Khutbah – The Trump Presidency and Reviving Active Citizenry
28th Rabi` al-Akhir 1438
Today’s khutbah takes place against the backdrop of a series of recent political events, which threaten the peaceful coexistence of diverse communities.
By all accounts, 2017 is going to be an extremely difficult and challenging year for Muslims and other marginalized communities in many parts of the world. This is accentuated by the outcome of the recent American presidential election and a surging support for right wing political tendencies the world over. We are at a critical juncture in our recent political history. Advances made to overcome racism, discrimination against minorities, and marginalization of various vulnerable groups, risk being reversed. Prejudice, hate, xenophobia, misogyny, bigotry and intolerance are becoming mainstreamed and its pundits and closet supporters now advocate that their toxic agenda be the new status quo.
2 Fundamental Problems
I believe there are two fundamental problems we are facing at this juncture in world history. The one is the resurgence of racism, and the other is the issue of how truth claims are established these days.
Today’s reflections are a modest attempt to understand some of the underlying forces influencing recent events, and suggest a framework upon which to find workable solutions for the challenges that lie ahead.
Misinformation, Lies and Propaganda
Spreading misinformation and propaganda, putting a spin on how facts are presented, and using hate speech and fear mongering are all parts of a deliberate strategy to manipulate public opinion. Furthermore, the big media and Internet duopoly of Facebook and Google has ensured that fake news, a torrent of mindless trolls, and self-reinforcing echo chambers have re-shaped the landscape within which we have to struggle to perceive what is factual or truthful.
The subtle racism of yesteryear has morphed into a blatant expression of hatred against people of all minorities. This neo-racism is a broad alliance stretching from Trump’s America in the West across Europe to the further reaches of Putin’s Russia in Siberia. It camouflages its real intent by trying to espouse the cause of some working class people who have not received the material benefits generated in a globalised economy characterised by the free flow of goods, services and people. Few have questioned the fact that these right wing conservative tendencies have garnered more support from affluent than from poorer communities.
Economic status is thus only one factor amongst many that influences electoral choices. Instead it is non-economic issues such as race, gender, environment, security, immigration, gun control, reproductive rights, sexual orientation preferences, same gender marriages, and religious- and cultural identity issues, which are of far greater concern for most voters.
Globalisation and Immigration.
Globalisation has taken many people in Asia and Africa out of abject poverty. Simultaneously, it has also led to greater inequality of wealth distribution as multinational corporations are able to maximise profits with few regulatory or social constraints, and little or no tax liabilities to contend with.
In recent years, violence and conflict have added to the numbers of immigrants seeking refuge and an opportunity to re-start their lives elsewhere. Many developed economies cannot meet all their labour needs if they have to rely solely on their native populations. It also is never a totally smooth process of assimilating immigrants into host nations.
There are many falsehoods pertaining to race, immigrants, people of colour, Muslims and many others, which have been allowed to develop a pernicious presence.
Immigrants for instance, are accused of stealing jobs, paying no taxes, involved in crime, or being a drain on social services. Each of these charges has been effectively rebutted. 84% of job losses for instance, are due to automation, robots and use of Artificial Intelligence applications whereas only 16% are lost to trade resulting in jobs outsourced to other countries. Even a low paid job of flipping burgers risks being done by a robot. Immigrants do jobs locals refuse to do or which they will only take at a much higher wage.
Newly arrived immigrants are desperate for any job they can find. Is it any wonder then that one finds Muslim Somali women in Minneapolis, working at a pig abattoir so that they can put food on the table for their families?
For the past six years or more, net immigration from Mexico, for example, has reached negative figures as numbers of families returning home have outstripped those crossing the border to settle in the USA.
Similarly, immigration figures for the United Kingdom were artificially inflated before Brexit. Almost one half of those entering the country were doing so legally on a valid student visa enabling them to study at British Universities and other Institutions of Higher learning.
This heady mix of fear, prejudice, political expediency and truth distortion has exacerbated envy and desire for domination over others. With the election of the first person of Afro-American descent as president of the USA many thought we had entered a post –racial phase in our history.
Sadly, it only helped to create deep-seated resentment amongst many that their position in a racial hierarchy had been up-ended, thus making them determined to reverse their presumed loss. Even with the best of intentions and policies, disparities of wealth can never be completely eradicated. Unfortunately, it became a tool for some to foster resentment by racializing these differences, and building easily exploitable hierarchies of people. Poverty has never been the sole privilege of any one particular race or ethnicity in any part of the world.
We have experience of this in South Africa; “Poor whites” were a problematic social category for the architects of Apartheid like Verwoerd and Vorster. They used Apartheid as a form of ethnic socialism to raise the level of development of Whites whilst ignoring or even exacerbating Black poverty. Conservative, right wing America is just as blind to Black, Hispanic and Native Indian poverty.
This process of re-racializing a new political consciousness reached its pinnacle with the election of a person with deep narcissistic tendencies. His in–your-face vulgar, and arrogant ways were interpreted as a vindication of their suppressed beliefs of racial and ethnic superiority. He unlocked their latent racism and gave it democratic respectability. They built their hopes of achieving a material nirvana, as the new frontier to be conquered. Race even trumped gender. At the same time many people of colour suffered from the gerrymandering of their voting districts and losing their voting rights on dubious grounds.
Where do we turn to for guidance, succour and strength, but to our foundational sources of the Qur’an and the Noble teachings of our Leader Master Muhammad, on whom be Allah’s Everlasting Peace and Blessings?
I asked myself one important question; just how does my Creator view His relationship with His Creation?
I used this question as a prism to see what happens when it interphases with the Light of the verses of the Qur’an. I came across a constellation of verses, all of which share a common understanding affirming the dignity, nobility and honoured status of all men and women.
1). In Surah al-Isra’, chapter 17 verse 70, Allah declares the following
We have indeed honoured the children of Adam,
And We carry them over land and sea,
And provide them with good things,
And We have favoured them above many We Created
The Qur’an acknowledges the favoured status of all human beings. It uses the word karm, (noble) from which is also derived karim (generous). Wherever humanity is placed on Allah’s earth, they are sustained by His generosity.
2). Allah’s Generosity touches men and women most intimately when He proclaims the following in the Qur’an:
Then He fashioned him and breathed of His life-giving spirit into him
(Q32;9, see also Q38;72, Q15;28-29)
All human beings share a common origin. God in his Majesty took clay or dust, something so ubiquitous. He held it in His Hands and Fashioned something extraordinarily beautiful with it; He Created us. He Loved that which He Created so much that He honoured it by permanently placing something, which emanates from His Divine Status within this Creation. He willed us to become alive and to exist. All human beings are endowed with this same Divine spirit irrespective of our colour or creed.
Allah in His Majesty had so willed that there would be differences in appearances. We may appear many [or as a manifestation of Multiplicity] yet each of us are Blessed with the same single, untainted Divine Touch, which is an expression of Divine Unity. It is our human weakness that blinds us to the signs of Unity found within the Multiplicity of creation.
If we fail to grasp this most fundamental of Universal Religious truths, it hastens our demise as morally conscious human beings leading to self aggrandizement and self worship as classic hallmarks of narcissistic behaviours.
3). I found Surah al-Hujurat, chapter 49, with its famous reference affirming the common origin of all mankind and division into tribes as nations, as very instructive for it deals not only with the scourge of racism but shapes our ethics of how to engage with one another.
This surah teaches us that differences in tribe, race, ethnicity, language, nationality, and religion are sources through which human beings develop a better appreciation of all human capacities and capabilities possible, thereby enriching mankind’s experience as a whole. It speaks about avoiding conjecture, spying, thinking ill of another person, exposing a person’s faults, failing to interrogate one’s own behaviour, backbiting and gossiping, all of which are intended to hurt the feelings, dignity and, honour of the next person.
Reading these verses today makes it clear how abhorrent the Qur’an would find use of hate speech, stereotyping, racial profiling and profound vetting. One could extend this Qur’anic concern for human dignity and respect to all categories of people who may be lacking in some way or another.
If the above verses serve to affirm how Allah Almighty Views His Creation, what does the Qur’an have to offer for us when we experience a deep, even existential angst when we are confronted with insurmountable difficulties and hostilities?
Here again, the Qur’an comes to our rescue with words of Power and Inspiration, something we can clutch onto and thus prevent ourselves from spiralling downwards in a nihilistic spirit.
But it may be that that you hate a thing though it be good for you,
And it may be that you love a thing though it be evil for you.
God knows and you know not. [Q2;216]
If a wound afflicts you,
A like wound has already afflicted that people.
And such days we hand out in turns to Mankind.
And [this is] so that God may know those who believe,
-and take witnesses from among you-
And God loves not the wrong doers. [Q3:140]
Nay-who is there that responds to the distressed
When he calls out to Him, and who removes the ill[That caused the distress], and has made you inherit the earth?
Could there be any Divine Power besides God?
How seldom do you keep this in mind! [Q27: 62]
Our experiences and our resources are limited; thus the Qur’an gently encourages us to think about alternative explanations and to entertain other possibilities than those currently encamped in our consciousness. It affirms that challenges and difficulties are not intended to break our spirit, but rather to strengthen our resolve. Difficulties and hardships are not the exclusive preserve of Believers, but all of mankind have their fair share of it. Eventually, our sincere striving will be rewarded with success by Help from the Divine resulting in us inheriting the earth.
The Prophet Muhammad, on whom be Allah’s Everlasting Peace and Mercy reminds us in an authentic tradition Anas ibn Malik reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said,
“Beware of the supplication of the oppressed, even if he is an unbeliever, for there is no barrier between them and Allah.” الْمَظْلُومِ دَعْوَةَ اتَّقُوا[Source: Musnad Aḥmad 12140 Grade: (authentic) according to As-Suyuti].
A powerful source of hope; an indication of the enhanced spiritual status before Allah of the person who is wronged or oppressed.
Prayer or supplication is our first port of call; it inspires us to seek solutions that will make a real difference. Prayer is at the very heart of all our spirituality. It is precisely when the spiritual appreciation of our faith’s teachings are weakened, that its message becomes susceptible to ideological distortion. Reza Shah-Kazemi draws a clear parallel with the decline of spirituality and the rise of ideology. Once our faith loses its spirituality, it becomes an empty shell, the resulting vacuum, filled with worldliness in all its ugly guises.
We become oblivious to its ancient schools of wisdom, of the quiet reflective attitude it cultivates and the profound changes it can engender in us. We fail to realize its capacity to allow us to transcend our immediate concerns. In our spiritual ignorance we suppress our ability to reach out to others with care, compassion and selflessness. Yet, therein lies the answer for our ultimate success. By honoring Allah’s Creation, especially the weak, the poor and the vulnerable, we become recipients of honor by Allah!
Our spiritual tradition wants us to become moral agents answerable for our deeds. This lays the foundation for a society based on ethical values and respect for others.
The Prophet of Allah says in a tradition
المُؤْمِنِ مِرَآةُ المُؤْمِنُ
A believer is a mirror to a fellow believer.
We reflect the faults we see in others as much as our faults are reflected in them. This teaches us humility of approach and respect for the opinions of others.
In the context of our discussion on racism, nativism and narcissism, the metaphor of a mirror has deeper resonance. The more aware we become of our innate spiritual status, the more we become like a mirror reflecting some of the attributes of the Divine, even to those who have taken liberties with our dignities and respect in the past.
Therein lies a very unique ability to transcend previous feelings of hurt and indignities and work towards healing ruptures in interpersonal relationships caused by racism and narcissistic tendencies of others.
Our unique feature as a spiritually identifiable community stems from our relation with the Ultimate Reality, Our Lord. Nowhere do I find a more telling example of what this relationship is all about than when it comes to supplication.
When we realize we have no power of our own and declare our utter dependency on our Creator, when our hearts have attained that pure status of an utterly dependent servant of God, who appeals in complete humility, or with a sound heart, or a qalbun salim, that is the time supplications get answered!
Knowledge and Training. and Training
We must equip ourselves with knowledge and training to become effective agents for change, become people who can make a difference. We often remind ourselves of reading or Iqra! and what a proud legacy we inherit in this regard. We live in an age when so many nations have stolen the march on us. We have to grapple with issues of knowledge and technology transfers, intellectual property issues and how access to certain knowledge domains and technologies have become restricted. Yet at the same time, we must take the full advantage of living in a connected world of open access publications, of instant connectivity, and a plethora of problems that require contributions from all corners of the globe. We need to read our tradition intensively and the world extensively!
Few issues have been used so extensively to malign Muslims than how we treat women. Nothing answers our critics better than seeing Muslim women and women of color becoming successful and choosing their own identity. Our faith teaches us to view differences in race and gender as inconsequential in respect of our common ontological and metaphysical status.
An Ethics of Care, strongly advocated by feminist voices, and which puts a high premium on maintaining relationships, no matter how vociferously we might differ with others, is, I believe, a movement which can be of immense value in overcoming much of the negative images promoted by those ignorant of our beautiful faith and culture. It will enhance our understanding that honoring human diversity is worthy of our highest respect. It will be of inestimable value in fighting intolerance, bigotry and sectarianism.
Global Ummah; From Darul Islam to Darul Internet.
We must develop a global perspective of who we are. and stop thinking of ourselves in terms of chess players on a board of two hundred nations living within fixed borders. That is an old way of looking at the world. Rather we should perceive ourselves as living in connected communities reaching across geographic boundaries.
We are more than a billion strong. By 2050 we are estimated to number 3.0 billion, and for the first time in history, Muslims will outnumber Christians as the single largest faith community on earth. By 2030, it is estimated that about 900 million Muslims will be living a fairly affluent middle class lifestyle. They will have an enormous economic clout. Already such demographic and economic changes are forcing manufacturers and producers to wake up to another reality; the Muslim market is huge and it potentially rivals that of India and China in terms of market size. Sheer economic reality will force changes in the policy of wrongfully maligning an entire global community for the actions of a few misguided extremists.
In conclusion, our opposition to nativism, racism, narcissism and perpetuation of untruths stems from our understanding that all human life is sacred; it is Blessed by a Divine Spirit, which is the same for all people.
I want to leave you with three short take home messages.
Firstly, we need to connect with our Creator; this makes us conscious of our common humanity. It helps us to recognize His Unity in the Multiplicity of His Creation.
If we want Allah Almighty to Honor us, we need to honor His Creation. That means acting with kindness and utmost respect. Especially towards those who have less than we do.
Lastly let us be careful never to be dismissive of the criticism of our enemies. In this way we safeguard ourselves from complacency and our own downfall.