"Are You Alive? Justice, Necropolitics, and The Living Dead"

God says in his book, in Surah Al Hadid, “We have sent our messengers with the evidence, with the path, with the roadmap, with the real guide to enlightenment, to awareness. And we sent with our messengers the Book.” It is amazing that God parallels “the Book” with al-mizan: the balance, the scale. “We have sent our messengers with the guidance to enlightenment and we have sent the Book, and what we sent with the Book is the scale of justice.”


As Muslims, we pass over these verses constantly and do not pause to reflect on what God is telling us. God is affirming that the message and the Book come hand in hand, intimately interwoven with the very concept of the scale; the scale that symbolically has everything to do with justice. God then makes it even more clear: What is the point of the guidance sent by God? What is the point of the messengers and the Book coming along with the very concept of justice?


It is as if God is telling us there can be no Book without justice, and there can be no justice without the Book. God is telling us something that all philosophy struggles with. Can there philosophically exist the imperative of justice without there being a superior force that commands us to establish justice? God solves this problem for us, for it is as if God is saying, "You do not need to go into deep philosophical sophistry in order to understand that there is a superior autonomous sovereign power in existence that makes justice normatively imperative, that makes justice a mandate, a demand." God then makes this even more clear by telling us, "Why have we sent the Book? Why have we associated the Book with the scales of justice? So people, in fact, will establish justice.”


God again underscores the relation of revelation to the mandate of justice. God tells believers in Surah Al Nisa, that justice is a dynamic process, a never ending command and an eternal imperative. The very language anticipates that one must work deliberately and permanently with utmost effort to establish justice as a way of testifying for God, even if this testimony is against the self or against loved ones. 


Then again in Surah Al Ma’idah, God says, "You want to establish divinity. You want to serve divinity. You want to uphold the cause of divinity." Yes, God, how do we do that? "Then live as an embodied testimony, as a perpetual witness for justice. And do not let the injustice of others lead you to injustice." The Qur’an creates a very clear inseparable link between revelation and justice. It is as if God is saying, "Without justice, there can be no Book. Revelation does not exist if it is not accompanied with full awareness of the imperative of justice." But even more than that, as Surahs Al Nisa and Al Ma’idah make clear, there can be no divinity in your existence without the imperative of justice.


To put it more bluntly, if you want to understand what all of this is about; why God has commanded you to pray, has commanded you to fast, has commanded you to pay alms, has commanded you to do anything that God has commanded you to do, it is all anchored in the imperative of justice. It is your job to make sure that anything we do to serve the divine is simultaneously establishing, upholding and maintaining justice. God gives us the foundational principle, but it is up to us as Muslims to think through in a systematic, critical and analytical fashion, all the ways that divinity is equated with justice and justice is equated with divinity.


Although this is a bigger topic, if you believe in God, you must believe in the imperative of justice. And, believing in justice is elevating divinity - even if you do not believe in divinity. There is something divine about justice in and of itself. That is why I believe, and only God knows best, that God will reward the just for their justice, because whether they believe it or not, they are establishing divinity. Justice is divinity, and divinity is justice. It is like someone who says, "I believe in God, but I do not believe in beauty." It is an impossibility, then you do not believe in God. Believing in beauty is believing in God, and believing in God is believing in beauty.


This link has been lost among modern Muslims to a truly appalling degree, to the point that there are Muslims who think that they can preoccupy their time with the tenets of Islamic jurisprudence and have discussions about the rules of wudu or prayer, and not attempt to understand why wudu and prayer indeed must all serve the ultimate cause of justice, which is the cause of divinity. There are Muslims who do not understand why it is a fundamental inconsistency to say, "We have God in this society, but we do not have justice." There is no God if justice is absent. It is like an impure space; an impure space has no angels. Impurity only invites demons, not angels. Injustice only invites the demonic, not God. You want a space for the divine? That space can only exist within the paradigm of justice.


I saw a recent video of a Muslim American figure talking about music, and of course it had thousands of views. If you talk about the law of music without your discourse ultimately being an elucidation upon justice, then it is nothing but a form of vanity. Any discourse about God and God’s will, intent and purpose that does not enlighten us about the imperative of justice is sheer vanity. It is absolute nonsense.


And how critical the imperative of justice is for our life, because it is easy to avoid thinking about justice. It is easy to limit ourselves arrogantly with a considerable amount of conceit and false consciousness, to limit ourselves to thinking about our bodily space and what this bodily space is engaged or not engaged in, or engaged with. But in the very fact that you limit your consciousness to the way that your body interacts with the world, know that ultimately you are not anchored in a cause beyond the space that your body occupies and interacts with. In other words, you do whatever you do during your day, but you are not aware or concerned with, "How does what I do during the course of the day affect the ultimate objective of justice?"


In doing that, you yourself have become part of the equation for injustice. You yourself have become a corruption of al-mizan; a corruption of the scale. So if one asks: God, do I avoid being part of the corruption of the scale by simply obtaining, adhering to, persevering and holding onto the consciousness of justice? The answer is: yes, because it is the intentionality within that defines our status with God. I could do exactly what you do over the course of an hour, but it is the intention, the consciousness, the awareness within. Do you do it aware of the imperatives of justice? Or do you do it oblivious to the imperatives of justice?


Life teaches you God's remarkable wisdom. Life teaches you that God warned us and educated us, if only we would listen. Recently, I read a book by a brilliant young Emirati scholar called, “International Law, Necropolitics and Arab Lives,” and his analysis focuses on this concept that has developed a certain critical theory of necropolitics. Necropolitics is when human beings, as human beings, are treated as the living dead. Necropolitics is a word that describes a process by which certain segments of humanity become disposable, sacrificable, so that the human beings who really matter in this world can prosper.


Necropolitics describes a dynamic in which it is not just ‘the other’ that looks at you as if ultimately you are disposable and easily replaceable. Your life has very little value, and its value only kicks in to the extent that your life serves the interests of the elements in our world that matter. Typically, necropolitics involves a great deal of racism. Typically, it is the dark skinned people who can easily be sacrificed so that white people can prosper. But necropolitics also describes a dynamic by which the dominated and subjugated themselves lose the meaning of life, and their politics ultimately become the politics of zero sum games, the politics of death. Like their masters, they kill each other without pause. They eliminate each other as if their own lives are worth nothing.


This concept of necropolitics gave me pause. I look at the world that we live in, and it is very clear that what different theorists talked about when they attempted to describe the dynamics of necropolitics - the politics of death, not the politics of life - what they are really talking about is that there are races, classes, and segments of humanity who are treated consistently as deserving of justice, and because they deserve justice, they are treated as if they are alive. Their very psychological attitude towards those who are truly living is about what? Is that they deserve justice; that they are entitled to justice. When we think about their lives, we think about justice. While those who are described as the living dead, what are they about? We accept for these people the inevitability of injustice. We forgive the existence of injustice. We pass over the realities of injustice. That is why they become the living dead; that is why they do not matter. Pause and think.


So many lessons, that if we reflect upon our world, clearly emphasize the wisdom that God has taught us. Look at the example of Ukraine. Ukraine is invaded. Look at the number of times that media venues and politicians talk about how Ukrainians deserve justice, how those who transgressed upon Ukrainians must be held to account, how war crimes cannot go unaddressed, how those who inflicted injustice upon Ukrainians are nothing but criminals and barbarians. Look at the extent we go to, to try to extend justice to Ukrainian refugees, to make them whole. During the same time that we do that, just in the past three weeks, thousands of the living dead drowned. Thousands of Egyptians, Yemenis, Ethiopians, Nigerians drowned as they tried to reach European shores. No one cares; they do not deserve justice.


At the same time, any time you open up a media outlet, it is full of stories about the suffering of Ukrainians, the unfairness of what is happening to Ukrainians in the past three weeks. Again, the United Nations is trying to bring attention to the fact that millions of Yemenis are dying from starvation. During these same weeks, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates committed new massacres in Yemen. Thousands of people were slaughtered. Necropolitics. No one cares. They are already dead, they do not deserve justice. We do not worry about them or worry about the injustice that they suffer.


We are deeply concerned about the human trafficking of Ukrainian women and children. The alarm bells have sounded all over about how various criminal organizations are targeting and victimizing Ukrainian women and children as refugees. At the same time, we simply do not care about the victims of human trafficking who are Syrian refugees or Yemeni refugees. You cannot get those who belong to a certain race or class to give you the time of day to even worry about it. Necropolitics. They are already dead, so what? The economic sanctions imposed against Iran are forcing many women to prostitute themselves to survive. So what? The economic sanctions against Iraq have killed millions of children. So what? These people are not part of the paradigm of justice.


The most devastating thing is when the victim internalizes the attitudes of the oppressor, when Muslims themselves no longer think of their God as the god of justice, their religion as the religion of justice, but thoroughly adopt the attitudes of those who colonized them and subjugated them, and think that their existence is about merely existing. Why do you exist? “I exist to exist.” What is the meaning of your God? “I do not know. God is just God.” What is the meaning of your religion? “We pray to God. God is the master.” Well, yeah. For what purpose? “I do not know. It just pleases God if I worship God.”


Do you know your Qur’an? Do you know what the legacy of your Prophet was about? Do you know what the legacy of Ahl al Bayt was about? Do you know anything about anything? You have turned your religion into a philosophy of nihilism; a hedonistic, pointless, purposeless faith. It is about nothing. A religion that is about how you do the correct movements in prayer, about how you properly cover your hair, about where your eyes should look as you are walking down the street, is a religion about nothing. Absolute hedonism. Pointless. An affront to the very concept of justice. If your existence doesn't have meaning, then it is an unjust existence. If your existence is not about furthering justice, then by definition, it is about injustice.


The real danger is not that non-Muslims look at Muslims through the prism and the politics of death; not that they consider us the living dead. The real problem is that we, in our own eyes, have transformed ourselves into the living dead. Ask yourself, are you really alive? Do you understand the meaning of your existence? Do you feel empowered by that meaning? Do you feel elevated and liberated by that meaning? Or do you simply think that your existence and your nonexistence are equals? I exist simply because God willed I exist, but I know nothing beyond that and nothing more than that. That is precisely the dynamics of necropolitics.


There is so much news. A court in India ruled that hijab is not an essential religious practice, and therefore, Muslim students do not have the freedom and the right to wear hijab, and the world hardly cares. These women are going to be denied the opportunity to be educated because they have to choose between the hijab and education. When the Taliban denies women the right to education, the whole world condemns it. When India denies Muslim women the right to education because India will allow a Christian to wear a cross, and a Hindu to wear the sari and the bindi, but will not allow a Muslim woman to wear a hijab, the world does not care. But even more, Muslims do not care.


Has any Muslim attempted economic sanctions against India? For years, when France insulted the Prophet, when Israel oppressed the Palestinians and continues to do so, for decades upon decades, Muslims were told, “If you attempt to impose economic sanctions, you are backwards. You are uncivilized. Civilized people do not mix trade with politics.” Look at what happens when you are the race that is thought to deserve justice. Suddenly, even companies like Amazon divest from Russia, taking severe economic sacrifices, and it is all worth it. For decades, Muslims were told, “If you refuse to play Israelis in soccer, tennis or basketball, that is backwards. You are uncivilized, you cannot mix sports with politics.” Look at what happens when you are from the race that matters, the race that deserves justice.


All over Europe, and in the United States and Canada, RT, the news agency that belongs to Russia, has been banned. You cannot get RT, the Russian news agency, on YouTube or any other social media sites. For decades upon decades, Muslims are lectured about how they do not understand the concept of freedom of speech because they censor Israeli narratives, or used to censor Israeli narratives, in their homes. What happened to this argument, as the West, from Europe to the US to Canada, without pause censor a Russian news agency because it spreads disinformation and because its speech is inhumane and incendiary?


The same companies that decided to censor Russian narratives and the Russian narratives that go on and on about a supposed genocide committed by Ukrainians against Russian speakers in Ukraine - that speech is censored as unacceptable and improper. But these same companies have not censored Islamophobic speech, and every time there has been a request to even set standards for Islamophobic speech, the response has been, "We cannot. You are barbarians. You are uncivilized. That is why you are asking us to put limits on ‘Islamophobic speech.’" The world is full of news.


Part of the problem is whether or not the living dead themselves act as if they deserve life. India has now extended its Islamophobia to its movie industry, again taking a further step in igniting the fire of a genocide against Muslims. India's movie industry is now consistently portraying Muslims as the embodiment of terrorism, and the reaction of the Muslim world has nothing to do with justice, with honor; it is complete and absolute silence. No one talks about imposing sanctions on India in any way, sanctions that would send a message that as Muslims, we stand as one.


Recently, Pakistan proposed an annual anti-Islamophobia day, on the occasion of the massacre that occurred in New Zealand against Muslims, March 15th. The resolution passed in the UN, but what caught my attention is, again, who opposed the resolution? Who strongly wanted the world not to have an anti-Islamophobia day? France, India, and the European Union. Think about that. These major powers in the world we live in say it is fine to have all types of occasions where the world makes a stand against anti-semitism, but we are opposed to any effort at recognizing the endless hate that is directed at Muslims.


Necropolitics is when you do not matter in the world, when you become as if a shadow, a ghost. Saudi Arabia executes over 80 people in a single day. It is not only that it did not matter to the entire world, because the victims are Muslim, but even in the Muslim world, hardly anyone lost a meal. Hardly anyone talked about it in a khutbah. You see how we are the living dead? Most of those executed were Shi'a. You see how we transformed each other into the living dead? If the victims are Shi'a, then the Sunnis consider them already dead, so it does not matter. If the victims are Sunnis, then the Shi'a consider them already dead, so it does not matter. Meanwhile, the world watches us and says, "Both of you do not matter."


So much news. Recently, a Kuwaiti citizen named Ammar Baluchi, as a Muslim, was grabbed and taken to a black site, where he was tortured. How was he tortured? It turns out that the American government was teaching our soldiers a torture technique, and the technique consisted of grabbing the Muslim prisoner and smashing his head against the wall repeatedly. Ammar Baluchi's head was smashed against the wall until he sustained brain damage. He continues to be detained in Guantanamo. Under torture, he confessed to a whole series of things; none of them turned out to be true. No viable intelligence was obtained from Ammar Baluchi, there was no evidence of his guilt. The reason the US government does not want to release him is that he was used as a dummy in training American soldiers the technique of head smashing. He was used as a training prop to teach training interrogators how to perform the technique.


Another prisoner named Gul Rahman was tortured to death. He sustained brain damage and died. With Ammar Baluchi, he sustained brain damage, survived and is still in detention. Was anyone held responsible? Not one. In fact, the people who tortured Ammar Baluchi and the people who killed Gul Rahman were promoted. At the same time, the Supreme Court, in a recent ruling, upheld the state secrets doctrine blocking a Muslim who was tortured in an American black site in Poland from obtaining any information as to why he was tortured. What intelligence did the government rely on, because the government detained him, tortured him and ultimately released him with nothing against him.


Muslims as the living dead. Do you see what happens when you treat yourself as the living dead? You do not matter in China. You do not matter in India. You do not matter in Burma. You do not matter in Saudi Arabia. You do not matter in Egypt. You do not matter in Europe. You do not matter in America. You do not matter in Canada. You do not matter, and that is why God taught us from the very beginning, don't you dare believe in God and not believe in justice. Don't you dare talk about God without talking about justice. Don't you dare make your prayers and your fasting about God, but not about justice. Don't you dare have Islam be about God, but not about justice.


You may be sitting here, saying, "What can I do?" You have no idea. How many of you know that Ilhan Omar has been trying to get Guantanamo closed down? You want to do something? Why not contact her office and see how you can help? Why not volunteer? You can volunteer to help Syrian refugees. You can volunteer to help Yemeni refugees. You can even volunteer to host and house Syrian refugees, because all these refugees that come from Syria and Yemen need sponsors, and all the sponsors are Christian, not Muslim.


Even if you do nothing other than go to your Islamic center and say, "I want you to organize an event to invite speakers that come talk to us about what is happening in Guantanamo, what happened in American black sites? What happened to prisoners, Muslim prisoners, who were tortured?” Even if you forced your local institution to become serious about justice, even if you put justice on their calendar, even if you go to your local institution and say, "I am sick and tired of hearing khutbahs about prayer and fasting, and I want khutbahs about what is happening to Muslims around the world."


Even if you sacrifice a cup of coffee to donate to orphans in Syria and Yemen, it is something. Even if you do nothing other than getting married, having children, and raising these children with the right awareness, perhaps your child will be a gifted human being. Perhaps your child will be like the person who wrote about necropolitics and got the world to see things in a different light. Maybe your child will grow up to run for Congress and become an influential senator who can actually make a difference in the world. You matter simply by being among those who think about justice, being among those who understand that the way to God is justice and the way to justice goes through God. That is the Islamic enlightenment. That is the Islamic contribution. That is what Islam is all about.

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