"Afghanistan, Self-determination and the Heartbreak of Hajj"

We begin another khutbah with the clarity that comes from illness. God grants human beings a sense of clarity when they are plagued by pain and forced to face the limitations and humility of their condition. Part of reflecting upon challenges is to go beyond yourself and think of how insignificant you are in relation to the universe that God created. If you are truthful with yourself, your own pains remind you of the pains of other human beings, and especially the pains of your ummah.


Our ummah is hurting. It has been hurting for a long time. When I was younger, I used to dream that I would one day see an end to the pains of the ummah. With the vigor and wistfulness of youth, I imagined that by the time I reached the age of my father, much of the suffering of my fellow Muslims would be resolved. Now I have reached that age, and it is obvious that our ummah will continue to suffer unless and until Muslims wake up to the reality of their condition. Not the reality of their suffering - this is obvious. Rather, the reality of a solution to the suffering. It is easy to recognize your pain. It is easy to become engulfed and overcome by your pain. It is easy to dwell upon your pain. It is easy to reflect upon your pain, snap at everyone around you, and implicitly blame others for your pain. It is easy to become addicted to your pain. It is much harder is to see beyond the pain, and to affirmatively think of and commit to a solution.


Our ummah is suffering. It is like the people of the Prophet Jonah, who were about to be destroyed as the skies darkened and the clouds gathered, until they finally repented (Q10:98). But they did not repent by word alone. That would have been useless. They repented by affirmatively reversing the injustices that had plagued their nation for decades. They went through the painful process of rebelling against their elites, confronting the arrogance of those with vested interests in their suffering, and insisting that justice be restored. Rest assured, one does not have to have lived at the time of the Prophet Jonah to know that the elite would have resisted giving up their privileges. The elite must have been forced, by their own people, to relinquish what is not rightfully theirs. The elite is never happy to give up its privilege. Those who have a vested interest in what is wrong never want to let go. They must be forced to do so. When the people of the Prophet Jonah forced their tyrants to relinquish their privilege, God saved them from the horrible fate that awaited them.


The lesson is clear. God does not change a people until they change themselves (Q13:11). But of all the pains of the Muslim ummah, I want to focus on a particular aspect of the pain at this moment: the suffering of the Afghani people. Their suffering extends from the days of my youth, from the brutality of the Soviet invasion and the great violence committed against the Afghani people, to the defeat and expulsion of the Soviets, to the malicious interference of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan in the affairs of the Afghani people, to the rise of the Taliban and their brutality and inhumanity, to the counter movement in which Iran intervened ostensibly to protect the Shia of Afghanistan. While Iran helped the Shia of Afghanistan survive, Iran did not treat the Afghanis any better. Between the remarkable callousness and brutality of the Pakistanis, Saudis, and Iranians, the Afghani people continue to suffer. The Taliban was a natural product of what violence produces. If you grow up in a country in which death is common, orphans and the displaced number in the thousands, and corruption and poverty are rampant, the Taliban was an inevitable movement. Added to the mix is the criminal ideology supplied to the Taliban by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. The ignorance and intolerance of the Taliban was inevitable.


Before the poor Afghani people could even breathe, the United States decided to invade Afghanistan. In all foreign invasions, the invader imagines the people they invade in highly idealistic terms. The invader goes in with a remarkable amount of hubris and arrogance. We invaded Afghanistan like we invaded Iraq. We have killed millions of people. We have called our soldiers ‘heroes’. For doing what? No one can remember what we were doing in Afghanistan or Iraq other than acting on the impulses of Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and George Bush that we needed to ‘control these Muslims.’ That ‘Muslims are a problem, and we need to intervene to control the problem.’


Based on that impulse, we dropped more bombs on Afghanistan than on Germany in World War II. No one kept track of how many Afghanis we killed, orphaned, widowed, brutalized and traumatized. In twenty years of occupation, we did what all foreign occupiers do. We created a puppet government. We continued to give the puppet government a lot of money. The puppet government owed its loyalty to us, not the Afghani people. The puppet government loved us, not for who we are but for our money. The government we created in Afghanistan was notoriously corrupt. From my involvement in Afghani affairs, I will never forget the reports of Afghani government forces abducting and raping little children. They abducted children, dressed them like girls, and put makeup on them. American soldiers who reported this were told to stand down and not interfere. I will never forget speaking to a traumatized American soldier who was standing guard as the troops that we supported and funded raped children all night. When you unleash this amount of violence and corruption upon a people, when Pakistan and Iran continue to intervene for its own purposes, what do you think the result will be?


After twenty years, what happened to the Taliban? All the people that we traumatized and violated joined the Taliban. The Taliban became more radicalized and more fanatical than ever. The Taliban grew firmer in the belief that our talk about democracy and human rights is sheer hypocrisy. I will never forget meeting Afghani officials at the beginning of the invasion. They all asked, "Is America really going to bring democracy and human rights to our country? Do we Muslims really matter to America that it is willing to create the type of institutions that would support a civil society and that would, ultimately, counteract the fanaticism of Taliban?” Twenty years later, the answer became very clear. The answer is no.


American and British forces have a long record of atrocities and of supporting corruption in Afghanistan. So, the Taliban grew stronger. Now that we plan to withdraw from Afghanistan, it is inevitable that the Taliban will take over the country. Afghani soldiers who were always committed to American money are not willing to fight. Many are deserting their posts. Some are even joining the Taliban. As a result, Afghanistan will suffer. As a result, the Shia in Afghanistan are facing the imminent threat of extinction. As a result, there will be much blood and many tears.


What does history teach us about countries that are invaded and dominated? How many successful models can you point to in which a country manages to stand on its feet after an invasion and occupation? Many people will say Germany and Japan. They forget that Germany was already an advanced nation and Japan an imperial power before these countries were occupied. In other words, we did not build post-occupation Germany. We did not build post-occupation Japan. They were already advanced and technologically accomplished nations. Our occupation was simply a pause in the way they conducted things. In fact, we benefited from occupying Germany and Japan in many ways, rather than these countries acting as a drain upon our finances.


Look at the world today. Other than Muslims, who suffers occupation and domination? Can you point to a single example of a country that has been invaded and occupied by Muslims in the modern age? This should speak volumes. Muslims do not have the simplest and most basic right: the right to self-determination. Muslims cannot decide anything that would go on in Afghanistan without the involvement of non-Muslims. We cannot decide anything in Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, or Sudan without the involvement of non-Muslims. And the non-Muslims that are always involved are either Russia, with its long-established history of sheer hostility to Islam and Muslims, China, with its genocidal policy against Muslims, or the United States, Britain, and France. 


The United States, Britain, and France see the entire Muslim world through the prism of Israel. If we Muslims bothered to read what Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and George Bush wrote about why they invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, we would discover something incredible. They see the entire region through the single prism of Israel. If Muslims are okay with Israel, they are good Muslims. If they think Muslims are not okay with Israel, they are wrong. They must be fixed. The way that they think of ‘fixing’ Muslims is to invade their countries, brutalize them, murder them, torture them, and destroy them. Then, when it gets too expensive, to withdraw. To let them wallow in their misery. To then sit and say, "What is wrong with Islam? What is wrong with Muslims?"


Yes, the Taliban is a radical, fanatic, immoral force. But the Taliban is not native to Afghani culture. They were radicalized because of Soviet and American violence and Saudi and Pakistani ideology. It just so happens that both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are close allies of the United States. Meanwhile, Muslims continue to suffer. The ummah continues to suffer. The affirmative and brave step is to stop squabbling like children about whether you are pro-Iran or pro-Pakistan, pro-Sunni or pro-Shia, and understand that the Muslim ummah needs the power of self-determination. The Muslim ummah needs the fresh air of freedom and social responsibility. Muslims need to be able to believe in ethics and morality once more, and not to see the world as simply one big playfield for hypocrisy and multiple standards along ethnic and racial grounds.


Yes, our policies in Iraq and Afghanistan, as in Saudi Arabia, Syria, Morocco, Mauritania, and Somalia are deeply racist. We do not consider these people to be real human beings. We do not think of their suffering like we think of the suffering of Germans, Koreans, or Japanese. Unfortunately, for the policymakers in DC, to be Muslim is to be subhuman. Not even the policymakers are conscious of this bias. But it pervades everything they say and do. That is why we can inflict and walk away from suffering so easily, and not give it a second thought. So long as those who suffer are not like us, they are ‘the other’. Our conscious is not bothered.


Muslims need to realize that whether they like it or not, they are racialized and dehumanized. Muslims in the modern age are not even an issue that needs affirmative action. Go anywhere and say, "We need more diversity in our schools. We need more diversity in our companies." and people say, "Sure. We need blacks. We need Hispanics. We need Latinos." Say, "But we need Muslims", and they will say, "What?! Muslims?" We are not even defined as an issue, although we suffer the consequences of dehumanization all the time. People talk about the Afghanis who served as interpreters for American forces; what is going to become of them? We will probably do what we have repeatedly done for those who study American foreign involvement and immigration exemptions. At the very last minute, we will tell these families that whoever can fit on a plane should grab what they can and come. Yet we will leave behind millions of Afghanis to suffer the consequences of twenty years of brutalization. Every Afghani has lost a family member in one American bombardment or another. Until Muslims can even define the real issues, how are we going to wake up? 


The ummah is hurting. But we must wake up. I will give you an example of what I mean when I say the ummah must wake up. Can we agree that a people without a past have no future? Orientalist scholars like the late Patricia Crone are fond of telling Muslims, "You are the people without a past." In the same way that Israelis dealt with Palestinians and said, "You do not exist. You do not have a history in this country. We can come and settle. You do not matter." In the same way that the American occupier dealt with Iraq and Afghanistan as if they are countries and peoples without a history. What really hurts, however, is the fact that our history is being erased in the very heart of the Muslim ummah, in Mecca and Medina itself. 


Muslims continue to go on Hajj and ‘Umrah and do not want to think of the biggest crime that has taken place in the heart of the Muslim ummah. Orientalists like Patricia Crone are fond of asking, "What is the evidence that there was ever a man called Muhammad who lived in Arabia? Muslims are a people without history." We say, "Our books say X, Y, and Z." They respond, "Well, other than your own testimony, what evidence is there that there was a man called Muhammad?" The Israelis are digging up Palestine looking for archeological remains that are six thousand years old, destroying all the Islamic archeological sites that they encounter. Maybe we can understand the Israelis. But what is the incentive of the Saudis?


The evidence of Muhammad are the archeological sites. But Saudi Arabia has destroyed no less than three hundred sites. They found the home of Abu Bakr; they demolished it and built a Hilton hotel in its place. They found the home in which Prophet was born; they demolished it and built a bookstore over it. They found the home in which the Prophet lived with Khadijah; they demolished it and built toilets over it. The home of Aminah, the Prophet's mother, was found; it was razed to the ground. The home of Abu Ayyub al-Ansari, the Companion of the Prophet, was found; it was razed to the ground. The mosque at the site of Baya'at al-Ridwan, where the Medinans gave their oath to the Prophet, was recently razed to the ground by the Saudis. All archeological evidence - the type that Patricia Crone and her likes were asking for - once existed. But it has been destroyed by the Saudis.


Ask them, "Why?", and they say, "We did not want the unlawful innovation (bid‘a) of people worshiping there", as if to imply that it is a principled stand. Consider, then, the fact that recently an idol that is four thousand years old was discovered in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia did not destroy it. It gave an award to the person who found it and put the idol in a museum. Another idol was found Ha'il and another in Tabuk, one five thousand years old and the other six thousand years old. The people who found them were given awards, a nice package of money, and the idols were placed in museums. This is while the mosque in which the Prophet took the Baya'at al-Ridwan was destroyed. The home of the Prophet was destroyed. The homes of the Companions were destroyed.


There is a museum in Saudi Arabia called Janadriyah. That museum has the garb, shoes, and bed of King Saud. While destroying Islamic remains, Saudi Arabia builds museums to preserve the clothes, shoes, and furniture of its kings. While destroying Islamic remains, Saudi Arabia has protected the archeological sites of the Jewish tribe of Banu Nadir and their leader, Ka'b ibn al-Ashraf. That is a sacrosanct site. It is surrounded by a wall upon Israel's request; Israel asked the Saudi government to preserve the archeological sites of the Jews of Medina, the Banu Nadir, and Saudi Arabia honored that request. The home of Lawrence of Arabia is also preserved; the man who led a rebellion against the Ottoman Caliphate and contributed to the destruction of Muslim unity. It is a sanctified site. It is untouchable. Meanwhile, the entire Muslim world was begging Saudi Arabia not to destroy the home of Aminah, the Prophet's mother, and Saudi Arabia went ahead and destroyed it. Ninety-five percent of the Islamic heritage of Mecca and Medina has been demolished. A Hilton hotel is built over the house of Abu Bakr. Islamic archeological sites that survived for one thousand three hundred years have been destroyed. Yet Saudi Arabia built eleven museums for pre-Islamic idols and eleven museums for the remains of their kings: their furniture, clothes, brush, comb, and toothbrush. 


Tell me: Who has the power of self-determination? The Hilton wants to make profit, so it destroys the home of Abu Bakr, a historical site. This is in clear violation of international law but there are no consequences. No one protested. Israel wants to protect the historical sites in Medina of Banu Nadir.


This lack of rootedness, principles, and morality is the same ideology that has infected the Taliban. The Taliban's theology comes directly from the teachings of Wahhabi Islam that has destroyed Islamic history. People ask me, "What do you have against Wahhabis? Why do you focus so much on the Wahhabis?" So many Muslims know that the home of Khadijah and the Prophet, the site in which the Prophet received revelation, is now a toilet. But they are not bothered. They still go on Hajj or ‘Umrah.


Talk to Muslims about boycotting Hajj and ‘Umrah so that Saudi Arabia will learn that there are consequences, and they look at you as if you are insane. I spend long nights tossing and turning in pain. I say to God, "Thank you," because I imagine that the pain that I suffer in is not because of a medical condition. I imagine the pain I suffer is because there are toilets built over the home of the Prophet. I imagine the pain I suffer is because there is a Hilton hotel built over the home of Abu Bakr. I imagine the pain I suffer is because of the long-suffering of the Afghani people and their betrayal by everyone, the ugliness of imperialism, and the longing of the Muslim ummah for liberation.  


Yes, I was wrong. Liberation did not come by the time I reached my father's age. But it is my firm and unwavering belief that liberation will come. It will come. If only enough Muslims would understand.



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