Once we recognize the Qur’an as a constant companion, its lessons never run out. The Qur’an can be endlessly read and mined for lessons, inspiration, and direction. I often wonder what the impact of this book would be in our modern world if it was in the hands of a people who had a clear sense of the message they bear and the critical role that they play in representing this message. God reminds us in Surah al-Rum, for instance, that among the signs of the majesty of God is the creation of the heavens and earth, the diversity of the tongues with which we speak, and, also, critically, the colors of our skin:
And among His signs are the creation of the heavens and the earth and the variation in your tongues and colors. Truly in that are signs for those who know. (Q 30:22)
God reminds us of this in such a way that a reader who does not pause and reflect may miss its importance. In this one revelation, God undercuts the roots of racism in one fell swoop. If the colors of our skin are a sign of God's majesty, then it follows that if we in any way devalue or dishonor the various skin pigmentations that we, as human beings, carry, then we have committed an offense against God’s majesty. Again, God reminds us that the diversity of our tongues and skin colors is a sign of God's magnanimity and Divinity. It follows, then, logically, that the signs of God's majesty must be treated as majestic. The diversity of our skin colors is a sign of God's majesty as manifest in creation. To look down upon darker skinned people, or any racial or ethnic group for that matter, is to commit an offense against God.
Even the idea that languages are signs of the majesty of God closes the door on those who act as if mastery of the Arabic language equates to some form of cultural superiority. All languages are signs of God's majesty, as are all races and skin colors. Yet, the verse goes even beyond this. It is something that we, as Muslims, have been reading for centuries. To my knowledge, however, no one has stopped to reflect upon what God says in Surah al-Fatir.
And of mankind, beasts, and cattle there are, likewise, those of diverse colors. [Yet] only those among His servants who know fear God. Truly God is Mighty, Forgiving. (Q 35:28)
God reminds us, once again, that human beings come in various fragmentations. Human beings have different colors, what we call races. But God immediately follows this with a most fascinating statement. After affirming human diversity as a sign of God, including the diversity of races, God comments that it is only the truly knowledgeable who truly fear God, are cognizant of God, and truly aware of God. It is as if God knows that human inclinations are always based on jahili (ignorant) criteria. We always side with those who are like us. Whether on a racial, ethnic, or cultural basis, we gravitate toward sameness and familiarity. God says, in effect, "Diversity. And only the truly knowledgeable are truly cognizant of God."
I believe the implication and import of this is clear. To appreciate diversity and difference in cultures, tongues, and races, we need to be someone knowledgeable, meaning someone who is developed and mature in moral virtue and insights about the Divine. It is as if God is saying that those who do not appreciate diversity, who define their relationship to God in terms of Arab, Persian, or Indo-Pak racial criteria, are not truly the on map. They are not truly knowledgeable. They are not truly those who enjoy an intimate relationship with God. Muslims, of course, especially in the modern era, notice the second half of this verse that says, "the scholars fear God." But they completely ignore and omit the first half of the verse. The way they understand the verse is that those who study Islamic sciences – tafsir, hadith, and Shari‘a – are those who truly know God. But they omit the preamble to this, which does not talk about the Islamic sciences. The preamble talks about diversity – diversity of race and skin pigmentation. Only after talking about diversity as part of God's signs does the verse then comment on the truly knowledgeable.
Again, the import of this is clear. A racist person is not truly knowledgeable. A bigoted person is not truly knowledgeable. A person who thinks and deals with this world according to biased cultural, linguistic, or racial criteria is not truly knowledgeable.
After telling us about diversity and the awareness that leads to true cognition of the Divine, God says the most remarkable thing in Surah al-Fatir.
And that which We have revealed unto thee from the Book is the truth, confirming what came before it. Verily, God is of His servants Aware, Seeing. Then We bequeathed the Book to those of Our servants whom We had chosen. Among them are those who wrong themselves, those who take a middle course, and those who are foremost in good deeds, by God’s Leave. That is the great bounty. (Q 35:31-32)
God tells us that God has given the book to many people and that what is revealed in this book is the truth, affirming the message from before. Pause for a second. God is talking to the Prophet Muhammad. But God then says that God has “bequeathed” or inherited the book to others. Is God commenting about the future to come? Who are those people?
The clear import of the text is that it is referring to people who will inherit the book after the Prophet. God reminds us that those who inherit the book are not all the same. Some inherit the book only to be those who “wrong themselves.” They inherit the book, but with the book they become unjust, first and foremost, against themselves. The book that they inherit is now a witness against them. Yes, they inherit the book, but they are like zombies. They live heedlessly, hardly paying attention to the moral lessons of the book. Yes, they inherit the book, but they suffer from all types of prejudice and bigotry against other cultures, languages, and races. Yes, they inherit the book, but if their daughter says, "I fell in love with a Black man," they fall apart. Yes, they inherit the book, but they suffer from the same bigoted, ignorant, and racist assumptions about dark-skinned people as those who did not inherit the book.
There are three types. Some are clearly unjust; some are fair, mixing what is bad with what is good, but ultimately, doing a reasonable job; and some are fully aware of the majesty, the good, the miracle that they have been given, so they are always the “foremost in good deeds.” God tells Muslims from the very beginning that just because we have inherited the book, it is not an automatic ticket to the land of goodness, virtue, and morality. We could inherit the book, but it in fact becomes our antagonist. It bears witness against us.
This follows the most remarkable lesson about how human beings are of different races and different colors. First is the lesson about how racial diversity is a sign of God’s majesty. Second is the reminder that the prejudiced and racist are, by definition, ignorant. Third is the most solemn reminder that all of us, as Muslims, will inherit the book, but some of us will be “those who wrong themselves.” The book will attest to the fact that this group are an immoral people, a people without virtue.
Let me ask you: if this same moral lesson was in the Old Testament or the New Testament, can you imagine what Christians and Jews would have done with it? They would have written article upon article and book after book about how the very idea of racial tolerance is embedded in the cultural morality of the West. They would have written articles and books about how the foundational texts of the Judeo-Christian civilization attest to and support Judeo-Christian values, and how prime among these is the value of racial and ethnic tolerance. Seminars would have been held. Courses would have been offered. Millions of dollars would have been spent to support hundreds of scholars proposing projects to study the influence of X, the impact of Y, and the history of Z. If this was in the Old or New Testament, then it would be held over the heads of all those who did not belong to that tradition. The irony is that I am sure that if this was in the Old and New Testament, and if the West was servicing these ideas in the way that these ideas should be serviced, then I am sure that it would have been used to shame Muslims for how their tradition does not have anything to offer about racial tolerance, virtue, or combating racism. Young Muslims would have had crises of faith – because that is what Muslims are fond of these days. They would have taken these courses. They would have been influenced or otherwise apprised of that Western discourse. And they would have crumbled from within.
But no, this is not in the Old or the New Testament. After much research, in fact, I can tell you that no other text that has any claim to being Divinely inspired talks about racial and ethnic diversity as an intentional part of God's will. Nor does any other text say that only those who understand diversity are truly knowledgeable.
That does not exist outside of the Qur’an. But what do Muslims do with it? Nothing. It is not even noticed. Very few even notice or connect this point to the sin of racism. The most that I have found was someone citing this verse to condemn critical race studies, claiming that because of this verse, the field of critical race studies is haram. This is because they do not understand what critical race studies is about. Critical race studies is about this verse. It is about trying to hold to account those who violate the ethics of this verse. Critical race studies is about aspiring for a world in which race and ethnicity do not matter. The person who said this is one idiot among the many idiots that we have in our Muslim world.
God has given us gold, but what do we do with it? We are in the nest of the Devil. Satan excels in sowing doubt in our heart. When we abandon knowledge, study, understanding, cleanliness, virtue, and morality, we abandon this mansion and instead sit with Satan, complaining about doubts, dwelling in the misery of our ignorance. We have become, perhaps unwittingly, the close companions of Satan – not of God, and most definitely not of the Qur’an.
Surah al-Fatir reminds us that only the truly knowledgeable understand diversity. Only the truly knowledgeable understand that differences in skin pigmentation, language, and culture are signs of God's majesty. God reminds us, time and again, of what is needed to truly bear the responsibility for this majestic book. Immediately after this, God says:
Truly those who recite the Book of God, perform the prayer, and spend from that which We have provided them secretly and openly hope for a commerce that will never perish. (Q 35:29)
God reminds us that those who truly study the book do not abandon God's book. They do not assume to know everything about God's book and then move on. Rather, they pray, because dhikr is the heart and soul of Islam, and prayer is a form of dhikr. The third part is to spend in the way of God, “secretly and openly.” Why? Because even if we have the best ideas in the world, even if we have the most brilliant exposition, even if we have the gold or jewels that no other part of humanity has, unless we invest material to support these ideas, they will go nowhere.
Think of all the Muslims who busy themselves with making money and then feel good about themselves because they make it to an Islamic center on the weekend, only to commit the shameful sin of pretending to be experts on the Qur’an. Meanwhile, they keep accumulating wealth. Instead of directing this wealth on upholding and promoting the majesty of the Qur’an, this wealth goes toward upholding and promoting their own majesty, their own comfort, and their own standards of living. They have committed the most egregious offense against God. They inherited the book, but they are among “those who wrong themselves.” There is no doubt about it. Every dollar that they have earned will become a source of sorrow in the Hereafter. Every bit of money they have saved and splurged upon themselves and their families will testify against them. When every idea in God's book that could have introduced the world to the miracle of Islam and the Qur’an but did not do so because it was not given the funding to do so, they, as people of money, will be held accountable. They will not be able to escape by saying, "But there were people richer than me” or “There were many others who had money." There is no hiding from God. Their money will become a source of deep sorrow and shame when the time comes.
The Qur’an is a majestic book with majestic lessons to humanity. But there are those who inherited the book who have betrayed it and failed it in numerous ways. Every week, as I peruse news items, I find the same basic thing, time and again. Why are we, as Muslims, so oblivious when it comes to our duties toward this most majestic message that we have inherited?
Some of you may have heard of an ongoing legal, economic, and moral battle. Google and Facebook signed a contract with the Israeli government to supply artificial intelligence so that the Israelis can more effectively oppress Palestinians. Google and Facebook are handing over facial recognition technology that even analyzes the sentiments of those who use Facebook and Google, alerting the Israeli government if, in the opinion of artificial intelligence, these sentiments are the kind that Israel should worry about. Israel has the power of administrative detention. It does not need to prove anything. So, it can be alerted by artificial intelligence that an otherwise innocuous discourse has “dangerous” sentiments, and Israel can arrest this person, throwing them into administrative detention indefinitely. Several Facebook and Google employees, particularly Jewish employees, find the Israeli apartheid regime morally offensive and have acknowledged that this business deal further solidifies the apartheid regime. They have formed an organization to pressure Facebook and Google to terminate this contract with Israel.
Recently, the Google employee who was leading this effort was forced to resign. The headline reads, “Google employee who played key role in protest of contract with Israel is forced to quit.” The news report tells us that Google gave this employee, Ariel Koran, 17 business days to either move to San Paulo, Brazil, or lose her job. Google and Facebook’s project with Israel is called the Nimbus Project. The Nimbus project has received a little bit of pressure from Jewish employees who are trying to say, "This is immoral. This is wrong." But is there pressure on Google and Facebook from anywhere else? Is there any pressure from the entire Muslim world, with its millions and millions of people? No. Even Ariel Koran and the other employees who tried to protest the Nimbus Project received very little, if any, support from Muslims in the West.
What is the value of an inherited book if our sense of justice is dull and inept?
In another story, we find that Facebook has censored images of Israeli atrocities committed against Palestinians. When victims of Israeli bombings or Israeli violence tried to post pictures documenting what happened to them on Facebook, their pictures were promptly taken down. When victims in Ukraine attempt to document Russian atrocities, however, Facebook allows it. In fact, it is coded into Facebook’s guidelines to allow pictures by Ukrainians to raise awareness about Ukrainian human rights and Russian violations against Ukrainians. But our moral standards will not allow Palestinians to post pictures or raise awareness of violations against their human rights.
Has there been any real reaction to this, at any level, in the Muslim world? I do not need to tell you the answer. You already know. Absolutely not. Palestinians, those affected by Facebook rules, are protesting. Some demonstrated, raising signs condemning Facebook for its discrimination and prejudice. Otherwise, Facebook has found Muslims blissfully oblivious to their rights, just like cattle blissfully oblivious to their slaughter.
Are we really inheritors of the book? Do we really bear God's book? The UN High Commissioner for human rights had issued a report about the Uyghurs in China. The report is long and documents one human rights violation after another. Yet, lo and behold, the UN High Commissioner refuses to call what China is doing a genocide. Why? Because of something called the Genocide Convention, to which most countries are signatories. According to this Convention, to find China guilty of genocide would obligate all these signatories to take punitive measures against China. The UN High Commissioner has yielded to political pressure and fell short of calling China a genocidal state. Many Uyghur organizations have protested. Are they supported by Muslim countries? Are they even supported by a substantial movement of Muslim NGOs around the world? Is Muslim money being directed to support these Uyghur organizations? Absolutely not. Are we inheritors of the book? Do we really bear the book?
I see many Muslims graduate from law school and busy themselves with making money and seeing their bank accounts grow. They are proud to be lawyers. Many even don the title upon themselves of “civil rights lawyer.” I will tell you a secret: most Muslims who call themselves a “civil rights lawyer” have not done a single civil rights case in their life. God warns us about those who say and do not do (Q 61:2-3). They give themselves the title because they want to brag. But they do not actually do the work.
Some of you know that after the U.S. withdrew from Afghanistan, hundreds of thousands of Afghans sought entry to the U.S. 66,000 applications for humanitarian parole have been filed by Afghans. The U.S. government is extremely slow in processing these applications because they are Muslim. This is even though we have destroyed their homeland, and even though we hold onto Afghan money that has been deposited in American banks. We refuse to release it and, as a result, there is massive starvation in Afghanistan. Of these 66,000 applications, the U.S. government has processed only 8,000. How many of these 8,000 have been approved and granted? 123. The other 7,877 applications were denied. And the other 58,000 applications are still waiting to be processed. At the same time, look at the applications that were filed by Ukrainians one year after the applications by Afghans. From the Ukrainian applications, 68,000 have been processed and granted.
This is a clear violation of the equal protection clause. Muslims who ignorantly ally themselves with conservative right-wing movements do not realize that these same movements may give you what you want in terms of abortion or even prayers in school, but they also create a jurisprudence in which it is entirely lawful for the U.S. to racially and religiously discriminate in favor of Ukrainians and against Afghans. And Muslims cannot do anything about it. This jurisprudence is created by judges who were appointed by the same conservatives that some ignorant Muslims support. Think of the Zaytuna folks who were happy with Trump. Look at Trump’s appointees. Look at what type of jurisprudence they have created on the equal protection clause or on substantive due process in American jurisprudence. This jurisprudence says, "You can discriminate in favor of White Christian Ukrainians. You can deny 8,000 applications and grant 123 because they are Muslims. No one can do anything about it."
I end with what I think is a real doozy. There are certain things with which Satan truly takes a hold of you. With this story, Satan took a good hold of me for a good while. The story documents the supporters of Hindutva, the Hindu nationalist ideology of Modi’s party in India. This political ideology is clearly a fascist ideology. It is an ideology that seeks to make India a homeland for Hindus, reproducing what Israel did in Palestine in India. It seeks to expel most, if not all, Muslims from India, and make life for Muslims in India extremely difficult. Recently, a group of Indian nationalists who attacked and gang raped a pregnant Muslim woman were all pardoned and released from prison. The Hindutva ideology calls for the destruction of Muslim homes and the usurpation of Muslim lands. So what if Muslims cannot be expelled? At a minimum, they can be subjugated.
But what is the part that ailed me so much? The same article documents how many wealthy Indian Hindutva businessmen made their money through business dealings with Saudi Arabia and the Emirates. These wealthy businessmen are funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars to bolster Hindu nationalist organizations in the U.S., and these Hindu nationalist organizations have entered an alliance with Islamophobic organizations in the U.S. Think of the irony that these wealthy Hindu nationalists made money from doing business with Saudi Arabia and the Emirates – and perhaps even from Hajj. They are spending millions to prop up, promote, and spread Hindu fascist organizations to malign and attack Islam, and, according to the article, to make sure that Muslims in the United States never gain power, mobilize, or properly organize. Hindu nationalists are donating millions of dollars. Meanwhile, I, in 30 years, have not found a single Muslim willing to bankroll my intellectual activity. I am a professor with an independent source of income. But I can point to example after example of Muslims who could have done something, who could have served the Qur’an, served Islam, and fought Islamophobia if they were financially supported, but who found no support.
Are we the inheritors of the book? The book that taught humanity that racism is wrong before humanity even understood the concept of racism. The book that said that Satan's sin was racism. The book that praised the diversity of races, cultures, and languages. The book that is the height of morality and moral consciousness. That book deserves true servants. It deserves a stellar type of servant. How are we the inheritors of the book?
I appeal to the conscience of anyone who hears me. The writing on the wall is clear. Our moral place vis-à-vis God's revelation and God's religion is clear. And the accountability that we will face in the Hereafter for our obliviousness, selfishness, and egocentrism is clear.