Forming Foundations & The Sands of Time: Lessons from Surah Al-Ahqaf

I want to begin this first sermon by offering congratulations to this year's graduates. There are many graduates in my personal life that I am very proud of, and I am very proud of the work that they have put in. It is no small achievement to graduate school, whether it be from high school, undergraduate, or graduate school, although I do want to add that education and learning does not begin nor stop in our educational institutions. Our educational institutions are deeply flawed. Nonetheless, they provide structure and milestones for us as a society and as individuals to grade ourselves and to chart our progress as human beings and as Muslims.


This year, a number of friends of mine are on the cusp of graduating or have just graduated. My dear friend Rami is towards the end of his PhD, and he will, insha’Allah, successfully defend his thesis in the coming months. My dear friend Wietske is towards the end of her Doctor of Juridical Science (S.J.D.) and is in a similar situation. I would also like to congratulate Wietske on her second album and her now 31 entries in her blog about birds, the Qur'an and about life. If you have not read her blog, do yourself a favor and spend some time going through the entries. It's really something special.  Another dear friend of mine, Dalal, has completed her undergraduate degree, and of course, my dear friend Cherif has completed a degree in psychology. They are all very inspiring individuals and I feel lucky to take part in their success.


We had an interesting, funny conversation amongst ourselves about the idea of whether or not one should walk in a graduation ceremony, especially when it is at an institution like Ohio State University, which has thousands of graduates on a single day. To participate in the graduation ceremony is a very exhausting time. Everyone tries to park, run to the right place, find a seat and do all of the graduation day rituals that there are. Part of the ritual is the idea of commencement; that graduation is not the end, but it is the beginning. It is the commencing of the future of our generations, that the fruit of the labor that was put into their education in the period of four, five, six years or longer has come to an end but is also the beginning for our society, as those educated individuals will then take part in nourishing our society and helping to grow our society for the better.


But after attending graduations for the last 10 or 15 years, it is very rare nowadays that I come across a commencement speech that really inspires, although that is what it is really supposed to do. It is supposed to inspire the student to look forward and think, "To what direction shall I set my GPS? What is my trajectory moving forward? What do I have to offer, and what does the world have to offer me?" But many of these commencement speeches have become routine, ritual and quite uninspiring. So one might forgive a commencement speaker who does their very best to switch it up and to bring change, something that might invigorate the youth who are now educated and are going to contribute to the educated milieu.


Well, this year's Ohio State commencement speaker had precisely this idea. His name is Chris Pan and he says that he is a social entrepreneur, though I am not sure what that means. When I looked into him, my advice to Cherif, Dalal and others was, "I do not think that you will miss much at commencement this year." Unfortunately, I was right. Now, I do not necessarily know that I would do a better job, but please accept this as a commencement speech nonetheless. Maybe there will be something of value.


So this individual, Chris Pan, is a founder of a company called MyIntent, which apparently makes bracelets with a customer-chosen word that helps the wearer to live intentionally. If you do not know what that means, well, neither do I, so I am not going to be able to explain it to you. Mr. Pan proudly proclaimed that he was relying on psychedelics in order to aid his creative process for this most important speech and cited the likes of other famous entrepreneurs of the past, claiming they relied on LSD, psychedelics, ayahuasca and all kinds of things. Of course, I do not know if what he is claiming is true or not.


Well, what you might imagine when one tries to put together a speech while on psychedelics took place. The result was a speech that I could not stomach enough to get through despite its 15 to 17 minutes' length. I tried my very best, but I could not get through it. It included a singalong, strange stretching-type movements that he forced the entire crowd to do along with him, a Navy SEAL breathing exercise, an awkward magic trick with the president of the university who very clearly did not want to be involved, and then eventually shilling on behalf of Bitcoin, which resulted in booing from the vast majority of the crowd of 70,000 people.


After this spectacular embarrassment for himself and for the school, a school as prestigious as Ohio State University, naturally the media wanted to get soundbites from him and asked him all kinds of questions in various interviews. What did Mr. Pan do? He doubled down. He doubled down by giving an extremely arrogant set of interviews that essentially blamed the crowd for being too close-minded to understand what he was saying and having an ineptitude for listening comprehension. In fact, he took the time to make it all about himself and about his feelings and emotions. He said, "That was the hardest day of my life, being booed like that by so many people." Who did he decide to empathize with most? He said, "Now I know how politicians feel. It must be so hard." The more I read about this individual, the less I wanted to know.


So congratulations on your hard-earned degree with all of the tuition money that you spent. Ohio State University apparently does not really care about you that much. It is very sad. I hope that they come around to understanding that the way to get into the news should not include by boring and embarrassing their graduates, and definitely not by beating them and arresting them mere days before for expressing a political opinion on a patch of grass. But let us digress from that.


I make mention of this individual because I have seen a growing trend in our society. Somehow commercialization has managed to overtake even the spirit of punk philosophy. Perhaps this meaning is outdated, but punk philosophy as in a culture of nonconformity that was built out of an aversion to authoritarianism, to imperialism, to corporatism, to classism, et cetera. Alas, the empire, through its machine, has managed to commodify and swallow even the nonconformity movement.


The nonconformity movement meant something. It opposed something that was deeply wrong in our institutions. To me personally, there is something incredibly ugly about modern art, modern music, and modern fashion. It is disconnected from meaning. I believe that that is the pollution that commercialization has entered into that medium. Commercialization bastardizes everything that it touches and finds a way to commodify it without fully understanding what it is commodifying. It does not care what it is commodifying as long as it turns a profit, and it does not care how badly it distorts the art form as long as it turns a profit. While I watched President Carter, who is a very serious man, be forced to blow on another man's hand while participating in a magic trick, not once or twice, but three times, I could see the disdain in his face for being forced to do it, but he was prepared to do it nonetheless because he is a corporate slave.


Now, this thesis, however, regarding this cultural Frankenstein’s monster that we have created, the belief that something can come from nothing, is not necessarily new. But what is interesting about it is anytime that you try to criticize this idea of something coming from nothing, especially in terms of all art forms, it is usually met with accusations of being old-fashioned, of being grouchy, of being uninspired, of being boring or even being someone who just simply does not understand art or beauty. But personally, I am all for innovation. Any field that is not innovative is trending towards death and irrelevance. But I am also very personally convinced of the need for laying the foundation of intentionality and diligent construction of moral trajectory.


I want to turn your attention to Surah Al-Ahqaf. Surah Al-Ahqaf is a very foundational surah. It belongs to the class of the surahs known as the Hāʼ Mīm, and it has a very foundational message. The core of its message is about foundation, whether your foundations are upon strong structures or upon weak structures. Now, when trying to understand a surah like this, I would find it extremely difficult if I did not have the proper resource, which is the tafsir that is known as Project Illumine. I would not know how to read the surah, I would not know what to look for.


When you look through the tafsir, you will find that no exegesis has made the insight that has been made in the Project Illumine tafsir regarding what the Ahqaf are. Yes, people have talked about it. People have tried to say it is sand dunes that are in a particular region between Hadhramaut and somewhere else, but they lack a moral, metaphorical and metaphysical understanding of why it is named Ahqaf. There are 35 verses in the chapter that vary in length, but why name it Ahqaf? This tafsir is the only one that delves into that.


To share with you the conclusion of it, it is that the idea of the Ahqaf are sand dunes. If you build your life's philosophy on something unstable like sand dunes, we know that sand shifts, it moves, it grows, and it shrinks. It is not solid like rock or concrete. It has no real foundation. Try to stack anything on top of it. You may be able to go up for a while, but eventually it will fall over, it will die, and you will have to start all over again. Or, you will have to train your mind and your sense of perception to see it differently.


Surah Al-Ahqaf has numerous sections in it, between five to six different sections. But it is the very final verse that provides a lot of context for the surah itself. Just backing up very quickly, Al-Ahqaf was revealed at a time towards the end of the Meccan period. Nonetheless, it was around the time wherein the Prophet and his closest disciples had faced a lot of adversity, persecution and difficulty while trying to relay the message and partially also convince the Meccan polity about the truth of the message of the Qur'an that involved persecution, sanctions, financial hardships, alienation from family, and living on the margin. You name it, they faced it.


But the end of the surah says, "Remain then as the messengers of old were endowed with firmness of heart and bore themselves with patience and seek not to hasten doom on them, them who still deny the truth." Then the verse continues, "On the day when they see that which they are promised, it will seem to them as though they had tarried but an hour of daylight, a clear message, shall any be destroyed saved iniquitous folk." (Q 46:35)


When we break this verse down into its parts, we see a number of different messages in one verse. The first part is telling the reader to be patient and persistent. It is telling us who to emulate. It is telling us this is not the first time that somebody has been asked to be patient and persistent through this task. This is what the messengers of old had to do, so we are in good company. Now, people who translate or who do the tafsir tend to focus on the part where the verse says, "Do not rush their doom closer to them." I think that is helpful to know, but I think there are a number of things to keep in mind while reading that command. "Do not rush and do not rush onto them." It does not even say the doom per se, but do not rush them. Do not rush them.


Now, when you know something that is true and you know something that has urgent appeal, something that is very important, what is the human thing to do? You want to share it with the people that you care about the most, and you want to communicate it in a way that gets the message across urgently. You are waiting to hear back from them quickly that they understood what it is you are trying to get them to understand. So if they look back at you plainly, you start to get frustrated. If they ignore you, you get frustrated. You take it personally. You feel alienated. It is very difficult. Worst-case scenario, they reject you in a very violent and unkind way, and you take that personally. What is the natural conclusion of being on the receiving end of that? You separate yourself. You do not want to be around that. I do believe that separating oneself for periods of time is probably a healthy option, but the point is that you separate yourself from the mission. You kind of let the mission slip through your hands like sand because it feels too painful to keep trying.


That is the final verse of the surah, but I want to tell you about some of the other sections, particularly the first three. There are several points that are laid out in the first section. One of the main ones is that material existence and its framework are not eternal and will eventually come to an end. The entire material matrix is constructed with the power of truth and its responsible subservience to the attributes of divinity. It is built by haqq. Literally, it says the skies and the Earth, and that which is between it is built by haqq, and it is there “for a term appointed.” It is going to end, but it is built on haqq.


Haqq is what? Beyond truth. It is a material, moral responsibility. Everything acts responsibly as the way that it was created. In acknowledgement of its creation, it has the duty and the responsibility. The sky is not allowed to fall and collapse upon the Earth. It must do its job because it is subservient. It is created to acknowledge its subservience. When things go wrong with the natural order of things, it is not because God set it in motion that way necessarily, but as we can see by the way that we treat our planet, it is because of our own decision-making, and because we are not subservient. We are usurpers. We have put ourselves in the position of God in the natural order.


God then speaks to those who are turning away from the truth and implores them to engage Him with a logic of their own that can challenge the Qur'an with some book or a vestige of knowledge that might even attempt to compete with the framework of the Qur'an on its merits. God then informs them that their rationale is very sadly misguided and that the day of accountability is coming much faster than they realize.


Take note of this idea of time returning over and over, a lot of time and a short amount of time, it being warped. That there is this difference of sometimes it feels like you have forever and other times, other people think that they have forever while you see time ticking away quickly. The Prophet says that the time between now and the end of Judgment Day is the distance between two fingers. I do not know if it is a credible hadith or not, but it illustrates the point. That, as the final verse said, when you awake on the Day of Judgment, you will feel that you had been on Earth just for a few days, not a full lifetime.


So it is important to recognize what then do the opponents of the Qur'an say that is recorded in the Qur'an, and why does the Qur'an give it record? They bring a number of different arguments, and those arguments show up in different surahs. But in this context, they say that the Qur'an is either sorcery, magic, or that it is entirely fabricated. Why those things, and why focus on those things? Think back again to the commodification of nonconformity.


At its core, these types of arguments are made to level the playing field amongst competing ideologies. If I can tell you, "Well, that is your opinion and this is mine," that means everything is subjective. Who is the winner? It depends. If you are using the bigger stick theory, then your argument wins. But if you are in an open forum in which you are conversing with one another, who is the winner? The one who has the more pizzazz and argument, the more lawyerly appeal, the more dramatic flair, the more airtime, or perhaps even the one who has a more sound argument. There are a number of factors involved.


But the Qur'an completely and wholly rejects this notion. It says, no, your subjectivities are your constructions that you are placing on top of reality. You are forcing your understanding backwards, reverse engineering. You have made a conclusion, you have built your structure, and now you are forcing a foundation underneath it. That simply is not true. Either gravity exists or it does not, you cannot debate it. You can try, but eventually everyone gives up. It is a law at this point. That does not mean that people know how the law works, but it is a law.


The law of existence is that existence came from a Creator. When the Creator created that existence, He set it in motion with laws. Part of those laws are that God has divine attributes, and He has made those divine attributes available to be learned by the intuition of the human being, which is what sets the human being above the angels. But that human being cannot remember because of their own obstinate obstruction by way of their ego and personal self-centrism. You name it, they have forgotten it. Their fitra is dry and demanding to be watered, and the more that it sits there dry, the more it just blows around like a sand dune.


No, the Qur'an does not let us off easily. It says, “This is the reality. You are a servant. You are born to serve. Regardless of what you choose to serve, you will serve.” Do not think that because you have said to yourself, "I serve only me," that you are serving yourself. In fact, you are a deviant. You are deviating from the natural course of reality.


In response to these disparaging accusations against the Qur'an, against the Prophet and against God himself, the Prophet is ordered to demonstrate his foundation of humility; humility that is required of one who has acknowledged and realized their position as a servant vis-à-vis God. Furthermore, the Prophet is instructed to respond back to the claim that the Qur'an is an innovation by reminding those who are opposing his message of the Book of Moses, and that this is not the first time that they have heard something like this. This is a moral book that is telling us how to build a moral foundation upon which we can build a moral structure that will not blow away or collapse because the foundation is sound.


That is why the section is concluded with the main dhikr, the main invocation of the surah, which is,


"for, behold, all who say, "Our Sustainer is God", and thereafter stand firm [in their faith] - no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve:" [Q 46:13]


Those who say that God is their protector, their raiser, their upbringer, the source of all their reliance, and as I read it, God being all of the attributes that are godly, beauty, justice, kindness and righteousness, all of the names that you can think of, recognizing that you are subservient to that God. “Istiqama,” that is your service and your moral standing, usually translated as "and then they stood firm." But standing firm means being on the path and the trajectory of affirming God's attributes through your actions. The natural result of that is when you are standing for God and God's attributes, you will not be dissuaded and deterred by the feelings of anxiety and fear. Anxiety and fear will not be your gods, they will not guide your decisions. 


Fear and anxiety are at the core of one's ego. The ego is built up to deal with fear and anxiety. But the funny thing about ego is if you feed it with self-aggrandizement, it will grow, and if you lash it with self-flagellation, it will swell and grow. Either way, it will grow, and if it grows, so too does your fear and your anxiety. Then what do you do? Your ego rules you and tells you, you need more things, you need more influence. All for what reason? To protect yourself and to protect your loved ones. Look at any hungry dog, cat, or most animals. What is the first thing that they do when something changes in their environment? They tend to protect their resources. They may even come off vicious, despite the fact that a mere few seconds before it, they were like lovable little children, they could have been the most innocent-looking animal that would remind you of a baby. But the moment they feel fear, the instinctual brain turns on and they resort to feeding the ego in order to protect themselves against fear and anxiety. 


In the second of the three sections of this surah that I wanted to briefly review, there is a section that discusses the role of parents and the relationship between parents, children and the family structure, specifically parents who are believing parents. Of course, it happens a few times in the Qur'an, but in this part, there is this famous point where God says, “Do not be of the children who says to your parents, ‘[00:40:41].' Do not be rude. Do not disregard them or belittle them.” This point is rightfully stated quite often, and I think it tends to possibly dominate a parent's mind when they read this verse. Oftentimes, I think this point is overstated, about how you must be very careful not to say to your parents, "uffin lakuma" But the context in which the child is saying uff is very specific.


There are verses 15 through 17 that I want to just quickly read to you, so you may again take note of this motif of time. Verse 15, it says, 


"And we have enjoined man to be virtuous unto his parents. His mother carried him in travail or difficulty and bore him in travail, and his gestation and weaning is 30 months, such that when he reaches maturity," again time, "such that when he reaches maturity and reaches 40 years, he says, 'My Lord, inspire me to give thanks for thy blessing with which thou has blessed me and has blessed my parents and that I may work righteousness such that it pleases thee and make a righteous for me my progeny. Truly, I turn in the repentance to thee, and truly I am amongst those who submit.'"


I am just going to pass through verse 16 because it is like a continuation and then there is verse 17, which says, "As for one who says to his parents, 'Fie upon you both! Do you promise me that I shall be brought forth when generations have passed away before me?'” They argue towards with their parents, while they call upon God for succor.” While they call upon God for closeness, istighatha, the parents are reliant on God. They say to their children, ‘Woe unto you! Believe!’”  Waylak, amin!


What we see in verse 17 is a very emotional kind of response. They are frustrated, "[00:43:22], what do I have to do to get this across to you, to confirm the truth of reality? [00:43:30], surely God's promise is true." The child then responds and says, "This is not but the fables of those of old." Again, a reference to time. “Old fables, things that are long gone, they do not apply to me anymore.” Look again here. “As for the one who says to his parents, ‘You promise me that I shall be brought forth where the generations have passed away before me. Generations are gone. These are old things that do not apply.’”


What about the two verses before? They talk about the time that it takes to carry a child, the nine months of difficulty, the strenuous process on the body, the physiology and the psychology, and then the birthing process itself. The pangs of birth are famous for being very difficult and that only mothers can really have the true power and patience to undergo them. Then the process of breastfeeding and raising the child from the time they are an infant and teaching them how to walk, talk and teaching them their base morals, building their foundation, being patient with them and not striking them. Time, it takes time, and God is saying, "I see that."


Then God says something amazing. He says that when a person reaches full maturity at 40 years of age, they then get around to saying, "Wow, I was really blessed that I was raised in this house. I was really blessed that I was raised by this woman.” Or at least, “I was really blessed that this woman took care of me, fed me, clothed me and carried me when I was an unborn child," and then says, "The way that I want to show my thanks and my gratitude is to work righteousness." That is what it says, "and that I may work righteousness such that it pleases thee" (Q 46:19).


The foundation of this now-mature individual is that they want to build a life that is centered around pleasing God's will and His attributes, and upholding God's attributes; then sees the real challenge of raising a child. So what is the natural supplication that they make? They say, "I pray that I have offspring that are in turn righteous and patient towards me as a parent." I am not a parent, but through observing parents, I know parents have a very, very difficult job. They balance a lot, they balance themselves with their children and their lives, but they also cannot help but put their children in front of their own comfort. In everything that they do, they are thinking of their children first, which is amazing because it almost competes with their relationship with God. That is a very difficult challenge in and of itself. But these parents who are in this book are the ones who are reliant on God, it uses the word “istighatha.” They are purely reliant and they call only on God, they do not rely on any other function or foundation. Their foundation is only on God even when it comes to a difficult moment, when their child is taking up nonconformity.


You know, maybe they are taking nonconformity for a reason that makes sense. Look at the way the world is today. I told myself that I am honestly not prepared to talk about Palestine and Sudan today, and I am not going to because I just do not have it in me and I do not know what to say. I do not know what to say anymore. I am shocked when somebody says something worth listening to about it all, because it is very clear that our community has been out of ideas for months. We broke the seal on, "Wow, that was a great khutbah," because it sounded slightly political or had a slight hint of backbone. If someone said, "Hey, you cannot treat Palestinians like that," everyone would say, "Oh my God, this is the most amazing khutbah I have ever heard in my whole life." Imagine how bad the khutbahs were before that.


No, I am not going to talk about it today because I do not have anything to offer. I do not know how to process that level of pain and how to give you something to treat the pain with. I do not know. Maybe it is to rely on surahs like this where we build our foundation very patiently and without skipping steps, brick by brick. Yes, what is happening right now is a big problem and we need a short-term solution, but if we are not careful and we rely on a short-term solution, we are going to build the foundation of our resistance on our own ego.


What does the ego do? It protects fear and anxiety, then it feeds and feeds and it gets bigger and bigger, like the way a root goes under the concrete of a sidewalk. When you first lay the sidewalk, it may lay flat, but give it a little bit of time and that sidewalk is going to come off of the ground, then you are going to have a big task ahead of you having to move that huge block, break it into small pieces because it is too heavy, cut the root, discard it, and do all other kinds of work to then lay back down another foundation. Why not do it right the first time? For those of us who are watching that, we have to be patient, and we have to encourage them and encourage ourselves patiently. From a child's perspective, they see a lot of meaninglessness, and if they do not have a foundation, they will fight meaninglessness with meaninglessness because they are just picking and choosing, they are not really sure what to rely on. It takes 40 years to get to this place of maturity.


The third and the final section is the section about Prophet Hud's warning of the people of ʿĀd. This is where the mention of the Ahqaf, the sand dunes, comes. So the folk of ʿĀd were not listening to the warnings of Prophet Hud, who was trying to alert them to the real realities of the way that the world and the universe are constructed, that they are servants, and that they need to fall into subservience to the attributes of God, but they do not listen.


They are enduring a drought, and they are praying for the drought to be solved with some rain. Again, they are in a desert environment. So they see these clouds that are approaching and they say, "Oh, great. Look, we were right. You were wrong, Hud. We are being blessed with some sort of material sustenance because the way the world works is if you get material sustenance, it means God is on your side and you are the chosen one. You get to then choose whatever the heck you want to choose. If you do not have the resources, sorry for you, and I am just going to bully you for as long as I possibly can." Well, what was in the clouds? The cloud was actually a windstorm.


Now, something very interesting about sand dunes. What are sand dunes made out of? Sand dunes are mostly formed by a balanced combination of wind, water, and sediment. The wind drives the sand deposits onto each other, and it slowly forms a mound over time. So, again, there is a clear link between time and sand in this surah, the keeping of sand. I even thought of the keeping of time when turning an hourglass. When you first turn it and the sand is all at the top for that minute, it seems like you have all the time in the world. "Oh look, it's moving so slowly.." Then it gets to about a quarter left, and suddenly, it moves really fast. It is this sense of approaching doom.


Usually, we use these things to keep time when playing a game. "Hurry up, hurry up! You have to answer the question." At the beginning, the person is just taking their time and doing the game properly at their leisurely speed, then all of a sudden, time runs out. It is a warning for those who know that the sand is moving at a consistent speed the whole time and who knows that you do not have a lot of time to begin with. He knows it and she knows it, and that is why they are urgently telling you, "You have got to get it together, you got to realize. Come on. You do not have a lot of time." But that only works really towards the end, and then towards the end, there is no time to start building anything, so you cannot score the points necessary to build your foundation.


What is a dune? A dune looks like a mountain-like structure. In the Qur’an, mountain-like structures are all over the place, and they tend to usually mean this is something powerful and rooted. That is why it is used as a metaphor when the mountain goes crumbling over and over in the Qur'an. That is why the people of the valley of Hijr built their houses in the mountains, because they thought that that means that they are firmly rooted and are far away from danger.


This same motif takes place in the surah. The sand dunes are shaped like mountains that make you feel that they are strong and powerful and that they have been there forever. But what happens when the desert becomes too dry and the wind comes? The sand dunes shift and they move. Now, beforehand when it was a little bit wetter, the sand dunes would change and shift over time very slowly. But when they do not have the water that feeds the ground to build the sediment, suddenly the sand dunes take a completely different shape and the old topography is destroyed, and whatever was built there is full of sand and leveled. You would not be able to find it, you would have to excavate it years and years later. Until this day, they are excavating places like in Hadhramaut, Egypt or wherever else is full of sand.


This is the parable and the power of the sand dunes. What are our structures built on? Are they built on the substance of creation, which we said in the early part of the surah was haqq, moral responsibility? The air, the earth, the animals, the trees, the grass, the earth’s magnetism, the law of thermodynamics and the law of gravity all are subservient to what? Who put them in motion? Can you even replicate it? Probably not. Even if God allows you to replicate it, He is allowing your senses to be deluded into making you think that you have power over it. This surah talks about how those senses of vision, sight and hearts are deluded by your ego because they are ruled by fear and anxiety.


I want to contrast the commencement speech that was given by the tech-bro-type fellow from Ohio State with a very moving scene that I saw this morning, and likely most of you saw it. I want us to turn our attention very briefly before I close to the case of Asna Tabassum, which I am sure you have heard of by now given that several weeks ago, we heard some news Asna was chosen to be the valedictorian amongst a plethora of other candidates by the University of Southern California itself. She is a biomedical engineering major with a minor in resistance to genocide. Yes, that is a real minor, I was in shock to find out.


So Asna was chosen as valedictorian for USC, a great institution, scholarly speaking. She was scheduled to speak for the valedictory address on May 10th, which is the day I am delivering this khutbah, but her address was canceled. Why was it canceled? Her speech was canceled because Zionists said they felt unsafe about whatever was going to come out of her mouth. They did not even know what she was going to say as there was no speech, the speech did not exist. But they put so much pressure on USC that USC canceled the speech entirely and said, "No valedictorian speech this year. Yes, you have a 3.9 GPA in biomedical engineering, and you are all of the things that make a valedictorian, but we do not want to hear you talk. Please do not speak."


So Asna was part of a student recognition ceremony, a student award ceremony where she was honored by her peers. When her name was read, everybody roared with applause. The announcer then said what it was that she graduated with. He said, "She is graduating with a degree in biomedical engineering and a minor in resistance to genocide." I initially thought, "Wow, that is so cute. How did she manage add that into there, like to say, ‘I am resisting genocide as part of my education?’" But that minor was not a joke or to send a message, it was for real. USC has a minor in resisting genocide, which includes mandatory classes on the Holocaust, on the Native American genocide, on the genocides in Darfur and the Sudan, and the like. No wonder they did not want her to talk. She is very trained to speak about this particular subject, and they could not risk giving her that platform.


I was very moved this morning when I saw this video, and it brought me to tears. Because during this ovation, she sat down and thanked everyone. But when she sat down, the rest of the crowd said, "That is not enough." They stood up and in unison, they clapped, roared and cheered, and it was very overwhelming. I still have not been able to kick the overwhelming mixture of grief and excitement that I saw in this unanimous voice of support for a student who clearly represented the student body in a real, moral way. In a real way, she was the commencement speaker, and look at the power that she delivered without even uttering a single word.


I am very proud of the bright youth in our country who have chosen to resist hatred and imperialism with uncompromising dedication to rebuilding a foundation of morality and righteousness in our society. These are the folks that actually understand who and what God is. They are doing the work of affirming. It is our job as Muslims to check ourselves, do you really fully and purely affirm God's attributes, or are you in a partnership between yourself and yourself? Are you splitting between yourself and God? Are you giving God lip service? Be very, very careful, because if the storm cloud comes and you are a Muslim in conflict about who God is, but the one that you call kafir has no moral quandaries about what is right and wrong, I invite you to think about who punishment will be for.

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