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The scholarly social contract with oppression

Afeef Khan

We live in strange times. There are Muslim scholars that quote the Qur’an, Hadith and the Sahaba liberally yet in their behaviour they are far removed from justice. On the other hand, we have people who have never read the Qur’an but are willing to sacrifice the comforts of life to uphold truth and justice.

American woman, I said, get away
American woman, listen what I say
Don’t come hanging ’round my door
Don’t want to see your face no more
I don’t need your war machines
I don’t need your ghetto scenes
Colored lights can hypnotize
Sparkle someone else’s eyes
Now woman, get away
American woman, listen what I say
American woman, stay away from me
American woman, mama let me be

These lyrics, about Lady Liberty, come from a song composed by a rock band back when rock ‘n’ roll was among the dominant voices representing a vibrant antiwar and counterculture movement (1970). They were apparently written and later performed by those who did not have the benefit of Qur’anic guidance, even though the message carries within it a flavor that ought to be sourced from the Qur’an. There are those who behave as if they read and understand the Qur’an, but they don’t… and there are those who behave as if they don’t have access to the Qur’an, but they do.

Strange times. We have Muslim scholars who liberally quote the Qur’an, hadiths, and words of wisdom from the Companions, but the truth is missing from their explanations, writings, and speeches. At the same time, we have those who will sacrifice their lives for justice (Michael Hastings, Edward Snowden, Bradley Manning, Aaron Swartz, et al.) and probably have not turned a single page of the Qur’an, let alone entertain the Hadith or the Companions. Those who want justice are not connected to the Qur’an and those who claim the Qur’an are not connected to justice.

To make sense of this polarity, especially insofar as the behavior of prominent Islamic scholars is concerned, it helps to recall the following ground-breaking statement (which comes out of Islamic history). One historian of Arab origin, Taha Hussein, regarded it to be the most remarkable statement made by a leader outside of the domain of wahy. The statement was uttered matter-of-factly in response to a question posed by one of the leader’s intimates, “How is it possible for Umm al-Mu’minin ‘A’ishah, Talhah, and al-Zubayr [all three simultaneously] to agree on something wrong?” The context of this question is well-known to both sides of the sectarian divide, and there is not enough space to go into it here, but the response to set the questioner’s thinking straight is what is key,

You are a person cloaked in confusion. Truth and falsehood are not determined [or defined] by the potentialities, the behaviors, and the attitudes of people. Rather, familiarize yourself with the truth, and you will know its advocates; [and] familiarize yourself with the falsehood, and you will know its advocates.

Before people start saying that we are condemning the Sahabah (ra) — we are not, obviously — and receding into their sectarian comfort zones, pay attention to the wisdom of what was said by Imam ‘Ali (a). The actions of people — regardless of their level of knowledge, positions of influence or endearment, or power — are not a measure of the truth; rather, it is the truth that is a criterion to judge whatever people do. How did we Muslims, of all people, get this messed up? How are we the ones who are not able to separate personalities from their behavior? To this day, Muslims and non-Muslims alike think that those in power, with affluence, or social rank (even though the socialization to this end is very much more sophisticated today with the impact of media, academics, and think tanks) are doing the right thing. This is why we are supposed to have the Qur’an: to hold those who can do a thing just because they can accountable and to discipline the exercise of power with Allah’s (swt) guidance.

We have scholars who are walking encyclopedias and libraries. They know the ins-and-outs of fiqh, inheritance, zakah, contracts, Shari‘ah, isnad, matn, asbab al-nuzul, etc.; they have the kind of instant recall that would put any information management system to shame; and yet, when it comes to making sense of what’s going on, how to navigate in the political spectrum, and to show the people a clear and unambiguous direction, it seems like they haven’t even been to elementary school. In the areas where truth really matters, where it is supposed to get rid of the murkiness — that is, in the social realm, where political favor, intrigue, and opportunism dominate — they are either AWOL or they are making the kind of statements that even a crazy person would reconsider. To be politically astute, you have to be able to think; and a photographic memory is no substitute for it.

At no time in the past three centuries has it been more clear about who is on the side of kufr than it is today. There is a global alliance between Zionism, American imperialism, and Saudi Wahhabism. The ayat on this subject are clear and too numerous to quote; two of them are,

O you who are securely committed [to Allah]! Do not take the deniers of the truth for your allies in preference to the committed Muslims! Would you prefer for Allah to impose upon you a maximalist dictatorship? (4:144).

The parable of those who take [beings or forces] other than Allah for their sponsors is that of the spider, which makes for itself a house: for, behold, the frailest of all houses is the spider’s house. Could they but understand this! (29:41).

How did it come to this? The answer is not as elusive as people might first believe. We collectively, as Muslims, are not only cowed by oppression, we are comfortable with it; we have come to depend on it; it’s a way of life for us. The occupier’s thoughts are our attitudes; his rationalizations (theories of economics, theories of representation, philosophies about human nature) are our justifications for the way we are. We kill when he tells us to kill; we cry when he tells us it is OK to grieve. We rebel when he is dissatisfied with his own hand-picked proxies. We talk about Allah’s (swt) ayat in the way he approves for us to discuss them, not in the manner of applying them to conditions of injustice, and certainly not with a view to shape the behavior of generational pharaohs.

The Qur’an is not our source of guidance; rather, the oppressors universities and his policies are the defining domains for our behaviors. We count on him to think, and being trained well at memorization and regurgitation, we parrot what he says. Our comfort zone is oppression; we feel uncomfortable with freedom, because the responsibilitiess associated with liberty require us to think, outside the box as it were. We are uncomfortable with thinking because he is uncomfortable with us thinking. Thinking for ourselves is one thing he is very comfortable with us not doing, especially our scholars. He’s convinced us that if you are not good at thinking, then you should leave it to someone who knows how to do it. And despite all evidence to the contrary, he says he is good at it… and we believe him. Human progress out of a bad situation requires growth and change. Not thinking is symptomatic of not growing… and when you stop growing, you stop living.

Article from

Crescent International Vol. 42, No. 5

Sha'ban 22, 14342013-07-01

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