I would like to return to a basic and, in many ways, rather simple paradigm and idea. This is the idea of the ‘Qur’anic impulse’. I will borrow from the philosophy of the Islamic thinker Malik Bennabi and the ways in which he summarized the basic components of social interaction and existence. Bennabi wrote of three basic facets to human existence. The first is the ‘material’. This refers to the tools, artifacts, and elements of consumption, such as food, water, and minerals, that are desired and used by human beings to facilitate and help their life along. The second element is the ‘human’ factor. Human beings have a complicated consciousness. Yet it is a consciousness that, nevertheless, has a consistent psychological core: this is the human brain, the human nervous system, and the ways in which we receive life, desire to continue living, fear death and deal with the inevitability of death. Like every living creature that God has created, humans are driven by a certain instinct. This instinct calls upon us to survive. When this instinct is present – and it is present for most people, most of the time - it is one of survival. It is an instinct of overcoming hardship, pain, loneliness, and isolation. This instinct drives human beings to always think of ways to exist and to use the materials before us. The third element, according to Bennabi, is the world of thought and ideas. Human beings are thinking animals. Whatever the source and whatever the reason, human beings are thinking animals. Yes, we have a basic instinct coded in us by our Maker. Beyond that instinct, however, all human beings think. We think about our existence. We think of the people we like or do not like. We think of the people we feel comfortable with. We think of the people that threaten us, alienate us, embrace us and welcome us. We think about the material that exists all around us and of how to deal with this material. Most critically, we think about how to come together, under what terms, and what to do when we come together. We think about how to negotiate between our existence, the existence of others, and the existence of other things.
What we refer to as ‘civilization’ is nothing more than the subtotal of ideas that guide human interactions vis-à-vis each other and material things. The process of our socialization into the world of ideas starts from the moment of birth. There is a constant wave upon wave of ideas that visit the human consciousness until we perish and leave the earth. This realm of ideas is more critical than anything. For each of us, as we approach these three elements, is immersed in a world of ideas. Whether we realize it or not or do it consciously or not, we constantly generate ideas when dealing with other human beings and material things. And we are constantly being led by ideas. We are constantly dwelling in the world of ideas. If we consume selfishly, it is an idea. If we consume ego-centrically, it is an idea. If we are self-referential, in which we only care about ourselves and ourselves alone, it is an idea. In short, we cannot avoid the world of ideas. If we cannot avoid the world of ideas, we cannot avoid creating meaning and being guided, in turn, by meaning and ideas. If we cannot avoid doing this - and we cannot – it means human beings are not only thinking animals, but political animals. We are political because our very existence has a direct impact on the world of material things and the world of human things. We are political because we are constantly negotiating our existence in reference to other things and other people. We are constantly engaged in a political negotiation. The inherent nature of things is that one cannot avoid the dynamics of power. Whenever we act, we affect others. Whenever we speak, we affect others. In doing so, we are engaged in a political dynamic whether we recognize it or not.
When Islam first appeared on the scene, the world of ideas that guided human interaction had settled into certain forms of practice. Feudalism was an established way of life. The mixture between mythology and power was an established way of life. The deification of human beings and their positions of power was an established way of life. Wherever one turned, the sacred mixed with the profane in order to confirm privilege and power. To put it simply, whether one looks at the Persian, Byzantian, or Abyssinian Empires, or the faraway civilizations of China or the Americas, privilege and power coopted the sacred. Those in power claimed the podium of sacredness. Privilege was sacralized and made holy to maintain established power dynamics. Those who enjoyed sacred privilege and power in Byzantium did so decade after decade. The disempowered were disempowered decade after decade. The same applied to Persia, Abyssinia, Aztec civilization and in the far reaches of India and China. It was all the same. Into this world came the Qur’anic impulse. The Qur’anic impulse was a radical and revolutionary idea. It was not about the optics of prayer. It was not about the optics of turbans. It was not about the optics of hijab. It was not about the optics of piety. It was not about the optics of anything. The Qur’anic impulse was a revolutionary idea in that it taught that sacredness belongs to God and to God alone. It taught that no power or privilege is sacred because no human being is sacred vis-à-vis other human beings. It taught that no entitlement to material things is sacred because material things exist to benefit all humanity. It taught that the merit of a human being is in accordance with their values and ethics, not their caste, class, privilege, or lineage. The Qur’anic impulse was a revolutionary idea that shook the world. It took mythology-filled, illiterate, ignorant, and backwards barbarians from the desert who went on to change the world. It eventually sparked the European enlightenment. Without the Qur’anic impulse, the European Enlightenment would have never happened. It challenged the sacralization of power and privilege. Islam challenged privilege and power that claimed sacredness everywhere it went. For this reason, Islam spread to Africa, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, India, and to the far reaches of the world. Muslims were animated by this Qur’anic impulse. It liberated them. It excited their imagination. In the Muslim consciousness, the world of ideas that negotiated between human beings and material things centered around the Qur’anic impulse: that, the notion that we submit to God alone and to no other.
Civilizations rise and fall. When the Islamic civilization fell, it was painful. Before World War I, there were at least several centers of Islamic illumination in Cairo, India, Istanbul, and Timbuktu and Sub-Saharan Africa. After World War I, Istanbul and Timbuktu fell. Most Sub-Saharan African illumination fell. After World War II, India fell. The only remaining Islamic Center of illumination was Cairo. The truth, however, whether those involved in the project realized it or not, is that after 1948 and the creation of Israel, and the defeats of 1956, 1967 and the Camp David Accords, Cairo also fell. There are no longer any centers of Islamic illumination and enlightenment. All the centers have been defeated and crushed. The Qur’anic impulse has faded into pietistic affectations.
What is pietistic affectation? It is when your heart wants to practice and display Islam. As a human being, you want to demonstrate your Islamicity towards and vis-à-vis material things. But you are not sure what the Islamic idea is. You are no longer clear-headed about the Qur’anic impulse. What you do instead is engage in the optics of the thing. You summarize Islamicity into a set of symbols and signals, including pietistic language or exaggerated displays of piety. You practice the optics because you are no longer sure about the world of ideas. It is not that you reject the Qur’anic impulse. You are simply confused about it. Because you are confused, you invest your time and energy in the optics of Islamicity rather than the values of Islamicity. Our former colonizers convinced us that, somehow, we can have the values of Islamicity and negotiate between human and material elements while excluding politics. Our former colonizers convinced us of an impossibility and a fallacy. Effectively, they said, "Be thoroughly confused about what a Muslim is. Go ahead. Believe things but don't make a difference. Go ahead. Believe in things but don't challenge anyone. Go ahead. Believe in things but don't you dare say ‘This is fair or unfair. This is just or unjust. This is equitable or not equitable.’ Embrace an apolitical Islam." This means embracing empty air. It means embracing the optics of Islamicity while forgetting the Qur’anic impulse that changed the world.
Human beings are always guided by ideas. The space between us and material things is filled with ideas. The question is: Where do your ideas come from, and what is the substance of those ideas? Do you think of the sacred as existing to empower and facilitate your consumption of material, in other words, to bless how and what you consume? Or do you think of the sacred as existing to challenge your consumption of material? There is a huge difference between the two. Does the sacred simply bless whatever you consume and desire, whether cars, planes, and furniture, or other human beings, as in sexual desire? Is the sacred there to say, "Go ahead. Indulge your sexual urges. Go ahead. Indulge in consumption. Go ahead. Consume the way you want to consume”? Or is the sacred there to say, "Hold on. Is it fair? Is it equitable? Is it just? Is right?" The minute you do that, you have engaged in the political. The minute that you restrain, constrain, object, and oppose, you have engaged in the political.
The Qur’anic impulse is the revolution that the Qur’an introduced to humanity. This is what it is all about. In this age of civilizational decline, the centers of learning in Istanbul, India, and Egypt have crumbled and no longer exist. What exists is a mirage, optics, and falsehood. It is despotism. It is tyranny. It is injustice. It is corruption. In this age, we have no other choice but to return to the Qur’an and to return to God. We have no other choice but to turn to God to say, "God, we are defeated. Help us (Q54:10). Help us re-instill the Qur’anic impulse in our hearts.”
Do you want to know what happens when the Qur’anic impulse is erased from the hearts of people? Do you want to know what happens when a Muslim is guided by nothing but the values of consumption for the sake of consumption? A recent incident speaks volumes. This incident involved Muhammad Khaja, the UAE ambassador to Israel. Khaja went to the current spiritual leader of the Sephardic political party, or Shas, Shalom Cohen. Shas was initially established as a party for the ‘guardians of the Torah’. Cohen and his party want an Israel that follows the laws of the Torah. They oppose secularism in Israel. They think Israel angers God by being too secular. They want the law of the Torah in the land of the Torah. Shas supports the expulsion of Palestinians and the expansion of Israeli settlements to include all Palestinian lands. The Shas Party and Cohen have, in the past, referred to Arabs as animals, insects, and vipers. In the past, they have even said that the only answer to Arabs is extermination and violence. Followers of the Shas Party are infamous for their chants, "Death to Arabs. Death to Muhammad." These are no peace-loving people. These are not cute, nice people. These are people firmly anchored in what, if they were Muslim, would be called ‘extremism’, ‘fanaticism’, ‘jihadism’ and ‘militancy’. Yet, the UAE ambassador Muhammad Khaja visited Shalom Cohen to tell him, "I am here to get your blessings and guidance." Cohen placed his hands on Khaja's head and blessed him. Khaja told Cohen that the Qatar-based news outlet Al-Jazeera is evil because it demonizes Israel, and that the Muslim Brotherhood is evil because it opposes Israel. Israel recently killed sixty-seven Palestinian children. The pictures of those children have been printed in Israeli media. Yet, Khaja does not talk to Cohen about the murder of these Palestinian children, the expansion of Israeli settlements, or about anything. He is there to condemn the Palestinian resistance, the Muslim Brotherhood, and ‘political Islam’, and to assure Cohen that the UAE supports the Shas party, which is a racist party.
Shalom Cohen is the head of the rabbinic council for guarding and protecting the Torah. Look at the irony of it all: the UAE is dedicated to fighting ‘political Islam’ because, according to the UAE, there is no role for Islam in politics. Yet Khaja seeks the blessings of the spiritual head of a religious Jewish party. So, political Judaism is okay. The UAE ambassador validates a party that claims to refer to Jewish values in negotiating the relationship between human beings and material things, while condemning any Islamic movement that tries to do the same. Political Islam? Evil. Political Judaism? “We need your guidance and blessings.” Racists in Israel? “We need your guidance and blessings.” Those who want to exterminate Palestinians? “We need your guidance and blessings.” This is on video. No honor, no dignity and in fact no values whatsoever.
The nice thing about Israelis is that they share everything. This is unlike their Arab counterparts who live in despotism and hide their treachery and treason. This video was leaked by Cohen himself. He does not care about the sixty-seven Palestinian children that were killed. He does not care about the illegal Israeli settlements. He does not care about Israeli racism. He does not care about any of it. Yet, time and time again - I will not tire of it – one finds American Muslim leaders who support this criminal UAE government and who serve on its so-called ‘Council of Tolerance’. Meanwhile, American Muslims continue donating money, attending their lectures, and treating people like Hamza Yusuf, his Zaytuna Institute and all those involved in the UAE enterprise as honored dignitaries.
What do you need to see treason, treachery, and immorality for what it is? At what point do you say, "Enough is enough. I would rather exist in poverty because there is a hereafter, and the entire fate of Islam is involved"? American Muslim leaders take money from governments like the UAE. Even if their conscience does not wake up, however, where is our conscience? Why do we continue supporting people like this? Why do we continue forgiving them? Why do we continue validating them? Why do we continue referring to them as scholars? They are not scholars, unless ‘scholar’ stands for a someone without dignity, honor, and morality. At what point do you say, "This is too ugly. The blood of sixty-seven children screams at me, haunting my nightmares. This cannot stand." Why are they allowed to be the guardians of the Torah, and we are not allowed to be the guardians of the Qur’an? Why?