A Pivotal Moment in History and the Hashish Sellers in Morocco

Where do I start? Do I start with a frank assessment of our historical moment? We are living through what is, in my view, as far as Islam is concerned, a defining moment that will define the role that Islam plays on this planet for centuries to come. Do I speak about that, or do I start with the incredible insights of the Qur’an. If only we read, understood, and comprehended carefully enough, we would see how God tells us about these transformative, historical moments of crises, and what ought to be our role in such moments.


Maybe I should start with this. In learned and intellectual circles today, on university campuses or in any forum where ideas are exchanged, it is common to speak about the ideas of powerlessness, disempowerment, or self-determination as if these ideas have always existed. It is as if the notion that disempowerment is a bad thing has always been there, from the dawn of history until today. The truth of the matter is different. In fact, when we talk about the disempowered—whether disempowered because of class, ethnicity, race, religion, culture, or anything else—along with the corollary concept of self-determination, it is all fairly recent language. It is language that emerged well after the so-called “Age of Reason” in Europe. It is language that was only popularized and fully came into being in active resistance to colonialism, especially in the waning days of colonialism. It is not language that we find even in the 16th century, let alone before the 16th century, nor is it language that we find in the 17th or 18th centuries. We start finding this language popping up, timidly at first, in the late 19th and then fully in the 20th century. 


Interestingly enough, the language of disempowerment and the right to self-determination was mainly articulated by leftist social and political theorists who were influenced either by Marxism or by socialist thought in some way, and whose socialism took on an anti-colonial stance. One such example is Frantz Fanon, who is perhaps the most influential figure in the modern age in generating the language about disempowerment, the right to self-determination, and how colonialism robs people of even the ability to define themselves; in other words, colonialism is a physical and non-physical assault that says, "You do not get to define yourself in our world. We define who you are, what you are, how you are, and for what reasons you are."


Those who truly know the Qur'an know a remarkable truth. They know that the Qur’an introduced the language of disempowerment and the right to self-determination centuries before even colonialism was a reality. We see this when the Qur'an speaks about al-mustad‘afun (the disempowered), saying that God wills to end the disempowerment of the disempowered, either by active resistance or by an act of migration. In other words, by removing themselves from the realm of disempowerment so that they will become empowered.


If Muslims were just to their own book, if Muslims were an educated people, if Muslims understood the marvel of the ethical message of the Qur'an, then Muslims would have realized how remarkable it is that the Qur'an was saying this so many centuries ago. The Qur’an was saying this at a time when human beings thought that kings had a Divine right to rule, and that challenging the right of kings or queens was an act worthy of capital punishment. The Qur’an was saying this at a time when Roman law, Jewish law, and every legal system that I have studied decreed torture and death for those who defied rulers. Into this, the Qur'an entered the scene and told the disempowered that it was, in fact, a sin to accept disempowerment. But more than that, in Surah Hud, we find the most astounding discourse about injustice, disempowerment, and oppression. God tells us:


Pursue, then, the right course, as thou hast been bidden [by God], together with all who, with thee, have turned unto Him; and let none of you behave in an overweening manner: for, verily, He sees all that you do. And do not incline towards, nor rely upon, those who are bent on evildoing lest the fire [of the hereafter] touch you: for [then] you would have none to protect you from God, nor would you ever be succoured [by Him]. And be constant in praying at the beginning and the end of the day, as well as during the early watches of the night: for, verily, good deeds drive away evil deeds: this is a reminder to all who bear [God] in mind. And be patient in adversity: for, verily,. God does not fail to requite the doers of good! (Q 11:112-115).


In Surah Hud, after God tells us the stories about how the powerful dominate, impose hegemonic structures, kill the voice of truth, and silence those who challenge power, God asks, “How about you?" The message of the Qur'an is clear. Yes, there is injustice and systematic disempowerment, so the Qur'an asks, "How about you? What position should you take?" God then tells us:  “Pursue, then, the right course, as thou hast been bidden [by God]” (Q 11:112).


Do you want to know what your position should be? Remain upright. The challenge is to not allow the prevalence of evil to diminish the morality within you and to compromise your own sense of uprightness. That is a great challenge to the individual. Yes, evil and disempowerment are prevalent, but God tells you that your job is to remain steadfast (Q 11:112). God tells you to remain steadfast in adhering to the ethical code that God has given you, and to do what is, psychologically, one of the most difficult things to do: not allow the prevalence of evil to dilute, weaken, or unsettle the morality within you. God knows that when we are disempowered, when we suffer, when the horizons are dark, the biggest challenge is to remain just yourself. So God tells us to be upright in confronting this overwhelming challenge. 


But God then tells us something else: “And do not incline towards, nor rely upon, those who are bent on evildoing" (Q 11:113). Whatever you do, do not allow yourself to become part of the unjust. For the unjust create systems of injustice. The unjust may not persecute people every minute of every day, but what they do create are institutions of persecution and institutions that regularly and systematically abuse power. The worst thing is when the moral few start losing faith in the truth of morality and ethics, and start thinking, “Well, all this injustice perhaps means that I do not have to be just, I do not have to be moral.”


Look at what God tells the Prophet Muhammad and his Companions in the midst of the darkness that surrounded these people when Surah Hud was revealed. Remain steadfast (Q 11:112). Whatever happens, you are not allowed to be unjust (Q 11:113).


If only Muslims listened to their book and followed the injunctions of their book. Their book is not about a piece of cloth you put on your head to cover your hair. It is not about the way you pronounce the Qur'an. It is not about any of that. Your book is about the moral, ethical code that is embodied within that revelation. So, what does God say next? Be upright (Q 11:112). Do not be unjust nor surrender to the unjust (Q 11:113). Do not say, "Well, it is up to God who rules" or "God commanded us to obey them in political matters, and may God give them success." Do not be part of the institutions of injustice. What the verse  literally means is to not allow yourself to be dependent and reliant, to be in a situation where the injustice of the unjust is accepted and normalized.


This, at a time when the world did not understand the concept of disempowerment. This, long before the writings of Frantz Fanon on colonialism. Long before there was a Marx who was offended by systems of oppression. Long before it all, God spoke to a people about the evils of disempowerment; about the mandate to be individually upright even if the entire world is going insane; about the importance of remaining just, individually and collectively, even if you are the victim of injustice; about never philosophizing or creating theological and philosophical apologetics to make injustice somehow acceptable in human life.


If only we studied our book. Remember what happened before the Battle of Uhud. Remember how the Prophet took shura and how, as a result of the majority vote, Muslims were defeated in the Battle of Uhud. In Surah Al ‘Imran, God revealed a surah that came immediately after the defeat and that delivered the warning: "Do not doubt the system of shura. Just because you did not get the results you wanted, do not dare doubt the system itself. Do not doubt the obligation to overcome the tyranny of the self” (Q 3:159). You can live in a world of tyranny and oligarchy, a system in which an elite decides everything and the will of the governed does not matter. But that is not the system of shura. In the system of shura, the will of the governed matters a great deal. 


What does God tell us in Surah al-Shura? God first reminds us of the unjust and what the unjust do to those who speak the truth. It is the same old story. Truth speakers stand up to speak the truth, and they suffer the consequences as the rest of society sits on the sidelines, pretending to be neutral. God then tells us in Surah al-Shura to remain upright and to not follow the whims of those who allow themselves to be the slaves of Satan; to not philosophize wrongdoing by following the whims of those whom you know are unjust (Q 42:15). Immediately after that, what does God tell the Prophet amid the hardship that followed the loss at Uhud? God tells the Prophet that his first obligation is to remain upright and to not follow the whims of people. But God then tells the Prophet that he has been commanded to “always enforce justice among you” (Q 42:15). Political loss does not excuse oppression. Political defeat does not excuse immorality. In other words, even though he is living through the most challenging times, the obligation upon God's Prophet, as an exemplar unto the rest of humanity, is that he must remain steadfast and clear-minded about right and wrong and, under all circumstances, enforce and pursue justice.


We have a book that came to raise the alarm about powerlessness. We have a book that came to tell people that if you want salvation, liberate a bonded neck. Break the chains (Q 90:13). This book came to tell us that disempowerment and oppression are wrong]. In fact, suffering oppression is such a sin that God promises those who took the Shahadah, but who refused to migrate and remove themselves from the lands of oppression, that they are going to hellfire, although they are Muslim.


Of course, this message excited the imagination of people at the time it was revealed. Its ideas, language, and concepts were, indeed, foreign, but still liberating and exciting, like oxygen. We do not find pre-Islamic Arab poets writing about overcoming disempowerment. That is not what Arabs talked about. Arabs talked about racing horses and bragged about the best breed of horses. Arabs talked about feuds. Arabs had practically no sense of justice whatsoever, because so much of what they bragged about in their poetry was outright injustice. 


This book, the Qur’an, then came to reorient the entire perspective of a people as exemplars for the rest of humanity: “It is not about your horses; it is not about your camels; it is not about your palaces; it is not about your ethnicities; it is not about who is chosen or unchosen; it is not about kings, queens, or priests; it is not about an aristocracy that hoards money.” Of course, it excited the imagination of people, and of course, it was not just Arabs. It was everyone who suffered under the Roman oppression that had existed for a thousand years. Romans even oppressed fellow Christians, like the Copts in Egypt. The Copts of Egypt today conveniently forget that they were a persecuted group under Roman control and that they did not get to breathe the air of freedom until Muslims liberated and restored their churches after evicting the Romans from Egypt. If we were writing our history, this would be common knowledge. Every child would know this. But we do not write our history, nor do we understand our book.


In a recent khutbah, I referred to us as donkeys carrying books. That is precisely what we are, for we have a book that opens our eyes and yet we insist on keeping our eyes shut. Why do I talk about this? 


Looking at Islam as a historical phenomena, the type of culture that Islam created was a culture that rejected being dominated by the other. The Spanish and Portuguese completely erased the cultures of those they colonized, and replaced the languages of the colonized with their own. They were so successful that almost no one today speaks the native languages of South America or Central America. It is the same for much of Africa and Asia, including places like the Philippines. The one force that always proved so difficult to control, dominate, and erase was Islam. Islam gave its people a native sense of dignity that did not tolerate subjugation and disempowerment. 


We find ourselves living through a moment in which the entire world is watching a genocide unfold against Gaza on live television. The logic of terrorism is to hurt an innocent party in order to send a message. What is happening in Gaza is a clear example of Israel engaging in terrorism. Israel is doing what it is doing to Palestinians to send a message. The message to Muslims, wherever they are, is that of the futility of resistance and the futility of believing in an Islam that looks to normative categories like justice, fairness, dignity, or honor.


I remember, as a young man, reading the writings of Arnold Toynbee, a British historian who wrote a great deal on the colonial age. Toynbee said plainly, before World War I, that the biggest obstacle to Western hegemony and dominance was Islam. “We have successfully dominated Hindus and Buddhists. We have successfully replaced native religions with our Christianity. But we are having the hardest time converting Muslims and getting Muslims to forget the language of their book.” Toynbee openly advised his colonial masters that Muslims who resist must be called “zealots." Back then, the go-to term was not “terrorist,” but “zealot.” The message sent was that to submit to the West was to be “reasonable” and “fair-minded.” but resisting the West was to be a “zealot,” an “extremist,” and a “fanatic” who will not be tolerated. 


Arnold Toynbee was not alone, Toynbee is one of the teachers who formed the intellect of Winston Churchill, a great hero to the British and often cited by neocons because of his hatred for Muslims. It is conveniently forgotten what Churchill did when the Iraqi people tried to rise up and demand their freedom, their right not to be oppressed by colonialism. He gassed them. He ordered the Royal Air Force to gas the rebels, and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis died. But because Muslims do not matter, it is conveniently left out of Churchill's biographies and the historical record. We even find apologists who argue, "Well, it was never actually established that he used gas. Yes, he did issue an order to stockpile gas in Iraq, but we do not have proof he used it." They argue this despite the existence of photographs proving thousands of Iraqis were gassed to death. We conveniently forget that British colonialism supported Al Saud. When the followers of King Abdul Aziz rebelled against the family of Al Saud, what prevented an overthrow of the Al Saud family? Who decisively and unequivocally decided that the Hijaz, Mecca and Medina, would be under the control of Al Saud and no one else? Yes, it was the Royal Air Force. 


What is it that the powers of hegemony, powers that want Muslims subjugated and powerless, are so scared of? One story was sent to me this morning, and it demonstrates everything I am saying. This story is about the hashish sellers of Morocco: “Moroccan drug dealers are refusing to sell their wares to Israeli criminals over Gaza war." A report in the Mako news site cited a number of Israeli drug dealers complaining that Moroccan dealers have refused to do business with them. “‘They decided that because of the war,’” meaning, because of the genocide, “‘they are boycotting us. Since the war’"—genocide—“‘we have lost a lot of money, tens of millions of shekels at least." The same outlet quoted a Moroccan hashish dealer as saying that they were refusing to sell to Israelis. “‘Why is it possible for Israelis to make a living selling Moroccan hashish when our Palestinian brothers are suffering from hunger and living in inhumane conditions?” asked the dealer, based in the Rif mountains, a hub for hashish growing. “Go buy it somewhere else. We no longer sell hashish to Israelis.”


This is precisely what the colonizer is scared of. Native self-determination. A will to resist that could come from the most unlikely quarters. We Muslims may like to pretend otherwise, but there is a history of Egyptian prostitutes who took a stand against British colonialism by trapping British officers who came to their quarters; the prostitutes drugged them and turned them over to the resistance. It is a story that many like to forget, but it is the truth. 


For even the greatest sinners, Islam still taught them dignity. Even if they disobeyed God in everything they did, it had become a part of their DNA to feel for a fellow Muslim and to refuse humiliation, insult, and degradation. It was part of their DNA. It is what Islam had encoded in them, even if they disobeyed God every single day of their life. 


The king of Morocco will not boycott Israel, and that is why colonialism loves him and loves all the rulers it puts in power. It is the will of the native Muslim that is so dangerous and that scares the Israelis. And the terror we are witnessing in Gaza is about precisely that. It is about making an example. “Our spectacular bombing of Iraq did not work, you Muslims still want to resist. Afghanistan did not work. You Muslims still want to resist. We call every Muslim who wants to resist an ‘extremist,’ a ‘fanatic,’ a political ‘Islamist,’ a member of the Muslim brotherhood, yet you still resist. So, we are going to put on a display of absolute terror. Maybe you will then finally remove the Qur'an from your hearts and learn how to be submissive and obedient. Learn to be like all the other people we colonized who lost their language, religion, and culture. What is wrong with you Muslims? Why won't you just be erased like Abbas and his Palestinian Authority? What do we have to do to you to be erased? If you refuse to be erased, we will keep murdering you until you are erased.” 


This is what the genocide in Gaza is about. This is what our book is about. This is everything told in a few moments. 


The message of Islam is a message about disempowerment. It is a message that tells people that it is a sin to accept being disempowered. Islam told us to not accept, abide by, or even tolerate injustice (Q 11:113). Islam tells us to be upright and couples that with the pursuit of justice (Q 11:112; 42:15). Yet there is another form of Islam. This Islam will cite the same verse but forget the part that talks about justice. It instead tells us, "Just use the miswak, make sure you enter the mosque from a different door than women, and make sure you never hear the voices of women”—all that nonsense. 


That is not the message of the Qur'an. 


There is a systematic attack on Islam in the world today, and Gaza is very much a part of that. So, too, are the Abrahamic Accords. So is the annexation of Jerusalem. So is the architectural destruction of the Hijaz. So is the American military might.


Look at the map of refugees in the world today. The vast majority of refugees are Muslim, but why are they refugees? Is it because aliens came from outer space and took over their countries? No, it is because the U.S., Britain, or France does not like their choice of leader or  the fact that Muslims could choose a leader that, according to the French or Americans, are “fanatics” and “extremists.” So the West insists on installing its own ruler and using maximum violence to impose its will. This often results in civil war, and that is how refugees come to be. 


There was a remarkable democratic movement in Sudan. It could have easily been compared to the Polish freedom movement. But what happened? What happened is that there is a man called Hemedti, a well-known CIA stooge with a horrible human rights record. He has committed numerous massacres. But, when all is said and done, he is “our man.” The U.S. told Hemedti that Sudan must normalize relations with Israel, so they did. But when they did so, did Sudan gain the right to have freedom and democracy to determine its own fate? No. Now that they have accepted Israel, they must accept the rest of the deal. “You are subservient to us. You Muslims are not worthy of concepts such as liberty, rights, and justice.” So the U.S. ordered Hemedti to create the actual civil war in Sudan that has generated thousands upon thousands of refugees.


I close with this, and I hope that some people will understand. When the famous Harvard professor, Samuel Huntington, defended the thesis of “Clash of Civilizations,” he was simply regurgitating what many historians of colonialism have said. “Our biggest obstacle is Islam. We must dominate as a civilization. We must have total hegemony.” To prove his case, Samuel Huntington said that Islam has “bloody borders,” implying that Muslims cannot coexist with others and are always fighting and planning to dominate the other—precisely what Bernard Lewis would have taught him decades earlier. The funny thing is people like Huntington and Lewis constantly talked about how Muslims want to dominate the other when they knew that Muslims have not been dominant for centuries. They knew that Muslims are thoroughly dominated. They were fully aware, for instance, of what France, Britain, and Russia did to Iran when Iran had a nascent democratic movement. They were fully aware of this agonizingly painful history. Iran was essentially told, "If you talk about parliaments, rights, and democracy and so on, we will destroy your economy."


It is consistent with the many attempts by Muslims everywhere to assert their right to self-determination and dignity. What colonial powers do in response is exactly what the U.S. did when it helped the Egyptian army overthrow its democratically-elected government. It is doing the exact same thing in Tunisia. Time and again, the story is so redundant and boring.


Huntington talks about the “bloody borders” of Islam, but look at a map of the Muslim world today. There are no longer bloody borders; the Muslim world is bleeding everywhere. The proof is refugees. Do some basic research online and see where most refugees come from in our world. The typical image of a refugee today is a muhajabah. Huntington claimed that Islam has “bloody borders” because Muslims always want to dominate. But if so, then what happened? Why is the Muslim world today bleeding everywhere? Why are there U.S. military bases all over the Muslim world? The U.S. has 130 military bases overseas, the vast majority of which are in Muslim countries. It is not colonialism by proxy anymore, it is direct and vulgar colonialism. American military bases are not subject to the sovereign will of the domestic nation. The U.S. bases do whatever they will and they never ask permission of the Saudis, Jordanians, Iraqis, or Egyptians. They do whatever they want, and no Muslim country dares to do what the hashish sellers of Morocco did in taking a stand. No Muslim country dares to say, "Do not use military bases to send ammunition to Israel to kill Palestinians." No Muslim country dares. There are bases in Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, everywhere. Why, then, the “bloody body” of the Muslim world? 


I will tell you why. It is because of this obsession, this ideological bent that took place after 9/11 that the Muslim world must learn to submit and surrender.


We do not want to tell them to surrender to the colonial master, for that would offend them and hurt their feelings. So we tell them, “Surrender to your God,” but we then make their God like the God of the Emiratis and the Abrahamic Accords. Like the God of the Madkhalis and Jamis. Like a God that tells them, "I do not care about justice. I do not care about the oppressed and disempowered. What I care about is whether you are eating according to the correct rules, or whether a woman is covering her body. I care that a woman is not using her voice. I care that you hate the Shi‘a and think that the Shi‘a are the worst people on the face of the earth. These are the things I care about as God.” So, yes, submit and surrender. Since it hurts your feelings to acknowledge that you are surrendering to your colonial master, we will pretend that you are surrendering to your God, and we will define your God how we want.


This is why we are living through a historical, transformative moment. The genocide in Gaza is about redefining Islam. That is why Saudi Arabia, in private, consistently tells the Americans and Israelis, “Go ahead" and “Wipe out” Hamas. They do not like the Islam that Hamas represents. That is “political Islam” and “political Islam” is “bad.” That is why people like Hamza Yusuf and his companions are so dangerous. As another Trump presidency looms, Trump’s people and Hamza Yusuf’s people are closely alligned. Let us not forget the State Department report on human rights that Hamza Yusuf was part of. It could be the subject of another khutbah, for it is a shockingly disturbing report. 


The hashish merchants of Morocco understand more about Islam and are closer to Islam than so many imams in the mosques in the United States. Understand that. The hashish merchants of Morocco are closer to the message of Islam than all the esteemed imams in all the Islamic institutions that pretend to matter, and that pretend to make a difference in the world.

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