Built on Racism: Modern Institutions and the Path to Liberation

In hundreds of hours of khutbahs, I always emphasize that the role we ought to assume in life is the role of sojourners. We are travelers in something that we all know is temporary and full of unanswered and even unanswerable questions. We come to life, we spend time on this earth, and we then leave, certain from the very beginning that we will never truly understand the nature of time itself, we will never understand the nature of consciousness, and we will never understand the meaning of eternity. There are so many unanswered and existential questions. But what we do know is what is anchored in our belief in God. We do know that this world belongs to its Maker, to the One who has set the rules, created the process, and is ultimately responsible for achieving justice. We do know that our relationship with this Creator obliges us to bear witness, and we know that in order to bear witness, we must be able to see clearly and bravely. Someone who does not want to look carefully will not bear witness, and someone who does not know what to look at cannot bear witness. As the Qur'an puts it, time and again, someone who is blind of heart or intellect cannot bear witness for God. And we bear witness for God on the basis of the morality and ethics that God has encoded in our universe. 


Every week presents us with a range of situations and instances that cry out for witnessing. I recently saw a recording of a Palestinian doctor in Gaza who was forced to amputate the leg of a child injured in an Israeli bombing. Because of the Israeli siege, something that we all take for granted in the modern age, painkillers, were unavailable, and the child subsequently died during the operation. According to the doctor, the child died from the pain. In the video, the doctor was crying and being consoled by another doctor. 


It cannot but make you pause long and hard. I remember all the times that I, as a child, had to undergo something as straightforward as going to the dentist to have a tooth removed. I remember all the times when I had some form of injury or another. I remember how the whole situation, especially through the eyes of a child, was terrifying. When a child is struck by pain, their first instinct is to look to those who are older, because the child expects from these older figures a degree of relief. In this video, however, this doctor is beside himself because the child kept screaming and he could not do anything to numb the pain. Israel has made sure that not even simple painkillers are available. 


You then think of this doctor who witnessed this child’s death. Will he ever heal? Some have told me that this child was, in fact, the doctor's own son. I did not notice that. I had lost all concentration and repose after the first few seconds of the video, so it may well be that the doctor said the child was his son but I was no longer able to comprehend or process. Even in the medieval era, people had natural ways of trying to control and numb pain through substances like herbs. So the image of a child enduring an amputation while fully conscious, without herbal or chemical treatments, and eventually dying from the pain, would have shocked even the medieval conscience, leave alone the modern conscience. 


You then think of your own life. How do you process your own moments of discomfort after that? How do you process having a headache, complaining that you have a headache and, because of your headache, you cannot work or concentrate? How do you process your own impatience with hunger? How do you process any form of physical discomfort as you think of this poor child who died from sheer agony as over one billion Muslims in the world watch and can do absolutely nothing?


One moment of witnessing is often addressed or elucidated by another. We have all seen the recent video of a racist fellow, Stuart Seldowitz, who used to be a fairly high-ranking member of the U.S. State Department. He was the deputy director for the Office of Israel and Palestinian Affairs during the Obama administration, occupying this position for at least four years, a fairly high position that has a direct influence on what the State Department recommends to the White House over Israeli-Palestinian affairs. Stuart Seldowitz was caught on camera harassing a poor immigrant worker in New York. Of particular importance is what Stuart Seldowitz said to this poor immigrant. Seldowitz is obviously a racist Islamophobe, and he asks this immigrant if he rapes his daughter like the Prophet Muhammad did. He tells the man that the hadiths say that Muhammad raped Aisha, and asks, "Do you rape your daughter like your Prophet did?” Of course, we know Aisha was not Muhammad's daughter, but it does not matter. Seldowitz then tells this worker that some people use the pages of the Qur'an as a toilet, asking, "What do you think about that?" The Muslim immigrant refuses to respond and keeps saying, "I do not speak English, go." But the most important part for me, in this entire interaction, is when this ex-State Department official wanted to threaten this Muslim Arab immigrant. What did Seldowitz threaten him with? He threatened him with his fellow Muslims, his fellow countrymen. Seldowitz told this immigrant, "I am going to take your picture and send it back to Egypt,” where, he claimed, the security forces will arrest the immigrant’s parents. Seldowitz asked, “Does your father like his fingernails? They will pull your father's fingernails off." So Seldowitz told this man that the security forces back in Egypt will arrest his family and torture his father. He then brags that the United States is a democracy and that the home country of this Muslim, Egypt, is not. 


It is so remarkably telling. What is the connection between the Palestinian doctor who wept after the child died from agony and pain, and this racist ex-State Department official threatening an immigrant on the streets of New York with the Egyptian security forces?


The connection would come fully to light if we would pay attention and carefully reflect upon the message we have from God. If we would pay attention to what God tells us and warns us about. If we would pay attention to how God seeks to educate us, elevate us, and liberate us. In Surah Muhammad, God tells us about a group of people who claim to follow the Prophet and to have become devout and committed Muslims. But God gives us a rather complicated picture about these Muslims. These Muslims say: 


Would that a surah were sent down.” Then when a definitive surah wherein fighting is mentioned is sent down, thou seest those in whose hearts is a disease looking at thee as if death had overcome them (Q 47:20).


The real issue is that although they claim to follow the Islamic faith, they do not back up this claim with concrete material sacrifices that affect their quality of life. When they are asked, “Why is it that you do not sacrifice? Why is it that your behavior and conduct is not consistent with your declared convictions? You say you are Muslim, but we always see you slithering away whenever a moment requires real commitment and sacrifice.” Their response is most fascinating: "God spoke to you, but it was before we came into the picture." It is a sense of delusional self-importance. “Yes, we know that God talked to you when you were in Mecca. God talked to you during the Hijra, God talked to you when you first migrated to Medina. If only God would talk to you again after we became Muslims” (Q 47:20). 


So that is the problem? The problem is that they want the ego-satisfying acknowledgement that God spoke after they became Muslims? “Yes, we just want to know we count. If only God would make clear what it is we are supposed to sacrifice. If only it did not just come from the Prophet, Imam ‘Ali, or from the close Companions. If only it came from God.” So God calls their bluff, saying something that literally makes them go pale. All color leaves their faces because God tells them, "You must fight for this faith. You must be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice by putting yourselves and all your affairs at risk for the sake of this faith" (Q 47:20). When God did oblige them and speak to them, their reaction was entirely what one would expect. They went pale, wishing that they had never asked God to speak. God follows this with one of the most fascinating verses in the entire Qur'an: 


More fitting for them would be obedience to God and honorable speech. Then, when the matter is resolved, were they true to God, it would be better for them (Q 47:21).


“Obedience” here means a real, genuine commitment, and “honorable speech” means a truly ethical narrative. Why an “ethical narrative”? Because God is telling us, right from the get-go, that there was no ethical commitment on behalf of these people. What they were saying was nonsense, and God called their bluff to expose it.


The lesson is clear. If you speak, commit to a moral, normative order. Commit to a clear ethical path in your relationships, especially with God. Commit to an ethical narrative instead of talking nonsense, for truth with God is impossible unless you are truthful with yourself. Are you really able to be honest with yourself about who you are, what you want, what you understand about your philosophy of life, and the nature of your own consciousness? If you are not able to be truthful with yourself, there is no way you can be truthful with God. But what comes after that is nothing short of devastating: 


Were you to turn away, would you perchance work corruption upon the earth and break your family relations? (Q 47:22).


God is asking, “Do you understand that the type of people who generate such nonsense and actually believe it; the type of people who say they are committed but whose actions are far from a testament to their commitment; the type of people who say they believe in a cause but have suffocating constraints on how much they are willing to sacrifice for the cause; the type of people who do not understand that the first thing that God will hold you accountable for is sincerity and honesty; the type of people who think they can lie to God, deceive God, and play games with their Islamic commitment, pretending to be strong, committed Muslims; those who think Islam is there simply to comfort their ego, caress their excesses, and make them feel good about themselves; those who do not understand that this life is but a test in which we must prove ourselves to the One who made us, the One who owns this entire universe; do you understand, when this type of morally compromised and cowardly people prevail, what the result will be? 


The earth will be corrupted and the bonds between you will come apart (Q 47:22). Why? Because you will learn not to trust one another. You will learn that your mothers, your fathers, your brothers, your cousins, your friends, and your neighbors are liars. Everyone lies, everyone pretends, everyone puts on an act. When lying and a lack of ethical vision and ethical commitment become the order of the day, the bonds that unite an Ummah will break apart. In Surah Muhammad, God teaches us to recognize these people by their speech (Q 47:30). What this means is that their logic is forced. They exist not to affirm moral commitments. What they say is counterintuitive to everything you know about justice, truth, equity, fairness, and goodness. They sound fake, and they sound fake because they are fake.


If only we would remember the closing of Surah Muhammad, when God says to us: 


Behold! You are those who are called upon to spend in the way of God; yet among you some are miserly. And whosoever is miserly is only miserly toward himself. God is the Rich, and you are the poor. And if you turn away, He will cause a people other than you to take your place, and they will not be the likes of you (Q 47:38).


In the very last verse, God lays it out in the most blunt and straightforward fashion possible. God asks you to spend money. Not to uphold the marketplace or to circulate cash. God asks you to spend money in God's way. Addressing those who choose to be miserly, God puts them on notice that the consequence is that God will replace them as an Ummah. The entirety of Surah al-Baqarah and Surah Al ‘Imran tell us the story of how the Israelites fell from grace and were replaced by another. Surah Muhammad, among many other parts of the Qur'an, puts us all on notice. 


But I beg of you, do you think this process of God replacing a people will be painless? Do you think it will be agony free? Do you think it is simply a benevolent, uneventful replacement?


What is happening to us right now, all over the Muslim Ummah, is exactly what a replacement looks like. The child who died an agonizing death, screaming and crying because there are no painkillers, no medical equipment, and no electricity—this child paid the price for generations of dishonesty, miserliness, and a lack of commitment. How else do we explain the existence of well over one and a half billion Muslims in the world who are rendered ineffective and powerless by governments that are willing to expend monumental sacrifices to stay in power? The leaders of the Muslim world are willing to give up gas fields, oilfields, and even entire territories. They are willing to give up billions of dollars. They are willing to give up anything and everything just to stay in power. So it is not that they do not know what sacrifice is. It is just that they have very different priorities.


Think of the racist former State Department official, Stuart Seldowitz. He understands the logic of the Muslim world well. “We do not have to occupy or dominate Egypt, but we do have to create a government in Egypt that has no qualms about torturing and silencing its own people.” Seldowitz is a racist, but his instrumentality is the proxy racism of the native toward their own kind. “I will send your photo to the Egyptians.” His threats are not empty. He knows that this is precisely how things work all over the Muslim world. He is not inventing a fantastical scenario. He is talking about a dynamic that has been going on since colonialism. “I will get those people that I look down upon, the people of your race and your type, to oppress you so that I do not have to get my hands dirty, so that I do not have to feel like I compromised my ideals for my master race.” 


It is so painful. Even the Secretary General of the United Nations was talking about how, after this conflict is over, he does not want Israel to be in charge of Gaza. Instead, he wants the Palestinian Authority to be in charge of Gaza. That is the same Palestinian Authority that jails Palestinians, tortures Palestinians, and receives its marching orders from its Israeli masters.


It is natural for nations to rise and fall, but for how long is that fall? Whether a nation disintegrates into oblivion or is replaced by an alternative depends on how a nation negotiates its descent. In the same way that the duration of the rise of a civilization depends upon how a nation negotiates its power, whether we, Muslims, emerge from our dark age and how long our dark age lasts depends on us. Think of the incredibly painful, agonizing example of this doctor weeping. Do we somehow exempt those who are most complicit in our subjugation? Do we think of Egypt and say, “Egypt is not to blame"? Or do we recognize that a Muslim cannot possibly be in good standing and be okay with the Egyptian government? Do we recognize that it is a contradiction in terms to claim to be a Muslim in good standing and in any way approve of what the Egyptian government stands for and does? It is the same for the Saudis. One cannot possibly be a Muslim in good standing and not see clearly what the Saudis are doing with the Abraham Accords and with Jared Kushner. One cannot possibly be a Muslim in good standing and not be clear about the ways that the Saudis are complicit and responsible for the agony and the death of this poor child in Gaza. Why is it that colonialism can use Muslim governments as proxies for racism, subjugation, and despotism? If these countries had any degree of democracy, and if these populations had any ability to remove an undesirable ruler without resorting to force and violence, if they could simply elect a ruler out of office, then we would not have the Egyptian security forces. We would not have the Palestinian Authority. We would not have the complacency and betrayals of the UAE and Saudi government. And we would not have the disgusting Abraham Accords. We would not have any of it. 


I submit to you that if the Egyptian, Jordanian, and Syrian people elected their own representatives, this child would not have died through agony and pain. It just simply would not have happened. For Israel would have learned that if they mess with the Palestinians, then they mess with the rest of us. The elected governments of the Muslim world would tell Israel very clearly that if they are going to commit a genocide, their fight is with every government in the Muslim world.


When I was in my teens, I would meet elderly men and women who were of the opinion that the West is so racist that all the institutions the West built around the world are but instrumentalities for racism and colonialism, and that we, Muslims, will not be able to correct the racism inherent and embedded in these institutions unless we become sufficiently powerful and autonomous to be able to resist this racism. When I was young, I sincerely wanted to see a different world. I wanted to believe that these elderly folks were conspiratorially minded and misguided. I wanted to be successful in the institutions that defined our age. I wanted to go to the top schools, get top grades, occupy top positions, and maybe become a prominent official in the United Nations. I wanted to have all the thrills and fluff that go on with prestige. Part of the reason I wanted all this is because I saw how these people always ended up in prison. They were always persecuted. So, indeed, I did go to the best schools, I did get the scholarships, I did get the top grades, and I did attain the highest positions. But this child who died in agony and the racist bigot, Stuart Seldowitz, who also said that 4,000 Palestinian children dying is not enough, woke me up. At this late stage in my life, I have now woken up and realized that all the institutions that colonialism built are but a mirage, a thin veil for an embedded racism that never went away. 


How else do we explain that immediately after October 7th, reports circulated widely that Hamas had beheaded children, raped women, and paraded women naked. It now turns out that none of these accusations are substantiated. In fact, Haaretz has even reported that the images of charred bodies that Israel offered the world as proof of Palestinian brutality and barbarism were, in fact, the bodies of Palestinians burned by Israeli helicopters. It increasingly turns out, in story after story, that a good number of Israelis were killed because of the so-called “Hannibal Doctrine,” a directive adopted by Israel to not allow Palestinians to capture hostages, allowing Israel to kill both the Palestinians and their hostages. Israel claimed to have abandoned this doctrine, but it turns out that they still follow it. So Israeli helicopters bombed Palestinians and Israelis, and a good number of the Israelis were, in fact, killed by Israelis themselves. Listen to Chris Hedges’ program with Max Blumenthal, where Blumenthal lays this out in tedious detail.


How else do we explain that this is a country where, on a daily basis, you hear support for the idea of cleansing Gaza of its inhabitants? It is not hidden. It is not concealed. It is not even implied. A journalist, Abby Martin, interviewed ordinary Israelis on the street, including children. Listen to what they say. “Islam is a disease. It is right to hate Arabs. We need to kill all Arabs up to the last baby.” If you do not believe me, listen to it for yourselves. Listen, too, to Owen Jones and his program. Every single day, Israeli media repeats genocidal proclamations about Gaza. None of it is concealed. What is truly unbelievable, however, is a video recently released on Israel’s public broadcaster that shows Israeli children celebrating genocide in Gaza. The song has the lyrics: "We will annihilate everyone in Gaza." In the video, we see beautiful, innocent children singing the following: 


Autumn night falls over the beach of Gaza. 


Planes are bombing. 


Destruction. Destruction. 


Look, the IDF is crossing the line to annihilate the swastika bearers. 


In another year, there will be nothing there and we will safely return to our homes. 


Within a year, we will annihilate everyone and then, we will return to plow our fields.



The chorus then continues:


And we will remember everyone, the pretty and the pure.


We will never let our hearts forget a friendship like that, love sanctified with blood. 


You will return and bloom amongst us. 


We have now run out of words. 


Our soul still cries out. 


Our soul not only sings, today our soul also fights.


One people, the people of evermore, 


We won't stop protecting our homes, 


We won't be silent. 


We will show the world how today we destroy our enemy.


In law, we call this “genocidal intent.” It is usually the hardest element to prove in crimes of genocide. Benjamin Netanyahu has stood before the entire world and said, “The Palestinians are Amalekites, and we know what the Bible ordered us to do with the Amalekites." The Bible, for those who do not know, ordered the complete extermination of the Amalekites, up to the last man, woman, and child. Still, the spokesman for Biden's government, when asked about the name “Genocide Joe,” responded that it is the people living under occupation; the people who have no planes, no tanks, and no means to survive; it is these people who are guilty of an attempted war with the apparent intent of genocide. So the Palestinians are guilty while the Israelis, who every day declare their intention to commit genocide, are innocent..


The reality is that all the global institutions of our modern world, including our institutions of international law, are a farce. All of them. The World Bank, the United Nations, all the various organizations under the umbrella of the United Nations: it is all institutionalized racism. It is time for Muslims to wake up and understand that no mommy and daddy is going to take care of us. We are the only ones who can take care of ourselves. We must rely upon ourselves to morally challenge this world, and to demand a revolutionary change in the institutions of injustice that dominate our world. And we must understand that the path to liberation starts with Muslims liberating themselves from the despotic, tyrannical, and demonic governments that rule over us and oppress us for the benefit of their colonizer.

The Movement to Reinvigorate Beautiful and Ethical Islam has begun.  Join us.

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