We live in a world in which advances in technology and communications have enabled human beings to deliver narratives. Human beings are now able to transmit narratives without any of the screening or vetting processes that are typically used in societies, especially as societies develop and become settled and urbanized. Throughout history, societies have developed mechanisms by which narratives are vetted so that certain things are scrutinized. For example, you may try to scrutinize that the person delivering a narrative is, in fact, the author of the narrative to minimize the possibilities of plagiarism. Another system of vetting is to try to ensure that the narrative delivered is in a language that is socially accepted as literate. In other words, the narrative is not replete with what society agrees upon as grammatical and spelling mistakes. There are systems of vetting that try to ascertain qualifications so that the person who delivers a narrative is, in fact, qualified to do so. And there are more developed systems of vetting that try to ascertain the quality, or at least the reasonableness, of a narrative before it is delivered.
Advancements in communications, however, have deconstructed these systems of vetting, so today we are bombarded with narratives and counter narratives. The irony is that the age of technology, with its revolution in systems of communications, has not advanced the case for truth. Rather, it has contributed in so many ways to obfuscating and clouding the truth. It has contributed to creating a world of shadows in which we are never sure whether the narrative we are encountering has any relationship to the truth, or whether it is a narrative that has been constructed to dissimulate and pretend to be a truth.
There is nothing new about this, at least in our modern world. In the midst of this, we Muslims are supposed to be anchored in something that we received. As a matter of iman (faith), we are supposed to be certain that it is the truth. It has already been vetted by our ancestors, and we are presented with the Qur'an as God's word, as God's revelation, containing the truth. The Qur’an is unaffected by any revolutions that occur in the world of communications. The Qur'an was memorized centuries ago, and continues to be memorized to our very day. It has been memorized, scribed, and written in so many different formats and contexts, so it has, for the most part, always been available. And it is supposed to anchor us in the truth, regardless of how murky, shadowy, and elusive things become.
Anyone who has experienced the reality of modern Muslims knows that this is theory, however, and not a reality. Despite our having Revelation and God's word, narratives have an inordinate and confusing impact among Muslims. In my view, Muslims in particular experience a disproportionate amount of dissonance, distortion, and confusion in the modern age.
It is remarkable. We read, study, and memorize the Qur'an, but there are certain verses and sections that, as you experience life, suddenly click into meaning and significance. It is as if you have just heard the verse for the very first time. The verse or passage helps you to understand the world of shadows and the simulation in which we live. One of these is the very last verse in Surah al-Rum (Q 30), in which God speaks to the Prophet and, speaking through the Prophet, counsels believers:
Remain, then, patient in adversity: verily, God’s promise [of resurrection] is true indeed - so let not those who are devoid of all inner certainty disquiet thy mind! (wa la yastkhifannakal lazeena la yuqinun) (Q 30:60)
Focus on the second half of the verse: “wa la yastakhifannakal lazeena la yuqinun.” The key is that word “yastakhif.” It is a most fascinating word and a most fascinating concept. We know in Surah al-Zukhruf that God talks about how the Pharaoh was able to become a despot and oppress people. It was because people surrendered to the oppression of the Pharaoh, and God describes these people as “corrupt and unjust” (Q 43:54). In Surah al-Zukhruf, God says that the Pharaoh literally treated his people as unworthy (fastakhaffa qawmihi) (Q 43:54). The Pharaoh asserted himself with haughtiness and arrogance, and his people internalized the Pharaoh's haughtiness and arrogance so much so that they perceived themselves as deserving nothing more than the oppression and injustice of the Pharaoh. That is what fastakhaffa qawmihi means. The Pharaoh treated his own people as unworthy, and they believed him and internalized his attitude, so they became submissive and obedient.
In Surah al-Rum, we have the same concept but in a very different context. God warns that we need to persevere and hold on to the truth because God’s promise is the truth. We have received the truth, we have received the book and it is between our hands, and we know that “God's promise is the truth” (Q 30:60). How is it, then, that could we be in possession of this truth but still become confused, insecure, and lost? This is where this verse is fascinating. God is not talking about disbelievers or mushrikin. God is not talking about those who do not believe. God is in fact talking about “la yuqinun,” those who have no truth, who are confused, and who are insecure in themselves. Those with no clear backbone, no clear structure of truth as opposed to falsehood. Those whose confusion constantly drives them to live not in the light, but in the shadows.
What happens to these people? God warns us of something that we know is all too human. It is precisely these people who lose their footing, who become confused, who allow their own weaknesses and egos to compromise themselves. The real problem is that these are the same people who will often treat their own impatience, doubts, weakness, and lack of faith with an inordinate amount of egoism and arrogance.
Their inside is vacuous and empty, but they carry themselves with a mighty arrogance. They treat those who believe as if they are defective in mind or emotion. As if they are silly, stupid, ignorant, naive, idealistic, or unrealistic. The problem is when the believer allows this theater of arrogance and egoism to eat away at their own certitude in “God's promise” (Q 30:60). The problem is when the true believer starts thinking little of themselves. They start thinking, "Maybe I do not deserve democracy. Maybe I do not deserve rights. Maybe I do not deserve dignity. Maybe I do not deserve this or that. Maybe it is true that God's faith is all about salah (prayer), sawm (fasting), and the powerful people in the world doing as they please. Maybe God's religion is about taking care of myself and my family, and not asserting the truth beyond that. Maybe I should shrink in size so that I am on the margins of marginalia, to make space for the egotistical people in the world.” Wa la yastakhiffannakal lazeena la yuqinun (Q 30:60). If you know God's promise is true, then you must have perseverance and patience. You must anchor yourself in perseverance and patience. You must not allow those who are confused to compromise yourself.
Why did this verse click? Read about the recent delegations from Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and the United Arab Emirates that went to China to praise their efforts in combating terrorism. Every human rights organization in the world has documented what China is doing to Muslims. It is beyond a shadow of doubt that what China is doing is a genocide. Just last week, as I was preparing for the khutbah, I read about yet another Chinese-Muslim Shi‘a who perished in a Chinese concentration camp. His brother had already died there. As I read the news about the perishing of this Shi'a Muslim, who is younger than I am, I chose not to talk about it in the khutbah because it has become so customary. We all know that Muslims in China have had their organs harvested. We all know about this Shaykh who died. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison. For what? For going to hajj. His crime was that he went to hajj. We all know that those who HAVE managed to escape from the concentration camps have provided testimony in England, Australia, the United States, and Canada. The testimony is terrifying.
But when Muslim scholars from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Tunisia, and the UAE visit the Xinjiang Province in China, they do so to bless what China is doing to the Uyghur Muslims, describing it as a “campaign against terrorism.” Representing the Emirati delegation is a man named Ali Rashid al-Nuaimi, who is well-known for selling out not just the Chinese Muslims, but also the Palestinian Muslims and the Rohingya Muslims. He is known for describing organizations like CAIR as “terrorist organizations.” He has sold his soul to every oppressor the Emirati government tells him to. Nor is it surprising to find in the Egyptian delegation the figure of Osama Elsayed. Osama Elsayed is a cleric who has distinguished himself in rubber stamping whatever Abdel Fattah al-Sisi wants. If Abdel Fattah al-Sisi arrests people, he blesses it. If al-Sisi tortures people, he blesses it. If al-Sisi executes people, he blesses it. If al-Sisi says, "Do not sympathize with the Palestinians," he blesses it. If al-Sisi says, "Do not protest what is going on in Jerusalem," he blesses it. So it is hardly surprising that Osama Elsayed is representing the Egyptian delegation to China.
But take the sad, telling example of Mohamed Slaheddine, who represented the Tunisian delegation. The Tunisia of just a few years ago, the Tunisia of the Arab Spring, the Tunisia of revolution, self-determination, and the sovereignty for the Tunisian people, would have never sent Mohamed Slaheddine to bless what the Chinese are doing. After Tunisia elected a prime minister, the Emirates put so much economic pressure on Tunisia, making it clear to the Tunisian military, "Either you terminate the democratic experiment in Tunisia, or we will destroy and annihilate your economy." As a result, the Tunisian military took power, kept the figurehead of the Prime Minister, and terminated the democratic experiment in Tunisia. So the Tunisia of today—the Tunisia of the Emirates, the Tunisia of dictatorship, the Tunisia of no democracy—will send a delegation to China to bless a genocide. But do you notice something else? These are the very same countries that, as they bless the Chinese genocide against Muslims, are also blessing the Israeli apartheid against Palestinians. These are the very same countries that do not see a problem with what Israel is doing in Jerusalem or to Palestinians at large.
These are Muslims who are la yuqinun (Q 30:60). They have given up on God's promise. They have internalized that it is okay to oppress, humiliate, dominate, and exploit Muslims in the world. They have internalized it so it does not hurt or injure their dignity. They are not offended by the stories of Chinese women who have been raped in Chinese concentration camps. They have turned the Muslim God into an unethical god, an amoral god, a god who cares that you do your dhikr, that you do X number of tasbih after prayer, but a God who turns away when women are being raped by the powerful in the world.
Look at the news items from just this week. Two Palestinians were shot dead by Israeli fire in separate incidents. A Palestinian father was killed by Israeli forces while trying to prevent son's arrest. One in four Palestinian families now live under the poverty line in Israel. Palestinian families. Ben-Gvir orders police to bar Palestinian flags from public spaces. This is supposed to be the country that recognizes a two-state solution. They insist that Palestinians recognize Israel's right to exist, but they will not even recognize a Palestinian flag anymore. But these Shaykhs are at peace with this because they live in a world of shadows and darkness. They live in an age of narratives. They no longer believe in “God’s promise” (Q 30:60). They have long forsaken forbearance and patience, and they have surrendered and submitted. They are in a state of submission not to God, but to the Israelis, the Americans, the Chinese, and to their own governments, to the Emirates, to the Saudis, to Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, to whoever is in power.
How does that impact our children? How does that impact you and I? We could lie to ourselves and say it has no impact, but we know that is a lie. When you constantly see the betrayal of your fellow Muslims and you are no longer sure what to believe in, then, whether you admit it or not, it makes you doubtful. It makes you doubtful that the Qur'an can be an effective instrument of truth. Doubtful that there is a truth. Doubtful that Islam can be a true leader of people or nations. Doubtful that there is truth that is separate from darkness. You may even get to the point that perhaps you even doubt everything you know to be true and doubt that there even is a genocide, concentration camps, or women who have been raped or whose organs have been harvested.
You then hear the voice of God come to you. “La yastakhiffannakal lazeena la yuqinun” (Q 30:60). Do not let those who are lost take you for granted, get you to disrespect yourself, to disrespect your own fitra—your own intuition, your own intellect, and your own faith—to lead you where they have been misled.
I am sure some of you have heard of Prince Harry's recent book, Spare, in which he talks about becoming a military pilot. As a pilot, he talks about his enthusiasm and eagerness for action in wars against Muslims. He talks about how, as a pilot of an Apache helicopter, he killed some 25 Afghans. The remarkable thing is that this fellow, who has made it his purported cause to stand against racism, displays absolutely none of the sensitivity he displays around racial issues when it comes to murdering Muslims. He talks about killing them, but he does not once express any regret or sorrow. He talks about how killing people with his Apache helicopter was like playing a video game. He talks about how Afghans were defenseless against the Apache helicopter, and how the only thing they could do was to throw stones.
There is no heroism. He is eager to kill, and he does not once ask himself, "Who are these people I am killing?" He talks about how he was taught by the British military that his is a Christian army fighting the Muslim hordes. He talks about how he was taunted and shamed because his mother had sex with an Egyptian-Muslim man and purportedly died while pregnant.
As he talks about all of this, the only thing that he has to say that is principled is his stand against racism. He means, of course, racism against black people and Jews. But he has zero sensitivity about why he was killing Muslims in Afghanistan. Why was he eager to be sent to Afghanistan to kill Muslims, and why was he eager to be sent to Iraq to kill Muslims? He expresses no regret, no pangs of conscience, nothing. He shows no real awareness of the connotation of a Christian army at war with the Muslim hordes, or the significance of his own people taunting him that his “whore mother,” as they put it, was pregnant with a Muslim child.
As I read all of this, I can understand Harry as the spoiled son of royalty who was raised in institutions dedicated to the corruption of his perspective. But can you imagine if Prince Harry made any of these same statements about killing Jews, Hindus, or Black people? There is only one group in the world to whom one can literally unleash their bigotry unfettered with no blowback: Muslims.
It is the 21st anniversary of Guantánamo. To our day, about 30 people remain in Guantánamo. 779 people went through Guantánamo, all of them Muslim. Every human rights organization in the world, even the United Nations, has documented how the United States practiced deliberate torture, degradation, and inhumanity, and continues to do so. This is after successive American presidents vowed to take moral responsibility for Guantánamo. Obama failed to do so, and Biden is failing to do so. And everyone quietly knows that the shame of Guantánamo is only possible against one group of people in the world: Muslims. In educated and polite company, when you sit among law professors and specialists in human rights and confront them with this reality, telling them, "You guys get worked up about every category except the category of Muslims," they look at you uncomfortably and smile, because they know what you are saying is the truth, and they know that racism against Muslims is the gateway drug to the malady of racism in the world in general.
A quick news item. New stock listings open the door to American investments in Palestinian-occupied land. You can now invest in Israeli companies who are illegally doing business in Palestinian-occupied land. This is a clear violation of international law. International law forbids stock markets from investing in companies that are illegally doing business in unlawfully-occupied territory, but no one cares.
In the United States, an organization sued a Palestinian advocacy group. A US lawsuit equates Palestine advocacy to terrorism. What happened is that an American-Jewish organization sued a Palestinian organization that advocates for Palestinian rights under a provision of federal law that allows victims of terrorism to collect from those who commit terrorism. This organization targeted this Palestinian advocacy group, saying, "You should pay us because you are supporters of terrorism." The lawsuit was dismissed by the District Court, but it was appealed and is now before a circuit court. “The Jewish National Fund sued US campaign for Palestinian Rights, USCPR, alleging that the group is liable for militant attacks against Israelis because of its support of the Palestinian-led boycott divestment and sanctions, BDS movement.” It is a clear abuse of the law, but I wish it stopped there.
In the typical obliviousness of Muslims, how many of us know that the Austrian government in November 2020 stormed 60 homes of Muslim activists and academics in what the Austrian government called “Operation Luxor,” and that among those arrested was a prominent Austrian Professor, Farid Hafez, who was a professor at the University of Salzburg. After destroying the career of Professor Hafez at the University of Salzburg, finally, on Tuesday, the higher regional court dismissed all charges, saying, "There is absolutely no evidence that this man has anything to do with terrorism"—something we all already knew.
Finally, Israel is debating passing a law that would make it a graver crime to kill a Jew; if you kill a Jew, you would be punished more severely than if you were to kill an Arab in Palestine. Amid this debate, Hanoch Milwidsky, the lawmaker for Netanyahu's legal party, said, "Crude tools must be used against Palestinians who carry out deadly attacks against Israelis, including the death penalty, stripping them of citizenship, and retaliating against their families." This prompted a heated exchange between Ahmed Tibi, a Palestinian member of the Israeli Knesset, and Milwidsky, who then said, "I do not feel any need to justify myself for the fact that I, in the Jewish state, prefer Jews. Yes, Mr. Ahmed Tibi, I prefer Jewish murderers over Arab murderers.”
Imagine if a Muslim made this statement. Imagine if the academic who was persecuted, who had his life turned upside down, was anything but a Muslim. Imagine if Guantanamo had prisoners who were tortured and abused that were anything other than Muslims. Imagine if Prince Harry talked about killing people like in a video game who were anything other than Muslim.
But I am not here to blame the other. I am not here to tell you, "Look at how horrible non-Muslims are." God has taught me to look within. I am here to tell you that the heart of the problem is that in an age in which Islamophobia has exploded, an age in which narratives drown the airwaves, an age in which you either assert yourself, your dignity, and your rights, or you do not count, in this age, the prevailing and dominant Muslims are the Shaykhs of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the Emirates — whether in the UAE or here in the U.S. — and Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Egypt. And these are Muslims without spine. They are Muslims who la yuqinun (Q 30:60). They are Muslims without belief in Islam. They are Muslims who tell you, “Take yourself lightly. Do not assert your dignity. Do not assert your rights. Do not be hurt. Do not care.” “Wa la yastakhiffannakal lazeena la yuqinun” (Q 30:60).
"A Muslim academic persecuted? Oh, malesh." "Whatever is happening in Israel? Malesh.” “Whatever is happening in Austria? Malesh." They are the Shaykhs of malesh. “Malesh,” meaning, “It is okay. God is forgiving, no problem. The important thing is that the king in Saudi Arabia is happy. The king in the UAE is happy. The Pharaoh of Egypt is happy. The important thing is that whoever is in power is happy, and you just take care of your children. Sisters, go behind the curtain. Please keep your children quiet. Do not mingle. Do not be seen. Do not be heard. That is what is important. Alhamdulillah.”
That is the Islam they want, and that is exactly what God means at the end of Surah al-Rum when God warns us, “wa la yastakhiffannakal lazeena la yuqinun” (Q 30:60).