"Why Jerusalem Matters"

A ceasefire has been agreed between Israel and Gaza. It is a ceasefire that leaves the Palestinians with a monumental amount of destruction. Entire buildings have been razed to the ground. Families have been left homeless, losing homes for which they spent a lifetime working and saving. Hospitals have been hit. Governmental and civic infrastructure is destroyed. Meanwhile, the blockade that suffocates Gaza continues so that more than two million Gazans in a small strip of land continue to suffer under gross and inhumane living conditions. After the ceasefire was announced, Palestinians poured into the streets to celebrate. The following day, shortly after jumu‘a prayers, Israel police once again attacked Palestinians gathered inside the al-Aqsa mosque compound. It is as if the Israelis could not handle seeing the Palestinians waving the Palestinian flag and rejoicing. The clashes resulted in numerous Palestinians wounded and arrested. It was an entirely avoidable clash. The Israeli police did not have to attack the Palestinians gathered and celebrating in the al-Aqsa mosque after Friday prayer. Yet they demanded that the area surrounding the mosque be evacuated immediately. When this did not happen, the police attacked the Palestinians. 

We return to the status quo. It is a status quo that has been ongoing now for over seventy years. It is a status-quo in which Palestinians live in subhuman conditions in refugee camps. It is a status-quo that is an exception to international humanitarian law that has defined the global order since World War Two. It is an exception to the right to self-determination. It is an exception to the right of an occupied people to resist occupation. It is an exception to the rights of a native people under occupation to exercise self-defense against their subjugators and occupiers. International law states very clearly that those living under occupation have a right to resist their occupation. But this very right, somewhat miraculously, is never applied to the Palestinians. The United States, as it has done numerous times, prevents the UN Security Council from condemning Israeli aggression. As always, the United States makes sure at the level of the Security Council and other international organizations that the right of Palestinians to resist occupation is never acknowledged nor recognized, and that the entire Western world speaks only of the right of Israel to defend itself. The occupier has the right to defend itself, then, but the occupied is simply expected to accept its subjugated status and to plead with the occupier to recognize its rights.


Since the Oslo Accords, Israel has confiscated most of the Palestinian land in the West Bank. What remains of the West Bank that has not been confiscated or annexed by Israeli settlers is a mere hodgepodge of small, isolated pockets of land. The Oslo Accords brought not a peace agreement but rather a license for Israel to further colonize and usurp Palestinian territory. Throughout, Palestinians are expected to accept their subjugated status. The last senior Israeli politicians to talk of a Palestinian state and a two-state solution was Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated by a Jewish extremist in 1995. Many do not know that, since the assassination of Rabin, the idea of peace with the Palestinians is a dirty word. None of the politicians who dominate Israeli politics speak about peace with Palestinians, leave alone the notion of a Palestinian state. The Israeli political left, which was considered relatively less racist, less colonial and more accommodating, has all but disappeared. The only real forces that exist in Israeli politics are the right-wing and the extreme right-wing. It is as if the left has disappeared from the Israeli political landscape. We in the United States sit and engage in polite talk about Israel's right to self-defense. Meanwhile, Israeli discourse celebrates the normalization of relations with the UAE and Bahrain. Israeli discourse also celebrates developments in Saudi Arabia and what they see as the inevitable normalization of relations with Saudi Arabia. At the same time, Israeli discourse towards the Palestinians has become more extreme, more fascist and more exclusionary with each passing year. According to the Israeli psyche, it is as if making peace with the dictatorial rulers of the Gulf states and Egypt, tyrants who thoroughly oppress their own people, means you no longer need to worry about the Palestinians as human beings, leave alone as people entitled to rights under natural law and international law. 


There occurred a particular development during this last confrontation that drew my attention, and that warrants some reflection. Israel has adopted a very interesting discourse that deserves pause and reflection. Israel has adopted the practice of presenting designated spokesman who represent the Israeli perspective to the Muslim world, and who speak in Arabic, not English or Hebrew. These representatives play a fascinating role. They often speak about what Islam requires of Muslims. On one occasion, several years ago, the Arabic-speaking representative of the Israeli army reminded the Muslim world that Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab was a great reformer. That same spokesman claimed the Ottomans had always oppressed Arabs and that Arabs should never be fooled by Turkey, a nation that intends to dominate and subjugate them exactly like the Ottomans dominated and subjugated Arabs. Again, this is an Israeli spokesman talking to Arabs about the Ottomans. In other words, his message is: “Watch out for the Turks. Do not get too friendly with Turks for they want to re-establish the Ottoman Caliphate.” This Arabic-speaking Israeli spokesman often cites the Qur’an or hadiths to tell Muslims what Islam demands of them. When the bombardment of Gaza started, however, the Israeli army did something very interesting. It posted a tweet – since deleted – announcing the bombardment of Gaza by quoting, in full, from Surah al-Fil (Q105):


Hast thou not seen how thy Lord dealt with the masters of the elephant?

Did He not make their scheming go astray,

and send against them birds in swarms,

pelting them with stones of baked clay,

such that He made them like devoured husks? (Q101:1-5)


This chapter refers to the story of Abrahah, an Abyssinian general who ruled Yemen, and his attempts to tear down the Ka‘ba; God sent a swarm of birds that pelted the army of Abrahah with stones. The Israeli army cited this at the start of the bombardment of Gaza, and the implication is clear; the army is drawing a parallel between the birds that stoned the armies of Abrahah and the Israeli planes that are bombing Palestinians. This raises the question, however, as to what the Israeli army meant by citing this chapter? Was the army claiming that it is similarly bombing heathens to uphold God's cause? Was the army mocking Muslims and saying, "Look here. We are bombing you, and there is nothing you can do about it." Is the Israeli army mocking Muslims, then, or is it usurping the Qur’anic discourse to claim that it is the righteous party? The ambiguity is not an accident. Rather, it is intentional. Let me mention another piece of the puzzle before trying to put it all together. There have been demonstrations in support of the Palestinians all over the world. There were no demonstrations in support of Palestinians, however, in the UAE, Saudi Arabia or Egypt. This is not because the Emirati, Saudi, or Egyptian people do not support the Palestinians – they do. It is because supporting the Palestinians is not permissible in these authoritarian and totalitarian countries. In fact, in these same countries, if one raises the Palestinian flag in the street, one would be promptly arrested and disappear. In these recent events, every Egyptian that has tried to raise the Palestinian flag in a public space has been promptly arrested and, until now, disappeared.


We often talk of colonial nature of the Israeli state. Many of Israel's supporters do not like that type of language. They say, "How can you refer to Israel as a colonial state? Why cannot you refer to Israel as a normal state?" But look at the enormity of the price tag that comes with Israel. For Israel to feel safe and secure in the region while denying Palestinians their rights - because, in Israel's view, granting Palestinians their rights is a threat to the state of Israel - one must ensure that one never deals with the masses of the countries that surround it. One must ensure that one never deals with the masses of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Oman or Jordan. For if one were to deal with these masses, the results would be unpredictable. If the masses were to exercise their autonomous will, one cannot know what they would decide vis-à-vis Israel. What, then, is the solution? It is in Israel's highest interest that countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia are ruled by tyrants who ignore the rights and will of their own people in the same way that Israel ignores the rights and will of the Palestinians. These tyrants adopt the same racist attitude towards their own people that Israel adopts towards Palestinians, namely, "Shut up and do what you are told. Don't interfere with our quality of life." The tyrants of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE adopt the same attitude towards their people. "You are stupid. You are inferior. You are irrelevant. You are marginal. So shut up and do as you are told." It does not matter what the Saudi, Egyptian or Emirati people think or want. The only thing that matters are the tyrants who have extensive connections with the so-called "democracies" in the West and, of course, with Israel. The very dynamic of a colonial state is to never deal with the masses of the natives, and to deny the natives a will of their own. For that would be truly dangerous; in such a scenario, we would not be dealing with Arabs as a racial category, represented by tyrannical figures like Muhammad Bin Salman or Abdul Fatah al-Sisi. Rather, we would be dealing with the Egyptian people, the Palestinian people, the Saudi people, and the Emirati people. The will of these people, if represented through democratic institutions, would be layered and complex. Israel's life would become infinitely more complicated.


Step one, then, is to ensure that the UAE continues to be ruled by Muhammad Bin Zayed, Saudi Arabia by Muhammad Bin Salman, and Egypt, a country of over one hundred million people, by Sisi. At every level, these are thoroughly disgusting human beings. They are criminals who should be tried for crimes against humanity. Look at the crimes these tyrants have committed. Each of them should be rotting in prison. Instead, we want them to rule over their natives and package the will of their natives so that Netanyahu does not have to worry about the Saudis, Egyptians, Emiratis, or the Palestinians as actual human beings. Instead, the American government thanks Sisi for his efforts in ending the conflict and bringing a ceasefire. We elevate and honor these criminals so that they represent the will of the faceless Muslim masses in dealing with the only people that matter - us. We are willing to overlook what we know to be true: that each of these rulers are thoroughly corrupt, tyrannical, and would not stay in power for one day if there were real democratic institutions in their country. We know they are criminals who torture, murder, and rape.


There is another price tag that comes with Israel. It is not enough to ensure that we deal with tyrants instead of the Emirati people, Saudi people or Egyptian people. Each of these tyrants is, of course, more than happy to forgive Israeli crimes and racism. We must do something else. We must change the Islamic tradition itself. We must demand that Saudi Arabia changes its school curriculums, which it did. We must demand that Egypt changes its school curriculums, which it did. We must demand that UAE changes its school curriculum, which it did. We must recast Islamic theology and Islamic history so that the impulse within Muslims themselves to resist tyranny, resist occupation, and demand rights is snuffed out. We must sanitize Islam from any discourse on jihad. We must ensure that Muslims remain confused about the institution of the Caliphate. We must make sure that Muslims collectively remember the Ottoman Caliphate as oppressive and destructive, even if they possess no real knowledge either way. We must make sure that Muslims are confused about the importance of Jerusalem in their own history and theology.


The racist dynamic is that Arabs and Muslims only matter to the extent that their actions affect Israel. It is no coincidence that the same parties that repeat Israeli propaganda have started claiming that Muslims must apologize for the conquests of the Prophet; the Prophet acted wrongfully when he fought his battles; that Muslims must apologize for the expansion of Islam during the Umayyads; that the Umayyads do not represent a Muslim reality, but an aberration. We now hear this from Egyptian, Saudi and Emirati intellectuals. Yet its genesis is with Israeli intellectuals. This means we Muslims must apologize for Islamic Spain. We must apologize for conquering Sicily and Greece. We must apologize for the fall of the Byzantine Empire. This line of propaganda has recently extended to claiming that these conquests did not represent Islamic expansionism, but rather Arab expansionism; so the Arabs must apologize for conquering Persia. If one apologizes for the expansion of Islam into Persia, the Byzantine empire or Spain, it means the Islam that was brought to these countries was deeply flawed from its genesis. Suddenly, Islam becomes an alien phenomenon to Persian society. Islam becomes an artificial phenomenon even to Egypt, which is now seen as a Pharaonic society. Islam becomes an artificial phenomenon to the Berbers of North Africa. Where is Islam not an artificial phenomenon? In the heart of every Arabia. Islam simply becomes an Arab religion in the same way that Judaism is an Israelite religion. For this to happen, however, one must sanitize Islam's relationship to the one spot in the world that affirms Islam's universality - Jerusalem.


I tell my students that Jerusalem is not the third holy site of Islam. Rather, it is the first holy site of Islam. Jerusalem affirms Islam as the universal religion of Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. It symbolizes the primordial message of Islam that long pre-dates the prophecy of Muhammad. It represents that Islam is a gift to humanity, and not simply an Arabian peculiarity. Why do so many Muslims repeat the ridiculous Israeli propaganda that Jerusalem never mattered until one hundred and thirty years after the death of the Prophet? The companions of the Prophet made Jerusalem part of the Islamic legacy. They understood that Islam is the sole representative of pure monotheism. Christianity is not a monotheistic religion no matter how much it claims otherwise. Judaism has been usurped into a racial identity and a tribal history. This is precisely why the companions knew that Jerusalem belonged in Muslim hands, for Jerusalem has always represented true monotheism. Yet, we find remarkably ignorant Muslims who say the Qur’an refers to “al-Aqsa mosque” (Q17:1) and that there was no mosque at that time in Jerusalem, so how could the Qur’an refer to this site? One only says this if one relies upon Israeli propaganda. The historical record is clear and cumulative that the area in which the al-Aqsa Mosque was built refers to a place of worship that was neither Israelite nor Christian but that represented the monotheism of Abraham. This is the site that Umar Ibn al-Khattab reclaimed and rebuilt. The companions of the Prophet agreed, acting on the instructions of the Prophet, that this is the location of the al-Aqsa Mosque. There is no historical evidence that the Dome of the Rock was built on the ruins of the First or Second Jewish Temple. Since 1948, Israel has been digging and excavating to find archeological remains that would prove this is the location of the Second Temple. It has found none. We have no archaeological evidence for it. One would, in fact, doubt if the Second Temple ever existed, if not for the fact that the Bible talks about it and the Qur’an alludes to it.


History matters. It not an exaggeration to say that people without history are without identity and a future. In order to neutralize what it believes to be ‘dangerous Muslim sentiments’, then, Israeli propaganda seeks to deconstruct Islamic history and make Muslims doubt everything about their own history. It does not matter that generations of Muslims lived, died, fought, sacrificed and became martyrs for Jerusalem. One is told by Israeli propaganda and by its agents in Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia that all these Muslim sacrifices were for nothing; that the Prophet was wrong when he brought Islam to Persia and out of Arabia; that the companions were wrong to bring Islam to Jerusalem; that everything about Islamic history is wrong, including the notions of Caliphate and Ummah; that even Muslim holy sites can be westernized, commercialized and turned into materialistic and commodified entities that are solely about money and luxury. One is told by Israeli propaganda that Muslims have no right to say anything about anything because global powers deal not with them, but with their tyrannical rulers. It does not matter whether Saudi people like what has happened in Mecca, for we deal with Muhammad Bin Salman. We do not care whether the Egyptian people are hurt by ongoing events in Gaza, for we deal with Sisi, who prohibits the raising of a Palestinian flag anywhere in Egypt.


Do you see how tyranny itself is racist? Do you see how any Muslim that defends authoritarian rule and tyranny is a racist against his or her own people? The white race and Israelis are entitled to democracy, human rights, and civilization. Muslims, meanwhile, are treated like cattle. We are entitled to work, consume, shut up, and be led like a herd. Do you see how this is deeply racist? Do you see how you can be a racist against your own people without even knowing it? Do you see how racist it is to ignore these sacrifices and to say to Muslims, "What is the big deal about Jerusalem? Why don't you forget your history? Forget your companions. Forget your Prophet. Forget everything and be happy because we are opening a nightclub. We are importing the latest type of beer. We are holding a wine tasting competition – as happened in the UAE this Ramadan. We are inviting Nicki Minaj. This should be your happiness. Leave sovereignty to the white race. Exercise your right to consume and nothing else. Do not talk about politics for political Islam is bad. Political Judaism, also known as Zionism, is good. Political Christianity, as in the Christian Democrats in Germany or the neo-cons in the United States, is good. But political Islam is bad. Muslims exist to consume, not to be politically engaged." 


In other words, Muslims exist to be cattle. The claim that ‘political Islam’ is bad condemns Muslims to be nothing but an unassuming herd. No matter how one dresses it up in fancy, academic language, the truth is the truth. The truth is that to condemn political Islam is racist. It invokes the logic of Islamic exceptionalism, which is racist. Human beings have an intellect; if they use their intellect to solve problems, they are being political. To insist that Muslims live under tyranny, consume commodities, shut up and do as they are told, is racist. It is racist to leave the exercising of one’s sovereign will to the Israelis, Swedes, Danish, Germans, British, Americans, Brazilians, Argentinians, Polish, Lithuanians and Estonians, but not to Muslims. It is racist to demand that Muslims accept nothing but tyranny so that the tyrant rulers ruling over them can package them up and deliver their will to global powers so that these powers have no need to worry. Do you not see the racism inherent in attempts to neutralize Muslims by taking away their history and theology? ‘Shari‘ah law’ becomes bad word. ‘Caliphate’ becomes a bad word. ‘Jihad’ becomes a bad word. There is nothing about Islam that is good. Muslims are only good when then buy products, consume products, and shut up. The message to Muslims is to wear hijabs, so long as their hijabs are made in China. It is to use prayer rugs, so long as they are made in China. It is to play with prayer beads, so long as they are made in some other country. One may get a mark on one’s forehead from regular prostration, so long as one does not have a sovereign will or political will; so long as one does not scream “O al-Aqsa!” or say anything about anything that matters.


Why am I telling you this? It is because wherever one turns, there are Muslim Imams and teachers who are fooling Muslims and delivering them as a herd. Did you hear Hamza Yusuf's statement on Palestine? He begins with the usual pietistic affectations that are used to distract and dilute. He starts with a long series of ‘Subhanallahs’ and ‘Alhamdullilahs’, saying nothing about anything. This introduction numbs the intellect with entirely meaningless religious jargon. It is not unintentional. It is a way of signaling to the audience, "Turn your intellects off because I am going to talk Islam and I do not want you thinking when I do so." When he finally gets to the point, he says that Jerusalem is a sacred city, that violence in Jerusalem is bad, and that we must pray for peace. Wow! His UAE paymasters have really done a job on him! There is no talk of the aggressor. No mention of the offender. No reference to the fact that Israel has confiscated most Palestinian territory since Oslo. No mention of Israeli settler attempts to attack, abuse and evict Palestinians living in Sheikh Jarrah. No mention of the sewage water used against the worshipers in al-Aqsa. No condemnation of the Israeli soldiers who arrested the Imam of al-Aqsa mosque and repeatedly beat worshipers in Ramadan. No condemnation of the disproportionate response by Israel in bombing Gaza and destroying civilization infrastructure. Nothing! I blame you, Muslims, for you are the ones who made someone like Hamza Yusuf what he is. Of course, as is typical of Hamza Yusuf, he later removed the video. Someone must have told him, "This is really bad. It shows the extent to which you are part of a colonial project. Remove it." So he removed it. 


You will meet your Lord. I am sure that when we meet God, He is not going to ask us, "Did you follow my Sunna in your beards, hijabs, miswaks, and perfumes? Did you go to the bathroom entering with your right foot and existing with the left foot?" Right foot in, left foot out, as if it is a dance. God will not ask us anything about this. Rather, God will ask whether we followed the Sunnah in upholding the dignity of the Prophet and the Ummah. Did you live in dignity? Did you testify on God’s behalf, or did you betray everything and turn Islam into a colorless, odorless, tasteless phenomenon that is solely about optics, appearances, and affectations? Of this, I am sure. I hope you come to the same belief before it is too late. God is the decisive judge between me and you. I believe in the Hereafter. I will point at you and say, "God, I warned them, but they did not listen.” I believe you will have no grounds to point at me because you hold the truth. For you do not stand for the truth.


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