"It's a Dog's Life: Reflecting on Rights to Life and Mercy"

A reflective, Qur’anic human being is a human being that handles life on earth as God repeatedly reminds us to. When God asks us to engage in ta’aqqul (to reason), tafakkur (to ponder/reflect), and tadhakkur (to remember, literally: to do dhikr), it is, in essence, a constant reminder of the reflective life. That you are not simply like so much that is led by instinct and engineered by habit; you are not simply a phenomenon, something that manifests on this earth to enjoy a momentary burst of energy that eventually extinguishes itself. We are aware that the nature of everything born on this earth is born with a reservoir of energy, and that energy eventually dissipates, transforms, or is processed in one form or another. That earthly phenomena disappears the way it has appeared, with very little comprehension of why it came, why it existed, and ultimately, where it went.


A reflective life—a life of ta’aqqul, tafakkur, and tadhakkur, as the Qur'an repeatedly calls it—is premised on the idea that we as human beings and everything around us matters. That there are no simple, instant coincidences. That if you exist, you are anchored in a purpose in existence, and that everything that exists at the same time that you exist has a purpose because this universe has a Lord, an owner, an intelligent designer that says, "This will be for the moment it is, and this will not be."


What a reflective life means is taking yourself with the kind of seriousness that does not give yourself the excuse to let things slip by, or to think, “Maybe there is no point, and time is just a vacuum that we process.” A reflective life is anchored in meaning.


The time that I have, I have because I am meant to have it, and the time that I spent, I spent because I am meant to spend it. That there will be accounts to settle, or ultimately, we will have to answer to the reflective choices that we engaged in during our lifetime.


Yet again in my life, I recently observed a dog who has lived in my family for many years, one of God’s beautiful creations, take her last breath and pass away. I have seen this dog from the time she was a young puppy, full of energy, action, activities and instincts, to the ultimate withering away of this energy and the dwindling away of power; to the slow and painful surrender to death. A human being may be tempted to understand the life of this dog only through the perspective of how this dog impacted you as an individual. This is precisely what human beings do, they look at the life of this dog and think, "Well, this dog accompanied me in through several stages of life; this dog perhaps played with my children, this dog kept my family company, this dog ultimately lived a life, and then reached the end where it leaves my family."


With that perspective, everything that you understand about the existence of this dog goes through the prism of your experience as a human being. If you do so, then you entirely miss the point of a universe that is owned by God. A reflective person would see the life of this dog as they would see the life of everything that surrounds us - as an independent, autonomous entitlement. The life of this dog was not about me and my family, but about its divine right to exist and to expend the time that it spent on earth, and my interaction with it must come from that perspective.


This poor dog, after 17 years, began to slowly die of cancer. It would have been the normal, selfish, egregious, human thing to say that the life of this dog has become a major inconvenience upon me and my family. This dog now requires a great deal of attention and care, and it disrupts life routines and my ability to move, to travel, to work, to sleep.



BABY, God bless her soul


A true Muslim, who understands what Islam, life and existence are about, would not consider that choice. A true Muslim looks at the life of any creature, like this dog named Baby, and realize that it is entitled to exist and to demand your attention and your care, because it is God's will to put this dog in your path; for this dog to demand its rights from you, which you are obliged to grant because you believe this world has a Lord and Master.


There is another old dog that we have who is currently going through the final stages of life. When he wakes up, he immediately starts crying because he is unable to get up. He needs assistance so that he can rise on his feet, drink water, consume food, and go to the bathroom. The problem though, is that once he does this and lies down again, five or 10 minutes later, he again starts crying for assistance to rise to his feet.


Oso, 17 years old


Taking care of this dog is an exhausting process that my wife has been engaging in taking care of. Literally every five minutes, this dog needs assistance to be able to manage its affairs in life. It is easy for a person who does not understand the nature of entitlements in existence, the nature of the divine will, to come to the conclusion that this dog has become a major burden, and perhaps it is time to, as they put it around here, "put him to sleep.” To kill him.


A true Muslim understands that they have been placed in this position to render a service for something that is far beyond themselves, that this dog is entitled to life and mercy every bit as we are, and the choice of life and death in order to bolster one’s own convenience is simply not ours to make. The world is very different when we come with the assumption that it has an Owner and that everything is purposeful; that every tree, every plant, every bird, every animal is purposeful; and that you are purposeful in relation to the purposefulness of everything else. That there are no happenstances or coincidences.


There is no simply sacrificing the wellbeing of one for the sake of another, unless the authorization to do so comes from the Master of this world. In other words, the only one who can authorize this ultimate process of giving one life more value than the other belongs only with the Lord and no human being.


You may be tempted to say, "Of all the things that you could choose to speak about, you chose to speak about dogs?" Yes. The irony is that what made me decide to speak about dogs and how a purposeful life is bound to honor the life of even a very sickly dog to the very last minute of life, is the extremely painful and sad affairs of Muslims. On one hand, a student of the Qur’an understands how sacrosanct life is in all of its manifestations in all its particles and pieces.


But you look at the life of the Ummah, and a deep sense of longing for the truth and purity of Islam strikes you. Let me tell you a story. We all followed the big PR campaign about Biden's visit to the Middle East. It was built up as a trip of peace, peacemaking, and promoting the interests of the people of the region. But the truth of the matter is that it was a thoroughly racist journey. Biden expressed intense interest in the lives of one people and one people only, and that is the people of Israel. Biden called Israel a dear friend, and said, “You do not have to be a Jew to be a Zionist. We are committed to the welfare and best interest of Israel. Long live Israel to the end.”


When it came to all the Muslim countries in the region, Biden did not speak about human rights, the value of life or the wellbeing of the people, nor did he even acknowledge that there are people in these regions. Biden only spoke about the dictators who rule over the countries in this region, while Biden spoke about the Israelis as friends. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia was summed up in the person of the king and his deputy, and Egypt was summed up in the person of the fascist dictator and his government. The Emirates was summed up in the royal family who rules over its citizens. Same thing with Bahrain. As a people, Muslims do not exist, because we consistently perpetuate the paradigm that there are human beings who truly matter—like the Israelis—and there are human beings who are specters and shadows, and we hardly acknowledge their existence.


There was a painful event that, in our beleaguered Muslim world, passed without notice. As Biden visited the region, MBS got the point that Biden is not interested in the human rights of the Muslim people. That Biden has no intention to champion the human rights of the Saudi people, and that Biden is only interested in the human rights of the Israeli people. The dictators of the region got the point. MBS got the point, MBZ got the point, Sisi got the point. 


In the midst of all of this, there is a Muslim scholar named Muhammad Salih Al-Munajjid. If you Google him and look at his picture, you see an elderly, kindly looking man. In fact, his claim to fame was that he was among the first to use the internet to attempt to respond to Islamophobia. In 1997, he created the website, IslamQA.info. He created something called the Zad Academy, with the intention of responding to Islamophobia to the best of his ability and the ability of his supporters. Like a lot of Saudi scholars, al-Munajjid goes out of his way to avoid political issues. Jurisprudentially, he is clearly Hanbali, but tends to be on the moderate side. He preaches coexistence and mutual understanding.


But in 2017, Muhammad Salih Al-Munajjid, like so many other Muslim Saudi scholars, was arrested and disappeared in prison. No one knows precisely what Al-Munajjid has done wrong. The Saudi Government at one point said that while he was not a member of the Muslim Brotherhood himself, he was sympathetic towards the Muslim Brotherhood and was covering up for members of the Muslim Brotherhood,. The charges, as usual, are very flimsy evidence in very unfair trials.


As Biden's trip approached, a Saudi court surprised all of us by acknowledging that there is no evidence against Muhammad Salih Al-Munajjid, and ordered his release. He was transferred from prison to a holding area. Once his papers were finished and processed, he would be released. As he was waiting in the processing detention area of the prison, an order came from the High Court in Saudi Arabia ordering the re-arrest of Muhammad Salih al-Munajjid and retrying him de novo. The court did not cite why a new trial was necessary, did not talk about new evidence, did not talk about procedural mistakes, or anything at all. A simple two-liner, "Re-arrest," and, "Retrial."


I wish the story ended at that. This kind, elderly gentleman, after receiving this order and being re-transferred back to prison, is physically assaulted by Saudi soldiers, so brutally that they cracked his skull. He was beaten so severely, that as Biden was saying his farewells, celebrating the new Abrahamic Accords and the new phase of peaceful coexistence with the only people he cares about, the Israelis, Muhammad Salih al-Munajjid passed away.


Another Muslim scholar tortured to death and killed in prison, but there are no investigations, no questions or protests. The American Government, of course, had no comment. Most human rights organizations were not interested. Nothing. Absolute silence.


A man who used to have millions of followers, who used to appear on television all over the Middle East and praised as a learned scholar on various issues, a professor of Shari'a, he has not even received the attention and care and love that my two dogs receive from us here. Whether you agree with him or not, that is not the point. His family was promptly ordered to shut up, take his body, bury it, ask no questions, and expect no investigation.


The Israelis, of course, are celebrating the Saudis. That is the type of dictatorship that they love for Muslims. The Americans are not interested in the human rights of Muslims. As a Muslim, I must reflect. That is what God has ordered me to do, to lead a reflective life.


If my dog, Baby, had an absolute right to exist and an unconditional, unwavering right for care until God decided to take her soul, and if as a Muslim, I was obliged to provide the care for these dogs because I am anchored in purpose and meaning, because there are no coincidences, because there is no cheap life, because there is no accidental life, because everything must fulfill its purpose and meaning, if my soul and heart call upon me to memorialize and honor the lives of dogs in a Muslim household, what has happened?


What has happened to my people, my Ummah, my fellow Muslims, where not only scholars like Sa'id al-Ghamdi, or Salman al-Ouda, or Awad al Qarni, or Sifr Hawaali, continue to waste away in prison; but even someone like Muhammad Al Salih Munajjid can be tortured to death, and not one Khutbah, not one Imam, not one mosque has spoken a word on the injustice. 


There is a journalist in a Saudi prison named Malik Daweesh. Daweesh's son thought, "Well, Biden is coming to visit Saudi Arabia, and while the Saudi Government refuses to confirm that they have my father in custody, he has been rotting in prison for many years. The Saudi Government says that Malik Daweesh is in Syria, but I have his passport. I know he did not go to Syria. I know he disappeared when Saudi security forces came at night and took him from his bed. Maybe Biden can help. Maybe these humanitarian Westerners who care about human rights and human values can help."


So, Daweesh's son gave an interview to the Wall Street Journal two days before Biden arrived. In it, he talked about the plight of his family, and the agony of having their father disappeared now for many years, all the different stories that reach them about the way that he has been tortured and mistreated, et cetera. For this interview with the Wall Street Journal, Daweesh's son was arrested promptly after Biden left, and he himself now has disappeared. Our government's response? A complete lack of interest.


The Abraham Accords that our government keeps touting and celebrating is about Muslims accommodating and promoting the life of those who the West considers worthy of life, but apparently, Muslims themselves are not a part of this equation. They are not part of what is worthy of life in this paradigm.




Yet again, another Muslim scholar tortured to death and it is met with complete obliviousness and lack of interest. The sad truth is, morally, the same people who would understand the value of the life of a very sick dog are also the people who would understand the value of a great Muslim scholar. The same people who would think the life of a dog is not worth bothering with are exactly the type of people who would very easily look the other way as a Muslim scholar is tortured to death.


Morality is indivisible. That is the nature of our moral comprehension of God's purpose and God's order. Either we believe that this universe has an owner where everything is entitled to be where it is, or we fall into contradiction, hypocrisy and inconsistencies, to the point that we no longer make sense to ourselves, to others, or to God.


Right before this khutbah, Israel again launched a strike against Gaza. Typical of reporting from the Israeli perspective, they touted that they assassinated Tayseer Al Jabari, a senior leader of Quds Brigade. But of course, with the news, a five-year-old girl was killed, nine other people were killed, and 55 injured. All those that tell you about the promise of the Abraham Accords and the wonderful coming age of coexistence have nothing to say about how cheap Muslim life has become, and that the very idea of extra-judicial killings has become commonly accepted when the victim is a Muslim. 


I will challenge you to a thought exercise. Give me an example of an extra-judicial killing that was executed, argued, and defended in the past 10 years that did not involve a Muslim. When it comes to Muslims, we do not even bother with evidence, do not even bother with the pretense of human rights and human values. It has become entirely acceptable in the mind of the West— which includes, by the way, in the mind of Russia, in the mind of China, and in the mind of the Islamophobic India—when it comes to Muslims, to kill first and ask questions later.


So, Israel can kill nine people, injure 55, kill a five-year-old, and the next day continue talking about the peace process, the Abraham Accords, and the wonderful new age of assimilation and cooperation between Israel. But here is the thing: It is Muslims themselves, by their apathy, by their lack of understanding, by their lack of motivation, by their lack of principles, commitment and investment, who have enabled this abysmal situation to exist. If Muslims had their act together, if Muslims understood their own tradition and their own religion, if Muslims understood the relationship that they have with their own value system, it would be impossible to treat Muslims with this level of disregard and amorality.


One final point. I noticed an article about the rise of hate crimes in Canada. Hate crimes against Muslims jumped, in Canada, 71%. The irony is how boring it has become to keep noting that Islamophobia has very real victims. It is precisely Islamophobia that has labeled someone like Muhammad Salih Al-Munajjid an Islamist, and therefore disposable. It is precisely Islamophobia that has labeled someone as a terrorist, and once that terrorist label attaches, it becomes legitimate to kill first and ask questions later. Not just kill the person, but kill the person and anyone who happens to be in the vicinity of the person at the time of the killing, as Israel has just done with the death of the five-year-old.


Islamophobia is lethal and the victims of Islamophobia—from China to Burma, to the prisons of Saudi Arabia, to the prisons of the Emirates, to the refugees in Yemen, to the refugees in Syria—keep accumulating in the millions year after year. The thing that is truly stunning is the absolute lack of response on the part of Muslims. Islamophobia has become the plague of our age, a lethal menace, and yet, Muslims continue debating marginalia at best.

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