Once we take seriously the duty of testifying in the path of God for the sake of justice, or testifying in the path of justice for the sake of God (Q 4:135; 5:8); once we understand that the two are interchangeable and indistinguishable; once we understand that God is not about communal activities that affirm a sense of identity; God is not about Muslim camps in which people come together to indulge in gossip and chitter-chatter, endlessly talking about mindless topics; once we understand that the path is not in Islamic conferences in which we come together to say what already has been heard a million times already, where we affirm things we already know, where we come unchallenged and leave unchallenged, where we come to serve the ego, and leave having served the ego; once we understand that the path of God is not in indulgent performances of Arabic; it is not about reciting the words of the Qur'an without any attempt to comprehend, digest, process, and develop the meaning of the Qur'an; it is not about hadith competitions in which we indulge in the art of hadith hurling, going back and forth to see who can cite the most hadiths and impress everyone else by making sure to mention whether the hadith is in al-Bukhari or Muslim, and in what books of isnad and Sunan it may be found; once we get beyond all the ostentatious displays of piety, we come to the stark realization. If you walk the path of God, then you have committed yourself to the path of justice. For a Muslim, if you walk and pursue the path of justice, then, by definition, you are also committed to the path of God.
What a revolutionary, astounding, and earth-shattering idea. Whether you bear witness for God or you bear witness on behalf of justice, it is one and the same. Listen to the Qur'an, however, and it begs the obvious question: what does it mean? Muslims are capable of coming together, reciting the Qur'an, hearing the Qur'an, and yet, year after year, they come, they recite, they depart, and nothing in terms of the relationship of Muslims to justice changes. Indeed, nothing in terms of the relationship of Muslims to God changes. The reason that nothing in the relationship of Muslims to their Lord changes is precisely because nothing in terms of the relationship of Muslims to justice changes.
Imagine if we raised our children with this consciousness. Imagine if we raised our children with the firm belief that our time on this earth is limited, and that, when we die, there will be a record. And this record will reflect how many times we kept our prayer and every act of ‘ibadah we have undertaken. But, son or daughter, this is only the starting point, and it is woefully inadequate, because what really makes our record not merely a passing D, but puts us in the realm of a possible B or A, is our relationship to justice. It is how we navigate and negotiate, in various situations, the demands of justice upon us. The real challenge or mission, my son or daughter, is to see the faith of our Lord in justice. That, my son or daughter, takes a lot of hard work. The faith of our Lord is not in the number of “Akhis” (“my brother”) we can utter. The faith of our Lord is not in the pietistic displays so often found in Islamic centers. The faith of our Lord is not even in a hijab, a beard, or in the mechanical repetition of alleged Sunnas of the Prophet.
The faith of our Lord and the path to falling in love with our Lord is to understand, comprehend, internalize, and analyze the extent to which our Lord loves justice. Indeed, my son or daughter, there is no venue for truly understanding what our God is about, who our God is, what our God truly wills, or the will of the Divine without justice. We have no hope of building any type of meaningful relationship with the will of the Divine unless we understand that our Lord loves and demands justice, and that justice is the actual manifestation of the mercy and the compassion of our Lord. Without justice, all talk about God's mercy and God's compassion becomes meaningless. How can there possibly be a way for you, me, or our children to understand in what ways is God al-Rahman, al-Rahim when there is no justice? When your relationship to justice has become disconnected and alienated?
For justice is but a necessary step for ihsan, and the ihsan of our Lord is the true embodiment of the beauty of our Lord. To even come close to the realm of ihsan, we must first understand why we love justice and why we bear witness on behalf of justice as we bear witness on behalf of God. It is this relationship that opens the gates for the next development, the development of a relationship with ihsan, beauty.
While we human beings have an innate sense of what is just, just as we have an innate sense of our Lord, the fitra that binds us to justice and the fitra that binds us to God are thoroughly corruptible. They are thoroughly corruptible by social institutions, cultural practices, and the tyranny of the tyrannical ego. But to reach ihsan, to reach a comprehension of the relationship of God to beauty, and what it means when God tells us that God loves al-muhsinin, we must first repair, heal, and fix our intuitive consciousness and intuitive comprehension of both our Lord and justice. If you claim to have a relationship with God, claim to be pious, observant, and religious, then is it not obvious that, on the basis of these claims, you also claim to be among the muhsinin, those who accomplish acts of virtue and beauty? And if your relationship to justice is severed or corrupted, is it not all too obvious that your claim about ihsan is nonsensical? Indeed, it is impossible. How can you hope to have any comprehension of the ways that God is beautiful and loves beauty, in what true ihsan means, if you do not even have a relationship to justice? How, if what it means to pursue justice for the sake of God and to pursue God for the sake of justice has not been woven in the very fabric of your being?
Our Muslim Ummah lacks ihsan and all the earmarks of ihsan wherever you turn.
I feel sad for all the acts of ugliness that I have encountered in my career with the Muslim Ummah, but what many do not realize is that when they slander, malign, or backbite you, they are donating their hasanat to you. So, by that measure, I owe them gratitude. So many have donated so much hasanat to me while I do nothing but receive their hasanat.
The issue, however, is not my own experiences, nor whether I am getting hasanat or not. The issue is in understanding why we are where we are, and in expending every part of our intellect to learning and understanding what we need and what must be done to renew our covenant with God, to correct the path, and to be worthy of truly being the people of God, the “party of God,” as the Qur'an describes it.
Have you ever asked yourself why is it that so many Muslims who are extremely successful in their professional careers will tell you story after story about how they were bruised, alienated, and hurt in their encounters in Islamic communities and Islamic centers? How many of our youth have attended Islamic schools only to grow up ever more resentful toward Islam? How many of the silent majority of Muslims will tell you that they no longer go to Islamic centers because they find the experience bruising, demeaning, degrading, dull, and boring? Because there is nothing that these spaces contribute in terms of intellect, ideas, and thought? The answer, quite clearly, is that our Muslim spaces lack ihsan. They lack the earmarks of virtue, goodness, and beauty. But why? Wherever human beings encounter virtue, goodness, and beauty, their souls thrive, their spirits expand, and they cannot get enough of it. Even if they were raised wrong, they intuitively gravitate toward it. Why?
The problem starts with the fact that we fell into the demonic delusion that we can somehow walk the path of God and testify for the sake of God while not worrying about justice. Let me be very specific here. Intuitively, we know that to treat women as a subordinate and marginalized group is not just, regardless of what theological trappings one ascribes to try to justify it. We know that turning Muslim spaces into places where talent, intellectual inquisitiveness, and the love of learning go to die rather than grow is not just. We know that those who give khutbahs in Muslim spaces are not the most qualified or the most learned. In fact, the more professionally accomplished in the world of intellect and thought they are, the more scary they are to us, and the more we exclude them from our spaces. The doctors and engineers who run Muslim spaces find those with real learning threatening. We know that this is not just.
We know the prime motivator for who is in or out of Muslim spaces is nothing more honorable than simple jealousy. The intellectually dull, the ignorant, are consistently threatened by anyone with a semblance of real knowledge, leave alone critical thought. What happens in Muslim spaces, then, day in and day out, is that the least talented, the most alienated from any semblance of ihsan, come together to neutralize Muslim spaces of anything challenging or competitive. What happens as a result?
Sociology is testimony from God. What happens, then, to the most intelligent and accomplished Muslims? Do they stick around Muslim spaces, or do we find that in the most prestigious institutions, there are people with Muslim names who are fond of saying things like, "I am of Muslim origins"? Dig into their story, and you find the same thing. Once upon a time, they experimented with finding for themselves a niche in Muslim spaces, but they were pounced upon. It is as if Muslim spaces hang up a sign: “If you have an intellect, if you have a brain, if you care about justice, or if you are interested in even a slightly subtle discourse about justice, you are not welcome.”
You can travel from one Muslim space to another and not find in any of these spaces any awareness about the umbilical relationship between the path of God and the path of justice. Without a passion for justice and a passion for God, ihsan is not even a possibility. We never mention to our children the word, “virtue.” We never teach them the art of akhlaq. Rather, we give them examples of “good akhlaq” from examples taken from hundreds of years ago, examples that hardly relate to our lived reality. We tell them that “good akhlaq” is to say “Salam ‘alaykum” to every Muslim brother and sister, but they soon learn that the same adults who teach them to say this frequently indulge in backbiting and gossip. The Qur'an describes this as eating the flesh of our brethren (Q 49:12), but wherever our children turn, they find the same Muslims who taught them that “Salaam” is part of akhlaq have no reservations about gorging on the flesh of their fellow Muslims. To be a good Muslim is to have good manners. But the true irony, the true paradox, is that Islam is consistently used to explain, justify, and defend the absence of good manners.
It is a matter of good manners that you honor your word. If you say you will do something, you actually do it. People learn to rely on what you say. Yet, in Muslim spaces, we can hardly count on the word of a Muslim. It is very painful, but Muslims are among the most unreliable with their fellow Muslims. The irony is that the same individual who is so unreliable among Muslims could be very reliable with non-Muslims. Why? There is some twisted, demonic influence in our brains that, somehow, Islamic niceties and being bonded Islamically should forgive my ill manners. Even in the journey that I have had with the Qur'an the past two years, one cannot imagine the amount of abuse, slander, and sheer ill-manners I have received. The same Muslims who will have convulsions over the hijab will have no reservations or qualms about this ill-mannered behavior. It is clearly an injustice.
Our relationship to the symbiotic relationship between Divinity and justice has been broken. As a result, we have no relationship whatsoever to ihsan, to virtue and high morals. If you are among those Muslims who are well-treated and respected outside of Muslim spaces, but bruised, alienated, mistreated, and disrespected within them, this is the reason. If you wonder, “Why is it that I do not feel comfortable with my Muslim brothers and sisters? Why is it that I feel as if, once I step into these spaces, I am in some sort of bizarre competition to prove my worth, because everyone else seems intent on sending me the message that they are superior to me somehow?” Understand that all these people are ill-educated Muslims, and they are so ill-educated that their relationship to Islam is tangential at best. They can listen to the Qur'an. They can perhaps even recite the Qur'an. But they are Qur'anically illiterate. Not only that, but they do not want anyone to tell them that they are Qur'anically illiterate. If anyone dares to tell them that they are Qur'anically illiterate, they lash out with venom, hate, and pettiness. Understand that it is because they failed in the most basic step of walking in the path of God in the pursuit of justice, or walking in the path of justice in the pursuit of God. It is one and the same.
Every week screams at us the extent to which we, collectively as Muslims, have fallen off the path of justice. As usual, this week saw Israelis killing more Palestinians. A 15-year-old Palestinian was shot dead in the city of Kalkidia, and another Palestinian teenager was critically wounded by Israeli gunfire. This week, in the city of Huwarra, a Palestinian attacked Israeli settlers with a knife and, as a result, Israeli settlers, with the protection of the Israeli army, went on a rampage, beating, killing, injuring, and burning Palestinians and their properties. The attack was so grotesque, the extent of destruction and injury so massive, that even those typically silent were forced to take notice.
One of the saddest stories is of Sameh Aqtash, a 37-year-old Palestinian living in the village of Zatara, who volunteered to help the rescue efforts in Turkey after the earthquake. He had just returned to his home in Palestine. When Israelis went on a rampage of burning, shooting, and killing, they shot Sameh Aqtash. 300 homes in Zatara were burned to the ground, despite the fact that Zatara was six kilometers from Huwara. Despite that, settlers attacked the village of Zatara, shooting and beating Palestinians indiscriminately, all the while protected by the Israeli army. They then shot Sameh Aqtash, a father of three children, the youngest a four month old girl. They then prevented ambulances from reaching the location. Aqtash's brother used his own car to rush Sameh to the hospital, but Israeli settlers stoned the car and prevented it from leaving the scene. By the time Sameh Aqtash was brought to the hospital, he had died. Most of the lands around Huwara and Zatara were confiscated by Israel to build illegal Jewish settlements and various roads, exclusively for Israelis.
The scenes of what the Israeli settlers did under the protection of the Israeli army look like mayhem. Homes and cars burned. Hundreds of Palestinians injured. Six killed. Meanwhile, an Israeli minister, Bezalel Smotrich, declared in an interview that Israel should “wipe out” Palestinians in Huwara completely, eradicating Palestinians from existence. He called for the burning of homes and killing of Palestinians.
What he said was so egregious that even typically silent Jewish groups were forced to condemn it. But here is the doozy. This Israeli minister is scheduled to come to the United States. Let me be clear: Incitement of hatred against any ethnic, racial, or national group, or incitement of violence against a people, especially a people under occupation, is a violation of international law. Article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, for example, explicitly provides that incitement of hate or of violence against a religious, ethnic, or racial group is a violation of human rights. Furthermore, U.S. immigration statute states that those who advocate violence against a religious or racial group are excludable, meaning they should not be granted visas to come to the U.S., leave alone live in the United States.
Yet, this Israeli minister will come to the U.S. The only reaction is that the Biden administration has informally suggested that if he requests an audience with the White House, he will be denied. Meanwhile, as all of this is going on, Israel has taken a step further in passing an indisputably racist law, by a vote of 55 to nine. It is a draft law that imposes the death penalty for a person who causes the death of an Israeli citizen when the act is carried out from a racist motive “with the purpose of harming the state of Israel and the rebirth of the Jewish people in their homeland.” So, if you kill a Jewish person, you get the death penalty, but if you kill an Arab or a Palestinian, you do not get the death penalty.
Why do I mention this? Largely, because no one else does. Because in Muslim spaces, the relationship to justice has become so skewed that they do not even notice the plight of their fellow Muslims. Put bluntly, where is the country with the Ministry of Tolerance? Is it not obvious that all of this is because the country with the Ministry of Tolerance has validated the Israelis? It has told the Israelis, "You can abuse Palestinians as much as you want, it will not affect anything." Is it not obvious that all of this began with the election of President Trump? Trump moved the embassy to Jerusalem and had Kushner promote his “peace plan”—a plan that openly involved the abandonment of Palestinians. All the while, the Emirates, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Tunisia made peace with Israel and left the Palestinians to fend for themselves. Is it not obvious that after that happened, the Israelis elected the most right wing, racist, and extremist government to date? After that happened, the escalation of their violence and racism against Palestinians reached unprecedented levels?
Where are the Americans who are the apologists and defenders of the country with a Ministry of Tolerance? Where is their voice? Why does it fall upon Khaled Abou El Fadl to constantly speak for these people when no one else does? Where is Hamza Yusuf and his smug silence before these atrocities? Where are all the “venerable” Muslim organizations? What are they saying about it? Do you hear them talking about it? Do you hear them even expressing outrage? Nothing.
Israel has become an increasingly apartheid state that regularly brutalizes Palestinians. We have abandoned the al-Aqsa Mosque. We have abandoned Palestinians. We have allowed the Saudis to build from the Ka'ba to the Mukaab, so we have abandoned the Ka'ba. We have abandoned the historical sites in Hijaz completely. But I wish it stopped there.
The United Nations has cut aid to the Rohingya Muslims by one-third. By “aid,” I mean food, blankets, and security personnel to prevent the abduction and selling of Rohingya Muslims into sexual slavery. Why? Because Muslim countries have cut their contributions. The money pledged by the Saudis, the Emiratis, and the Kuwaitis has not been delivered. This is at the same time that Saudi Arabia is building their NEOM Project. This is at the same time the apologists for the United Arab Emirates go around pretending that the United Arab Emirates is a beacon of tolerance and hope.
Recently, Said Ferjani, a prominent member of Ennahda, the Islamist Renaissance Party in Tunisia, was arrested by the Tunisian authorities. May God protect him. I hope they do not torture or mistreat him. Are we oblivious to the fact that Tunisia had a revolution and dreamt of democracy? Are we oblivious to the fact that Tunisia elected an Islamist party into power, and that the reason Tunisia has descended into dictatorship and authoritarianism is thanks to the Emirates? Just like how Egypt descended into dictatorship thanks to Saudi Arabia and the Emirates. Just like how the Syrian revolution failed thanks to Saudi Arabia and the Emirates. Said Ferjani sits in prison today because the Emiratis and Saudis sent a clear message to the Tunisian government, “If you do not drop this democracy nonsense and jail your Islamists, if you do not adopt authoritarianism, we will suffocate you economically and destroy you financially.” Pray for Said Ferjani.
Finally, there is a Zionist organization called the Zionist Advocacy Center (TZAC), based in New York. For at least the last five years, TZAC has been tracking American and non-American organizations that directly or indirectly help Palestinians, using something called the False Claims Act. Many of these organizations that try to help Palestinian and Syrian refugees will often ask the United States government for money. They will then use this money to try to build schools, hospitals, and irrigation systems for Palestinians and other refugees. TZAC has taken to bringing lawsuits against these organizations, using the False Claims Act to effectively say, "These organizations lied to the US Government. They said that they were going to do charitable work, but they are actually doing anti-Israeli work. In reality, they are helping terrorists." TZAC has brought lawsuits against the Carter Center, created by former president Jimmy Carter, Oxfam, the Norwegian People's Aid organization, and, most recently, Christian Aid, a UK-based organization. Christian Aid, in order to get American money, signed an anti-terrorism certification that states they will not use the money to support terrorists. TZAC brings these lawsuits, knowing that the lawsuits will be dismissed. Ultimately, the courts have found that there are no grounds for these lawsuits. Why, then, does TZAC bring them? Because defending against these lawsuits is very expensive, and it sends a clear message to any organization that wants to help Palestinian refugees. In the case of Christian Aid, they were in fact helping Syrian refugees, but TZAC still brought a lawsuit against them. Defending the lawsuit cost Christian Aid £700,000. After five years, the lawsuit was dismissed. But what was the effect? All the money spent on legal fees defending against the lawsuit was not spent helping refugees.
Look at something like TZAC. Do you think it is doctors and engineers who populate an organization like TZAC? Do you think it is Muslim lawyers who are worried about, "I want to have a child. I want to have a car. I want to have a bigger house"? Do you think it is lawyers who care about their careers? No, TZAC is manned by legal eagles who are ideologues. They do a very difficult and technical job, bringing frivolous lawsuits on the basis of very technical American law. For the defense to cost this much money, one must have great legal skill. To keep a frivolous lawsuit going on for five years requires great legal skill.
These people have no time to slander one another. These people have no time to make promises and then break them. These people have no time to play house in artificial spaces where they pretend to know and recite the Qur'an. These people have a cause, and these people serve their cause. It is a wrong, immoral cause, but they serve their immorality far better than we serve our morality.
I remember when Trump was elected. I saw the writing on the wall. I saw that what is known as “lawfare”—waging war through law—was going to take place in the future. So, I made a very rational proposal. I proposed that Muslims get together in a very systematic, professional way, consolidating funds to build a legal fund so that when the lawfare came, we could hire the best legal minds to defend everyone who needs to be defended, and perhaps even to bring some lawsuits of our own.
There was a meeting, and it was a disaster. Why? Because each and every representative only cared about credit. They were filled with a nonsensical envy. Everyone gave a speech, and the gist of each speech was, "Well, you did not think of anything special. This is nothing special. It is already being taken care of. I already have a fund. Maybe we do not need a fund. Maybe we need a fund in a hundred years. There was a fund maybe a hundred years ago." It was everything except accomplishing anything. We met, everyone gave their little egotistical speech, and we then disbanded and nothing happened. Some even had the gall to say, "Khaled, do not worry. If someone sues you, we will come to your aid." Personalizing, demeaning, and degrading. You look at them and say, "I need nothing from you. How in God's name do you know God or justice? I need nothing from you. Will you come to my aid? It is like Satan coming to my aid.”