most definitely, it is not about thirst and hunger. All those who deal with Ramadan in that way have, from a theological perspective, failed miserably. Ramadan is about moral progress and ethical advancement. From one Ramadan to the other, what have you achieved? In each Ramadan, what was your progress, until the time comes and it is your last Ramadan on the face of this Earth.
In fact, none of us know if we are living through our last Ramadan on the face of this Earth. That is the remarkable thing. There are people who have an illness that languishes on for years, but even with those who are very ill, there is something in us as human beings that resists the realization that this could be the last Ramadan. But as you very well know, you do not need to be ill for this to be your last Ramadan.
You have to deal with each Ramadan as if it is your last Ramadan on the face of this Earth. God is close to you, ready to answer your call. Are you satisfied that you have lived up to that act of Divine generosity? Are you satisfied that you have fully realized that God is right next to you, ever ready to answer your call? Are you satisfied that you have internalized it, understood it, and that it has become a part of your consciousness?
Are you satisfied that you are not like the father of Abraham, who tells him, "I do what I do because this is the way we have always done it"? Are you satisfied that your consciousness is more about your awareness of God's proximity to you than it is about the dynamics and processes of socialization? To put it simply, are you satisfied that you are more a product of the relationship to God’s nearness to you than you are a product of the dynamics and processes of human socialization?
Are you satisfied that you are a product of the Divine relationship than you are a product of the habits, interests and acculturations of human beings? That is the challenge. Again, Ramadan is not about prayer, and not about recitation of the Qur’an, and not about just refraining from food and water; that is a failed Ramadan. Ramadan is about a transformation and consciousness, an annual event in the life of Muslims.
But there is another component to Ramadan that is often forgotten among contemporary Muslims. Ramadan is also an event in which you must reflect upon those who are less fortunate than you. Every Ramadan comes, and again, it is not just about refraining from food and drink but refraining from food and drink is simply an instrumentality so that you can think of those who are less fortunate than yourself; those who cannot find food or drink whenever they need it. And again, I am not just talking about the poor, although obviously, the poor are a critical component of our moral and ethical reflections of Ramadan. I am talking about all of those who are less fortunate.
So for instance, as we try to be with family and friends at iftar, do you think of the children of Yusuf al-Qaradawi - his daughter and his son-in-law who are in Egyptian prisons? Only God knows how they are dealing with the iftar and suhoor. Do you think of the poor fellow like Ahmed Sabee’, the Egyptian man who learned Syriac and Hebrew, and did nothing but try to defend Islam by returning the gaze? As Islamophobes, Christians and Jews attack Islam night and day. Ahmed Sabee’ learned their language, read their Torah and their New Testament, and started to return the gaze. Until now, he is rotting in prison for that. Do you think of him? Do you think of how he breaks fasts or what he does at suhoor? Do you think of the anxiety, the pain and the sorrow that his family is going through?
Do you think of a scholar like Salman Al-Ouda, who dedicated his life to serving Islam and Muslims, who was the embodiment of moderation and an ethical Islam? And for that, he is still in Saudi prisons, away from his family. Do you make a dua for them? Do you think of your own life and say, "As long as there's an Ahmed Sabee’ and a Salman Al Ouda, I have no right to complain"?
Do you think of whatever is upsetting you in life and say, "Whatever is upsetting me, God could have put me through a test like Shaykh Qaradawi and his family, Salman Al Ouda and his family, and Ahmed Sabee’ and his family are going through, so I should not complain"? Do you remember them when you break fast? Do you remember them in your prayer? How about all the Muslim doctors that sacrifice themselves as they fight corona on the frontlines, like Dr. Usama Ghaibeh whose daughter is among those who belongs to the Usuli community and regularly listens to our halaqas? Dr. Usama Ghaibeh, may God bless his soul. At a time when doctors were running away and refusing to treat corona patients, he said, "It is my Islamic duty to take care of the sick," and served on the frontlines until he lost his life to corona. His wife and his daughter are now without the main breadwinner, without their beloved father and beloved husband. Do you think of him as you break your iftar, do your prayers and sit for Fajr? You must think of people like that, both so you can understand the gratitude you should show to God, and so that you can be praying from the bottom of your heart and soul for God to bless them and bless their families, to take care of them and take care of their families, to reward them and reward their families.
Just as I was getting ready for jumu’a, a family among those who belong to the Usuli community wrote to me about their daughter, Raya Zaman, a 12-year-old who suffers from cerebral palsy. As we started this Ramadan, Raya Zaman is in a hospital on a ventilator fighting for her life, and her family asked a special request that the Usuli community, wherever they are around the world, pray for their daughter, Raya Zaman, for God to take care of her and have mercy on her, to heal her, to heal the hearts of her family, and to help her and help her family.
Ramadan is about reflecting upon all of that. Ramadan is an event in our life for moral progress and ethical advancement. And moral progress and ethical advancement cannot be had unless you care not only about yourself, but about others. And when we say others, I mean especially those who are less fortunate than yourself, those who have real cause for suffering, and those who really are going through God's most difficult tests. Regardless of how hard we think our tests are, think of those who are going through much harder tests and let that guide your moral reflection and your attempt at achieving moral progress and ethical advancement.
President Biden sent a message wishing Muslims a happy Ramadan, as did Vice President Kamala Harris. President spoke about discrimination against Muslims and harassment of Muslims and overall, that is a good thing. I would much rather have a president that sends a message to society that hating Muslims and Islam is not okay, rather than a president that turns hating Islam and Muslims into a national policy.
And, of course, as I think of President Biden's message, I think that this is precisely what the United States is supposed to stand for - pluralism and the acceptance of the other, and a state that does not act like a medieval crusading entity favoring the so-called Judeo-Christian tradition in order to wage war against Muslim culture and Islam.
But of course, I tell President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, "The Ramadan greeting, while likely much appreciated by all American Muslims, would be far more meaningful if the United States did not occupy Muslim countries and have military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. If Muslims are given the right to self-determination, we would end our illegal invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. President Biden, the Muslim world is tired of Western powers invading, occupying, dominating and controlling."
This Ramadan greeting would be more meaningful if the United States did not always act as if the only people that matter in the Middle East are the Israelis, because that is a racist paradigm. It is as if the Israelis and only the Israelis deserve democracy, good governance, human rights and moral progress; while Muslims deserve authoritarianism and despotism, and the likes of Muhammad bin Salman and bin Zayed and Sisi.
The Ramadan greeting would mean so much more if the United States would do more to restrain Russia from continuing to butcher Syrians without limit, and if the United States would do more to hold the regime of Assad criminally accountable; if the United States would stop supporting dictators like Sisi in Egypt and sending them arms and weapons, and training their oppressive police forces and security forces, and arming their military; if the United States would stop arming Saudi Arabia and the Emirates so that they cannot continue committing a genocide in Yemen and in Libya; if only we would stop acting like the only democracy that can legitimately exist in the Middle East is the Israeli democracy, while everyone else in that region does not deserve a democracy and is dealt with through a racist paradigm.
We ourselves need the conscientious pause of Ramadan to think of our national policies as a world superpower from a moral and an ethical perspective. And to understand that just because we are a democracy, it does not mean that occupying the lands of others, supporting dictatorships in faraway lands, and helping dictators in every way logistically and technologically, that our conduct is necessarily ethical or moral, even if we claim ourselves to be a democracy.
Since 1948, America has always dealt with not just the Arab world, but the entire Muslim world as if we only care about Israel and nothing but Israel. As long as Israel is safe and happy, the rest of Muslim world can go to hell. They can be bombed. They can be invaded. They can be engaged into proxy wars. They can be dealt with in whichever way; it does not matter. That is racist, simply racist.
It is not just religiously bigoted, but actually racist because we engage in this fiction, whether we are aware of it or not. That fiction being, "Israelis are white, while Persians, Arabs, Bengalis, Indonesians, Pakistanis, they are all the other, they are non-White, so they do not really matter." And in order to make that fiction true, Americans visit Israel and make a point to only see white Israel, but any part of Israel that is not white is not bothered with, they are completely disinterested in. A racist paradigm.
And since Satan refused to prostrate before Adam for entirely racist reasons, racism has been a disease that eats away at societies and cultures. The Egyptians enslaved the Israelites for racist reasons, so Moses was sent to liberate Israelites from the racism of Egyptians. Satan has always spread the disease of racism among human beings.
As Ramadan comes, we must reflect upon this disease in our own society. Why is it that every other day, a police officer shoots a Black man? Just recently, we all heard about 13-year-old Adam Toledo. If you have seen how police officers deal with white people, and the lengths to which they go in order to avoid firing their weapon, you may wonder, "Why does this keep happening? Why is it that these same police officers will not discharge their weapon when it comes to a white person, but they will so easily discharge their weapon when it comes to a minority, especially a Black person?" It is because the disease of racism is so deeply embedded under the surface.
It defines what we see as a threat without us consciously engaging in a racist act. In other words, none of these police officers consciously or deliberately think, "This is a Black man, so I am going to kneel on their neck until they die," or, "This is a Black man, so I'm going to shoot first and ask questions second," but racism like the disease that Satan sparked in existence, it is embedded deeply inside. It defines what we see as alien, as the other and as a threat, what we see as deserving and not deserving, what we see as human and something other than human.
Racism is what allows us to feel the pangs of pain every time an Israeli is hurt, but to be oblivious when we hear about thousands of casualties in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen. Racism is a disease that, if it infects and becomes part of our foreign policy in the Middle East, will be a part of our internal politics in the United States. People have to understand we cannot be racist when it comes to the Middle East and somehow, keep racism nonexistent in our inner cities when it comes to our police officers.
Yesterday, I saw a video that disturbed me deeply. A respectable, dignified Black lieutenant in the American Army is stopped by White police officers in Chicago, and the way that that lieutenant is treated is something subservient to even animals. First, the police officers claim that this is a felony stop, and it turns out they lied. They stopped the man because they thought he did not have his tags on the car. It turned out that this was a newly bought car that did not yet have its license plates, though it had a plaque from the dealer.
Then, while the man is excruciatingly polite with the police officers, they order him to leave his car and then proceed to spray him with mace. They then force him to lay on the ground, and when it turns out that he has no criminal record and he did not commit any type of offense whatsoever, they start to try to extort him by telling him, "If you want to avoid jail time, let us just agree that you will forget about this stop and will not file a complaint, and that you will not do anything about the way we have treated you."
I am at least grateful that we live in a country where these police officers were fired, ultimately, because in countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Emirate, police officers do this stuff all the time and there is no accountability. They do not get fired, nothing happens to them. The disease of racism is unbelievable. And when you think that racism was the disease proudly embraced by Satan himself at the very genesis of creation, you become amazed by how much our world continues to be plagued by that racism at so many layers.
Ramadan is precisely about all of that. After I get done with reciting the Qur’an, performing dhikr (worship), and preparing myself for the next day, I sit and I think about the demonic, Satanic disease of racism. I think of racism within the country, and I think of the racism outside the country. I think of those who are less fortunate than myself, who continue to suffer in prisons and jails. I think of families that lost their fathers and their mothers. I think of parents whose children are in the hospital battling for their life. I think of those who cannot afford to buy what their children want to eat or drink.
I think of human beings who are trafficked and sold into slavery, and poor women who are forced into prostitution all over the world. I think of the evils of the commodification of human bodies and the commercialization of humanity itself. I think of all of that and I say, "God, You are closer to me than my jugular vein. Without You, I have no strength to bear all what I think of. God, You own this world and this universe. From this Ramadan till the next, help me. Help me in whichever way to be an agent of moral progress and ethical advancement.”