How to fix an Ummah: Hurriyah (Freedom) and ‘Izzah (Dignity)

Today is the last Friday of Ramadan. Yesterday, I saw some news about a Palestinian Shaykh, Mahmoud Al Hasanat, who gave an exceedingly short khutbah. It essentially consisted of the Shaykh getting up and saying, "If 30,000 martyrs, 70,000 injured, and 2 million homeless Palestinians couldn’t awaken the Ummah, what impact will my words make? What more do I say, and to whom? Straighten your rows, let’s pray." He concluded the khutbah and that was it, they prayed. I have to admit that I have that very same sentiment. What more could there be to say amid an ongoing genocide? Just yesterday, the Human Rights Council in the United Nations passed a resolution calling for an arms embargo against Israel because of evidence of a possible genocide, but the resolution is worded in a conditional way.


Apparently, the resolution was introduced by Pakistan, but Germany, the United States, and Britain were among the six countries that voted against the Human Rights Council resolution. They objected to anyone accusing Israel of genocide. Germany made the very disingenuous argument that we cannot possibly say that Israel has committed a genocide until the International Criminal Court (ICC) says so, and the ICC has not spoken on the matter. This argument is disingenuous because everyone knows the ICC will never speak on the matter because of the political pressures applied by Western powers upon the ICC to not investigate. Germany knows fully well that it is disingenuous to say we cannot accuse Israel of a genocide until the institutions of international law investigate the matter when, in fact, these institutions will never be allowed to investigate the matter in any proper way because of the pressure applied by the very same countries that voted against the resolution in the Human Rights Council. The conditionally worded resolution that calls for an arms embargo against Israel passed in the Human Rights Council with 28 votes in favor, six votes against, and 13 countries abstaining.


Of course, resolutions in the Human Rights Council are non-binding. They only have moral weight, so to speak. They are the voice of the common nations of the world, but they are not the voice of the superpowers that yield actual weight and force and compulsion. They are not the voice of the permanent members of the Security Council, so the voice of the Human Rights Council ultimately does not have binding authority. In a world like this, one is very much tempted to be like Shaykh Mahmoud Al Hasanat and say, "What can I possibly add? What can I say? If the daily images of slaughtered children, starvation, hunger, suffering, and bloodshed do not wake up this Ummah, then what is the point of yet another khutbah?" One is very tempted to make it succinct by simply saying, "Let us pray and call it a day at that."


Once again, yesterday, Israel committed yet another atrocity, killing the unarmed, internationally-protected workers of the World Central Kitchen. American media outlets have made a big “to-do” about the Biden administration being very upset at Netanyahu for the never-ending murder of international workers, and of Biden's phone conversation with Netanyahu in which he reportedly told Netanyahu, "If you do not stop killing international workers, the U.S. might get tough on Israel." We all know this is all hogwash. When the U.S. gets “tough” on Israel, all the U.S. will do is perhaps delay shipments or a partial shipment of some limited number of weapons or arsenal promised to Israel. But the U.S. never, in any real sense, punishes Israel, despite the fact that Israel is fresh out of yet another atrocity.


I watched a horrific video in which aid packages were dropped from the air—aid packages that the Biden administration makes such a big deal about—and Palestinian youth rushed to retrieve them. The camera caught Israeli soldiers shooting and killing them. In the films, it is clear that the Palestinian youth were attempting to unpack these eight packages when the Israelis started firing at them. It is clear that they were not near any Israeli soldiers, Israeli armaments, or Israeli tanks. It is clear that they were not armed. It is also clear that once the Israeli soldiers wounded some of these Palestinians, the Israeli soldiers prevented other Palestinians from reaching the wounded Palestinians until they bled out and died. It has all been caught on camera, and it was done immediately after the atrocity of the killing of UN aid workers working in an international kitchen designed to feed starving Palestinians. It was done immediately after the Biden administration supposedly got mad at Netanyahu and “talked tough” to Netanyahu.


Of course, it is hardly surprising, because they have leveled entire blocks of civilian homes. They have razed graveyards to the ground, carried out executions in hospitals, and Western countries, the so-called defenders of human rights, have not had the sense to take the principles of human rights or the Geneva Conventions seriously. If your soldiers see a pattern of absolute impunity when it comes to murdering and targeting Palestinians, then what do you expect?


So, yes, one is very tempted to follow in the footsteps of Shaykh Mahmoud Al Hasanat and make this a very short and succinct khutbah, except for a moral obligation to continue testifying lest God holds one accountable for a failure to make the testimony very clear and outspoken. 


It is the last jumu'a in Ramadan, and as we have grown accustomed, Muslims generally have a short memory span. The short memory span is because Muslims are not good students of history. So long as Muslims remain bad students of history, so long as our history remains a subject of rhetoric and demagoguery rather than actual study, scrutiny, and introspection, those who are poor students of history are doomed to repeat the same mistakes of the past over and over until they finally become good students of history. We have grown accustomed to what Israel does in Jerusalem and at the al-Aqsa Mosque every Ramadan, especially every last 10 days of Ramadan. Israel has again attacked worshipers at fajr with tear gas. Israel has again decreed that no Palestinian male under 55 and no female under 50 is allowed to pray at the al-Aqsa Mosque. Again, Israel commits all types of violations against worshipers at the al-Aqsa Mosque. 


God could not have been more clear regarding the Muslim obligation toward those who invade their homes and expel them from their lands. There are so many parts of the Qur'an that speak about the obligation to fight those who fight you. In the clearest statement of all, in Surah al-Mumtahanah, God explicitly says:


As for such [of the unbelievers] as do not fight against you on account of [your] faith, and neither drive you forth from your homelands, God does not forbid you to show them kindness and to behave towards them with full equity (Q 60:8).


God does not forbid you from befriending and allying yourself to anyone except those who fight you because of your faith. In other words, except for Islamophobia and the Islamophobia industry, which has become a cutting-edge industry of Zionist organizations, Christian and Jewish. So the Qur'anic prescription is clear, but we remain caught, as Muslims, in a historical dynamic that has been ongoing for generations. It is a repeated theme of trauma, loss, and defeat for at least the last 300 years in the Muslim confrontation with colonialism. 


You pause at the historical moment. If you are unable to analyze your current moment, you will not be able to analyze your past. And if you cannot analyze your past, then you will repeat the past. You will continue suffering many moments like your historical moment.


In the last jumu'a of Ramadan, we see the same pattern of Muslim worshipers at the al-Aqsa Mosque being oppressed, mistreated, and abused. We see their liberties taken away at the al-Aqsa Mosque. We see general violence against Palestinians. Again, lest we forget, the people of Gaza have not enjoyed peace for a very, very long time. It was the constant Israeli brutalization of Palestinians that ultimately led to the events of October 7th. It did not happen overnight. Palestinians did not suddenly wake up and say, "Let us attack the Israelis who live close to us." Anyone that attempts to analyze the events of October 7th separate from the years of brutalization and theft of Palestinian lands is, to say the least, simply disingenuous. But it is of great significance that the entire Muslim world reports on and speaks with great fervor and hope about a phone call between Biden and Netanyahu. As I checked the various stations in the Middle East, everyone was talking about how Biden's tone of voice was a bit tougher on Netanyahu this time. It is quite clear that the level of seriousness in the analysis of the Biden-Netanyahu phone call far exceeds any type of attention given to anything a Muslim leader has said.


Saudi channels will pro forma go over what the various royal highnesses have said, and the Egyptian channel will go over what Sisi has said. They talk about what their leaders say with greater reverence than they would about the Qur'an or hadiths of the Prophet. In the Muslim world, real reverence is paid to rulers and leaders, not to God or the Prophet. But the reverence shown to Muslim leaders is an irrational reverence. It is a dogmatic reverence. It is the pretense of reverence in a theatrical performance that says, "We know our limits. We know the symbols of power in our societies are untouchable. God is touchable. The Prophet Muhammad is touchable. All the prophets are touchable, but not the rulers.” But when it comes to analytical seriousness, to actually analyzing words as if they make a difference in life, we see the type of attention paid to the figures that actually matter in this world, as seen in the phone conversation between Biden and Netanyahu. 


We will pause here and add to the analysis the following. Pakistan was the main sponsor of the call for an arms embargo in the Human Rights Council. Although Pakistan and its supporters got 28 countries to vote for the resolution, Western countries treat a country like Pakistan with the type of unserious reverence that we would show our rulers and our leaders if we could. Why? Because although Pakistan sponsored a resolution, and although Pakistan played a serious role in drafting this resolution, Pakistan, like other authoritarian countries, has a horrible standing in the Human Rights Council. The very countries that voted with Pakistan know that Pakistan does not really have a leg to stand on in the Human Rights Council because of its own abysmal human rights record.


What is even more ironic and paradoxical is that Pakistan itself represses pro-Palestinian expression in Pakistan. Pro-Palestinian demonstrations are banned in Pakistan; the raising of Palestinian flags is banned in Pakistan; as a political activist, you could get into trouble. As I looked at the list of countries that voted in favor of the resolution, I saw countries that have a very dark and suspect relationship with human rights vis-a-vis their own citizens. I saw countries that have not even closed down the Israeli embassy or cut off relations with Israel despite the ongoing genocide. I saw countries that have failed to prevent shipments and instead allow the use of their airspace and land to support Israel in its ongoing genocide against Palestinians.


One other element. Israel yet again attacks an ancient country like Persia. Israel yet again violates international law with impunity. People my age will remember the language we heard when hostages were taken in the American Embassy in Iran. Back then, we grew up with a steady dosage of language about how immune and sacrosanct diplomatic missions are, and how no civilized country would ever attack a diplomatic mission. Well, Israel has just bombed a diplomatic mission. Whether you call them “military advisors” or not, many of the people killed in the Iranian consulate in Syria carried diplomatic passports. Yet, the West has a very low use for the principles of international law when those who are hurt are people we do not like very much. So, although Israel bombed the Iranian consulate in Syria, there are very few consequences in the international system. 


Yesterday, I was again listening to the funeral proceedings and I heard the now extremely familiar, redundant, and repetitive Iranian rhetoric about how the arrogant will pay the price and how the imperialists and the arrogant superpowers will be punished. But we all know there will be no consequences. We have to pause and think, once again, about how we got here and what the possible venues are to get out of the plight and darkness in which we have ended up.


Consider this, in terms of its population and economic potential, China could be a superpower that competes with the United States. But China will never be a superpower that competes with the United States, despite the fact that China manufactures a great deal of the material that is sold, bought, and used in the United States. In terms of its economic power and technological leverage, China will never compete. Put bluntly, China will never compete with the type of economic leverage and technological advancement that the U.S. possesses because China will never attract the “brain bank” that the U.S. is able to attract.


Whether you are a gifted scientist in Pakistan, Japan, South Korea, or even China itself, all those who are gifted and truly brilliant, time and again, are attracted to living either in the United States, Canada, and perhaps some other Western European country. Time and again, we have been asking this question since Rifa'a at-Tahtawi traveled to Europe, returned dazzled, and wrote his very famous work in which he said, "I see Islam in Europe, but I do not see Muslims." At-Tahtawi was referring to the work ethic, the diligence, and the deliberation. He was impressed that in Europe people kept the streets clean, did their job, did not ask for bribes, and worked hard. People did what they were supposed to do, although they were not Muslim, and he said, "Wow, this is an Islamic work ethic."


But the difference between China and the U.S. is not the work ethic. The difference between China and the U.S. is that the U.S. provides relatively more of a secret, powerful potion. That secret, powerful potion is in extreme shortage in Muslim lands, and it is a potion that even a baby in the crib understands, covets, and desires. That potion is freedom and liberty. The reason that scientists from Iran, Pakistan, Egypt, and indeed China will live in the U.S. is because relative to Iran, Pakistan, Egypt, or China, that scientist trusts the institutions of law and order in countries like the U.S. If someone more powerful than themselves treats them unfairly, they have a better chance of receiving justice. Of course, nothing is perfect, and there are no utopias, but they have a better chance of getting justice in the U.S. because there are more institutions of law and justice in the U.S. than compared to China and, relative to China again, the state will not impose rhetoric and demagoguery upon the scientists. It is more likely that the state will simply leave the scientist to do their business unharassed and uninterrupted. While you are in Pakistan, Iran, or China doing your work, what makes you anxious and worried is that there are superiors who could come into the picture at any time, demand that you submit your agenda to their priorities, and there is no means to address your grievance.


Pakistan can sponsor a Human Rights Council resolution, but the very countries that either vote for or against you know very well that you repress your own people and prevent them from supporting the same Palestinians that you are now pretending to support in an international body. Do you not think the UK, the U.S., and Israel know that Pakistan bans pro-Palestinian demonstrations and the raising of Palestinian flags? Do you not think they know that the Pakistani military is corrupt to the core? Do you not think they know that every gifted Pakistani wants to leave Pakistan and instead live in the U.S. or Canada, where they can enjoy a greater degree of liberty and justice? No, they know it all, so they do not take Pakistan very seriously. 


It was the same thing as I watched the Israeli hysteria about Iranian retaliation. I can tell that all American and Israeli diplomats know the tragedy of Iran; one of the oldest nations in the world, and one of the greatest people in the world, Persians, having their energies absorbed into an entirely mindless conflict with neighbors that have been there for thousands of years, Arabs. 


But why will Iran never be able to respond to the Israeli strike, one of the youngest nations in the world with a fragment of the Persian population? It is a minuscule country compared to Persia, and yet we all know that Israel can strike against Iran with impunity and that all the rhetoric about the “arrogance of imperialists” is just that: demagoguery and rhetoric. We all know it is demagoguery and rhetoric because the rulers of Iran do not have the means to retaliate, and they do not have the means to retaliate because of the same phenomena that has existed for hundreds of years. Every gifted Iranian, if given the choice, will leave Iran and live in the West. Why will they leave Iran and live in the West if given the chance? Because of the relative existence of law and order, justice, liberty, and freedom.


Human beings are human beings, and we are always attracted to more justice, liberty, and freedom. We human beings know intuitively that nothing is perfect, but we also intuitively know, especially the more brilliant and the more gifted we are, that what draws us in is the relative promise of more justice and more freedom. The rulers of Iran know that there is no freedom in their society, and because there is no freedom, there is no backtalk. So they can engage in all the rhetoric and demagoguery they want, and no one is going to say, "Are you delivering on what you have promised?" The people of Iran cannot hold their rulers accountable for all their promises and threats. It is the same with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan, and every other Muslim country.


Because there is no accountability, rulers have learned to say anything and everything and to not take any of it seriously. But the very people who are chanting and praising their rulers also know that none of this speech is serious. In authoritarian countries, you learn not to take history seriously, not to take words seriously, and, ultimately, not to take knowledge or sciences seriously, because everything is compromisable. Everything is subject to compromise and adaptation for the sake of those who hold absolute power.


This is precisely why, although Israel is a young nation, it has some of the most advanced technology industries in the world. Israel manufactures its tanks. Yes, you can destroy Israeli hardware, but what is important is that Israeli technology and know-how remains. They will simply build other tanks. That is the painful truth. Iran, Pakistan, and Egypt cannot manufacture tanks. All the Muslim countries put together cannot manufacture a tank like the Merkava 4. Watch Israeli television, and see how freely Israeli citizens criticize the rulers without fear of being arrested or disappearing. Because of that, yes, they may get a ruler like Netanyahu, but they will always have the mechanism of self-correction thanks to the relative existence of a greater amount of liberty and justice in Israel as opposed to countries like Pakistan, Iran, or Egypt.


Whoever listens to me has heard me fantasize about the rebirth of the Khilafah, but the Khilafah cannot come to be if it embodies the current state of Muslim ethics;  the ethics of despotism, dishonesty, ahistoricism, and antipathy. In other words, the ethics of celebrating engineers and empirical scientists without a foundation of social sciences, good administration, justice, or a good management of liberty. Empirical sciences without these things are worthless. You can build homes, but without good social sciences, those who inhabit these homes will be a broken people, an oppressed people, a people without a spirit or intellect. What have we achieved if Muslims have the engineers to construct homes but not to administer the lives of the people who live in these homes? The institution that inherits Mecca, Medina, and the struggle for al-Aqsa must be an institution that celebrates human ingenuity, creativity, freedom, liberty, plurality, and diversity. Otherwise, it would be worthless, like all the Muslim institutions that have been built in the 20th century.


Amid this genocide, I see that a number of scholars of Islamic theology and law in the Muslim world are participating in an ongoing heated debate about whether Imam al-Nawawi, a great medieval Shafi'i scholar, was a kafir or not. Why? Because of what Imam al-Nawawi said about the attributes of God. There is a hadith, one that I do not accept, that says God created Adam in God’s image; it has the clear influence of Christianity. There has been a centuries-old debate about this hadith. Imam al-Nawawi is among the scholars in his book of theology that wrote about this hadith. So, in the midst of a genocide, there is this raging debate about the attributes of God, what Imam al-Nawawi said about the attributes of God, whether Imam al-Nawawi is a kafir, and whether he is a respected scholar or not? 


Put very bluntly, it is honesty in discourse that resists the type of corruption that would deplete the resources that would have been available to manufacture, preserve, and develop the type of technology that allows the Israelis to manufacture a tank like the Merkava 4. You can destroy as many of these tanks as you want, but the Israelis will build more, because it is a culture of freedom, investment in knowledge, investment in truth, and investment in the dignity of a human being. This is why Israel, as colonialism has done, can strike against cultures of despotism, of humiliation, and of indignity with impunity.


As far back as when Allenby invaded Jerusalem. Allenby says in a report that the reason they defeated the Ottoman forces comes down to two things. "We had a reliable"—he does not use the phrase “slave force,” but I will—"slave force of obedient, diligent, hard-working Indians and Egyptians." 40,000 Egyptians did the dirty work of removing the excrement and the trash of the invading British Army so that the army did not suffer disease outbreaks. “Those Egyptians diligently cleaned our waste and dug the roads for supplies to reach us. And when we needed any type of trench work, hard labor, digging, or cleaning, the Egyptian Muslims did it for us.” Allenby actually notes in his diaries the accommodations he made for the Egyptian force that helped the British defeat their fellow Muslims in Jerusalem. There is no way an Allenby could have subjugated 40,000 Egyptians in the service of the British Army if those Egyptians were not broken people—broken as a result of despotism. These people were not accustomed to thinking for themselves. They were not accustomed to saying, "We live by principles." 


The second thing Allenby notes is that, "We had superior air power." Back in World War I, he says that superior air power made all the difference because the Ottomans were brave fighters who fought very hard to defend Jerusalem but, ultimately, they were no match for British superior air power. It blows my mind that until today, Israel can bomb the Iranian consulate in Syria because of superior air power. All these years, Muslims who have been struck, time and again, by superior Western technology have done one thing really well and everything else miserably. The thing that they have done very well is export their best minds to the West. The most brilliant Iranians, Pakistanis, and Egyptians all build careers in the West. Why do they come to the West? Because of the relative greater degree of justice and liberty. That is why they do not go to China or Russia. That is why they do not contribute to Chinese technological advancement. 


How often does the Qur'an talk about the hypocrites? Time and time again, God threatens and warns the hypocrites, “You are bad people. You are doing bad things. God will punish you in the Hereafter. You are betraying the Prophet. You have done horrible things.” But why did God never command the Prophet to arrest the hypocrites or expel them from Medina? Why does God command the Prophet repeatedly, "Do not hurt them. Tell them ‘salam’ and walk away"? Because God knew that what makes nations healthy and prosperous is freedom. There is no way you can silence the hypocrites without teaching cowardliness to the population at large. There is no way you can break the hypocrites through repression without breaking the entire population because of repression. So God did not allow the Prophet to repress, arrest, or censor the hypocrites, or even to tell the hypocrites that they have no right to speak. This relative amount of liberty and justice, as short-lived as it was, was enough to spark an entire civilization, because that civilization had a greater amount of liberty and justice than what came before it, and a greater amount of liberty and justice compared to the Byzantine civilization or the extinct Persian civilization. This is God’s Sunna.


If you want to prosper, seek justice. Build the human being. Establish their sense of dignity. Give them security and freedom, and you will see what you reap in terms of creativity and ingenuity. It is creativity and ingenuity that builds and empowers nations. It is human creativity and ingenuity that prevents genocides, protects consulates, and defeats supreme air power. It is not rhetoric. It is not demagoguery. It is not the theater that we Muslims have become so good at.

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