The challenge in any act of public discourse or public communications is that one must tap within and seek to connect with people on what is presumptively shared common grounds, on what is presumptively something that the speaker shares with the listener; centered around the idea, in the case of jumu’a khutbahs, that the remembrance of God in this public, collective devotional act must be the foundation for the communicative act. For the speaker and the congregation in the listening role, the very foundation, rationale, and reason that they get together is to publicly and collectively remember God. But what does remembrance of God represent to people, to the speaker and to the listeners, to those who perform the speech and the equally critical role of listening and comprehending the speech?
Last khutbah, we focused on the idea of izzah; that one’s sense of dignity, one’s sense of honor, one’s sense of elevation must be founded in God. But here, when God commands us to come to jumu’a and in my view, the misogynistic interpretation which limited jumu’a to men, is clearly unfounded and invalid. No such distinction is made by God. God's command, to men and women, is that we come together to remember God, to engage in this public devotional act of dhikr. You see, this is the other side of the coin to izzah. What does dhikr in a public, collective devotional act represent in our real, lived experience? I submit to you that dhikr communally, collectively can either be an entirely marginal and largely symbolic act, empty of all substantive meaning, or it can become as core and as fundamentally substantive as the very concept of izzah itself. Relevance and irrelevance is in direct proportion to the way that we worship God, to the way we recognize God in our lives.
God reminds us of a very logical, reasonable reality in Surah Al-Anbiya'; that if this universe had more than one God, the earth and heavens would have become corrupted and unmanageable, because no god would agree to submit to another god unless forced to do so. God also reminds us the very act of imposing coercively your will upon the other will lead to substantive resistance, destruction, and collateral damage. If this universe and earth had more than one god, we would have to maintain a pietistic fiction that the will of these gods are in unison, which is contrary to what we know about the very nature of izzah in an autonomous and supreme being.
God warns us that if we reflect upon the very logic of the universe, we will realize the obvious - that in order for this universe to function in any orderly fashion whatsoever and not become prey to the will of supreme beings and cease to function because of the clash of wills between these supreme beings - there must be only a single supreme being. But then you come to our world where our will functions, and God has given us an enormous amount of space for our will to function and to function in a great deal of space autonomously.
What happens to human beings when these various wills clash with one another because of the basic element of egoism in the human psyche and soul, and the failure of these various human egos, the various human beings situated individually in their own mind, as largely supreme and largely autonomous? What happens when God is not given God's proper role?
Let me put it differently. If we come to jumu’a and what we talk about largely does not demand anything of us except an indulgent pietistic self-serving feeling of wellness; “Look, I have put on my taqiyya. I grabbed my prayer rug and beads, went, listened to the khutbah, or pretended to listen at least, and then when it is done, I go back home, I feel good about myself because we engaged in remembering God…” But in reality, God manifested in this public devotional, congregational act only as a servant to the individual ego - the ego of the worshiper. God only manifested to tell the individual worshiper at jumu’a, "You are fine. You are great. You have taqwa. You have iman. Do not worry, you will make it to heaven.”
We got together, we dispersed, and that was it. Then to what extent was there actual remembrance of God? To what extent did we really recognize God's supremacy and God's hakimiyyah? To what extent, in fact, has God been present at a public level?
Look at it from a different angle. God could have said, “Just worship individually.” We act as individuals. We live through family units, eventually we are done with this life and that is it. What was it in the public act of remembering God that made the mosque the center of all learning for many centuries in the Islamic civilization? Not just learning, but in the Islamic civilization, the mosque was also the locus, the central point from which the administration of justice extended, from which the jurisprudence of the awqaf developed, from which even the institutions for collecting and dispensing taxes developed. What was it about this act of public dhikr that made the mosque play the vital role in the Islamic civilization that it played?
Consider this from a different angle. As you likely know, Israel has violated the sanctity of Al-Aqsa Mosque repeatedly throughout Ramadan. Israeli extremists and settlers have insisted on storming Al-Aqsa Mosque, violating its sanctity, and the Israeli army has repeatedly protected settlers as they attacked, assaulted, and injured Muslim worshipers. Throughout the course of these events, Israel repeatedly assured the world that they were simply playing a police function, a peacekeeping role, and that they have no intention of giving legitimacy to the act of Israeli settlers in violating the sanctity of Al-Aqsa Mosque.
But then yesterday, right after Ramadan is done, led by Yehudah Glick, a member of the Knesset (the Israeli Parliament) and like the name suggests, he is another European individual who does not see the native, indigenous people as entitled to anything - about 600 settlers stormed Al-Aqsa Mosque, entering from the Moroccan Gate, reaching the Al-Qattanin Gate, raising Israeli flags. And the Israeli army announced that from 7:00 AM to 11:00 AM, and from 1:30 PM to 2:30 PM, is a time for the Israeli settlers to enter Al-Aqsa Mosque, violate the sanctity of Al-Aqsa Mosque, and that all Muslims must clear out from the vicinity of the area during these times, so that Israeli settlers can have their way.
Indeed, when the time came, any Palestinian in the vicinity was either assaulted with gas, rubber bullets, beaten or arrested. Al Maqasid Hospital reported injuries from rubber bullets. Two prominent Palestinian activists were severely beaten by the Israeli military. Dozens of Palestinians were arrested and the 600 settlers got to chant, "Death to Arabs," as well as throw the most vile insults against the Prophet Muhammad and against Islam. It was not just Glick as a Knesset member, but other Knesset members like Itamar Ben-Gvir promised that this is just a step towards the destruction of Al-Aqsa Mosque and the building of the temple.
Around the world, no one thought of protracted, lengthy discourses about the nature of political Judaism and how dangerous political Judaism is. We have dozens of pontificators about “political Islam” and the worst of them are Muslim themselves. But I submit to you, if you juxtapose the Israeli settlers who go take the lands of others and center their entire life around the religious dogma - they wake up for their religious dogma, they live for their religious dogma, and they die for their religious dogma; they defy the entire world to take what is not theirs in the name of religious dogma.
If you juxtapose those people to Muslims who get together in jumu’as all around the world, because these Muslims’ intellects and souls have been thoroughly colonized, they imprison their God within the confines of the largely marginal and irrelevant in life. Their God is about the takiyyah (skullcap) they wear, the beads in their hands, the prayer rugs they use, or maybe the hijabs that women wear. You will find God playing no public role in their public gatherings. To what extent has their collective act of dhikr really involved God at all? We Muslims, nearing two billion in the world, know fully well the danger that Al-Aqsa Mosque is in. We know fully well, regardless of whether we pretend to deny it, the corrupt nature of the family that rules the holy territory of Al-Hijaz. We know fully well that the rulers of Mecca and Medina are corrupt to the core. We know fully well that Al-Aqsa Mosque is violated day in and day out. We know fully well what Israel's designs on Al-Aqsa Mosque are. We know fully well that the Israeli army protects colonial settlers as they violate the sanctity of Al-Aqsa Mosque. We know fully well no one is interested in talking about the dangers of political Judaism; no one is interested in talking about the risks of political Christianity.
There are a number of Muslims who have actually bought into the concept of “political Islam.” They themselves adopt the double standards of their colonizer in full face. We then wonder, why are Muslims where they are in the world? As erroneous as their theological beliefs may be, as much as I believe that the Israeli settlers have corrupted their belief in God in other ways; between these people and us, when the day after the violation of the Al-Aqsa Mosque takes place and the number of jumu’as that will talk about what happened in Al-Aqsa Mosque will not exceed a handful, these people wake up, live and sleep their political "theology.” Meanwhile, we are taught to keep our God to the margin of the margins, to keep our God largely irrelevant and stupid.
Our God does not have anything important or intelligent to say about anything. Their God demands that you change the face of history. Their God demands that you reinvent a history that occurred thousands of years ago, a history lost to archeology, lost to historical narratives, lost to everything, but their God demands what their God demands and they deliver. Us? We are busy making the likes of Mufti Menk and Hamza Yusuf popular. We are busy basically using our God to fan the sweat of our brows and foreheads. “You have no political role, God, whatever political means, because you have no public role, God, because our colonizers have taught us that your religion is dangerous.”
It is remarkable. It is truly mind-boggling. At the same time that we busy ourselves with the sweet feelings of nothing upon nothing, at the same time that our faith amounts to nothing upon nothing, at the same time that we repeat like parrots what our colonizers teach us about the dangers of “political Islam,” and turn Muslims themselves into Islamophobes against themselves, look. Small things, but they tell you everything.
Israel, as it escalated its plans against Al-Aqsa Mosque and as it looked around and found that Trump moved the American Embassy to Jerusalem, nothing happened. Countries like Egypt did not even call their ambassador back. The King and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia are enraged and will put their foot down if the American Government talks to them about Khashoggi again. Reportedly, MBS started yelling at the American Secretary of State when he brought up Khashoggi again. But for Jerusalem? Nothing. The Crown Prince will not yell. No arms deal would be at risk. No boat deals would be at risk. No luxury deals would be at risk.
Israel, the so-called only democracy in the Middle East, in the same way they deal with us as brainless human beings, teaching us to parrot uncritically and unthinkingly what they say about “political Islam.” They also taught us a mantra, "Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East." Well, this democracy has been quietly shutting down all Palestinian civic organizations, civil rights organizations, and human rights organizations within Israel. Among the prominent organizations isThe Union of Palestinian Women's Committee, or something like that.
This is an organization organized by Palestinians who have Israeli citizenship, and is a civic organization that does everything out in the open. Among the leaders of this organization is a prominent Palestinian Israeli intellectual named Sahar Francis. Sahar Francis, because Muslims are rarely in the know, has come to the United States several times, the last time being in 2018, and often engages in international forums, conferences and symposia. Israel has decided to designate this organization as a terrorist organization. At the time, the United States refused to say anything. The United States and the world know fully well that this organization, like so many other Palestinian organizations that were closed down, has nothing to do with terrorism. Yet no one gave protracted speeches about how Israel does not understand freedom of speech. No one talked about the dangers of political Judaism. No one pontificated about the relationship between the Torah and lack of freedom of speech. No one. All this type of talk is simply reserved for Muslims.
There was a conference in Mexico about the dangers of Israeli spyware and how Israeli spyware is being used to silence academics and activists around the world. Sahar Francis had a visa to the United States, she was going to land in Florida and after a short stop in Florida, go onto Mexico. Israel refused to let her leave the country and to boot, the United States canceled her visa. This is recent; not under Trump, but under Biden, her visa was canceled and it was announced that she and another colleague from the same center, Ubai Aboudi, are both persona non grata, ie, not allowed to enter American territory.
Where are Muslim intellectuals? Where are these verbose, arrogant, cocky Muslim graduate students that love to go on about Islamic fundamentalism and “political Islam,” and pretend that they see the world in unique and special ways? Where are they? The hypocrisy of our government denying Palestinians the right to freedom of speech, and the hypocrisy of Israel, “the only democracy in the Middle East," denying people who are not Jewish freedom of speech. Do we have any societies in the United States that give learned lectures about how these people or that people are incapable of understanding freedom of speech because of their religious convictions? None.
When we get together and speak with one another in a forum like the jum'ua, and we fail to talk about the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and fail to talk about the double and triple standards that exist and how Muslims are treated, and how Muslims interact with their world, what is the meaning of dhikr? In what ways is our coming together an act of dhikr?
Is it that we say “Allahu Akbar?” Is it that we say the adhan? Is it because we recite a Qur'anic verse? Is it because we can remember a hadith? If dhikr does not actually represent anything that upholds al-Izzah lillah, if dhikr does not have a clear causal connecting point to the concept of al-izzah lillah, then in what way is it dhikr? Muslims are the most oblivious people, on the face of this earth.
As we speak, there are military trials going on in Guantanamo. After two decades of imprisoning Muslims in Guantanamo, often on the most vague of suspicions and charges, what is emerging out of Guantanamo is that none of the people who were held in Guantanamo can be prosecuted, because whatever evidence we do have against people has been tainted by torture. Since 9/11, our government, as these trials are showing, has used unspeakable torture against Muslims, not just in Guantanamo, but all around the world.
I will give you one example in the trial of a man named Al-Nashiri. Al-Nashiri is a Saudi Citizen who was grabbed in Dubai. After he was grabbed in Dubai, Al-Nashiri was held in black sites in countries including Afghanistan, Thailand, Poland, Romania and Morocco before being sent to Guantanamo. Al-Nashiri, like other Guantanamo detainees, was not just waterboarded, but in fact, his torture included keeping him in a crate no bigger than a dog cage for weeks and months at a time, threatening to rape Al-Nashiri's mother, using a power drill to threaten to drill holes in him, raping him with a garden hose, smashing his head against a wall, hanging him from the ceiling in distorted positions for hours on end, on top of numerous physical beatings. The description of the torture that is coming out in his trial is incredible. Not just him, but all the Muslim detainees. As a result, it will be a travesty of justice to convict Al-Nashiri of anything because everything he said, he said under extreme torture.
The Supreme Court has recently ruled to protect two CIA psychologists that were paid $80 million to devise the torture programs that targeted thousands upon thousands of Muslims around the world. Where is the Muslim voice in this? There are voices that talk about human rights, there are voices that talk about constitutional rights, there are voices that talk about civic rights, there are even voices that talk about just common human decency. What percentage of these voices are Muslim? Next to zero. We can have in churches across the country, activists who say, "How could we do this?" We can have in synagogues across the country, theologians and Jewish scholars that say, "This is not right." How many Muslims in Muslim public spaces get together at jumu’a and remember that remembering God does not mean you have a petty and a marginal God who is largely unimportant to anything that transpires in the world.
Al Izzah lillah means that you have a God who matters through you. So when the act of dhikr does not talk about Al-Aqsa Mosque, about the hypocrisy of our double standards when it comes to the civil rights and human rights of Muslims, or about what happened to our fellow Muslims all around the world at the hands of our own government, [it is as if these things don’t matter]. Instead, as a sister wrote to me recently, the biggest and hardest issue in her Islamic Center is that women do not want to continue praying in the women designated area because it is extremely hot, poorly ventilated, extremely small, very noisy, and the connection through which they see the khatib on a screen is poor and often cuts out. For the medical doctors, engineers and businessmen who sit at the board of this Islamic Center, this is what they come to discuss, this is the biggest issue - that there are the sisters who do not want to continue praying in the women's area. Al-Aqsa Mosque? Nah. Guantanamo? Nah.
God that matters? No. God only cares about keeping women in their prayer area. What an irrelevant, marginal, silly God that is. How can Muslims do this to their own God [illah}, the only God ? How could that be consistent with dhikr? How could that even be any form of remembering God? Truly, God does not change a people until they change themselves, because God has made us God's representatives. And like any representative, effectively God has made us the lawyers on behalf of God on this earth. But God told us, “If you do a bad job representing me, I will fire you.” If your lawyer is doing a miserable job representing you, why keep the lawyer?
So I ask you again. When we get together in our jumu’as, collectively representing God on this earth, we are God's lawyers. We are God's agents. We are the khulafa. But as attorneys on behalf of God, we do an embarrassingly bad job, because we talk about keeping women in their prayer area, we talk about whatever we talk about, but nothing that matters.
Many people might not realize this, but the war in Ukraine has proved to be a marshaling point for many white supremacist movements. There are literally hundreds of white supremacist neo-Nazi movements that have used the war in Ukraine as a marshaling point to establish training camps, to marshal resources, to develop weapon depots, and to provide their members with military training, all with the front of fighting against Russia.
17,000 soldiers from 50 countries have volunteered to fight against Russia in the war of Ukraine. Among these movements is the infamous Azov Movement. The Azov Movement is a global white supremacist movement that does not make a secret of the fact that it is a neo-Nazi white supremacist movement that glorifies Hitler and Nazism. The Azov Movement, using platforms like Facebook, has become a focal point for militant white supremacists from around the world, including hundreds of white supremacists from the United States who are signed on by the Azov Movement, travel to Europe, and receive weapons training. The problem is that the Azov Movement is not just about recruiting people to fight in Ukraine, but The Azov Movement, like so many of the white supremacist movements now with a global reach, has summer camps for children, has schools, publishing houses, and its own political party in Ukraine.
The Azov Movement, after the Christchurch attack that took place in New Zealand, where a terrorist went around killing Muslims, celebrated the event. They took the manifesto that was written by the terrorist responsible for the Christchurch attack and distributed thousands of copies around the world, and publicly called upon white supremacists to launch more attacks against Muslims all over the West. Despite the fact that since 9/11, white supremacist movements have been responsible for three quarters of the terrorist attacks committed on American soil, movements like the Azov Movement are able to recruit and train fighters, and to organize political parties, unhampered.
No one is talking about Christian terrorism, just as no one is talking about Jewish terrorism. No one is talking about the dangers of political Christianity, just as no one is talking about the dangers of political Judaism. Anti-terrorism experts are extremely alarmed at the fact that white supremacist movements are able to buy, store and train on weapons, all using the hook of fighting against Russia in the Ukraine conflict, unhampered and unobstructed. Even Facebook, which announced that it will limit the activity of movements such as the Azov Movement on its platforms, has proved either unwilling or unable to follow through on this announcement. They were very effective in targeting Palestinian activism, and very effective in targeting anything that they correlate with jihad.
This is a clear and rising danger to both Muslims and non-Muslims, but clearly a danger to Muslims in the United States. Let us not forget that these are the same folks who marshaled around and celebrated the election of Trump. These are the same folks who have turned Islamophobia and the targeting of Muslims into a pastime. These are the same folks who could easily come to power in France, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, Italy or Spain.
My final point. Compare us to the Prophet. So many Muslims love to pretend to follow the Sunna of the Prophet. Really? The Sunna of the Prophet was growing a beard, wearing a jalabiya and using a miswak? The Prophet was a highly relevant human being. Every time he would get with his disciples, they would be highly relevant human beings. They were highly relevant because their God is highly relevant. They were about making a difference. They did not get together to work on their zabibeh’s [prayer bumps on their foreheads]. They did not get together to feel good about their dhikr sessions. They made God highly relevant on this earth, because they were clear-sighted about what al Izzah lillah means and what [al dhikr Allahu Akbar] means; what “Remembrance that the Lord is the greatest” means.
Do you think that the Sunna of the Prophet was to teach his followers to be as morally bankrupt as the leaders of Saudi Arabia? Or morally hedonistic as the leaders of the Emirates? Or morally barbaric as the leaders of Egypt? Or morally irrelevant as the collective Muslim leaders of today? Or morally irrelevant as the imams of 99.9% of the mosques of today? How relevant is God through you? God hired you and appointed you as an attorney on behalf of God. What do you argue in court? What does your client deserve? Does your client deserve acts of pietistic affectations, or does your client actually want results?