How straightforward, intuitive and necessary what God has taught us in His revelation, the Qur'an; if we only listen and set aside dogma, farcical performances, ostentatious displays of religiosity and religious affectations, if we only humble our ego before God's message, if we only understand that God's message is meaningless without God's most spectacular creation: the intellect and the human heart.
In Surah al-A’raf, God tells us quite simply, “Say: ‘Behold, never does God enjoin deeds of abomination. Would you attribute unto God something of which you have no knowledge?’ Say: ‘My Sustainer has [but] enjoined the doing of what is right; and [He desires you to] put your whole being into every act of worship, and to call unto Him, sincere in your faith in Him alone. As it was He who brought you into being in the first instance, so also [unto Him] you will Return.’ (Q 7:28-29). God does not command what is immoral. It is in an impossibility that what people can recognize as unjust, unfair, inhumane and cruel would be God’s will. After God warned us in the same surah, we are warned not to let Satan lead us astray. “Verily, We have placed [all manner of] satanic forces near unto those who do not [truly] believe…” (Q 7:27). The embodiment of evil, twisted logic, false intuitions and corrupt intuitions have become the natural allies for those who do not believe in, understand or hear God, and for those whose hearts are empty of God.
A heart empty of God will be filled with the exact antithesis of the Divine and godly: the demonic. God does not and cannot command what is immoral, and will not be understood to command what is immoral; and what is immoral, of necessity, is what is unjust, cruel and inhumane. God goes on to say, in a command form, meaning understand, submit to the fact, embrace the fact, and comprehend the fact. “Say: "My Sustainer has [but] enjoined the doing of what is right” (Q 7:29). Indeed, what God commands is justice. Justice in every absolute form of justice. Justice in every equitable sense of justice. Justice in every sense in which justice resists subjugation and forms of oppression. Subjugation and oppression, of necessity, create a paradigm of submission to other than God. Say: God commands justice, “Say: "My Sustainer has [but] enjoined the doing of what is right”, and what follows immediately after is, “and [He desires you to] put your whole being into every act of worship, and to call unto Him, sincere in your faith in Him alone,” (Q7:29).
Understand what God is about. God commands what is just, and right after that, God says, “Focus yourselves, orient your gaze and the direction of your life. Turn your face towards every masjid” (Q 7:29). What an amazing expression, “every masjid.” Not just the masjid in Medina, not just the masjid in Mecca, but towards every masjid. “And [He desires you to] put your whole being into every act of worship,” in other words, “worship God, fully faithful, fully dedicated to your din” (Q 7:29).
Does it really take a genius or a brilliant mind to understand the clear connotation of this? That wherever submission to God exists, wherever you enter into the paradigm of submitting to and worshiping the One and Only, the foundation for that interaction is justice. In these simple words in Surah al-A’raf, God created a necessary link, a link that cannot be undone, between justice and iman. Justice and the very act of worshiping God. Can we claim to be oriented towards God's worship? Can we claim to be focused on every masjid, as God says? To have directed our gaze, directed our faces towards every masjid, but yet, put justice aside. The very natural meaning of what God teaches us in the Qur'an time and again—it is just that we do not pay attention, we listen, or learn—“Say: "My Sustainer has [but] enjoined the doing of what is right” (Q 7:29). God commands justice in our lives.
Religiosity must lay its foundations upon the bedrock of justice and just thinking. If you have a religiosity that is not anchored upon the enlightenments of thinking about justice, you have a misdirected religiosity, a misdirected iman. If God says justice and then directs your gaze to every masjid, what do you do? If what purports to be God's mosques on earth are not oriented and not focused on justice, but indeed are focused on ostentatious displays of religiosity and on making Islam about the style of speaking rather than the substance of the speech, on the style of looking rather than what you actually represent, about phrases of dogma rather than the lived experiences of human beings.
Justice is like every other concept in humanity. If you train to think about grammar, you will eventually understand the logic of grammar, but perfecting grammar can never be achieved in the abstract, it needs to be practiced. Same thing with mathematics. The more you engage, the more you train, the more you learn through an active engagement with the field. Justice is like every other discipline. It requires commitment, seriousness, deliberation, transparency and honesty, so that you can correct your mistakes and improve your thinking.
In the past few weeks, a number of women have lost their lives in Iran. It is very easy to just pass on or to use the bigoted language of exceptionalism and exclusion, rather than pause and reflect upon what lived experience teaches us about the nature of justice, the nature of equity and the way that it interacts with din, iman and faith. So many Iranian women have taken to the streets and burned their hijabs and their chadors, if true and honest elections were held in Iran today, is there really any doubt that the majority of Iranians would vote to change the law that imposes the hijab and the chador upon them? It is only by silencing their voice that the Iranian government can maintain the law as it is and continue down a course which cannot be reconciled with what pleases God or what is consistent with justice.
So many Sunnis who have nothing to do with analytical thinking or even honesty in thought, think, “Well, these are Shi'a.” Do you think that if they were not Shi'a, things would have been different? Do you think that if these same demonstrations took place in a Sunni country, governments would be any less repressive, if not even much more so? If demonstrations like this took place in a country like Egypt, we already saw what the Egyptian government is capable of: an urban massacre, the likes of which is rarely seen in the modern age. If these demonstrations took place in Saudi Arabia, what the Saudi government would do would make what the Iranian government has done look like a stroll in the park. Or the Emirati government, that has one of the most abysmal human rights records in the world because of the ease by which it tortures and exterminates human life.
The lesson that we must ponder is the lesson that God has invited us to ponder upon from the time that the Qur'an was first revealed. When God asked the Prophet, “How can it be, is it even possible that you would compel people to believe when God has given them the freedom to choose disbelief?” (Q 10:99). God reminds the Prophet, if God would have willed, everyone on this earth would have believed. Compulsion is by its very nature inconsistent with the mechanics of justice, because compulsion forces a human being to surrender their body, but their heart and their minds are elsewhere.
The lesson that comes from Iran, a lesson for all Muslims, both Shi’a and Sunni, is a lesson we have talked about already, but it is important to emphasize. Not only is the lesson that you cannot force upon women standards of modesty that do not make sense to them. It is one thing for the religious class to seek to persuade women through convincing them that God's law is X, Y, Z, and to obtain compliance through the mechanics of persuasion; it is quite another thing when the religious class takes the lazy way out via coercion. Coercion is intellectual laziness. Coercion is intellectual atrophy. Coercion is intellectual dullness. You cannot persuade because you are intellectually lazy, and so you take the shortcut of coercion.
But what happened in Iran also confronts us with another question. Whatever God has said about modesty, consider that in light of what God has said about torturing people and about the extinguishing of human life, the sin of killing. How many exposed heads are worth a single human life? Personally, I do not think that the uncovered heads of the entire population of Iran is worth a single life, because as God told us in the Qur'an, whoever kills a single person, it is as if they have killed all of humanity.
Coercion does not work. Religious indolence and laziness do not work. A religious class sitting in the seat of power, lazily speaking for the divine will, ends up making a mockery of the divine will and turning that religious class into a class of oppressors and subjugators. Not “Remind them, for you are nothing but a reminder” (Q 88:21-22). If God tells the Prophet himself that he cannot be a controller over people, he cannot compel people, he cannot force people, then what type of arrogance must possess a man or woman of God to think that they are entitled to what was denied by God to the Prophet? This is why, when you look at the Sira of the Prophet, the hypocrites existed from day one in Medina and remained a reality in the life of the Prophet until he left this earth. The only instrumentality he used against them was persuasion and argument. He never arrested them. He never beat them. He never expelled or exiled them. In fact, they remained and many of them apostated after his death.
These are facts, inconvenient facts, as inconvenient as when God told us that God wants your religiosity to be founded on a bedrock of justice. The remarkable thing is that so much of what unfolds in the world around us underscores the extent to which the Muslim relationship to the entire edifice and philosophy of justice has become deeply disturbed and twisted. It sometimes reaches the point that one cannot but sit and wonder: what would it take to get Muslims to relate to the concept of justice in rational, non-dogmatic, non-bigoted, and non-prejudiced ways?
From Iran, we go to another painful example. I mentioned the passing away of the Muslim scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi, and in all sincerity, regardless of whether I agreed with the man on this or that, only an immoral human being would deny the place of this man as a committed, accomplished, distinguished scholar of Islam. But his passing away was a devastating commentary upon our Ummah. The deafening silence of so many, including figures like Bin Bayyah or the Shaykh of al-Azhar, showed that coercion has corrupted the very foundations of our religiosity. Political oppression has corrupted the conscience of people.
I wish it was just silence, but right after his death, so many voices sprung up, like that of Adnan Ibrahim, saying, "I will provide a fair assessment of Qaradawi," only to go on to point the finger at the man as if he was a scholar of terrorism. When you look at the details or the ways that they claim Qaradawi was responsible for the fatawa of terrorism, responsible for the emergence of ISIS, or that he was responsible for the murder of Shaykh al-Bouti in Syria, you discover that what they are saying is that when Qaradawi supported uprisings against despotic governments, when Qaradawi refused to tell people they must accept despotic rulers and silently go to the slaughter when they wish to slaughter you, when Qaradawi told people they have the right to resist Gaddafi, Mubarak and Asad. That is what they point to as evidence of the man's “terrorism” and “extremism.” Also, they say that he articulated the opinion that it is okay to kill Gaddafi; that Gaddafi is a murderer, an unjust ruler who has tortured and executed tons of people; so if Muslims have the ability to overthrow him, to get rid of an evil oppressor, then that is what they should do. This opinion is what they point to as evidence that he supported the killing of Shaykh al-Bouti. Qaradawi, however, is on record saying that those who killed al-Bouti could not have been real Muslims, meaning that if you took part in the killing of Saykh al-Bouti, then your Islam is highly suspect. But the sheer number of people like Adnan Ibrahim who are willing to sell their conscience for Emiratis dollars to malign someone like Qaradawi is truly astounding.
We could provide a fair assessment of Qaradawi and, for instance, say that he was wrong when he refused to support the uprising in Bahrain because he saw it as a sectarian conflict between Shi'a and Sunna rather than an uprising for freedom. That here, Qaradawi was wrong because it is not an issue of Shi'a versus Sunna, it is an issue of an oppressed people trying to overthrow their oppressors. But to malign Qaradawi and say that he is responsible for ISIS, or to sit on the sideline and arrogantly look at what is happening in Iran and say, “This is because they are Shi'a,” the lack of moral probity and insight is confounding.
Recently, the Human Rights Council, upon a motion by Western countries, proposed to discuss the genocide against the Uyghur Muslims. Uyghur Muslims living in exile had their heart set upon the Human Rights Council at least trying to hold China to account for the genocide taking place. They lobbied and tried every political avenue to achieve that, and the issue finally got on the calendar of the Human Rights Council. The measure failed. But what is truly mind numbingly astounding is that Muslim countries on the Human Rights Council predominantly voted with China.
It is a genocide going on as we are living. Here is a record of the votes. Uzbekistan, although ethnically related to the Muslims in China that are being persecuted, voted no. Sudan voted no. Senegal voted no. Qatar voted no. Pakistan voted no. Kazakhstan, again ethnically related, voted no. Malaysia abstained. Mauritania voted no. The United Arab Emirates, of course, voted no. The supposed “country of tolerance,” the sacred cow of Hamza Yusuf and his teacher, Bin Bayyah, voted no. “Let the Chinese get away with the genocide against Muslims.” Indonesia voted no. The only Muslim country to vote “Yes, China should be held accountable,” was Somalia. The irony of all ironies is that India abstained. India, the country responsible for a genocide against Muslims in Kashmir, a genocide that is taking place as we speak, abstained. Ukraine, which has been invaded, which has every reason to side with human rights, failed to side with human rights, and abstained.
As you would expect, the countries that voted yes: Finland, Germany, France, Japan, the Marshall Islands, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Paraguay, Poland, Korea, United Kingdom, and, of course, the United States. We all know why these Muslim countries voted no, because in recent years, China has made sure that it is involved in the economies of each of these Muslim countries. But the truth of the matter is for all the dogma, all the religious affectations, for all the ways that we wear Islam in the most superficial and false ways; recently, I was looking at a curriculum of an Islamic school, and one of the subjects that they are teaching is fiqh, but the fiqh they are teaching, the entire semester is the law of ritual purity. Ghusl, wudu, salah and that is it. We have transformed our Islam into an Islam of mechanical rituals, mechanical images, and stereotypical images. We have emptied Islam of all meaning. Imagine if these Muslim countries found a Muslim union, a unity of Muslim states that included Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, that said to other Muslim countries, “vote the right way, vote for justice, vote against genocide, and we have got your back economically.” Sadly, this is precisely the type of behavior one would expect from European countries But it has become unthinkable for Muslim countries.
Recently, I read another article published in Haaretz, the Israeli paper. The article outlined how there has been this very special relationship between Myanmar and Israel that goes back to the 1950s. The article outlined how Israel noticed that Myanmar does not like its Muslims and that the military in Myanmar is simmering against its Muslim population. Israel was keen to develop a special relationship to this military, arming and training them. The article is based on classified documents that were recently released by the Israeli government. The classified documents go up to the 1960s. Later material is not declassified. But do you have any doubt of what really happened? The article outlines in detail how Israel trained the army, sold arms, and made sure that there is a very close relationship with Myanmar. That in fact, Myanmar became Israel's main ally in Asia for a number of years.
Is it a coincidence that Israel has a very close relationship to India and that during this close relationship Islamophobia against Muslims in India explodes out of control? Is it a coincidence that until today, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter fail to delete 90% of anti-Islamic, Islamophobic content? All the while, 90% of content that is critical of Israel is censored and deleted. Is it a coincidence that Israel's close relationship to Myanmar eventually boils to the point of a full genocide against Muslims? Is it a coincidence that Israel plays a major role in the Islamophobic industry?
God tells us to turn our faces to mosques, to direct our lives towards a mosque. This is our direction. This is what God wants for us. This is our “Straight Path” (Q 1:6). But before you do that, understand what justice is. Before you do that, commit yourself to justice. Before you do that: “Say: "My Sustainer has [but] enjoined the doing of what is right” (Q 7:29). Before you walk towards the mosque so that your relationship to the mosque can be meaningful, anchor yourself in justice. From Iran to Myanmar to the genocide in China, to everywhere we turn, we find that the Muslim malady is that we have divorced justice from our lives. They no longer even discuss it. They no longer talk about it. If they dare to do so, they are immediately told, “That is political Islam, shut up.”
The unjust fallacies of Muslim discourses are deafening. We do not care what happens in Iran because they are Shi'a? What is wrong with you? What demon of ignorance, prejudice, and irrationality possesses you? What an amazing lesson, if only we would have understood it. God commands us to anchor ourselves in justice before we turn ourselves towards God's mosques, in all their different manifestations. Remember that wherever God's name is raised in prayer and dhikr, therein is God's masjid (Q 24:35-36). Quite simply, God expects justice to flood the world in the same way that God expects dhikr to flood the world.