Today, for me personally and for The Usuli Institute generally, is a rather special jumu‘a. It is the jumu’a that follows the completion of Project Illumine, the project in which we have journeyed through the entire Qur'an and shared a commentary, a learning, and an education about the Qur'an. Personally, this was not just a journey of the past three years. It has been the journey of a lifetime.
In this Qur’anic journey, it has become clear that no one can truly be touched by the Qur'an and remain unchanged. Indeed, it is a basic and fundamental notion in the Qur'an that while all people are offered God's covenant (‘ahd Allah), there are those who take ‘ahd Allah seriously (Q 3:76). There are those who base their entire lives on the fulfillment of God’s covenant, and because their existence is about fulfilling this covenant, their status vis-a-vis their Lord is that God loves them (Q 3:76). And the thing about being loved by God is that if you truly understand what God's love is, you cannot help but reciprocate.
Yes, a journey with the Qur'an is for your eyes to become wide open to the reality of God's covenant. At the same time, the Qur'an poses the rhetorical question to human beings: are you taking God's covenant presumptuously? Are you subjugating God's covenant to your own whims and desires (Q 2:80)? “They say, ‘We will avoid Hellfire. Either we will be punished for a short time and God will forgive us, or we will avoid Hellfire altogether’” (Q 2:80). Is this conclusion based on a real covenant with God, or is it based on your own presumptuous and egoistical path? You have taken God's covenant for granted.
To be a student of the Qur'an is to realize that if you do not live in the light, the absence of light is darkness. If you are blind, and because of your blindness, you are indifferent to the light, then the darkness becomes overwhelming and inescapable. Similarly, if you do not take God's covenant seriously, then your real covenant is with your own personal god: yourself. Then there is no covenant with God. That is the real covenant to which you adhere and spend your lifetime worshiping, and because you spend a lifetime worshiping that covenant, you become a mushrik, someone who associates partners with God. Whoever has a covenant with the self and their ego, in reality, their covenant is with no less than Satan. Satan can be a jinn, but Satan can also be a human. Satan can be your own self (Q 6:112). If you want to see Satan, look in the mirror when the self is overwhelmed by egoism, selfishness, arrogance, and pride. You will see a human satan.
To be a student of the Qur'an is to learn that in this world, there are people who are truly people of the Qur'an (ahl al-Qur’an). There are people who take the words of the Qur'an seriously when God says, "Live this life, but do not give it priority. It is but a test." When God says, "What I expect from you is that you live your life as a jihad.” When God says, “What I expect from you is to testify for God through the service of goodness and beauty, and through resisting evil and resisting corruption." It is like a proposal in marriage. God has extended God's hand to us. It is as if God says, "Here is My hand. Take it, marry Me, be Mine and I will be yours." That is the covenant, and there are those who take this covenant seriously. But you also learn, sadly, as a student of the Qur’an, that very few take God's proposal seriously, and very few join the ranks of being the people of the Qur'an.
Do you want to know if you are among them? Having journeyed with the Qur'an, are you a transformed human being? Are you different? From the beginning to the end, to what extent have you changed? To what extent is God's covenant on your mind every waking hour, every day? To what extent have you accepted the proposal? To what extent have you taken God’s proposal seriously? To what extent has God become your partner in this existence? Have you accepted God in your life as an intimate partner, as intimate as a spouse, or even more so?
One of the most painful things that you must accept as a teacher of the Qur'an is the fact that most people, most of the time, will be failures. It is the few who see God's hand extended and truly accept it with meaning. God reminds us twice, once in Surah al-Hijr (Q 15) and again in Surah Taha (Q 20),
And never turn thine eyes [with longing] towards whatever splendour of this world's life We may have allowed so many others to enjoy in order that We might test them thereby: for the sustenance which thy Sustainer provides [for thee] is better and more enduring. (Q 20:131)
A teacher of the Qur'an will confront the reality of rejection. Yet that teacher, if they truly understand the message of the Qur'an, will never be swayed by the material wealth and the material enjoyments that those who turn away indulge in, for they will remember that the indulgences and enjoyments are not the real issue. The very purpose of the Qur’an is the covenant. The very purpose of the Qur'an is not primarily life on this earth, but cosmic justice achieved beyond this earth.
The vast majority look at God's extended hand and turn away. Bringing victory to God and changing the scales of justice on earth is not achieved by the determined majority. It is, in fact, achieved by the determined minority. The majority turn away from God's extended hand and live apathetically, indulging their apathies from one indulgence to the next, taking God's will for granted and turning God into their whim (Q 45:23). The majority simply assume that whatever they crave and desire, therein is God's will and God's pleasure. They assume that God is like the pet they keep; there to cater to their whims and pleasures. The fact that they continue to enjoy material whims and pleasures deludes them further and further into thinking that because God is generous and allows them to continue to indulge, somehow God is pleased with them.
It is the determined minority that creates space for the dawn to shine. It is the determined minority that brings in the light, and all they can hope for is that the apathetic majority simply allows them to do so, that the apathetic majority does not assault them, hurt them, or persecute them. It is, indeed, a rare privilege to be among those who count as ahl al-Qur’an, but it is a small group of people who rise to this challenge and upon whose shoulders the fate of the Ummah rests. They are the makers of history. They are the ones who can generate a transformation for they have the greatest secret weapon: an alliance with God, God's support, and God’s barakah (blessing).
Do not listen to this and think of the ways that you failed. Listen to this and reaffirm your commitment to be among the people of the Qur'an. Inspect your intentions and commitments. Renew your determination to serve and sacrifice. Think carefully about God's extended hand to you, and think carefully about what you have done with this hand. Do not cry over those who turn away. When all is said and done, we cannot decide for people what their commitments ought to be. Regardless of how much we crave to see someone guided, there is nothing that we can do. We may see God's hand extended to those closest to our hearts, and we may see them turn away, saying, "I do not want to be married to You, God, I love myself too much. Thanks but no thanks. God, go away and leave me alone." That is their prerogative. That is their choice. God gave them that choice, and there is nothing you can do to change that fact.
In an age of moral confusion, we will always find those who ask, “How do I know if I have turned away God's extended hand?” The answer is far simpler than one would think, but it is a two-pronged answer. The first prong is: what is your life mostly about? It is not just salah (prayer) and sawm (fasting), but to what extent does your life represent a fulfillment of what God loves and God wants? God tells us that God loves ‘adl (justice) and ihsan (virtue) (Q 16:90). To what extent does your life constitute service to others in justice and virtue? In law, we learn about the principle of conflict of interest. You cannot say that your service is to serve a cause that, in essence, is a form of serving yourself. That is a conflict of interest. If you say that your service is to take care of your children, for example, but we find that taking care of your children means buying nicer furniture, a bigger house, more vacation trips, and a better car, then that is a conflict of interest. You may claim service to others, but the benefits of that service are accruing to the self. If you are honest with yourself, and if you take this first prong seriously, you will think long and hard about all the ways that you experience conflicts of interest. Experience of life has shown me, as it has with generations of scholars, that those who claim to serve God through conflicts of interest, in reality, offer very little service to God. In reality, they use their children, their parents, their siblings, and whatever else to serve themselves. God is nothing but a deity subordinated to their whim. So the first prong, again, is: what is your life about? What do you offer? What do you sacrifice?
Do we need to sacrifice comforts to serve God? Absolutely. What is sacrifice if it is not sacrificing comforts? Remarkably, there are those who say they want to serve, but they do not want to sacrifice. What do they think service is? The essence of service is to sacrifice. To what extent do you sacrifice? To what extent do you give up things? To what extent do you discomfort yourself? To what extent do you disrupt the rhythm of your vanity for the sake of a cause? That is the first prong of being among the people of the Qur'an.
The second prong is tougher. For every Ummah, God's victory is in direct proportion to the minority of people who sacrifice. American democracy was not built by a majority. It was built by a minority of sacrificers. Slavery did not end because of the majority. Rather, slavery ended because of a minority of sacrificers. The French Revolution was not advocated by a majority. It was, again, due to a minority of principled sacrificers. Let us look at our Ummah, and let us take a very quick look at this last week.
This week, the David Horowitz Freedom Center published a report that maligns 10 academics who are described as “the most anti-Semitic academics in the U.S.” They are Rabab Abdulhadi, Hatem Bazian, Lara Sheehi, Abbas Ghassemi, Marc Lamont Hill, Jasbir Puar, Hamid Dabashi, Nader Hashemi, Kylie Broderick, and Taurean Webb. The David Horowitz Center went on a PR campaign to malign these highly respected and accomplished academics as anti-Semites. Why? Because they dare speak the truth about Israeli fascism and the Israeli apartheid state. Not all these professors have even called Israel an apartheid state. Some have done far less than that. An obvious point is that the David Horowitz Center is constituted of people who have committed themselves to a cause and who have made great sacrifices in their life to serve an immoral, wrongful, and evil cause. Their sacrifice would have been meaningless, however, if there were not plenty of wealthy people willing to foot the bill. For the David Horowitz Center is not just David Horowitz. It is not just one individual. It is a graduates from top universities in the United States, all of whom are paid nice salaries to do nothing but do what they do.
Another news item from our Ummah. We live in an Ummah in which millions of Somalis are starving to death. There is an impending famine in Eritrea. Wherever you turn, there are Syrian and Palestinian refugee camps. Muslims are the largest number of refugees in the world. Muslims are also the group most trafficked in the world. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is offering Lionel Messi $400 million a year to play football. Can you imagine what $400 million could do in combating the Islamophobia industry? Can you imagine if this amount went to supporting the Palestinian cause, or supporting the cause of the Rohingya or the Uyghurs? Let us be ridiculous for a moment. Can you imagine what $400 million could do to The Usuli Institute?
Meanwhile, in our great country, the handsomely funded group Jewish National Fund was able to hire top lawyers to sue the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, tying them up in court and forcing them to expend hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees. The Jewish National Fund alleged that the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights is a supporter of “terrorism,” and as such, owes Israeli victims money. The D.C. Circuit Court finally dismissed the case because there is zero evidence that the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights has any connection to terrorism. But I know how well-funded that Jewish legal campaign was, and I know how poorly funded the Palestinian defense against the campaign was.
In our great country, Stephen Friedman, a brave Jewish dermatologist from North Carolina, lectured in a state school and was due an honorarium of $500. But when he saw that he needed to sign a statement, required by state law, promising that he does not support the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, he refused to sign it, and the state informed him that they will not pay him. It is a clear violation of his constitutional rights. It is supposed to be Muslims who do not understand freedom of speech, and yet the state created an egregious law like this, a law now defied and resisted by a brave Jewish soul.
Meanwhile, a Palestinian prisoner, 45 year old Khader Adnan, went on a hunger strike to protest Israeli oppression and died in Israeli custody. As a result, rockets were reportedly fired from Gaza, and in response, Israel bombed Gaza and killed a 58-year-old man. It does not stop there. This past week, a Palestinian woman was shot dead in the West Bank, and an Israeli raid killed three Palestinians in Nablus. The reports just keep going on and on. There are reports about how Israel is now using facial recognition software to map and track every Palestinian in Israel, 24 hours a day. It has been described as “automated apartheid,” because Palestinians will now be under surveillance every minute of the day. While Jewish citizens of Israel enjoy complete freedom, Palestinians live under the watchful eye of the state, monitored and controlled.
A Muslim mayor of New Jersey, Mohamed Khairullah, was invited to celebrate Eid al-Fitr at the White House. But when showed up, he was not allowed to enter. He did not pass the security checks. The reason is because the Trump administration relied on Islamophobic services for its no-fly list. These Islamophobic services have Israeli connections, and they provided the U.S. with one and a half million names, the overwhelming majority of which, of course, were Muslim. That is one and a half million people who, according to these Islamophobic services, have connections with terrorism. As a result, even though this man is a mayor in New Jersey, he was detained at JFK Airport for three hours, and even though he was invited by the White House to attend their Eid al-Fitr celebration, he was denied entry. I know the reason is this list, a list that American Muslims never succeeded in challenging or neutralizing.
In a recent speech, Trump recommitted to banning Muslims from entering the United States if he is re-elected. He again rallied the crowds by telling them, "Reelect me in 2024, and I will re-ban Muslims." I am reminded of those pathetic Muslims who supported Trump, and who, to this day, continue to talk about Trump fondly.
What is my point? The first prong is: what are you all about? The second prong is: what are the problems of your Ummah? If you see that there are problems like this—a pathetic, subordinated, defeated Ummah that can hardly defend itself at the most elementary and basic level—then your presumption must be against thinking that you are among ahl al-Qur’an, because the state of your Ummah demands that you adopt a presumption that is cautious rather than hopeful. What does this mean? It means the state of your Ummah demands that you say to yourself, “I have a greater obligation for greater sacrifices. Perhaps if I was born in a different age, an age in which Palestinians were not being murdered every day, in which Uyghurs were not being exterminated, in which Messi was not being offered half a million dollars a year, perhaps I could take it easier upon myself. Perhaps I could have greater leeway in indulging somewhat.” But when a situation is this dire, God's message is clear: “Not enough of you have taken My extended hand. Not enough of you have accepted My proposal. So you do not deserve My victory.”
There are two prongs. You can whine and complain, "Why was I born in this age? It is unfair. Why does it fall upon me?" If you believe in the Hereafter, however, then that question is irrelevant. What that question really betrays is that you do not believe in the Hereafter, and you do not believe God when God tells you that it is not about life on this earth. You do not believe God when God tells you that the reward in the Hereafter is far greater than whatever you give up on this earth. You do not really believe God when God says, "I must be dearer to you and more beloved by you than your mother, your father, your sister, your brother, your business, or your profession." That is precisely why the Ummah is in the trouble and plight that it is in. It is because there are not enough of the ahl al-Qur’an.
For years, I resisted teaching the Qur'an. I resisted it for exactly the reasons I experienced. For years, I was cowardly. I did not want to go through the pain of seeing God's hand extended and God's hand repeatedly turned down. For years, your demons justify your cowardliness and weaknesses. In this journey with the Qur'an, there were people who had moments of enlightenment and short-lived breakthroughs, who came along and said, “We are with you. We want to support you. In fact, it is our obligation and duty. You should not be carrying the burden by yourself.” But it was so short-lived. Their demons caught up with them. Time and again, you see precisely the dynamics that have left our Ummah in the horrible shape that it is in today. You see it at a micro-level. You see it at the level of those who interact with you.
Ask yourselves if God's covenant is real for you. Do you really believe? What have you done with God's extended hand? Go through the two prongs. How did you do with the first prong? How are you doing with the second prong? Maybe, one day, there will be just enough of those who count as ahl al-Qur’an to transform the fate of the Muslim Ummah, to see once again the word of God rise with enlightenment, grace, and beauty for all of humanity.