It is the last Friday of Ramadan of the year 1443. Although we do not register it as such, it is a year in our life that will never return, a year in the life of our Ummah that will never return, and a year in the life of this planet that will never return. It is remarkable that our relationship with time itself is a reflection of our relationship to our Ummah and our relationship to God. Time is not just the way that the earth revolves and interacts with its two partners, the sun and the moon, but time is the registrar of our existence.
Ramadan of 1443 now gets to go in the annals of the history of the Muslim Ummah, and in your own individual history, what you have managed to do with it, what memories stay with you for the rest of your life, how this becomes part of your personal narrative or not.
Ramadan comes to the Muslim Ummah in the year 1443, and I am amazed by how, on the one hand, it is overwhelmingly critical and important, and on the other hand, I am astounded by the extent to which it is remarkably treated with a great deal of carelessness and lack of seriousness. This Ramadan came and left with unprecedented violations against the Aqsa Mosque by Israeli settlers, who were protected and guarded by the Israeli Army. Even in the last jumu’a, Israel made sure to violate the sanctity of the Aqsa Mosque, sending a message very clear to Palestinians and to the Muslim world: “You do not control the space of the Aqsa mosque, we control it.” The message is unmistakable. “We decide who gets to pray in your mosque and under what conditions, for how long, what age group, what gender, all material decisions. The very point of the violations was to underscore the decision is ours, not yours. We even decide who gets to visit the Aqsa Mosque and when.”
Can I honestly say that the attention of the Muslim Ummah was in any way proportional to the extent and the level of the violations? This all goes back to your notion of Izzah. Izzah is your sense of dignity, your sense of pride, your sense of feeling good about yourself. Izzah, if defined in the negative, is whatever is opposite of humiliation, whatever is opposite of degradation, whatever is opposite of feeling lowly. God tells us that all Izzah belongs to God. Izzah is what the Prophet Muhammad came to empower the disempowered with. Izzah is what Islam was about for all the oppressed people at the time that Islam was transmitted by the Prophet Muhammad.
God reminds us in the Qur'an, although we rarely listen, that all Izzah belongs to God. We never pause to think, what does that really mean? It is precisely the way that we understand and scrutinize. The meaning of things is precisely in analyzing the way we relate to Ramadan, like the Ramadan of 1443. Is your sense of what raises your indignation, is your sense of validation, your sense of feeling good about yourself anchored in protecting your own domain, your own kingdom, your own space? Or is it about protecting the space and the domain of something that is beyond you?
The first thing that Satan does is defeat you from the inside. In Surah Al Mu’minun, when God teaches us to seek protection from Satan and from demonic influences, what does this translate to concretely? Satan comes to a human being and turns their sense of Izzah from God to the self and nothing but the self; so that your sense of outrage, your sense of hurt, your sense of offense, your sense of indignation is all about what you experience personally and your rule over this domain and this kingdom of the self, however your sense of violation of being transgressed upon. It is really that simple.
As shaytani as it may be, there are people who wake up and go to bed, and the only thought in their mind is, “how we can invade Muslim spaces, violate the sanctity of the Aqsa Mosque, and humiliate Palestinians?” Their sense of dignity is tied to denying Palestinians their dignity. For them, time becomes far more significant. For them, they will remember and memorialize this Ramadan as the Ramadan in which they got to do what they were never able to do with the Aqsa Mosque; as “the blessed Ramadan where we came a step closer to making the Muslim Ummah disappear once and for all.”
I am always amazed by the relationship of serious people to time, as well as the lack of relationship of whimsical people to time. Ramadan 1443: is it a meaningful Ramadan in your life? It entirely depends on where your Izzah is. If your Izzah is basically about your own ego and your own sense of pride, then this is just a Ramadan like any other Ramadan. You live within yourself, for yourself, while you theoretically tell yourself you believe that your Izzah belongs to God. But it is not real, you do not truly believe that your sense of validation, self-worth, and importance is derived from your relationship with God. If the way you treat God is as if God should just be happy with whatever it is that you determine is due to God, but you have assigned yourself the lord of your manor, the sovereign of your will, the effective autonomous ruler of the self; if that is the case, then sovereignty cannot belong to God. If that is the case, then you have declared yourself a sovereign over yourself, and if you truly confront yourself, God has no place in your kingdom.
The way some of us treat God's Izzah is as if God is there to be content with the scraps off your table, “whatever time I feel like giving to God, good enough.” “Whatever attention I feel is due to God, good enough. If I do not feel like shaping up today, God should just wait. This Ramadan, my faith is not strong. God should wait till next Ramadan.” The Aqsa Mosque? After all, you have not transferred sovereignty and Izzah to God, so unlike the people who violate the Aqsa Mosque, what makes you happy? What makes you sad? What makes you long? What drives your passion is not al-Izzah lillah [dignity founded in God]; is not what is happening to the Aqsa Mosque or your Ummah. If you are honest with yourself, it is what is happening to you, it is how YOU feel.
It is confounding. A non-Muslim, a journalist named Michael Winterbottom, committed himself to turning the gaze upon Muslims to shame them before themselves. How? Michael Winterbottom remembered something about we Muslims, as we throw our posh parties, buy our expensive cars, live it up, enjoy the status symbols of life, and dream of what makes us happy. Michael Winterbottom makes a documentary called Eleven Days in May, which documents the more than 60 Palestinian children who were butchered last Ramadan by the Israelis. The documentary shows the child back when they were alive and healthy. Then the broken and mutilated body of the child. When focusing the camera and trying to humanize these Palestinian children, when refusing the narrative of those who are spoiled, who are entitled, who think that Izzah was created for them and through them and by them, he confronts them with the reality. As you Muslims have your expensive parties, buy your expensive homes, buy your expensive cars, here is the face of your Ummah. The filmmaker interviewed the parents of these children and reported on how their life has been since losing their child. I am amazed because someone like Michael Winterbottom has used the year to give al Izzah lillah ta’ala, while those who say they believe in God begrudge God's Izzah.
Another recent news item is that Saudi Royals bought a Boeing 747 for 235 million pounds. It was ordered by Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in 2012. The man who spent 235 million pounds, Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, had the plane go to Switzerland to be fitted for VIP status. Imagine how this money could have transformed the Ramadan and the year for many Muslim children around the world. The man spent 235 million pounds, then had the plane go to Switzerland to be fitted for luxury. For this man, honor and pride and dignity belongs to God? Well, before he could take possession of his airplane, God called him to the Divine Self. He died. As for the airplane, although the plane now belonged to the Al Saud family, none of them wanted the airplane that a now dead man had bought.
So, the plane sat in Switzerland for 10 years until a decision was made. Although the airplane had cost 235 million pounds and had only flown about 40 minutes in its entire life, it was going to be sold for scrap. When Boeing heard that the Saudis had never taken possession of the plane and were now preparing to sell it for scrap, Boeing contacted the Saudis and offered to buy it back for a minimal amount, and the Al Saud family said, "Here, take it." It was sold for a couple million dollars.
This is also 1443. This is also how we remember God's year. This is also how Ramadan is marked. This is also an indication of where our Izzah is. All Izzah belongs to God? With this type of behavior, it is not the Saudis who spent the money to memorialize the lives of the Palestinian children killed. It was not even a Muslim. Imagine what 235 million pounds could do. This is precisely when people's sense of Izzah, dignity and pride is no longer about God. It is about themselves. They have declared sovereignty over themselves and they concede sovereignty to no one over themselves. Even their concession to God is sheer hypocrisy because it is not real. They do not mean it. When it comes to the nuts and bolts of life, they do not mean it.
What happens to that Ummah that forgets that the only Izzah, the only pride and honor and dignity it ever had was when it adhered to the book of God, when it understood what sovereignty belongs to God [Arabic 00:41:47] means? It does not mean having a caliph rule in God's name and the caliph's will is God's will, or a mullah or an ayatollah. That is not what sovereignty lillah means, because then sovereignty belongs to the dictator who “god-ifies” himself, who effectively overthrows God and sits in God's place.
Sovereignty to God means at the individual level, you do not live, fight and die for your own kingdom, but you recognize that sovereignty over yourself belongs to God, so your conscience, your awareness, and your consciousness revolves with God, not with yourself. How?
This Ramadan, 1443, the world is shocked by three Muslim countries. What are they doing in this Ramadan? Protecting the dignity of the Aqsa Mosque? No. Remembering the Palestinian children who were slaughtered? No. Indeed, a group of non-Muslim lawyers are bringing proceedings and charges against Israel in the International Criminal Court because Israel has been systematically murdering Palestinian journalists. Of course, we will not find the Saudis, the Emiratis, the Egyptians or Muslims anywhere near a lawsuit like this. It seems that non-Muslims understand al-Izza lillah better than Muslims do. At least their lives are about something, a meaning.
The world is shocked because Saudi, Egypt, and the Emirates have emerged as three particularly brutal nations in aiding and empowering the Chinese genocide against the Muslims of China. This Ramadan, Saudi authorities transferred a Uyghur mother and her 13-year-old daughter to be deported from Riyadh to the concentration camps of China. A religious scholar named Amidoula Waili was arrested in Saudi Arabia and handed over to the Chinese.
Egypt hunted down 200 Uyghur Muslims, most of whom were students at Al-Azhar University at Cairo. Forty-five of them were already deported to China, where they were never heard from again. Chinese officials have attended the interrogation sessions, a representative of the Chinese government was there as the Emiratis, Egyptians and Saudis interrogated the Chinese detainees, tortured them and then handed them over to the Chinese, where they disappear forever.
I ask you because you judge yourself. What was this Ramadan to you? The sum total of your thoughts in this Ramadan that is just about to end. Was it, “If the Egyptian government does this to my Uyghur brothers and sisters, I will never visit Egypt as long as it has such a corrupted, foul government”? There is a lot that is going on in Syria, I do not even want to get into it. Have your thoughts been, “I cannot spend money on luxury. I cannot waste money on weddings, baby showers, whatever showers, because the money has to go to all those suffering in Syria”? Have your thoughts been with the Aqsa Mosque? Have your thoughts been, “I cannot afford to think about what makes me happy because I am so preoccupied with the Aqsa Mosque,” or has this Ramadan been yet another betrayal of God? Because year after year after year, your thoughts have been about you: “What makes me happy?” “What hurts my feelings?” “What makes me feel relaxed?” “What stresses me out?” What have you been about?
You see, the folly of human beings is that they just take God for granted. “There will be another Ramadan.” “There will be another year.” “There will be another month,” “There will be another week,” “There will be another day. Eventually I will repent.” Amazingly, you would not treat a friend this way. If your significant other treated you this way, you would not accept it. “What? You want to straddle me along until your majesty decides to change and take me seriously? No, I will not stand for it.” But that is exactly the way we treat God. “Ah, God, just wait. Eventually I will get to you. Eventually, I will take you seriously, but not now. Not this minute. Not this day. Not this Ramadan. Eventually.”
God puts up with it and God continues to bless you everyday, although this is your attitude. This is your message. This is what you do with God, and yet God continues to let you enjoy your eyesight, your ears and your sense of taste. God continues to let you have food, to have shelter, to have clothes, to have an intellect, to have a memory, and then we begrudge God and say, “Ah, I do not know if I have a strong relationship with God.”
The Prophet Saleh in Surah Al A’raf looks at his people and he sees that the rajfa, the shakes, has started to overtake them. We do not know what these shakes are, maybe a virus, maybe cold, maybe very strong winds, but it has started. Yet, although the punishment has commenced and they are trembling and shaking, those who are high and mighty, those who are sovereign over themselves and do not have time for God’s sovereignty, sit there and assure one another, “Ah, this has nothing to do with what we have done with Saleh and his camel. This will pass.”
They go to Saleh and say, "You are taking this seriously? It is about iman? It is about our relationship with God and those who are oppressed?" They are told, "Yes, this is about God and about Saleh." The high and mighty, the arrogant, say, "No, you are wrong, it is not." Saleh then tells them, "I have given you advice time and again. I have warned you so many times. So many times, I have tried to wake you up, but you do not like hearing advice. You are so self-involved. You are so arrogant. You are so entitled, that the worst thing that irritates your ears is for someone to tell you, 'This is wrong.'"
Because Saleh was a prophet, we know what happened to these people. But our test is worse than the people of An Nabi Saleh, and it is worse because for most of us, including those who are hearing me, it is very likely that God will give them another Ramadan. If God wanted to actually do you a favor, God would wrap it up so the sins do not keep compounding. The real test is when another Ramadan comes, then another, and yet another; and each Ramadan, al-Izza lillah - honor and dignity and pride - truly belongs to God. Meaning the causes of God is not a reality, because the reality of your Ramadan is al Izzah li - honor and dignity and pride belongs to me.
Our Ummah is so injured, but it is because God gives people what they deserve. God knows those of us who, whatever religious duties they perform in Ramadan, they do it, but fundamentally their mind and their being and their thoughts are about, “I want salvation. I am taking care of myself. God’s Izzah does not concern me.” When I see a Palestinian here in the US or in Europe, with all that is going on, splurge money upon themselves, I am shocked. How in God's name do you think you are going to justify this?
When I see an Egyptian, and there are so many of all nationalities and all citizenships, their Ummah is living in absolute dire necessity. Yet they live serving a master other than the real master, and that is the truth of their being. They may go to the mosque. They may pretend to be very religious. They may put on all the trappings of religiosity. They may play the game really well. But their hearts? Their hearts are vacuums. Their hearts are empty. There is no space in their hearts for al Izzah lillah.
They do not even like An Nasaeen; they do not like to hear advice. They do not like to learn. They do not like anyone to tell them they are ignorant, they are hypocritical and they are untrue. They treat any reformer exactly like the Qur'an tells us have been treated throughout history. “How dare you talk to us? How dare you disturb us?”
But open up Surah Mu’minun. Reread Surah Mu’minun. Reflect upon Surah Mu’minun. It tells us so many of us are like that. Then comes the time when God allows other types of harm, tests and tribulations. Then when they find themselves drowning in calamities, they remember, "Oh, God, please,” and as soon as God lifts the calamity, they go back. Until the final panic, the panic of death. Then God tells us in Surah Mu’minun, that is the point where God says, "Too late. No more. I have put up with your games for an entire lifetime. For 60, 70, 80, 90 Ramadans, I have watched you play this game, and now time is up." If only we would remember, if only we would comprehend, if only we would understand.