(disclaimer: when I use the masculine gender for ease, it also includes the feminine)
I want to begin by placing the human at the centre of my talk – how we have been honoured as the children of God. God not only says “we have certainly created man in the best of stature”, but also “We have certainly honoured the children of Adam.” Part of this honour is that we all carry within us the spirit of the Almighty. Allah says: “So when I have made him complete and breathed into him My Spirit”. So, every human being is created in the best of form, and honoured with the essence of God.
This forms part of our ontology (which speaks to the nature of our being). Our theology, and indeed secular frameworks such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights give effect to this ontology regarding the honour and dignity of every single human being.
I want to contrast this with another story; and that is the story of creation. When God announced to the angels assembled before him, that he was going to create and appoint a viceregent on earth, in the form of the human, they asked the most salient question: “will you place therein one who will work corruption therein, and shed blood, while we hymn Thy praise and call thee Holy?” God replies: “Truly I know what you know not”. Now one could argue, considering the world in which we live that the Angels had a point.
How they arrived at this conclusion is not known – and commentators have various theories, more specifically about other forms of life that preceded us.
The second interesting element to this story is that this mischief and bloodshed was not at that point of Satan’s making.
Satan’s banishment and curse come only later in the story, when he refused to bow down before Adam – after the creation – saying “I am better than him” and was banished and then he vowed to mislead humankind till the end of time.
(some commentators do argue that satan’s mischief predated the creation of Adam).
So, we have this being created by Allah in perfection, with honour, dignity and imbued with His spirit, and yet God knew that this being would create mischief and bloodshed.
But instructively God said to His angles: ‘I know what you know not”, which informs our teleology (which relates to the doctrine of design and the purpose we serve in the world) that God created us
for a purpose. And that purpose is to serve God’s mission on earth which is to serve as the counter-balance for good against evil.
Allah says in the Quran:
“Let there arise out of you a band of people enjoining what is right and forbidding evil, such are the successful one”.
Such groups consistently arose within the traditions of the historical prophets.
Furthermore, we are invoked to side with the oppressed: “and what is the matte with you that you fight not in the cause of God and for the oppressed among men, women and children who say
O Lord take us out of this city of oppressive people and appoint from Yourself a protector and appoint for us from yourself a helper”.
We are those helpers and protectors appointed by God.
We have a duty to act. In fact we have an imperative to act.
We need to act whether we strong or weak, large in numbers or small in numbers, economically weak or strong. For God says in the story of David and Goliath: “but those who were certain that they would meet Allah said; how many a small company has overcome a large company by Allah’s permission. And Allah is with the patient”.
Often times we fail to act because we think our position or job is at risk, our friendships are at risk, we will offend certain people, our investment is at risk, our safety or security is at risk. Or we believe we do not have the time or the skills to do anything.
To quote Edmund Burke:
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”.
The Prophets of the Hebrew Bible remind us of the moral state of a people; “few are guilty, but all are responsible”.
The Quran reflects a similar sentiment when it says:
“O humankind be aware and avoid a temptation to oppress which will afflict not only those who oppress among you, but all of you”.
I begin with this introductory framework because the world is increasingly being characterized by acts of impunity with no attendant consequences. And the question is what role can we play. Because such impunity is only possible with our complicity of silence. We often say the world or the community is silent – but we are the communities that form the world.
I want to take a few examples to illustrate my point about impunity. Not the grand stories that dominate the headlines, but the slightly smaller ones.
The first case is the dastardly, brutal and cruel murder of Jamal Kashoggi by the Saudi regime. Make not mistake Kashoggi was a Saudi nationalist, who worked in the Royal Court, and advised the Saudi state in the past.
More recently however he happened to mildly criticise the current regime for some of their actions. For this they lured him to their embassy in Turkey, brought in hitmen to murder him, forensic experts to dismember his body and probably submerged his remain in acid and allowed it to disintegrate.
At least some of this is recorded by Turkish surveillance equipment. The consequences for the Saudi regime have been minimal. There was no outrage, with the exception of the Washington Post (for who he was a correspondent), Al Jazeera, and the Turkish government where Kashoggi was based and where the murder occurred.
In fact, arms sales to Saudi Arabia increased after the incident. Just this week Donald Trump vetoed a US Congress resolution to ban arm sales to Saudi Arabia (not related to Kashoggi’s murder, but because of the Saudi war crimes in Yemen). The western world and the Muslim world remained silent, as did most of the Muslim publics.
This impunity was allowed to pass because of the complicity of our silence.
Staying with Saudi Arabia: in April 2019, Saudi Arabia executed 37 people for terrorism offences, including at least one minor.
Their offence was peaceful protest.
Characteristically Saudi Arabia labelled it as terrorism. Most of them were Shia, who are an oppressed minority in the Kingdom. Saudi courts are basically kangaroo courts.
This was, some sources claim a “trial balloon” to gauge the strength of international condemnation -which as expected was muted and gave the Saudi’s the green light to proceed with their barbarity.
Isolated voices such Human Rights Watch described the punishment as “grotesque” while Amnesty International called it “a chilling demonstration of the Saudi Arabian authorities callous disregard for human life”.
This impunity was allowed to pass because of the complicity of our silence.
Currently, it has been widely reported that three prominent Saudi Arabian scholars are to be executed as soon as the court pronounces sentence on them in a case where the prosecutors have asked for the death penalty. These scholars are being held on multiple charges of “terrorism” – a term abused and serves as a cover for all kinds of tyranny. Its definition has become so expansive that it includes affiliation or sympathy to the Muslim Brotherhood. None of these scholars have been engaged in any acts of violence and are being persecuted for expressing their opinions and possible political affiliations. They were simply and peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, a right enshrined in the UDHR, and a fundamental right in most countries.
The three are Sheikh Salman al-Awdah, Awad al-Qarni and Ali al-Omari. Sheikh Salman al Awdah is the most prominent of the three and has been described as a ‘reformist scholar”, whose support Mohamed bin Salman frequently sought to further his career.
His crimes are threefold – calling for reform in Saudi Arabia, refusing to condemn Qatar when requested to by the regime, and refusing to label the Muslim Brotherhood as terrorists. Instead he called for unity with Qatar. Sheikh Salman will appear in a Saudi court this Sunday on 37 spurious charges for which a death penalty is being sought, in a court that meets none of the criteria for being independent.
The United Ulema Council of SA (UUCSA) released on an open letter addressing this matter. While commendable, its obsequiousness is still cringeworthy:
“We have been receiving unsubstantiated reports of the imminent execution of Shaykh Salman al-Ouda, Shaykh Awad al-Qarni and Dr Ali al-Omari via various media platforms. If these reports are false meant only to defame the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, it will be prudent for the authorities to issue a statement aimed at clarifying the matter. If however there is any truth in the reports, we appeal to the authorities to display clemency based on the Prophetic tradition that states: “Avoid applying punishments as long as you are able to find an excuse to avert them,” (Sunan Ibn Majah)
It is no secret that the Muslim world is going through exceptionally turbulent times; it is difficult enough to talk about the problems we face as an ummah, let alone find solutions for them. The clarion call to leadership in the Muslim world is to manage their differences through dialogue and tolerance, since violence only begets violence.
It will indeed be catastrophic if reputed Islamic scholars who enjoy international recognition and who are regarded as beacons of guidance and proponents of tolerance and moderation are executed in the name of anti- terrorism for expressing scholarly views. Such dastardly action will only serve to marginalize the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia from the global ummah and prove to be counter- productive for its long term stability.
Our appeal to you is apolitical and is motivated by the prophetic tradition that says: “Religion is naseehah. The people said: “To whom?” The Prophet said: “To Allah and to His Book, and to His messenger, and to the leaders of the Muslims and to the common folk of the Muslims.” [Muslim]
We trust that you accept this ‘naseeha’ in the spirit that it was intended and that you will withdraw the execution order (if such an order has actually been issued) and that you will summarily release scholars who are incarcerated for simply articulating judicious and scholarly views regarding the political climate in the Kingdom.”
Moving to Egypt, we note the murder of President Mohammed Morsi by the Egyptian regime of General Sisi.
The tacit acceptance of the coup, the intolerable imprisonment of Morsi and members of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the execution of leaders gave licence to Sisi’s impunity and the death of Morsi. Morsi was refused medical attention in prison, held in solitary confinement and even when he collapsed in court he was again refused medical care.
The world remained silent.
Again this impunity was allowed to pass because of the complicity of our silence.
The third case is one of historic magnitude taking place in Xinjiang, China, where according to estimates more than 1 million Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims are being held in concentration camps where they are being forced to learn Chinese and abandon their own languages and religious practices in what has been termed cultural genocide.
The children of those detained have been sent to separate camps to be indoctrinated. And the rest of the some 13 million Muslims in the region are subjected to intrusive monitoring by more than 1 million agents, as well as ubiquitous high-tech surveillance systems.
These camps have been described as the most significant concentration camps since WW2.
Beijing’s actions against the Uighur ethnic group and other Muslim minorities lead 22 mainly western ambassadors to ask China to desist from these actions and allow international observers into these camps.
Not one of these signatories was from a Muslim majority country. What followed was most surprising.
Not a complicity of silence, but of active support for the Chinese actions by 37 countries signing a letter supporting China’s human rights record – and tacitly support the Chinse actions against its Muslim population.
These countries included ALGERIA, BAHRAIN, COMOROS, EGYPT, KUWAIT, OMAN, PAKISTAN, QATAR, SAUDI ARABIA, SUDAN, SYRIA and the UAE. Turkey, Malaysia and Indonesia abstained from any action or condemnation.
Again, this impunity is allowed to pass because of complicity of our silence or our complicity by collaboration.
The last case I want to highlight is one closer to home and has been the topic of a previous khutbah at this mosque by Minhaj Jeenah.
In Ramadaan of this year, the Gatesville Mosque decided to invite a preacher accused of sexual predatory behaviour against female students. The claims of these women were verified and confirmed by a panel of scholars assigned to adjudicate them.
The mosque remained adamant in standing by the invitation and refused any engagement to discuss the matter – contained in a letter by the Mosque Chairman Sattar Parker.
However, one was not surprised by the Gatesville Mosques conduct. What was most surprising was the complicity of silence in the community regarding their action. The MJC was contacted and remained silent.
A journalist from the VOC contacted me for specific questions to ask Nouman Ali Khan, which I provided to him. Instead of these questions he provided a platform for a fawning interview. Radio 786 similarly ignored the story. Muslim Views ignored the story when it mattered – in the Ramadan issue – and then covered it in the Eid issue, when NAK had left the country.
Muslim Views essentially defended Khan by not only misrepresenting the case of Khan’s detractors but engaged in victim blaming. Muslims Views essentially bared their regressive (gender) politics.
The editor refused to publish my last submission stating that they want to close the matter, despite Mahmood Sanglay (the main write of the Muslim Views articles) launching a personal attack on me.
Again, we encourage impunity with the complicity of silence or collaboration.
These acts of impunity will not be possible if there was an outrage – even if we are designated what has assumed a derogatory meaning: social justice warriors. We have a imperative to act in every case and regardless of the perpetrators.
In conclusion my message is:
- We have a moral, ethical and religious responsibility to act when a wrong is committed.
- We need to act regardless of how strong or weak we are, in numbers or resources.
- We can act simply by using traditional or social media, by attending meetings, by organising, or holding our own government to account on these matters.
- We need to act in whatever little way we can in keeping with the exhortation of the Prophet:
“It is narrated by Abu Said al Khudri that the Prophet said: when you see a wrong change it with your hands, if you cannot do that then speak out against it; and if you cannot even do that then protest against it in your heart – that being the weakest from of faith”.
May the Almighty guide and protect us, may he make us the helpers and protectors of the oppressed, and may we be instruments in the establishment of justice and mercy.
I thank you.
26 July 2019