God reminds us on many occasions in the Qur'an of basic, foundational truth - truths that are so foundational and so basic that that are like the elementary building blocks of consciousness. Among these basic foundations is that believers - both men and women – support each other (Q9:71). A wali (pl. awliyaa) is not just an ally or supporter, but someone who has a privity of relationship with you so that there is a reciprocal obligation of caretaking. In other words, they become responsible for you and you become responsible for them. Believers, men and women, become each other's charge. A charge is one that you bear an obligation towards; an obligation of caretaking, an obligation of safety, an obligation to do no harm, and an obligation to do only good.
God then follows this with elucidation about the nature of this obligation. That is that the relationship of support and alliance, is founded on pursuing, promoting and establishing goodness, as well as on resisting what is not good, what is evil, and what is bad. What follows is the backbone of Islam: that the established prayers help one another in a life anchored around this blissful relationship with your Maker, where you stand before your Maker five times a day.
Followed after prayer is giving zakat. Prayer has to do with sacred space and sacred time; and the fact that we must help one another to realize the importance and the role of sacred space and sacred time, and to facilitate our hearts for one another, for our hearts to embrace this relationship with our Maker. Giving zakat: our relationship with our Maker, unless translated into concrete terms - translated into the way we can relate to material things - becomes meaningless because people who are preoccupied with the anxiety of making a living will find it very difficult to pursue a meaningful relationship with truth or a meaningful understanding of evil. And indeed, they will find it very difficult to establish a meaningful understanding of their Maker and of sacred space and sacred time.
We are called to bear the weight for one another: to aid each other in a holistic understanding of what is needed for a life turned towards God, a life in which it becomes possible to gaze towards the Lord and focus on the Lord without fear, without anxiety, without trepidation, without persecution, and without injustice; because poverty, persecution, injustice, instability, insecurity, and anxiety are all corrupting influences upon the human psyche that serve as severe impediments before the intellect in its pursuit of a meaningful understanding of its existence and the relationship of the divine in this existence.
This is precisely why God tells us clearly that if we understand that we bear responsibility for one another; if we anchor our lives around the principle of coming together to promote what is good and to resist what is evil; if we come together to remind one another and facilitate the path of establishing prayer, sacred space, and sacred time amongst ourselves; if we come together to end poverty, to end need, to end hunger - these are the people that deserve God's mercy, God’s succour, and God’s tranquility.
It is no coincidence that in Surah Al-Tawbah, right after God reminds us of these basic building elements; right after God commands the Prophet and the believers not to wane and not to compromise when it comes to struggling and launching a systematic, unwavering struggle against all those who represent a sworn foe to these basic fundamental principles of Islamic life, God tells the Prophet to strive against the disbelievers and the hypocrites (Q9:73).
As to those that the Qur'an describes as the disbelievers (kuffar) - and every age and time has its kuffar - the rejection of morality, ethics and virtue in an age of hedonism and egocentrism becomes the very embodiment of kufr (disbelief) and hypocrisy. So the command is that at the same time that we understand what defines a relationship between those who are committed to the common cause of virtue and morality - and a common understanding of justice; and the relationship of a human being to the Lord; and the relationship of a human being to the very idea of goodness - what is also needed is vigilance, strength and endurance: persistence in resisting what is opposite; in resisting what threatens this basic relationship among those who are committed to turning their gaze towards their Lord and surrendering themselves to their Lord.
Obviously, this is not some invitation to terrorism. In fact, quite often violence is the weapon of the weak and the hypocritical. Frankly, it is a cop-out. Unless violence is strictly in self-defense and under limited circumstance, violence solves the problem of the person who commits violence in the sense that they may get it out of their system. But the consequences for their sisters and brothers are sweeping and disastrous. They might kill themselves, or they might get killed and end the story for themselves. But those who have to live with the consequences of violence, except in very narrow circumstances, are quite disastrous. As I have said many times before, each age has its own form of jihad. There are many epochs in human history where the toughest jihad is the jihad of knowledge - the jihad of winning minds and hearts - and not the jihad of simply a spat of violence.
Why do we need to remind ourselves of such basic and elementary things? Because though these words of Surah Al-Tawbah may seem to have a self-evident meaning, if we reflect upon the affairs of so many people in our Ummah and try to give that basic instruction in the Qur'an that reminds us that believers bear responsibility towards one another - that, in fact, they are but as if one body - it reminds us that what brings us together is the common call for virtue, goodness, morality and the resistance to what is evil, wrong and immoral. Even something so basic has become obfuscated and confused among Muslims in the modern age.
Among the things that caught my attention is something that has been going on for years. Many years ago, when I was much younger, I would notice that the preachers in Egypt who tended to be in the greatest trouble with the state would often be talked about by people who could not compete with them in knowledge, moral stature, virtue, or basic intelligence. The common justification that we would hear is: “I just do not understand why they keep creating problems for themselves. Why do they keep talking about problems all the time?” - nearly casting them as if their problem is a temper problem; as if their commitment to enjoining the good and forbidding the bad that landed them in trouble with the government was merely a temper tantrum.
When Shaykh Muhammad al-Ghazali used to be the Imam of Masjid Amr ibn al-As and, without explanation, Sadat fired him, not everyone understood why he was fired from that post. Everyone who understood knew it was because in his khutbahs, he talked precisely about all these basic fundamental elements. He pointed to the obvious: the deep inequities that existed in society and the fundamental injustices. Many of Shaykh Ghazali's colleagues, not wanting to do the brave thing and say that his firing as an Imam by the government was unjust, blamed him by portraying him as a fundamentally angry personality.
Years later, my attention was caught by someone who apparently had me in mind and was warning people about “red flags.” Among the red flags are scholars who are always angry. And I thought about how often in my life, righteousness - a stand for what is right and what is just - is simply dismissed as a posture of anger. If God tells the Prophet and the believers to perform jihad against the munafiqin and be harsh with them, not surprisingly, among the constant rhetoric against the Prophet was, “Why can he not just get along?”
Religion itself, like all large systems of thought, can be a refuge for the indolent. It can be a refuge for the lazy; it can be a refuge for the apathetic; it can be a refuge for the immoral - in the same way that religion was a refuge for the hypocrites of Medina at the time of the Prophet.
The thing about religion is that it teaches principles, whether you like it or not. Principles use the medium of language. Language is but a system of signifiers – signals. A word signals a whole host of responses that we call meaning. So when God speaks in the Qur'an, God’s words are signifiers. If the emotional, intellectual response they invoke in us comes from a basic position of indolence, lack of intelligence, ignorance or immorality, then these words will mean precisely that. The indolent, the immoral, the unintelligent will use religion to say, “What God wants me to do is basically take care of myself and the people that I care about, and to avoid any courageous, righteous stand that puts me in confrontation with those in power, even if those in power are thoroughly corrupt.” They will simply declare that to be the divine will.
It is our fault when we allow religion to become the refuge of such people. God gave us the power of choice and God put our fates in our own hands. Either our religion becomes the vehicle for the moral principles it espouses, or it becomes a shelter for everything that is fundamentally immoral or amoral.
At the beginning of October, there was an attack in Norway by a convert that, using a bow and arrow, killed five people. At the time, it was said that it was an attack by a jihadi, a convert to Islam, and Islamophobes started the usual drum roll. Weeks later, it is quietly acknowledged that the Norwegian authorities now realized it was not a jihadi attack after all, and it was not a bow and arrow attack; the man was mentally unstable and he stabbed his victims.
Then a part of that report that caught my attention and tells us everything is that Norwegian authorities noted that his conversion to Islam was never serious. That is what allowed the Norwegian authorities to discount a jihadi attack. When they thought that he was a real convert to Islam, they had already come to the conclusion that this was a jihadi attack. An indolent, unintelligent human being, regardless of how much they read about enjoining the good and forbidding the bad, will see no consequences, no connotations, and no implications to the story.
We, Muslims, have allowed our religion to become the refuge of the morally lazy and the intellectually indolent. Imagine if this same story occurred with a Jewish defendant. Imagine if a Hindu or a Christian killed five people and the whole world reported that this was a religiously motivated attack, only three weeks later for the whole world to say, "No, it turns out that it had nothing to do with religion." People who understand the world they live in understand what that symptom means. People who are fundamentally unintelligent read a story like this and say, "I am not angry. I am not upset. So what? They realized he is not a jihadi." It speaks volumes about the racialization of Muslims, prejudice and bigotry.
It turns out that countries like The Netherlands and several other European countries are now spying on Muslims, compiling lists of "dangerous Muslims", and selling these lists to companies like Facebook. But in order to avoid a number of legal issues, these European governments have resorted to hiring private firms to do their spying for them. They pay a private firm a substantial amount of money to spy on Muslims, and to compile lists of dangerous Muslim Imams, dangerous Muslim intellectuals, dangerous Muslim scholars, and then sell these lists back to the government that hired them, as well as profiteering from selling these lists to places like Facebook, and to governments such as China and the Hindu nationalist government of India.
I have spent hours doing research to find a single Muslim venue that has recognized how dangerous this development is, yet I could not find a single Muslim venue that is even in-tune with the implications of a development like this. We are told, “Do not follow angry imams. What is there to be angry about? No, follow the happy ones. Follow the ones that tell you there are no problems.”
This week, the German government uncovered that the Emirates and Saudi Arabia are hiring military mercenaries, paying them $10,000 a week to kill Muslims in Yemen. A little bit of investigation reveals that since the American invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, although it is clearly in violation of international law and the Geneva Conventions, the United States created an explosion in the market of mercenaries; they hired thousands of mercenaries to kill Muslims. But now the United States is not the main customer. There has been a virtual explosion in the market, in the business of hiring mercenaries from Germany, France, Serbia, Canada, Israel, and Colombia. The vast majority of these mercenaries who are now hired by countries like France, Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, only do one thing, and that is to kill Muslims.
Put the two together; private companies being hired to spy on Muslims and private military being hired to kill Muslims: this is big money. In order for this big money to survive and make more money, what is the magic element that they need to keep being profitable? Islamophobia, of course. Now there is a commercially vested interest in Islamophobia because they have to hike up the price for mercenaries, they have to recruit the mercenaries. They cannot just tell mercenaries, "You are making good money to risk your life and kill people, but you actually do something good, you are fighting the danger of Islam."
Private companies that want to keep being hired to spy on Muslims are in turn giving money to Islamophobic organizations to hype up the anti-Muslim discourse so that they can keep the fire going, and so governments will keep hiring them. It is a vicious circle and yet there are imams that tell us being angry is a red flag. “What is there to be angry about? Khaled Abou El Fadl is just an angry person.” No, Khaled Abou El Fadl is an intelligent person and you, my friend, are an ignorant human being. Get an education because this world chews up and spits out ignorant human beings.
When are Muslims going to wake up and stop using their religion to shelter the ignorant, the apathetic, the immoral and the amoral? An intelligent human being would notice at the same time that the first Israeli civilian aircraft landed in Saudi Arabia; at the same time the United Arab Emirates participated in Israeli military exercises; at the same time that the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Sudan, Bahrain and Oman are rushing to make peace with the Israelis, especially the United Arab Emirates. An intelligent person would notice that simultaneously for the first time you can keep abreast and follow the development in Israeli jurisprudence. Court after court is now recognizing the right of fanatic Israeli settlers to pray in our Aqsa Mosque. An intelligent person like the Palestinian, pre-1948, who raised the alarm about what was going to happen in Palestine. An intelligent person would say, "This is dangerous for the Aqsa Mosque."
At the same time, let me tell you what an angry, intelligent Muslim knows. An angry intelligent Muslim knows that Israel has subjected 800,000 Palestinians to military tribunals. It has tried, convicted and imprisoned 800,000 Palestinians in military courts. These are civilian Palestinians that have been tried in military courts that lack even any basic due process rules. Those Palestinians who are tried and disappear in Israeli prisons, who are lost to history, their Muslim brothers in Saudi Arabia do not care about them. Their Muslim brothers in Egypt do not care about them. Their Muslim brothers in the Emirates do not care about them.
There are very few organizations that provide basic legal assistance to these Palestinians, the most famous of these organizations is known as Addameer. Addameer has Israeli and Palestinian lawyers and NGOs who volunteer to represent about 10,000 Palestinians a year in military tribunals. Addameer is the only hope for getting any due process whatsoever, or for even sending messages to their families so that their families can know what happens to them.
Thanks to the Emirates, thanks to Saudi Arabia, thanks to all these Muslims who are saying, "Go ahead, kill our Palestinian brothers. We do not care,” the Israeli government for the first time is classifying Addameer, an organization of lawyers, as a terrorist organization. Once classified as a terrorist organization, anyone that works for Addameer is now also a terrorist. Anyone that donates to Addameer is a terrorist. Anyone that supports Addameer is a terrorist. If Israeli intelligence classifies Addameer as a terrorist organization, as they promise they will, it will become classified as a terrorist organization by the United States and Europe.
So those Palestinians lose their only glimmer of light in Israeli courts and this angry Muslim notices something like that, studies something like that, speaks about something like that. Those apparently happy, blissful Muslims, do you think they notice? Do you think they care? Do you think that no matter how many times you tell them “enjoin the good and forbid the evil,” they will look at you with a blank face? There is nothing there. No comprehension, no knowledge, no heart, no soul. Those not-angry-Muslims, you try to remind them they are responsible for one another.
Aqsa Mosque? Palestinians? Indians in India? The rising real threat of a genocide against Muslims in India? The actual holocaust against Muslims in China? What happened to Muslims in Bosnia? What happened to Muslims in Chechnya? Nothing. These blissful Muslims will look at you and say, "All that I have in my mind is rhetoric about the Prophet’s Sunnah and whether a woman has a hijab on properly, and whether it is halal to celebrate your birthday. These are the things that occupy my mind." Religion is often the shelter of the dunces. We are responsible. We were the ones who allowed it to happen. We are the ones that will be held accountable before God for the dunces using our religion for cover.
There is no question. I think it is beyond the need for proof that we Muslims have become on the very margins of the normative powers shaping the morality of our world. Despite our numbers, despite our wealth, despite the fact that Muslims control a good portion of the world's wealth, they control very little of the world's moral power. Moral power follows from the power of narrative, the power to construct systems of knowledge, what people take for granted as the basic facts that socialize them towards their existence. Since colonialism, Muslims have been on the receiving end. It is very clear that the answer is not a military one. No military victory anywhere in the world will change the reality for Muslims. The real battle today is the battle over the formation of human consciousness. This type of battle requires a great deal of education and a great deal of intelligence.
No matter how much you invest in a donkey carrying books, you are not going to be able to add to the IQ of the donkey. You can load the donkey with more and more books. Eventually it will just break the donkey and kill the poor creature. No matter how much you invest in our "not angry elements” - those apathetic elements who turn Islam into a refuge for their lack of intelligence, understanding, passion, morality, empathy, and care - they adeptly hide behind a well-crafted number of “subhanallahs,” “Alhamdullilahs,” “Allahu Akbars,” and “Mashallahs” and they continue to float, hiding behind the rhetoric of piety. No matter how much you invest, they will remain a donkey carrying books.
This battle of striving in the modern world is a battle of intelligence, a battle of awareness, a battle of consciousness, a battle of seriousness, and yes, a battle of brutal, unrelenting honesty with the self so you can see your own failures and your own faults, and where you need to reform and change. But telling ourselves, "Oh, I do not want to be an angry person,” so we will continue living life deceiving ourselves about what surrounds us so plainly will not get us anywhere, or keep us exactly where we are today.