The Khateeb‘s killing it this Friday! …Literally.
Dr. O blogs at Muslim Medicine, a site that strives to serve only the freshest grade-A certified ẓabiḥah ḥalāl comedy. Contact your local ḥalāl butcher for more details.
Every Friday morning, Muslims with a Y chromosome (and a bunch with two X’s) around the globe get ready for their weekly trip to the Mosque for a sermon, or “khutbah” as we call it. For some, it’s a wonderful opportunity to get a much-needed inspiration-boost and “īmān-rush” to last until next week… …and for most, it’s a wonderful opportunity to catch a nap while in an awkward sitting position, or find new fascination with pocket lint or wayward strings jutting out of our clothes, or even discover how pretty the Mosque carpet designs are.
It’s rather unfortunate to admit that for many, jumu’ah has become an utterly mundane routine every Friday as we shuffle into the Mosque, find a comfy spot to perch, and then space out for half-an-hour while waiting for the “aqimus-ṣalāh” – the clarion call that seems to jolt majority of the crowd back to life again.
I’ve begun “hifz-ul-carpet-design,” where I spend every Jumu’ah memorizing the carpet patterns.
What was the khutbah even about? I guess something to do with Islam or Sunnah. I dunno. And who gave it? Some generic bearded imām guy. Be honest- after the jumu’ah ṣalāh ends, you tend to forget the entire point and message of the khutbah, don’t you? And I can guarantee you that if you ask any guy right now what the khutbah topic was last week or even the week prior, you’d be hard-pressed to find even a handful of people who can vaguely remember, let alone offer any lessons or take-home messages.
While there’s certainly some blame to toss at the typical attendee for being so disinterested and disengaged, an overwhelming responsibility rests on the khateeb for ensuring that his congregation actually listens and more importantly, remembers his words. And that’s where this list comes in. From my own personal experience both as a khateeb and as an avid attendee (it’s kinda sorta obligatory for me), this is Muslim Medicine’s Top 10 Ranking of Terrible Khutbahs, hand-picked from actual experiences.
10 – The Khateeb Who Can’t Speak English
I remember attending a khutbah in a Mosque that pours the “back-home” culture on a little too thick, and much to my expectations, the khutbah was delivered in 5% Arabic and 95% Urdu, with zero English. Now this would be perfect if I was in Pakistan, but last I checked, I was in New York. And I walked out of that khutbah with a wonderful 45-minute urdu immersion lesson courtesy of the Rosetta-Stone khateeb, and just like my fellow attendees: the convert, the army of morally-crumbling religiously-bankrupt high schoolers, and the unfortunate traveling Arabs who happened to stop by, we all left that Mosque understanding nothing.
What I learned: “We have not sent any Messenger except with the language of his people so he can make things clear to them” [14:4]. I think there’s an example in there somewhere for khateebs to apply to their audiences…?
9 – Professor Shaykh Dr. Khateeb, PhD
Oh man, this one was just torture. There’s only one thing I remember, and it was the painful realization that I wasn’t attending jumu’ah, I was attending this khateeb’s grad-school level course lecture on the inner machinations of the fiqh of zakat. It had such mind-numbing technicalities and intricate fiqhi rulings that I was completely lost, and I’m positive the entire congregation was just as perplexed. The khateeb’s monotone Ben Stein voice made it even worse, so even the one student of knowledge in the audience capable of understanding this was probably put to sleep.
What I learned: Just like most of my college lectures, I walked out of there wondering if I was even in the right class. Khutbahs aren’t meant to be delivered from textbooks using Powerpoint presentations, they’re meant to be simple reminders for average folks.
8 – The Anesthesiologist
I call this khateeb the “Anesthesiologist” because I’m fairly certain that surgeons play his khutbah recordings in Operating Rooms to induce unconsciousness in patients. I don’t know how this khateeb preps himself before his khutbahs– does he swallow a bottle of nyquil, or inject elephant tranquilizers into his neck and then stand at the minbar?
Whatever he does, his voice, energy, delivery, and gusto are so incredibly dull and monotone that whatever message he’s giving to the audience is completely lost since half of them are asleep or passing in and out of consciousness. When “aqimus-ṣalāh” is finally uttered at the end of all the boring droning, its like someone popped a balloon or something because the entire audience seems to look around with wild confusion as they wake up from their deep slumber.
What I learned: If you’re neither energetic nor passionate about delivering your khutbah, why should I as your audience member bother to invest energy and attention in receiving your message? This is one of the most basic lessons of public-speaking 101.
7 – Hopelessly Confused Khateeb
At first the khutbah seems to start off well, but the more you listen, the more confused you get as the khateeb throws in random ayat and ahadith and pulls lessons and morals seemingly out of thin air, while coming to illogical conclusions that don’t seem to fit in with the overall flow of the khutbah. The end result is a cacophonous disjointed mutant-khutbah that doesn’t drive home any particular message and leaves the entire audience scratching their heads.
I remember one particular khutbah I attended where the khateeb began with the usual ABC’s and 123’s of “be a good Muslim” and “make sure you pray,” and then all of a sudden went into a rant about polygamous marriages, then threw some jabs at homosexuality, and then wrapped up his franken-khutbah with Muslim youth getting thrown into prisons. I mean don’t get me wrong, I actually clearly remember this khutbah, but for all the wrong reasons.
What I learned: Come on. Whether it’s done out of a sheer lack of preparation, or the khateeb is just making up his khutbah as he goes along, this is an unprofessional way to deliver a sermon. When your audience forgets your message, but remembers the Titanic Hindenburg that was your delivery, you know your khutbah was a flop.
6 – Law-Abiding Khateeb
This khutbah is a bit rare since most khateebs are sensitive to their audiences and cooperative with the MSA or Mosque Boards that invite them, but once in a blue moon you get to witness a khutbah that’s been distilled into a pure, unfiltered rant. Whether it’s a personal vendetta or something (or someone) who wronged the khateeb, or even biased seething disapproval for some perspective or viewpoint, this guy will make sure that his grievances are made clear by using the khutbah as his weapon of retaliation.
I remember a khutbah where the khateeb took aim at the Mosque Board itself and like Liam Neeson facing down Albanian kidnappers, took down the entire group with a serious vengeance. It was like watching an episode of The Office and seeing an angry Muslim Micheal Scott lambaste the very people who invited him to come speak, and it was incredibly uncomfortable and awkward to witness. Now granted, I didn’t have a clue as to what happened behind the scenes or whether or not such criticism was even justified to begin with, but one thing was for sure- that khateeb was definitely NEVER going to be invited back to this mosque again (and he most likely knew it), so I guess he decided to go down fighting.
What I learned: Imām Shafi’i said: “To admonish your brother in private is to advise him and improve him. But to admonish him publicly is to disgrace and shame him.” It’s a sad sad day when you see the khutbah itself being used as a personal tool of the khateeb– a “bully pulpit” if you will- for him to viciously use against people, places, ideas, or perspectives that he personally disagrees with. I attend khutbahs to find peace, remembrance, and inspiration- not to be force-fed the khateeb’s own vendettas.
5 – Def Jam Jummu’ah feat. Wiz Khateeba
Unlike their elder counterparts, younger khateebs are excellent for delivering khutbahs to their own age group in high school and college MSAs. Their knowledge base may not be as extensive as a Shaykh or imām’s, but they have an uncanny ability to derive pertinent life lessons from Kanye West lyrics, NBA player trades, or Assassin’s Creed cut-scenes.
To this day, I still clearly remember a fellow student in our MSA delivering a khutbah about Muslims bumping and grinding in the club. Yes, you read that right. Bumping and grinding in the club. It was one of the most bizarre yet entertaining khutbahs that I’ve ever listened to, and I guess it was ironic considering that the Muslims who were probably clubbing the night before most likely weren’t there the morning after to listen to his khutbah. But hey… you never know.
What I learned: despite poking fun at younger khateebs, it goes without saying that there is such an incredible potential in a lot of them to grow and develop into strong public speakers and youth advocates, if they’re just given a chance. It’s a shame that Mosque and Islamic Centers continue to recycle the same tired old khateebs over and over again without giving any opportunities for younger khateebs to step up and gain experience. Perhaps instead of dismissing our youth all the time, we should make an effort to cultivate them.
4 – KHATEEB ANGRY! KHATEEB SMASH!
I don’t know who spat in this khateeb’s cereal, or who cut him off in traffic, or if he’s just a self-loathing Mets fan, but this guy clearly has anger issues, and rather than go to a therapist to vent his frustration, he takes to the minbar instead. Now don’t get me wrong, sometimes a good verbal kick in the rear is just what a community might need to get itself back on track, but like many other things in Islam, everything comes in moderation.
Maybe its just me, but khutbah topics about jinns, the dajjal, or the last days are pretty scary stuff, and when you have the Incredible Hulk delivering these topics, the result strikes more fear in the hearts of men than opening up an Īd gift and seeing the complete Twilight Blu-ray Disc collection. Anger in a khutbah can be creatively channeled at just the right time to elicit powerful reactions and really strike home a message, but when the entire khutbah is a volcano of fiery rage spewing fury into the faces of the audience from beginning to end, that’s what I’d call emotional overkill.
What I learned: Khutbahs shouldn’t leave adults cowering and kids whimpering in fear, and there shouldn’t be a mad rush to the bathroom after the khutbah ends so that everyone can make wudu again and put on a clean pair of pants. Have mercy on the sound system, and mercy on the really young and really old members of the audience who can’t handle these voice tones. Also, spare the congregants and the Mosque itself from FBI visits after each furious khutbah.
3 – The Dark Lord Sauron
This khateeb commutes to the Mosque from the very pits of Mordor, and fashions his khutbah from the wretched fires of Mt. Doom. Like a Dementor from Azkeban he swoops onto the minbar and sucks the very life and joy out of the entire audience with his fire and brimstone khutbah. Hope you renewed your prescription for Prozac, because this sermon comes with an extra helping of severe depression and no hope for salvation.
Even for Īd khutbahs, the one time where you’d hope the khateeb would make you feel warm and happy, Shaykh Grinch finds it appropriate to remind his congregation on this blessed day that “you got accepted to Hell University, and Shaitan’s your roommate!” It’s the perfect positive feel-good message for converts, struggling Muslims, and visiting non-Muslims.
What I learned: The immaculate wisdom of the Qurʾān is that Allāh beautifully couples His warnings about the Fire with His promises of Paradise, and couples descriptions of His punishments with His mercy and blessings so that everything is perfectly balanced. For a khateeb to cherry-pick only the ayat and ahadith that describe condemnation and punishments and completely leave out repentance, mercy, and blessings, is a travesty of negative emotional manipulation that depresses people far more than it “inspires” them to reform.
2 – Gandalf the Grey Uncle
Oh man, these khutbahs are just painful. It’s always a hit or miss, and more often than not, for an overwhelming majority of the youth in the audience, these khutbahs are a clear miss. Elder uncles are incredible sources of experience and wisdom, masha’Allāh, but there are some that just don’t have the knack for being effective khateebs, at least not for American audiences.
Even when there’s a fantastic message, I usually tend to get sidetracked when the khateeb compares “the internets” to Shaitan’s playground, or suggests that the solution to all of the problems facing the youth are for brothers to go to hifz school and then get scholarships to med school, and for sisters to forget about college, just marry doctors, and send their kids to madrassas so they can grow beards as long as telephone poles. I don’t know what kind of fantasy utopia that is, but it’s as practical and feasible as organizing a Muslim-led Gangnam Style flash mob at Fajr time.
What I learned: Between the thick accent, the mistrust of newfangled technology, the old-school back-home mentality, and an utter misunderstanding of American culture these khutbahs really highlight the sheer generational and cultural gap between the immigrant and 1st generation communities. Every jumu’ah becomes a reminder of just how badly the Mosque board and the khateeb roster miss their mark on addressing serious and relevant issues that are corroding their communities.
1 – WWE’s Friday Afternoon Smackdown
Hope you brought some popcorn and managed to grab a front row seat, because these are the khutbahs that are notoriously remembered for years. Usually jumu’ah khutbahs are a one-man show- just the khateeb speaking. But when controversy strikes, or when the audience gets rowdy or offended and tensions start to build, suddenly player two grabs a controller, hits start and “There’s a New Challenger!” gets announced as a brave soul interrupts the sermon to offer a challenge to the khateeb.
And that’s when jumu’ah becomes an episode of Dragonball Z. Ridiculously trivial Mosque fights are nothing new, but when they happen at jumu’ah, the entire community gets to witness the ugliness of our ummah as the khateeb fights his own audience members. Perhaps damage control wouldn’t be as bad if it were just limited to a public war of words and egos, but seeing as how the concepts of tahdhib and akhlaq (manners and etiquette) are nearly extinguished in our day and age, it’s shameful to admit that stories of fist-fights and actual physical violence following khutbahs are hideous moments that some Mosques try their hardest to sweep under the rug.
What I’ve learned: Regardless of whether it’s the khateeb’s fault or the audience member’s, nothing is more saddening than sitting and watching a khutbah turn into such a disgraceful display. Ultimately, it isn’t just the khateeb who loses face, its the entire community.
I’m aware that all these anecdotal examples paint a pretty bad picture of jumu’ah, but for every terrible khutbah that I’ve listened to, there have been numerous ones that have truly touched my heart and given my iman the shake-up that it so desperately needs.
The jumu’ah khutbah is a legacy of our ummah established by the beloved Prophet , and to stand at the minbar as a khateeb is to carry that legacy and assume the responsibility of reminding the community of their faith and purpose by aspiring to the same beauty, eloquence, passion, and strength that the Prophet himself channeled during his sermons.
There’s no denying that you and I have forgotten majority of the jumu’ah khutbahs that we’ve listened to during our lifetime. But there’s no doubt in my mind that like me, you’ve attended at least one jumu’ah where your heart was filled with remembrance, your mind enlightened with haqq, your body filled with renewed vigor, your eyes welling with tears, and your iman cleansed of impurity. Those are the blessed khateebs whose knowledge and eloquence of speech is a gift from Allāh , and those are the jumu’ah khutbahs that we don’t ever forget.
In the words of Shaykh Abdul Nasir Jangda, one of the shuyookh who taught me how to give khutbahs:
“If you want to reach the hearts of the people, give your heart as a khateeb.”
My seven-year old son sat on the ground, digging a hole. Around him, other children ran, cried, and laughed at the playground.
“He’s such a strange kid,” my oldest daughter remarked. “Who goes to the playground and digs holes in the ground?”
In an instant, scenes of my ten-year-old self flashed through my mind. In them I ducked, hiding from invisible enemies in a forest of tapioca plants. Flattening my back against the spindly trunks, I flicked my wrist, sending a paper shuriken flying towards my pursuers. I was in my own world, alone.
It feels as if I have always been alone. I was the only child from one set of parents. I was alone when they divorced. I was alone when one stepmother left and another came in. I was alone with my diary, tears, and books whenever I needed to escape from the negative realities of my childhood.
Today, I am a lone niqab-wearing Malay in the mish-mash of a predominantly Desi and Arab Muslim community. My aloneness has only been compounded by the choices I’ve made that have gone against social norms- like niqab and the decision to marry young and have two babies during my junior and senior years of undergrad.
When I decided to homeschool my children, I was no longer fazed by any naysayers. I had gotten so used to being alone that it became almost second nature to me. My cultural, religious, and parenting choices no longer hung on the approval of social norms.
Believe it Or Not, We Are All Alone
In all of this, I realize that I am not alone in being alone. We all are alone, even in an ocean of people. No matter who you are, or how many people are around you, you are alone in that you are answerable to the choices you make.
The people around you may suggest or pressure you into specific choices, but you alone make the ultimate choice and bear the ultimate consequence of what those choices are. Everything from what you wear, who you trust, and how you plan your wedding is a result of your own choice. We are alone in society, and in the sight of Allah as well.
The aloneness is obvious when we do acts of worship that are individual, such as fasting, giving zakah, and praying. But we’re also alone in Hajj, even when surrounded by a million other Muslims. We are alone in that we have to consciously make the choice and intention to worship. We are alone in making sure we do Hajj in its true spirit.
We alone are accountable to Allah, and on the Day of Judgment, no one will carry the burden of sin of another.
مَّنِ اهْتَدَىٰ فَإِنَّمَا يَهْتَدِي لِنَفْسِهِ ۖ وَمَن ضَلَّ فَإِنَّمَا يَضِلُّ عَلَيْهَا ۚ وَلَا تَزِرُ وَازِرَةٌ وِزْرَ أُخْرَىٰ ۗ وَمَا كُنَّا مُعَذِّبِينَ حَتَّىٰ نَبْعَثَ رَسُولًا
“Whoever accepts guidance does so for his own good; whoever strays does so at his own peril. No soul will bear another’s burden, nor do We punish until We have sent a messenger.” Surah Al Israa 17:15
On the day you stand before Allah you won’t have anyone by your side. On that day it will be every man for himself, no matter how close you were in the previous life. It will just be you and Allah.
Even Shaytaan will leave you to the consequences of your decisions.
وَقَالَ الشَّيْطَانُ لَمَّا قُضِيَ الْأَمْرُ إِنَّ اللَّهَ وَعَدَكُمْ وَعْدَ الْحَقِّ وَوَعَدتُّكُمْ فَأَخْلَفْتُكُمْ ۖ وَمَا كَانَ لِيَ عَلَيْكُم مِّن سُلْطَانٍ إِلَّا أَن دَعَوْتُكُمْ فَاسْتَجَبْتُمْ لِي ۖ فَلَا تَلُومُونِي وَلُومُوا أَنفُسَكُم ۖ مَّا أَنَا بِمُصْرِخِكُمْ وَمَا أَنتُم بِمُصْرِخِيَّ ۖ إِنِّي كَفَرْتُ بِمَا أَشْرَكْتُمُونِ مِن قَبْلُ ۗ إِنَّ الظَّالِمِينَ لَهُمْ عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ
“When everything has been decided, Satan will say, ‘God gave you a true promise. I too made promises but they were false ones: I had no power over you except to call you, and you responded to my call, so do not blame me; blame yourselves. I cannot help you, nor can you help me. I reject the way you associated me with God before.’ A bitter torment awaits such wrongdoers” Surah Ibrahim 14:22
But, Isn’t Being Alone Bad?
The connotation that comes with the word ‘alone’ relegates it to something negative. You’re a loser if you sit in the cafeteria alone. Parents worry when they have a shy and reserved child. Teachers tend to overlook the quiet ones, and some even complain that they can’t assess the students if they don’t speak up.
It is little wonder that the concept of being alone has a negative connotation. Being alone is not the human default, for Adam was alone, yet Allah created Hawwa as a companion for him. According to some scholars, the word Insaan which is translated as human or mankind or man comes from the root letters that means ‘to want company’. We’re naturally inclined to want company.
You might think, “What about the social aspects of Islam? Being alone is like being a hermit!” That’s true, but in Islam, there is a balance between solitary and communal acts of worship. For example, some prayers are done communally like Friday, Eid, and funeral prayers. However, extra prayers like tahajjud, istikharah, and nawaafil are best done individually.
There is a place and time for being alone, and a time for being with others. Islam teaches us this balance, and with that, it teaches us that being alone is also praiseworthy, and shouldn’t be viewed as something negative. There is virtue in alone-ness just as there is virtue in being with others.
Being Alone Has Its Own Perks
It is through being alone that we can be astute observers and connect the outside world to our inner selves. It is also through allowing aloneness to be part of our daily regimen that we can step back, introspect and develop a strong sense of self-based on a direct relationship with Allah.
Taking the time to reflect on worship and the words of Allah gives us the opportunity to meaningfully think about it. It is essential that a person gets used to being alone with their thoughts in order to experience this enriching intellectual, emotional and spiritual experience. The goal is to use our thoughts as the fuel to gain closeness to Allah through reflection and self-introspection.
Training ourselves to embrace being alone can also train us to be honest with ourselves, discover who we truly are, and work towards improving ourselves for Allah’s sake. Sitting with ourselves and honestly scrutinizing the self in order to see strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement is essential for character development. And character development is essential to reach the level of Ihsaan.
When we look into who we want to be, we are bound to make some decisions that might raise eyebrows and wag tongues. Being okay with being alone makes this somewhat easier. We should not be afraid to stand out and be the only one wearing praying or wearing hijab, knowing that it is something Allah will be pleased with. We should not be afraid to stand up for what we believe in even if it makes us unpopular. Getting used to being alone can give us the confidence to make these decisions.
Being alone can strengthen us internally, but not without pain. Emory University neuroscientist Gregory Berns found that people who dissent from group wisdom show heightened activation in the amygdala, a small organ in the brain associated with the sting of social rejection. Berns calls this the “pain of independence.”
All our prophets experienced this ‘pain of independence’ in their mission. Instances of different prophets being rejected by their own people are generously scattered in the Quran for us to read and reflect upon. One lesson we can extract from these is that being alone takes courage, faith, conviction, and confidence.
We Come Alone, Leave Alone, Meet Allah Alone
The circumstances that left me alone in the different stages of my life were not random. I always wanted an older brother or someone else to be there to rescue me from the solitude. But the solitude came with a blessing. Being alone gave me the time and space in which to wonder, think, and eventually understand myself and the people around me. I learned reflection as a skill and independent decision-making as s strength. I don’t mind being alone in my niqab, my Islam, or my choices. I’ve had plenty of practice after all.
You are born alone and you took your first breath alone. You will die alone, even if you are surrounded by your loved ones. When you are lowered into the grave, you will be alone. Accepting this can help you make use of your moments of solitude rather than fear them. Having the courage to be alone builds confidence, strengthens conviction, and propels us to do what is right and pleasing to Allah regardless of human approval.
Why Israel Should Be ‘Singled Out’ For Its Human Rights Record
Unlike other countries, ordinary citizens are complicit in the perpetual crimes committed against defenseless Palestinians.
Why is everyone so obsessed with Israel’s human rights abuses? From Saudi Arabia, to Syria, to North Korea to Iran. All these nations are involved in flagrant violations of human right, so why all the focus on Israel – ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’? Clearly, if you ignore these other violations and only focus on Israel, you must be anti-Semitic. What else could be your motivations for this double standard?
This is one of the most common contentions raised when Israel is criticized for its human rights record. I personally don’t believe in entertaining this question – it shouldn’t matter why an activist is choosing to focus on one conflict and not others. What matters are the facts being raised; putting into question the motives behind criticizing Israel is a common tactic to detract from the topic at hand. The conversation soon turns into some circular argument about anti-Semitism and the plight of the Palestinian people is lost. More importantly, this charge of having double standards is often disingenuous. For example, Representative Ihan Omar has been repeatedly accused of this recently and her motives have been called ‘suspicious’ – despite her vocal criticism of other countries, especially Saudi Arabia.
However, this point is so frequently brought up, I think that perhaps its time activists and critics simply own up to it. Yes – Israel should be singled out, for some very good reasons. These reasons relate to there being a number of unique privileges that the country enjoys; these allow it to get away with much of the abuses it commits. Human right activists thus must be extra vocal when comes to Israel as they have to overcome the unparalleled level of support for the country, particularly in the US and Canada. The following points summarize why Israel should in fact be singled out:
1) Ideological support from ordinary citizens
When Iran and North Korea commit human right abuses, we don’t have to worry about everyone from journalists to clerics to average students on campuses coming out and defending those countries. When most nations commit atrocities, our journalists and politicians call them out, sanctions are imposed, they are taking them to the International Court of Justice, etc. There are instruments in place to take care of other ‘rogue’ nations – without the need for intervention from the common man.
Israel, however, is unique in that it has traditionally enjoyed widespread ideological support, primarily from the Jewish community and Evangelical Christians, in the West. This support is a result of the historical circumstances and pseudo-religious ideology that drove the creation of the state in 1948. The successful spread of this nationalistic dogma for the last century means Israel can count on ordinary citizens from Western countries to comes to its defense. This support can come in the form of foreign enlistment to its military, students conducting campus activism, politicians shielding it from criticisms and journalists voluntarily writing in its support and spreading state propaganda.
This ideological and nationalistic attachment to the country is the prime reason why it is so incredibly difficult to have any kind of sane conversation about Israel in the public sphere – criticism is quickly seen as an attack on Jewish identity and interpreted as an ‘existential threat’ to the nation by its supporters. Any attempts to take Israel to account through standard means are thwarted because of the political backlash feared from the country’s supporters in the West.
2) Unconditional political support of a world superpower
The US is Israel’s most important and closest ally in the Middle-East. No matter what war crimes Israel commits, it can count on America to have its back. This support means the US will use its veto power to support Israel against actions of the UN Security Council, it will use its diplomatic influence to shield any punitive actions from other nations and it will use its military might to intervene if need be. The backing of the US is one of the main reasons why the Israeli occupation and expansion of the colonial settlement enterprise continues to this day without any repercussions.
While US support might be especially staunch for Israel, this factor is certainly not unique to the country. Any country which has this privilege, e.g. Saudi Arabia, should be under far great scrutiny for its human rights violations than others.
3) Military aid and complicity of tax-payers
US tax-payers are directly paying for Israel to carry out its occupation of the Palestinian people.
Israel is the largest recipient of US-military aid – it receives an astonishing $3 billion dollars every year. This aid, according to a US congressional report, “has helped transform Israel’s armed forces into one of the most technologically sophisticated militaries in the world.”
Unlike other countries, ordinary citizens are complicit in the perpetual crimes committed against defenseless Palestinians. Activists and citizens thus have a greater responsibility to speak out against Israel as their government is paying the country to carry out its atrocities. Not only is this aid morally reprehensible, but it is also illegal under United States Leahy Laws.
4) The Israeli lobby
The Israeli lobby is one of the most powerful groups in Washington and is the primary force for ensuring continued US political support for the nation. It consists of an assortment of formal lobby groups (AIPAC, Christians United for Israel), think-thanks (Washington Institute for Near East Policy), political action committee or PACs, not-for-profit organizations (B’nai B’irth, American Jewish Congress, Stand for Israel) and media watchdogs (CAMERA, Honest Reporting). These organizations together exercise an incredible amount of political influence. They ensure that any criticism of Israel is either stifled or there are serious consequences for those who speak up. In 2018 alone, pro-Israel donors spent $22 million on lobbying for the country – far greater than any other nation. Pro-Israel lobbies similarly influence politics in other places such as the UK, Canada, and Europe.
5) One of the longest-running occupation in human history
This point really should be the first one on this list – and it is the only one that should matter. However, because of the unique privileges that Israel enjoys, it is hard to get to the crux of what it is actually doing. Israel, with U.S. support, has militarily occupied the Palestinian territories (West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem) since 1967. The belligerent occupation, over 50 years old, is one of the longest, bloodiest and brutal in human history.
Israel continues to steal land and build settler colonies the West Bank – in flagrant violation of international law. It has implemented a system of apartheid in these territories which is reminiscent of the racist regime of South Africa. The Gaza strip has been under an insufferable siege which has made the living conditions deplorable; it has been referred to the world’s largest ‘open-air prison’. In addition to this institutional oppression, crimes committed against Palestinians include: routinely killing civilian protesters, including teenagers and medics, torture of Palestinians and severe restrictions on the everyday movement of Palestinians.
The brutality, consistency and the duration for which Israel has oppressed Palestinians is alone enough reason for it being ‘singled out’. No other nation comes close to its record. However, for the reasons mentioned above, Israel’s propaganda machine has effectively painted itself as just another ‘liberal democracy’ in the eyes of the general public. Any attempt to bring to light these atrocities are met with ‘suspicion’ about the ‘real’ motives of the critics. Given the points mentioned here, it should be evident that the level of support for Israeli aggression is uniquely disproportionate – it is thus fitting that criticism of the country is equally vocal and unparalleled as well.
Co-written by Shaykh Osman Umarji
As writers on MuslimMatters, it came as a surprise when the website we write on marked itself zakat-eligible on its fundraiser for operations in Ramadan. This website has previously highlighted the misuse and abuse of zakat for vague and dodgy reasons, including instances of outright fraud by nonprofit corporations. We have lamented the seemingly inexorable march from zakat being for living human beings in need to financial play-doh for nonprofit corporate boards.
Estimated global zakat is somewhere between $200 billion to $1 trillion. Eliminating global poverty is estimated at $187 billion– not just for Muslims, but everyone. There continue to be strong interests in favor of more putty-like zakat to benefit the interests of the organizations that are not focused on reducing poverty. Thus, in many ways, a sizeable chunk of zakat benefits the affluent rather than the needy. Zakat, rather than being a credit to the Muslim community, starts to look more like an indictment of it.
No, it’s not ikhtilaf
The recent article on this website, Dr. Usama Al-Azmi seemed somewhat oblivious to the cavalier way the nonprofit corporate sector in the United States treats Zakat. The article did not do justice to legitimate concerns about zakat distribution by dismissing the issue as one of “ikhtilaf,” or a reasonable difference of opinion, as it ignored the broader concern about forces working hard to make zakat a “wild west” act of worship where just about anything goes.
It’s essential to identify the crux of the problem. Zakat has eight categories of permissible beneficiaries in the Quran. 1 Two are various levels of poor, distribution overhead; then there are those whose hearts are to be inclined, free captives, relieve indebtedness, the wayfarer, and the cause of Allah (fisabilillah). The category of fisabilillah, historically, the majority of scholars have interpreted as the cost of jihad (like actual fighting). However, in recent times, Muslim nonprofit corporations, with support of learned Muslim leaders, have adopted an increasingly aggressive and vague posture that allows nearly any beneficial cause to get zakat.
The concerns about the abuse of zakat, and the self-serving desire by corporations to turn fisabilillah into a wastebasket Zakat category that could be “incredibly broad” has to do with far more than a difference of opinion (ikhtilaf ) about the eligibility of Dawah organizations. Let’s assume dawah and educational organizations are eligible to administer Zakat funds. We need to know what that means in practice. What we have is a fundamental question the fisabilillah-can-mean-virtually-anything faction never manages to answer: are there any limits to zakat usage at all?
Show Your Work
We fully understand that in our religious practice, there is a set of rules. In Islamic Inheritance for example, for example, we cannot cavalierly change the definition of what a “daughter” is to mean any girl you want to treat like a daughter. There is an established set of rules relating to acts of worship. For the third pillar of Islam, zakat, there seem to be no limits to the absurd-sounding questions we can ask that now seem plausible.
Unfortunately, we have too many folks who invoke “ikhtilaf” to justify adopting almost any opinion and not enough people who are willing to explain their positions. We need a better understanding of zakat and draw the lines on when nonprofit corporations are going too far.
You can be conservative and stand for zakat as an act of worship that contributes to social justice. You can have a more expansive interpretation friendly to the nonprofit corporate sector’s needs to include the revenue source. Wherever you stand, if you don’t provide evidence and develop detailed uniform and accepted principles and rules that protect those people zakat was meant to help, you are inviting abuse and at the very least, opening the door towards inequitable results. 2
Can you feed the needy lentils and rice for $100 a meal, with margins of $99 a meal going to pay salaries to provide these meals and fundraise for them? Why or why not?
Can a Dawah organization purchase an $80 million jet for its CEO, who can use it to travel the world to do “dawah,” including places like Davos or various ski resorts? What rules exist that would prevent something like this? As far as we know, nothing at all.
In the United States, demographic sorting is a common issue that affects all charitable giving, not just giving by Muslims. The most affluent live in neighborhoods with other people who are generally as prosperous as they are. Certain places seem almost perversely designed to allow wealthy residents to be oblivious to the challenges of the poor. There are undeniable reasons why what counts as “charity” for the wealthy means giving money to the Opera, the Met Gala, and Stanford University.
The only real way affluent Muslims know they supposed to care about poor people is that maybe they have a Shaikh giving khutbas talking about the need to do so and their obligation of zakat once a year or so. That is now becoming a thing of the past. Now it is just care about fisabilillah- it means whatever your tender heart wants it to mean.
As zakat becomes less about the poor, appeals will be for other projects with a higher amount of visibility to the affluent. Nonprofits now collect Zakat for galas with celebrities. Not fundraising at the gala dinner mind you, but merely serving dinner and entertaining rich people. Educational institutions and Masajid that have dawah activities (besides, everything a Masjid does is fisabilillah) can be quite expensive. Getting talent to run and teach in these institutions is also costly. Since many of the people running these institutions are public figures and charismatic speakers with easy access and credibility with the affluent. It is far easier for them to get Zakat funds for their projects.
People who benefit from these projects because they send their children to these institutions or attend lectures themselves will naturally feel an affinity for these institutions that they won’t have with the poor. Zakat will stay in their bubble. Fisabilillah.
Dawa is the new Jihad
Jihad, as in war carried out by a Khalifah and paid for with zakat funds, is an expensive enterprise. But no society is in a permanent state of warfare, so they can work towards eliminating poverty during peacetime. Muslim communities have done this in the past. Dawah is qualitatively different from jihad as it is permanent. There was never a period in Islamic history when there was no need to do dawah. Many times in history, nobody was fighting jihad. There was no period of Islamic history when there were there was never a need for money to educate people. Of course, earlier Muslims used zakat in education in limited, defined circumstances. It is not clear why limitations no longer apply.
Indeed dawah is a broad category. For example, many people regard the Turkish costume drama “Diriliş: Ertuğrul” as dawah. Fans of the show can’t stop talking about the positive effects it has had on their lives and their iman. What prevents zakat from funding future expensive television costume dramas? Nothing, as far as we can see.
No Standards or Accountability
Unfortunately, in the United States, there are no uniform, specific standards governing zakat. Anything goes now when previously in Islamic history, there were appropriate standards. Nonprofit corporations themselves decide if they are zakat-eligible or not. In some instances, they provide objectively comical explanations, which supporters within the corporation’s bubble pretty much always swallow whole. Corporations don’t have to segregate Zakat-eligible funds from general funds. When they do, they can make up their own rules for how and when they spend zakat. No rules make zakat indistinguishable from any other funding source since they can change their standards year after year depending on their funding needs (if they have rules at all) and nobody would be the wiser. It is exceedingly rare for these corporations to issue detailed reports on how they use zakat.
The Shift to Meaninglessness
Organizations with platforms (like the one that runs this website) are going to be eager to get on the zakat gravy train. There is no cost to slapping a “zakat-eligible” label on yourself, either financial or social. It seems like everyone does it now. Some Zakat collectors are conscientious and care about helping the poor, though they are starting to look a little old-fashioned. For them, it may make sense to certify Zakat administrators like halal butchers.
Zakat used to be about helping discrete categories of human beings that can benefit from it. It can now mean anything you want it to mean. In the end, though, without real standards, it may mean nothing at all.
- The sunnah also highlights the essence of zakah as tending to the needs of the poor. For example, the Prophet commanded Muadh bin Jabal, when sending him to Yemen, to teach the people that Allah has obligated charity upon them to be taken from their rich and given to their poor (Sahih Muslim).
- In Islamic legal theory (usool al-fiqh), sadd al-dhariya is a principle that refers to blocking the means to evil before it can materialize. It is invoked when a seemingly permissible action may lead to unethical behavior. This principle is often employed in financial matters.
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