I deliver this khutbah in the second jum’ua of Ramadan, a month in which we are invited to reflect upon nothing short of something truly monumental, that all Muslims believe in. Something that we affirm numerous times every day. Every time we read the Fatiha, we affirm that God, in revealing the Fatiha, has given every single Muslim a letter of appointment. The Fatiha is like our own personal letter of appointment, that all our affairs should be conducted in the name of God.
The covenant between us and our Maker, that is affirmed numerous times every day, states that everything we do, we do in the name of God. It is a covenant to conduct our affairs in this world through the principles of mercy, compassion and an acknowledgement that it is the nature of human beings to look towards something greater than themselves, and that humanity will always worship a superior. If it does not identify a clear superior, humanity simply worships itself.
So when we say “…ihidinous siratal mustaqim” (“Show us the Straight Path”), we affirm that our sovereign, our superior is God, and that the ethical path and the path of enlightenment is not possible without the one and only God. We affirm that all of our affairs in this world are but a prelude for a continuing world, and that we cannot disregard that ultimate truth of accountability, as well as that ultimate principle of justice in what we do in this world. We affirm this numerous times by simply reciting the Fatiha.
Ramadan itself further invites us to assess where we stand, where we are going and how we live our lives. Ramadan is a month-long journey that is meant to intensify our reflections as the month progresses, until we reach the last ten days of Ramadan, and before we know it, the entire month will be over.
The month of Ramadan was not designed simply for solemn, individual, lonely reflection. The month of Ramadan, if understood properly, is a time when Muslims come together in the connective act of submission. This is why Tarawe’eh prayer is clearly preferred in a group, and not individually. Time and again, God reminds us that in order for mercy to be accomplished on this earth, in order to develop a theology of mercy in the way we manage the affairs of this Earth, in order to affirm the principle of dependence on the sovereign and the rejection of self-worship and self-idolatry, and in order to affirm the principle of an ethical livelihood, you need communities. You need to embrace the difficult part of community building. It is not about simply being an individual in your relationship with God, but it is about the art, the blessings of learning how to use your individuality to enrich a collectivity, so that God's purposes and goals on this Earth will be served.
Put differently, Ramadan is not a selfish month. It is not a month about indulging in individualism and in selfishness. It is not simply about praying alone or reading the Qur'an alone. Everything that is within the sunnah of Ramadan communicates to you that this is where the individual reflects deeply about how they as an individual contribute to the community itself.
Gatherings are strongly recommended. Sharing your food with others is strongly recommended. And, in the opinion of some, Ramadan is not complete unless you break your fast with the community. Prayers in collectivity are strongly recommended. Everything about Ramadan says that this is a month where the individual works on their relationship with God, but does so in full recognition that God has a project for this world. God's project is for the affairs of this world to be conducted mercifully and compassionately, and for human beings to resist the pitfalls of self-idolatry, selfishness and self-centeredness.
But the challenges are numerous. If Muslims come together, read the Qur'an and pray together, but the Qur'an itself fails to penetrate beyond their ears, or if public, collective worship becomes a form of self-idolatry rather than a long, thoughtful, critical, pensive look at the world in which we live, the purpose of Ramadan is not reached. In Ramadan especially, the community is encouraged to come together, but it is crucial to remember that the art of coming together is the art of bearing witness, not coming together to be oblivious to the world in which we live.
I am deeply struck that, once again, Ramadan arrives to a world in which every country that, in at least some capacity, is Muslim holds little impact upon this world. Muslims have little impact upon this world. I am struck by the fact that we continue to live in a world that is defined by remarkable, shocking ills. Paramount among them is economic inequity, racial injustice and racial oppression.
You look at the world in which we live, and it is clear that for centuries, a specific race of human beings have achieved hegemonic control all over the globe, and that the rules of progress and modernity have always been centered upon a racial basis. It is remarkable that Ramadan comes again, and again we gaze upon a world in which the wealth of this globe continue to be centered in countries that are predominately white, and that belong to a particular historical legacy in which the white race dominated other races in the name of the white man's burden and the imperative of civilization and progress.
Ramadan comes upon a world that continues to consume this Earth at an unsustainable rate. Commodity upon commodity flows through the ports of the white world to be sent to millions of faceless consumers in the non-white world. It is remarkable when you look at a place like Europe and you find that they have struggled for so long with the very idea of admitting Turks into their club of progress, solely because the Turks are racially different and therefore not entitled to membership.
The very same can be said about the Albanians and the Bosnians. Despite these nations being in the middle of Europe, they can only aspire for white membership, because it is not just about skin color, but an entire culture. The world that we live in has given each human being a screen that has become the entire universe of the human being. But those who provide the screen and the commodities supplied through that screen do not care about the faceless consumer. To them, these consumers are only a brain attached to a screen, their only reason of importance being that they consume. And if they stop consuming, they no longer matter.
This Ramadan comes upon us as we are constantly reminded that race continues to be an enormous problem in the heartland of where we live. The policing of non-white races often involves violating their rights, as well as their very lives, all while the police dutifully protect white institutions. But the world we live in itself has very little incentive to break the shackles of racism, because as long as racism continues to be profitable and generates the consumption pattern that exists in our world, there is no incentive for reform or change.
We all too often forget that Satan was the first racist. We all too often forget that among the ailments that plagued the ancient world that God sent Musa to confront was the ailment of racism in Egypt towards the Israelites. We all too often forget that core to the message of the Prophet Muhammad was that racism was ignorance and demonic.
We cannot afford to have Ramadan come to us without asking ourselves the very simple, basic question: Are we Muslims an effective countermeasure to racism, or are we simply part of the problem? Do we Muslims understand the inequities and the ailments of our world, or do we simply exist in this world with no consequence, so that when we meet God, we have nothing to bear witness about and no real testimonials? Because yes, many Ramadans came and went, and we may have read the Qur'an dozens of times, but we have noticed nothing, learned nothing, said nothing and did nothing. Ramadan is the Muslim report card.
The way Muslims interact with Ramadan is remarkable, as I often find Muslims confirming the very instrumentalities of the disease that Muslims are supposed to bear witness against. It is remarkable that so much of the ‘adkar, so much of the Qur'an, so much of the learning that Muslims are supposed to acquire and disseminate, and so much of the testimony that Muslims are supposed to bear has now become commodified through an electronic screen. In today’s world, for so many Muslims, their relationship with Islam itself is now mediated through a computer screen and ultimately, those who produce and profit from what is shown on that screen are the same people who are responsible for the deeply embedded ailments of modern human society: racism and classism.
It is remarkable that as God gave us a month to practice the art of community building, I find that Muslims have excelled in commodifying themselves by simply becoming brains behind a screen, consuming religious knowledge like they consume everything else. Everything is virtual, everything is unreal, and the same illness that has plagued humanity for the past few centuries continues to exist and proliferate, from the way that we are killing the very earth that we are living in, to the way that we continue affirming institutions of racism and classism.
As we worship in Ramadan, we must teach our children the missing aspect of Ramadan; the moral responsibility of Ramadan, the social obligation that exists within the folds of meaning of Ramadan. We must teach our children that the situation we are currently in is not natural, nor is it right. It is not right that Muslims have nothing to say about the inequities of the world we live in, and it is not right that Muslims are culturally dependent to the point that they simply mirror all the ailments of their former colonizers, and in many ways, their current colonizers.
Muslims do not reflect very deeply about the world in which they exist during Ramadan. In fact, many think of Ramadan as a month of lethargy and laziness; a month in which intellectual efforts, social efforts, and efforts for change and reform are hardly an afterthought. If we do not teach our children that this situation is not correct, and that the correct theology of Ramadan is not practiced, in due time we will have generations that no longer remember the true point behind Ramadan and no longer understand why communal iftars and communal worship are so important.
Why not just be a good Muslim privately at home, away from the public's gaze? What is the point of Islamic shahada? What is the point of the Fatiha? What is the point of even being a Muslim? Today, we have young Muslims wondering why God chose to describe Islam as the light given to humanity, asking, "Well, the point is just to be a good person, right? Is it not sufficient to follow just any religion? Does it really make a difference if you are Christian, Jewish, Baha'i, Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist? Does Islam really have anything extra to contribute religiously, theologically, philosophically to humanity?"
These types of existential questions arise because Muslims have forgotten the point of their theology. Muslims have forgotten something as straightforward and as simple as what Ramadan is supposed to mean in its full power.
Perhaps the problem is that even the teachers responsible for teaching our children have themselves forgotten. When I read what Ramadan is supposed to represent in the lives of Muslims and how Ramadan was once the month in which Muslims would innovate and create the most; where it was once the month that great works of literature, art, philosophy, mathematics and science were either started or completed, I feel that there is something woefully missing.
When I look around at our deeply divided, racist and unjust world, and I see the topics that are covered in khutbahs given around the world in Ramadan, I find that Muslims themselves have become as if a cult. A cult of practices, a cult of expressions, but no real morality and no real ethics.
Just yesterday, as many of us enjoyed peaceful nights, spending our time as we pleased, a group of Israeli settlers again attacked Palestinian homes in Jerusalem and disrupted Tarawe’eh prayer at the Aqsa Mosque, chanting, "Death to Arabs, death to Muhammad, death to Arabs, Arabs are terrorists," although they initiated this attack against Palestinians doing their prayers. They continued this chant as they enjoyed the protection of the Israeli army, and when the Palestinians attempted to defend themselves, hundreds of Palestinians were arrested.
The Aqsa Mosque is yet again violated. Yet again, prayers in the Aqsa Mosque are disrupted. And remarkably, Arab media all over Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Emirates continued to broadcast singing, dancing and Ramadan series, but not a word about the violence that occurred at the Aqsa Mosque, not even in the news. As far as I could tell, the only news channel that mentioned it in the Arab world was Qatar-based Al Jazeera.
And of course, the people who really caught my attention were the Israeli settlers because, as I looked up the story, I noticed that many of them have American-sounding names. According to several stories I have read, many of these Israeli settlers are, in fact, Americans who have decided to migrate to Israel with the purpose of establishing more Israeli establishments over on Palestinian lines.
What particularly, and unfortunately, caught my attention is these settlers’ commitment and dedication. Commitment and dedication to something foul, to disrupt the prayer of people praying in their mosque. I remember in 1967, stories of Arabs throwing rocks at Jews praying at the Wailing Wall. Although so many Palestinians disputed that there were ever rocks thrown at the Israelis at the Wailing wall, it became part of the founding mythology of Israel. It became part of the mythology that justified the occupation and annexation of Jerusalem. How many violations and assaults against Muslims occur at the Aqsa Mosque, yet it becomes part of no mythology, and it becomes a part of no memory?
A Palestinian was killed in these clashes, the result of rubber bullets fired from Israeli soldiers. Although American media tried to fudge it with noncommittal language, witnesses and human rights observers have noted the Israeli settlers’ chant, "Death to Arabs," a racist call for a thoroughly racist movement in an utterly racist colonial project. Notably, the world was not outraged by these chants, nor were they outraged by an Israeli assault against Muslims. Though, why should the world be outraged when Muslims themselves are not?
Ramadan arrived and we cannot even get our act straight about Jerusalem, leave alone the problem of racism throughout the world, although Muslims themselves have become a racialized category throughout the world. Ask the Muslims of China, the Muslims of Kashmir, or the Rohingyas in Burma, and they can tell you what the racialization of Muslims looks like. Ask the Bosnians in the rape camps that were created by the Serbs. But yet, our voices are silent.
If nothing else, our theology must speak very loudly in Ramadan. If nothing else, what we teach our children in Ramadan must be the correct doctrine, must be the correct principles. If we are so weak that we are unable to do anything of note, at the very least what we teach ourselves and our children should be on the right path. That is at the minimum.
But what makes the Israeli settlers able to do what they do, as wrong as it is? Simple dedication and sacrifice. They are willing to put their entire life on hold. They are willing to step away from their phones and their social media. They are willing to step away from their consumer items, their commodities, and their consumption to pursue a principle. Yes, it is a wrongful principle, but a principle, nevertheless.
No cause in the world progresses without sacrifice and commitment. No amount of du’a and worship to God is going to avail us anything without sacrifice or commitment. These are the simple laws that God has put upon creation. Like Maryam sitting under the palm tree, having to put in the effort of shaking a palm tree to gain the dates that will sustain and protect the lives of her and her newborn baby, Jesus. She herself had to shake the palm tree, even though God could have supplied her with those dates effortlessly.
May God guide us, and may the next Ramadan find us, Muslims, in a better state. May God protect the Aqsa Mosque until we rise to our obligations, and until many Muslims wake up to the ugliness of racism, the extent to which it plagues our world and the extent that it has become a true human ailment.