The Warning, the Blame, and the Prescription: 'Ilm, Amal, and Hawl

On so many occasions in the Qur'an, God puts us on notice for something that, if we were people with any level of reflection and deliberation, we would already know innately and intuitively. God alerts us to the sheer capacity for ifsad—for corruption, spoliation, and exploitation—that human beings do, indeed, possess.


In Surah al-Rum, God tells us that corruption has spread everywhere, and that the source of this corruption is human beings themselves through the exercise of their volition and willpower (Q 30:41). But God tells us, in the same verse, that when it comes to suffering the results of this corruption, God mitigates the relationship between the action and the result (Q 30:41). God only allows us to suffer part of what we earn. Not all of it. Not even most of it, but simply a part of what we earn. We also know that at the very end of Surah Fatir (Q 35), God reminds us that if God allowed us to suffer the consequences of our actions, nothing would survive (Q 35:45). Nothing would survive our own evil. In God's grace and mercy, then, God has intervened in the past, continues to intervene, and will intervene to mitigate the consequences of our own follies. God will continue giving humanity chance after chance. 


Pause and think. From the last jumu'a to this jumu'a, hundreds and perhaps even thousands of families, in lands just like ours, have had their lives changed forever. It is part of human folly to imagine the alienness and foreignness of what plagues others. It is an entirely irrational belief and an irrational reaction. One of the most irrational things we do is to imagine that those who suffer a disaster are different from us. It is entirely irrational. They speak differently, so they must somehow feel differently, dream differently, think differently, or learn differently. We rationally know that none of it is true, and that they are identical to us. From one jumu'a to another, thousands of families in two Muslim countries, Morocco and Libya, have had their lives changed forever. In an instant, their lives were altered. They may have had numerous family members and, in an instant, now find themselves alone in the world. They may have been people of wealth and, in an instant, now find they own nothing. They may have never thought of hunger as a threat but, overnight, they now have no idea how they will feed or clothe themselves. They may have had jobs and careers that vanished overnight, forever.


It is remarkable to look at what has changed in just one week. We now live in the age of social media, and we can see the videos of people who were on camera when the disasters struck in Morocco and Libya. They are on camera, chatting about whatever they are chatting about, playing whatever game they are playing, indulging in whatever they are indulging in. Of course, in every video I have seen, there is a moment of disbelief, a moment of panic in which you hear people calling upon God, "Ya Allah, ya Allah," before homes are swept into the ocean and buildings collapse. 


Like so many things in life, these disasters were preceded with a long, protracted, and often tedious introduction. This is the remarkable thing that we see repeatedly throughout human history. There is a small minority of people who keep warning about a particular danger, and a clear majority of people who tire of hearing about this danger. They get sick of it. "You keep warning us and warning us. Nothing happened and we cannot foresee anything happening, so just leave us alone." Then the disaster strikes.


What is striking is that in both Surah al-Rum and Surah Fatir, before God talks about human beings and the consequences of fasad, God calls upon us to reflect upon and study history (Q 29:20)]. The Qur’an famously tells us to inspect the Sunna of humanity on earth. To study the history of disasters. To study the sociology of disasters. To study the behavioral aspects of what precedes a disaster, what happens during the disaster, and what follows a disaster. We cannot leave it all up to God. We cannot simply throw it onto God's shoulders, and then blame God when we do not get the results we want. 


But that is precisely what human beings do. We get tired of the warnings, just as we get tired of those who tell us to take life seriously. We get tired of those who talk about the dangers posed and the risks undertaken. What, then, do we do? We effectively throw it onto God's shoulders. We pay attention to our selfish lives and, whether we admit it or not, whether consciously or subconsciously, whether we explicitly say it or implicitly feel it, we want to worry about our own lives, and we just expect God to take care of it. Then, when the disaster strikes, we do not remember the long history of warnings and what could have been done to avert the disaster. When the disaster strikes, our first reaction is, "Why God? Why did You allow us to suffer?" 


The damage in Morocco and Libya was entirely avoidable. In other countries, earthquakes registering 6.+ on the Richter scale do happen. They do happen in countries that belong to the White race and the Christian tradition, countries not comprised of defeated human beings who preach that apathy is part of God's will, countries not defined by despotism and tyranny. In these countries, however, thousands of people are not killed. Thousands of people are not made homeless. Nor is there a total collapse of emergency services. 


The same storm that struck Libya and killed thousands of people was also in Greece. But in Greece, it left no casualties. In Libya, dams broke. With the slightest amount of research, you discover that a Libyan minority have long been warning about these dams, stressing that they are woefully inadequate and in imminent danger of collapse. But the political system in Libya, like the political systems in Morocco and in so much of the Muslim world, is a colonized political system. It is a defeated, apathetic political system that uses the jargon and rhetoric of God's will to offend against God's will. It uses the jargon of surrendering to God to indeed rebel against what God wills. 


God warned us of the dangers of accepting corruption on earth, and God gives us chance after chance. What, then, when things collapse? Are we now going to pay attention to what is disastrously wrong with our societies? Are we finally going to rebel against tyranny? For it is tyranny that keeps those in power who are not responsive to the needs of the people over whom they rule. Tyranny is the devil's tool. Tyranny is the devil's weapon because it is only tyranny, corruption, and apathy that permits a people to stay in power even though they put their fellow human beings in extreme danger. Even after a calamity befalls people, it is tyranny that keeps tyrants in power. An earthquake or flood can kill thousands of people, and it is tyranny that says there are no consequences. No one pays the price. Nothing changes. That is exactly the situation we face in both countries. Nothing has changed, and nothing will change. The logic of tyranny is that there is fasad, and human beings tacitly bless and affirm that fasad by failing to change the conditions of fasad. So thousands died, but the very people who ignored the warnings for years, the very people in power who could have averted the disaster but chose not to, who failed in acting effectively and promptly after the disaster, will remain in power. But you are then reminded that these rulers who have an intimate relationship to al-fasad fil-ard (corruption on earth) are not willed in power by purely domestic forces. They are, in fact, often willed and bolstered in power by external forces that do not like Muslims very much.


Read the history of the Moroccan ruling family. Read the history of Libyan politics. Read the extent to which countries including Israel, France, and, unfortunately, the United States went to keep certain elements in power in Libya. Read about the extent to which we, Americans, seem only to care about one country in this entire region, Israel. It seems to the American consciousness that Israel is the only truly human entity. However corrupt the Moroccan government may be, we accept it so long as they are willing to sign a treaty with Israel. We accept the Sudanese government, however corrupt it is, so long as they are willing to sign a treaty with Israel. We accept the Saudi regime, however horrible it is, so long as they are willing to sign a treaty with Israel. The same for the fascist Egyptian government. Recently, the U.S. Congress tried to withhold aid from Egypt and the Biden administration overruled Congress, releasing some $1.3 or $1.6 billion in aid to the fascist government of Egypt. We withheld something like $83 million, a drop in the bucket. There is no dispute that Egypt has one of the worst human rights records in the world. It is one of the most mufsid (corrupt) governments on the face of this earth. 


In the same week that the U.S. administration released money to the corrupt Egyptian officers who will take U.S. tax dollars and enrich themselves, lining their pockets at the expense of their own people, someone leaked horrific videos from inside the political prisons of Egypt. In these videos, you see the fate of honorable Shaykhs like Shaykh Mahmoud Shaaban and Shaykh Hazem Abu Ismail. You see the fate of other prominent figures, their suffering and misery. But the U.S. does not care. We yap about human rights, human values, democracy, and liberty, but our policies and our money go toward propping up dictators and people who corrupt life on earth.


Egypt has one of the worst human rights records on the face of this globe, but we give the Egyptian government and Egyptian officers our money and weapons, and they use these weapons to oppress their own people. This, at the same time that so many programs and causes complain of underfunding in the United States. This, while so many kids are wondering how they will afford college. We deny these people and projects money, and we give that money to dictators in Egypt. Why? The answer always comes back to Israel. It is because Israel likes Sisi. Israel wants Egypt to be ruled by a tyrannical despot. Why? Because Israel enjoys being the proclaimed “single democracy” in the Middle East. It enjoys being the single civilized force in a sea of barbarism. So Israel exercises its good offices to persuade Biden's administration to release the money so that it can go into the pockets of the corrupt Egyptian officers who can more thoroughly oppress their own people and more expansively corrupt the earth. They do so, and they are rewarded for it. They open overseas bank accounts. They enlarge their holdings in the U.S. and Europe. And the cycle goes on and on.


The nature of disasters is such that before we see the full calamity, before our consciousness is shocked by the sheer level of misery, if we are honest with ourselves, we will find a familiar story of warning, after warning, after warning. It is a story of people like myself who stand up and warn, "Do not give aid to dictators and criminals." People like myself who say, "When the Egyptian people finally tire of being ruled by dictators and rebel against the dictators that rule over them, they will blame the U.S. because the U.S. funded their dictators, and they will commit acts that express their deep hostility to U.S. policies." We always find that there were voices warning for a long time before the disaster struck, but we also find a long history of people ignoring these warnings. So, when corruption is committed on earth, and your senses are shocked by seeing the floods in Libya or the earthquake in Morocco, think about the lifestyle you have condoned, supported, constructed, and defended. Compare yourselves. Compare the societies that greatly suffer from disasters, and the societies that can fend off potential disasters effectively. Come to your senses. It is easy to use God as your punching bag, but have you really attempted to take responsibility? 


The irony is that, yet again, we see a familiar story. An extremely alarming report has come out about something that scientists call “planetary boundaries.” There are nine indices of planetary boundaries, that is, boundaries that communicate the health of this planet. In the report, out of these nine indices, six have already been broken, and the three remaining are in high danger zones. The nutshell of the report is that human society is pushing this planet toward destruction and extinction. We are killing the planet. This is not the first, and I am sure it will not be the last report of this nature. Again, we find warning after warning, telling us what we are doing is dangerous and will have dire and disastrous consequences. 


At the same time, another report came out from the United Nations that talks about how there are, at present, 47 million people in 50 different countries facing famine conditions, who go to bed hungry every night, without enough to eat. This is a staggering, mind-boggling statistic. At the same time, yet another news item caught my attention. One of the channels that I used to enjoy watching, Vice, was once known for its gritty and honest reporting from the trenches. For some time, I felt the nature of reporting from Vice, the transparency, the honesty, and the grittiness of their stories had changed, so I stopped watching it some time ago. I then noticed a story about how Vice initially posted a short documentary about the corrupt government in Saudi Arabia, but promptly removed the video and made it inaccessible to the public. It turns out that Saudi money purchased the integrity and freedom of the Vice channel. In fact, Vice has opened a branch in Saudi Arabia, is hiring, and now has an intimate relationship with Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia gave Vice millions of dollars, and Vice subsequently changed its reporting.


We know this is just part of a phenomenon. At the same time that technology has given us unprecedented access to news, more than at any other point in history, the wealthiest in the world are buying the venues for information. The Elon Musks of the world, the Saudis of the world, and the Emiratis of the world are buying every platform that we could conceivably receive news from. And these platforms do not raise your consciousness about the millions of dollars we give to fascists in Egypt. They do not raise your consciousness about the role the U.S. played in the corrupt government in Libya, or the role the French played in the government in Morocco. They do not raise your consciousness to ask, “Why are 700 million people going to bed hungry every day?” They do not raise your consciousness about the 50 countries confronting famine. They make sure that when you turn on your computer, the news items that pop up on your screen are sanitized and cleansed. They have their own procedures of purification to ensure that your consciousness never elevates to the point of asking, "Why has fasad spread? Why are we killing this planet? Why is the world order that persists and flourishes so demonic? Why are Muslims at the bottom of that world order? Why are Muslims constantly surviving under tyrannical governments everywhere we turn? Why is it that the best of the Muslim Ummah, the scholars and thinkers, are rotting in prisons, tormented and oppressed?" 


A long time ago, Islam taught us that there are three main analytical categories for the life of a human being: the ‘ilm, the ‘amal, and the hal. ‘Ilm is your knowledge. ‘Amal is your action. And hal is the state of your being, your consciousness. It is easy to ask, "What can I do? I am so powerless, I am so helpless." But before you accept this as an excuse for yourself, ask yourself: what is your ‘ilm? What sources does your ‘ilm come from? What is your knowledge? What is your learning? Where does your learning come from? Who do you accept as teachers? Do you have teachers? Do you bother with teachers? And what is your ‘amal? Think of every day you live. What do you do? Do you spend any time becoming enlightened? God knows what is in your heart, and God knows whether, if you had the opportunity to make a difference, you would indeed make a difference. Can you honestly testify that if given the opportunity, you would make a difference? Lastly, what is your hal? Are you apathetic, or are you alert? Are you oblivious, or are you learned? Are you conscientious? Do you make an effort? 


God knows everything perfectly. God sees your ‘ilm, your ‘amal, and your hal. Do they testify that you deserve God's grace and mercy, or do they testify to the opposite? Do they say to God, "God, we are with You, so lift us up"? Or do they say, "God, we abandoned You, so leave us where we are?"


Warnings. Plenty of warnings. Warning, after warning, after warning. Warnings that have now lasted for centuries. Muslims continue to suffer under tyranny, despotism, and corruption with horrendous consequences. But who do you listen to? Who are your teachers? What are your sources? What do you invest in? How do you spend your time? How do you know that if you exerted yourself, if you applied yourself, if God looked into your heart, then God would say, "I am going to put you in a position to actually make that difference"?


Here is the amazing thing. If God looks at you and knows that this is sincerely what is in your heart; if God knows that if you had the chance, you would truly act in such and such fashion; then God will give you the reward for the act as if the act had been done. Is that not amazing? Is that not profound? If God knows that, if given the opportunity, I would have fought off all temptations, resisted all corruptions, and done the right thing to end people's suffering, to feed the hungry, and to remove tyrants, then God will say, "I know you are sincere, and I will give you the reward as if you were given the opportunity. You pass the test." 


On so many levels, there is a simplicity and a straightforwardness to things. Fasad is a word that God uses in the Qur'an, and God uses this word not because it is empty of meaning and vacuous. Rather, God uses the word because God knows it signals to human beings an entire universe of meanings. The word fasad connotes corruption, destruction, evil, and what is vile, reprehensible, immoral and demonic. But there are those who do not act to counter fasad. And there are those who no longer even recognize fasad. Pause for an instant to reflect on this. There are those who call themselves “Muslim” who, if they see a woman wearing nail polish, would recognize that as fasad. But if they see a tyrannical ruler who has executed 100 people so far this year, as in Saudi Arabia, many of these people being minors and after woefully inadequate judicial processes, would not recognize that as fasad. Can you imagine someone who calls themselves a Muslim who hears a woman giving the adhan and calls that fasad, but nothing stirs in them when they learn of 700 million starving people? They never attack or criticize the world order. What do you say about this person's ‘ilm, ‘amal, and hal?


I have read about Palestinians confronting water shortages. Palestinian populations in Israel and occupied Palestine simply do not have enough water to drink, enough water to bathe, or enough water to cook. Meanwhile, Israel monopolizes all water sources, including in occupied territory, to service its people. There was another story about how Palestinians who have Israeli citizenship are statistically in poorer health and are empirically a third-class citizenry denied the economic opportunities that are amply available to any Jew who arrives in Israel and becomes an Israeli citizen. It is a clear and undeniable apartheid system. I read an extremely painful story about how many Palestinian children need dire healthcare. Some of them have cancer, other diseases, or have been injured in war. In Gaza, Israel sometimes allows them to leave to go to a hospital in Israel, or perhaps in Egypt if Egypt allows it, which is unlikely. When they are denied, these children die. This story talks about how at least two Palestinian children per day are denied and suffer the consequences of denial. Yet the world does not care. And the media, from the most mainstream to Vice, is bought by the rich, the corrupt, and the powerful.


But before you ask, “What can I do?" Think. What is your ‘ilm? What do you know? How have you educated yourself? What is your hal? God knows what is in your heart, so God knows if you are preoccupied with your own pleasures, passions, and infatuations, obsessed with yourself because you think you are God's gift to humanity. God knows if you simply do not care. God knows if you are selfish, for God knows what is in the heart. Do you actually care? God knows whether, if given a chance, you will or will not make the difference.


Ultimately, what is your ‘amal? How do you translate this knowledge and this passion within? Do you even try, even in the simplest of ways? When you have an opportunity to donate, do you? Or if you have an opportunity to volunteer, do you? If you have even the opportunity to support a book that speaks the truth, then, in our day and age, that is action. Even just knowing that a book came out that testifies to the truth, do you say to yourself, "I have to support this author. I am going to buy the book just to support the author"? That is ‘amal. Do you do that, or are you oblivious? Do you have a real consciousness about what is fasad on this earth, or are you one of those who thinks of corruption in terms of nail polish and a female voice doing the adhan? What occupies that gift that God gave you, that gift called the intellect?

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