When Water Shares Space with Poison and the Myth of Public Neutrality

How many times in the Qur'an does God call upon us to have a solid core of conviction, a solid core of morality, and a solid core of ethics? One of the many approaches the Qur'an takes to this issue is when God tells us not to take as awliya’ those whom God is not pleased with, those whom God has condemned, or those of whom God disapproves (Q 3:28). Or when God tells us in Surah al-Ma’ida to not take as awliya’ those who make a mockery of our religion (Q 5:57). We are accustomed to reading these verses dogmatically, as we read so much of the Qur'an, without pausing to reflect upon the world of meaning these normative commands from God entail for us. 


Understand that the world is replete with examples of human beings who pursue ways of living. But if God is an active participant in our existence, if God is fully engaged with us in what we do, then God is not just actively engaged as a facilitator of will. God does not just enable our willpower to carry out what it wills. Far more importantly, God is a facilitator in the realm of the ghayb, so we can only speculate as to how God enables our actions. When we speak, for instance, in what ways does God specifically and concretely enable our speech, and in what ways does God not enable the speech? It is unknown to us. We know that our created world deals with material things like energy. We do not know where energy comes from, nor do we know where energy goes. But we know how energy is processed, manipulated, leveraged, or used, for that is material knowledge. Anything beyond material knowledge is a matter of conviction and belief, but not real awareness and knowledge. 


God’s involvement as a facilitator is an article of faith, then, but far more important is God’s involvement as a judge. God is with us. As the Qur'an repeatedly makes clear—in fact, it is something we recite in al-Fatiha (Q 1)—there are actions carried out by people placed in the category of those whom God condemns, those whom God is affirmatively not pleased with (Q 1:7). But then comes the challenge from God about who not to take as awliya’. We always translate the word as “allies”, but it is far more sophisticated and subtle. It is not just to not ally oneself in a political or policy sense. Consider the following. Imagine that I come to a group of immoral people who, because of their immorality, are condemned in the Divine realm, placed in the category of wrongdoers, and I approach these people in such a way as to dilute or marginalize their immorality. it is not that I necessarily endorse their immorality. I do not necessarily say, "I stand for the immoral propositions you stand for." But what I do is make God's wrath irrelevant. What I am saying, in effect, is that God's wrath is not something I will consider of consequence. I will put God's wrath to the side. I will shelve it, and I will say that as far as I am concerned, it is as if God’s wrath does not exist. I will deal with these people irrespective of their immorality. And in order to deal with them, I will restructure my volition. I will restructure my willpower in such a way that I avoid clashing with their immorality. I will navigate their immorality.


When all is said and done, whether I declare myself an “ally” to these people or not is immaterial. What matters is that I have rendered immorality irrelevant for the purposes of interacting with these people when it comes to life on this earth. What is the net effect of what I have done? I have made God's pleasure or displeasure of no practical consequence when it comes to life on earth. I have structured my own volition and moral positioning in such a way that it does not conflict with or contradict the immorality of the immoral. Consider the matter from a shaytani (demonic) perspective. What I have done, in effect, is create space for the accommodation of immorality. 


You may be tempted to say, "This sounds so abstract. What does this have to do with what happens to our lives?" Unfortunately, I wish it was abstract. I wish it was far removed from the reality of how we have decided to navigate our religious and Islamic convictions. In fact, one of the most striking paradoxes of our age is that while Islamic morality has consistently retreated and conceded space to the immoral and the unethical, we increasingly find the only principled positions in our lives are, indeed, those of principled immorality. It is the wrong ethics that are affirmatively held, affirmatively claimed, and affirmatively established to the point that they demand that the Islamic defer to them. They demand that the Islamic retreat and cede the space to them, so that they may occupy it.


We read, for instance, that a country like the United Arab Emirates has decided to reorganize the week so that Friday is now a working day, and Saturday and Sundays are the days of rest. Even in the hundreds of years of colonialism, the British in Egypt never dared to do what the Emiratis have just done. The French in Algeria never dared. But the Emiratis just did it, and enough time has now passed where I have monitored the blowback to find practically nothing. It invited no scholar, no religious figure, nor any imam, from the lowest stature to the highest stature. It invited no pronouncements, even from al-Azhar in Egypt or Zaytuna in Morocco. It invited absolute silence. No imam canceled their trip to the Emirates. No imam announced that they are now severing their relations with the Emirates. 


Recently, this past week, the UAE officially appointed a gaming authority. Gambling is as legal in the UAE as in Las Vegas. There are now authorities to regulate the casinos. This, of course, follows something we have known for years, which is that the UAE is the human trafficking capital of the world. Anyone who has been to Abu Dhabi and Dubai will see how prostitution is openly practiced and openly advertised. I think of all those people who love to pretend to be faithful students of hadiths, who pause for hours because of a hadith about men wearing gold. These same people willfully ignore the hadith in which the Prophet declared that the entire Arabian Peninsula must serve as the capital of Islam, and must reflect the morality and ethics of Islam. Years ago, the Prophet told us that this entire peninsula, not just Mecca and Medina, has a special status because it is the barometer for the wellbeing and the health of Islam. The irony is that the French and the British sponsored the opening of nightclubs and the buying and selling of alcohol all over the Muslim world in the colonial age. When they came to Arabia, however, they thought, "That is pushing it too far. We cannot do in Arabia what we do in Cairo, Algeria, or Syria." 


Go back to the narrative of the Qur'an commanding us not just to embrace moral principles, but to occupy the space for these moral principles, and to neither defer to nor concede space to immorality. That is the heart of what the Qur'an says about awliya’. God warns us about those who make light of the real religion, those who do not take religion as anything more than a private creed, something good enough for the private realm but never good enough to extend beyond our own private choices (Q 5:57).


Not only do we share a public space, but we compete for this public space. That is the nature of human beings. We compete about how to populate that public space. If someone tells us not to bring Islam into this public space—in effect, to keep Islam to ourselves—it would only be fair if, in doing so, that public space remained completely neutral. But I am here to tell you that that never happens. The public space will be filled. It will be filled with norms and commitments. And the only question is the character of these norms and commitments. We live in a world full of those who peddle the myth of the neutral public space. Just look at the life around you. 


Lo and behold, one of the prime examples of these peddlers is someone very famous, Jared Kushner. He peddled the myth of “peace” and “neutrality.” Next thing we know, the same administration that mocked our religion and exhibited all forms of anti-Islamic dogma was able to turn around, go to the land at the heart of Islam, Saudi Arabia, and get a $150 billion investment of Muslim money. Recently, Kushner announced that the same company backed by Saudi money is now investing $150 million in an Israeli company. The very same talk about “peace” and “neutral space” pressured Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan into signing agreements with Israel, agreements that send the clear, non-neutral message that Israeli apartheid in Palestine is okay. Israel knows the best way to defeat the Palestinians is to get fellow Muslims to say, “It is consistent with our Islam that you colonize Palestinian lands and that you institute a racist apartheid regime. None of this conflicts with the morality and normativity of Islam.” Who better to say that than Muslims themselves? This is precisely why Kushner, under the guise of neutral public space, sent a very non-neutral message when he used Saudi funding and Emirati political support to get Sudan, Bahrain, and Morocco to sign agreements, sending the message that Israeli apartheid is okay, Israeli aggression is okay, and oppressing Muslims is okay. Muslims do not need dignity. Muslims do not need self-determination. Muslims do not need liberty. What is good for Muslims are despotic, autocratic, and corrupt rulers who tell Muslims what to do, night and day. This is the most extreme Israeli government ever. Even an ex-Mossad chief has said that, in his view, Israel has clearly become an apartheid state. In my view, Israel was always an apartheid state. But this is no obstacle in Israel's push to normalize relations with Saudi Arabia. 


I urge everyone who hears me to listen to CJ Werleman’s latest episode about Zionism in the Holy Land. In my view, what CJ Werleman reveals is disturbing to the core. As a moral human being with moral probity, CJ Werleman explains, "Israel knows it is an apartheid state. Israel knows that it is a racist state, but what Israel wants is an Islam that does not mind, an Islam that says, ‘So what?’" What Israel wants is a religion that does not take a normative stand against apartheid states, racist states, racism, injustice, despotism, or oppression. Israel understands that there is no more powerful way of making that point than getting Saudi Arabia to normalize relations with Israel. But what CJ Werleman talks about is that it has already happened; the Saudis have already allowed the Israelis to come to Mecca, to come to the heart of Medina, and to be fully present. This is in addition to the money they gave Jared Kushner, who, in turn, invested it in Israel. 


It all attests to the fact that the very heart of Islam has become thoroughly neutralized for the purposes of having Islamic ethics make any difference to the world in which we live. When we accommodate the immoral, we become immoral. When we make space for the immoral, we are, indeed, immoral. There is no way to share space with Satan without becoming Satan's ally. There is no way to concede space to evil without becoming a collaborator with evil. That is precisely why CJ Werleman's episode about Zionism in the Holy Land is so devastating for those who have even a minimum of moral probity or understanding. In our modern age, Islam has become thoroughly marginalized through the deceptive rhetoric of neutrality. Neutralize yourself as to everything that matters so you can prove that you are accommodating and tolerant. It is one thing to tolerate the religious beliefs and fundamental rights of others. It is quite another to tolerate the immoral positions and immoral dogmas of others. 


The United Nations has, once again, condemned Israel for supplying the criminal genocidal regime of Myanmar with weapons and technology as it butchered and displaced over one million Muslims during the Rohingya genocide. Here is how the logic works. Israel says, "I was not motivated by an anti-Muslim animus, I was motivated by our great God: money." We then pretend, "We know you helped these people carry out a genocide against Muslims, and we know you were a collaborator and a co-conspirator in the extermination of a million Muslims in a thoroughly racist genocide, but you are not motivated by your hatred of Islam, and everything you might have said about how you do actually hate Islam is just pretense. We know you were really motivated by money." Israel says, "Yes, I was just motivated by money." "In that case, we forgive you. Since that is neutral, and we will pretend it is neutral, it is okay.” What about the Palestinians? “Well, as long as you are just motivated by money, and you assure us, as you steal Palestinian lands and destroy their livelihoods, that you are not motivated by race or religion, only by money, then it is okay.” Then along comes the Hamza Yusufs and the Zaytunas of the world, saying, "Do not hold it against the UAE. They have nothing against Islam. They are just like the Israelis and the Americans. They are just motivated by money.” "Well, in that case, let us all share the space. We are all motivated by money, so let us all be friends.” Can you imagine a more demonic scenario than this? Can you conceive of a more sinister scenario than this? But this is precisely the world that CJ Werleman is talking about when he reveals the extent to which Zionism has spread into the very heart of Arabia.


The most affirmative and aggressive morality that dominates our public spaces is, indeed, immorality. It is an immorality that is distinctively intolerant of anything Islamic. Some of us once considered the European Court of Human Rights to be a shining example of what secular morality could represent. Some of us once looked at what Europe was doing in the realm of human rights, in its firm belief that all human beings were entitled to basic rights, liberties, and dignity, with admiration. It was because of that conviction that the dogma of human rights that went into the constitution of the European Court of Human Rights promised the prospect of equality for all. It was truly a post-racial, post-religious bigotry moment. 


Europe relied heavily on colored, colonized people to fight its wars. The British armies that invaded Africa had White officer corps, but the soldiers were not White. The soldiers were dark skinned, colonized people. Those who fought and died in the colonial wars in Africa and Asia were not White. It is also the dark-skinned, colonized people who rebuilt Europe after World War I and, again, after World War II. Once upon a time, some of us looked at the European Court for Human Rights and thought, perhaps, that the promises of shared space, fairness, and equity for all had a chance; maybe Europe was, indeed, going to step up to the moment and do right by the people it has colonized, dominated, and controlled. Alas, look at the European Court of Human Rights now. Look at its repeated failure to uphold the rights of immigrants, the rights of dark-skinned people, and particularly the rights of Muslims in case after case. The message is that the “shared neutral public space” is a lie. This space is, indeed, biased and bigoted. And it is biased against Muslims. 


Yet again, after having already banned the hijab, France will now exclude and discriminate against Muslim women if their skirts are not short enough, if they wear a kimono, or if they wear clothes that are not sufficiently tight or do not sufficiently display the physique of a woman's body. In France, it is “neutral” to produce violent pornography that is demeaning and degrading to women. That is “freedom of speech.” That is “liberty.” But if a woman chooses to cover her body, that is Islam, and that is not welcome. The myth of public neutrality is that you can share space with evil, concede space to evil, and, somehow, although you decide to share water with poison, you still believe you can drink the water and not be poisoned. It is the most irrational proposition ever. 


Morality does not work that way. Ethics do not work that way. And that is precisely why God warns us about the challenge of who we make space for in our beds and in our lives, of who we choose to tolerate, accept, and co-exist with. This is not a call for intolerance.  I am talking about taking a moral stand, and being clear headed about right and wrong. I am talking about a people who can see how the supposed “Guardian of the Two Holy Sites” dealt with an Islamophobic government like the Trump administration, and how they gave money to someone like Jared Kushner. I am talking a people who can look at what the Biden and the Trump administrations have done for legitimating the Israeli occupation of Palestine, the occupation of the al-Aqsa Mosque, and the justification of apartheid. I am talking about the need to understand that it is a moral and religious duty to take an affirmative moral stand against these powers. That is what I am talking about.

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