The entire world is occupied in one way or another with what is going on in the United States and its elections. There is so much to observe, reflect upon and study. Recall that God intended for us Muslims to take the world as a school. A constant, enduring, unrelenting school for Muslims that see with the light of God. A Muslim that fails to learn from all that God has created is a Muslim that has steered away from the covenant that binds us to our Lord. Bearing witness means keen observation, keen reflection, and keen willingness to learn from everything that unfolds around us.
The Prophet, in a well-known tradition, underscored the importance of Muslim social involvement. As the anecdotal narrative goes, the Prophet was sitting with some companions as a funeral passed. Those with him commented that the person who had died was a pious person, so they prayed that God would forgive the deceased’s sins and bless him with rewards. The Prophet is reported to have responded, with an affirmative, emphatic form of a du’a, saying, "May God accept. May God accept." (It is not as some people have translated it to mean, “It will be; it will be.”) And, as the report goes, another funeral passed by. Those sitting with the Prophet commented that this man was not a good man that they believed would not attain salvation. The Prophet is reported to have repeated similarly, “May God accept. May God accept.” In all the commentaries on this hadith, you will find the same understanding of this hadith.
A Muslim is a fully involved human being, and the reputation that a Muslim leaves behind is important. The Prophet was underscoring that the social perception of a Muslim is important, and that social norms and social standards do matter. With this hadith, we find that it is often discussed when it involves tyrants, despots, and people who were known to be unfair or unjust in their lifetime. The fact that people condemned your injustice or thought of you as an unpleasant human being who tends to violate the rights of others matters to God.
When the Prophet says, "May God accept," of course the Prophet is not deciding for God. The Prophet's judgment cannot stand for God’s judgment. Rather, the Prophet is underscoring that the reputation that you leave on this Earth matters. Similarly, the act of witnessing also necessarily means involvement. Remember that the covenant we have with God is to bear witness for God. You cannot bear witness for God if you are apathetic. You cannot bear witness for God if your piety makes you oblivious. You cannot bear witness for God if your Islam becomes a vehicle of avoidance. You cannot bear witness for God if your spirituality deadens your perception of the suffering of others. You cannot bear witness for God if you lack empathy or if you are self-involved; your relationship with God being all that matters to you is not an excuse. The act of bearing witness for God weds a Muslim to the principle of empathy forever. To be empathetic, you have to have knowledge. In order to have knowledge, you must have interest. There are lessons in everything. And in everything, we Muslims are called upon to reflect and to ponder about the implications of divinity, as well as to think of the momentous challenge that God has put before us to be Godly human beings.
How can we rise beyond ourselves - with all our weaknesses, psychological hang ups, and physical challenges - to come closer to God by being Godly? To be among those with shining, luminous faces in the Hereafter that gaze upon their Lord, as the Qur’an teaches us? What could be more Godly than to rise to that status? Especially when juxtaposed to faces that have become pale with anxiety and fear because they fear their fate in the Hereafter. The juxtaposition, if you properly reflect on it, is jarring enough to strive towards Godliness on this Earth.
In order to become Godly, what is the first attribute of God? "Al Rahman, Al Rahim." “The Compassionate, the Merciful.” You cannot be compassionate or merciful without empathy. You cannot meet the challenge of Godliness without embedding empathy into your soul. Empathy needs knowledge, real empathy is not built upon ignorance. If the way that you can make peace with your world is to be oblivious - if you avoid knowledge – that is not much of a challenge. You are cheating yourself and cheating God. You are failing in the challenge of Godliness. The challenge of Godliness, again, is to be Godly and to be Godly is to be merciful, compassionate and just.
Out of the many things that we can learn from the American elections, there are some elements that are of special interest for Muslims. China can change leaders and the world is disinterested because China is a closed box. Russia can change leaders and the world is disinterested because Russia is a closed box. But for the United States, the world is interested because this procedure, this institutional framework that allows a Commander-in-Chief to hand over power to another Commander-in-Chief every number of years, will determine many things around the world. Those looking at the United States saw a president who complained about mail-in votes and votes counted after election day. Despite that sitting president’s protests, there is a process that proceeds uninterrupted. Even the president of this country cannot stop this process. He can go to court; it changes nothing. Even if the President doesn't want to hand over power, if he lost the election per the rules of the United States, he will be forced to hand over power.
At the same time that this president sends out tweets conspiring about massive voter fraud, there are journalists on numerous media outlets in the United States who speak openly about the legalities of the process, as well as the absurdity of the President's complaints. Imagine a different scenario in which a sitting president can pick up a phone if he doesn't like the way the discussion is going on CNN, and, by a simple phone call, he could have everyone involved in that discussion thrown in prison immediately. What if that president could simply change the constitution to allow him to stay in power, possibly for life?
Which is closer to the principle of Godliness? A president whose word is not treated as immutable and divine, or, like it is in many Muslim countries, where the word of the ruler is not to be disagreed with? If Mohammed bin Salman, Mohammed bin Zayed or Abdel Fattah al-Sisi decide Turkish products should be boycotted, everyone in the country repeats like parrots, "Turkish products should be boycotted." The vast majority of people do not even understand why Turkish products should be boycotted, but because the leader said so, it shall be. The leader decides that we don't care about Jerusalem anymore, everyone says, "Yes, we don't care about Jerusalem anymore." For seven years, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has been President of Egypt. According to the Egyptian media and Egyptian religious establishments, he has not made a single mistake in those seven years. They have not disagreed with him once and they have not noted a mistake on his part once. In a country like Egypt, you can criticize the Prophet Muhammad and you can criticize the companions of the Prophet, but you cannot criticize Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
Is that close to Godliness? In the United States, we have a sitting president saying whatever he wants, but the process marches on uninterrupted. Not even the President has the power to stop it. This is closer to Godliness. In the U.S., the President and his supporters can say what they want, but I can turn on my television and find people criticizing the positions and claims of this president. Contrast this with the demigods that we have all over the Muslim world, where the ruler is effectively more sanctified than God and the Prophet. As a Muslim, it breaks my heart that what I see in the United States is closer to Godliness than what I see all over the Muslim world. There is a very insidious theological principle at work here, that has become more popular than ever. That is the theological school that tells us that if you criticize your leader, if you even scrutinize the conduct and behavior of your ruler, that is sinful. They don't notice that what they are teaching is nothing short of shirk. It impeaches the ideal of Godliness.
It blows my mind when I hear not just non-Muslims, but even Muslims say Muslims are not ready for democracy. If you believe that, you're not ready for Islam. You are not ready for Godliness. If you make your ruler divine, you are not ready for Islam. You are a false Muslim. In the modern age, with the type of power that the state can leverage, it is either that you accept democracy or you accept shirk. The straightforward rules of democracy have a set process, an electoral process, that decides who represents the people for a period of time, and that process repeats itself under regular intervals.
Colonizing states would always say that the colonies are not ready for freedom. Those opposed to freeing slaves would say, ‘We would love to set slaves free but they're not ready for freedom. We are doing them a favor by continuing the institutions of slavery.’ Such is the nature of tyranny, and such is the nature of evil. It convinces you that you are powerless to change anything. The demonic will always convince you to despair in God's mercy. That is why God describes those who despair in God's mercy as the truly iniquitous. The nature of the demonic will tell you your institutions of servitude, injustice and suffering are not only inevitable and unchangeable, but that you deserve it. It will tell you that you have nothing to hope for in terms of throwing off the shackles of servitude, because you deserve to live in misery, inequity and injustice.
Remember, when the Prophet’s cousin, Ja'far ibn Abi Talib was asked by the king of Abyssinia, "What did your prophet teach you?" among the first things that Ja'far ibn Abi Talib says is, ‘We were people where the strong oppressed the weak. Then came the Prophet to teach us how to stand up against oppression.’
Remarkably, after the French government reproduced the offensive cartoons of the Prophet, the French government did not simply say, ‘We respect the right to freedom of speech, but as a government, we cannot be involved.’ No, the French government actually reproduced the pornographic images on governmental buildings, such that the expression of these pornographic cartoons became a governmental act. The French government has always stayed out of conflict between the religious and those who mock religion. The French government has never reproduced mocking images of any other religious symbol. The first time it happened was with Islam and with the Prophet Muhammad.
The French President Emmanuel Macron appeared on Al Jazeera channel and refused to apologize, but claimed that the French government stands as a neutral party. This claim, of course, is disingenuous. When a 16 year old boy killed a school teacher, Macron took that as an act representing all of Islam, even though the teen had a history of disciplinary problems and no affiliations with any radical groups. In fact, he did not even have any associations with any local mosques or Islamic centers. While, shortly after, when two women in hijabs were stabbed near the Eiffel Tower and a couple with their child were beaten in France, no one talked about Christian terrorism. The French president did not bring it up. It was considered a common crime. Yet, the act committed by the 16 year old boy was not considered a common crime, it was considered a crime that represented an entire people. Hate crimes - which are at an all-time high all over Europe - are always treated not as symbolic crimes, not as crimes of identity politics, but as common crimes.
Worse, the real travesty is the purpose for which the French president appeared on Al Jazeera. It was not to apologize, but to tell Muslims not to boycott French products; if you boycott French products, you are fanatics, extremists and terrorists. This is at the same time that Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and Egypt are leading a major effort to boycott Turkish products. This is at the same time that these same countries boycotted Qatar. Religious figures in the Emirates who supported the boycott of French products were arrested. In Egypt, a shaykh that gave a khutbah in which he said, "The only way we can defend the Prophet is to boycott French products," was arrested. In Saudi, it was made very clear that you must advocate the boycott of Turkish products, but if you dare advocate the boycott of French products, you will be arrested.
A Muslim jurist must be an educated human being. If you are not properly educated, you are not worthy of the title, “jurist.” In 1894, there was an event in France that became very famous; it was known as the Dreyfus Affair. A Jewish police officer was unfairly accused of treason, so he was attacked by the French media and convicted, only for it to become clear shortly afterwards that the only crime this police officer committed was that he was Jewish. In response to this, the French passed a law in 1905 that made it so the state must not be involved in promoting for or against any religion, ethnic group or race. In other words, it was a law of religious and ethnic neutrality.
That law was chipped away not just now, but when France banned the wearing of the hijab in public schools and banned the burka anywhere in public. Now, Macron and his government is proposing a new law that will amend the law of 1905, the ‘law of secularism.’ This new law clearly targets Muslims. Among other things, Muslim institutions would not be allowed to receive donations from anywhere outside of France. At the same time, if they receive donations or even a license from a public institution in France, they have to sign onto a ‘charter of secularism,’ where they attest to their loyalty to republican values. If you do not agree to that charter, you would be forced to shut down.
Imams would have to be trained through governmental controlled programs that engineer the Islam the French government finds acceptable. Even if an imam has a doctorate from Princeton University, they would have to be trained by the French government. In one of the law’s most absurd provisions, if you have to see a public doctor and you, as a woman, want to be seen by a female doctor, that is considered a felony. If you are a doctor and you decide to only see male or female patients, that's also a felony.
Before this proposed law, the French government had closed down 15 prayer locations, four Islamic schools, 30 cultural centers and about 30 mosques. They have conducted hundreds of inspections and seized millions of dollars from Islamic institutions, all under the guise of fighting terrorism, racism, and anti-Semitism. Under the new law, this will be extended to closing down any Islamic institutions that exhibit psychological or physical pressure. What does that mean? If I tell my child, "You have to pray five times a day," is that psychological pressure? If I teach my daughter to wear the hijab, is that psychological pressure? This new law would also force Muslims to send their kids to public schools where they cannot wear the hijab, and cannot pray or observe any of their religious dietary rules. Under penalty of law, they would have to go to public schools. Christians and Jews would be allowed to keep their private schools, but Muslims would not be allowed to maintain their religious schools.
Of course, we all heard Macron say, ‘We need these laws to fight Muslim separatism, to fight Muslim radicalism, and to fight Muslim extremism.’ All of that is dogma. But Macron also said that these types of laws are needed in Europe in order "To resist the post-colonial super ego of Muslims." What does that mean? France, as a colonial power, slaughtered seven million Algerians, killed millions of Malis, and controls the riches of Mali, West Africa, Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. These countries, to this day, cannot trade in the world market unless they use French currency. Their economies are entirely dependent on France.
As a colonized people, we start thinking of the colonial legacy and we start forming a super ego on that basis. As Muslims, we start thinking of the fact that wherever you look in the Muslim world it is not as Macron said, and as Samuel Huntington said before him, "The borders of Islam are bloody." The entire world of Islam is bloody, but it is not because of Islam. It is because Muslims, like all human beings, resist domination and subjugation. If you would have given Muslims integrity, dignity and liberty, there would be no blood.
The world of Islam is bloody because Muslims are oppressed - because of the colonial legacy. It is because, to this day, you cannot decide who runs Mecca without approval of the West. To this day, you cannot decide whether Palestinians get a homeland without the approval of the West. To this day, you cannot decide whether two Muslim countries sign a mutual defense agreement without the approval of the West. You cannot do anything in the Muslim world without the approval of the non-Muslim West: the former colonial powers. Is that what Macron means by a post-colonial Muslim super ego? What can be a more eloquent verbiage of imperialism than this?
France, as a democracy, is committing suicide. When you think of the actual impact of actual Muslim terrorists, they make a lot of noise but the injury they inflict is not direct, it is an injury of the politics of fear, identity, ethnocentrism and religious bigotry. In other words, what these terrorists do is: just enough to make you commit suicide. They just spark the thing that makes you, as a culture, as a nation, as a civil society, commit suicide with your own hands.
I'll close with this, I will underscore it, Insha'God, until the day I leave this world. A long time ago, we called religious scholars, “ulema” - scientists and people of knowledge. We would call them the ulema, which means, “The people of 'ilm.” 'Ilm is not just to know what is in the Qur’an and the Sunnah. ‘Ilm is to understand the entire universe, both physical and metaphysical, to testify in truth for your Lord and to seek to achieve the ideal of Godliness on this Earth.