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The Word of Power in A World of Disempowerment

The power of the single word: Allah. So many people who pursue big ideas or grow up in a layered cultural system are accustomed to the complexity of their cultural surroundings. They grow up with habits, practices, and social mores. They grow up hearing stories from the deep past. They grow up with aspirations and political frustrations. If they pursue an education, they are introduced to theologies, philosophies, political ideologies, social theories, and anthropological studies. But I want to take us back to the power of a single word, Allah. It is the Arabic, Aramaic, and Syriac word for God. The Hebrew word for God, Elohim, comes from the same root. We utter it in prayer. We grew up with it. But how many of us just sit down and repeat the word Allah time and again? No complex formulas. No long sentences. Just the word, Allah. The word itself is rooted in the concept of wallah, meaning “what one craves for.” The term wallah connotes what is primordially within, and what one longs for. 

God has placed us in a world that is like a matrix. It is a very layered and complex reality. Reflect on this reality, however, and you discover the extent to which your reality has been carefully engineered and handed to you by those who have the ability to do so. Put simply, your own reality is constructed and handed to you by those who are more powerful than you. From the minute we enroll at school, we abide by a certain trajectory in life. We understand the need to earn a living. We acclimate ourselves and accept the idea that something has to be offered for something else in order for us to get through life. Time and again, we deal with a reality that has been constructed by those more powerful than us, those able to construct reality for others. 

Think too deeply about this, and you quickly become frustrated and exhausted by it all. For the reality that is constructed is not necessarily the best for you. Nor does it necessarily make the most rational sense. It was handed to you because of the dynamics and social intercourses of human beings, many of whom lived and died long before you came to this earth. You simply inherited the system that they helped to shape. And you must now negotiate and exist through it. We must all navigate these constructed realities. We cannot escape it. Even if we go off to the wilderness, the chances are that the wilderness to which we escape is only wilderness because it has been specially designated as a nature reserve. So, we are always within this constructed reality. If you are a thinking, feeling, and reflective human being, the chances are that you will become frustrated by the fact that you are so powerless in this constructed reality and how, ultimately, it makes little sense.

This is what happens to so many of our youth. Do they submit to the system because the likelihood is that their parents have told them, "This is the system, and you must excel"? Yes. But very quickly, all types of frustrations start setting in. “How can I work within a system that is destroying the very globe in which we live?” “How can I work with a system that privileges an elite that belongs to a particular race and culture that has dominated this globe for centuries?” “How can I work within a system that talks about equality as an ideal but, at the same time, blesses deep inequities? A system that condemns racism but seems constructed to privilege a distinct trace over all others? A system that talks about the equal value of human life but, at the same time, hardly cares if those who die are in the darker-skinned regions of the globe? A system in which those who invented the ideal of human rights are also those who have eradicated and destroyed countless native cultures, wiping them off the face of the earth, without even thinking of apologizing, leave alone making amends for the violence and atrocities, past and present?”

If you are navigating your way through this system, relying only on yourself, then I submit to you that it is inevitable that your nervous system will suffer and eventually break under the pressure. You will feel utterly overwhelmed by your own powerlessness. This is precisely why, time and again, even those who say that “God is dead” will, in the same breath, still talk of a higher power. The frustrating thing is that this constructed higher power often makes little logical sense. That higher power could be a dead relative, for example, such as a dead mother who does nothing after death but looks after you; what else is your dead mother going to do in the Hereafter?; the fate of the dead mother has become wedded to serving you and only you. Or it could be talk about “guardian angels.” Some people claim to have angels guiding them. Or there are those who invoke St. Michael or other saints. Why are you privileged by these angels as opposed to the rest of the world that often suffers a horrible fate without an intervening force on its behalf? People often refer to a higher power, but it is a secular reference to a higher power that often makes little logical sense. The mere reference to a higher power itself is a coping mechanism. For if we insist upon negotiating the reality of our existence alone, without the support of anything else, then it becomes overwhelming, suffocating, and inescapable.

I submit to you that just the power of the word Allah will grant you the type of understanding that brings a sense of tranquility and confidence that your existence makes perfect sense in light of the overwhelming sovereignty of God.

In Surah al-Anfal, God reminds us of those whose hearts are comforted and tenderized by the very mention of God (Q 8:2). In Surah al-Ra’d, God says: “those who believe and whose hearts find comfort in the remembrance of Allah. Surely in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find comfort (Q 13:28). God cuts through this constructed reality. God is saying, in effect, "Rely on Me. When all is said and done, those who constructed and served an unjust reality, who exist heedlessly, aimlessly, and pointlessly, will be held to account. The covenant according to which you exist to bear witness for Me, on My behalf, is a paradigm changer in the way that you interact with this often frustrating, meaningless, and aimless reality that you confront in your existence.” 

God tells us in Surah al-’Ankabut that remembrance of our Lord, the dhikr of God, is “greater than all” (Q 29:45). We often repeat this, but we do not pause to reflect upon it. I urge you to try a simple experiment. Sit and do nothing for half an hour, or even an hour, but say the word “Allah.” Nothing else. Keep repeating the word “Allah.” And see what happens. Clear your mind and focus on this one word: Allah. No complicated formulas. No grand ideas. No ideologies. No philosophies. Just the word, Allah, repeated, over and over again. Try it and see what happens. 

That word will be the source that empowers you in a reality that preaches disempowerment, night and day. That word will allow you to return the gaze to this reality and say, "You may think that you are all powerful. You may think that I am powerless. But this word, Allah, allows me to see the Truth of what you are. And because I see the Truth of what you are, I know you are fake. And because I know you are fake, I know that there will be accountability and justice. And because I know that there will be accountability and justice, I need not suffer because of you. I need not hurt because of you. I feel strong because I have that word, Allah, with me. I feel confident, serene, tranquil, and peaceful.”

God warns us against consuming things that compromise our ability for dhikr (remembrance of God). God warns us that Satan uses alcohol and intoxicants to spread enmity and hate between human beings (Q 5:91). Our inability to reflect upon our relationship with God, then, is an instrument that Satan uses against us. Nothing is as dangerous as the resentment of the powerless., and nothing is as conducive to irrational acts of vengeance as when the powerless become fed up and explode.

The meaning of dhikr is to live with the word Allah. Just that word. Understanding the full power of that word stabilizes our existence. It commits us to think rationally and to always choose the most compassionate and merciful path. That is precisely why God tells us two things: that the Prophet Muhammad was sent as a mercy to humankind (Q 21:107), and that the Prophet is a “beautiful example” (Q 33:21). We are told the Prophet is a “beautiful example” in Surah al-Ahzab because the Prophet is the vehicle for dhikr Allah, “the remembrance of God,” and the remembrance of God commits us to always choosing the most compassionate and merciful path (Q 33:21). 

What was the Prophet's life about? In sum, his entire life was about one thing, the remembrance of God. The Prophet’s example is not in the details of how we drink, how we eat, or how we sit. The Prophet's main example is the impact of dhikr Allah becoming the higher power that stabilizes you, centers you, and gives your very existence meaning. Only then are you in a position to receive the Divine light, the Divine guidance (al-nur al-qudsi). 

Then, and only then, despite all the ways in which human beings tell you, "You are powerless, our rules are there to subjugate you, and you have no choice but to submit to the realities that we have constructed,” when the power of Allah opens the windows to the reality of your existence, and what comes through these windows – if you are able to open them because of your dhikr, having understood the example of the Prophet – is liberating light, a light that makes you return the gaze to this reality, and say, "With all the rules that you think subjugate and enslave human beings to the order that you have constructed, you do not realize how silly you are. How fake, temporary, and non-existing you are.” The light comes through, and your entire perception and existence transforms.

I feel sorry for those who go through life plagued by fears, anxieties, restlessness, frustration, depression, and broken ambitions. I feel sorry for those who never discover the power of the word Allah. I feel sorry for those who live their entire lives unable to open the windows that let in the Divine light. I feel sorry for them. May people listen to this khutbah (sermon), and may they benefit.

*****

The constructed reality in which we exist is often frustrating because of how insanely irrational it can be. You need the power of the word Allah behind your back, at your side, right before you, under you, and above you. I will share an example of why from the world of academia. It is an example of what happened to a dear friend.

One of the hardest things to learn about this world is how discriminatory human beings can be. Human beings can treat the life of one person as more valuable than the life of another simply because of their skin color, wealth, or the part of the world from which they came. We learn ideals that define our sense of meaning, only to discover, when it comes to implementing these ideals, that there are not only double standards – there are multiple standards by which human beings are treated in grossly desperate and unequal ways.

My friend, Professor Nader Hashemi, is a brilliant academic. He has had an illustrious career. He is a leading expert on the Middle East, modern Islam, and human rights. By all measures, he is a thoroughly accomplished professor. Professor Hashemi is at the University of Denver where he is the Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies. In the many years that he has directed that center, he has been painfully fair. He has made sure to include an equal number of Israeli and Palestinian speakers to speak about the conflict. He has a long history of being meticulously fair in how he has run the center. And all was fine, until recently. 

In a recent interview, he was asked about the recent assassination attempt against Salman Rushdie. We know next to nothing about the attacker. We only know that the attacker was quoted as saying that he has not read Rushdie’s novel, The Satanic Verses. But we do not know what his actual motives were. We do not know if he had any accomplices. We do not know if he is mentally unstable. We do not know if he was radicalized, or if he was acting on someone else’s behalf. We simply do not know. In the context of a brilliant, sophisticated, and nuanced discussion about how to understand the assassination attempt against Salman Rushdie, Professor Hashemi commented – just like I did – that anything could be behind this assassination attempt. This could be a mentally unstable person. This could be a person radicalized by an ideology or group. This person could have acted on behalf of the Iranian government or the Revolutionary Guards of Iran. Or this person could be a Mossad agent, propagating a false flag operation.

No one cares that Nader Hashemi is speculating. The point he is trying to make, of course, is that anything is possible in the world of politics. No one cares that one of the possibilities is that the attacker could have been acting on behalf of Iran. No one thinks that saying this somehow endangers Persian students on campus. No one cares about the suggestion that this person could have been radicalized. No one thinks that this possibly endangers Muslim students on campus. The world exploded against Nader Hashemi, however, because he did suggest, from among many possibilities, that this could have been someone recruited by Israeli intelligence. Islamophobic and Zionist organizations have since waged a campaign against Nader Hashemi, demanding that he be removed as the Director of the center and–although he has tenure –even that he be fired.

The University of Denver issued a statement, without speaking to Professor Hashemi, and despite the fact that he is a tenured professor whom they have known for decades. The document states:

Professor Hashemi spoke as an individual faculty member and does not speak for the university. While we wholeheartedly respect academic freedom and freedom of speech, his comments do not reflect the point of view of the university, nor are we aware of any facts that support his view. The safety of every speaker and every student on our campuses and all campuses is critical to our society. We condemn the stabbing of Salman Rushdie, and it goes without saying that we remain committed to assuring the experience of our Jewish students, faculty and staff is safe, supportive, respectful, and welcoming.

This clearly implies that what Nader Hashemi said does not ensure the safety of Jewish students and faculty, nor guarantee a supportive, respectful, and welcoming environment. It is now well documented that there was an Israeli Mossad agent in Libya. He was the imam of an ISIS faction in Libya. When he was captured, he confessed that he is not even Muslim. In fact, he was trained by the Mossad and planted in Libya as a Mossad agent, rising in the ranks of ISIS to lead an ISIS faction in Libya that killed people in the name of Islam.

Apparently, those who wrote the statement for the University of Denver did not bother to read the autobiographies written by Israeli Mossad and intelligence agents in which they openly confessed false flag operations where they committed violence while pretending to be Muslims. But that is not the issue. The issue is the irrationality and the frustrating double standards. If I suggest that Iran is evil or that the Iranian government commits evil acts, that, apparently, does not endanger Persian students on campus. When people suggest that the Prophet Muhammad was a pedophile or a terrorist, that, apparently, does not endanger Muslim students on campus. If anyone dares say anything about the raging Islamophobia and the ways by which every Muslim is made to feel as if they have something to be ashamed of—Muslims all over the U.S. write to me saying, "We cannot pray at work. We cannot pray at school. We are too worried that if we pray, there will be retaliation. People will mark us. People will think less of us”—that does not endanger Muslim students. In these cases, every university will invoke “freedom of speech." Apparently, however, there is a special standard that applies to Jewish students and faculty. 

That is what is frustrating. It is the hypocrisy. The double standards. I am sure that those same university officials are aware of Islamophobia. I am sure that they are aware of the constant portrayal of Palestinians as terrorists. But do they ever feel compelled to say that any claim that Palestinians are committed to violence endangers the safety of Palestinian students and faculty?

An academic like Nader Hashemi stands alone in this battle. While there are a million Zionist and Islamophobic organizations that, at a moment’s notice, are willing to spring into action to demand that Nader Hashemi be fired, on the other side, Muslims are cowering in their corners with their doubts. "I am too embarrassed to pray. I do not want people to know I am Muslim. Let us have an argument about hijab. Let us have a long debate about wudu (ablution). Let us continue being insane, stupid, idiotic and ignorant.” An academic like Nader Hashemi cannot count on Muslims. They are missing in action. You cannot find them. They are busy making money and arguing about silly things. The Sunnis are busy hating the Shi'a, and the Shi'a are busy hating the Sunnis. 

Someone did come to the defense of Nader Hashemi. That someone was the Middle East Studies Association of North America, which sent a letter to the University of Denver. I will paraphrase the letter: 

We write on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America and its committee on academic freedom to express our concern about the statement that the University of Denver issued on August 23rd, 2022, concerning Professor Nader Hashemi. We believe that the poorly formulated statement can plausibly be read as damaging to Professor Hashemi's personal and scholarly reputation and is a violation of his academic freedom…

For two pages, the letter goes on to shame the University of Denver for its double standards, hypocrisy, and–although the letter does not say it, but I will–for its racism. To want to protect the rights of Jews is an honorable thing. But it can never be at the cost of discriminating against all others, including against Persians, Arabs, Turks, and all the other ethnicities encompassed within Islam.

I do not know how Nader Hashemi copes. That is his personal life. But when you stand by what is right, by principles, and the entire world is against you, where does your strength come from? How can you remain resolute? How can you immunize yourself against caving in, giving in, and playing the immoral game of kissing up, just so the difficulties will vanish?

You may look for your higher power. But your higher power is illusory. For you have invented it, and you know that you have invented it. It does not really exist. You know that. If you discover the magical word of Allah, however, then, suddenly, your powerlessness and confusion become something else. Suddenly, you become empowered. Suddenly, you can take on all challenges. You can face those challenges and eventually die with a smile on your face. Meet your God with a smile on your face. Discover the power of the word Allah. You will experience no fear in life, and you will not fear death.

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