Turning Faith Into Superstition: God is Not Responsible for Gaza - We are.

It is the second jumu‘a in Ramadan, and I dare say that except for a few obscene exceptions in the Muslim world, the entire mood and spirit of this Ramadan is deeply affected by what is happening in Gaza. If we include those who are missing, the number of those killed in Gaza has so far reached over 40,000 people, and that number is likely to be much higher when all is said and done. 


The United Nations continues to warn about famine in Gaza, and there are atrocities taking place in front of the entire world and in well-documented locations, such as al-Shifa Hospital, where there are numerous reports that Israel has carried out extrajudicial executions of unarmed and wounded people. Immediately before this khutbah, Al Jazeera showed a blurred image of a wounded Palestinian whom an Israeli tank had driven over. According to witnesses, an Israeli tank literally drove over this wounded Palestinian. There are widespread reports of the systematic use of torture against Palestinians. There are the infamous pictures of Palestinians tied and blindfolded by Israeli soldiers. But the reports coming out of Al Shifa hospital, for any person who has worked in the human rights field, are mind-numbing.


There are testimonials of torture and the mass extrajudicial killings of unarmed Palestinians. And everything coming out of the UNRWA, Doctors Without Borders, and Human Rights Watch says that there is a policy of deliberate mass starvation. It is a truly obscene moment that shames all of humanity, not just the Israelis. How many people have watched on the footage on Al Jazeera of four Palestinian men walking, clearly unarmed, among the wreckage of their homes that Israel has destroyed? Israel then murdered them in cold blood on camera. And yet, amid the starvation, there is no shortage of Israeli spokespeople on Israeli television channels calling not just for the invasion of Rafah and the mass murder of Palestinians in Rafah, but even for a repeat of what was done in Gaza in the West Bank. Bezalel Smotrich has just annexed 40,000 square meters of Palestinian territory in the West Bank for more Israeli settlements, and with my own two ears, I listened this morning to Israeli commentators on Israeli television calling for an Israeli invasion of the West Bank. This Ramadan, while Muslims are fasting and exhausted, is Israel’s opportunity to obliterate them, slaughter them, and defeat them once and for all.


The somber air this Ramadan is prevalent, but a number of things deserve pause and reflection. For the tendency among human beings generally, not just Muslims, is that nothing tests the dominance or the place of ethics in human societies like military defeats. In times of military victory, societies tend to affirm their relationship to their own traditions, including their ethical mores, ethical principles, and the narratives that affirm the place of ethics, justice, and equitable relationships in society. In times of victory, the possibility of achieving equity and justice and the essentially good nature of human beings is all affirmed and strengthened in society.


The first thing that is tested, in times of social trauma, including military defeat, is precisely these ethics and morals. There will be those who say we cannot count what has happened to Gaza as a defeat, but that is not the point. The point is that if you are unable to put an end to social trauma, and if you consistently and systematically suffer social trauma, what is immediately uprooted and put to the test are your inherited social systems and traditional systems of belief. And this includes your inherited belief systems in the possibility of justice and the possibility of equity.


The longer the trauma; the longer the sense of brokenness; the longer the sense of social upheaval and de-construction; the deeper the trauma. The deeper the sense of skepticism about ethics or moral norms. There is an increase, ironically and paradoxically, in the belief in superstition, irrational results, and irrational relationships. The more the belief that if there is a possibility of justice and equity, then such justice and equity can only be achieved through superstition or the workings of the paranormal, not through rational, systematic social relationships.


But the level of trauma in Muslim societies is greatly hampered by an ailment that makes the possibility of healing from social trauma even more difficult. For social trauma to heal, you do not only need for the trauma to come to an end. You also need the removal of fear, anxiety, apprehensiveness, and terror about speaking about the trauma. For the trauma to start to heal socially, you need a level of transparency so that people can come to terms with it rationally, not through superstition. 


My mind travels back to 1917. In 1917, a British officer, General Allenby, led British troops, some troops from New Zealand, some troops from India, and some Egyptian troops who invaded and conquered Jerusalem. When Jerusalem fell on December 30th 1917, the churches in both Rome and England rang their bells in celebration. Headlines in papers all across Europe carried the heading, "Jerusalem is liberated: the end of the Crusades." It was clearly seen, whether from a Protestant or Catholic perspective, as a religious victory with clear religious overtones. I have looked at the literature that delves into the unlikely and, to my mind, inexplicable victory of the British in the battle for Jerusalem. We know from the testimony of British and Indian soldiers—in other words, sources that are not ethnically biased in favor of the Ottomans—that the Ottomans in Jerusalem fought very hard. But that was not my issue. My issue was to try to see the level of transparency that we, Muslims, have achieved about such a monumental moment in our history as what happened in December 1917.


Note, too, that the brains behind the Israeli army was a Zionist Jewish officer who was part of Allenby's forces that conquered Jerusalem. This man stayed and became the seed from which the Israeli army was born, from which the Zionist colonization of Palestine became a reality on the ground.


I found about ten books on the conquest of Jerusalem, and all these books are in English and French. The Arabic books about the fall of Jerusalem were full of rhetoric and dogma. Any serious researcher would have to rely not on the books written in the native language of the inhabitants of Jerusalem. The truth of the matter is that the only accepted scholarly narratives out there about precisely what happened—about how we, Muslims, collectively suffered such a disastrous development like the loss of Jerusalem, after centuries of crusades and battles—are written by non-Muslims. Allenby’s was a relatively small force around half of which, according to some estimates, consisted of Muslim soldiers. So, Muslim soldiers were fighting their fellow Muslims. But, in the Muslim world, this is all hidden behind veils of ignorance, marred in shadows and obscurity. The only narratives that exist without anxiety and repression are the narratives written by non-Muslims. There are several banned texts about the fall of Jerusalem in Arabic. The Turkish texts are no better because they are equally dogmatic and rhetorical. 


Yet I then pause and think. Do we fare any better about the fall and annexation of Mecca by the Al Sa‘ud? How many of us know that the first Congress organized by Al Sa‘ud for Muslim nations assured the Muslim world that Al Sa‘ud had no designs to annex the Hijaz, and that the status of the Hijaz would remain what it had been for centuries, that is, the exclusive province of the Ashraf, the reported descendants of the Prophet? The place of the Ashraf in the Hijaz, the descendants of the Prophet, had been an established custom for centuries. It was supposed to be a distinctively apolitical position within the Muslim world. It was also to be a theologically and jurisprudentially neutral position within the Muslim world. It is not that Muslims thought that only those who carried the blood of the Prophet were administratively more competent than others to administer the Hijaz. But Muslims did think that it was a convenient solution to say that those who have the blood of the Prophet would administratively run the Hijaz on the condition that they would not discriminate against any particular theology or school of law. It was through that compromise that bloodshed in the Hijaz had been avoided for centuries—until British colonialism came along. In other words, Shi‘i and Sunni could equally enjoy the Hijaz. Sufi and non-Sufi could equally enjoy the Hijaz. Every madhab and every orientation, including orientations and madhabs that had become extinct, like the Mu‘tazila, could have representation in the Hijaz. It was due to the sovereignty of the Ashraf over the Hijaz, for they would not align themselves with any particular madhab or political ideology. That is why the institutions of the Ashraf were maintained in the Hijaz. British colonialism politicized the Ashraf for the first time, then excluded the Ashraf, and then, because British colonialism could not trust the Ashraf’s political agenda, it brought in Al Sa‘ud. 


Do we have any level of transparency? Do we have any level of truth in discourse about what happened in the Hijaz, how the Hijaz fell, and the exact role of the British? Were there other forces involved from, say, Australia or New Zealand? What was the deal struck between Al Sa‘ud and the British? Was the annexation of Hijaz truly an idea proposed first by the British and resisted initially by Al Sa‘ud until the British prevailed upon Al Sa‘ud? There are one hundred questions, but the fall of Jerusalem and the fall of the Hijaz is surrounded by fog.


We exist in the same tragic, disastrous dynamics. It is not as if we experienced the fall of Jerusalem, learned from it, emerged from it, and grew as a people. The lack of honesty, lack of truth, lack of intellectual commitment, and lack of scholarship made us learn absolutely nothing. The truth of the matter is that the average Muslim may know about the book Riyadh al-Salihin (“The Gardens of the Righteous”) by Imam al-Nawawi, which is a collection of hadiths, or they may know some hadiths from al-Bukhari, but they will know practically nothing about the fall of Jerusalem or the Hijaz. The average Muslim is historically illiterate, and if he or she wants to be educated, the only possibly reliable sources are the sources not written by Muslims. No honesty in discourse, no probing inquiries, and no real scholarship.


It is one of the most monumental historical moments in our lives. Mulsims firsted seized Jerusalem from the Romans. Then, for over one thousand years, they defended this land against fourteen crusades. After hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Muslims sacrificed their lives for Jerusalem throughout Islamic history, Jerusalem fell in 1917, and we know next to nothing about it. Then, in 1924, the Hijaz was annexed by Al Sa‘ud, and we know next to nothing about it. 


I was looking at a book published shortly after the Wahhabis annexed the Hijaz. This book was published by an Egyptian Shaykh who had just performed his hajj, arriving in the Hijaz in 1936. This book, incidentally, was available on eBay for $500 because it has disappeared from the Muslim world. The Shaykh has a picture in his book and wrote about the photo: "Here once stood the house of the Prophet in Medina before it was torn down.” On another page: “Here stood the house of Khadija before it was torn down." Why did he do this? Because the wound was fresh. He had traveled for hajj from Egypt, and it is clear from his testimony in the book that he expected to see the house of the Prophet and the house of Khadija.


Who of us remembers that anymore? In the grand scheme of history, this is not even a long time ago. From 1936 to today, we have completely forgotten the house of the Prophet and the house of Khadija—where toilets now stand in Medina. Do we know what happened? Absolutely not. Not in Jerusalem, and not in the Hijaz.


There is now a Starbucks right by the Prophet’s mosque in Medina. In the United States, there are calls to boycott Starbucks because of Starbucks’ support for Israelis. Yet Starbucks is right in the heart of Medina. You cannot go to the mosque of the Prophet and avoid Starbucks, but do any of us have any say about the matter? Can any of us say, honestly, that we know what happened? Can any of us say that we know how Starbucks made a deal to open in Medina and Mecca? Of course not. We are completely absent. I am not just talking about political decisions. I am even talking about the level of scholarship. Is there any Muslim scholar out there who can tell the story of how Mecca and Medina were invaded by Starbucks? The answer is no.


It is not just that we are an oblivious people, a people absent of their own history and destiny, but we are a people absent from our own selves and our own sense of self-determination. There is a man from Qatar named Abdul ‘Aziz al-Khasraj. Qatar, of course, is the home of Al Jazeera, a channel that has made a name for itself around the world because, relative to all other media outlets, it has a greater degree of respect for freedom of speech and honesty in discourse when compared to its competitors.


I used to listen to Abdul ‘Aziz al-Khasraj, and he would constantly condemn the betrayal of the Emiratis and the Saudis toward the Palestinian people. He would also condemn the Saudi government's betrayal of Islamic causes more generally. When I mentioned earlier that there are a couple of “obscene exceptions” in the Muslim world, these obscene exceptions are exactly what al-Khasraj would often talk about. In the UAE and Saud Arabia, if you make a du‘a’ for Gaza, you will be arrested and disappear. The UAE and Saudi Arabia are partying as if there is no genocide. They are celebrating, unaffected by a genocide taking place just miles away from their border, let alone the fact that both countries allow commodities to pass over their land and airspace to Israel. Abdul ‘Aziz al-Khasraj did nothing but speak the truth about Saudi Arabia and the UAE. 


Lo and behold, suddenly, we find that he has been arrested in Qatar. First, he was arrested and disappeared for a month, and he was ordered not to appear on social media anymore. Recently, however, he was suddenly brought from his seclusion and sentenced to fifteen years in prison. Can any Muslim find out the truth about someone like Abdul ‘Aziz al-Khasraj? Absolutely not. What did he say that Al Jazeera does not say? Why did they pick on him? Who is behind his imprisonment? Who told the Qataris that this man has to go to prison for fifteen years? Was it the Israelis, the Americans, the Saudis, or the Emiratis? Questions upon questions upon questions, and there is no Muslim who can answer any of these questions.


Take another example. There is an Al Jazeera anchor named Ghada Owais. I like Ghada Owais because she asked hard-hitting questions. She rarely cracked a smile. She was a tough, “no nonsense” kind of journalist. The Saudi government spied on Ghada Owais, broke into her phone, found her private pictures, and Saudi accounts on Twitter then published her private pictures. Ghada Owais was so upset that she filed a lawsuit against Mohammed Bin Salman in the U.S, saying the Saudis have pursued her and her family, ruining their lives. Among Ghada Owais’s favorite powerful topics was, of course, Gaza and Palestine. Suddenly, however, she disappeared from Al Jazeera and has not appeared on the channel for a year. The rumor is that the Saudis pressured the Qataris, and Qatar obliged. Are there any Muslims who can learn what's what about a figure like Ghada Owais? No, for these are closed societies, with closed files, where everything is secret.


Recently, someone contacted The Usuli Institute and confessed, "As I watch what is going on in Gaza, I do not feel like making du‘a’ because I am losing faith. I do not trust in God anymore because, surely, all the victims of Gaza pray and beg God for help, and no help arrives." My answer is that you have turned your faith into superstition. You think the way du‘a’ works is for you to ask God for the impossible. We live in despotism and ignorance for centuries. We betray Jerusalem, the Hijaz, and the principles of justice and equity. We do all this, and do we think that God will then miraculously come and say, "Do not worry about it. Do not worry about all the things you have messed up for centuries. Do not worry about al-Khasraj or Ghada Owais. Do not worry about the fact that Morsi died in prison in Egypt, murdered by the fascist dictator, Sisi. Do not worry, for I will miraculously come and save the day for you." Really? What universe would we be living in? How would that be fair to societies and people who actually live by principles, who actually struggle to uphold justice in their midst and create transparency and accountability? 


In the heart of this, we find Imam al-Sudais, the imam of Mecca, leading taraweeh prayer. In 2014, this same man, who became rather famous because he would often cry while reciting the Qur’an, gave a beautiful khutbah about the importance of Jerusalem to the Muslim world. He would say that there are Muslims who do not understand its importance, who have betrayed Jerusalem, and who call resistance to Zionism “terrorism.” He would say that these Muslims are misguided, lost, and ignorant. But that was back in 2014. Everything changed in 2017 when Mohammed Bin Salman came to power and commanded al-Sudais to change his views 180 degrees. So al-Sudais now talks about how President Trump and MBS are “leading the world toward the pastures of justice and peace.” Al-Sudais now talks about how Palestinian resistance is a form of “extremism” and “fanaticism.” Very recently, al-Sudais even said that anyone who makes du‘a’ publicly for Gaza or for Palestinians deserves to go to prison. Al-Sudais also said the al-Aqsa Mosque is no big deal, just like any other mosque in the history of Islam.


What he said was gross, but you then pause and you think: we have no way of objectively measuring whether Muslims accept the religious leadership and authority of someone like al-Sudais or not. No one in a Muslim world of well over one billion people has the power, regardless of how unpopular al-Sudais might be, to say, "We do not like this imam, we do not want him to lead taraweeh prayer." Because of the world in which we live, the truth is that Trump and Biden have more power over MBS than the entire Muslim world. If these figures do not want al-Sudais to lead taraweeh prayer, they only have to pick up the phone and say, "We do not like the Sudais anymore, so throw him next to Ghada Owais and al-Khasraj," and MBS will say, "Yes, sir."


I reserved the biggest problem, however, at least in my opinion, for last.


To those who want to blame God for Gaza, think about the reality that Muslims have allowed to be built and constructed around them. Is that God's fault? Did God do this to us? But here is the most important point: do you know why there are no serious scholars who have published one hundred books on the fall of Jerusalem in 1917? Why are all the serious books about the fall of Jerusalem in 1917 written by non-Muslims? It is because of the absence of Muslim capital. Not because of a shortage of Muslim scholars, but because wealthy Muslims will spend $30 million building a mosque but will not spend $10,000 or $100,000 supporting a scholar. It is because wealthy Muslims are cowards.


Muslim capital, as I have said so many times before, is cowardly. Try to go to any wealthy Muslim and say, "There are gifted Muslim scholars who want to research the history of the annexation of Hijaz and how many Muslim soldiers fought in Allenby’s army." That is a question I have. We know Allenby conscripted Egyptian soldiers to fight against Ottoman soldiers. As a Muslim, I want to know how many Egyptians were killed fighting the Ottomans for the sake of handing Jerusalem over to the British and the Zionists. But that is something we cannot find out, because too many live in a Muslim world where there is no freedom. For too many of us, if the topic we are researching upsets the military and security officers, then we can forget it. We would disappear. And on top of that, Muslim capital in places where institutions could support serious scholarship is cowardly.


I was told recently by a well-intentioned man, "Many wealthy Muslims agree with you, Khaled. So many wealthy Muslims admire your courage.” Why, then, am I standing alone? "Well, they support you behind closed doors, but they are scared of supporting you financially." I am talking about Muslims who are already multimillionaires. God has already given them hundreds of millions of dollars. What more do they want? They can afford to do nothing but spend money for the rest of their lives, and yet they are cowards.


But, on top of being cowardly, they are also arrogant and ignorant, for wealthy Muslims too often think they are smart enough and competent enough to figure out all the important questions that need to be asked. I have not seen a wealthy Muslim consult with a serious intellectual mind about the relevant questions that need to be asked. So, amazingly, here we are today, in 2024, and every Muslim who has wanted to research what happened in 1917, with the fall of Jerusalem, has been overshadowed, if not disappeared. And it does not occur to wealthy Muslims because they are ignorant and arrogant.


Here is how the trajectory looks. We have an ongoing genocide in Gaza, including the expected invasion of Rafah, which will be another massacre and genocide. We have the “Deal of the Century,” including the secret agreements between Jared Kushner, MBS, MBZ, and Sisi of Egypt. We have the Egyptian role in the genocide of Gaza, all of which will remain behind the shadows—just like the fall of Jerusalem and the annexation of the Hijaz. We will have tons of questions, still no answers, and Muslim capital will remain cowardly, pathetic, arrogant, and ignorant. The occasional person will then come along and say, "Oh, I cannot make du‘a’ because I am angry at God." 


God is not responsible for Gaza. We are.

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