God reminds us in Surah Al-Ra’d of a basic principle that is affirmed in different forms repeatedly throughout the Qur'an. After reminding us that nothing escapes God's knowledge and that nothing is beyond God's will, we find a very simple statement that holds the potential to have a truly transformative impact upon a human being: “Truly God alters not what is in a people until they alter what is in themselves” (Q13:11). In other words, God does not change a people until the people themselves change. A transformation cannot be simply a matter of a miraculous happening beyond the laws of reason and causation. People can change morally and ethically. People can transform and progress. Of course God will help but first, they themselves must be committed to this change and put in the work, upon which God's help can then build. Within the same verse in Surah Al-Ra’d is a statement: “And when God desires evil for a people, there is no repelling it; and apart from Him they have no protector” (Q13:11). It is as if God's will towards us is entirely contingent on what we will for ourselves. If what you will for yourself, or what you ultimately accept for yourself, is not good, God will then bring you the same, at which point nothing can save you from that fate.
Put simply, goodness must be willed and pursued by the believer. Change itself must be something desired, sought after, and worked for by the believer. If you do not desire change, are not willing to take the logical steps toward change or make the sacrifices required for change, or if your attitude towards God is one that is ultimately based on the delusion of taking God for granted and assuming that God is there to clean up after you, then harm and whatever is not good will naturally befall upon you. Indeed, it will be the fate that you decreed for yourself and that God has decreed for you.
The Qur'an is not a revelation to be put on a shelf and pulled out whenever we want a magical potion and a magical change. The Qur'an is a living teacher; and like all instances, the teacher could be a master of teaching but if the student is lazy, careless, heedless, immoral, or a liar, regardless of how good the teacher is, nothing will come out of the relationship. The Qur'an is a teacher, it has no magical potions. It has no magical solutions. There are no words in the Qur'an that one can recite which will produce immediate changes or magical transformations. The Qur'an requires conscientious students who take the teaching of the Qur'an seriously: who study it seriously; who ponder it seriously; and who engage their teacher seriously. Only through this engagement, God's help comes through to produce the change that a student may hope for.
No matter how much the teacher may want a student to change, if the student themselves does not put in the hard work and make the commitment — if they do not possess the comprehension and the understanding — there will be no change. I say this, as everyone should understand it, in the context of a consistent process of reflecting upon our affairs as Muslims and asking ourselves the questions that every Muslim should be asking.
Wherever we turn in the world today, there is no question that among all the religious groups that exist, the most despised and feared worldwide are Muslims. Of course, we can again point to an explosion of Islamophobia in the world. But in a world where there are well over a billion Muslims, the obvious question is: If Islamophobia is solely a matter of narrative, where is the Muslim narrative that addresses this Islamophobia?
Indeed, Islamophobia builds on a large number of inner maladies within Muslim cultures. In other words, if Islamophobia was a simple narrative that relies on simple inventions, it would be much easier to address. But sadly, Islamophobia relies on an entire universe of Muslim contradictions, Muslim inconsistencies, Muslim pathologies, and Muslim maladies. In short, Islamophobia relies on an entire universe of Muslim problems.
The biggest of all these problems is the thoroughly inconsistent attitudes of Muslims towards their own rights and their own sense of dignity. In order to enjoy rights and dignity in our modern world, what is required is the construction of a culture that is conducive to the growth of a belief system that honors those rights and dignities. Unfortunately, we Muslims have deeply embedded pathologies that prevent the emergence of such a culture of right and dignities. We suffer from deeply held hypocrisies as Muslims that make us easy prey for those who have hostile intentions towards Islam. It is easy for them to point to our own hypocrisies, maladies, fears, and ignorance about our own tradition — all to make Islam the most hated and feared religion in the world, outside its own believers. But, even among its own believers, Islamophobia is widespread.
But, I do not want to focus this khutbah on a theoretical discourse about Islamophobia. I want to focus on the maladies and, especially, the manifestations of hypocrisies that enable us to be of such a disservice to the faith that we belong to. Only God knows how we will manage to answer in the Hereafter to the basic question of, “What have you done with My religion, the religion of your father, Abraham? The religion of fitra. How was it that the religion of all of these things somehow became the most misunderstood and despised religion on the face of the earth.” What are we going to tell God?
This example may be unusual, but bear with me. Let us look at the last military operation the United States had in Afghanistan (at least as far as we know). On August 29th, in the last declared operation by the United States, the U.S. followed a 1996 Toyota Corolla around Kabul. They watched this car as it stopped, picked up and dropped off people. They watched the driver stop several times to come out with a hose and fill containers of water and load them up in a truck. When this driver returned home, to a compound in a crowded residential area, the U.S. used what it calls a “standard of reasonable certainty” and a drone unleashed a missile that blew up the car, killing its driver.
In American law, we are masters of coining terms that sound objective, but in fact mean nothing other than the meaning we give to it. At the time that the U.S. ordered the strike, they did not know the name of the driver. In fact, they did not even know who the driver was. Yet, American military command, acting on the type of intelligence we have talked about in the previous khutbah, decided with “reasonable certainty” that this driver was an ISIS operative making a stop at an ISIS safehouse, loading explosives to perpetrate a terrorist attack against the airport in Kabul.
It turns out, the driver of this car was a man named Zamari Ahmedi, who since 2006, was an electrical engineer for a California-based, American aid organization called Nutrition and Education International. Zamari Ahmedi was under the employment of a U.S. aid organization that delivers US aid in Afghanistan. Ahmedi was filling containers of water because, as a result of the war, natural water pumps have ceased to exist in a number of neighborhoods, including in his own. After going around that day to do the aid work, he filled a few containers of water to bring back to his family.
What the U.S. thought were explosives loading up in the truck were nothing more than containers of water. But even more so, when The New York Times — and note that it is The New York Times and not any Muslim news agency — investigates, it finds that there was no secondary explosion. If a car carries explosives, there will always be a secondary explosion. But there was only the first explosion from the missile, meaning that the car was not carrying explosives.
Moreover, the U.S. decided to carry out its strike when this man got home. The strike, which the U.S. declared as a justifiable and righteous one, killed the following people: Mr. Ahmedi himself (an aid worker since 2006); three of his children, Zameer (20 years old), Faisal (16), and Farzad (10); his cousin, Nasar (30); his brother, Rumal, and three of Rumal’s children, Arwan (7), Binyamin (6) and Hayaat (2); and two three-year-old girls, Malika and Sumayya.
The U.S. declared it a righteous strike conducted per “reasonable certainty”. This strike killed a man, despite the fact that the New York Times found no evidence of any connections to ISIS and, not only that, but this man had applied to immigrate to the U.S. as a refugee in fear of what the Taliban would do to him and his family because he was a U.S. aid worker. He was waiting, praying that his immigration papers would arrive. We see yet another Afghan family exterminated. The father, the 20 year old child, the 16 year old child, the 10 year old child, a cousin, his nieces, 7 years old, 6 years old, 2 years old and two 3 year olds.
The only people who raised any voice of protest about the American strike were non-Muslims: The New York Times and some members of the British government. Muslims, frankly, do not care, including Afghan Muslims themselves. I know so many Afghans that have immigrated to the United States and whilst they are in the U.S., they are busy shopping, dining, taking care of their families, living it up. So many Afghans, even though those who made it and made it well, care nothing about artificial intelligence. The idea of the extermination of Muslim lives by our own government, it is not worth a thought. Life goes on without a pause.
Imagine if these were Hindus in India. Imagine if these were Christians anywhere. Imagine if these were Jews anywhere. Where are all the Afghans that immigrated to this country and went to law school or opened businesses? I only heard their voices when the Taliban were taking over. 20 years of American slaughter of their own people, and where is their voice? The hypocrisy of politics — we do not care. This is why God will not change our plight, because we do not change ourselves.
Of course, I do not pick on any one ethnicity or nationality. Take another news item: this one from China. From 2017 to 2020, China destroyed 16,000 mosques in 900 different locations. Again, 16,000 mosques in 900 different locations. And of course, the people who documented the destruction of these 16,000 mosques are not Muslims, but the non-Muslim news agency, Reuters.
After satellite pictures showed the destruction of these mosques, the Chinese government invited Reuters to visit. Upon visiting, they documented the destruction of 16,000 mosques. The land upon which these 16,000 mosques were built were appropriated by the Chinese government and sold to a number of businesses including clothing stores like Hugo Boss, Nike, and, most recently, Hilton Hotel.
Hilton, not for the first time, is planning to build a Hampton Inn in the location of one of these destroyed mosques. CAIR called for a boycott of Hilton, but I honestly ask you, how many Muslims do you know will truly boycott the Hilton? Ask yourself: will you truly not stay in the Hilton or any of its subsidiaries? Would your conscience permit you? God does not change a people until they change themselves.
I wish it stopped here. I told you before that Azhar University had a number of Chinese Muslims studying at their university, and what Azhar did is turn over these Chinese Muslims to the Chinese government, so the Chinese government could put them in concentration camps. Yet, there was not a single peep from the director of Azhar, not a single voice of protest.
I wonder how many American Muslims, upon hearing this, decided that they would never study at Azhar? How many more American Muslims, upon hearing this, decided that it is time to condemn Azhar University for its immorality and its hypocrisy? How many American Muslims made it an Islamic moral issue? We reach a new low because as Muslims, apparently we have to always reach a new low.
Of course, the new low has to be registered by none other than the United Arab Emirates, as they have allowed China to imitate American practices in having black sites and the war on terror all over the world. China now has black sites in Dubai, where any Chinese Muslims traveling through the Emirate — even if they were heading, as in the case that I have here, to Ukraine and just briefly stopping in the Emirate — may be abducted by the Chinese government.
The American black sites held none other but Muslims. And the Chinese black sites are primarily in Muslim countries to hold none other but Muslims. I hate to sound like a broken record, but has any American Muslim read this and held Hamza Yusuf, the darling of the U.A.E., to account? I receive messages from our fellow Muslims, "Take it easy on Shaykh Hamza." You have your religion, I have mine. It is as if we follow two different religions! Has any American Muslim pointed the finger and said "Shame on you!" to anyone who treats Muslims as less than human?
God will not change us as long as we continue to care about whether a woman has her hair covered, about her nail polish, about all the pedantic, trivial matters that we care about. God will not change us as long as we continue to forgive those who dishonor the dignity, the honor and the rights of Muslims. God will not change us as long as we remain without standards, without morality, and without ethics. God will not change us as long as we do not hold our own government to account for its murderous acts against Muslims.
Afghans that I know want me to talk about the danger that the Taliban poses to the Afghan people, but there is not a single peep about the countless amount of people murdered by the U.S., in strikes like the one I just talked about.
What will we tell God? I am willing to risk my soul on the simple proposition that God is not going to ask me about whether or not my wife had her hair covered. I am willing to risk my soul on the simple proposition that God is not going to care whether or not you memorized Alfiat by Ibn Malik, or whether you had a nicely trimmed beard, following the Sunna of the Prophet. I am willing to bet my soul — the risk of burning in hellfire for eternity — that what God will ask me about are the destroyed mosques in China. That, God will ask me about the Chinese Muslims who disappear in black sites in Dubai as American Muslim leaders go on babbling about the country of tolerance as they are, in turn, tolerated by hypocritical Muslims. God will ask me about that man in Afghanistan who was killed with his children, nieces, and cousins. I am willing to bet my soul, on the risk of burning in Hell forever, that this is what God will ask me about. God does not change what is in a person until they change themselves.
People of Iran, change yourselves. People of Egypt, change yourselves. People of Pakistan, change yourselves. Muslims everywhere, change yourselves if you want God to be with you. Learn to value Muslim life, to honor and dignify Muslim life. Learn to honor and respect your own human rights, and the rights of each other. But to American Muslims, those I care about the most: learn to be true Muslims instead of hypocrites and fake followers of the faith.
I close with another example. Human rights organizations (notably non-Muslim organizations) demanded that the Biden administration punish the Egyptian government for its numerous human rights violations. The Egyptian government has over 60,000 political prisoners. It is building the largest prison complex in the entire Middle East out in the desert. The Egyptian government has no money for hospitals, schools, or anything that is worth anything. But, it has money for Sisi's palaces and the military. The Egyptian government has money to build the largest prison complex in the Middle East.
Out of the $1.5 billion dollars we give the Egyptian government every year, none of the American aid goes to the Egyptian people. American aid to the Egyptian government is pocketed by the military. This is precisely how the generals and high ranking officers of the military in Egypt can afford to send their kids to study in American universities. If you ever find an Egyptian studying in an American university, know that they are often the sons or daughters of the military or the police forces. Why? Because American tax money is given as a bribe to the Egyptian government. We bribe the Egyptian government not to have human rights and democracy in Egypt, but for exactly the opposite. As long as the Egyptian government is friendly to Israel, that is all we care about. The U.S. will bribe you, “Oh dear officers of the Egyptian military…”, just as we have been bribing them for decades — as long as our darling Israel is not bothered.
Anyone who knows Egypt, where those in the military live and their standards of living, admit that these are your tax dollars. Your tax dollars go to bribe this corrupt military so that they can do Israel's bidding. Of course, it does not matter if what Israel wants is moral or immoral, because we do not care if the Israelis colonize and brutalize the Palestinians. As long as the Israeli lobby in DC is happy, we are happy. These are the realities. Is anyone surprised? Absolutely not. Everything I am saying is redundant at this point.
After strenuous lobbying, the Biden administration does not decide to withhold the entire billion dollars. Not even half a billion dollars or 250 million. It decides to withdraw 170 million dollars from their aid package to Egypt. And, what is it that we want Egypt to do in order for us to release the 170 million dollars that will inevitably go to the pockets of corrupt Egyptian military? We want them to release six human rights activists. Notice, not the 270 women who are systematically raped and brutalized. Not the over 65,000 prisoners, including many who belong to Islamic organizations. In fact, the U.S. has no interest in anyone connected to any Islamic thing.
The six people that we want released are all people who lived in the West or have other citizenships than Egyptian, and they are all secular human rights activists. The Biden administration said to just release these six activists, and they will give the Egyptian government their 170 million dollars — to put it in their pocket and continue their corruption. All because American taxpayers do not object that their country runs the world in this immoral, corrupt fashion.
So, what does the Egyptian government do? Egypt’s president, Sisi, holds a conference about human rights where he brings an army of Egyptian clergy to talk about human rights in Islam, about how Islam respects and honors women. This is at the same time that there are 270 women systematically brutalized and sexually assaulted in Egyptian prisons. And, at the same time that Egypt, by the admission of its own government, has killed 1,000 people in extra judicial killings. This does not include the unknown number of people who died under torture and continue to die under torture. Just a couple of weeks ago, the Egyptian government killed 45 prisoners by gassing them to death because of a prison skirmish. So, Sisi's government holds a human rights conference, and many of those invited and in attendance are from Muslim countries, who represent “official Islam” to the world.
I wonder, can I possibly forget that I have been banned by the Islamic Center of Southern California because of the righteous and truthful discourse that I have about the awful human rights record of Egypt? But more fundamentally and critically, until when? Until when do we remain okay with this double talk and schizophrenia in our character? We talk about Islam and human rights in a theoretical, abstract fashion. We befriend criminals and dictators, as if Islam is not an ethical transformation and an ethical message.
We know about the human rights violations committed by Muslim countries all over the place. We know that the value of a Muslim life is not as worthless as it is in our own Muslim homelands. A Muslim is not worth less than in a Muslim country. We all know that whether you are in Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E., Egypt, or Afghanistan. It is Muslims themselves who do not value the lives of their fellow Muslims, and this is precisely what allows Islamophobia to spring into action and dominance.
This is precisely what allows the officials of the American and Chinese governments to be oblivious towards the value of Muslim life and rights. If they see themselves, that Muslims do not care whether these Muslims are in the U.S., UK, France, Egypt, or Saudi Arabia, a Muslim fundamentally is not bothered by what happens to their fellow Muslims.
To really care is to excel, to spend money supporting institutions that would defend Islam and educate Muslims. Or, to be involved in politics and to make yourself a relentless advocate for the truth, rights, morality, and ethics. To stop listening to imams who speak about trivial matters and lack a righteous and moral discourse. To stop following leaders who convince you that Islam is about nothing. Only then, things may change. Only then, someone like Sisi may know that there are repercussions to violating human rights, and that honoring human rights in a silly conference is worth nothing.
Only when we get to the point where American Muslim leaders are invited to a conference led by someone like Sisi and simply respond, "We do not work with fascists. We do not work with criminals." Only when the people in Saudi Arabia see that Muslims refuse to go to Hajj or Umrah as long as the Holy Sites are held by criminals. Only when every Afghan, Persian Muslim, or Egyptian Muslim makes it their own personal business that the U.S. policy towards their country of origin is based on moral grounds and ethical grounds, will we start seeing the change. God will not change our condition until we change. It is as simple and straightforward as that.