In the Name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Dispenser of Grace
Allah, the Lord of Compassionate Justice, proclaims in the Glorious Qur’an in Surah al-Nisa’, chapter 4 verse 148:
لَا يُحِبُّ اللَّهُ الْجَهْرَ بِالسُّوءِ مِنَ الْقَوْلِ إِلَّا مَنْ ظُلِمَ وَكَانَ اللَّهُ سَمِيعًا عَلِيمًا
Allah dislikes and abhors public speeches of open contempt towards others unless (it be) for exposing oppression and redressing injustices (zulm); and Allah hears and knows all things.” (Q4:148)
The above Qur’anic verse gives us the Islamic ruling about publicly speaking out against oppression and injustices (zulm) perpetrated by another person or groups of people. The famous Qur’anic commentator, `Abdullah Ibn `Abbās (d.687CE) informs us that: “This verse was revealed because one man oppressed another. Therefore, it is permissible for one who has been wronged to mention the other person regarding the wrong that he has committed without adding anything more”. The meaning of the verse has even greater relevance to acts of injustice (zulm), which affects society as a whole. Furthermore, the Qur’an in Surah al-Shura’, chapter 42 verse 41, grants those who are oppressed the right to defend themselves against injustices (zulm):
وَلَمَنِ انْتَصَرَ بَعْدَ ظُلْمِهِ فَأُولَئِكَ مَا عَلَيْهِمْ مِنْ سَبِيلٍ
And whoever rises up to defend their rights when they are afflicted with oppression and injustice, there is no blame against them. (Q42:41)
I begin with the most recent outrage.
Who is Jamal Khashoggi and why did he flee Saudi Arabia?
On Tuesday 2 October 2018, a prominent Saudi Arabian journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, who was critical of the current Saudi regimes policies and living in self-imposed exile, entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, to obtain an official document. He has not been seen or heard since. Turkish investigators claim they have concrete evidence that Jamal Khashoggi was tortured and killed by a Saudi hit squad and that his body was dismembered and disposed of. The Saudi monarchy has strongly denied any involvement in his disappearance and claim that he exited the consulate.
While the exact fate of Jamal Khashoggi is still not conclusively determined, evidence of foul play by the Saudi regime is mounting. On 9 October 2018, the Washington Post reported that “US intelligence intercepted communications of Saudi officials discussing a plan to capture” Khashoggi.
Sadly, this outrage is but the most recent of a litany of atrocities committed by the Saudi regime over many decades. According to Rami George Khouri, a professor of journalism at the American University of Beirut, “The case of Jamal Khashoggi, unfortunately, is only the tip of the iceberg…it would only be the most dramatic example of a trend that has been ongoing for at least 30 to 40 years, but which has escalated under crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).”
Authoritarian and Repressive Regime
In recent months we have witnessed escalating authoritarian and repressive actions by the Saudi authorities. There have been countless reports of the imprisonment and disappearance of Saudi human rights activists, women’s rights activists, religious scholars and journalists, who have been silenced either because of their criticism of Saudi policies or because they advocated for reforms that challenged the authoritarian state.
We have also witnessed the growing alliance between Saudi Arabia, America and Israel as they rally support to build a political power block against what they perceive to be their biggest threat in the region, namely, democratically elected governments. In the wake of the Arab Spring (2011) which saw ordinary citizens across the Middle East rise against oppressive and authoritarian regimes and demand a just social order, we have seen how the Saudis and other authoritarian regimes in the region, solidify their alliance with the United States of America and the Zionist State of Israel in thwarting the legitimate demands of the people. However, this principal struggle has been muddied by a “cold war” between Saudi Arabia and Iran and their respective allies and supporters. In pursuit of their hegemonic agenda the Saudis and their supporters have deliberately sought to fuel Sunni-Shia sectarianism in the region and elsewhere in the world. During the same period we have also seen the Saudis and their allies wield political power through their unilateral land, air and sea blockade of Qatar, because of the latter’s refusal to kowtow and submit to the Saudi-led coalition agenda in the Middle East.
The Brutal and Inhumane Saudi led War in Yemen
However, one of the most egregious of atrocities committed by the Saudi regime under the leadership of crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has been its brutal and inhumane war in Yemen. On 26 March 2015, less than two months after Mohammed bin Salman’s appointment as defence minister of Saudi Arabia on 23 January 2015, he launched “Operation Decisive Storm”, a Saudi-led war coalition against the Houthi Shi`a rebels in Yemen.
During the past three and a half years of open warfare in Yemen, United Nations (UN) estimates place the number of people killed at over 10 000, with two thirds of them being innocent civilians. Tens of thousands of Yemenis have been maimed and more than one million children, women and men have been displaced. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has accused parties on both sides of the conflict, of killing civilians, but with its superior military hardware, airforce and support from the United States of America, the UN claims that the Saudi coalition forces have been responsible for two thirds of the deaths. The airstrikes and naval blockade imposed on Yemen by these coalition of countries have pushed the country to the brink of famine and what the United Nations has declared to be “the world’s worst man-made humanitarian disaster”. Yemen has also been hit by a cholera outbreak deemed the worst in the world by the UN. It estimates that roughly 400,000 people contracted the disease since last year and up to 2000 people have died from it.
One of the reasons Jamal Khashoggi was blacklisted by the Saudi regime was because of his opposition to the Saudi led coalition war in Yemen. The Saudi monarchy is extremely sensitive to even the most moderate forms of criticism. This was clearly on display in their overreaction to the concern the Canadian government expressed “at the arrest of civil society activists in the Kingdom”. The Saudi monarchy reacted by severing all diplomatic relations with Canada and instituting a host of other vindictive actions, including financial disinvestment, removing students from Canadian institutions, visa restrictions and airline restrictions, amongst others. This was clearly a warning and message to all other governments, civil society organizations and individuals to refrain from any criticism of the Kingdom.
However, Khashoggi was no ordinary critic of the Saudi monarchy. He was from a prestigious and elite family with close connections to the Saudi royal family. He was also a former government propagandist and was therefore well acquainted with the brutal nature of the authoritarian Saudi regime. If theories of Khashoggi’s murder prove correct, it will be a signal to other elite and middle-class Saudis not to voice any public criticism of the policies or excesses of the regime.
How should responsible Muslims respond to the relentless and ubiquitous atrocities perpetrated by the Saudi monarchy?
In the second part of my khutbah I would like to propose a few pragmatic actions that we could undertake in resisting the despotic Saudi monarchy and stand in solidarity with Saudi activists and indeed all social justice activists in calling for an end to authoritarian rule.
First, and foremost, we need to recognize that the Muslim Ummah cannot remain silent in the face of such open injustice and depravity. We can no longer idly sit by and watch the Saudi regime commit atrocity after atrocity, while being unable to help the innocent victims of Saudi aggression inside the country, in Yemen, the Middle East and elsewhere in the world. Saudi Arabia and its allied war-mongers must be condemned and repudiated for their iniquity and injustices. We call on Muslim institutions in particular to speak out against the Saudi regime and their proxy allies for the human catastrophe they are causing in Yemen. Such a courageous stance is mandated by the well-known prophetic tradition (hadith) in which the Prophet Muhammad (may Allah’s everlasting peace and blessings be upon him) proclaimed:
عن أبي سعيد الخدري – رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنهُ – قال: سمعت رَسُول اللَّهِ – صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّم – يقول: (( مَنْ رأى منكم منكرًا فليغيره بيده، فإن لم يستطع فبلسانه، فإن لم يستطع فبقلبه؛ وذلك أضعف الإيمان )) رَوَاهُ مُسْلِمٌ.
“Whoever of you witnesses an evil action must then change it with his hand. If he is not able to do so, then [he must change it ] with his tongue. And if he is not able to do so, then [he must change it] with his heart. And that is the slightest and weakest [effect of] faith.” (Narrated by Abu Sa`id al-Khudri in the compendium of Imam Muslim)
The above hadith touches upon one of the most important issues for the social well-being and genuine prosperity of any community. The hadith exemplifies a peace loving and responsible citizen’s attitude towards oppression and injustice. Such an individual should never submit to or turn a blind eye to the presence of oppression and injustice, but should try to challenge and remove the evil, and do so within his or her capacity and ability. Following this hadith, the least we can do is make du’a for an end to the atrocities and injustices of the despotic Saudi monarchy.
Second, with respect to the inhumane war in Yemen between two opposing Muslim factions, the most primary source of Islamic guidance, the Glorious Qur’an, in surah al-Hujurat, chapter 49 verses 9, exhorts Muslims who are not party to a conflict to make peace and reconcile between two groups of believers who fight against each other.
وَإِنْ طَائِفَتَانِ مِنَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ اقْتَتَلُوا فَأَصْلِحُوا بَيْنَهُمَا
فَإِنْ بَغَتْ إِحْدَاهُمَا عَلَى الْأُخْرَى فَقَاتِلُوا الَّتِي تَبْغِي حَتَّى تَفِيءَ إِلَى أَمْرِ اللَّهِ
فَإِنْ فَاءَتْ فَأَصْلِحُوا بَيْنَهُمَا بِالْعَدْلِ وَأَقْسِطُوا إِنَّ اللَّهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُقْسِطِينَ
If two parties among the believers fall out and fight each other, make peace and reconcile between them. And should one of them commit aggression against the other, then you should all fight against the transgressing party until it complies with the command of God by returning to peace and reconciliation. Then if the aggressing party returns then make peace between them with equity and act justly, for God loves those who act justly and evenhandedly. (Q49:9)
I recognize that such a course of action has already been attempted, with several peace talks ending in failure, but I believe that there is no other option except to pursue peaceful negotiations again and again until it succeeds. The daily killing, maiming and suffering of innocent Yemenis should encourage us to support efforts towards peace and reconciliation with urgency. Moreover, the safeguarding of human life is one of the supreme objectives of Islam (maqasid al-shari`ah). The Glorious Qur’an is replete with references concerning the sanctity of human life (Q6:151; Q17:33; Q25:68). The most striking of these Qur’anic proclamations that underscores the supreme sacredness of human life is verse 32 of Surah al-Ma’idah, chapter 5, in which Allah, the Giver and Taker of Life (al-Muhyi al-Mumit), equates the unjust and wanton killing of a single human being to that of killing of all humankind:
مَنْ قَتَلَ نَفْسًا بِغَيْرِ نَفْسٍ أَوْ فَسَادٍ فِي الْأَرْضِ فَكَأَنَّمَا قَتَلَ النَّاسَ جَمِيعًا
وَمَنْ أَحْيَاهَا فَكَأَنَّمَا أَحْيَا النَّاسَ جَمِيعًا
If anyone kills a single human being without just cause it shall be as though s/he had killed all of humankind; whereas if anyone saves a single life, it shall be as though s/he had saved the lives of all of humankind (Q5:32)
Third, we need to support the courageous campaign launched by veteran social justice activist, Terry Crawford-Browne in pressurizing the South African government to terminate all contracts negotiated between the Saudi government and the South African State arms company, Denel. Shamefully, evidence has already emerged that South African manufactured weapons of war have been used in Yemen. We should also call on our government to support efforts to find a negotiated settlement to the war in Yemen and to speak out against human rights violations committed by the Saudi monarchy.
Fourth, in light of the current atrocities committed by the Saudi regime, there has been a call made by some activists for Muslims to consider boycotting the annual pilgrimage (hajj) in protest against the atrocities committed by the so-called custodians of the two sacred masjids of Makkah and Madina. It is my considered view that while we cannot impose such a demand on those who have not yet performed their obligatory (fard) hajj, we could gently discourage those considering performing voluntary pilgrimages (nawafil) from doing so, more especially in light of the ongoing barbaric and inhumane war of aggression on the people of Yemen.
The pilgrim who intends to perform a voluntary pilgrimage needs to do some serious soul-searching and reflect on the following question: Is it better for a conscientious believer to perform a voluntary hajj or `umrah or to forego such an opportunity in solidarity with the victims of Saudi atrocities in Yemen and elsewhere? If many people begin to adopt such a protest action of not undertaking voluntary hajj and `umrahs as long as the Saudi monarchy continues its war mongering in Yemen and elsewhere in the Middle East, the despotic regime will begin to feel the pressure both financially and morally. According to an article in the online Muslim magazine, altmuslim, by 2022 the Saudi revenues from hajj and `umrah will exceed $150 billion dollars. This means that a hajj and `umrah boycott could have a real financial effect on Saudi revenue. More significantly though, the Saudi claim to custodianship of the holy sites of Makkah and Madina will be spurned and delegitimized.
The recommendation to gently discourage people from performing voluntary pilgrimages, is not incompatible with the views of classical Islamic scholars. For example, the illustrious Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal (d.855CE) is on record for having once advised that it is better for a prospective pilgrim to forego a voluntary hajj or `umrah if the resources and energy could rather be spent on cementing fragile ties of kinship, or giving charity to someone in dire need, or doing some good for your neighbour in need. (Kitab al-Zuhd). We should perhaps also think about ideas of how we can express our abhorrence for the actions of the Saudis through peaceful and thoughtful protest actions by pilgrims in the holy lands, and non-pilgrims in their communities, during the season of hajj.
More than anything else, the hajj is meant to be a demonstration of spiritual and social solidarity, peace and humanity. If this is the symbolic meaning of the hajj, how can the conscientious pilgrim engage in the rites of hajj while being oblivious to the suffering and oppression of citizens living in the host nation and its neighbouring countries? The relentless bombing of Yemen by the Saudis, with complete disregard regard for the sanctity of the holy month of Ramadan or the sacredness of the hajj season, demonstrates just how far out of step with the spirit of hajj and indeed of Islam the Saudi regime has shifted.
Fifth, in respect of the Jamal Khashoggi case, we need to actively support his family’s call for “the establishment of an independent and impartial international commission to inquire into the circumstances of his death.” A number of countries including, the United Kingdom, Germany and France have also called for a credible inquiry into the whereabouts of Jamal Khashoggi.
Last but not least, we should constantly supplicate and make du`a that Allah, the Lord of Compassionate Justice, grant the citizens of Saudi Arabia and indeed all Muslims the courage and wisdom to liberate themselves from the oppressive and unjust Saudi monarchy and replace it with a just social order based on shura (mutual consultation) and karamat al-insan (human dignity). At this sacred hour of jumu`ah please join me in a special prayer for the people of Saudi Arabia, Yemen and all those who resist the atrocities of the Saudi monarchy and the scourge of war:
Ya Rabb al-Rahmati wa’l Qist – O Lord of Compassion and Justice
The citizens of Saudi Arabia are in urgent need of You, so pour down upon them your Mercy and Compassion.
We pray for those who have been killed and the scores who are incarcerated and tortured because they dare to speak truth to power.
Ya Rabb al-Qist – O Lord of Justice
Grant the people of Saudi Arabia relief from the fear of oppression and persecution, and grant them the courage, strength and perseverance to continue to liberate their country from despotism and injustice.
At this difficult time in their history, we pray for hope and healing over the troubled nation of Saudi Arabia.
(Ya Rabb al Aman wa’s Salam) O Lord of Safety and Peace,
We beseech you to guide the people of Yemen to find a way to peace.
We pray for an end to their suffering – for the violence to stop, for the fear and hunger to stop, and for the downfall of all oppressive dictatorial regimes and warmongers in the Middle East.
(Ya Rabb al-Quwwa) O One who is All-Powerful and Irresistible in Might,
We pray that our leaders find ways to place peacebuilding over military action and war. And we pray for inspired leaders who use their power to serve the good of all and to fashion a more just and caring world.