Emancipation from "Colonial Islam" and the Uselessness of Muslim Leaders

So many parts of the Qur'an cumulatively convey the same basic message of sacrifice as the essential fuel for transformation and change. Whatever human beings dream of and aspire to, whatever fantasies and hopes come to their minds, God's Sunna, God's very law of nature and creation, is that no change, no emancipation, and no liberation is possible without sacrifice. God reminds us in Surah al-Anfal, for instance, as well as in many other parts:


Truly those who believe, and migrate, and strive with their wealth and themselves in the way of God, and those who sheltered and helped—they are protectors of one another (Q 8:72).


God points a finger at the active agents in society, those who are the fuel for change and transformation. What is their state? What is the condition of these people? Are these people pious? Yes, but God focuses on the material proof of their piety because God knows that human beings are capable of making all types of claims about their convictions and beliefs, but it is all for naught if it is not backed up by a systematic ideology of sacrifice.


God tells us about those who sacrificed, migrated, and displaced themselves; those who gave up all their connections and communal ties; who gave up the stability of their businesses and careers to displace themselves and migrate, chasing after a dream of transformation and change, a dream for a society unlike the society they had left behind. Meccan society was well-known for its hierarchies and structures of subjugation and domination. Those who were on top had been on top for centuries, and those who were at the bottom had been at the bottom for centuries. 


We have to remember what the Hijra was all about. The point of the Hijra was not to go to a different location just to reproduce the same inequities and injustices that Muslims witnessed and lived with in Mecca. The Hijra meant an opportunity to build a more equitable society, a society of justice, a society in which the weak are not subjugated and victimized without recourse. Rest assured that if this had not been the aspiration, if those who migrated from Mecca to Medina did not hope to create a more equitable, more just, more moral, and more ethical society, then the Islamic project would have failed from the very beginning. People are not willing to give up everything simply to end up in the same position they left behind. The early Muslims understood that Islam represents a consistent struggle, a jihad, and they committed themselves to that struggle. They committed to that struggle with their money and their own selves (Q 8:72).


This revolutionary moment was a call for emancipation. But before any physical emancipation, there has to be an emancipation of consciousness. There has to be an internal emancipation in which you no longer accept your old masters as your masters. You no longer think of the Meccan aristocracy as having the right to control your destiny. You liberate yourself from the fiction that dictates submission to unjust and unethical power structures. That call of emancipation is a call for self-determination. “I choose to worship God, and in choosing to worship God, I worship no other than God, so I do not submit in subservience to any other but God.” But it does not stop there, for the command of Hijra is for the emancipated individual to look beyond himself or herself and come together to form a community. Through the power of this community, the emancipatory Islamic project is further pushed and served.


God tells us, “As for those who disbelieve, they are protectors of one another” (Q 8:73). God tells us to recognize ourselves as a community allied by a common emancipatory project, by a shared recognition of what it means to be liberated in God. But to do so, our allegiances and alliances have to change. If we continue to look toward the forces of subordination, to those who subordinated and enslaved us, to the power structures of inequity and injustice, and if we do not fully divorce ourselves from these power structures, then the Qur’an tells us what happens. God points out in Surah al-Anfal: 


Unless you do the same, there will be a strife in the land, and a great corruption (Q 8:73).


If you do not commit to the struggle and sacrifice, then corruption overtakes the earth. Fitna is the word we use for a state of temptation or confusion. By its very essence, fitna connotes chaos and confusion.


Surah al-Anfal was revealed soon after the Hijra. God warns us that if the emancipatory project does not earn sacrifices from those individuals who proclaim themselves to be emancipated, if they do not, in fact, serve the cause through deliberate and determined sacrifices, and if they do not make the transformation from an individualistic mindset of "I care only about myself, my fate, and what happens to me in the Hereafter" to a communal commitment of saying, "We serve a cause, we embrace a philosophy of life and a normative system of commitments, and we have a collective a mission of emancipation by standing against the type of societies we migrated from, societies of deep injustice, inequity, and subordination," then the inevitable result is that corruption will spread across the earth. 


The comment that there will be fitna and great corruption on earth does not make sense if we only limit this to the small group of people that migrated from Mecca to Medina. Rather, it is a timeless message to Muslims. This message is not just about believing in a God. It is an entire philosophy of life. It is a commitment to individual and collective action as emancipated people serving a common cause. If we lose sight of that, there will be corruption and fitna on earth. And this fitna, quite simply, is the confusion of hypocrisy. The fitna is the confusion of being unable to tell the difference between right and wrong. In fact, the fitna could well be—and often is—that one no longer understands that belief in God is an emancipatory project, a project of liberation, a project of throwing off the chains of subordination to other human beings. The fitna is that we lose sight of the relationship between Islam, morality, ethics, and justice, and we simply turn belief in the One and Only God into a meaningless creed, a creed that espouses selfishness, individuality, self-centeredness, and nothing beyond.


Muslim countries recently met in Saudi Arabia for the Arab-Islamic Summit. Because we, Muslims, were born in fasad, in a corrupted earth, in the heart of the fitna of confusion as to what is right and wrong, we all anticipated practically nothing from this summit. There are over one billion Muslims in the world, Muslim countries came together, and yet they cannot change one iota of their reality. Even before this genocide in Palestine, for decades, Muslim countries have witnessed the lands and homes of their fellow Muslims being stolen and annexed. They witness a full-fledged apartheid regime. They witness a consistent policy of violating the sanctity of the al-Aqsa Mosque. They witness it all, and yet they are as ineffective and as useless as can be. They are so powerless that we can hardly take the summit of Arab and Muslim countries with any degree of seriousness at all. Not even Israel takes it seriously. The Muslim states that have relations with Israel do not dare cut ties. They do not dare cancel their agreements with Israel. Their support for the Palestinian people is limited to pleading to Israel: "Please, please, please let us send our convoys through the Rafah gate so we can give humanitarian aid." And that is it.


Egypt is a full-fledged participant in the siege of Gaza. Egypt receives its marching orders from Israel. Israel tells Egypt to close the Rafah gate, and Egypt has no choice but to say, "Yes, sir." The President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, in one of the most farcical moments of the summit, condemned the blockade of Gaza, entirely ignoring the fact that but for Egypt, there would be no blockade of Gaza. A greater picture of subservience and servitude is not possible. The entire Muslim world got together and could only come up with a measly statement: "We condemn what is going on. We urge the slaughter to stop. We urge that the genocide comes to an end.” But they will not dare do anything. Not a single Muslim country dared to tell the United States that it cannot use U.S. military bases in their countries to send military equipment to Israel. Not one Muslim country dared to tell the U.S. that it cannot use its airspace to continue to support this genocide. One of the most telling moments of our age was when Saudi Arabia, the so-called “Custodian of the Two Holy Sites,” was caught red-handed over the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Saudi Arabia paid billions of dollars simply to save the neck of Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) to persuade Turkey, France, Britain, and the U.S. to let MBS off the hook, to stall the matter so that the assassination did not end up before the International Criminal Court or cause the downfall of MBS. But it did not stop there. When it looked like the billions in bribery may not work, Saudi Arabia started to show a degree of independence and started rapprochement toward China, sending signals to the West, "If you do not drop this Khashoggi matter, we may change our policies and draw closer to China, buying weapons from China instead of the U.S.” If we recall, people at the time talked about how powerless the Biden administration looked. People mocked the Biden administration because the Saudis were seen to be pushing it around.


Not one iota of this resolve is demonstrated over Gaza. The Saudis are well aware of the brutality and the genocide in Gaza, but all the innovation and creativeness that we saw to save MBS over the Khashoggi murder is nowhere on display for Gaza. In fact, the Saudis have not even canceled the idea of normalizing relations with Israel. Saudi Arabia has said, “Once this is over"—in other words, once Israel kills however many Palestinians it wishes—"we will resume normalization talks." This is the plight of the world we live in. Islam has lost its meaning and power for these so-called Muslim countries. As if we needed more proof, consider the following. Demonstrations in support of Palestine in non-Muslim countries far exceed, in terms of volume, the demonstrations in support of Palestinians in Muslim countries. This is not because Muslims do not care. They do. It is Muslims in these countries are not free. They live in servitude. Saudi Arabia has banned imams from making du’a’ for Gaza and even arrested visitors to Mecca who were overheard making du’a’ for Gaza at the Haram. These people prayed in jama’a (congregation) and, after the salah (prayer), raised their hands and made a du’a’ for Gaza. They were subsequently arrested. We live in a Muslim world where even those who make du’a’ out of sympathy for the Palestinians end up in jail. 


The subordination and ineffectiveness of Muslim countries is part and parcel of the creation of a world order that is not only unjust, but that recreates and re-perpetuates the legacy of colonialism. It is not just that the Muslim and Arab countries were entirely ineffective when they got together to condemn Israel. They did not stand up to Israel or defy Israel on the issue of humanitarian aid to Palestinians. They did not even terminate relations. They did not dare tell Kushner and his right-wing buddies that this genocide changes everything. There is not even a hint that they will decrease oil production or raise the price of oil until the West ends this genocide. We are so far removed from that.


We have also seen Saudi Madkhali preachers condemn Abu Ubeida, the spokesman of Hamas, telling him, "Abu Ubeida, do jihad not with weapons.” In other words, do not defend yourself with arms when Israel slaughters and exterminates your people. This spokesman, entirely funded and supported by Saudi Arabia, says that the correct response to Israeli subordination is to “do jihad by upholding the Prophet’s Sunna.” So, while the Israelis annex your lands, destroy your livelihood, and steal your homes, you should respond by teaching women to wear the hijab and men to grow their beards and wear the jalabiyya (thobe). This is actually what he said. I am not exaggerating. You may be tempted to dismiss this because it is so absurd. But think about it. Maybe this idiot articulated it in explicit terms, but is this not exactly the position of institutional Islam everywhere we turn? How many of the Muslim imams who speak and instantly get 150,000 views and “likes” are the very imams who tell us that the solution to oppression is patience and endurance? “Focus on your worship and Hereafter,” in other words, be a selfish individual. But what about fighting for emancipation, liberation, justice, and the transformation of society so that there is no fitna and corruption on earth (Q 8:72)? “God will take care of the corruption and fitna, and it is impious to ask, ‘When?’ because it is on God's time, not yours." But should we do anything to serve that cause? “Yes, worship. Do dhikr. Take care of yourself and your family." Is this not the equivalent of this Madkhali idiot? Is it not exactly the same theology and message?


The position in every Islamic school, Sunni and Shi‘i, is that there are two types of jihad. There are many scholars who say that pursuing knowledge, worshiping God, and dhikr is a better form of jihad than military jihad. I believe these scholars, in their medieval style, were saying that they do not believe in an aggressive type of jihad or an imperial Islam. But the second type of jihad is entirely different. It is a defensive jihad when people come to colonize your lands and take your homes. For this jihad, a slave does not need the permission of their master. A child does not need the permission of their parents. A citizen does not need the permission of the ruler. That jihad is fard ‘ayn. Every individual Muslim has an obligation to defend Muslim lands and to repel aggression. It is a major sin if your Muslim brother’s home is invaded, he calls upon you for assistance, and you fail to assist him. According to some jurists, it is as if you have committed a major sin equal to fornication or adultery. Other jurists say that you are no longer a Muslim at all. I do not know of a dissenting opinion. Yet the Muslim consciousness is being uprooted from its very core. It is no secret that colonialism found this theology of jihad to be extremely inconvenient, so it engaged in a centuries-long project of reinventing and reconstructing Muslim theology.


This is what really troubles me. Look at the demonstrations in the streets. Look at the most of the people who are actively doing something about the genocide in Gaza. Is it led by Islamic movements? No. If we are fair and honest, we have to say it is a secular opposition movement. Muslim organizations are largely absent. Many people do not know that Muslim organizations in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt are issuing fatwa after fatwa that says attending demonstrations is haram, protesting is indulging in fitna, and a proper Muslim should not walk in a demonstration if a woman may stand next to him. I am not joking. What troubles me is this constant drumbeat of meekness, the lack of backbone, the weakness, servitude, and subordination. It is emptying Islam of its soul. It is a constant narrative that poisons and corrupts the Muslim consciousness.


In recent days, the UN General Assembly voted on a number of resolutions relating to Palestine. The most high profile of these resolutions condemned illegal Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine and Syria. But this resolution was extremely telling because ninety percent of the world voted against Israel, while Canada and the U.S. voted with Israel, refusing to even condemn the annexing of Palestinian lands. How can you claim to be in favor of a two-state solution if you do not even condemn the stealing of Palestinian lands? Canada, Israel, and the U.S. voted against the resolution, and these countries were joined by Hungary, which has a right-wing, Islamophobic government. The other other countries were states like Micronesia, small countries that have nominal independence but are effectively colonized by the U.S. They use the U.S. dollar and are effectively US territories. They vote whatever way the U.S. tells them to vote. So it is the U.S., Canada, Israel, and Hungary against the rest of the world. What a sad commentary upon our modern world system. A number of countries, like Venezuela, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Madagascar, did not vote at all. Venezuela has had its assets frozen by the U.S. and, as a result, cannot pay its UN dues, so it cannot vote. Somalia and Afghanistan would have certainly voted against Israel, but these countries are often unable to afford the cost of having their representatives present in the UN. In truth, Canada and the U.S., on even the most extreme issues, stand alone in their support of Israel.


There were a number of other resolutions voted upon on that same day, one of which relates to UNRWA, which is the UN body responsible for handling issues regarding Palestinian refugees. Israel has killed about one hundred UNRWA workers in this recent genocide, and there was a resolution that same day to provide funding for UNRWA to continue feeding Palestinians. Nothing more. Still, the U.S. and Canada again voted against even that resolution. When we talk about U.S. complicity in genocide, then, it is complete and clear from every angle.


I close with this. Many Muslims today like to talk about critical race studies. Much of what they have to say is nonsense. But one of the critical race studies theorists who I admire and who has extremely useful insights is a man called Derrick Bell, who was a law professor at Harvard for many years. Bell pointed out how endemic and ingrained racism is, and how so much of human history has been premised on the logic that fairer skinned people have a right to further their interests at the expense of darker skinned people. If you knew what Europe and the U.S. are doing in Africa till this very day, you would see the verification of this truth. The fair skinned always seem to have an attitude that darker-skinned people should pay the price for their wellbeing and the furtherance of their interests.


We see this in the genocide against the Palestinian people. Israel treats Palestinians like every racist state treats its darker skinned minority, that is, as a subservient class, a class that should exist in silence and accept their subservience, a class that should help the fair skinned people build their society whenever the fair skinned people want help, but after that, they should shut up, do as they are told, and not create problems or trouble. If the darker skinned do not play along, then history tells us, time and again, that the fair skinned think they have the right to exterminate them because the fair skinned do not recognize darker-skinned people as equal human beings. 


I submit to you that what Derrick Bell said about race is also true about the West's relationship to Islam. Europe and the U.S. have long viewed Muslims as a threat. They initially did so with a certain degree of reverence, fear, and anxiety. But then, as Europe ascended and Muslims declined, this turned into a thoroughly racialized perspective in which Muslims were treated with the same racist logic: “They have the right to exist to further our wellbeing. The oil in their lands is to further our wellbeing. Egyptian cotton is there to further our wellbeing. If there is a canal we can pass through, like the Suez Canal, it is there to further our wellbeing. Other than that, they should be silent and not create trouble. If they create trouble, we will teach them the lesson that we are more than willing to exterminate them.”


Many of you may listen to this and ask what the solution is. The solution begins exactly the way Surah al-Anfal talks to Muslims. The solution begins with you. Decolonize your consciousness. Understand your religion as a message of liberation and resistance against subordination. Then look around and make connections with fellow Muslims who also understand Islam as a message of liberation and anti-subordination. Understand that we dream of a different world, a world of greater justice and greater equity, a world that does not respect oppressive hierarchies. If we live, we live to resist, for that is what our existence on this earth requires until God wills to change our condition. But as long as we live, we must resist. Our resistance is our testament. Our resistance is the very life of our faith. Most importantly, make it your personal business to be aware of the forces that serve colonialism by murdering the soul of your faith. Refuse to submit to these voices. Refuse to recognize their Islamicity. Refuse to recognize their legitimacy. Refuse to recognize their right to represent your faith. Say, “No! You are not a valid alternative. You are an aberration. You are a treason to the message of Islam. You are a betrayal. We do not recognize you. We do not validate you. We insist upon a clear view on what tawhid means, and will always mean, until God inherits this earth.”

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