Imagine the following scenario. Imagine that you have a neighbor that, through history and practice, through everything that this neighbor says and does, consistently communicates to you that they find you deeply offensive. They find much of what you do so deeply offensive that it is not an exaggeration to say that the message communicated by this neighbor is that your mere existence is offensive to them. And it is evident, with just a little bit of thought and reflection, that what is deeply offensive to this neighbor is your ethnicity, your racial construction, the racial category that this neighbor places you in. What offends them is the fact that you are Persian, Indo-Pak, or Arab. So many of the objections of your neighbor are geared toward getting you to suppress these elements of difference and distinction. In other words, this neighbor wants you to perform so that you are more like them than you are more like you. Imagine all this. And then imagine that your response to this neighbor is to say, “You know what? Let us create a council in this neighborhood. In this council, I want you to tell me everything that you find offensive about me, and I will work diligently on changing it all.”
How would we characterize such a response? How would we characterize your sense of dignity and identity? How would we characterize your sense of integrity about your own autonomy and sense of selfhood as a human being? It sounds like an absurd hypothetical. After all, who would do that? Who would react to racism in such a slavish and undignified fashion?
Yet, it turns out that this hypothetical is not an absurdity. It is, in fact, what we are persevering through in life. It may be thinly camouflaged, but it is not even that hidden or unclear. I am sure we will all remember an image that is truly one for the history books. When the history of Islam in the 21st century is written, when historians look back, they will identify it as a truly bizarre turning point. Think back to 2017, and you will remember the image of President Trump, the King of Saudi Arabia, and the President of Egypt, all with their hands on a globe. That picture was taken on the occasion of the opening of the Global Center for Combating Extremism, or what is known in Arabic as Markaz al-Etidal.
The image is rather stunning: two Muslim dictators with an elected U.S. President who sold himself to the American people by expressing his deep hostility toward Islam and Muslims. Part of what Trump promised and delivered to the American people was a Muslim ban, the net effect of which, even after having been abolished by the administration that followed, is still felt to this very day. Immigration from Muslim countries to the United States has been deeply reduced. The number of Muslims who are able to migrate to the US is nowhere near the levels pre-Muslim ban. Not only that, but under President Trump the entire map of Palestine and Jerusalem was forever affected. It was a complete and thorough betrayal of the Palestinian cause. Under President Trump, Israel solidified its ties to the government of Myanmar, and the government of Myanmar was ensured that it will escape all accountability for the genocide it committed against the Rohingya Muslims. After Trump was elected, China launched its genocide against Muslims. The records have since come out that China asked the Trump administration whether it had any objections to a genocide against Muslims, and the Trump administration gave every indication that it had no objections. After the election of Donald Trump, the Islamophobic Hindu nationalist movement was further empowered, and the persecution of Muslims in India reached new unparalleled heights.
Donald Trump, with his thoroughly Islamophobic agenda, is the same president that is standing next to two Muslim dictators. They each have their hands on a globe opening up the Global Center for Combating Extremism. Why am I going back to this moment from 2017? It is because of what has since come out in testimony before Congress as members of the American government are testifying before Congress about this global center.
Rex Tillerson and other ex-members of the U.S. government explained to Congress that this center was an American idea and that it has played a pivotal role in changing what Muslims are taught about their religion in schools across the Middle East. The U.S. is playing a key role in deciding what Muslim kids in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the Emirates are going to learn about their religion. It then dawns upon us that shortly after this center was opened in May of 2017, not only were the curriculums changed, but the books of someone like Yusuf al-Qaradawi were banned and collected from the market. Shortly after this center was opened, Salman Aloda was arrested. Hassan Farhan al-Maliki was arrested. Shortly after this center was opened, a new Islam was inaugurated in the world.
It turns out that this center conflates Islamic extremism with “political Islam.” It turns out, then, that according to this center, any Muslim that talks about fighting for Muslim rights in Jerusalem is an extremist. Any Muslim that opposes the normalization of relations with Israel is an extremist. Any Muslim that wants a democracy in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Sudan, Libya, or Algeria is an extremist. Any Muslim who is not opposed to Iran and who does not hate the Shi'a is an extremist. It turns out, per this center, that any Muslim that does not just pay lip service to human rights but who actually militates and advocates for a human rights in the Muslim world is an extremist. Per this center, Yusuf al-Qaradawi is an extremist. Muhammad al-Ghazali is an extremist. After this center was opened, the only acceptable and “moderate” Islam is the Islam of someone like Bassem Youssef, an apologist for the Emirates and Israeli atrocities. Or the clergy of Saudi Arabia, who rubber stamp whatever the King wants. Or the shaykhs of al-Azhar, who do not object to the tyranny and injustices of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. It turns out, after this center was opened, that the Islam that is acceptable is the Islam of Adnan Ibrahim, who tells Muslims, “Obey blindly and do not object or protest anything.” It is the Islam of Bin Bayyah and of Hamza Yusuf.
So, you empowered your racist neighbor to tell you how you should manage your life, how you should perform your identity, and how you should perform your self-determination. It turned out that this center was no small thing. This center inaugurated throwing Muslim scholars in prisons. It also inaugurated a new chapter in dealing with internet companies, so that a Muslim YouTuber who made a video defending the legacy of Yusuf al-Qaradawi was informed by YouTube that they have posted “dangerous content” and that their video is under investigation. We can trace all the threads going back to that critical May of 2017.
It turns out that America put an enormous amount of resources into this global center in Riyadh. It turns out that America is complicit in Saudi policies that led to the arrests of Salman Alodah, Awad al-Qarni, and Hassan Farhan al-Maliki.
Recently, a Saudi court sentenced three Saudi citizens to death. Why? Because they resisted evacuation orders. These are three members of the al-Huwaiti family. The Saudi government told them to evacuate their homes because the government was confiscating their homes to build the Neom project. The Neom project is part of Donald Trump's plan for a new Middle East. In this new Middle East, Palestinians get little strips of territory across the Egyptian border. The Palestinian state would consist of a disjointed and broken up West Bank, a West Bank carved into little pieces by Israeli settlements and checkpoints. They get Gaza and two other little blips of land in the desert along the Egyptian border.
This would become the Palestinian state: a non-viable state, a state born dead, a state without resources. Their economy would be created for them by the Saudis and Egyptians, and thoroughly controlled by the Israelis. That is how we resolve the Palestinian issue. Part of this plan is to create a city called Neom, which is supposed to bring jobs so that Palestinians can work—instead of having a cause, an identity, a religion, or a land. For the mere resistance of saying “No” when being told to evacuate, three Saudis have been sentenced to death.
According to the criteria set by this global center, if, as a Muslim, you object and say that this is a clear violation of human rights, then that is “political Islam.” That is “extremism.” That is haram. Ponder that. If you are a Christian, then you have a right to protest unjust death sentences. If you are a Jew, then you have a right to protest unjust death sentences. It does not make you a “political Jew” or a “political Christian.” It does not make you dangerous. It does not make you an extremist. If you are part of the papacy, then you can object to putting people to death. That does not make you dangerous. If you are a Muslim, however, and you have an opinion about that, then you are a “political Muslim” and an “extremist.” You are the equivalent of a Yusuf al-Qaradawi. Your books deserve to be confiscated and banned. You become a persona non grata on public media. You are targeted and isolated. And if you have the misfortune of visiting a Muslim country, then you will never re-emerge because you will be arrested.
Let us take another example. I quote from a recent news article: “12 year old boy succumbs to injuries and dies, joining four other Palestinian teens that Israel has killed in the past couple of days.” In fact, just recently, since the beginning of the year, 165 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces. If you do not even call for divestment or economic boycott but merely protest what Israel is doing against your Palestinian brethren, then you are a “political Muslim.” You are a Yusuf al-Qaradawi. You are an Islamic extremist. This global center has been identifying Muslims who speak about Israeli atrocities and condemning them as political Islamists and extremists. Again, the irony of this is if you are a Jew, you can condemn this as a violation of human rights. If you are a Christian, you can condemn this as a violation of human rights. If you are a Muslim, however, then you are told, “Brother, no political Islam. This is extremism. In our religion, you should not have a political opinion.”
The absurdities compound. Not just unjust death sentences. Not just human rights violations committed by Israel. But the absurdity in which we live is that Egypt is today hosting a major conference about environmental issues. Article after article is coming out about all the species that are going extinct. What does this center have to say? The center says that if any Islamist or Islamist group, including scholars, shaykhs, and journalists, speak about the environment or condemn what is being done to the environment, then that is “political Islam.” That is extremism. They should be targeted by the security forces and promptly neutralized.
Muslim leaders decided to go to bed with an Islamophobe. They said, “You and I, let us create a center that tells us how to live and practice our real religion,” This center is the think tank that led to the arrests of Salman Alodah and Hassan Farhan al-Maliki. This is the center that marginalizes a Khaled Abou El Fadl. This is the center that bans the books of Yusuf al-Qaradawi and maligns him after his death, so that even average Muslim authorities are afraid to say a kind word about him. This is the center that decides what type of Islam is acceptable in the West. This is the center that tells us the type of Islam that we should live, breathe, and practice, an Islam that has nothing to say about executions, human rights violations, democracy, or environmental destruction, but a lot to say about ablutions and the hijab.
Here is why I focused on this for this khutbah. Saudi Arabia has decided to cut oil production. In doing so, they are pushing the world toward a recession. Why? It is to affect the results of U.S. elections. Saudi Arabia does not want someone who is a lesser Islamophobe in office. They want a racist Islamophobe in power once again. That is a person they can work with. That is a person they are comfortable with, someone who does not give them heat about killing Khashoggi or executing three people because they are opposed to something. Someone who does not give them any degree of heat about the massacre they are committing in Yemen.
The Democrats realize this. They are fully aware of what Saudi Arabia has done to affect the results of the U.S. elections to help a particular faction within the Republican party, the same faction that supported Trump and created the Center. I nearly fell off my chair in laughter when my sources told me that if Muslim journalists, scholars, academics, or activists say anything critical about Saudi Arabia’s cutting of oil production and forcing the price of oil up — if they condemn this act and admit that it was done to affect the results of U.S. elections as an act to favor Islamophobes and racists — then they are told that that is “political” and “extremist” Islam. Instructions have been given to the clergy in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the UAE to warn people that their only attitude as a Muslim is one of blind obedience. “Yes, sir.” Do not even dare to have an opinion.
When will my Muslim brothers and sisters start to show signs of life, some level of intellectual activity, something that shows that they have some level of comprehension of the world in which they live? How can a group of open, documented, and certified racist Islamophobes create a center that tells us how we should think, practice, and feel about our religion? How many Muslims bothered to listen to the testimony before Congress about this center? How many Muslims bother to follow what this center says so that they know that when they go to Islamic conferences or attend an Islamic school in the U.S., the curriculum that they study, the hadiths they learn, have been determined for them by the very people who hate us, by the very people who think we are inferior just because we are Muslim?
Previously, I told you that I believe that it is a clear constitutional violation for the United States to open a television channel in the Arab world, Al Hurra, and for this channel to hire spokespeople who do nothing but talk about the “correct” type of Islam, like Ibrahim Eissa. They will not hire anyone that touches Christianity or Judaism. So there is no discourse of comparative religion. It is only focused on the engineering of Islam. Sadly, the current Supreme Court will look at U.S. involvement with something like the Global Center and the fact that the Global Center clearly engineers a religion without concern. The U.S. government is the most influential imam in the world today. It is far more influential than the Shaykh of al-Azhar. It is, in fact, far more influential than any Caliph in any period of Islamic history. The current constitutional jurisprudence in the U.S. will consider this a political question, however, and so no executive privilege will touch it.
The type of Islam often found on social media and that is engineered and handed over to us is not happenstance. Every time we decide not to use our critical faculties, not to become an intelligent, analytical, critical, and self-conscious Muslim; every time we decide not to resist the racism of Islamophobia; every time the wealthy among us decide to put their money toward a dumb and naive Islam, then we are complicit. The Global Center for Combating Extremism loves those of us who are like this.
Notice that it is called the Global Center for Combating Extremism, but it talks only about one type of extremism—Islam. It has nothing to say about the Jewish extremism that continues to gobble up Palestinian lands. It has nothing to say about the Christian extremism that sponsors White supremacist and nativist movements all over Europe and the U.S. They are focused on only one target. That center, whether you believe it or not, loves Adnan Ibrahim, Hamza Yusuf, and Bin Bayyah. That is the type Muslim they want. And they hate any Muslim with a scent of dignity or critical insight.
Do I need to tell you that God warns us in Surah al-Baqarah about those who smile at you and swear wholeheartedly that they have nothing against you but who are, in fact, the worst of enemies (Q 2:204)? Do I need to remind you that God tells us in Surah al-Baqarah that they spread corruption on earth, and when you tell them to stop corrupting, they say to you, “We are nothing but good doers. We are not corruptors”? (Q 2:11).
“Warn them, for you are nothing but a warner. You have no control over them” (Q 88:21-22). God knows that I have no control over anyone. I just hope that I can have some control over myself.