So much of the Qur’an is like the voice of conscience placed within a text that exists in conversation with those who take that text as a companion. There are those who approach the Qur’an on the basis of an alienated relationship. This is like those who approach the Qur’an expecting it to adopt the declaratory voice of a commander in chief, as if it will bark orders to subservients who will then take these orders forth. Whoever engages the Qur’an in this fashion will invariably be disappointed, misled, or both. The Qur’an is very much like an eternal, immutable companion. It exists in conversation. What we get from this conversation depends to a very great extent on the moral agent that is seeking the companionship of the Qur’an. To what extent are you at par with your moral discussants?
Imagine the Qur’an is like an energy source that exists in our world. This energy is a constant reminder of what is moral, good, and decent. It is a constant reminder of what is innate, immutable, and eternal in us human beings. It is not there to preach a political theory or ideology. Nor is it there to make sensible philosophical arguments. It is not there to score points of logic. It is there to be very much like the voice of an internal conscience constantly speaking to you. Again, how much you get from this interlocutor depends on you. Are you at the moral and ethical level to truly engage and understand what your interlocutor is saying?
God tells us in Surah Ibrahim:
[Thus,] God grants firmness unto those who have attained to faith through the word that is unshakably true (al-qawl al-thabit) in the life of this world as well as in the life to come; but the wrongdoers He lets go astray: for God does whatever He wills. ART THOU NOT aware of those who have preferred a denial of the truth to God's blessings and [thereby] invited their people to alight in that abode of utter desolation (dar al-bawar)" (Q 14:27-28).
The words are profound, straightforward, and simple. Yet they are also profoundly wise and layered. Al-qawl al-thabit: how do you engage and understand this? God anchors human beings with what the Qur’an describes as “al-qawl al-thabit,” which could be translated as the trenchant, solid, unwavering, unchanging, reliable word in this life and in the Hereafter. “...(B)ut the wrongdoers He lets go astray…” (Q 14:27). Perhaps in order to fully comprehend what God tells us about al-qawl al-thabit, we must reflect on what the rest of the verse says about the “wrongdoers,” those who are inequitable, unjust, and unfair, those who do not understand the balance of rights and duties, nor what it means to exist in a world that is but an extension of the breath of the Divine. Those who are inequitable and unjust toward themselves and others. Those unjust toward their Maker. What God describes al-qawl al-thabit eludes them. They are not anchored by al-qawl al-thabit.
What, then, is al-qawl al-thabit? It is everything that anchors a human being in a just existence, in an existence in which a human being is just toward oneself, others, creation, and the very principle of existence.
Why does God describe this as al-qawl al-thabit, the entrenched, solid, and rooted word? It is because it is so easy for human beings to engage in delusions of morality. If their sense of the ethical is rooted in the Owner of this universe, then the ethical chases after human beings, holding them to account. If the ethical is not entrenched in anything beyond human intentionality and human will, however, then human beings force the ethical to become a malleable tool in their own hands.
Recently, I was reminded of the endless ideological spewing of pundits who are very good at pretending to be scholars, figures like Niall Ferguson and Douglas Murray. Ferguson and Murray were engaging in what has for them become a customary habit. They were citing Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Hamed Abdel-Samad, an Egyptian living in Germany, as living examples of how Judeo-Christian values are, uniquely and exclusively, Judeo-Christian values, how Judeo-Christian values are superior to all else, and how Judeo-Christian values are distinctly separate from Muslim or Islamic values.
Native informants like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Hamed Abdel-Samad excel in self-flagellating before the White man, confessing the inferiority of the Islamic civilization, experience, and values in comparison to its Western counterpart. But Ferguson and Murray were concentrating on their insistence that the entire edifice of human rights is a product of the Enlightenment in Europe, which is, to them, directly rooted in what is described as the “Judeo-Christian” civilization, the roots of which, they often claim, go back to the Roman Empire in Western Europe. They are unclear as to whether the Byzantine empire in Eastern Europe is part of the “Judeo-Christian” value system or not.
What was so striking is that as they recounted the history of human rights and the development of the so-called "Judeo-Christian basis" for human rights, the most obvious paradox consistently eluded these so-called intellectuals. That is, in the narrative of the development of the concept of human rights, human rights were never rooted in anything beyond what the White man owes another White man. To be explicit, in the historical development of basic values such as individual liberty, freedom of speech, due process, and the rule of law, these were only extended from the White man to another White man.
The irony of ironies is that as they engaged in this discourse about human rights, they quite literally engaged in a global genocidal program of total obliteration of native cultures, from the Philippines to South America, from North America to North Africa, from West Africa to sub-Saharan Africa, to the heart of the Muslim world in Jerusalem. They spoke about human rights constantly, but the principle of the rule of law never extended to those whom they dominated, cleansed, and obliterated. They may have developed freedom of speech as an abstract concept, but it was never extended to those whom they dominated, colonized, and obliterated. Individual liberty existed only in lands long settled by the White man. It never existed for the numerous cultures that they dominated, ethnically cleansed, and, in many situations, thoroughly obliterated.
It is a simple contradiction. If Muslims did not have colonized minds, they would be able to re-engage Islamic history, and they would see something that is quite profound and very unsettling to the conscience of the colonizer. Because values were anchored in the Divine, the Islamic civilization was never able to declare abstract values. Relying on the abstraction of these values privileged only Muslims with these asserted values. They would not worry about the denial of these values to the other. Put simply, what is remarkable about the Islamic civilization is that it was never able to indulge in the ultimately inconsistent position that says, “I have a right to exist, but you do not.” Despite the obvious contradiction in this position, those who are party to it go around pretending that there is no contradiction or inconsistency.
If Muslims wrote their own history, they would realize that the Orientalist myth that Muslims only extended rights to the People of the Book is historically inaccurate. Look at everywhere in the world where Muslims once existed as a dominant civilization. Have they succeeded, or even tried at all, to obliterate or cleanse counter cultures? Look at Islam in Africa. Tribes that relied on a mythology of multiple deities continued to exist, despite Islamic dominance, from pre-modernity to modernity to post-modernity. The only time they faced total obliteration was under the so-called dominance of "Judeo-Christian values" asserted by the colonial West. With a deeper dive in Shari‘a, one will discover that Muslim scholars and jurists bent backwards and forwards to say that we do not have the right to obliterate cultures that are drastically and diametrically opposed to ours, even if these cultures were animists or idol worshipers. That is a historical fact. It is undeniable, because it can be found on the ground.
But the sad truth is that Muslims are not in ownership of their history. So even something as crystal clear as the paradox at the heart of the thesis of Western values, namely, that Europe talked about individual liberty, the rule of law, and human rights, but only extended these rights to other White Europeans, not to the world that Europe colonized, dominated, and controlled, eludes them.
Why bring up this matter now? I bring it up because we continue to live under the same basic paradigm. The so-called Western civilization continues to talk about human rights, individual rights, and the rule of law, but look at how that same civilization reacted to a huge portion of the Muslim world when its people dared to dream of autonomy and self-determination. Look at the extent the West went to support the Algerian military in destroying the democratic aspirations of its own people. Look at the extent to which the West has helped push Tunisia toward dictatorship while it continues talking about concepts such as rule of law and human rights. Anchored in the soul of the West is the racist paradigm that states: “These values are for us, but for them, it is a complicated matter.” Look at the extent to which we support the fascist Egyptian military in obliterating the democratic aspirations that flared up in Egypt. Look at the recent trip Biden took to Egypt, walking arm in arm with a habitual human rights violator, Sisi, one of the worst human rights violators in the world today. Yet Biden walked with him arm in arm. Nancy Pelosi warmly greeted him. Look at the way we dance around the human rights abuses committed by the Saudi government. Look at how we turn a blind eye to the human rights record of the United Arab Emirates. Look at how we sum up the entire Middle East in a very simple policy: so long as Israel is happy, we do not care how you treat your own people. In fact, when these regimes obliterate the concepts of rule of law, individual rights, and human rights, the West celebrates them as being authentically Islamic, authentically true to themselves, and authentically different from the West. “We in the West are White and of a European stock: democracy, rule of law, and human rights are uniquely ours.”
Look at how we see this paradox in Surah Ibrahim. God tells us that morality and ethics are indivisible, and that they anchor people in this life and the Hereafter. Immediately after this, God warns us about those "who have preferred a denial of the truth to God's blessings" (Q 14:28). The moral companionship of the Qur’an tells us about a systematic and consistent problem in humanity. When human beings forget the anchor of ethics and morality, they tend to follow those who take God's blessings for granted and turn them on their head. They tend to follow those who obfuscate moral standards of justice, the ethics of justice, and the ethics that counter injustice. When they do so, they invite their people to “...that abode of utter desolation (dar al-bawar)" (Q 14:28). They destined their own people to become morally bankrupt and, ultimately, an utter failure at the social and moral level.
Despite the fact that the paradoxes and contradictions of the White civilizations are so undeniable, we still find Muslims, wherever we turn, so unsure of their own values as Muslims, unsure of God’s message, unsure of the moral companionship of the Qur’an, unable to hear the voice of the Qur’an, and unable to engage the Qur’an as a moral interlocutor. As a result, they end up in dar al-bawar. This is a remarkable expression. Al-bawar is vacancy, emptiness, hopelessness, and bankruptcy. It is to literally become morally bankrupt, as so much of the Muslim world today is, because Muslims have allowed themselves to be colonized, confused by their colonizer, and to have forgotten the ways that God has anchored them in ethics and morality. As a result, they have ended up in dar al-bawar, in bankruptcy and nothingness.
The world is a classroom in which we can learn so much, and God is the teacher. I recently watched a film on Netflix, titled Farha. The film documents what someone anchored in the truth already knows very well. It centers around a 14 year old girl living in a Palestinian village. She dreams of going to school and receiving an education, until Jewish settlers that will colonize Palestine attack her village. Her father, in order to protect her, hides her away in a storage area, but she never sees her father again. His body is never found, and she never finds out what happens to her father. He is likely killed by Israeli attackers. From her hiding spot, she witnesses the massacre of a Palestinian family, including the father, mother, and children. Eventually, the 14-year-old girl, Farha, escapes to become a Palestinian refugee.
Those of us who grew up with Palestinians know that there is nothing even remotely rare about this story. We have heard story after story from old Palestinians of ethnic cleansing, genocide, and massacres. Of course, the Western civilization that, according to Niall Ferguson and Douglas Murray, honors and respects freedom of speech has taken issue with the release of this film. Supporters of Israel are on a tirade to punish Netflix for daring to show this movie. They wish to silence the voices of survivors and victims who have suffered through a genocide 75 years after the occurrence of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. The makers of Farha are but a little voice that talks about a single experience. Yet, the so-called liberal, human rights-anchored conscience of the West struggles to just hear this small, singular testimony.
It just so happened that Farha is not the only movie that was released in recent days. There is another movie, called Tantura, which shows how Israeli forces attacked the village of Tantura, massacred its inhabitants, just as in Deir Yassin, including men, women, and children, and obliterated the village of Tantura off the map. Yet, in 2011, Israel passed a law penalizing anyone who commemorates the atrocities committed against Palestinians on that day. The massacre of the village of Tantura was committed by a brigade called the Alexandroni Brigade, belonging to the IDF. The people who served in this brigade and committed this massacre were still alive when an Israeli graduate student in the 1990s named Teddy Katz interviewed members of the IDF’s Alexandroni Brigade and wrote a thesis based on their testimonies. What happened to Teddy Katz? He was destroyed. He was taken to court, forced to retract his thesis, and apologize. He never got his degree.
Israel and the persecutors of Teddy Katz, like those persecuting the makers of Tantura and Farha today, simply do not care. They cling to the myth surrounding the founding of Israel, namely, that, somehow, nearly a million Palestinians chose to leave on their own after living on this plot of land for a thousand years. That is the mythology of Israel’s founding. Despite the fact that the evidence of the ethnic cleansing is undeniable and overwhelming, they simply do not want to know. As one person told the makers of Tantura, “We all know this happened, so why bring it up?” So is it okay to silence history? Is it okay to suppress the rights of the indigenous voice when it complains about the brutality suffered under the colonizer, and is this not inconsistent with Western values? Apparently, that is not inconsistent with freedom of speech, individual liberty, or rule of law. It is okay to censor the voice of the oppressed, because, somehow, that does not detract from the purity of the values that the West claims are its own.
As we speak, Israeli's authorities arrested the prominent Palestinian activist, Issa Amro, on Monday after he posted a video showing an Israeli soldier throwing another Israeli activist to the ground and then punching him in the face in the city of Hebron in the occupied West Bank. Before he was released, Amro was reportedly beaten at the police station before he was interrogated. His home was raided. Amro is the founder of Youth Against Settlements. While Israeli activists are yelling about Farha, claiming that it is full of lies, and screaming about Tantura, claiming is full of lies, the irony of ironies is that yet again, in the same week, Israel has killed another two Palestinian children in a raid of the Jenin refugee camp.
The West apparently accepts within the realm of human rights and the rule of law that Israel regularly and without fail murders Palestinian children weekly. If they are questioned, they claim, "How dare you accuse us of having killed innocent people?" They are doing it at the very moment that they are proclaiming their innocence. It is remarkable.
Perhaps I can understand the historical confusion of the West because of the legacy of colonialism. But what is truly difficult to understand is how the Muslim conscience has somehow internalized the paradigms of subjugation at the very moment that Israel wants to wash away the crimes of its own establishment. Israel has just elected its most far right government to date, and an integral part of this government are representatives of the religious Zionist movement. As I said before, the West is only troubled by political Islam. Political Judaism, political Hinduism, and political Christianity hardly troubles the West at all.
Let us take a look at this news item: “Far right lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir was warmly received in the United Arab Emirates’ 51st National Day event where he shook hands… Gvir was met warmly in a warm embrace with the Emirati ambassador, Mohamed Al Khaja.” Mohamed Al Khaja delivered a speech that can only be described as shameful and disgusting. Gvir and Nathaniel delivered speeches that are classic examples of what a colonizer says to their indigenous, subjugated subjects. “We are very proud of you because you are playing nice and not asserting your rights, and because you do not care about your brothers and sisters who are suffering.”
I am not so troubled by the hypocrisy found in the colonizer's voice. The colonizer, in order to survive their own moral contradictions and not become crushed by the voice of their own conscience, does what is expected. They ignore the voice of the victim. They praise contradictory positions and embrace moral paradoxes. They do everything possible to ignore the power of the paradox and the inconsistency. They talk about how they alone understand freedom of speech, while simultaneously silencing the voice of the indigenous victim. And they are not troubled by it. I am neither troubled nor confused by that. It is to be expected. But what is hard to accept are those Muslims who are steering their own people toward absolute moral bankruptcy, who so perfectly fit the description of guiding their people to dar al-bawar.
Muslims can see how far the colonizer will go to protect their own myth and their own lives, and how active they become in maligning and attacking those who want to shed light on the truth. What are Muslims doing in response? Are they marshaling to support the makers of a movie like Farha? Absolutely not. All Israel needed to do is make an appeal to its supporters to trash the movie. Check online the type of reviews the movie is getting. Where is the Muslim counter voice? Absent. Are they echoing and amplifying the voice of those who made the movie on Tantura? Absolutely not. What are they doing?
Consider the following. It is astounding. Cristiano Ronaldo is close to signing a $500 million contract with the Saudi team Al-Nassr. We rise to the challenge of asserting ourselves in the world by paying a football player $500 million for the vanity of playing on our team. Is there a more fitting description of those who guide their people to dar al-bawar?
Imagine the voice of the Qur’an as an interlocutor and a moral companion. Imagine the Qur’an sadly looking upon the world in which we live, watching the lies, the contradictions, the paradoxes, and the nonsense that is spewed out about lofty humanistic values. The Qur’an then alerts our gaze to what Muslims are doing. Muslims are spending $500 million on a football player. The Qur’an reminds us of how it is human beings who navigate themselves into the path of ruin, of meaninglessness, of moral emptiness.
Imagine if this money went to fighting Islamophobia or to supporting the expression of the truth about what Israeli settlers did to Palestinians, about the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, about the racism and genocidal violence committed against Palestinians. Imagine if this money would have gone to supporting cutting edge historical research on the Islamic civilization. Imagine if this money would have gone to technological research that helps uplift Muslims from the state of backwardness and powerlessness. Imagine.
“[Thereby] invited their people to alight in that abode of utter desolation (dar al-bawar)” (Q 14:28). That is what God has to say to us.