It is not an exaggeration to say iman (faith) - that most basic, core thing - is the seed for everything that has to do with our Islam; within everything that has to do with our relationship with God, with the Prophet, with the history of Islam, with the tradition of Islam. At the very heart and core of iman is a very important concept, that being to trust. Someone may claim, "I believe" but at the same time, they do not trust that God knows what is good for them or for others. They do not trust that God is involved with our world. They may not trust that God will indeed hold people to account in the way that God tells us God will in the Qur’an. What does saying, “I have iman,” without that basic concept of trust? This, however, is not a simple matter. It is at the very core of everything that defines our relationship to our religion and beyond.
If you claim that you have iman, that assertion is emptied of all meaning if your relationship with your Maker is one that does not exhibit any level of trust. What we often call taqwa or strength of iman is really the extent to which you trust. You trust in God's word. You trust in God's will. You trust that God does not lie to you. You trust that when God says something has bad consequences, it does. You trust that when God says something is good, it is. You trust that God sees you and is aware of everything that you say and do. You build your relationship on iman in a sum total of micro dynamics in which trust is exhibited. And to the extent that you do not have that trust is where your iman is truly shaky. Remember that the very word “iman” is premised on the idea of tasdeeq or sidq, that you believe something to be true. But the very word “iman” has the same root as the word “amn.” Amn is a quintessential concept of trust, and I will elaborate upon this in a second.
One of the intriguing things that has caught my attention is that there are all these research organizations and think tanks that keep track of something called “trust indicators'' around the world. These organizations basically try to research and measure the extent to which different populations in the world are developed or not, democratic or not. Which populations trust in things like other people in their society, in their government, in their journalism or the spoken or written word; which populations trust the integrity of the market wherever they live. These research organizations then publish reports on trust indicators on which societies have a higher degree of trust, and those who are plagued by lower degrees of trust. You pause for a second and think, trust is so core to much of what we do. Put differently, iman, or faith, in something is so core to what we do.
From the time that you wake up in the morning, you trust that when you open your door, the rules for moving in the streets outside your door have not changed. You trust when you close your door at night, there will not be an army ready to invade you. You trust that whatever mechanisms you have set up to receive and spend money remain constant and stable. You trust that if you deposited something in the bank, the rules of the game will not change and that you can access whatever you deposited in the bank. You trust in whatever dynamics that allow you to perform a job. The law itself is an instrumentality of trust. Law does not create values, and it is often unable to ensure compliance in 100% of the cases. What the law does is that it targets particular breaches in order to bolster trust in society. It punishes people who break the rules in order to send a larger message, that message being that we must trust in the rules and trust in the very idea of the rule of law. Although, we fully know that law does not work 100% of the time, but that is beside the point.
The law intervenes just enough, and hopefully with integrity, so that you have trust in the system in which the law is a part of. Without that basic value, all would collapse in society. Without the basic expectation that trust would be vindicated, our entire social existence would collapse. So much of our trust is not in things that we have personal experience with. We trust in all types of rules and dynamics because of the way that we have been conditioned. In fact, what we experience firsthand is only a very small percentage of the web of relationships and dynamics anchored in that value of trust.
Back to the concept of iman, so much of what God teaches us is to allow us to understand that iman is anchored in a relationship of trust that you have with your Maker, but that extends beyond to bolster trust as an essential value in human life. The Prophet once told us that a real Muslim is someone in which people are safe from his or her harm. Put differently, a real Muslim does not harm people with their hands or with their tongue. What that is, is that human beings would feel towards this person who claims to have belief, they trust that this person is not going to hurt them physically or verbally, bolstering the essential elixir of social dynamics, trust. The Prophet says to us, “Do not allow death to find you without you having taken the shahada, but also without you having treated people like you would like to be treated yourself.”
That very value means that people can trust that as a Muslim, as a believer, you are a fair human being. That you are not going to transgress upon them or transgress against them, that you are not going to rob them, take what they have because fundamentally, in your heart, is that you will treat other people like you would like to be treated yourself. In Surah Al-Isra, God instructs human beings to speak beautifully. Do not allow ugliness to come out of your mouth. Why? Because Satan can exploit whatever you say to create enmity, i.e., to create distrust, hostility and anxiety. However, sin - and particularly the type of sin that hurts other human beings - is often because that relationship of trust with your Maker, with God, is weak.
So much of our life is based on trust in things that we have not experienced directly. I have not been to the moon, but the reason that I believe my government’s claims that we have been to the moon, is anchored in various micro dynamics of trust. I have not seen the Federal Reserve with whatever it claims it holds in gold, but so much of our economy and the market is built on representations that the vast majority of us will never experience directly. But yet, it is this element of trust. It is feeling the hand of God in your heart. It is when your iman can discern the hand of God within. It is not a hand that is there to cater to your egos either for better or for worse. It is not a hand that is there to threaten you, to put fear in you or alternatively, to excite you and make you giddy and happy.
The hand of God is like the hand of gravity. It is the hand of a reality in which you trust. You trust that God knows all, that God knows better. You trust that God will protect your children, that God will protect your home, that God will deliver justice. You trust that God is there all knowing, all seeing. You trust that God is capable of changing and altering anything. That is the heart and core of iman.
But let us flip this on its head for a second and ask, “In what type of societies are the indicators of trust the highest?” You see, there is a remarkable correlation between indicators of trust and quality of life. In societies that are corrupt, underdeveloped, ignorant or dictatorial, the indicators of trust are quite low, and the converse is true. In fact, if you look at Muslims’ migration patterns, like the rest of the world, they are trying to escape countries with low trust indicators and go to countries with high trust indicators.
They are trying to go from countries in which people do not trust the system, the law, the government, their neighbors, tomorrow or even life itself, to countries with higher indicators of trust and all of the above. That just tells us a great deal about our relationship with Islam and what we need to do with Islam, with our faith. The movement is not from societies that have the higher degree of religiosity. The movement is not from societies that have higher degrees of trust to societies where people go and pray in the mosque more or attend church more, where the percentage of people who believe in God is higher. The movement is clear, it is from countries with low trust indicators to countries with higher trust indicators.
But then you pause and you think, how could that be? How could it be that societies that claim iman - that claim the Islamic faith - would be countries with low trust indicators? How could it be that people who have said the Shahada, at every level, in every indicator report, do not trust tomorrow, do not trust the market, the media or their government? Even at the social level, they expect that there will be slander and backbiting. They expect their neighbor to rob them. If they go out in the streets, they do not feel secure and confident that they will come back home without something happening to them.
How about the entire message of the Qur'an? That the core of iman is to exude rabbaniyyah, and to exude godliness. You exude everything that is godly. To exude safety, security, reliability, peace, all these values. How about treating others like you would like to be treated? How about the simple fact of truth in societies that have higher trust indicators? People expect to hear the truth at higher percentages from everywhere, from the grocery store in which they buy their groceries, to the banks in which they do their business, to their workplace, to their governments. The greater the role of the truth, the higher the trust indicator. Though apparently, for Muslim societies, it has somehow become acceptable to say, "I am a believing pious Muslim, but I do not trust that my fellow Muslims will deal with me truthfully." How did we end up here? The first thing that our faith drills in us is that you shall speak the truth, even if it is against your loved ones or against yourself. But yet, we see in Muslim country after Muslim country, Muslims do not expect to hear the truth from fellow Muslims. Does this not deserve a pause? Does this not deserve serious thought and contemplation? What have we done with our Islam?
Firstly, where you can claim to be a Muslim, but you do not know the meaning of trust in God. Where you can claim to be a Muslim, but you do not trust God's law or God's will. When God tells you to not speak ill about people, you do not trust that that really means what it seems to say. When God says, "Pursue justice, believe in justice, seek justice, and I will help you," you say, "I do not trust that justice is achievable. I do not trust that justice is possible. I do not even trust that if I work for justice, that God's hand is fixed upon my hand." We pretend to trust, but we do not trust. Secondly, trust as a value between the members of Muslim society is highly deficient. Here is a really terrifying thought, that these two points are linked together, meaning that in Muslim societies, people do not speak the truth, nor do they trust in the truth; that people do not trust that others will treat them fairly and that people do not trust that others will not betray them and stab them in the back. That people do not trust that when someone says, "Al salamu ‘alaykum,” they really mean, “Al salamu ‘alaykum.” That people do not trust that the pious person who pretends to be pious is indeed pious - meaning that trusting religious institutions, which again holds very low indicators in Muslim countries.
Someone recently told me something so shocking that I honestly do not want to believe it. They told me that there was a girl who was studying Qur'an and that her mother would never leave her with her Qur'an teacher; her mother would insist on sitting through every single Qur'an lesson. If the mother could not be there, she would cancel the class. It turned out that this was the only girl who was not molested by this Qur'an teacher. I am not generalizing to say that Qur'an teachers are molesters, but look at the dynamics of trust. What does it mean to have a Qur'an teacher who is a molester? How does it impact the fabric of our iman? Are the trust indicators in Muslim society that low? Because in truth, we really do not have iman. That is a really scary thought, that in truth, we do not have iman. I think God speaks to us through adilla. The adilla are like the pieces of evidence you find in the book of life, the book of existence. God gave us intellects so we can pursue the adilla, the indicators, the pieces of evidence, and comprehend. Do not give me generalities. Do not put on a show of theatrical pieties. When I see the concrete indicators and I look at Muslim societies, I find the trust indicators are so low.
I see that Muslims themselves want to immigrate from Muslim societies to go live in societies that are not Muslim, but that have higher trust indicators. They want to feel more secure. They want to feel more safe. They want to, in a word, be able to know that there is a system. There are rules that protect their dignity, that protect their humanity. That iman, belief, is a poor indicator of trust in society, I take this as God speaking to me. I look at this and I say, “astaghfirullah.” How could it be that there is no correlation between iman and trust? Then something is really wrong in the way we understand and the way we practice our iman. If our iman does not teach us to become trustworthy and does not teach us to exude trust out to the rest of the world; if our iman does not teach us not to betray, not to commit treachery, not to lie; if our iman does not make us more trustworthy, then what value is this iman?
God speaks to us. The thing that really gets me is Muslims often do not realize the extent to which they defame God. When they act in a stupid fashion, it is as if they are accusing God of stupidity. When your society is infested with distrust and you continue pretending that this is appeasing and pleasing to God, who are you kidding? Are you accusing God of stupidity? Are you saying God will not notice? Will God not notice that for Muslims, the pattern of immigration is from predominantly Muslim countries to non-Muslim countries? Is God not going to notice how much treachery, betrayal and corruption takes place among Muslim societies and communities? Is God not going to notice that you do not trust God? Is God not going to see any of that?
We all say, "Don’t give me the bad news. Let us all just pretend that God is fine with everything." How? When I know that my God is all seeing and all knowing, I cannot hide anything. I cannot pretend that something is okay when it is not because God sees through all. God will look at me and say, "You are only deceiving yourself and I do not like those who deceive themselves. Thank you very much. You can keep your prayers. You can keep your fasting. You can keep the physical gymnastics of rituals that you perform. If it did not manifest on the core values of iman, I have no use for you. You bring nothing. Keep it." That is the hand of God. How do I escape that? How do some convince themselves that they can escape that? I really wish I could know.
I get messages that talk about yours truly, the unworthy Khaled Abou El Fadl. Some people even say, "I stopped listening to him because it is always bad news." The Muslim house is on fire. While your house is on fire, you can tell yourself, "Ah, it is so demanding. It is so exhausting to try to think about how to put this fire out or even how to save ourselves," but the price is your soul. The Prophet said that if a man dies unjustly in the remote reaches of the earth, and you know about it, but do not condemn it with your heart, then you have become a participant in the responsibility for this man's blood. I do not give these khutbahs to ask you to change the world. That is in God's hands, not yours.
But your trust in God tells you, "God, I must know what is right from what is wrong, and I must always stand ready. If, God, in Your Will - not mine - creates the opportunity for me to make a difference, my consciousness based on truth will trigger me to action." [It is about] awareness. Our fate is in the hands of God. I truly believe that if God sees us as deserving of better fortunes, God will present these better fortunes for us to take advantage of. But, if God sees that what inhabits the heart is corrupt, selfish, distrustful and lacking iman, God knows that whatever opportunities God presents, we will waste them. So, God does not present us with opportunities. My khutbahs are not fun. They do not make you feel giddy about yourself. But why do they offer the truth? So that perhaps if the truth inhabits your heart, we will become worthy of God's change.
Look at the fate of nations. I do not want to single out anyone, but as the Prophet said, “As you are, you will be led.” In the invasion of Iraq, look at the difference between the leadership of Saddam Hussein, who even to the very last minute, while his country was about to be invaded, did not release political prisoners. His jails were full of political prisoners and he did not release them even after the US commenced its invasion. To the last second, he would not distribute weapons to the Iraqi people because he feared that the Iraqi people would use these weapons against him.
Compare this to the leadership of the president of Ukraine. As you are, God allows you to be led. I want us to deserve something better, and it is the truth that will qualify us for something better, even if you do nothing with this truth, other than cleansing your heart and correcting your perceptions.
A recent article notes that In the midst of all this mess with Ukraine and Russia, Congress approves yet another bill giving $1 billion to Israel to bolster its armed forces. In the course of this article, it is noted that Jewish groups lobbied Congress to get $250 million for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program. The Nonprofit Security Grant Program is a Federal program that gives money to religious institutions to bolster their security so that they are not the targets of hate crimes.
In the past year, Congress gave $180 million to that program. This year, the allocation was raised to $250 million. The Nonprofit Security Grant Program dispensed most of its money to Jewish institutions. Most of the $250 million will go to Jewish institutions to protect against anti-Semitic attacks. When I tell you this, where are Muslims? Where is the Muslim voice? Hate crimes against Muslims far exceed anti-Semitic crimes at this point. But these groups are aware of their rights and spend their money the right way. They have enough people, a critical mass of people, who do not think of themselves as too good to waste their careers in serving Jewish causes. Most Muslims say, "I am too good to waste my life serving a Muslim cause. No, I want to be a doctor. I want to be an engineer. I want to be a star. I want to make money. I want to receive a lot of recognition."
The critical mass of people that serve the cause. They have a critical mass of people that graduate from the top schools, that graduate from Ivy League and say, "What am I going to do with my life? I am going to serve my community. I am going to serve Israel. Yes. That will mean sacrifices. That will mean I will not go to medical school. I will not work for the biggest law firm, but that is okay, I have a cause." How many Muslims will say or do the same? When I present you with this and I say, "Spread the message, teach your children,” I have become a downer, a party pooper?
Just follow the hypocrisies about the way that the United States, Britain and France have dealt with the international criminal court, when it comes to war crimes committed by Russia in Ukraine, as opposed to war crimes committed by Israel and the way that Muslim countries have helped Israel escaped any accountability. Of course, first place goes to the United Arab Emirates, as usual, but also the Palestinian Authority. It is a shocking, unbelievable story. It is a deeply racist, bigoted story. France, the United States and Britain are telling the UN and the International Criminal Court, "When war crimes are committed by Russia against Ukrainians, we demand immediate action." When identical war crimes are committed by Israelis against Arabs and Muslims, do you dare take action?
When I tell you about this and I tell you, we have to wake up and we have to get serious and we must be worthy of God's help because as we know, time and time again as the Qur'an tells us and teaches us, God does not change the people until they change what is within themselves. The Qur’an did not say until they change the facts of the world, but until God knows that our hearts have changed, that at a minimum, we trust God - until we trust God enough to recognize what is wrong, to condemn what is wrong, to be repulsed by what is wrong. Maybe, just maybe, if this happens, God will bestow God's blessings upon us and we will become worthy of change. Maybe, just maybe, God will give that gene of brilliance to my son or my daughter, or your son or your daughter, and that son or that daughter will go on to be the cause for major change in the world. Who knows?
But we must be worthy of it. Why should God bless us with anything if we do not trust in God, if our behavior indicates that we do not trust? When God tells us how to live a moral life, tells us how to live so that immigration patterns will not be from untrustworthy Muslim countries to trustworthy non-Muslim countries, but the other way - and we just ignore it. Why should God bless us with anything when we turn our religion into something that has nothing to do with values, nothing to do with human morals or ethics, but has to do with weird displays of piety and bizarre adherence to rituals?