“Learning Not to be Selfish and the Legacy of Killing the Prophet’s Grandson” | FRIDAY KHUTBAHS (SERMONS) | The Institute for Advanced Usuli Studies | 11 Feb 2022
It is human nature; it is embedded in our intellectual and moral, and even spiritual, code as human beings that we can recognize harm. At a very minimum, we respond to what is pleasant and unpleasant; and the nature of our learning is experiential. So much of what we know or the way we know it is because we have experienced failure, displeasure, harm, or things we have done have had unpleasant consequences. From that, we then come to a conclusion that a particular act, a particular option, a particular choice is not good because of its unpleasant consequences. In fact, the vast majority of what defines us is precisely this. Although we like to believe that we mold and engineer ourselves according to principles, it requires a considerable amount of work to mold ourselves beyond the experiential.
To mold oneself through means of learning, other than simply what we perceive to be pleasant or unpleasant consequences, requires that you do not give priority to your own personalized experiences of harm or pleasure, and live up to a principle where you say, “Even if what I experienced is different, or even if this is beyond my realm of experiences, I will still believe and pursue a particular course of action because reason and principles tell me to do so; some deliberative process of thinking, persuading the self, and then living up to what the self had been persuaded of.”
The reality, though, is that the vast majority of time, for the vast majority of people, we philosophize the experiential. We do not experience the philosophical. For the vast majority of people for the vast majority of time, it is whatever we experience in terms of pleasure and displeasure, and we then project that onto society, onto the world, onto everything. They project it so that they philosophize it. Very few people want to admit that really they do not know anything other than what they have experienced in life, and what they have experienced in life is extremely limited. The vast majority of people for the vast majority of time do not want to admit that the way they know lofty concepts such as justice, love, truth is through the extremely limited prism of their pleasures and displeasures. In other words, they only know them experientially.
This is precisely why the vast majority of people, for the vast majority of time, can read the Qur’an and it demands that they live testifying for truth, even if it be against themselves. They can read the Qur’an demanding that they sacrifice their lives, their time and their money for God, for cause. They can read the Qur’an and see how the Qur’an speaks about the Prophet Muhammad and the very first generation of Muslims with the Prophet Muhammad. They can read the Qur’an and read about the sacrifices of generations of prophets. But when all is said and done, with the way that the Qur’an is distilled and the entire universe of the Qur’an with all its lofty principles, unless a human being learns to go beyond the self to assign value according to rational, deliberate processes of thinking, and to set that value as a goal, and then to organize one’s life in service of this value; unless one is extremely deliberate, conscientious and careful about it, what ends up happening is that the abstract always retreats to the far background before the experiential.
In other words, whatever abstract concepts you are reading in the Qur’an, whatever abstractions about taking care of the poor, the orphan, or the wayfarer, living your lives bearing witness to God, living your life in a state of jihad, sacrificing for the sake of God, all of that retreats to some vague notions of correctness and what comes to the forefront, what becomes the living reality for the vast majority of people the vast majority of time is that, logic of, “abstraction makes me uncomfortable.” Abstraction requires sacrifice and very hard work, so whatever I read in the Qur’an, I will assign a gloss to these principles and the actual embodiment of what I have read will be my experiential knowledge. In other words, I will put the Qur’anic concepts on the shelf and simply live according to a convenient myth that we all embrace.
We are essentially good. We are essentially okay. Although God, in speaking to the Prophet and his companions, teaches a very basic, fundamental lesson: “Do not commend yourself, do not assume the best of yourself.” In other words, do not blindly believe that you are okay. The vast majority of time for the vast majority of people, this is precisely what they do. “We are fine. I am fine as a Muslim. I am fine as a human being. I do not live selfishly, I am not a selfish person. If anything, I am a very giving, caring person. If anything, I think of others.” But for the vast majority of people the vast majority of time, it is an absolute delusion.
This is why hypocrisy is part and parcel of the hearts of the vast majority of Muslims for the vast majority of time. In fact, the very plight of Muslims right now is such that for hundreds of years, since the crumbling of the Islamic civilization, every civilization has a small percentage of people that get beyond the self and live in service of an idea or set of ideas. Not all of England became worldwide explorers, but there was a small percentage among the English people that dedicated their lives to exploring the world and traveling to remote lands where they put their lives and well-being at risk.
Not all of the Christian world committed to spreading the gospel, but a small percentage of British, French and Dutch dedicated and sacrificed their lives to living in extremely remote lands in extremely uncomfortable conditions to spread the gospel of Jesus; of what they believe is the truth, and as a result, Taiwan today is Christian. South Korea is Christian. Japan is Christian. More than half of Africa is Christian. Those people got beyond the experiential and understood quite simply that to live their principle necessarily means forcing the self to the background and bringing to the forefront the principle itself.
Whatever historical mistakes were committed in the trajectory of Islamic history, whatever failures there were, there was always enough of a percentage that was capable of assigning the self to the background and living life according to a principle that is not experienced. There was always enough Ibn Battuta’s to travel the world. There were always enough Ibn Sina’s or Al Farrabi’s to imagine the truth. There were always enough Al Ghazali’s or Ibn Rushd’s to think about justice and beauty and haqq (truth), and to pursue them beyond the experiential to cover over the historical mistakes.
Let me put it more simply. Shortly after the death of the Prophet, the Muslim Ummah experienced a truly demonic moment that in and of itself would have been enough to destroy Islam forever. That demonic moment was the murder of Al-Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet, by the political authorities of the day. The first Muslim dynasty commenced its legacy, and it was a truly atrocious, blasphemous act. They murdered the grandson of the Prophet.
Even if you did not do anything but this, it would be enough to curse you until the end of time. But why was the grandson of the Prophet, Al-Hussein, murdered? Yes, the vast majority of people at that time often put themselves first. Not the principle, not the Prophet, not the family of the Prophet, not the grandson of the Prophet, not justice, not truth, not beauty. The vast majority of people knew very well that Al-Hussein was the just party, and that they had an obligation to support Al-Hussein. But instead, they betrayed him, betrayed principles, and engaged in the utmost act of selfishness. And because of this betrayal, the first dynasty to rule Islam was an incredibly corrupting force. The Umayyad dynasty, as did the Abbasid Dynasty, did everything within its power to corrupt the ethical revolution that Islam is.
God very explicitly tells us that we have an obligation, not just to sacrifice, but in fact to go to war. Not because of your experiential knowledge, not because of your own selfish goals, but to empower the disempowered. The Islam of the Prophet and of Al-Hussein was an Islam of sacrifice. An Islam of the constant belief that you are on this earth to sacrifice. You are on this earth to put yourself in the service of a higher cause. You have no grounds for selfish entitlements.
But the Umayyad dynasty that murdered the grandson of the Prophet understood very well that this is a dangerous Islam, and so they got to work. They invented an enormous amount of hadiths about how you owe an obligation of obedience to your ruler, even if the ruler is cruel and unjust. Children must obey their parents even if their parents are unjust, wives should obey their husbands even if the husbands are unjust, slaves should obey their masters even if the masters are unjust. People just simply need to say the Shahada, and they are Muslim. People just need to do their worship, and they are taken care of. People do not have to think about what the Prophet Muhammad himself did, and that is sacrifice his best interests day in and day out. He did it. The stellar companions did it. Ali Ibn Abi Talib, Al-Hussein did it and Al Hassan did it. The Ahl al Bayt, generation after generation, did it.
Instead, Umayyad Islam said, “You do not have to follow what Muhammad did, you can still be Muslim. After all, your body has a right, your wife has a right, your children have rights. By the time you get done with giving yourself its right, what is left?” You may kid yourself and say, “I can give myself my rights, I can give my family their rights, and then I can give the principles the right.” By the time they get to principles, very little is left because the self is extremely selfish. If you focus on giving the self what it desires, what it demands, very little is left.
Umayyad Islam invented and put into service generation upon generation of corrupt scholars who are themselves hypocrites. They invented hadiths, they narrated hadiths, they collected hadiths, all to silence the Qur’an. But what upheld the Islamic civilization is that there were always a sufficient percentage of people, not a majority, but a sufficient percentage of people that still committed their lives to studying principles, comprehending principles, and implementing principles; and that percentage is what constructed the entire glory of the Islamic civilization. The Islamic civilization crumbled because historical mistakes eventually caught up with us, like racism caught up with the Roman Empire and eventually brought it down, and as racism will eventually catch up with the American civilization. Mark my words, centuries from now, if life still exists, racism will bring it down. The historical mistake eventually caught up with us.
To learn not to be selfish is not as easy as one would think, especially that all of us grow up weaned under Islam of the State, of the Islam that murdered the grandson of the Prophet. That is the Islam we are weaned on. Can you imagine the Islam that we grow up learning, believing in, is the Islam that murdered the grandson of the Prophet? And that Islam teaches you that all you have to do is pay Zakat (charity), 2.5% of whatever you save for over a year, and you are fine. That Islam teaches you as long as you pray, you fast, and you take care of yourself and your family, you are fine. That Islam teaches you that as long as you take care of your feelings, your emotions and your body, you are okay. That Islam does not get you to marvel at the fact that the greatest creation God has given to the universes is the intellect.
That Islam does not teach you how often God emphasized the role of the intellect, the role of moral conscience, the role of justice, the place of justice. That Islam does not teach you that if you live your life in the service of yourself, then you are not truly a Muslim. You are like the hypocrites of Medina. That if you do not come to the aid of the disempowered and the disinherited, then you are like the hypocrites of Medina.
This is the thing. Even at the level of experiential knowledge, as Muslims, the experience is undeniable, that is that we keep going from one misery, one tragedy to the next. Since colonialism, Muslims keep going from one tragedy to the next. They are like a people who keep putting their finger in an electric socket and keep getting electrocuted. For centuries now, they keep doing the same thing over and over. Experience at the most primitive level, forget lofty ideas and principles, for centuries now Muslims keep experiencing one tragedy over the next. At what point do they say, “Enough is enough?” We need to do a deep dive into our whole historical, moral, intellectual framework. At what point do you say, “Obviously, the way we are is not working. Obviously, something is really, really wrong.” How insane is it that we keep going from one disaster to the other? And yet, you do not see any massive change in the collective psychology and intellectual dispositions of Muslims.
Yes, Muslims keep going from one tragedy to the next, so much so that it is clear that the vast majority of people for the vast majority of time insist on not waking up. You can simply tell yourself, “I speak because God told me to speak, but I will speak in the wilderness so that creation itself can be saturated with the words.”
Yet another book has come out, “Worse Than Death, Reflections on the Uyghur Genocide,” which is an extremely painful book written by a witness to the genocide. Another book has come out, written by a scholar called Sean Roberts, the book is titled “The War on the Uyghurs.” In the book, Sean Roberts documents how President Trump met with the Chairman of China and gave him the green light to build the internment camps. Trump met with the President of China and told him, “We will condemn you in public, but go ahead. Start your holocaust against Muslims. It is not of concern to the United States.”
Is this going to wake up the conscience of all the Muslims? Muslims that you love, respect and support, Muslims that supported, defended and apologized for the Trump administration? Muslims who say, “No, Trump is not really an Islamophobe. He is just playing politics.” Is the fact that yet another extremely painful testimonial has come out going to make any difference? Is it going to wake up Muslims? Moral vigilance is a habit. If you become accustomed to putting your own comfort first, of telling yourself, “Oh, well, I do not ask for that much, am I not entitled to just this little bit?” Well, believe it or not, that is precisely what led us to the holocaust against the Uyghurs.
Another article has come out yet again in a series of articles about how Bosnia is terrified that the genocide against Muslims is going to be reignited. This is an issue that is extremely worrisome because Serbian nationalism, Islamophobia among Serbs and talk of finishing what we started in 1996, like the raping, enslaving and murdering of Muslims, is at an all-time high. The vast majority of Muslims for the vast majority of time will say, “Oh, we are good people. We do what we can.”
Another article details a ban on hijab in India. School after school is now banning hijabs in India. Raping, sexually assaulting Muslim women in India has become a pastime of Hindu nationalists. Is that going to wake up Muslims? Is that going to convince Muslims that they are not entitled to the comforts that they demand for themselves?
Listen to this new disaster, which I have been living with now for the past few days. All of us know that the vast majority of weapons manufactured in the United States, England or France, when they are used, are used in Muslim lands. American missiles, American bombs, British missiles, British bombs, French missiles, French bombs. Where are they used? They are used against Muslims in Muslim lands. All of us know that as a result, there is a huge displacement of Muslims everywhere. There are Syrian refugees, there are Iraqi refugees, there are Afghan refugees, there are Yemeni refugees, there are Somali refugees, there are Libyan refugees, there are Uyghur refugees, there are Bengali refugees, as well as the Rohingyas and Burmese. Muslims refugees everywhere.
The vast majority of these refugees, only God knows what happens to them. The vast majority are living in unbelievably substandard camps, fighting the elements, suffering in silence, dying in silence. Those in camps are the lucky ones. The vast majority of these refugees, although they are refugees, because of Western weapons and Western-backed governments, they find themselves fighting for resources largely in Muslim lands that have grown up weaned on selfishness. The Egyptians often say, “Egypt is for Egyptians. Lock out the Palestinians. Lock out everyone else, let them die.” The Saudis say the same. The Emiratis say the same. Everyone says the same. So for the vast majority of these refugees, only God knows what happens to them.
A good percentage of these refugees are picked up by human traffickers, put into forced labor or sexual slavery. Meanwhile, you are entitled to your comforts and to just the little bit that you want for yourself. Europe, the advanced world, the industrialized world, the world of human rights, in order to save face gets together under the auspices of the United Nations and say, “We could not have bombed the lands of these people. We could not have massacred these people. We could not have supported whatever goal we have in the countries of these people without a certain percentage of the local population helping us. So that not all these people think of us as imperial colonial powers, we will agree to take a percentage of the refugees. A small percentage of these refugees will get to come to the promised land, whether that be the United States, England, or another European country.”
The problem, though, is that at the same time that you take a percentage of these refugees, what do you do with the experiential self of the racist, colonial, imperial, white man? The white man who has colonized the world through the power of racism and is now agreeing to take a small percentage of a people that the white man fundamentally does not respect. After all, these people make me rich and comfortable by buying my weapons and killing each other, so you can bet that these refugees are going to experience all types of racial discrimination in their new countries where they are supposed to resettle.
One form of discrimination that has kept me up awake now feeling ill for days, is this new phenomenon that, if it would have happened to any other people, the entire world would be on fire. What is this discrimination? Well, in come the Syrian refugees, the Moroccan refugees, the Algerian, Somali and Iraqi refugees, and especially in Sweden, something incredible has happened. There is an intelligence agency that is supposed to focus on national security, known as SACO. SACO has been carefully monitoring and spying on Muslims, and SACO, according to public records, has logged in with social services in Sweden something close to 300,000 complaints. The overwhelming majority, if not all, of these complaints are directed at Muslim refugee parents.
What are the complaints? If you have a fight with your wife and you yell at her, in comes social services. If you do not allow your son or your daughter to date, in comes social services. If you object to your daughter wearing a bikini and swimming at school, in comes social services. And what have they been doing? In article after article, it is shown that, for thousands of Muslim families, they take the children away. They take the children of Syrian families, of Somali families, of Moroccan families away.
Apparently this is big business, because it is not just racism, but the families that agree to act as foster families get handsomely paid by the State. So these families not only have a financial incentive, but according to a recent book published in Sweden, when it comes to the children of refugees, social services in Sweden are not particularly discerning. So many of these foster families have turned out to be sexual abusers, or they serve the children alcohol and drugs. The percentage of these children end up being sexually abused and assaulted is outrageous. Although social services tells you that we are taking away your children and the judge is going to decide, even the United Nations has expressed concern, the judges do not believe Muslim parents and do not even honor the desire of Muslim children.
I watched a video of a 13-year-old crying and begging to be reunited with his mother. I watched a video of another 13-year-old who was taken from his parents and when he tried to run away, the police not only arrested him but also stepped with their boots on his head, and the poor child was yelling the Shahada. A Moroccan mother named Sanjualina had her child forcibly taken away. Sanjualina goes on Facebook to record herself tearfully telling this story, but later Sanjualina suffers a nervous breakdown and kills herself. On YouTube is a video of her son shoveling dirt on her grave. Yasmin was a girl who was separated from her family, a 13-year-old who, again, begged and pleaded to be allowed to return to her family, and then she killed herself. A 13-year-old committed suicide.
Social services in Sweden now acts like a gestapo, nabbing the children of Muslims, punishing Muslim families for being Muslim. If you tell your children, “You ought to remain a virgin,” that is cause for removal. If you tell your children that they cannot date, that is cause for removal. If you tell them they cannot attend parties, that is cause for removal. If you tell them you want them to pray five times a day, that is cause for removal. If you tell them that they have to fast during Ramadan, that is cause for removal. Leave alone if you tell them that they should wear the hijab, that of course is cause for removal. Endemic, widespread, unrestrained racism. Muslim families have lost their children in Italy, in France, in Germany and in Britain, but nothing of the scale of what is taking place in Sweden.
But what do you do with a people that look at what is going on in China and go on with their lives? They look at what is bubbling in Bosnia, what is going on in India and the widespread, unchecked racism against Muslims all over the West, and they still talk about what they are entitled to, what they want, what is comfortable for them. It is still a part of their frame of reference. It is still a part of their psychology.
To me, an act of selfishness brings down the curse of the unjust murder of Al Hussein. God has forced us to live under the shadow of this high act of immorality. It is as if God has said, “There is an event that happened in history that should alert you to the price of egocentrism and selfishness. If you do notrealize, if you do not reflect, if you do not comprehend, I will unleash the curse of this event upon you and your entire lifetime. But if you reflect and understand, then you may be of that minority that actually avoids hypocrisy in living as a Muslim on this earth.” Right now, what a small minority it is. What a small minority it is.
I do not think I need to say, but I will, and I will close with this. The answer obviously is not for some idiot to go commit an act of violence, because that only makes things worse, not better. The answer, if you are incapable of doing anything, if you are incapable of giving money, or volunteering for legal representation, or of influencing politics, the answer, if nothing else, is to get beyond yourself, to teach yourself not to be selfish. At a minimum, you can tell God, “God, you know I could not do anything about these children being taken away from their parents in Sweden. But the pain that I felt pushed me to become a better Muslim. A Muslim like the Prophet, like Al Hussein. To live and die by a principle, not in service of the self.”