Al-wa‘ith, the Arabic word for someone who conveys ‘itha. ‘Itha is advice, wisdom, a lesson. So many challenges, if you assume the position of this most of challenging words, al-wa‘ith. Al-wai’th is not a teacher, because there is another word for a teacher: mudarris or mu‘allim. But this particular word of al-wa‘ith is someone who imparts to others what are supposed to be lessons of wisdom. How do you even assume that role when in your heart of hearts, you know that there are none more needing for that ‘itha, for that advice mixed with wisdom than your own self? How do you overcome the constant, endless self doubts about, “why should you even dare to attempt to guide anyone, when there are none more in need of guidance than yourself?”
You think of the Prophet, but every time you think of the Prophet, you remember he was a man who lived his entire life dedicated to a mission of imparting lessons of wisdom. The thing about wisdom, about hikmah, is that while we can all tangibly identify Al-Kitab, the text, the Qur'an, wisdom is a far more elusive thing. It is intangible, it is untouchable; it is the thing that is wedded to perception and insight. How do you tell what you have seen, but which cannot necessarily be seen by others? This was the mission of the Prophet, but with any comfort that comes from the mission of the Prophet, remember that he lived an entire life dedicated to that solitary role of al-wa‘ith, someone who counsels others, but who meets rejection and disappointment every single day; every minute of every hour of every day.
History records these moments of victory, but history exaggerates moments of victory. History loves bragging about the moments of victory, but ignores the countless moments of disappointment, heartbreak, hurt, and pain. Whatever comfort you get from the idea of the Prophet is quickly challenged. The Prophet was comforted by God, the Qur'an in many ways is a love letter from God to this man, Muhammad bin abdillah. God consistently assures him, strengthens him, comforts him.
The role of al-wa‘ith in our world, long after the revelation to the Prophet Muhammad, becomes far more elusive, and in some ways, even more challenging. You are not the object of revelation and you will never be the object of revelation. God will not assure you of the strength of your moral character. God will not tell you that you are of the highest moral character, or otherwise. All you have is what was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad.
What compounds the challenge is that same Book of Revelation that was received by the Prophet. God's ‘itha – God's book of advice to the Prophet Muhammad – it was not meant as an object to be idealized. It was not meant as an artifact to bestow sanctity. It was not meant to be dealt with as if it is a tool of magic. The Qur'an was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, so that the Prophet could comprehend it, understand it, digest it. What compounds the challenge is when you see that Muslims all around you, everywhere, treat this book, not as a book of wisdom and understanding, but as if an instrumentality to bring upon them comfort or blessings, or to chase away the demons that chase after them – without necessary understanding. All you have is what was revealed to this man, Muhammad.
You know that as al-wa‘ith, God is telling you, "Study the character of this great man and study this great revelation, and study the interaction between the two: Muhammad and the revelation that Muhammad received,” and this is the extent to which God will communicate with you. This is the extent to which God will, in fact, direct revelation towards you. You are not, as al-wa‘ith, worthy of God's direct speech, but you are worthy of God's lessons. You are worthy of God's demonstrative examples, the greatest of which is precisely this Qur'an.
You remember the words of your Lord in Surah Al-Shura: “Prophet of God, teach, call people to their conscience. Speak to people, confront the possibility of rejection every minute of every day, from the closest of close, but this is your mission. And Prophet, regardless of who agrees or who disagrees, regardless of who heeds the call or who ignores the call, you must persevere on the straight path and the correct moral code. In order to get human approval; in order to appease human beings so that they may be pleased with you; so that they might give you adoration, praise, and be happy with you, ultimately you must succumb to the whims.” And God says, "Do not dare fall for the trap of adoration or praise. Do not dare succumb. Do not follow their whims. And regardless of what conduct confronts you, Prophet of God, your charge is justice."
This is God speaking to the Prophet, and you realize as al-wa‘ith, that the istiqama of the Prophet – the way that the Prophet adhered to the straight path, the way that the Prophet resisted whims, the way that the Prophet treated himself, what he demanded of himself, the measure of justice that obligated the Prophet – is precisely why he is a prophet and we will never be. You will never come close to the istiqama of the Prophet. You will never come close to the way that he disciplined himself, to the way that he sacrificed his own whims and his own desires.
How do you communicate to your fellow human beings an understanding that you might find yourself growing in this earth as flowers? You sprout from a seed to a plant to a flower, and you, as a flower living on this earth, you look at your own majesty and your own beauty. You look at your own powers. You look at your own colors and your own health, you look at what animates you as a flower, and you cannot imagine what comes next. You cannot imagine that perhaps this flower that grew on this earth from the moment of its inception, from the moment of its birth to its entire life, is only a part of a Divine plan to create a most supernal perfume, the perfume of Divinity itself.
The flower in its lifetime cannot imagine that its entire purpose of existence is this Divine perfume; that in fact, it does not come close to achieving meaning until it becomes a part of that Divine perfume, long after its existence on this earth. That it, in fact, it does not attain its full potential, its full reality, until it is no longer attached to the soil. In its lifetime, this dirt is its entire existence. It looks to its roots and to the sky, and it cannot imagine anything beyond it; it cannot imagine its true meaning is that Divine perfume, that supernal elixir.
Yesterday, I was talking to one of my students about the role of al-wa‘ith, the role of that who tries to teach flowers that they are not about a seed. They are not about whatever minerals and composite pieces that constitute them. They are not about the roots. They are not about the soil or even about the beautiful colors that they display. How do you communicate that it is all about the Divine perfume, that intangible thing? How do you communicate that, when you are so busy all the time with cleansing yourself, purifying yourself so that when you meet your Lord and it is your turn to be a participant in that supernal Divine perfume, that you contain no contaminants, that you will not be rejected by God because you have contaminated yourself, and you have contaminated yourself because al-wa‘ith is always at risk of being a hypocrite. The minute they preach something that they themselves do not practice, they have become a hypocrite.
God communicates to his Prophet lessons of wisdom, and the Prophet communicates these lessons of wisdom to us. Examine the Qur'an, listen to God as God tells his Prophet, "Adhere yourself to the righteous path. Do not follow the whims of people and persevere in the path of justice. Do not dare stray from the path of justice.” But in God engaging the Prophet in this dynamic, God demonstrated to us a very concrete lesson. This revelation in turn replicates the very dynamic that we witnessed take place between the Divine and the Prophet in Mecca and Medina. We look at this as a demonstrative example, to repeat the same cycle of learning, of wisdom, but this time the relationship between al-wa‘ith and whoever is receiving ‘itha – the relationship between the teacher and the students – is a relationship of trust and willpower.
God's measure of a people, of an Ummah, is the extent to which the teachers hold themselves to the standards that the Prophet held himself to. The other part of the equation are the recipients of this lesson. The extent to which they can regenerate, recreate and reanimate the very dynamic that existed between God and his Prophet; the extent to which they can generate the quality of teachers in their society, the extent to which they support their teachers in the process of istiqama – in the path they take – in the challenges that they pose to them. In other words, God's challenge to us is, what quality of teachers and of students are we able to sustain after the Prophet?
It is the quality of teachers and the quality of students. The quality of teachers that are able to internalize this Qur'an as a personal revelation, and the quality of students that are able to understand the lessons of this Qur'an as a personal revelation. It is also the extent to which both turn this into a philosophy of life. Our Ummah is diseased in both ends. So many of our teachers forget that they are not prophets, and that the first challenge is to direct the ‘itha, the advice, the lesson towards themselves. So many do not have the humility of human doubt, the humility of doubting themselves, the humility of knowing that they will never come close to what the Prophet was. But the other side is that we also have a crisis with our students.
Our students do not understand that the sacrosanct relationship between the teacher and the student is precisely what this entire paradigm of Islam is about. The student creates the teacher as much as the teacher creates the student. The quality of the student plays a critical role in the quality of the teacher, in the same way that the quality of the teacher plays a critical role in the quality of the student. Bad students will invariably create bad teachers in the same way that bad teachers will invariably create bad students. This is a challenge for our Ummah, for the entire nation of Islam, and what an enormous challenge it is.
Look, yet again, Al-Aqsa Mosque, in this most sacred land that witnessed the birth of monotheism…where the Prophet Abraham and all the prophets from there on affirmed the critical message of true monotheism, the monotheism of humanity; not of a tribe, not of a race, not of an ethnicity, not of a Trinity. Again I read, “Israeli settlers stormed Al-Aqsa Mosque from the side of the Maghribi Gate on Thursday, guarded by Israeli police and performed religious rituals in the courtyards.” The Flag March is on Jerusalem Day, which is the day that Israel occupied Al-Quds. "Israeli settlers and Far Rights activists, protected by the police, have been storming Al-Aqsa Mosque on an almost daily basis. Such incursions are organized by Temple Mount groups who have pushed for an increase, etc. etc., and advocate the destruction of Al-Aqsa Mosque. Last week, Israeli authorities approved the annual march to pass through the Jerusalem Damascus Gate and the Old City's Muslim Quarter."
The agreement between Israel and the Islamic Awqaf is that any visitors to the Holy Site are supposed to be approved by the Islamic Awqaf. Of course, Israel has long ignored that. We watch people who take seriously the relationship between a teacher and a student – the Israelis that keep violating the sanctity of the Al-Aqsa Mosque – and remember that once upon a time, they sat as students listening to teachers. And because of the lessons they were receiving, they decided to dedicate their entire life to an idea and a principle. Of course, we know that that principle is evil, because that principle is to colonize the lands of an indigenous people, to throw these people out of their homes, to colonize their lands, to end their livelihoods, and to subjugate them. And although it is to usurp the lands of others, and although it is to effectively destroy the heart of Islam – because yes, the heart of Islam is the Al-Aqsa Mosque – you know what? They were serious teachers and serious students.
These students and their teachers have turned their entire life; transformed their entire life to serving what they believe is their cause. Most of them, by the way, are American citizens. Most of them were born with the privileges that you were born with. Most of them have the options that you have. Most of them could spend their time on social media. Most of them could spend their time pursuing careers that pay for fancy homes and fancy cars. Most of them can then turn their life or can focus their life on the soil in which the flower grows, on that mud bed. But they chose not to. They chose to forgo whatever they needed to sacrifice, to become an instrument in our misery as Muslims, to become an instrument to shame us and embarrass us as Muslims. They have commitment, we do not. They have teachers, we do not. They have real students, we do not.
The world we live in aches for the advice that God gave to the Prophet: "Adhere to the righteous path. Do not follow the whims of the weak, and persevere in justice.” Listen to this: We live in a world in which the 10 richest men own more wealth than 40% of humanity combined. The 10 richest men own more wealth than 3.1 billion people combined. The richest 20 billionaires are worth more than the entire GDP of Sub-Saharan Africa. We live in a world in which a worker in the bottom 50% would have to work for 112 years to earn what a person in the top 1% gets in a single year.
At the same time that this flower sits there adoring itself, fully intoxicated with its own arrogance and hubris because it admires its own beauty and cannot see beyond itself, the richest people in this world have ideological goals; and none of these ideological goals would even sustain the most minimal level of dignity for Muslims. The ideological goal is to drown Muslims in the Muslim world in luxury goods, to allow those who are poor to drown in their misery while the rich become intoxicated in more luxury goods. To demand that Muslims commercialize Mecca and Medina and turn their Holy Land into a playground for the rich. To pay off Muslims so that they can forget about the Al-Aqsa Mosque and about Jerusalem. At the same time that the students and teachers violate the sanctity of the Al-Aqsa Mosque every day, the billionaires of the world are using their billions to do what? To pay off Muslims? To drug Muslims? To make Muslims more oblivious than they already are?
You might have read about Jared Kushner's billions of dollars that he managed to raise from the Saudis, Emiratis, Qataris and Kuwaitis to invest in Israel. Kushner, along with other billionaires of the world -- the same billionaires that allow the world to exist in the deep inequities -- said, "If we can get Israelis and Muslims in the region to do business together, it will focus people on shared interest and shared values.” They mean all Muslim countries, even as far as Indonesia and Malaysia – to get ALL Muslims.
Do you think that when someone like Kushner directs investments towards Israel, it is about simple profits? This is about ideology. This is about a teacher-student relationship. With Kushner and the likes of Kushner, and the likes of Condoleezza Rice in the Hoover Institute and the likes of Samuel Huntington, where do you think their theology, their worldview, which never includes any dignity or pride or wellbeing for Muslims, comes from? Where do you think their worldview – which celebrates Israeli violations against the Al-Aqsa Mosque and pays no heed to your Prophet, to your Qur'an, to your Holy Sites – comes from? Do you think that Kushner just sat there and decided to pick up a book? It arose from a teacher-student relationship.
The mind boggling thing is that Kushner and the likes of Kushner are good students, who had good teachers for their cause, because he directed all his life, all his evil, all his diabolical plans to serve the people that he wants to serve and to subjugate and thoroughly destroy the people that he has no regard and no love for: Muslims. Do you think someone like MBS has a teacher? Do you think someone like MBZ has a teacher? Do you think that there is a teacher-student relationship in their life? Do you see how critical it is? If you demand that your teachers are airheads, if you tire out your teachers in idiocy and distractions, if you do not demand of yourself the proper standards as students, do not expect teachers that would be worthy of you.
I will close with this, look at the quality of our al-wa‘iths. Remember, ‘itha is the moral lesson, the lesson of wisdom. I ask myself, are these the teachers that we deserve as an Ummah? These teachers are easily bought by Saudi money, easily bought by Emirati money. These are teachers that can witness the violation of Al-Aqsa Mosque every day and not open their mouths. These are teachers that are capable of witnessing an enormous amount of suffering and injustice, and still go on to talk about wudu’, growing your beard and doing this ritual or that ritual.
These are teachers that are capable of an amazing amount of narcissism and hubris and pietistic affectations. These are teachers that are essentially entertainers. They entertain their audience. They make their audience feel good about themselves. They do not talk about a Divine elixir. They do not talk about the Divine perfume and its powers and qualities, or what it can do as the truth of existence. They do not even understand a Divine perfume. Instead, they are thoroughly anchored in the mud in which the flower grows; the way they relate to Islam is in the realm of the material, on the concrete, "Grow your beard. Wear a hijab. Do not do this or that." But anything else, in terms of a deeper understanding of what God is and what our purpose in existence is, does not exist.
Are these the teachers we deserve? Do not answer that in the abstract. Do not philosophize. Ask yourself one question. As a student, I ask myself personally, what is the quality of the teacher that I earned? What type of teacher have I earned in my lifetime, through my own choices? If we have enough Muslims asking that question and enough Muslims answering that question, maybe we can even become like a Condoleezza Rice or a Kushner of the world – someone that lives for something beyond themselves.