Surah Al Ma'idah and The Feast

Five years ago, we started The Usuli Institute based on the idea of creating an institutional format in which we would go back to reclaim the foundations of our faith and the Islamic message. At the time that The Usuli Institute was founded, I did not know that I would be sharing my journey with the Qur'an, but God has arranged for this to become the crowning activity of The Usuli Institute. God has arranged for me to share my lifelong journey with God's Divine book and Divine revelation. Those who have been following us know that in what we have called Project Illumine — from the illuminations of the Divine — we have reached the gates of Surah al-Ma'idah, the last major chapter to be revealed shortly before the death of the Prophet in the 10th Hijri year. So much dwells in my heart as we prepare to delve into my personal journey with Surah al-Ma'idah, the last great revelation, God's final testament to us.


In Surah al-Ma'idah, God shares with us a warning about those who receive God's message but then take it - and God - for granted, and fail to live up to the demands of their covenant with God. God warns us about the consequences of this covenantal failure. Part of the covenantal failure is when brother turns against brother, when brother murders brother. The issue is not simply that a brother has killed a brother. The issue is not simply that Habil has killed Qabil. Rather, the issue is the selfishness and the egoism of a brother when dealing with a fellow brother. The issue is a brother who forgets that they are bound by the covenant of values and virtues, and succumbs to the temptations of the ego. When they succumb to the temptation of the ego, what matters are not the principles of justice and righteousness. What matters are the supremacy and sovereignty of the ego; the attitude of “What I believe I am entitled to.” God warns us against breaching this covenant via an allegory that is communicated to us: it leads to 40 years of being lost on the face of this earth, wandering without the anchor of a home, the anchor of principles, or the anchor of a real relationship with God.


If our ancestors, the Israelites, were lost in the desert for 40 years, how about those who come later? There is a warning in Surah al-Ma'idah that is quite amazing. God tells us at the end of the chapter about the disciples of Jesus who urge Jesus to ask God to send a repast, meaning a meal or a feast. They receive a repast, a physical feast sent by God, and God warns them that after having now received this blessing, they are on notice. If they stray from the path, the consequence will be a great torment. Our minds are accustomed to thinking of the great torment as something that happens in the Hereafter, but the great torment could be like the 40 years of wandering, which, for a people with a different feast and a different legacy, could instead be 400 years of being lost and wandering.


The disciples of Jesus received a feast for which they could celebrate the memory for generations to come, but Surah Al Ma'idah is begging us to think about the repast received by Muslims. In the past, God communicated with human beings through miracles. But for Muslims, who are supposed to be the recipients of the final covenant and the final message, their repast - their "feast" - is not food. It is “food” of a different kind. It is the legacy of the Qur'an and the moral teachings of their Prophet. This is our repast, this is our ma’idah. This is what God entrusted us with, and this is also what, if we betray, could lead to a torment like no other.


Surah al-Ma'idah starts with the idea of a covenant. God simply declares at the beginning, "People, do not violate your covenants." So many Muslim scholars, commenting on the beginning of Ma’idah, say that there are three presumptive covenants. The first is the covenant that a human being has with their Lord. It is a contract. The predecessor and inspiration for the soul's social contract unlocks another social contract. The second contract is between a human being and themselves. The third contract is between a human being and other human beings. The minute we come into existence, we have an implied contract with our Lord, with the self, and with all other human beings, a presumptive contract in which we discharge the obligations of the covenants that bind and define our existence.


The Muslim Ummah has received the greatest of all repasts, the greatest of all meals, gifts, or legacies. The disciples of Jesus received food to be consumed, but the disciples of Muhammad received the Qur'an, that remarkable feast of morality. It is no coincidence that in Surah al-Ma'idah, God reminds us that core to our covenant and to the repast that we inherit is that we forever remain people who bear witness to justice for the sake of God. The covenant demands that we, in truth, become the embodiment of Divinity as well as of the values and virtues of Divinity on earth. But what happens when those who are blessed with a covenant act in ways that are unbecoming of their covenant, of who they are, and of the obligations, duties, and rights vis-à-vis other human beings? In Surah al-Ma'idah, God tells us that they are left to deteriorate morally and ethically until they effectively become like apes in the wild or swine roaming the fields, consuming, feeding, playing, but with no purpose, no beauty, no morality, and no virtue. They become as if “apes and swine” (Q 5:60).


Hardly a week passes without a stark reminder of how current Muslims understand the repast that they inherited from their Prophet. And the reminders are always painful. Recently, a friend sent me a clip of a conversation involving someone who, astoundingly, has a following among us Muslims and is even praised by some Muslims. The clip was Jordan Peterson in a conversation with Netanyahu. In this conversation, Jordan Peterson is engaging in the most classic representation of racist and fascist colonialism. He talks with Netanyahu about how Palestine was barren, empty land. He talked with Netanyahu about how for 2,000 years, Arabs, Muslims, Palestinians — whatever designation you want to give — did nothing with this land, so the Israelis came and “made the desert bloom.” Jordan Peterson contributes a highly flawed understanding of the common law and a distorted representation of the idea of adverse possession. But he is an ignorant man for ignorant people. He says, "Is it not the case in the common law that if you come to a barren land, even if it is owned by someone, and you turn it from a wasteland to a productive land, then you have gained title to this land?" Netanyahu, of course, jumps on the bandwagon and says, "Yes, this is originally our land and these Arabs and Muslims did nothing with it for 2,000 years. It was a complete waste. We then came and made the desert bloom." Jordan Peterson happily validates and approves all of this.


Those with a minimal amount of education and even the most primitive level of moral consciousness know that this is the classic narrative of racist secular colonialism. “We discovered lands in which we found primitive people. The primitive people and their values, languages, and social life do not matter, despite existing on this land for hundreds of years. So, we obliterated them and replaced them with what matters.” It is all backward and reactionary. Jordan Peterson is another racist, fascist voice for typical racist, fascist settler colonialism. It would not matter but for the fact that Jordan Peterson has been validated by numerous individuals who call themselves Muslims. But for the fact that Jordan Peterson boasts that he has a following among Muslims. But for the fact that there are people like Hamza Yusuf who turned Jordan Peterson into a respected voice among Muslims.


I want to tell you something that should be painfully obvious: Islamophobia is exploding everywhere. I have an article about Islamophobia in German schools; another article about how banking systems discriminate against Muslims and non-profit Muslim organizations; how the law helps structural racism and Islamophobia. I hardly need to cite evidence of the extent to which Islamophobia is exploding on the scene. The nature of dominance, hegemonic colonialism, and the racist settler enterprise in modern history thrived on Muslim ignorance and insularity. But for the heedlessness, the naivety, and the innocence of natives in lands that were colonized, the colonizer would not have been able to colonize those who are colonized.


The problem is that it seems we have learned nothing from colonialism. It is exactly like when Napoleon started colonizing Muslim lands. In order to appease the ignorant Muslim masses, all Napoleon needed to do was to say a few words praising the Prophet or pretending to honor and respect Islam, all the while proceeding to slaughter and kill numerous Muslims. At the same time that Napoleon bombarded al-Azhar University, razing it to the ground, and killing 800 Muslims Shaykhs, Napoleon praised Muslims for fasting and ordered his soldiers not to drink and eat in public during Ramadan. There were the ignorant, stupid Muslim masses, the type impressed by a Jordan Peterson, who could not see the colonial project for what it is, who said, "Yes, it is true Napoleon bombarded al-Azhar, and it is true Napoleon has slaughtered thousands of Muslims, but he cares about Islam. After all, he told his soldiers to respect the rules of Ramadan." The entire colonial project thrives on the intellectual ineptness of Muslims.


It is remarkable that the same type of people who created a Ministry of Tolerance, pretending to be an interracial hub of tolerance and humanity, have warmly received and entertained someone like Itamar Ben-Gvir, who is part of the incoming Netanyahu government, a government about which we are told by some Muslims, "If they seek peace, seek it as well."  Ben-Gvir was convicted in Israel of incitement to racism and supporting a terrorist organization. This man, convicted in Israel because of his rabid racism and Islamophobia, is going to be the National Security Minister in the new Israeli government. And this man was warmly received by the United Arab Emirates, the same country that supports the Islam of Bin Bayyah, the Islam that tells us that it does not matter that the number of Palestinians that Israel has killed is the highest since 2005. The Islam that tells us that the fact Israel just killed three more Palestinians yesterday does not matter. The Islam that tells us that the fact Israel has stolen, usurped, and annexed the al-Aqsa Mosque does not matter. The Islam that tells us that Israel appointing someone like Itamar Ben-Gvir — a racist and bigoted convict — to a governmental post in which he will have authority over Palestinians is not inconsistent with ideas of “tolerance.” These are the same people who ignore what is happening to the Uyghurs in China, who just signed a $30 billion deal with China, sending the clear message, "It does not matter what you do to Muslims, nor does it matter the extent to which you malign Islam." 


We are, indeed, just like apes in the wild. “So long as you feed us and entertain us, we are mindless. So long as you throw peanuts our way, we will grab these peanuts and love you. Meanwhile, you can plot to imprison us. You can plot to slaughter us. All that matters for us is that you throw us some peanuts.” That is exactly the dynamic that we witnessed with Jordan Peterson and his little theater with Hamza Yusuf, and with Muslims who praised Jordan Peterson. What Jordan Peterson was about from the beginning was entirely predictable for those with half a brain.


God teaches us through the unfolding of events all around us. Recently, Saudi Arabia put a 57-year-old man, Hussein Abu al-Kheir, to death. Abu al-Kheir was accused of drug offenses. The problem, however, is that all the evidence used against him was obtained after savage torture. The torture of Hussein Abu al-Kheir that, ultimately, led to his conviction and execution was so horrible that a foreign office minister in Britain, David Rutley, was so moved by the grotesque accounts of how he was tortured and the inadequacy of the evidence used against him that he mentioned this abhorrent torture inside the British parliament. While the comments were made inside the British Parliament, David Rutley was forced to withdraw the description of the torture that Hussein Abu al-Kheir received from the record. He was forced to withdraw the word “abhorrent.” After Saudi Arabia exerted an enormous amount of pressure on the British government, the parliamentary record now reads, "We have already expressed our concern, particularly about Mr. Al-Kheir's case, in which torture has been alleged," instead of, “who has been abhorrently tortured.” 


Reflect on this for a second.


When the Prophet is insulted, Saudi Arabia, like the Emirates, does nothing. When Islamophobia explodes in Germany, they do nothing. When Islamophobia is out of control in the United States, they do nothing. When China perpetuates a genocide against Uyghur Muslims, they do nothing. When you have the Rohingya slaughtered, they do nothing, both at the local and international level. These are the same people who did the unprecedented act of naming an entire country, including our beloved Hijaz of Mecca and Medina, after a marginal family, the Al Saud, who have since used God's given wealth of the Hijaz, which is the inheritance of the entire Muslim Ummah, to enrich themselves, as well as the persecutors of the Uyghurs and Kashmiris. Yet, they are capable of exerting huge amounts of pressure and influence about the things they care about. They care about how the government of Saudi Arabia is described in the records of parliamentary discussions. But there is no care when it comes to Islam or the Prophet.


I go back to the feast, the repast. In Surah al-Ma’idah, God tells us, "I am giving you a moral inheritance anchored on the idea of the covenant, a moral contract that binds you to your Maker, to yourself, and to your fellow human beings. If you fail by forgetting what this moral contract means, then you will be like nations of the past, wandering 40 years in an aimless desert, being reduced to the equivalent of apes and swine, being, effectively, morally vacuous.” The example of Jordan Peterson, culminating in his recent discussion with Netanyahu, is a terrifying comment on what we have done with God's repast, what God has given us to inherit. 


We remain an ignorant people that are easily tricked. We remain a people that easily obey when peanuts are thrown our way because we lack the intellectual acumen, the moral probity, and the moral education to not follow in the path of the devil.

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