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From Where and From Whom Do You Get Your Islam?

An interesting study has recently come out that has caught my attention. Although the sample of the study is not large and the methodology is not enough for us to build many conclusions, the preliminary indications of the study from at least the 1000 people sampled, pointed to some dangerous, painful facts in our lives as Muslims. In this study, people from different religions and backgrounds were sampled, including Jews, Protestants, Catholics, what the study categorized as “white evangelicals,” non-affiliated, and Muslims. The study asked people to respond to a series of questions: Are Muslims less civilized than the rest of the world? Are Muslims more prone to violence than the rest of the world? Are Muslims more dangerous to peace, stability and security than the rest of the world? Surprisingly, from the sample polled, Muslims were far more likely to give responses consistent with Islamophobia than non Muslims.

 

For instance, when asked, "Are Muslims less civilized than the rest of the world?"; 5% of the Jews polled said yes; 6% of the Catholics polled said yes; 5% of the Protestants polled said yes; 7% of white evangelicals polled said yes; 5% of the non-affiliated said yes; 5% of the general public said yes; and when it came to Muslims, 19% of the Muslims polled said yes. This is consistent with what my own observations and readings indicate. This study affirms what a lot of the literature about Islamophobia already documents: that Islamophobia's main target is Muslims themselves; that those who are three or four times more likely than anyone else to be influenced by Islamophobia and the propaganda of the Islamophobia industry are Muslims themselves.

 

Some years ago, I met a psychology graduate student who planned and organized a study with a careful methodology to get at the subconscious—the realm of unconscious consciousness—assumptions of Muslims about their own tradition and their own religion. Although I met that graduate student some 10 years ago, the conclusions of his study are very much consistent with the conclusions of this recent poll-based study; that Muslims are far more likely to be influenced by Islamophobia than non-Muslims.

 

We are talking about those who are still identifying as Muslims. We are not talking about those who left the religion altogether. We are not talking about those who no longer self-identify as Muslims. We are talking about people who still identify as Muslims, yet their own view of their identity and their own tradition suffers from a deep sense of deprecation and shame; that in fact, there are a whole host of questions that have been raised in their mind that leave this sense of loneliness, smallness, embarrassment, or shame.

 

The impact of Islamophobia is consistent, persistent and undeniable. This type of racism—and I use this word intentionally: racism. Not bigotry, but racism. That this type of racism is so endemic, so widespread, so persistent, and so unchallenged; in the same way that the biggest victory of Satan was to convince people that Satan does not exist, the biggest victory of this form of racism is to convince you that this racism does not exist; that it is a matter of intellectual disagreement that could be addressed by shedding light upon the facts; and hiding the deep roots of Islamophobia in the history of racism directed at Muslims and Islam from the very beginning of this faith – from the time that Europe used to refer to all Muslims as Turks or Moors or Saracens; a camouflaged racism.

 

The thing about antisemitism, racism against black people, or racism against Asian people is that it is difficult to camouflage. It has no scapegoat to hide behind other than simply denying that it exists by saying, "Well, I am not racist." But you cannot deny the institution of racism against black people, the institution of racism against Jewish people, or the institution of racism against Asian people, because that institution is a reality to black, Asian, and Jewish individuals.

 

Yet the truth of the matter is that you can deny the institution of racism against Muslims. You can deny it by hiding behind claims of civilizational conflict, religious disagreement, or a matter of inter-faith dynamics. The most dangerous form of racism is the type of racism that goes unrecognized and unexposed; the type of racism that is directed at a people who do not realize that the hatred directed at them is indeed because of racial categories.

 

Now, race itself is a constructed category. Race is not biological. It is true that skin color invokes certain psychological responses within us that have to do with our experiences in life, how we are brought up, and with our sense of morality. Yes, skin color does that. But the same type of impulses that are provoked by skin color are also provoked by perceptions of constructed races that have nothing to do with skin color.

 

Numerous studies have shown - if Muslims only bothered to read - that regardless of how light skinned or dark skinned someone from Asia may be, it is the constructed idea of race that induces an impulse within the subject, and that that impulse is the same regardless of the biological facts. So when Europe described Muslims as Moors, Saracens and Turks, they constructed a race, and that is what they responded to.

 

As I said earlier, the impact of Islamophobia is constant, systematic and persistent.

 

I was recently sent a story that I had not heard about before, although Professor Sahar Aziz, who is a well-known law professor at Rutgers University, spoke about this story apparently at length.  It is a story representative of what goes on constantly - typically unchecked and unchallenged.

 

It is about Natalie Abulhawa, who was hired by Agnes Irwin School as an athletic trainer. Abulhawa, as a Palestinian, has been active on social media, expressing her views about the plight of her people, and has used social media to comment on Israeli crimes against Palestinians. After Natalie was hired by the Agnes Irwin School, someone discovered tweets that were 10 years old in which Natalie expressed her intense dislike for what Israel stands for and what Israel is doing to Palestinians. As a result, Natalie was fired after two weeks of her hire from that school.

 

After that, of course, despite her many efforts to find other employment, Islamophobic organizations like the Canary Project and Campus Watch would consistently intervene with every employer to deny her a job. And as far as I know, Natalie Abulhawa remains unemployed because Islamophobic organizations have targeted her, slandered her, and maligned her - and so she remains untouchable.

 

Persistent studies show that as much as 50% of Muslim children experience some form of Islamophobic discrimination before they reach the age of 18. As much as 70% of adult Muslims report that they experienced some incident of hatred against Islam or against Muslims. If hatred, bigotry and racism against Muslims is so widespread, what explains the defeatist, broken attitude of some Muslims in responding to what is clearly a crisis situation directed at their faith?

 

God promises us in Surah Al-Tawbah that if your parents, siblings, wives, husbands, children, money or your property are more beloved to you than God and His Prophet, and preoccupies you more than jihad, struggling in the path of God, then indeed your fate will be degradation, loneliness and humiliation. God warns us about that; is this the problem?

 

Is the problem that at the micro, individual level, when a Muslim is confronted by the challenge of an ugly reality – instead of committing themselves to being a soldier in a war against an ugly reality, they become preoccupied with their professional career; they become preoccupied with their love story: who they are married to, or who they are going to be married to, or who they are not married to, or who they divorced; or become preoccupied with the best interests of their own personal family: their mother, their father, their brother, their sister, their children; or they become preoccupied with their national identity and forget the Islamic part altogether; "I am mainly about being Saudi Arabian," or "I am mainly about being Egyptian"?

 

When there is a complicated illness and we see persistent signs of ailment and disease, if we are people of Hikmah, if we are people of any level of wisdom, we must look deeply and analyze the nature of this disease. You cannot separate the reality of the impact of Islamophobia upon our consciousness and the way that it leads Muslims to do precisely what Surah Al-Tawbah warned them about: not to become selfish, insular, and self-centered.

 

Let me give you an example of what I mean in concrete terms. This past year registered the highest number in recorded history of American Jews migrating to Israel to join the new settlements grabbing Palestinian lands and territories. Just recently, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled against 1200 Palestinians in the area of Masafer Yatta. With this ruling of the Israeli Supreme Court, 1200 Palestinians will lose their land. Their homes will be demolished and that territory—their villages, their homes, their lands—will all be confiscated by the Israeli military.

 

This follows persistent antagonistic, aggressive initiatives by Israeli settlers, in which young Zionists come mostly from the United States and European countries and dedicate themselves to the colonial goal of robbing Palestinian territory. This news is so persistent and the actions of these young, energetic, aggressive, immoral Israeli settlers is so common that it hardly raises an eyebrow anymore.

 

On the one hand, we have people committed to the destruction of the Islamic faith, spending millions and billions of dollars to destroy the Islamic faith and support anyone that says, "I am part of the war against Islam and Muslims." We have young kids who commit themselves to the goal of the complete annexation of all of historical Palestine and the eviction of Palestinians completely away from this land, so much so that they are willing to sacrifice careers, relations with and proximity to loved ones, love stories, and whatever else to achieve this ideological goal.

 

On the other hand, we have a deep sense of alienation, embarrassment, insularity and inaction. On the Muslim side, very little is going on to respond to Islamophobia. In fact, what is going on is that Muslims who are largely suffering from a sense of defeatism retreat back to precisely what God warned us about in Surah Al-Tawbah: back to taking care of mom and dad, taking care of their children, taking care of their love life, taking care of who they want to marry or who they are married to, or who divorced them. Their life is about themselves and very little else. They philosophize that by saying, "Did God not say to take care of our parents? Did God not tell us to take care of our children? Did God not say that we have a duty to our families?"

 

I will comment on what this is exactly in a moment, but first, we must shed enlightenment upon this defeatism, this brokenness, this loneliness. Why this defeatism, brokenness, and loneliness? Why for a people—as in Surah Al-Tawbah, which was revealed on the occasion of Ghazwa Tabuk—who once challenged Roman hegemony and stood proudly? It is remarkable that God's revelation comes in Surah Al-Tawbah, because the Battle of Tabuk itself was after Muslims conquered Mecca and Khaybar. All of Arabia said to the world, "The Muslims are here."

 

The news started reaching the Persian and Roman empires that there is a new kid on the block, and this kid is not willing to be pushed around anymore. Those people of the desert that have been subjugated, obediently humiliated, and bossed around for centuries by the Persian empire, by the Byzantine empire, are saying, "We are proud Muslims, and we will be subjugated to no one,” and the message reached the Byzantines loud and clear.

 

Why did it reach the Byzantines loud and clear? Because there were tribes that for centuries had been paying jizya to the Byzantine empire. After Surah Al-Tawbah, they pledged allegiance to the Prophet and informed the Byzantines, "We are no longer going to pay the jizya." The Byzantines got the point and thought, "We must nip this in the bud. How can these people who have been subjugated by us for centuries dare to stand up and to start talking about the right to determine their own fate?"

 

So the Prophet and his companions learned that the Byzantine empire was preparing a huge army to invade the newly constituted Muslim state in Arabia. Typical of what the Prophet taught about honor and pride, he turned to his companions and said, "Shall we wait until we are invaded? By God, we will not. We will intercept the Byzantine empire and challenge them before they even have an opportunity to cross into our borders."

 

This is how the Battle of Tabuk came about, and this is the context in which God tells Muslims, "What is your priority? Are you just about your family, your relationships, your career, your profession, your money? Or are you about Jihad: a cause, a purpose, a commitment, a sacrifice, a dedication?"

 

How is dedication possible when you are dealing with a broken people, with people who do not even have enough confidence in their own religion or their own faith? That is why Tabuk itself is a very good example.

 

There are two narratives about Ghazwa Tabuk. Like so much of Islamic history - like so much of all history of all people, whether it is Christian history, Jewish history, Hindu history, Buddhist history - there is a version about Ghazwa Tabuk that Islamophobes love and a version about Ghazwa Tabuk that Islamophobes hate.

 

The version that Islamophobes love is that the reason for Ghazwa Tabuk, or the Battle of Tabuk, is that after the Prophet dominated all of Arabia, he said, "Now it is time to move against Christians and Jews, and subjugate them." That version is reported in Ibn Kathir; that Tabuk was not about a strike against an aggression by Byzantium forces, but that Tabuk was actually an act of aggression by Muslims against Christians.

 

Ibn Kathir also reports the other version; that people of this region have been dominated, degraded and mistreated by the Byzantines for centuries, and they looked at Muslims as liberators, so they rushed to join Muslims because Muslims promised them a sense of dignity and honor. For the first time, they would stand up to a super power that has been degrading them for centuries.

 

You see, this is precisely the point. The version reported by Ibn Kathir that Islamophobes do not like, is not the version on Sheikh Google. If you Google 'Tabuk', you will find the version that Islamophobes do like. If you look at most books available in the market in the West and in Europe, you will find the version that Islamophobes like.

 

Muslims do not control their history or their narrative, so they do not control their sense of dignity. If you do not control your narrative, then your claims of dignity are false and unreal. How can a people who are talked about, invented, and constructed by the other avoid a sense of brokenness? How can a people who do not control their own narrative about their own identity avoid being the primary victims of Islamophobia?

 

Sure, most Muslims have no clue. They read the version preferred by Islamophobes and they read that it is in Ibn Kathir, and that is all they know. What results from that is doubt, a sense of humiliation and brokenness.

 

*****

 

This sense of brokenness; this sense of, "This is all bad news, and because it is so depressing, I am going to focus on my career, on my parents, on my children, on my marriage. I am going to focus on whatever I focus on, but I am not going to focus on jihad.” Yes, it is depressing.

 

Let me again give you an example. Last khutbah, we talked about a poor woman who was sentenced to over 30 years in prison for tweets. As if the misery from Muslim lands can never come to a stop, as if God has cursed us to some hellish nightmare that we cannot come out of, the former Imam of Mecca's grand mosque, the same Imam that led prayer and gave khutbahs in the Haram for years, was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Why? Because he made critical comments about the parties thrown by the Saudi government and about segregation of sexes. For that, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

 

Another story from the custodian of the two holy sites; an Egyptian doctor working in Saudi Arabia had a disagreement with the Ministry of Health. He was employed by the Ministry of Health, had a disagreement with the Ministry about his contract, and so he sued the Ministry of Health and won his lawsuit. Immediately after he won his lawsuit, he was arrested.

 

What was he charged with? The Saudi government produced another inmate who claimed to know this Egyptian doctor, Sabri Shalaby, and said that Shalaby voted in Egyptian elections for the ikhwan. That is all the evidence that was against him.

 

Sabri Shalaby said, "I never voted in Egyptian elections, because when the elections were held, I was not in Egypt. I never saw this guy who the Saudi government produced to testify against me. This entire thing is just because I won a lawsuit against the Ministry of Health." Did any of this matter? No. He was still sentenced to 20 years in prison in Saudi Arabia.

 

I could go on and on, but another Imam, this time in Israel, Sheikh Yusuf Albaz, was arrested under administrative detention in Israel. No evidence is needed. The government can do it at will. You can be held for six months, renewable indefinitely. The Israeli government can keep renewing the six months detention without any evidence for 20 years, 30 years, even longer. The Israeli Supreme Court said it is all constitutional, that there is no violation of human rights, and this is not inconsistent with the presumption of innocence.

 

The Imam, Yusuf Albaz, was a prominent Palestinian cleric clergy. With zero attention by human rights groups or Muslims, Albaz is perishing in prison, as yet another Palestinian, Khalil Awawdeh, has been on a hunger strike because of consistent administrative detentions, in which he has spent all his life in prison on no evidence. He went on a hunger strike for four months and is close to death. His family is appealing to the world, and they are met with complete silence. 

 

What is my point? My point is the sheer amount of injustice and ugliness.

 

Coupled with that, another part of what Muslims must confront and contend with; despite the assassination of Khashoggi, and despite what Biden said about Saudi Arabia being a pariah state, a detailed article documents how various interests, think tanks, political bodies, entertainment interests, and all types of organizations in the west are now accepting Saudi money. A golfer named Phil Mickelson was paid $138 million in one year to play in a golf tournament sponsored by the Saudi government.

 

According to this study—and I am going to skip all the money that Saudi Arabia has been spending on think tanks and various political organizations—but Saudi Arabia has spent, according to Department of Education records, $2.6 billion dollars on academic institutions in the United States and the West. Why do you think Saudi Arabia is spending $2.6 million dollars on academic institutions in the West, on sponsoring chairs and departments? 17 million just recently went to MIT, and there is of course, the money that Saudi gives to places like Harvard, Princeton and many other institutions, where they sponsor a Chair. Do you think this money comes without strings attached?

 

All of this money is not to defend the rights of the poor Egyptian doctor who had his life destroyed for winning a lawsuit; it is not to liberate the poor Palestinian Imam who is perishing in administrative detention; it is definitely not to help the other poor Palestinian on a hunger strike. It is not even to respond, at any level, to Islamophobia or to enlighten people about Ghazwa Tabuk or any other aspect.

 

In fact, according to this article, celebrities will now make more money pitching a foreign government than making a film these days. Saudi Arabia is showering millions of dollars on celebrities just so the name of the celebrity can be associated with the Saudi government. The Emirati and Qatari governments are doing the same.

 

All of this money is not to defend God, not to defend the Prophet, not to defend the two sacred sites, not to defend Mecca and Medina, not to be the custodian of the holy sites; all of this money is to prop up a dictator. All of this money spent by Egypt, for instance, to defend the reputation of the Egyptian government is to prop up a dictator. One person. All of the money that the Emirates spends is to prop up a dictator. All of the money that Saudi Arabia spends is to prop up a dictator.

 

After telling us, "Ask yourself: What is your life about? Is it about your love life? Is it about your career? Is it about taking care of your parents? Is it about taking care of your children?" and God promising you loneliness, degradation and humiliation if your choices are not the right choices, God then takes us in the same chapter to those who came to the Prophet and said, "We cannot join the jihad, because if we join the jihad, we fear fitna." They think that by wasting their time on social media, or by thinking about themselves and their selfish goals, and by being self-centered egoists, they are avoiding fitna. Somehow they are convincing themselves, "We are being good Muslims."

 

God then comments on this and says, "Yeah, you could kid yourself, you could lie to yourself, but you cannot lie to God.”

 

In reality, they have caused their own defeat. They have broken their own spirit. They have humiliated themselves because they chose to humiliate themselves. They chose this path. Whatever excuses they have cited, whatever justifications they have noted, God sees through all of them. They are liars. They lie to themselves all the time and they lie to God.

 

So of course, someone sitting there will say, "So you have told us that our enemies are very active, committed, and ideological. They tell us, “Forget about jihad,” but they are engaged in jihad night and day. The money that funds Islamophobia is their jihad. You have told us what helps break our spirits is that every time we look at our fellow Muslims, we see our fellow Muslims wasting millions and billions of dollars promoting dictators, and supporting injustice, and committing ugliness. This is why Islamophobia has nestled deep into our hearts. So what do you want from us?"

 

What I want from you is to witness truthfully to God and be the [first 01:01:10] of Muslims. It does not matter if Saudi Arabia is an institution of ugliness and injustice, night and day. What I want from you is to know where you take your Islam from.

 

When I see that the institutions funded by the Emirates and Saudi Arabia are still teaching Muslims their Islam, and that Muslims blissfully know that this person is sponsored by a Saudi chair and this person receives Emirati funds, and they are not bothered by it at all and it does not affect their commitments and their choices, what I want from you is to have a sense of hikmah, wisdom; to have a sense of truth, to say, "God, help me. Help me be sincere and true. Help me escape from the fitna. Help me not fall prey to the dictators, the tyrants, the exploiters and the liars of the world."

 

What I want from you is to say, "God, You come first. Not my career, not my profession, not my parents, not my children, not my love life, not my wife, not my husband,” and to say, "God, in truth, honesty and sincerity, inspire me to the path to make any change, even if with a small impact, to fight Islamophobia; so that when I meet You, I will say, 'Maybe the entire world went towards the path of Satan, but I remained on Your path.'" That is what I want from you. 

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