Often as major world events unfold, the simple reality is that as these events unfold and we witness human beings engaged in minor and major challenges, for a Muslim, what ought to be the reality is the constant, persistent voice of the Qur'an reminding, alerting and provoking. The voice of the Qur'an is the very agency of God in our living reality.
Look at the simple challenge. In Surah Al Shams, when God reminds us of the nafs [soul/spirit] that God has created, and of the reality of fujoor and taqwa. “Taqwa” is not just to refrain from sin, taqwa is to be God conscious in all of your affairs. Taqwa is to internalize the reality that you are created, not as an agent of yourself, but as an agent by your Maker, for your Maker. Taqwa is to understand that self, yourself, is not yours. The force of your thoughts are not yours. You are not free to serve the demonic with your thinking, but you are also not free to serve yourself with your thinking.
Taqwa is to realize that the intellect that God has given us is to be used to fulfill the objectives of the divine on God's earth. Not only your intellect, your ideas and your thought, but even your heart. Taqwa, as the Prophet time and again taught, is for your hawa [whim] to become consistent with God's will; for what you perceive yourself to be entitled to, your perception of what you deserve or what is justly yours, to be consistent with godliness, not selfishness.
As God reminds us in the simple, straightforward words, for the material effect of taqwa, this taqwa has to have a tangible reality, and that tangible reality is to purify the self, to emerge with the self from a state of dasisa. Dasisa is everything that is lowly, self-centered, selfish, treacherous, untrue. God challenges us by telling us, "I have given you the self. What are you going to do with it? Are you going to rise to the challenge of the real sense of taqwa - purifying the self - or are you going to debase it by relegating it to everything that is ungodly?"
You wish to understand the godly? I could tell you that God is beautiful, but sadly for modern Muslims, it seems like they cannot comprehend an abstract concept like beauty. It seems like it does not resonate within them. So let me tell you a truth about your God. God did not labor us with the obligation to understand God, because God is giving, giving to the extreme. To put it in simple human terms, nothing God has taught us, has revealed to us, or has created is for the benefit of God's self. God did not even say, "Occupy yourself with understanding me," God said, "Occupy yourself with using what I have given you justly and fairly."
The most basic thing about purifying the self, about being a godly human being, is to live beyond the self, to imitate your Lord, to live in the sunna of your Lord, to live and give, just like your Lord. Imagine if our lives as Muslims were not about, “Look at me, understand me, feel me. Me, me, me. Do you appreciate me? Do you like me?” Imagine if our lives as Muslims were actually according to the sunna of your Maker. “I give. I exist because this world is not the goal, it is not the ultimate, and because nothing I own is mine. The intellect, the self and the emotions are all God's, and I use them to honor what God has given so that I use what God has given justly and fairly.” What a different ummah we would be.
Imagine a human being who is dasas. A human being who is dasas is a human being who lives life to talk about people. All they live for is, “Who did this? Who said that? How did this person affect me, make me feel? What can I do? What have I done?” Stories upon stories, what we call gossip. A lowly human being. A human being hardly with a vestige of divinity. A human being for which the light of divinity within has dissipated and disappeared. They live for nothing but their own career. They live for nothing but, “How am I going to look? How do I look? What do people think of me? What do people say about me? How do people treat me? Me, me, me.” Not a glimmer of divinity in the dasas - in the abasement of the self - because they do not imitate, replicate or in any way honor what the divine is within.
Our ummah is challenged, but the longer I remain on this earth, the more I realize that it is not the fancy theoretical constructs I have read in books. It is not the flowery and eloquent language, conceptualizations, categorizations, distinctions, qualifications and supra qualifications on the qualifications of intellectuals. The longer I remain on this earth, the more the glamour of all of that seems to fade away, the more that I realize the plight of our ummah is really the individual.
We are a selfish people. We are raised to be a selfish people. We are a people that rarely live beyond ourselves. We are born as if breast-fed the milk of hypocrisy. We are born to talk about God, piety, and being a good Muslim, but we insult God in every minute of every day in our life. We insult God because we construct God as if God really cares about whether we correctly perform this or correctly perform that, about whether we rush through five prayers a day while our mind is somewhere else.
We do not understand our God. We do not understand our Qur'an. We do not care to understand our God, and we do not care to understand our Qur'an. For whatever reason, every individual Muslim seems to think that they are God's gift to the universe, that the world starts and ends with their emotions, but in reality, they live and die making very little difference in the world they lived in.
The more I remain on the face of this earth, I realize that the plight of the Muslim starts and ends with each individual Muslim. There is a deep flaw in the way we understand our religion. We take from our religion what boosts our egos, what makes us feel special or exceptional, but we leave out of our religion everything that is summed up with, “Do you purify or do you debase?” By the time you go to bed, are the sum total of your thoughts and feelings about serving God’s purposes, serving others, or about you - who made you feel happy, who disappointed you, who promoted you, who praised you, who served you?
It is not the grand theories, it is not the obfuscations and obscurities of academia. Fancy words often camouflage hypocritical hearts. The eloquence of scholars often camouflages a deep-seated hypocrisy, an ailment of the soul. Look at our ummah. Whatever we thought would work has not been working, and I will show you precisely how it has not been working.
The world witnesses a new war that breaks out in Europe. Russia invades Ukraine. There is so much that one could say, but I will focus on one thing. What struck me about this is the language that we hear from every side and angle about Ukrainian casualties, Ukrainian life, Ukrainian spirit. It is easy to tell just from the language being used that the people who are invaded and the people who are being dominated are white people, because with the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, no one spoke in lofty terms about how the Iraqi and Afghan people love their country, and that they will resist bravely and heroically.
The language that is being used about Ukraine justly and fairly describes how they are a heroic people who hate domination and who will fight for their freedom. But it is a very different language than that that is used about Yemenis, Iraqis, and Afghans. At the same time that we have this very much racialized reality going on, you gaze upon the face of our ummah, and what meets you?
I have mentioned before that Amnesty International came out with an important report. That report documented how Israel is an apartheid state, and of course, the White House completely ignored the report. Of course, the LA Times, the Washington Post, and the New York Times completely ignored the report. Not only that, but it becomes clear that these newspapers not only avoid the word “apartheid” in regards to Israel, but they even avoid the word “Palestine.”
How many Muslims will sit there and waste hours on social media, pontificating and spewing nonsense? How many Muslims will sit there and talk about their feelings day and night; what bothered them, what hurt them, and what irritated them? How many of these same Muslims have actually read the Amnesty International report or even really cared? How many Muslims know that just a day ago, Israel again killed Muhammad Shahada, a 13-year-old? Israel shot the child in the stomach and when he dropped to the ground, Israeli soldiers would not allow ambulances to reach the body for half an hour, until the child died. Israeli soldiers then abused the father who arrived on the scene. Of course, this is not the first or the second child to be shot by Israel in 2022. In 2021, Israel killed 78 Palestinian children in occupied territory. For all those Muslims who spend time yapping about their feelings, who irritated them, and who annoyed them, how much time have you spent thinking about these children in the apartheid state of Israel? How invested is your life about anything beyond yourself?
I am sure we all heard about how various states in India have banned the hijab. The school districts that instituted the hijab ban in India did so three months before the start of exams, effectively a complete disaster for Muslim women who are trying to get an education. They are forced to choose either to take off the hijab or to forego their dreams of being an educated Muslim woman. I have been following the reports, and it is not just that school districts are banning the hijab and denying Muslim women the right to an education, but even banks have started denying service to Muslim women wearing the hijab. Bank tellers are telling Muslim women, "You cannot withdraw money or do whatever business you have until you take off your hijab."
Alongside this, I have read a very disturbing story that Hindu extremists have started doing mock auctions on the killing and raping of Muslim women, as the clear signs of a threat of genocide escalate in India, as physical assaults rise against Muslims, plus the banning of hijab.
Before I get there, let us pause on the banning of hijab. How many will talk about how the Taliban, who cannot feed their people, have denied women the right to an education? Of course, it is disgusting that they would deny women the right to an education, but how many have talked about how it is similarly disgusting that Hindus are denying Muslim women the right to an education? Instead of being preoccupied with yourself, have you thought beyond the self? Have you even obligated the self to live the trauma of your fellow Muslim? If you cannot do anything else, can you even just share in their reality, their agony and their pain? Maybe you will eventually get sick of feeling miserable and wake up to do something about it.
Recently, the U.S. Commission for Religious Freedom wanted to list India as a systematic abuser of the right to religious freedom, but the Biden administration rejected. The Biden administration refused to list India as a country that consistently and systematically denies Muslims their religious freedoms, although at this point it is undeniable. Congress is horrifically silent about the persecution of Muslims in India. The world is shockingly silent about how Muslim women are being denied the right to education. When the Taliban do it, it is a sign of how backwards Muslims are. But when the Hindus do it to Muslims, it causes no outrage.
Even when Muslim women attempted to protest the hijab bans, they were assaulted by Hindu nationalists. Hindus organized counter-demonstrations and attacked these Muslim women. Not only is the world silent, but even more than that, remember that before he came to power, the Prime Minister of India, Modi, was responsible for the murder of 2,000 Muslims. Just last week, 51 Muslims were killed by Hindu extremists and the world is silent. But since he has come to power, hundreds more Muslims have been killed, assaulted, beaten, as well as Muslim women raped.
Not only is the American government silent, but Saudi Arabia a few months ago signed an investment agreement with the Indian government to invest billions of dollars in occupied Kashmiri land that India has annexed. In fact, MBS snubbed the Pakistani president in an incident at an event that is quite well-known, and signed agreements with Modi's government to invest billions of dollars in annexed Kashmir. When asked about India's abysmal human rights record in Kashmir, the guardian of the two holy sites said, "That is an internal Indian matter."
But it does not stop there. India and the United Arab Emirates have signed a major investment pact in which over $100 billion are to be invested by the Emirates in India. Do you see how it works? How can non-Muslims stop racializing Muslims - stop devaluing Muslim life - if we do not even do that ourselves? Did you know that, recently, one of the biggest human rights issues is that human rights organizations are appealing and begging the Egyptian, Saudi and Emirati governments to stop turning in Uyghur Muslims to China? Even if they come to Saudi Arabia on Hajj or Umrah, they are turned over to the Chinese government.
We have a systematic, real problem. There is a figure who is quite well-known in the Muslim world, at least in the Arabic-speaking world, a fellow called Adnan Ibrahim. Adnan Ibrahim became very famous about 10 years ago because Adnan Ibrahim, like Hassan Farhan al Maliki, developed a sustained critique tracing the origins of despotic, autocratic, authoritarian thinking in the Muslim world. Like Hassan Farhan al Maliki, Adnan Ibrahim emerged on the scene talking about at what point in their history Muslims have learned to be so unethical.
Hassan Farhan al Maliki ended up in prison and continues to be in prison to this day. In 2018, Adnan Ibrahim shocked all his followers by suddenly praising in ridiculously lofty language MBS, the Saudi government, and the Emirati government. Fill in the blanks. First, the Saudi government gave him a TV program in Saudi Arabia, and after broadcasting for a period, they stopped the program and banned him from entering Saudi Arabia. The Emirati government did the same. They gave him a TV program for a short period of time, then stopped it and banned him from entering the Emirates; or that is at least what Adnan Ibrahim said. One thing that is clear is that the Adnan Ibrahim of 10 years ago, who used to talk about issues of justice, democracy, immorality, unethical thinking, despotism, is no more. What he talks about these days is completely different.
My point is individual morality. The Emirates betray Muslims every single day. They betrayed the Muslims with the Arab revolutions, betrayed Muslims in Libya, betrayed Muslims in Yemen, betrayed Muslims in Somalia, betrayed Muslims in Egypt, betrayed Muslims in China, and betray Muslims in India. Yet, all types of scholars have sold themselves to Emirati money, and we as individual Muslims continue to give legitimacy and validity to the scholars who sold themselves to the Emirates. You make the individual decision every day in your life to tell them, "We are not mad at you because you sold yourself to the Emirates, although we know you never speak against what the Emiratis do."
The Emirates has promised major new investments with Israel, despite the 78 Palestinian children killed, despite the apartheid regime, despite the 13-year-old that was just killed a couple days ago. The Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt all do not care. When we validate the scholars that continue to sell themselves to the Egyptian, Saudi government and Emirati governments, we do not care.
The longer I remain on this earth, the more I hear the words of God. “That who purifies the soul…” – purifies it how? By not being so selfish, so egocentric. By not being a person who lives to whine, but does nothing. By being a human being who does not matter, who does not take a position, whose only position is, "I care about my feelings. I care about my emotions. I care about myself. I care about my career. I care about how I look. Me, me, me, me." Remember, grand theories and eloquent words are an excellent camouflage for the ailments and hypocrisies of the soul.