Today, I want to reflect upon the calculus of a moral decision. This calculus includes some basic existential questions that would lead any human being who is even moderately reflective to ponder consciousness itself. The consciousness that you and I are gifted with, for the time period that we are gifted and entrusted with it - that consciousness that starts at one point and ends at another point in this world - is placed within a time span. It is a time span that, I submit to you, is fundamentally incomprehensible to us. The very fact of where our consciousness comes from and where our consciousness ultimately goes; the very fact that there was timeless time before our consciousness; and the very fact that there is timeless time after our consciousness presents us with the reality that there are things in our existence that are simply beyond the realm of our comprehension.
Even if you are gifted with this consciousness and you take God out of the equation completely, you are still confronted with the endlessly puzzling, ultimately incomprehensible reality of time before time. All the events that ultimately led to the existence of your consciousness, the billions upon billions of years that culminated in you obtaining consciousness. Logically, you know that there were generations of human beings before you that enjoyed consciousness; and that before the generations of human beings that enjoyed consciousness, there were generations of other things that enjoyed consciousness, like dinosaurs.
Before these beings, there is a flow of time and the existence of material, and the birth and death of planets, stars and galaxies, realms of reality that are timeless, that are beyond time that came before you, and the same that comes after you. This is the challenge for everyone that wants to deny God. If you claim that this universe has no owner, no organizer, no shepherd, then make sense of the concept of eternity, which is fundamentally inaccessible to human comprehension. If time exists in perpetual eternity, simply continuously going on and on; the universe, beyond your consciousness, after your consciousness, where does it go? Is there an end to this universe? Even if you comprehend an end, what is after the end?
What are the parameters of the space in which we exist? Is it comprehensible to you that space can exist endlessly, that you can keep traveling in the universe without ever reaching an end? If you come to terms with the reality that within human consciousness, we are not equipped to understand space without end, and we are not equipped to understand time without end, if existence itself confronts us with that which is imponderable; that which cannot be pondered and cannot be made sense of; why is it then such a stretch to believe in a master of the universe that owns this reality, but is beyond this reality? Our intuitive sense tells us that things do not just materialize without a first cause, without there being a point of origin.
But the reality in which we are born tells us that we cannot comprehend what is before time, and we cannot comprehend what is after time in the same way that we cannot grasp a universe that goes on forever, a universe that has no limits. So why is it such a stretch to believe in a god, in a higher power, in a higher intelligence that owns this universe? If there is a higher power to our existence, then either this higher power provides us with the gift of consciousness and is aloof and disinterested; or this higher power gives us the gift of consciousness and is fully vested in what it creates. This is a fundamental question in morality. If you take God out of the equation and ask yourself a basic, philosophical question; if there is no God, or if there is a god who is not interested in what we, having been gifted with consciousness, decide to do or not to do, if it is a god who is aloof and does not care, the calculus of a moral decision becomes very difficult.
Ponder, for example, a simple incident halfway around the world that occurred in the last few days. A professor of Islamic Studies at Al-Azhar University named Shaykh Mahmoud Shaaban appeared on a television program in 2014, and in that interview, he made the moral decision to criticize the dictator of Egypt. He said that this dictator is committing injustice and that the massacre of innocent people in his country is unjust. From 2014 to this very day, this shaykh, for making that moral decision to speak out against a dictator in a television program, has been in and out of prison, mostly in prison.
A few days ago, after being detained pretrial with numerous charges being leveled against the Shaykh, then dropped and then new charges being filed, the Shaykh was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. No credit has been given for the time he has already spent in prison. Additionally, his health is abysmal; it looks like he is on his deathbed. I would not be surprised if at any time in the near future, we hear that he died. Shaykh Mahmoud Shaaban, halfway around the world, takes a moral decision to speak against a dictator. And as a result, from 2014 until today, he has mostly been in prison and is finally sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. He suffers a stroke and his health crumbles to the point that he joins the ranks of so many others that we have talked about, like Hassan Farhan al-Maliki or Shaykh Salman Alodeh, or the scholar Ahmad Sabee’, who is still in prison.
If there is no God, the calculus of a moral decision would necessarily have to be processed through the singular perspective of self-interest. If there is no god, then what is rational and what is logical is that I would take an incident like that and I would think about it. And whether I decide to take a position to speak about it is a mere matter of preference. If for some reason, it enriches or otherwise stimulates my consciousness to speak about an injustice halfway around the world, then I exercise that preference. But if I do not exercise that preference, if I decide that this injustice is irrelevant to me, then I defy you to present a philosophically coherent argument as to why it should be relevant to me.
Without God, the calculus of moral decisions becomes processed through the prism of the singular ego. The very idea that I should care becomes itself as much of a puzzle as eternity, as endless space, and as time before time. If you introduce God into the equation, then the calculus is very different because here, the very consciousness that I have is a trust and the way I exercise that consciousness is a fiduciary duty owed to the giver of that consciousness.
So it becomes not just logical, but imperative that I care about what another human being has decided, vis-a-vis their moral stance and what they suffered as a consequence. Now, imagine those who claim that they believe in God, but they fundamentally turn this god into an amoral being. They fundamentally turned this god into a god of egoism, a god who cares about their divine ego, whether it is stroked through acts of technical obedience or defied through acts of technical disobedience. Otherwise, that god has no cause, has no purpose, has no moral trajectory.
Approach it from a different perspective. If there is no god, the fact that someone halfway around the world decides to take a moral stance and suffer a grave injustice as a result is hardly of interest to you. Or, put differently, one would be very hard pressed to make an argument as to why it should make a difference to you. What does one appeal to? Whatever the argument one is appealing simply to personal life choices and preferences that border on preferences in the realm of aesthetics. Do you prefer a life where you stand for justice? Or do you prefer a life where you do not stand for anything? There is no further judge. There is no ultimate authority. There is nothing beyond that we can appeal to.
But if there is a god and this god is a moral god, then as human beings, we are then tied together through the tapestry of morality. Then why do I care about morality that does not directly impact me, my life choices and my lifestyle? It is because this god desires it to be so, and I am a trustee of that god, and I owe fiduciary duties towards what that god entrusted me with.
The real calamity is when you have people who claim they believe, who say they follow God, who say they are believers, but the way they imagine and construct that god makes this god as if nonexistent. In other words, when all is said and done, it becomes the god of secular logic. A god who is not vested in right or wrong, not vested in principles, not vested in moral calculus; a god who simply says, ‘I created you so that you can stroke my ego.’ Of course, it is no wonder that that type of religion, that type of god fails to impress so many people who escape a secular logic of no god to a secular logic with a god who is thoroughly secularized. They escape from nothing to nothing, and that is precisely the crisis in modern religion. That is precisely the crisis in modern religiosity.
With God, the calculus of moral decisions becomes a very serious matter. If a man, a professor of Islamic Studies at Al-Azhar University, halfway around the world stands up and speaks against injustice, and from 2014 until this day he is in prison as a result, and then he is sentenced to 15 years of hard labor, and it looks as if he will not even emerge after the 15 years.
As we said, if you have a moral God - and I believe that the God of Islam is a moral God - then we human beings are all connected to one another through the tapestry of morality. So the plight of a man like that - what type of moral obligation does it create upon you? If you are not a believing Muslim, you can just ignore it and say, “It does not affect me.” As I said, we will find it very difficult to create a moral argument as to why it should be of concern to you. But if you are a believing Muslim, if this is the level of sacrifice, imagine this man in the Hereafter and imagine you. This man comes before God and says, "God, you told me to speak up against injustice. This is what you told me in the Qur'an. This is what your Prophet taught me, so I did. And because I did, I did not get to enjoy a career as a professor at Al-Azhar University. I was fired from Al-Azhar University. And because I did, I did not get to watch my children grow up. I did not get to take care of my children and to raise them. I did not get to buy the latest model of whatever car. I did not get to buy fashion, furniture and whatever human beings enjoy. I did not get to see my children grow up. I did not get to spend warm nights with my wife. I did not get to do any of that. I largely spent my life in prison, and ultimately, before age 50, I suffered a stroke and then died all because I believed that you, God, demanded that I speak up against injustice and I did. And these are the consequences."
You come along and there is this model of Shaykh Mahmoud Shaaban, and then there is your model. You come before God and God says, "Okay, let us see your sacrifices,” and you reply, "Ah, I skipped out on chatting with my friends to do prayer, maybe. I gave up going out to dinner. I gave up a few vacations." The calculus of a moral decision: you do not confront this type of moral comparison unless there is a god and unless this god is there to carry out justice. If you are fine with a world in which the likes of Mahmoud Shaaban and his sacrifices are on an equal moral plane with those who have sacrificed nothing, and never stood for anything, and never been anything for anything; if you are fine with that, then do not believe in God because if you believe in God, then you also believe in the moral calculus of moral inequality between the person who sacrifices and the person who does not sacrifice. And if you are the person who does not sacrifice, then my friends, you are in trouble.
You see, it is like going to a school where everyone at the end is haphazardly appointed a grade. It does not matter what their effort is. There is no curve. There is no comparison of performance according to one student. You do not compare one student to another. It is just simply at the end that some people are given As, some people Bs, some people Cs, some people Fs. And because it is a haphazard system, things are pointless. You cannot ask, “why did I get this grade and that person get that grade?” That is the system as opposed to a system in which your grade depends on the performance of your classmates. If I get an A, it means that compared to my classmates, I excelled. If I get an F, it means compared to my classmates, I am far substandard. The calculus of a moral decision is on that curve, because that is the God of justice.
Ponder this life and ponder where you stand on that curve in light of the fact that there are people who are tortured, people that are oppressed, people that suffer, people that lose their lives because they testify for God. Where are you on that curve? Are you an A, are you a B, are you a C, are you a D, or are you an F? If you have even half a brain, you do not wait to work it out after you are dead. Do not kid yourself.
The incomprehensible is a part of our living reality. Where did things come from? What does eternity mean? What does space mean? Is there an end to the expansion of the universe? Does the universe just keep expanding endlessly? Is there a point? Is there a universe after this universe, beyond this universe? If you cannot answer any of these questions, then do not be so shocked that you are asked to believe in a god where there are also incomprehensibles, like where did God come from?
The incomprehensible is an embedded, coded part of your life already. It is only egoism and arrogance that makes you think that if the incomprehensible occurs and relates to God, then it is disqualifying, and you pretend as if other than God, everything else is comprehensible. That is the assumption of an idiot. Do not be one.
The calculus of a moral decision is so critical because all indicators are that this is where we rise or fall as human beings and as Muslims. Consider how many failed moral decisions there were before the planet earth got into shape it is in currently. Consider how many failures in moral decisions there were before the inequity in wealth that exists in the world today is the way it is. Consider how many failures in moral decisions there were when the number of refugees in the world is at unprecedented levels, and the numbers of displaced human beings, and the number of human beings who confront the threat of starvation and dying of thirst is at unprecedented levels. Consider this, and you tell me whether our moral calculus has been adequate: whether this secular age - where we have either evicted God out of our lives or have secularized God so that God is not intrusive and God is not demanding - whether it has worked out for us; whether the results are good results?
My first responsibility before humanity is Muslims, and let us talk a little bit about the calculus of moral decisions among Muslims. Recently, Saudi Arabia announced that for years, the Saudi government has been commercializing Mecca and Medina, turning Mecca and Medina into a form of capital venture investment; so much so that the water of Zamzam is now bottled and sold in the market.
Of course, in an authoritarian state like Saudi Arabia, the same scholars who speak endlessly about whether women can be in the same space as men in the masjid, did not dare say a peep about the bottling, selling, and distributing of Zamzam water as if it is a commercial venture. But recently, Saudi Arabia announced that for all Muslims in the West who wish to go to Hajj, they now have to process their applications and go through a lottery system run by a company that is owned by the Saudi government. So all your information will go to this company that is owned by the Saudi government.
It turns out that one of the main owners of this company, and I have numerous articles about this here, is a fellow who is very prominent in supporting the Hindu nationalist party of Modi. Let this sink in. So the rabidly Islamophobic ruling party of India is closely associated with a person; that person is a member of the rabidly Islamophobic party; and that person is a major investor in the company Acko. So Acko, which is going to process all Hajj applications from the West, is more than 50% owned by an Islamophobic Hindu nationalist.
It is not just that, but Acko, the same company that is going to be processing applications for Hajj by Muslims in the West, is a long time investor in Israeli startups. From 2002 to 2016, this company invested $350 million in Israel. At the same time, this consortium of pro-Israeli investors who invest money in Israel and who are very pro-Islamophobic, are Hindu nationalists; are supporters of the Hindu nationalist government in India that is staunchly and openly Islamophobic; that recently has banned Hajj, has banned athan, and has recently declared plans to tear down over a thousand mosques; that has incited numerous genocidal attacks against Muslims. Yes, it is that company that invests in Israel and that same company that is going to be processing Hajj applications.
But of course, the triangle is not complete without the United Arab Emirates, because a major investor in this company and a major investor with the Hindu nationalist investors is the Emirati government that has invested millions of dollars in these companies and millions of dollars in Israel. Now, at the same time that millions of dollars are being showered upon the Islamophobic, Islam-hating Indian people - or people in high power in the Hindu nationalist party of India - millions of dollars are being put into Israel.
Now, the oldest refugee population in the world are Palestinians. There are about six million refugee Palestinians - stateless Palestinians - in the world; Palestinians who were born in refugee camps, grew up in refugee camps, and will die in refugee camps. And the U.N., in the meanwhile, issues a cry for help saying that there is a $100 million funding deficit, and if you do not help us out, the Palestinians living in refugee camps are going to starve to death.
Imagine this picture. If you apply for Hajj, all your information is not just going to be used by the Saudi government. It is also going to be with the Islamophobic Hindu nationalistic government of India, and that same company has very close and numerous ties with Israel, so your information will also be used by Israel. The Emiratis are major investors in Israel and in the Hindu nationalist government, and now the Saudis through the Emiratis are becoming major investors. In the same way that they were major supporters of Trump, the rabidly Islamophobic President, they are now major supporters of the rabidly Islamophobic government in India. Meanwhile, Palestinians in refugee camps desperately, urgently need $100 million dollars just to survive. Meanwhile, a report comes out that the blockade of Gaza is so horrendous, so evil that 50% of Gazan youth contemplate suicide before the age 18.
Now, the calculus of a moral decision. What is astounding is that I am sure there are plenty of Egyptians who can read about Shaykh Mahmoud Shaaban, a professor at Al-Azhar University being thrown in prison from 2014, finally being sentenced to 15 years of hard labor, and would even read about his death eventually, and it would not bother them one iota.
They would still go to the masjid. They would still have an epileptic fit about whether women are praying in the proper place in the masjid. They would still talk ad nauseam about the hijab. They would still talk ad nauseum about the most petty, meaningless things implying that God is equally petty and equally meaningless. They would feel no compulsion. Their moral calculus is nearly identical to the atheist.
“Why is it my problem?” But that same individual is what got us to the point where the gatekeepers to Mecca and Medina became an Islamophobic Hindu nationalistic investor. The keys are turned over to this investor. We can let the Palestinians starve and we can invest in Israel. And yet, there are religious leaders in the West like Mufti Menk and Hamza Yusuf that have no problem having intimate, close relations with the Emirati and Saudi governments, and their conscience is not at all troubled. And the error is in your moral calculus, do not kid yourself. Where are you on the curve? An A, B, C, D, or F? When God says, "You knew that Hamza Yusuf is the darling of the Emirates, and yet your Islam was not at all troubled by what happened to Mecca and Medina, to what happened to Palestinians, to what happened to Al Quds. You are not at all troubled by the plight of Kashmiris, who live in huge concentration camps like the Palestinians in Gaza. Your moral calculus was focused on the hijab. Your moral calculus was focused on nail polish.
“You made me into a petty God, into an immoral God. And now you want to believe that you scored well on the curve? There are people like Mahmoud Shaaban who sacrificed their entire lives, and you, your problem is you sacrificed a vacation? You have sacrificed a meal? You have sacrificed your career? That is your problem?" The moral calculus.
Let me close with this. Biden plans to visit Saudi Arabia. In an interview Biden was asked, “Is this trip to Saudi Arabia where you are going to basically say to the Saudis, “We are not worried about Khashoggi, we are fine with the authoritarianism of MBS. We are not worried about the human rights record in Saudi Arabia and all the executions?” Let us not forget it was not too long before Saudi Arabia just executed over 60 people in one just one swoop, including children.
We are going to tell the Saudis, as long as you are killing and oppressing Muslims, we have no problem with you. We have no problem with you committing the genocide in Yemen. So Biden is asked, “So is this trip because of oil, are you going to go grovel to the Saudis because we need oil?” And Biden's response was most intriguing. Biden said, "No, it is only in part about oil, but it is about something much bigger than oil. It is about Israeli security."
The only thing on the table that involves Israeli security is that Egypt gave two islands, Tiran and Sanafir, to Saudi Arabia, which Saudi Arabia in turn is handing over to Israel so that Israel can have unfettered access to the Red Sea. In any other country in the world, this would be treason. The President of Egypt would be convicted of having committed high treason by giving up the territory of his country. And it would be high treason for the King or the Prince of Saudi Arabia to hand over territory to the Israelis. But the big boss, Uncle Sam, that is what Uncle Sam wants. And the trip is not just about oil, it is about Israeli security. So yes, let us invest millions of dollars more in Israel so that Israel can more effectively suffocate and snuff out six million Palestinian refugees, millions of Palestinians in Gaza, millions of Palestinians in the West Bank. Leave alone Jerusalem.
In light of all these betrayals, in light of these fatal failures in moral decision making. The shaykhs that could be like Mahmoud Shaaban could speak out. But unlike Mahmoud Shaaban, they are not going to go to prison for 15 years. All that would happen if they spoke out is that they might lose their fancy homes, maybe. Or they might have to downgrade.
They might have to downgrade in terms of how fancy their car is. They might have to downgrade in terms of how fancy their home is. They might have to downgrade in terms of how fancy their prestige is. But these are the shaykhs that we elevated. These are the shaykhs that we celebrate. These are the shaykhs that we made shaykhs: the likes of Mufti Menk and Hamza Yusuf. So figure it out, the calculus of a moral decision. Where are you on the curve when you meet God? The time will come for me, for you, and for them.