The Qur’an mentions specific historical events that involved the prophets of God - between the prophets and the people they are sent to. The Qur’an, time and time again, goes back to these same narratives: The people of Pharoah, the people of Hud, the people of Thamud, and so on. Time and time again, God mentions the same people, although the structure of the narrative is very basic: an invitation, a truth denied, and consequences to the truth denied. Why does God keep referring to the same small set of precedents when the world has a complex, long history? Many nations rise and fall. Many people rise and fall. Many notable events have transpired over centuries. But God keeps going back again and again to the same precedents, warning us through the same historical narratives.
Any historical precedent that God refers to that does not have a directly guided prophet, a conveyor of God’s will, becomes by its very nature, disputable because we human beings have a remarkable capacity to argue even the most obvious points and to confuse even the most moral lessons. It is a fact that the Divine Will is carried and communicated by people who are unequivocally designated to carry that Divine Will, which makes their stories worthy of repeated reference. Each time that the Qur’an goes back to one of these narratives, it allows us to see the part of the story that transcends the context of a revealed prophet and the people who deny a revealed prophet.
One of the most basic, often repeated narratives of the Qur’an is the story of Moses and the people of the Pharaoh. In Surat Az-Zukhruf, God visits this narrative, but with a point that is worthy of so much reflection. The Pharaoh stands before these people and tells them, "Do you not see all the riches and wealth, all the popularity and strength, all the high rise buildings, all the fantastical material, all the luxury, all the comforts? Do you not see that I control armed men that can make people disappear with a single command? Do you not see that I have secret police forces that spy on you? I can easily find out what you say to your friends and your family. If you cross me, I can obliterate and destroy you. Do you not see that I have an army of people who sing my praises, who brown nose me, and who validate whatever I say and whatever I want, night and day? Do you not see that I have an army of singers and dancers that do nothing, night and day, but praise me? I am the Pharaoh. I am the man of power. I am the man of strength. I have speechwriters. I have orators. I have poets. I have musicians. I have people who can turn the phrase whichever way they want."
On the side of truth is this man, Moses, who cannot even speak eloquently. His profession? Helping out his father-in-law in the city of Midian tending to sheep, herding animals, and taking care of a farm. A man who traveled through the desert, who wears rags. According to the Pharaoh, Moses does not even have a piece of gold on him. He has no ornaments. He does not look that impressive, nor does he have anything that speaks to his honor, position or prestige. To a man like the Pharaoh, it is appalling that Moses has the nerve to not only speak to him, but to tell others to stop listening to him.
But the Qur’anic expression is remarkable, because it tells us that the problem with the people of the Pharaoh is not the Pharaoh himself, the problem with the people of the Pharaoh are the people themselves. They are a corrupt people. They are a people that invent pharaohs, because, through their habits and customs, they value those who wear gold. They value the entertainments of power. They value the glamour and the luxury. They do not have much patience for people who come to them with orations of truth. They do not have much patience for talk about principles, ethics, and morality. They do not have patience. They are a people that coexist and cohabitate with injustice. They are not bothered by it, they have seen the injustices that the Pharaoh committed for decades upon decades. They have seen the imprisonments. They have seen the torture. They have seen the murders. They have seen it all, but they continue to find a means to live under the Pharaoh and seek out whatever objectives they set for themselves in life. They are a corrupt people.
It is like the Prophet said, "As you are, you will be led.” When God sees a people that are resolved to fighting injustice, when God sees a people that are committed to the principles of dignity and real morality and true ethics, God helps those who help themselves. As you are, you will be led. You produce the leaders that you deserve. You produce the demons that haunt you. No demon will come to you unless you invite them in, and unless, through your own weaknesses, failures and immorality, you allow this demon to take hold of you, control you, dominate you, and do with you as the demon pleases. This is precisely the people of the Pharaoh.
Everything about their habits and customs invite demons. Everything about the way they live and their value system works welcomes demons into their life. When the demons take hold, they cause an enormous amount of suffering. Demons, not unlike the Pharaoh, cause an enormous amount of suffering. God is never unjust. Their suffering they invited upon themselves, because of their corrupt values, corrupt behavior and corrupt habits.
You can memorize the entire Qur’an. You can know the Qur’an inside out. But if that knowledge of the Qur’an is laid upon a foundation that is decrepit and immoral, the Qur’an will be used to produce immoral, unethical results. God does not invite us to simply reflect upon the text of the Qur’an so we can learn practices and habits, God speaks to a people that reflect upon morality and ethics. Put simply, religion is a wonderful thing for ethical human beings. When religion is given to ethical people, the results are wondrous and beautiful. But when religion is given to a corrupt people, the results are disastrous, scary, and demonic.
Reflect upon our Muslim world. Little incidents remind one, sometimes, of how lonely the path of al siratal mustaqim (the straight path) is. These incidents may appear mundane, but in reality, speak volumes. Thirty years ago, there was a man in Egypt known as Ashraf Al Saad, who wore a long beard, a turban and a jalabiya, who recited the Qur’an left and right, who quoted the Qur’an constantly, and then turned to people and said, "Bank interest is haram, so let us start a method of banking that is Islamic. Deposit your money with my company, and I will follow strict Islamic guidelines in the way I will invest your money. I will give you a return upon your money based on profit and loss, so you do not commit the haram of taking interest from banks." He called it The Islamic Investment Company.
Impressed by the length of his beard, impressed by the whiteness of his turban, impressed by his eloquence in his quoting of the Qur’an; thousands of pious Muslims rushed to give him not millions, but billions of dollars. This man, 30 years ago, took all the money that people had spent an entire lifetime saving - like my own mother. People wanted to invest their money in a way that pleases God, and they fell for the Islamic affectations and pietistic practices. After being entrusted with all this money, he picked up and went to England, stealing billions of dollars. Pious old women and men lost all their savings, later dying in bitter poverty and misery, as their retirement funds were entirely usurped.
The irony then is that Ashraf Al Saad became the imam of a big mosque in Britain, and became an Islamic authority on everything Sharia and Islam in England. It was the same story; they were impressed by his beard, by his turban, by his jalabiya, and by his ability to quote the Qur’an. He lived a life of luxury, thanks to the money he stole 30 years before. Now that most of the people he stole money from, like my mother, have died, we suddenly hear the news that he is going back to Egypt. Upon his return, is he treated like a criminal? No. All the lawsuits against him are dismissed. So he returns to Egypt and is treated like a hero. The minute he arrived in Egypt, he went on TV and praised President Sisi, the modern day Pharaoh, for his justice, for his truth, for his achievements, for how wonderful he is.
The entire country of Egypt - over 100 million Muslims - do not worship God, they worship a pharaoh called Sisi. If Sisi says a thief is now a hero, they say, “Ameen,” exactly like the people of Saudi Arabia. Mohammed bin Salman says, "A man was killed, and all of you know I killed him, but you should forget about it. I diluted his body in acid, but it is okay, I said he must be forgotten," and they say, “Ameen!” He says, "Now we have Nicki Minaj instead of Da'wah," and they say, “Ameen!” Now, he says, "I do not like the sound of the adhan broadcasted through megaphones," and they say, “Ameen!” They are a corrupt people.
Each of these people have a god, and their god is their tyrant. They worship this mortal, tyrannical god. God and his Qur’an are entirely subservient. But lest you are tempted to say, "Well, this is in exotic and faraway lands. We are different,” remember that British Muslims made Ashraf Al Saad a great Islamic leader for the past 30 years.
Recently, I noticed Hamza Yusuf congratulated bin Bayyah's grandson for graduating from Zaytuna. Many of you, either directly or indirectly, are complicit in creating the Hamza Yusuf that exists today. What is the big deal of Hamza Yusuf congratulating bin Bayyah's grandson? What type of respectable university has a president who congratulates a graduate, because that graduate is related to the man who is responsible for Emirati funding to the institution? They see what this institution says about Black Lives Matter. They see what this institution does about Palestinians. They see what this institution does about the rights of Muslims to live with dignity, human rights, and democracy. They see that this institution supports tyranny, supports neocons, and supports fascists.
They see all of this. They know that bin Bayyah, a man who wears the turban of religion, betrayed his friend and brother in Islam, Salman al-Ouda. Bin Bayyah knows that Salman al-Ouda is rotting in prison, but he does nothing, he does not care. Instead, he cares about Emirati money and the wealth he gets from Emirati money. Bin Bayyah knows about Yusuf Qaradawi's daughter in Egypt, but he does not care. Bin Bayyah knows about all the Islamic scholars rotting in Emirati, Saudi, and Egyptian prisons, but he does not care because he gets money, prestige, and position. Then, he uses that to create another satellite, corruption among Muslims in the West.
I used to think that Muslims of the West are the hope for the Islamic civilization. But I have since realized that they are as equally corrupt as the Muslims in the East. They are equally as corrupt as the Muslims of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the Emirates because they see what is wrong, and they do not care. Because they see the truth, and they do not care because they are willing to sell their Muslim brothers and sisters - and even Jerusalem - for what? For the affectations of piety; for the beard that Ashraf Al Saad wore as he stole billions; for the mirage and the delusion that they are living in the medieval age of Islam with Al-Ghazali, Imam Juwayni, and Imam Suyuti. For that?
The Qur’an without the foundation of morality and ethics does not matter. If you are a corrupt people, not even the Qur’an matters, and most certainly Khaled Abou El Fadl does not matter.
My student, Josef, took some of my khutbahs about Palestine and weaved them together into an Op-Ed that speaks the truth about Palestine and Jerusalem - the painful truth about Israel and about so many Muslims in relation to Israel. When we sent it out for publication, as I expected, we were told this is too controversial. Publishing such an honest critique of Israel would raise hell. Such is the censorship. The same people that point to Muslims as barbarians, because they cannot handle obscene cartoons of the Prophet, are the same people who cannot handle free speech when it comes to their golden calf, Israel. You are not allowed to speak the truth about Israel. Somehow, that does not contravene the principles of freedom of speech. But when Muslims defend their Prophet, it is because Muslims have no appreciation of freedom of speech.
In the United States, Zionists have been working diligently to make it such that criticism of Israeli foreign or domestic policy would be equated automatically with anti-Semitism. President Trump, before he left office, adopted that definition. Criticism of Israeli policies leading to colonizing Palestinians and stealing their homes, or Israeli policies leading to the desecration of the Aqsa Mosque were declared to be anti-Semitism. If you argue, "Israelis threw sewage water on worshipers in Ramadan and threw sewage water everywhere in the Aqsa Mosque, and Palestinians have to clean it every single night to get the stink out," it does not matter that it is true, it is anti-Semitism - because Israelis have a license to do whatever they will, and you cannot criticize them. That is their pharaoh. "Do you not see all my power? Do you not see all my technology? Do you not see how special I am? Who are you to criticize me? If you criticize me, you are anti-Semitic."
Do I blame them? Yes, they are hypocrites, but it is because they are defending a cause. I am amazed at how many non-Muslims are active towards defending an unjust cause. You go to the youngest Jewish student. No matter how busy they are with school or other obligations, they will immediately jump to defend Israel right or wrong. They are committed, and they are principled. They are willing to invest the time and energy. They are willing to overlook their petty grievances against one another. They are willing they ignore their own feelings and their own careers to defend what they believe in.
Oppositely, Muslims are busy. They are busy admiring this imam's beard, or admiring that imam's turban. They are busy admiring this woman's hijab, or condemning that woman's hijab. Muslims are busy. They are busy being a zero in a game where zeros means extinction. The hypocrisy of Muslims far outweighs the hypocrisy of Zionists. I respect the hypocrisy of Zionists, because they are at least committed to their cause. The hypocrisy of Muslims I have no respect for; it has no cause. It is completely egocentric. It is completely centered around promotion of the self and nothing but the self, at the expense of all other selves.
Remember, I started out with the Pharaoh. It is American Muslims, after all, who banned Khaled Abou El Fadl from speaking the truth. Not about the United States, not about Israel, but about Egypt. Because American Muslims, although they lead The Islamic Center of Southern California and other institutions, they worship their pharaoh, Sisi.
The age we live in is an age in which a voice like Khaled Abou El Fadl is chased out of California because no one cares about the truth. It is the voice that speaks in the wilderness. But if you fear for your soul and you worry about your Hereafter, join me in this wilderness. Maybe, just maybe, we can remove God's curse upon the Muslim ummah.