Among what God tells us in the Qur’an, God's revealed book, is the following warning from Surah al-Ma'idah:
O you who have attained to faith! Intoxicants, and games of chance, and idolatrous practices, and the divining of the future are but a loathsome evil of Satan's doing:105 shun it, then, so that you might attain to a happy state! (Q 5:90)
In this warning, God mentions “intoxicants,” "gambling," and “idolatrous methods,” which includes games that would attempt to predict the future, which was quite common in pre-Islamic Arab society. God says that these things are a “loathsome evil,” something foul and impure, something that, by its very nature, is unwholesome and dirty, something “of Satan’s doing.” By their very nature, demonic things that are not of the light are not of the Divine. They are exactly its opposite. They are demonic, unclean, and unhealthy. God then advises us to steer clear of these demonic activities. The verse that follows, verse 91, is no less fascinating. It deserves pause and reflection.
By means of intoxicants and games of chance Satan seeks only to sow enmity and hatred among you, and to turn you away from the remembrance of God and from prayer. Will you not, then, desist? Hence, pay heed unto God, and pay heed unto the Apostle, and be ever on your guard [against evil]; and if you turn away, then know that Our Apostle's only duty is a clear delivery of the message [entrusted to him]. (Q 5:91-92)
The reason that the demonic is vested in these types of activities is because the demonic has an interest to see enmity, hatred, anger, and vengeance become widespread among you, and to see that you drift away from the remembrance of God and prayer.
Pause and think. What is the connection? We know what intoxicants and gambling are. We know all the various games of chance and attempts at divination. It is one thing that God describes these activities as impure, unclean, and demonic. But God tells us that Satan supports these so that enmity and hatred spread among us. What is the connection? Is it true that if you indulge in gambling, you will hate other human beings? Is it true that if you drink alcohol, you will hate other human beings? Is it true that these are instrumentalities for Satan to achieve the goal of spreading hatred, hostility, and enmity?
The clear implication is that the persistence and spread of hostility and enmity among Muslims is something not of God. It pleases the demonic, but it clearly does not please God. Of course, we get a hint as to the proper direction that we should follow when we reflect upon God. The verse draws a parallel between the state of enmity, hostility and hatred, which is juxtaposed with the remembrance of God. This does not mean that every time someone drinks, the net result of drinking alcohol will be to hate. It does not mean that every time someone indulges in gambling, the net result of that will be to hate. But one must reflect upon the nature of the activity that God identifies as demonic in order to understand the nature of what God describes as the spread of “hostility and enmity among you.”
We notice that there is something about drinking alcohol, gambling, and futuristic divination. All of these are risky behaviors because they involve individual indulgence that brings about individual pleasure. As if a persistent curse in a human life, drinking can easily go from social drinking to something uncontrollable. Under the right circumstances of a person who is lonely, insecure, depressed, or anxious, drinking or gambling can move from a momentary indulgence to an obsession and an addiction.
The remarkable thing is that all the things that God identifies as from the demonic are activities that could easily become an addiction. Once they do become an addiction, whether a full-blown addiction or a temporary addiction, they involve ultimate acts of selfishness. Once an addict, you indulge, regardless of the consequences for those around you. When all is said and done, you hate yourself. You feel a sense of guilt for the ways that you have hurt those around you. The remarkable thing about intoxicants, gambling, and games of divining the future is that at those times in which people become obsessive and selfish, they defy rationality and the possibilities of justice. Those who indulge in this activity do not do so without effectively becoming thoroughly incapable of thinking of balance and justice.
What is the hatred and enmity? Yes, there is the hurt and pain of those who are affected by this kind of behavior, including those close to a person who has indulged and hurt others. But there is an even greater hatred and enmity. It is the hatred and the enmity involved for oneself when one becomes a full-blown addict, when one becomes an alcoholic or a gambling addict. The loss of control is a spiraling process of helplessness felt by others around you. There is the anger and hurt felt by others, but the anger and hurt felt by the addict themselves needs an immense struggle to attempt to heal, and it often does not end well. It often ends with a human being completely torn apart, bankrupted, and thoroughly oppressed by the demonic illness of these instrumentalities. Quite often, it can lead to suicide or premature death.
In just a few words, God is telling us something very profound. These instrumentalities are not about whether you can individually indulge and remain safe. That is not the issue. These are demonic instrumentalities because of the net cost that they have upon society. Yes, you may be among the lucky who are never inflicted by the disease of addiction. But when we build a society in which alcohol and gambling is readily available, the persistent cost in society is a never-ending dynamic of addiction, pain, hurt, injustice, suffering, and self-destruction. This is precisely why God ends this passage with, “Will you not, then, desist?” (Q 5:91) Will you listen? Will you steer away from these things? Make no excuses or fancy rationalizations. Do not engage in fancy talk to say that it is okay.
Amazingly, despite this clear warning, despite God clearly laying out what comes from the demonic and what is the impact of the demonic in our lives, you still find pretentious Muslims, engaging in pretentious intellectualism, coming to tell you, "Well, it is possible to be a Muslim and to drink and gamble." They do not consider it haram. They do not consider it from the demonic. Because, to them, it is not about the text. It is not about revelation. It is about fancy notions of “context,” “pretext,” and “post-text.” What is amazing is that you find equally pretentious Muslim pseudo-intellectuals that will read this material and say, "Wow! How wise. How profound."
Our relationship to God is based on rational dynamics. If we are unfaithful to our Lord or if we are abusive in our relationship to revelation, then there is no rational reason for God to lend support to such a people. Instead of investing our efforts in dissecting, analyzing, and comprehending why God describes certain institutions in human behavior as impure, corrupt, and dirty, why God tells us to steer clear from such activity for it will generate hate, particularly self-hate, and destructive behavior in society. Instead of putting our energies and efforts in that, we put our energies and efforts into diluting the Divine revelation. Into telling God, "Look at how intelligent we are. We can hear and sideline Your words. We can make Your words marginal and meaningless."
The extent to which, in the modern Muslim condition, Muslims seem to have become incapable of even the most basic comprehension of the most basic rational dynamics is truly astounding. One often feels that one needs the field of social psychology to engage the Muslim condition. Not law, history, or philosophy, but social psychology. For so much of the behavior defies rationality.
Consider the following picture. An article tells us something that is hardly surprising. Once again, attempts at defining Islamophobia in Britain have been defeated. Powerful lobbying groups are energetically lobbying to prevent any type of institutional structural recognition of the racism of Islamophobia, and these lobbying groups are extremely well-funded and well-organized. Not only that, but there are groups, in turn, that counsel against defining Islamophobia, as it will, according to them, restrict our time-honored values such as “freedom of speech.” These groups are not funded by decent civic money. They are, in fact, funded by money that comes from neo-Nazi extremist and racist quarters. Nevertheless, because they are well-funded and well-organized, they are effective.
At the same time, there is another extremely tragic battle, this time from India. Hindu nationalists are once again seeking to destroy Islamic monuments and mosques that are centuries old. They have employed two tactics: one from the Israeli playbook, and the other from the Saudi playbook. “Yes, this mosque is 800 years old…” but, using the Israeli playbook, “This mosque is on land that, thousands of years ago, was Hindu land. Can you prove it? No, but you have to prove the opposite—that it was not Hindu land.” That is exactly what Israelis do. The standing assumption is that all of Palestine is Israeli, and you must prove if you have any rights to the contrary. All they do is shift the burden of proof, and it becomes an impossible feat. Taking the logic from the Israeli playbook, then, Hindu nationalist say, "Because you are unable to prove that this mosque was not built on Hindu land, we have a right to tear down the mosque." Then there is the Saudi playbook: "We need to tear down the mosque because there are urgent development programs that we need to build in our Hindu India, and so that we can join the modern world. What is the big deal? Look, these Muslims have torn down their own holy sites in the holiest of holies, in Mecca and Medina. What, then, is the problem?" This Hindu nationalist movement, again, is fueled along religious lines. In a word, it is political Hinduism.
This past year has been the bloodiest year for Palestinians. More Palestinians have been arrested and killed this year by Israeli forces than any other time since the UN has started keeping records of how many Palestinians are killed or arrested by Israelis. Despite that, at the same time, under the auspices of fighting “political Islam,” which is apparently the greatest danger to the Muslim world, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, and so on have lowered all the barriers to making friends with Israel. Do these friendships translate into greater rights for Palestinians? Absolutely not. These friendships have translated into the apartheid regime in Israel that is the worst it has ever been.
Despite all the peace agreements, all the friendships, and all the Muslims who say, "Forget Jerusalem and the Palestinians," the government that is set to come to power in Israel is the most right-wing government to date. There are articles about how American backers have funded the most ultra-religious extremist coalition that has ever gained power in Israel. Haaretz writes, “Will Israel Become a Theocracy? Religious Parties Are Election’s Biggest Winners.” It makes one pause and think. So, political Christianity is blocking the adoption of a structural and institutional position that would condemn Islamophobia. Political Judaism is on the ascendancy in Israel, basically giving the finger to all those Muslims who said, “If we are friendly toward Israel, it will benefit the Palestinians." Political Hinduism is set to destroy more mosques in India and meanwhile, what are Muslims doing? Muslims are still ranting about the dangers of political Islam, Ikhwan and the Muslim Brotherhood. Do they even understand what they are talking about when they speak of political Islam? It does not matter. What matters is that it sounds educated, profound and keeps dictators in power.
Consider the following. You can be an extremist Hindu, and you are safe. No one is going to arrest or torture you. You can be an extremist Christian, and you are safe. No one will arrest or torture you. You can be an extremist Jew, and you are safe. No one will arrest or torture you. The only kind of extremism that will put you in grave bodily danger is if you are an extremist Muslim, because not only could the Saudi, Emirati, or Egyptian governments arrest you and torture you, but the American military could blow you to smithereens in a classified secret strike. An article from The Intercept reads, “New Report Sheds Light on the Pentagon Secret Wars Playbook.” The report reveals that the Pentagon has been secretly assassinating whoever they decide are "extremist Muslims" for decades. I am not saying this to simply raise an abstract sense of grievance. It is to raise a very practical set of issues that models Islamic thinking to the extent that the social psychopathies of Muslims manifest themselves in complete paralysis, with an inability to function and offer concrete results to concrete problems.
Egypt is hosting a major climate conference on the future of the planet. It is a clear publicity stunt by a despotic, authoritarian, tyrannical regime. Before the conference, there were mass arrests of, ironically, environmental activists. Not only did Egypt already have an abysmal human rights record, but, in order to hold this conference, Egypt committed further human rights violations. I looked at what the Egyptian government is saying as it continues arresting more and more environmental activists. Repeatedly, the Egyptian government tells the international community, "We need to make Egypt safe for you when you come to hold this conference by striking against ‘political Islam.’"
All the voices that have objected to the human rights violations of the Egyptian government in preparation of the environmental conference have been non-Muslim voices. Not a single Muslim voice have been raised to say, "This is the activity of Satan; what you are doing is satanic. Your behavior is satanic. This is foul, impure, disgusting! It is demonic. What you are doing is anchoring, planting, and feeding hatred and enmity in society through your injustice and tyranny. Yes, despotism, tyranny, and oppression can become an addiction, no less lethal than alcohol and gambling.”
Is there a Muslim voice saying that? Do you hear a Muslim voice saying that? I ask you: why not? Has God not made it clear for us in God's book? Where are we?
I will close with my second example. There is a reporter who has been appointed by the UN to report on contemporary forms of racism. Her name is Professor Tendayi Achiume. She is my colleague at UCLA Law School. There is an organization called the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). It is an NGO that has been lobbying the United Nations to adopt a specific definition of antisemitism. The people in this NGO are activists and academics. They are well-funded and well-organized, so much so that they are not lobbying Congress, but lobbying the international community to adopt a certain definition of antisemitism. The definition of antisemitism that they want the United Nations to adopt, of course, is one that would include criticism of Israel. Calling Israel an apartheid regime would be antisemitic. Criticizing Israel's human rights record would be antisemitic. The funny thing—funny in an extremely sad way, that is—is that the same “great” Muslim leaders in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the Emirates that talk about “political Islam” have been silent.
These are the same organizations that tell us that to adopt a specific definition of Islamophobia would be to censor freedom of speech. Yet, they find no censorship of freedom of speech if we ban the criticism of Israel. Freedom of speech has no problem banning criticism of Israel, but freedom of speech does have a problem with saying that insulting the Prophet and calling him a pedophile is bigotry and racism. Freedom of speech has no issue with publishing obscene cartoons of the Prophet, but the principles of freedom of speech do not allow us to call Israel an apartheid regime.
Professor Tendayi filed a report, and I have read the report of my colleague. The report goes to great lengths to speak about antisemitism: how horrible antisemitism is both historically and presently; to warn against rising trends in antisemitism; and to warn against neo-Nazi movements. In fact, the report focuses on antisemitism far more than it focuses on Islamophobia. But toward the end of the report, Professor Tendayi says that she advises against the adoption of the definition of antisemitism proposed by the IHRA, and says that adopting this definition would effectively immunize Israel from any criticism. The Israelis would be able to do whatever they want with Palestinians, and saying anything about it would brand one as an anti-semite. She says that this would, in effect, demonize and criminalize human rights activists like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, who both have described Israel as an apartheid state. Despite the report's focus on how heinous and disgusting antisemitism is, as you would expect, there was an explosion of demonization of Professor Tendayi. "How dare she say that the proposed definition is unacceptable?"
While the representatives of the Emirates and Egypt are completely silent, the representative of the Israeli government went to some lengths to comment on the respectable professor. We see, once again, the power of money and activism, as activists demand the removal of the professor from her position as a reporter for the UN.
I return to some basic fundamental rationality. God tells us that if what our life is about is to indulge, drink, gamble, be vain, be selfish, and be merry, then God says that this is offensive, and demonic. God warns that if you do not live a meaningful life for a meaningful cause, then God will allow the demonic to spread among you. And the demonic will bring self-hatred, self-loathing, and all the social ills that come from it. God warns us about the effects of the demonic. Meanwhile, we are so oblivious that we cannot even see an obvious point. Political Christianity is okay. Political Hinduism is okay. Political Judaism is okay. But political Islam?
More Muslims will talk about the evils of “political Islam” when, in truth, they have not even exercised the minimum diligence in thinking through what they are talking about. We have created a world in which even extremists are entitled to safety, but neither extremist nor moderate Muslims are entitled to safety or any form of security. We have created a world in which we admire and elevate those who turn Islam into a stupid and meaningless religion without taste, odor, meaning, or purpose, into a religion of nothingness, into a religion obsessed with covering women up and telling them that their voice is ‘awra and that they must pray behind the curtain. Meanwhile, the world sneers at us and says, "These are stupid people engaged in their stupid activity, indulging in their stupid hatred. Ultimately, whether they realize it or not, they are engaging in self-loathing and self-hatred because they are not happy with themselves as Muslims.”
I pause and ask, "God, I cannot find the reason for the ailment in Your book. Why? Why do Muslims make this choice? Why can the rich Hindu part with his money to support his cause, and the wealthy Jew part with his money to support his cause, and the wealthy Christian do the same? What is wrong with the wealthy Muslim?" Why can Muslims not get an education? Why cannot Muslims read a book, or even just read some articles. Or even engage in simple, rational, deductive processes.