God speaks to us human beings, repeatedly warning us about blatantly obvious threats and flaws. God's speech flags what is innately known to us. Without innateness, without tapping into what is already coded into our being, the dynamic between divine speech and the created beings would not work, does not work. When we hear God's words in Surah Al-Nisa’, God speaks to human beings in a clear, transparent, resounding voice, as if putting dots on words. God reminds our Prophet, and God reminds us: God has sent this book for a purpose and this purpose is to aid us; to act as the text that enables us to pass an exam. We sit in this created universe from the time that we become legally and morally responsible to the time that we go to our graves. We are sitting in a test. The results of this test will be announced, but they will not be announced during the time that the test is being administered.
The irony is that although God tells us that we are sitting in a test and this test is being proctored by angels, and the Book - God's guidance - spells out what is needed to pass this test, so many of us reach the rather irrational conclusion that, “Since I am sitting in this test and the proctors are not delivering or enabling me to cheat, then I am not sitting in a test at all.” Put differently, during this test, you know that the results will not be announced now. You know that the proctors are charged with observing and watching and recording. It is not the job of the proctors to remind you to keep sitting for the test until you are done and it is not the job of the proctors to allow you to cheat by giving you the answers. But yet so many of us, because the results of the test are not being announced or are not announced during the administration of the test, we drift away and we forget that we are sitting for a test altogether.
The bizarre situation is as if you are sitting in this test, you look up and ask, “Have I passed?” and the proctors do not respond, because they are not supposed to respond. They are not supposed to tell you whether you are passing or not. You have the Book. Have you studied the book? That is what you are being tested on. But once you do not get a response from the proctors, you flunk the test because you decide to just walk away and pretend like a test is not being administered. What accounts for this odd situation? God warns the Prophet, warns his followers, warns us, that a serious flaw will be the cause for so many human beings failing the test all together. It will be the unraveling for so many. As God puts it, it is the tendency, the reality to defend, stand by, argue for, and apologize for what is wrong.
The Qur'anic discourse, by its very nature, is addressed to a platform that assumes a level of moral consciousness. Do not defend or side with those who betray themselves. All of these verses warning us not to side with or defend those who betray themselves, clearly what they are talking about is the tendency to be overcome by passion and to side with wrongful parties, regardless of what we can innately know is the truth. Not just to side with those who betray themselves, but to effectively make excuses to justify the unjustifiable, to excuse the inexcusable. God further warns us, “You will argue in their defense, you will be obstinate, but who is going to argue on their behalf in the year after?”
Although these verses were reportedly, revealed about an incident involving a man from a group of native Medinians, who supposedly stole something. When people started suspecting that he was, in fact, the thief, he reportedly took the stolen property and put it in the position of an innocent man. Reportedly, his clan asked the Prophet to defend him, and God then revealed these verses to tell the Prophet not to defend the treacherous. However, as I said in the Project Illumine Tafsir, this entire report is highly suspect. What the Qur’an is pointing to is something more fundamental, more serious, and far more grave.
The fact is that most of the time, the treacherous entity that people defend and argue for is indeed most often, none other than yourself. The reality is this Qur’an has been revealed right in our midst, and yet how many of us sit, day after day, week after week, month after month, having heard the divine revelation? It is one thing when, in an armchair fashion, we recognize the remote wrong committed by others. We may choose to defend the remote wrong committed by others, or we may not. Sadly, quite often, whether we decide to defend it depends on nothing more honorable than if we have a vested interest in that wrong being committed. If people have a vested interest in a regime, suddenly, they can see angles and sides to that regime that somehow overlooks the moral failures and flaws.
Even far more grave, far more serious is that we receive this Revelation, we are aware of this Revelation day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, Ramadan after Ramadan, until we come to our graves, but the most formidable traitor that we often side with and argue on behalf of, is ourselves. Reflect on what these verses are telling you. If you accuse an innocent party and then you defend the accusation stubbornly, you have betrayed God and his Prophet. But what is “accusing an innocent party”? Do you need to steal something and then place the stolen property in some innocent party's possession? Accusing an innocent party is, as Surah Al Nisa' warns us, that so much of what we speak about is not just vain, but offensive to God. That is a powerful hint.
Indeed, when God tells us about our Najwa. Najwa is not just what you converse about, but even what you speculate about, what you dream of. It is what bubbles inside your being and ends up being emitted off of your tongue. When you get on social media and you attribute knowledge to the ignorant, you are lying about others. When you attribute ignorance to the knowledgeable, you are lying about others. When you succumb to your vanities and accuse others of having wronged you, you are lying about others. When you defend your ego and insist that other people have the following characteristics, the following moral flaws, you are lying about others. When in this dynamic - you are your own God - the Qur’an is heard, but it makes absolutely no difference in your judgment, or in how you choose to perceive yourself. You have become among the treacherous, and when you stubbornly defend that self, you have become among the defenders of the treacherous.
We do this constantly. We do this with our family. We do this with our wives. We do this with our husbands. We do this with affiliations, whether national or some other subcategory. Every time you side with a country, just because it is your country, you have fallen in that category. Every time you side with your family, just because it is your family, you have fallen in this category. Every time you side with yourself, just because it is yourself, you have fallen in this category. God has given only human beings the ability to aspire towards objective judgment and, as the Qur’an teaches us, to even testify against loved ones or against the self. But what happens to those, who in fact, everything that is heard from the Qur’an is filtered through the prism of the egotistical self? How about those who can sit, listen, study, or learn the Qur’an, but ultimately when all is said and done, it alters very little in them.
Here at The Usuli Institute, we started something called Project Illumine, a long engagement with the Qur’an. Some people have been with us since the beginning, while some people will start this journey of listening to the Qur’anic commentary long after we are gone. How much has your engagement with God's speech transformed you? How much has it been able to get you to testify against the self? If you are a student of the Qur’an, and when all is said and done, your ability to testify against the self has not developed, you remain a loyal faithful witness for the self. You remain a staunch defender of who and what you are, whatever the circumstances that created you in life. If you remain in the logic, “My feelings are right, so I am right,” then this entire journey has been in vain, and the revelation of the Qur’an in your life is in vain.
But the worst among the treacherous can be yourself. “Do not defend those who ultimately are not transformed by God's Revelation.” We can talk about the transformation of others. What is much harder is to notice the ways in which God's words wash over us as if nothing. They cause no tremors. They cause no earthquakes. They cause no tsunamis. They cause no volcanoes. God's words do not keep you up at night, but the ego keeps you up at night. God's words do not make you lose your appetite, but the ego makes you lose your appetite. God's words do not move you, they do not get you irritated and angry, but your ego keeps you irritated and angry. If that is your state, you are failing the test. Then allow me to tell you as a teacher, that perhaps you have forgotten that you are sitting in a test. This is a proctored test, with no cheats. Because you are not receiving any cheats, you often forget you are sitting in this test. This is our problem.
As Muslims, why has the Revelation fallen silent in our midst? Again, the Book tells us about those who have forgotten that the very role of the Divine in this test is to call upon them to challenge the ego and testify against the ego. What is the net result? They have fallen under the control of Satan. Why does God tell us the story of creation? Why does God alert us about a non-human who commits a most basic sin? What is that sin? Pride. In a word, Satan responds to his ego. “Why should I prostrate? It does not make sense to me. My ego tells me I am better.”
That sin of pride is the primordial, satanic, demonic sin. It is pride that enables people to get on social media every day and slander others left and right without reserve. It is pride that gets people to talk about what they do not know, to claim knowledge when they do not have it, to become opinionated when they should hold back, to reach judgments left and right about everything and everyone but themselves. It is pride that always notices the faults of others, but never your own. It is pride that makes you lose or waste every opportunity that God gives you in life to learn something, to advance, to progress, to grow closer to God. It is pride, and pride is the original primordial, demonic, satanic sin.
The irony of all ironies is quite often, the problem with pride is that the more knowledgeable you are, the closer you are to God, the more humble you are. But the more lost you are, the more you cover over your own insecurities, or your sense of guilt. Your intuitive sense that tells you, “You are in trouble. You are not doing a good job, you might actually fail this exam.`` What do we do? Pride comes to the rescue. Pride comes and says, “Do not think about it, you are fine. All these people are losers. They just do not understand you, they do not see how wonderful you are. Do not worry. What earthquakes? What tsunamis? What volcanoes? God's words? You are fine!” Pride is from Satan. Put bluntly, the more screwed up you are, the more prideful you are.
Has the Qur’an transformed you? Has God's revelation, God's words, induced you to testify against yourself? To stop defending yourself, right or wrong? Has the Qur’an carried you to be a being beyond yourself? Because unless you get over yourself, you have absolutely no chance of knowing anything about your Lord. Again, this is all common sense. If all you know in the universe is one thing, then how much do you actually know of your universe? Nothing, because the way you learn is through contrasts. If all I know is this house and I have no conception of any other house, then in reality, I know nothing about homes because I have no contrast, no grounds to compare. So if all you know is yourself, its ego, its pride and its emotions, then you actually know nothing.
The only way that you can actually know something about yourself is to develop knowledge about your Lord. Only knowledge of God enables you to peer within the self, to actually see the self for what it is. As long as God is a blank space, you begin with the self and you end with the self, which means you begin and end with absolutely nothing. It means you failed your exam and you are in trouble, despite everything that you have received in terms of God's revealed world, everything you have learned, everything you have recited, everything you have memorized.
When Muslims were still receiving the very early revelation, God gave them a demonstrative example. God told them about past nations, how those past nations received the revelation, and despite receiving the revelation, they became absorbed into their own egoism and lost the path. God warns Muslims early on, “Salvation is not according to your whims.” God warns us at the very beginning of the tendency for human beings to receive revelation, ultimately subvert this revelation, and subjugate the revelation to their whims, to their ego.
I often shudder at the idea of what God would say about us if the Qur’an was being revealed today. How many of the warnings that God gave in Surah Al-Baqarah and Al-Imran have we actually heeded? How many of the traps have we precisely fallen in? To what extent does God's revealed word induce a change, make us more honest witnesses, even if it is against the self? The signs of an ailment are so blatant. Every week as I look at the news, I go back to this essential question, how did we end up in such a horrific situation? The headline of a recent article reads, “Yemen faces unimaginable suffering as the US-backed Saudi war enters its eighth year.” Muslims killing Muslims while the entire Christian world rushes to the aid of Ukraine. Muslims inflicting racism upon other Muslims. If we can understand why Europeans are racist and biased in favor of their own people, what explains Muslim racism? The fact that Muslims, including their media, are far more concerned about the plight of Ukrainians than they are about Yemenis; survey the media of Muslim country after Muslim country.
Muslims themselves consider other Muslims the living dead, “Who cares?” Saudi Arabia and the Emirates are continuing to kill millions of Muslims. “So what? We will just go on.” The first Arab country that the “butcher of Syria” visits is the Emirates, the Emirates that played a direct role subverting and making sure that the Syrian revolution failed. Now, all the gloves and all the masks are off. The Emirates also made sure that the Egyptian, Sudanese, Libyan and Tunisian revolutions failed. So when Assad, a genocidal criminal by any measure, leaves Syria to visit the first country since the Syrian civil war started, where does he go? He goes to the Emirates. Yet all these Muslims who receive thousands of views on their videos, who are popular in Islamic circuits, are Emirati-funded and we do not see the obvious moral problem in this. We do not see the obvious moral problem in a country that has supported massacre after massacre of Muslims.
God tells us, “Do not defend the treacherous.” How many Muslims in the United States defend those who defend the Emirates? Ahmed Nasser Al-Raisi, an Emirati general who was elected to be the head of the Interpol. It turns out that yet again, the Interpol's budget is $68 million. 195 countries are supposed to come up with $68 million. What does the Emiratea do? They contribute $54 million of the $68 million that is supposed to be generated by 195 countries. And because the Emirate contributed $54 million of the $68 million, the Emirati general was elected to head Interpol. What is the problem? The Emirati general that was elected to head the Interpol is being sued in Britain, in France, in the Netherlands, in Switzerland, all by survivors of torture. The head of the Interpol is a criminal, a man who is directly implicated in torturing numerous human beings, including British citizens. Yet we Muslims do not feel bound to testify for truth or principle. We do not feel like it impacts upon us when we still defend the treacherous. We are still capable of following people who talk to us about the Emirates being the country of tolerance.
Twenty eight million in East Africa and the Middle East confront the risk of extreme hunger and starvation because of the war in Ukraine. Ukraine is a European country that is often plagued by cold weather, yet Russia and Ukraine generate most of the wheat that feeds the Muslim world. That begs the obvious question, Muslim countries have far more fair weather than Ukraine. When it comes to growing wheat, countries like Egypt, Sudan and many countries in East Africa actually should be the ones growing the wheat and feeding the rest of the world, not the other way around. Why do they not? Why is it that Muslim countries consume wheat from countries that are actually ill-equipped to grow wheat, while the countries that God has readied, in terms of natural resources, to actually grow wheat do not? Corruption. Muslim countries do not grow wheat because of corruption, because Muslim countries would rather take farmable land and build casinos and hotels so that they can entertain tourists or sell condos. Corruption.
What is corruption? The tendency for human beings to testify on behalf of themselves, right or wrong, and to see what is wrong and not take a stand against it. When I ask you, “how much has the Qur’an transformed you?” I am alerting you to an existential problem for us as Muslims. The issue is not just whether you fail to transform. But having received this intense exposure to the Qur’an during this year, to what extent are you part of a pattern and practice, a general ailment of the Ummah? Our Qur’an has become our own ego, and the word of God slides off as if we ourselves have become arid soil where nothing grows. Awaken that conscience in you, because if you are among those until the end, you will wake up one day with the realization that you have failed the exam, and there will be nothing that you could do about it.