Like many others, most of the khuṭbahs that I give repeat a supplication that the Prophet would often make in his khuṭbahs, paraphrasing the Qur'an. It is a simple statement: “Whoever is guided by God cannot go astray, and whoever is misguided can never find their way.” That is one possible meaning of the Arabic. The other possible meaning is: “Whoever finds guidance in God will never go astray, and whoever fails to find God can never find their way.” In either case, we often repeat this supplication that the Prophet often uttered in his khuṭbahs. But we should pause. For words should have resonance. Words must have meaning. And for words to have meaning, they cannot be uttered as if we are just repeating sounds. Sadly, so many Muslims have fallen into the habit of repeating what the Qur'an says as if they are simply reproducing sound vibrations. For instance, we repeat the verse, “You are the best nation that God has sent.” Why? It is because we search, find, recognize, and implement what is good, and do exactly the opposite with what is not good (Q 3:110). If we just keep repeating a statement like, “Whoever is guided by God cannot go astray,” then it becomes nothing more than a reproduction of phonetic sounds, without any impact on the normative determinations of people.
Language has many functions. Language helps us to communicate with others, as well as with ourselves. When we utter certain phrases from authoritative sources like the Qur'an, hadiths, or the Sunna, there is a duality. We are communicating an idea to others, but we are also reminding ourselves. When we say, “Whoever is guided by God cannot go astray,” we are reminding others of a foundational proposition that to be with God is to be with guidance, and to stray from God is to stray from guidance. But we are not only communicating this to others. We are also affirming it to ourselves.
Pause and reflect. How does this statement, in all honesty, strike others and strike the speaker themselves? Is it true? I can make an educated guess of what this statement meant for the Prophet when he repeated it in his khuṭbahs. So many khatibs all over the Muslim world repeat this same statement. It is a very simple statement. But what does it mean to them? And what does it mean to us? Do we truly believe that “Whoever is guided by God cannot go astray”? In our world of symbolisms and affectations, do we really have a sense of what that could possibly mean? What does it mean to be guided by God? What does this guidance by God entail? And what does going astray look like?
The problem is that so many khatibs repeat this statement in order to gain an arrogant and vain sense of confirmation and assurance. They do not think too much about the implications of guidance or of going astray, nor what these might look like. They simply repeat the statement, resting on the assumption that the rhetoric itself is a satisfactory fulfillment of the normative power of the statement.
In other words, they repeat a statement like “You are the best of nations” (Q 3:110) to gain a sense of self-satisfaction and confidence, not to open a critical, analytical, and self-reflective process of inquiry. How could it be that the very people who repeat a statement like this are morally bankrupt in terms of how they deal with others? So many khatibs repeat this statement, but it is clear that “guidance” to them is nothing more than a theatrical and ritualistic performance, with little else to offer the world in which we live.
The reality of the world in which we live includes the recently released United Nations report that states that 50 million human beings are trapped in modern-day slavery, whether labor slavery or sexual slavery. Unfortunately, many of these millions exist in Muslim countries or are produced by Muslim countries. How many of the khuṭbahs that repeat this assertion–“Whoever is guided by God cannot go astray”–seem to be aware of this? How many of those who choose to speak from the podium of the Prophet are aware of this? Think of the moral dissonance. Any moral assessment of our world must come to terms with the fact that the modern world has created a genocidal brutality to which Muslims, for the most part, are entirely oblivious. Part of this brutality is the fact that there are 50 million human beings in slavery.
But it gets worse. There is an organization, called Lost in Europe, that specializes in trying to keep track of refugee children who arrive in Europe and subsequently disappear. Up to 20 refugee children disappear in Europe daily, never to be seen or heard from again. Some of these children come from countries like Vietnam or Cambodia. But most of them come from Muslim countries like Iran, Afghanistan, Morocco, Algeria, Syria, and Egypt. There is already a racist and cultural problem in Europe. Muslim refugees arriving in countries like Switzerland or Sweden are often targeted by child services who take away their children. According to these protective services, telling a child that they must pray at school or a teenage girl that she should wear the hijab is “child abuse.” But we are not talking about this today. The issue today is that Muslim child refugees arrive in Spain, Italy, Sweden, Germany, and elsewhere and, after being registered, disappear from the face of the earth. A common problem is that many families cannot afford to pay smugglers. Nor can they afford to pay for all members of the family. So, they pay for their children to escape to Europe. Often, the children are between 14-22 years old, or even younger. If they survive crossing the Mediterranean, they are registered as a refugee. And then they disappear.
What happens to these kids? The sad reality is that most of these kids are never located and never found. If they are, then, invariably, we find that they have been processed into the human trafficking industry. These are Muslim kids, again, from Iran, Syria, Egypt, Morocco, and Algeria who are abducted and programmed to work into the sex industry, regardless of gender. If we manage to locate them years later, they are working in pornography or in the sex services industry. A very high number end up working in an exploding industry in which people go online and have someone sexually perform for them virtually for tips. These industries are looking for ethnic and racial diversity. These industries have racial categories on their systems. In the same way that one can choose to have an Asian or Black woman perform for you, among the categories are “Arab” and “Muslim” women.
Why am I talking about this? The reality is that this could not happen without embedded racism. Not in a place as technologically advanced as Europe. Not in a place as capable of fighting crime as Europe. Not in countries that have a rather stellar record in fighting crime, like Germany. The regular disappearance of refugee children could not happen without either a level of complicity or, at a minimum, disinterest by local governments.
The truth of the matter is that the reason so many of these states look the other way and do not vigilantly investigate the disappearance of these Muslim kids is precisely because they are Muslim kids. Who knows what level of corruption is involved. Fundamentally, however, the reason this is not a huge controversy or constantly in the headlines–indeed, it is hardly even heard of–is because they are Muslim refugees. We are talking here of up to 20 refugee children per day. These Muslim families dream of a better life for their children in Europe. They dream that their children will get an education and have a brighter future. Instead, these families are sending their children to sexual slavery, rape, and, quite often, eventual death.
What gets us to the point that so many people from Muslim countries are willing to take this incredible risk to escape their own countries? They would rather risk drowning at sea or being abducted by pirates to face an uncertain future in Italy, Spain, Sweden, Germany, or Switzerland. What is so bad at home that forces them to take that type of risk? In my opinion, it is because a phrase like “Whoever is guided by God cannot go astray” has lost all meaning. It is because we repeat these words, but the words no longer resonate. The words no longer have any clear and powerful meaning.
How can you be guided by God and tolerate a social political system that erases human beings? How can you, in good conscience, claim to be guided and anchored in God when the system that surrounds you cheapens human beings to the point that Muslim children from Syria and Afghanistan end up as sexual slaves? As we put our heads in the sand, what is the price of silence? What is the price of moral arrogance? What is the price of moral smugness? How can you be a Shaykh in the United States or Europe, where you can speak freely, and still know and ignore this reality? Do you think that these children do not visit mosques when they first arrive in Europe? They do. But no one cares when they disappear, including Muslim communities in the countries in question. They are here one day, gone the next. And no one cares.
Check the website of Lost in Europe. It will turn your hair gray. We are talking about Muslim children! We are talking about children who grew up with la illaha illlallah. In one infamous incident, a Moroccan child was abused and eventually killed. He repeatedly tried to escape his abusers. He went to the authorities in Spain and begged them to return him to Morocco. Every time, he was returned to his abusers until he was one day murdered. Stories like this are too numerous to recount.
Among the modern slaves, of course, are the Uyghurs in China. In a recent message, CJ Werleman has said, "I do not want to share the videos because they are just too horrific. But at this very moment, China is deliberately starving Uyghurs Muslims to death in the Xinjiang autonomous zone. This should be one of the biggest news stories in the world today, but it is being reported nowhere." Just like the lost children of Europe. How many law schools are talking about it? How many law professors, historians, or social activists are interested or researching it? The victims are Muslim, and because they are Muslim, they hardly exist.
My issue is with all the Muslim imams and pietistic figures who stand with great confidence and smugness on the podium of the Prophet and tell us, “Whoever is guided by God cannot go astray.” I wish I could look them in the face. I wish I could ask them, “How so? Do you really understand what you are saying?”
This is the price of silence before immorality. This is the price of religious hypocrisy. This is the price of duplicity with colonialism and corruption. This is the price of selfishness, egocentrism, and the lack of virtue or ethical vision. This is precisely what it looks like. This is how it feels. This is how it tastes. Until when will we tolerate it? Until when are we going to put up with it?
Recently, I read an article discussing Jared Kushner's book about his experiences in the White House. Of course, in this book he has much to say about Muslims. In this, he is like so many neocons and right-wing Christians who think to tell Muslims how to lead their lives. In response to the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, Kushner defends Muhammad Bin Salman. Obviously. But he also says that people made much ado about nothing. After all, Kushner writes, MBS presented the U.S. with a favor that we could never have dreamt of. According to Kushner, he talked to MBS about cleansing mosques and Islamic spaces from “extremism,” and MBS swiftly complied. Kushner says: “Could we have ever imagined that we would get a Saudi leader that would throw all these Muslim extremists in prison?” In Surah Al Imran (Q 3), God reminds us not to take as close confidants those who will invade our mind and soul and corrupt our very essence because, in truth, they love neither our religion nor us; in truth, they wish our religion would disappear from the face of the earth, and they look down upon us because we follow that religion (Q 3:118). The “extremists” to whom Kushner refers are people like Hassan Farhan al-Maliki, the great scholar who is perishing in prison, or Salman Aloda, who, if you read his works, is as far from an extremist as possible.
This is the price of corrupt governments, despotism, and silence. When those with a history of dominating and colonizing Muslims find allies in the elites of Muslim countries, and find that these elites faithfully serve their ideological interest, an interest that includes erasing and dominating Muslims, then what you end up with is precisely 20 Muslim children a day disappearing in Europe to end up in the sexual services industry. What you end up with is this ugly reality met with complete silence and apathy. What you end up with is people talking about “God’s guidance” but having no idea what it means. What you end up with is people repeating, “Whoever has God's guidance cannot go astray” like a mantra, but, in reality, the entire world around them is astray, yet they have become very adept at ignoring the world around them and existing for selfish goals, selfish causes, and selfish purposes.
I close with one more example. I have often spoken about how we create the world around us, how the idea of objectivity is an illusion, and how even what we focus on or fail to focus on carries moral and ethical implications. I have spoken in the past about a young Egyptian scholar named Ahmed Sabee‘ who has a degree in comparative religions and who has mastered Hebrew and Aramaic. He has specialized in the Old and New Testaments. As I have mentioned, Sabee‘ was arrested by the Egyptian government and disappeared for a long time. The real reasons for his arrest and disappearance are unclear. These are countries in which people disappear and reappear all the time at the whim of the government. This is, again, the price of silence. It turns out that Ahmed Sabee‘ was officially charged with causing “fitna,” disrupting the public order, and insulting the Christian religion. Apparently, the material he presented about the many different versions of the Old and New Testaments and the history of the Church and canonical texts upset the Coptic Church, which complained to Sisi. Sisi then ordered the arrest of Ahmed Sabee‘. Recently, as inexplicably as Sabee‘ was arrested, he was released. No one dares to ask what happened to the charges against him. Who knows?
These are countries in which the only will that matters is the will of the despot. Saudi Arabia, in all its complexity, does not matter. The only thing that matters is MBS. 100 million Egyptian citizens do not matter. They are just numbers. The only thing that matters is the will of Sisi. It is the same for Syria and the UAE. Sisi, MBS, and Muhammad Bin Zayed do not answer to their people. They answer to their superiors in the United States and other powerhouses.
We cannot ignore the irony that Ahmed Sabee‘ was imprisoned for engaging in a critique of the Christian religion and tradition. Not a single human rights organization has pointed to the irony that France, until today, claims to have been defending “freedom of speech” when it published offensive cartoons of the Prophet. No one thinks of the irony of those who defended the right to publish The Satanic Verses, all the while being oblivious to the right of a Muslim to engage in the type of critique that Islamophobes engage in night and day. As easily as Ahmed Sabee‘ was arrested, and as easily as he was released, it will be just as easy to re-arrest him. All is at the whim of the government.
Living in this environment is precisely what makes people take a perilous journey across the sea to go to Europe and risk ending up as sex slaves. But what most concerns me are those who carry the torch of “enjoining the good and forbidding the bad” (Q 3:110), those who represent the spoken word of Islam. For when those who represent Islam say nothing of any relevance to the grim reality that surrounds Muslims everywhere, then, whether we like it or not, what becomes delegitimated is Islam itself. For people can no longer connect. When people have no idea what it means to say, “Whoever is guided by God cannot go astray” they will nod their heads, they will say, “Sure,” and they will then go back to their phones and to living their lives. They will go back to ignoring the entire edifice of Islamic discourse, Islamic meaning, Islamic values, Islamic virtues, and, ultimately, Islam itself.