God's Invitation to Dignity and Liberation, NOT Blind Submission to Power

It is already the last jumu'a in Ramadan. Subhanallah, the next jumu'a will likely be the first day of ‘Eid al-Fitr and Ramadan this year is already nearly over. Only a fool would not pause to contemplate how Ramadan comes as a marker in one's life. Personally, for my family, this Ramadan has been marked by the illness of family members and by the signs of changing conditions so that one can fairly say that we do not know what circumstance next Ramadan will bring or what circumstance next Ramadan will find us in. Who will be healthy, and who will not? Who will be alive, and who will not? Who will be around, and who will not?


Ramadan is an opportunity to pause and reflect upon our lives and take account of the priorities that we have set for ourselves in life. Each Ramadan is a stark reminder that if our journey does not progressively bring us closer to God, the journey is a failure. Every Ramadan, and especially the last 10 days of every Ramadan, is an opportunity to reflect deeply and seriously about our lives, what we have done in the past, where we are going, and how ready we are for that next monumental stage.


Are you ready to meet your Maker? Are you ready to confront your accounts? Are you ready for the ultimate examination of what you have done, what you have failed to do, and what you have ignored, forgotten, or simply did not prioritize in your life? I have been reflecting upon God's invitation to us in Surah al-Baqarah, where God says to believers, “Believers, you are called upon to embrace and enter into the realm of silm…” (Q 2:208). Here, the Qur'an does not say what it says elsewhere, that is, to “enter into Islam.” No, the word is silm. People are told to come to this condition of silm and to “...not follow in the footsteps of Satan.” That is the first clue that the state of silm to which God invites us is juxtaposed against the pathway of the demonic. Whatever silm is, it is contra the path of the demonic.


Perhaps the reason this refrain, this invitation, resonated with me this Ramadan is because of the theme of change. One reaches stages in life in which one is reminded that the only constant is God, and that it is not just the material conditions of people that change. It is not just their health or their mental abilities. Indeed, what changes is people's memories, their perceptions of reality. The funny thing about human beings is that they rarely notice that their construction, perception, and interpretation of reality is constantly shifting. What even changes are the perceptions of the heart and the comprehension of the intellect, shifting the way that human beings always shift. From one Ramadan to the next, what appeared a firm conviction and commitment could be but a mirage and nothing but smoke in the air. That is the nature of human beings. The only constant is God. When God invites us to enter into the state of silm, the first hint is that it is juxtaposed to the path of the demonic. But what else can be an earmark of the state of silm, and what are the implications of this invitation?


In Surah Al-Ma'idah (Q 5), God places the program of silm to a state of ridwan.


“through which God shows unto all that seek His goodly acceptance the paths leading to salvation and, by His grace, brings them out of the depths of darkness into the light and guides them onto a straight way.” (Q 5:16)


Here, the state of silm or salam is clearly associated with the condition of ridwan. What this means is that, fundamentally, God sees you as a person whom God accepts into this majestic condition of ridwan. In essence, you are a man or a woman of God. What this state of silm, salam, and ridwan tells us is that instead of living in the folds of darkness, you have embraced the light, and the light is again associated with al-Sirat al-Mustaqim, the true moral path (Q 1:6). In Surah al-An’am (Q 6), we get a further understanding of the state of silm and salam. God says:


“And when those who believe in Our messages come unto thee, say: "Peace be upon you. Your Sustainer has willed upon Himself the law of grace and mercy” (Q 6:54)


“When believers come, tell them, ‘Salam ‘alaykum.’ God has decreed mercy upon God's self.” When God invites us to enter into silm, the entire Qur’anic treatment of this simple word is something that we say all the time but do not pause to reflect upon its full meaning: salam ‘alaykum. But what is salaam ‘alaykum?’ What is it in the context of immersion from darkness to light? What is it in the context of understanding that God has decreed mercy upon God's self? 


The state of silm, a state of salam, is not simply a state of submission. It is a program. It is a commitment to a process. It is a commitment, fundamentally and quintessentially, to the dynamic and the process of following and embracing one of the Divine attributes, because God's self is known as “al-Salam”. Why? And what are the implications of God being known as al-Salam? Those involved with the self in an egocentric fashion, those who perceive the world only through the prism of self-interest, can never dispense mercy, nor can they be the source of mercy. Think of all the ways that human beings can be a fountain of mercy, a true source of fulfillment of one of God's attributes, al-salam. At a minimum, al-salam is that you are anchored in truth, unshaken by the vagaries of perception, and that you are not a source of tribulation, anxiety, weakness, and instability. You are not a source of corruption, but you are a source of moral truth. You are anchored in this moral truth so that, like your Lord, you follow subl al-salam (the path of salam) (Q 5:16). But you cannot exude that sense of mercy, stability, and tranquility unto others on this earth unless you yourself have fulfilled a good measure of these moral qualities. Subl al-salam, or silm, is a state of elevated moral awareness in which you exist to embody and represent the very principles of goodness, morality, mercy, and beneficence unto others.


To put it bluntly, a true Muslim accepts God's invitation to enter into silm, accepts the path of salam, and understands that the prayer we always enunciate, “al-salam ‘alaykum,” is fundamentally a state of tranquility and stability that comes from moral fulfillment, from a deflated ego, and from a true understanding that blessings are a gift from God. A true Muslim understands fully well the pains of an inflated ego and the pains that accrue in human beings. Without God's mercy, anchoring, and moral path, the darkness sets in and the path of the demonic overtakes. If your existence is not a fulfillment of the moral paths, then, by definition, whether you are aware of it or not, your existence has become a fulfillment of the demonic. Silm, al-salam, is a state of tranquility, mercy, stability, and a state of principle, not convenience. It is a state in which your life means something only in relation to your service to the Divine, not in terms of service to the self.


This calls upon us to wonder. When we look at Muslims around the world, are they the leaders of the awareness of enlightenment? Are they really the fulfillment of God's mercy? Do they embody God's light? Wherever we turn in the Muslim world, one’s heart nearly bleeds from pain because of the sharp contrast between the invitation to enter into silm—the state of peace, repose, and beauty—and the sheer volume of suffering in the Muslim world. 


Think of the unaddressed apartheid of the Rohingya, and their continued suffering that seems to have no end in sight. Look at the racist obliviousness of fellow Muslims to the intense suffering of the Rohingya because they are dark-skinned. Look at the dismissiveness by which we treat their unimaginable suffering. Most people have no clue what the fascist, apartheid country of Myanmar continues to do to the Rohingya. Most people do not even have an awareness of how many of the Rohingya are rotting in Saudi and Emirati prisons. 


There are many reports about how China has sent stern instructions to Uyghur Muslims that this Ramadan, no one is to fast and, of course, no one is to pray. There are continued reports about how the Chinese government has planted spies everywhere to report on friends and family whom they suspect of fasting in Ramadan. Reports state that in the first week of Ramadan, up to one hundred people were sent to "re-education camps," China's concentration camps, because they were suspected of fasting. India has had a longstanding boundary dispute with China. India is standing up to China and saying in clear terms, "When it comes to these territories settled by Hindu people, we will defy you and force you to back down." It is clear that India does not consider Muslims or Sikhs as equal citizens. India has become a country for Hindus. It is a racist and religiously bigoted country. But compare the strength by which the Indians confront the Chinese government to the absolute betrayal of Muslims toward fellow Muslims. What does subl al-salam mean? What does the invitation to enter into silm mean in light of facts like this? 


Read about the Tunisian president who said incredibly racist things about Africans coming to Tunisia. People rose up and overthrew the Tunisian dictator, but what sparked this was police brutality. Read about how, after the Tunisian president said these racist things, police were torturing and even raping African refugees that managed to reach Tunisia. Police brutality against these refugees forced these refugees to try to leave Tunisia by jumping into boats to reach European shores, like Italy and Greece. As a result, just this past week, many of these boats sank in the ocean, killing most of those on board. 


Subl al-salam, the invitation to enter into silm. Why do so many Muslims not understand that their prayers and their fasting are pretty much meaningless if they are not part of a project to embody these principles and Divine attributes? The affairs of the Muslim world create a state of true cognitive dissonance between the ideals of silm, salam and the realities on the ground.


Wherever you turn, you see the same issue, over and over. In a word, it is oligarchy. What stripped silm and the very concept of al-salam of all meaning, what turned these Qur'anic ideals into mere rhetoric, what turned Muslim discourses into meaningless words, is the constant abuse of power. If those in power and those who make decisions for Muslim are ever held to account, it is never by their fellow Muslims. They are never held accountable by the people over whom they rule. If they are held accountable at all, it is by their former colonizers, largely by Christians, and recently by Israelis.


The stripping away of the ideals of silm and salam, that sense of safety, repose, security, and tranquility, that commitment to a moral path, is not possible without the constant brutalization of power and the constant impunity of power in Muslim life. All Muslims, instead of being raised to idolize principle and enlightenment, whether they realize it or not, are raised to idealize power. So much so that the very ideas of salam and silm have become, in the Muslim imagination, simply submission. Simply a vulgar relationship to power. What does salam mean? What does silm mean? Ask the vast majority of Muslims, and they will give you a vulgar response stripped of all nuance and beauty. They will tell you that it means to submit to God, but they do not understand their God. They do not understand that one of God’s attributes is al-salam. What is the relation of God, al-Salam, to the submission that you are telling me about? When you hone your psychology toward the goal of submission without comprehension, then pause and think: what are you really submitting to? Is it really God, or are you simply submitting to your own twisted understandings of power, the displays of power, the trappings of power, and the insignia of power? Is that really what Islam is all about?


This is precisely why Muslims invited an imam who has been repeatedly accused of rape and violent sexual assaults against women to lead taraweeh prayers. Muslims of New Jersey have invited Shaykh Mishary bin Rashid Alafasy to lead ‘Eid prayers, and it can be seen in the postings how excited they are. There are up to 300 prominent scholars, including Salman Aloda, still rotting in Saudi prisons, but Alafasy distinguished himself not in worrying about his fellow Shaykhs who have been imprisoned by Mohammed bin Salman, but in praising Bin Salman and even singing songs for him. Why is it that Muslims are not troubled by those who aid in despotism, injustice, and ugliness? Even by those who commit sexual assaults and rape?


I have previously talked about the Mecca Charter. Saudi Arabia has been putting a lot of resources into promoting the Mecca Charter in Europe, the United States, and Canada. The Mecca Charter, as I mentioned before, is supposed to include all those whom Saudi Arabia considers to be “true scholars of Islam.” Saudi Arabia has gone out of its way to say that anyone not invited to join the Mecca Charter is not a scholar or a Shaykh. Lo and behold, if you look into the Mecca Charter, you find a religion that has no moral path and no moral understanding. The only ethic upheld by the Mecca Charter is that of obedience to rulers and submission to their will. 


Is it because of the psychopathic relationship that Muslims have with power? Is it because of the way they relate to power? They fail to stand up to abuses of power, even when it relates to Al-Aqsa? Another report has come out, this time about how children are regularly assaulted by Israeli police. Officially, those under 40 can access the al-Aqsa Mosque, but Israel has created a high price by allowing Israeli police to regularly assault, beat, injure, and even break the bones of Palestinian children. It is well known that Israeli settlers regularly assault, beat, and injure Palestinian children, and there is no point in complaining to the police because the police never do anything when it comes to Israeli settler violence. 


In fact, there was a recent incident in which a settler broke the bones of a child and then claimed that the child attacked him. The incident was caught on camera. While initially the police were going to charge the Palestinian child who had his arms broken, it turned out that there was a video recording and that it was very clear that the Israeli settler attacked the child without provocation. The police dropped the battery charges against the child, but the Israeli settler was not charged.


Just this week, a Muslim news media outlet reported that Netanyahu has told Israeli settlers to postpone slaughtering animals on the Aqsa side until after Ramadan. That was widely reported. But Muslim media outlets are oblivious to the number of Palestinians who have been shot and killed just this week. Before the brutalization of racist power, we are confronted by complete Muslim silence and amorality. It is as if Muslims are experiencing fatigue. They do not comment on children beaten, or children like Mohamed Faiz Balhan, who was shot and killed just this week—just another number in the long list of victims of brutalization and stark power. 


Pause and think about how much it would benefit us if we understood that God's invitation to enter into silm, that God's calling upon the pathways of salam, is fundamentally a call to dignity, liberation, and the lofty principles of moral existence. Pause and think about the extent to which we have reduced Islam to an equation of stark submission. “Just submit to God. Submit, even in ugliness, even if it has no beauty, even if it means tolerating all that is dictatorial.” In truth, such submission is to the demon of power, the ugliness of power, and nothing else.


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