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Muslim Scholars Letter to Al-Baghdadi of ISIS or ISIL— a Missed Opportunity

Abu Reem



Recently, with much fanfare, 122 scholars (as it is being reported in the media) issued an open letter to Al-Baghdadi, the self-declared Caliph and leader of the ‘Islamic’ State of Iraq and Levant/Syria (ISIS or ISIL). This is yet another in the litany of letters and fatawa that have targeted terrorists or terrorism. For example, renowned salafi-oriented Saudi scholar Shaykh Salman Al-Oudah wrote a letter to Osama Bin Laden in 2007 [bookmark this excellent collection of fatawa/letters in this post on TAM].

But based on the media reaction to this latest letter, one would not be blamed for thinking this is the first ever such effort.

First it is important to say that the effort should be appreciated, regardless of its drawbacks. Undoubtedly, such a letter will have positive impact for Muslims in the West because the average individual in the region will see this as an effort undertaken by Muslims to reclaim their own narrative.

Also, the letter raises several excellent points and is an obligatory reading for anyone involved in Muslim community affairs, be it imams or youth leaders. This is because it is important for such community leaders to familiarize themselves with textual Islamic proofs to provide a counter-narrative to the “jihad-cool” narrative that some disaffected youth may be attracted to. That is, Muslims policing their own to prevent any individual from seeking a violent path in response to legitimate grievances.

From Letter to Al-Baghdadi-“Who gave you authority over the ummah [Muslim people]?” the letter asks. “Was it your group? If this is the case, then a group of no more than several thousand has appointed itself the ruler of over a billion and a half Muslims. This attitude is based upon a corrupt circular logic that says: ‘Only we are Muslims, and we decide who the caliph is, we have chosen one and so whoever does not accept our caliph is not a Muslim.’ “

Because we bemoan the lack of coverage of Muslim condemnation of terrorism, one would expect that most Muslims would welcome such significant media attention. However, that has not been the case as discussed below:

Who is the Audience?

While the target audience is Al-Baghdadi and his followers, one can safely assume that this audience that is primarily of jihadi-salafi orientation will ignore it, coming from scholars that are of mostly sufi leaning. This is especially important because of the deep sectarianism that ISIL engages in.

So if ISIS will not receive it, who will? According to CAIR’s Nihad Awad, “even translated into English, the letter will still sound alien to most Americans”. So if it is not for Americans (or Europeans), then it seems we have an awful audience problem.

Many times these letters are meant to serve the signatories, to tell the world, “look we are not with the enemy, but we are the good guys”. And it appears to me that this is the real purpose of the letter, along with some media coverage that pits Muslim scholars against ISIS.

The Messenger Matters, sometimes more than the Message

It is one thing to include scholars such as Shaykh Bin Bayyah who is respected almost universally, but quite another to include controversial figures that completely mar any chance that the letter might have had on reaching those that most need to read it with an open heart and mind.

The two individuals whose inclusion is most alarming is Shaykh Ali Gomaa of Egypt and Ed Hussain, a British citizen currently working in the USA.

As most Muslims are vividly aware, Gomaa was one of the key scholarly voices who justified the massacre of Egyptian people by coup-enabled President Sisi. The following are Gomaa’s despicable words, which one could in fact say, are not very different from the type of rhetoric employed by ISIS:

Shoot them in the heart … Blessed are those who kill them, and those who are killed by them . . . We must cleanse our Egypt from these riffraff … They shame us … They stink. This is how God has created them. They are hypocrites and seceders … Stand your ground. God is with you, and the Prophet Muhammad is with you, and the believers are with you … Numerous visions have attested that the Prophet is with you. May God destroy them, may God destroy them, may God destroy them. Amen!

Imagine an ISIS supporter receiving the letter signed by Gomaa, and then comparing its contents to the words above. It is not difficult to imagine that such an individual would take the letter’s contents seriously.

The other individual whose presence as a signatory is also disturbing in addition to being alarming is Ed Hussain. Initially, how is it that a person who is shy of using his first name Mohammed can be an activist for Muslims? Can one imagine a Jewish activist who changes his last name from Cohen to Cain? While this might seem a minor point, it becomes important when Ed Hussain wants to portray himself as a defender of Muslim rights!

Ed’s associations are also disturbing. He was part of the Quilliam Foundation in the United Kingdom, a much-despised government-funded organization that has almost no support in the Muslim community of UK. This is partly due to the organization’s enabling of anti-Muslim bigotry by taking up neoconservative positions, including for example indirect support of Israel’s Gaza incursion. While Ed has moved on from Quilliam, he has kept his most despicable UK-related association—he is still a senior advisor at the Tony Blair Faith Foundation.

Any person associated with one of the most destructive global voices today, Tony Blair, is hardly someone who should be taken seriously as a voice for peace. In fact, it can be said that Blair is one of the key enablers in the creation of ISIS, because it is he who justified the invasion of Iraq and its subsequent destruction. Blair is now pushing a new war on Islam, with an ever-expanding definition of radical-Muslims.

How do we expect Al-Baghdadi or any of the ISIS followers to take such a letter seriously when it involves the same people who justified the murder of 3000+ in Egypt and who in various positions or associations have enabled Israel’s attacks in Gaza, the invasion of Iraq, etc.

President Obama, defender of drone attacks and extrajudicial assassinations of American citizens, recently quoted Sh Bin Bayyah, “We must declare war on war, so the outcome will be peace upon peace”. Yet the presence of some enablers of war and killings in the letter’s signatories means that the this is yet another opportunity missed for peace through the battle of hearts and minds.

post script-I am fully aware that one of the founders of MuslimMatters and our scholar, Dr. Yasir Qadhi is also one of the signatories. And it is important to point out that I am not criticizing anyone for signing the letter and joining Muslim luminaries such as Sh. Bin Bayyah and Sh. Hamza Yusuf. My points are simply related to the efficacy of the letter due the presence of some controversial figures and the absence of some important figures. The latter is something I did not choose to delve in.

Abu Reem is one of the founders of MuslimMatters, Inc. His identity is shaped by his religion (Islam), place of birth (Pakistan), and nationality (American). By education, he is a ChemE, topped off with an MBA from Wharton. He has been involved with Texas Dawah, Clear Lake Islamic Center and MSA. His interests include politics, cricket, and media interactions. Career-wise, Abu Reem is in management in the oil & gas industry (but one who still appreciates the "green revolution").



  1. Avatar


    October 1, 2014 at 2:29 AM

    Br. Amad,
    Agree w/ most of your points and criticisms.
    Only disagree with this part:

    “The other individual whose presence as a signatory is also disturbing in addition to being alarming is Ed Hussain. Initially, how is it that a person who is shy of using his first name Muhammad can be an activist for Muslims? Can one imagine a Jewish activist who changes his last name from Cohen to Cain? While this might seem a minor point, it becomes important when Ed Hussain wants to portray himself as a defender of Muslim rights!”

    Bro, who cares that he doesn’t use the name “Muhammad”? How does that make him any less Muslim
    or not a representative of Muslims? There is no such thing as a “Muslim” name, nor does it
    factor into his work in any way. I find this line of thought first derived from Ahmad Sirhindi, Shah Waliullah and the Deobandi South Asian thought to be absurd. I understand it may have had some relevance to the initial South Asian Muslim audience who wanted to preserve an identity as opposed to Hindus and other non-Muslims back in the day…not that I agree with this line of thought…but I can see why it was promulgated… how is it relevant to the modern
    day though when Islam has moved beyond Arab-Turkish-Persian cultural expression and become global? We have many names in Arabic, Turkish, Persian, Pashto, Malay, etc. that are in no way connected to religion nor an expression of any adopted culture other than our own as well. Should people with those names also be disqualified?
    This point isn’t as well thought out as the rest of your article. If I was a Muslim convert here in America named “Ed” I’d be insulted by this to be honest. We have a lot of Europeans converting with European names man…and yes, there
    are plenty of Jews with Europeanized names who are taken seriously…as there have been many Jews with Arabized names in the past who were great Rabbis whom Jews today revere.This point is anachronistic and sophistical really.

    If you wanna take exception to Hussain on associations with Quilliam or his opinions on matters outside a normative
    mainstream, fine and good. His name though? Maybe he just likes it or wanted ease of pronounciation or whatever man. But please remove this point and then delete my comment man. Tarnishes an otherwise good article.

    • Amad S

      Amad S

      October 1, 2014 at 3:34 AM

      I think you missed the point.
      If Ed’s name was ACTUALLY Edward or Eduardo or even Ed or Joe or Gary, etc., it would be no problem at all.

      It isn’t. It is Mohammed. And if you want to represent your community, be proud of your beautiful name, Mohammed. Optics do matter and there is a reason the guy wants to mask his name.

      • Avatar


        October 1, 2014 at 4:38 AM

        Have you asked him anytime or heard/read him make a statement that he changed it due to Shame or some type of self hate? If not, it is pure conjecture. It is not any of our business frankly & certainly says nothing about his faith. Optics do matter, but not based on shallow conjectures of his reasons & intentions.

        A lot of people change their names for various reasons. Ease of pronunciation, assimilation to adopted culture, because they simply like it, so on and so forth.

        • Amad S

          Amad S

          October 1, 2014 at 6:10 AM

          I am sorry but the guy’s track record in enabling Islamophobia through Quilliam doesn’t afford a lot of benefit of doubt. The issue is quite obvious. In any case, your point is fair and noted.

      • Avatar

        Ahmed Abdulrahman

        October 2, 2014 at 9:55 PM

        I can never respect some one who tries to hide the name Mohammed. He should go ahead and change his first name. It might seems a simple thing, but it tells us a lot about the person.

      • Avatar


        April 15, 2015 at 10:25 AM

        In his book titled The Islamist, he mentions that he began to call himself Ed because Muslim sisters in Syria would not call him the name of the Prophet as respect to the Prophet.

    • Avatar


      October 1, 2014 at 1:28 PM

      Brotha Ed is sycophantic fanatic wash out who has said horrendous things about Muslims and Islam and now he is a signatory? With diseases like that, we have more to worry about then Al-Bagdadai.

  2. Avatar


    October 1, 2014 at 11:24 AM

    Asalaamu alaykum,

    I agree with some of your arguments, but let me add some value to the letter.

    1. This letter is for Muslims potentially at-risk for Radical behavior (pre-emptive):
    There are people who are tired of inaction and hypocrisy and want to be involved in change. This shows them very clearly, regardless of those 2 signatories, how wrong such action is in Islam.

    2. This letter is for Muslims who are are being harmed by ISIS fitna and need to hear from the scholars with actual evidence how ISIS is wrong.
    It is not easy to be a Muslim today especially if you haven’t had the time to study the deen in-depth. Documents like this show what Islam truly is and separates the falsehood. And it shows some of our most elite scholars are signing off.

    3. Anyone who signs these documents will be attacked
    You can have the children of Ibn Baz (rahimullah) signing this document and still ISIS will call them sell-outs. But the work is an academic one and stands until countered. Forcing them to just attack the signatories shows they don’t have the ability to counter the arguments.

    Ed Hussain’s name should be removed. He is not a scholar or anyone whose opinion matters to the Ummah. Ali Gomaa’s name on here is a joke, but I think it would be difficult in the currently anti-ikhwan environment in Egypt to not have him on there.

  3. Avatar

    Abu Noor Abdul-Malik Ryan

    October 1, 2014 at 11:50 AM

    I think you are right the letter suffers in general from a confusion about what it is and what its audience is. My assumption is that it is intended primarily as a p.r. exercise directed at non-Muslims and to have something to link to when people say “Why don’t the Muslims condemn ISIS?” or when even Muslims ask these orgs, why aren’t you doing anything about this? So now they’ve “done” “something.” Which is ok, as far, as it goes. But the document does not contain the rigor that would re required if it were actually a fatwa and actually makes some arguments that I find problematic. Allah knows best.

  4. Avatar

    Lets build on efforts instead of nitpicking

    October 1, 2014 at 12:51 PM

    As Salamu Alaikum,

    Okay, the letter was not perfect by any means. Its too long and complicated for ‘the average American’ or perhaps even the general Muslim, while its waaaaaay too short for a serious scholarly treatise.

    And we disagree with the policies of 2 out of the 122 signatories. And we all know that ISIS/ISIL/IS is going to totally disregard it anyway.

    But I must admit that I personally found the letter extremely helpful and comforting. And I’m sure others did so as well! Perhaps it may make some brother (or even sister!) who is leaning towards joining or supporting ISIS/ISIL/IS think twice.

    Lets build up on the efforts of our Muslim brothers and sisters instead of nitpicking.

    If the author or Muslimmatters feel they could write a better letter to ISIS/ISIL/IS, and obtain more acceptable signatories, they should certainly do so. I know Muslimmatters has scholars who are more than capable of such an effort. And more public efforts against such organizations will certainly be very helpful.

    • Amad S

      Amad S

      October 2, 2014 at 2:01 AM

      Appreciate your feedback.

      I agree with you on the benefits of the letter and if you read my post carefully, I indicated that it should be required reading esp. for those working with youth.

      However, if that is the purpose, then it would have been better to frame the contents in a more youth-friendly format and actually target them as the audience. The problem is a mismatch of content and audience and that renders a very useful effort as an opportunity missed— that could have been better.

      So, stop nitpicking on my article :)

      • Avatar

        Lets build on efforts instead of nitpicking

        October 2, 2014 at 8:18 PM

        As Salamu Alaikum,

        Actually, hee hee, I realized while I was typing my comment that perhaps I was doing just that…nitpicking your article :D!

        But I really do mean my last paragraph…its not meant to be sarcastic…the letter could be improved: certainly it could be ‘translated’ so its more accessible to for the masses/youth, etc…perhaps MuslimMatters could post a youth friendly version?

  5. Avatar


    October 2, 2014 at 8:56 AM

    The Ummah needs needs really good leader. These new things are a test for the whole Ummah to unite against.

  6. Avatar

    Wazeed Safi from CA USA

    October 2, 2014 at 7:29 PM

    I say no good NOR evil about them since I have not been able to verify what they are doing on a fair level.The thing I don’t get is when/if this ISIS group fails. Who will be in charge after them? Will it go back to the Maliki gov? Maybe US will intervene YET AGAIN? maybe this time another oppressor? is that what we come to? having oppressor after oppressor come in and we write letters? and let them continue to kill sunni muslims and steal land and humiliate us? Are we waiting for a miracle to happen? We sew the seeds of jahannum and we except to ripe the fruits of jannah? we can’t change ourself yet we want to change the world and say “Not in our name”? If that is the case we deserve to be humiliated and until we grow a spine then we will stay in this position. we ARE the laughing stock of the world because we have 1.6 billion but are “garbage” because no leadership or unity. NAME ONE SCHOLAR/LEADER today to be a “Ruler/Khalifah/King” and THE UMMAH would argue, bicker, slander, backbite and denounce him until Qiyamah. Why? have we turned into the jews? because this new leader is not from “OUR” group we will not accept him? back to the point. and then we have this whole process over again and now it won’t be a big deal because at least ISIS is finished? Im just trying to be pragmatic please leave the emotions out of it. somebody please explain. Is there an open letter to all the oppressive rulers? if there is then what good is it doing? lets have a shred of dignity and accept the fact that this is our fault and not blame anyone else. We will criticize muslims when the time comes and defend ourselves if we are attacked. Well they have infiltrated our lands and something must be done. writing letters is not going to change the state of the umma I can assure you that. Until the ummah changes may Allah bring us back to the Sirat al Mustakeem and forgive us for our despicable state. But i am a lonely muslim and i seek refuge in Ar Rahman for my evil i do and say.

  7. Avatar


    October 2, 2014 at 9:19 PM

    I dont understand why we as Muslims have to so apologetic? Dont we see this as a fitnah? Dont we know the background of these founders of ISIS as being from the ‘other side’? Why should we apologize for what they are doing to us?

  8. Avatar

    Waqar Ali

    October 2, 2014 at 11:22 PM

    Dear Brothers,

    Read the letter,

    read the criticism

    and read the criticism.

    Being a ordinary Muslim

    The only person that came to my mind or in the mind was Hussain (رضي الله عنه), lot of similarities in the situation (not in person). As an Ummah we have become so segregated, so fragmented that we have forgotten that the issue is a matter of our house, of Ummah of our beloved prophet( صلى الله عليه وآله وصحبه وسلم). Fear the day when we have to stand before our lord and we will be expecting intercession from Rasool Allah ( صلى الله عليه وآله وصحبه وسلم). What we will reply ? What all is happening is happening before us and we know it. What we have done. Will we be able to justify ourself, our positions ?

    Think about it…….. ( and remember Allah is all knower and all seer and knows everything that we hide and that we try to show )

  9. Avatar

    Yusuf Smith

    October 3, 2014 at 1:29 PM

    Ed Husain is not even a scholar, by any definition. Why was he even invited to co-sign the letter?

    These kinds of letters and fatwas so often get picked up by the media and presented as if groundbreaking. Same happened with Muhammad Tahir Al-Qadri’s fatwa a few years ago, which would have been accepted only by his followers.

  10. Avatar


    October 3, 2014 at 6:46 PM

    aSalam aleikum,

    My advice is that we need to start understanding how things actually work in the world. We tend to engage in much discourse regarding things that have nothing to do with actual reality. It is striking, as one comment previously mentioned, that so many are voicing their opinions, condemnations, adn fewer thought they seem to be even unquestioning support without having any verifiable evidence of what is actually happening.

    I want to share these with the intent of starting a shift in persepctive:

    This video is a surprisingly good explanation of one of the most important invisible structures that all Muslims should be aware of,the petrodollar system:

    Here is an article about shifting the technology and processes we use to live our lives:

  11. Avatar

    Sit Magpie De Crow

    October 6, 2014 at 3:22 PM

    Wazeed Safi from CA USA said this “I say no good NOR evil about them since I have not been able to verify what they are doing on a fair level.”

    Well perhaps I can help inform you on some of the “improper” things they are doing. Perhaps then you might consider the possibility they might just be evil.
    Testimony by a former female Yazidi captive:

    Meanwhile, experts say some 4,500 individuals – including about 3,000 women and children – remain in IS hands.

    The young women and girls are being treated as spoils of war and trafficked around the region. Only a few have managed to escape.

    Adla has just been reunited with her husband at a camp in the town of Zakho. She was taken with others from her village and held for 38 days.

    “At first I was taken to a big house in Mosul. It was full of women,” says Adla, trembling. “They locked all the windows and doors and surrounded it with guards.”

    “Every day or two, men would come and make us take off our headscarves so they could choose which of us they wanted. Women were dragged out of the house by their hair.”

    “As Adla was moved from place to place, she saw her friends being violently beaten and raped. One was forced to leave with her little son at gunpoint.”

    “She says that for a long time the militants left her alone because she was pregnant, but later she became more worried for her safety.”

    “One day a lot of men came to take girls and we decided we must run away. Even if they captured and killed us, we’d prefer to be dead than to stay.”

    He says Yazidis are being specifically targeted because IS wants strategic control of their land but also because of their ancient beliefs, which the Sunni Muslim extremists consider heretical.

    “They don’t believe Yazidis are religious; they don’t believe Yazidis have rights. They want to tell them they have no place in the Islamic State,” Mr Domle says.

    “They think they can kick the Yazidis out, especially from the Sinjar area, and if the Yazidi women don’t convert they can use them as slaves, as gifts of war.”

    At a school where she is taking shelter, I meet an unmarried woman in her early twenties, who agrees to tell me her horrific story of being held and tortured by IS.

    “The beat us with cables, starved us and made us wash our faces with petrol,” she says.

    “They tried to take one of my friends and she slit her wrists. Two others hanged themselves from the ceiling fans.”

    Think about that… girls hanging from ceiling fans.

    Now Wazeed and all you other doubters of the possibility that ISIS is a genuinely profane organization in the Middle East, if these muslims/ISIS adherents are targeting young women and girls(children!) for repeated rapes as sex slaves and the abuse is so brutal young girls/teenagers would rather hang themselves from ceiling fans or slit their wrist than to live one more day in such hellish captivity isn’t it sensible that such a group is worthy of universal and unambiguous condemnation?

    This joint letter to the “Caliph” may be imperfect and some of its participants less than worthy of inclusion but you have start somewhere.


    These are the crimes being committed under the literal banner and spirit of the faith and people here are fixated on a personal name change by a controversial Western activist named Ed Husain…

    Can we please try to see the forest and not focus on the trees?

    P.S. watch the full video at the link and tell me if you really think those Yazidi women (just one group victimized by ISIS) are paid “Mossad actors” or that their experiences and suffering isn’t real.

  12. Avatar

    Wulf Nesthead

    July 1, 2017 at 1:54 PM

    786 A’udhubillah. No good deed goes unpunished.

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#Current Affairs

Criticism, Accountability and the Exclusion of Quran and Sunnah – Critiquing Ahmed Sheikh’s Critique

Shaykh Tarik Ata



Let me begin by making two things clear. First, this article is not seeking to defend the positions of any person nor is it related to the issue of CVE and what it means to the Muslim American community. I am in no way claiming that CVE is not controversial or harmful to the community nor am I suggesting that affiliations with governments are without concern.

Second, this paper is meant to critique the arguments made by the author that encourage holding Islamic scholars accountable. I encourage the reader not to think of this article as an attempt to defend an individual(s) but rather as an attempt to present an important issue through the framework of Islamic discourse – Quran, hadith supported by scholarly opinion. In that spirit, I would love to see articles providing other scholarly views that are contrary to this articles. The goal is to reach the position that is most pleasure to Allah and not the one that best fits our agenda, whims, or world views.

In this article I argue that Islamic scholars in America cannot effectively be held accountable, not because they are above accountability but because (1) accountability in Islam is based on law derived from Quran and hadith and this is the responsibility of Islamic experts not those ignorant of the Islamic sciences. And to be frank, this type of discourse is absent in Muslim America. (2) Muslim Americans have no standard code of law, conduct, or ethics that can be used to judge behavior and decisions of Muslim Americans. I do believe, however, that criticism should be allowed under certain conditions, as I will elaborate in the proceeding paragraphs.

To begin, the evidence used to support the concept of holding leaders accountable is the statement of Abu Bakr upon his appointment to office:

O people, I have been appointed over you, though I am not the best among you. If I do well, then help me; and if I act wrongly, then correct me.

This is a well-known statement of his, and without a doubt part of Islamic discourse applied by the pious companions. However, one should take notice of the context in which Abu Bakr made his statement. Specifically, who he was speaking to. The companions were a generation that embodied and practiced a pristine understanding of Islam and therefore, if anyone were to hold him accountable they would do it in the proper manner. It would be done with pure intentions that they seek to empower Abu Bakr with Quranic and Prophetic principles rather than attack him personally or with ill intentions.

Furthermore, their knowledge of the faith was sufficient to where they understood where and when the boundaries of Allah are transgressed, and therefore understood when he was accountable. However, when these facets of accountability are lost then the validity of accountability is lost as well.

To give an example, during the life of Abu Bakr, prior to appointing Omar (ra) as his successor he took the opinion of several companions. The prospect of Omar’s appointment upset some of the companions because of Omar’s stern character. These companions approached Abu Bakr and asked him “what will you tell Allah when he asks why you appointed the stern and severe (ie Omar).” Abu Bakr replied “I will tell Him that I appointed the best person on earth,” after which Abu Bakr angrily commanded them to turn their backs and leave his presence.

Fast forwarding to the life of Uthman, large groups of Muslims accused Uthman of changing the Sunnah of the Prophet in several manners. Part of this group felt the need to hold Uthman accountable and ended up sieging his home leading to his death. Now, when one researches what this group was criticizing Uthman for, you find that Uthman (ra) did make mistakes in applying the sunnah that even companions such as Ibn Mas’ood expressed concern and disagreement with. However, due to the lack of fiqh and knowledge, these Muslims felt that the actions of Uthman made him guilty of “crimes” against the sunnah and therefore he must be held accountable.

With this I make my first point. A distinction between criticism and accountability must be made. Ibn Mas’ood and others criticized Uthman but, since they were scholars, understood that although Uthman was mistaken his mistakes did not cross the boundaries of Allah, and therefore he was not guilty of anything and thus was not accountable.

Holding Muslim scholars accountable cannot be justified unless evidence from the Quran and hadith indicate transgression against Allah’s law. Thus, before the Muslim American community can call for the accountability of Dr. Jackson, Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, or others, an argument founded in Quran and Sunnah and supplicated by scholarly (classical scholars) research and books must be made.

It is simply against Islamic discourse to claim that a scholar is guilty of unethical decisions or affiliations simply because CVE is a plot against Muslims (as I will detail shortly). Rather, an argument must be made that shows how involvement with CVE is against Quran and sunnah. Again, I emphasize the difference between criticizing their decision because of the potential harms versus accusing them of transgressing Islamic principles.

To further elaborate this distinction I offer the following examples. First, Allah says in context of the battle of Badr and the decision to ransom the prisoners of war,

“It is not fit for a prophet that he should take captives until he has thoroughly subdued the land. You ˹believers˺ settled with the fleeting gains of this world, while Allah’s aim ˹for you˺ is the Hereafter. Allah is Almighty, All-Wise. Had it not been for a prior decree from Allah, you would have certainly been disciplined with a tremendous punishment for whatever ˹ransom˺ you have taken. Now enjoy what you have taken, for it is lawful and good. And be mindful of Allah. Surely Allah is All-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” (8:67-69)

In these verses Allah criticizes the decision taken by the Muslims but then states that ransom money was made permissible by Allah, and therefore they are not guilty of a punishable offense. In other words, Allah criticized their decision because it was a less than ideal choice but did not hold them accountable for their actions since it was permissible.

Another example is the well-known incident of Osama bin Zaid and his killing of the individual who proclaimed shahadah during battle. Despite this, Osama proceeded to slay him. Upon hearing of this the Prophet (s) criticized Osama and said, “did you see what is in his heart?”

Although Osama’s actions resulted in the death of a person the Prophet (s), did not hold Osama accountable for his actions and no punishment was implemented. Similarly, Khalid bin Waleed killed a group of people who accepted Islam accidentally and similarly, the Prophet (s) criticized Khalid but did not hold him accountable.

Why was there no accountability? Because the decisions of Osama and Khalid were based on reasonable – although incorrect – perspectives which falls under the mistake category of Islamic law “And there is no blame upon you for that in which you have erred but [only for] what your hearts intended. And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful” (33:5)

The previous examples, among others, are referred to in Islamic discourse as ta’weel (interpretation). There are many examples in the lives of the companions where decisions were made that lead to misapplications of Islam but were considered mistakes worthy of criticism but not crimes worthy of punishment or accountability.

Ta’weel, as Ibn Taymiyya states, is an aspect of Islam that requires deep understanding of the Islamic sciences. It is the grey area that becomes very difficult to navigate except by scholars as the Prophet (s) states in the hadith, “The halal is clear and the haram is clear and between them is a grey area which most people don’t know (ie the rulings for).”

Scholars have commented stating that the hadith does not negate knowledge of the grey entirely and that the scholars are the ones who know how to navigate that area. The problem arises when those ignorant of Islamic law attempt to navigate the grey area or criticize scholars attempting to navigate it.

Going back to Ibn Taymiyya -skip this part if you believe Ibn Taymiyya was a dancing bear- I would like to discuss his own views on associating oneself with oppressive rulers. In his book “Islamic Political Science” (As Siyaasa ash Shar’iah) he details the nuances of fiqh in regards to working with or for oppressive rulers.

It would be beneficial to quote the entire section, but for space sake I will be concise. Ibn Taymiyya argues that the issue of oppressive rulers should not be approached with a black and white mentality. Rather, one must inquire of the relationship between the person and the ruler.

One can legitimately adhere to the verse “And cooperate in righteousness and piety” (5:2) while working for an unjust ruler such as: “performing jihad, applying penal laws, protecting the rights of others, and giving those who deserve. This is in accordance to what Allah and His messenger have commanded and whoever refrains from those things out of fear of assisting the unjust then they have left an obligation under a false form of asceticism (wara’).”

Likewise, accepting a position under an unjust regime may prevent or reduce the harm of that regime, or prevent someone mischievous from taking the position and inflicting even more harm, then such an association is Islamically valid. Furthermore, someone working in a particular department is not responsible or accountable for the crimes being committed in another department nor are they guilty of “cooperat[ing] in sin and aggression” (5:2). He ascribes these fiqh rulings to the majority of scholars including Abu Hanifa, Malik and Ahmed.

The argument against those who are affiliated with the UAE is simply not grounded in fiqh or supported by clear evidences from the Quran and hadith. How does being part of a peace forum make the participants guilty of the crimes in Yemen? The claim that such participation enhances the influence of these regimes is not necessarily consistent with Quran and hadith.

Dr. Jackson, I argue, is in line with Islamic discourse when he says that being part of such initiatives does not mean he agrees with all they do. The same goes for CVE. As Ibn Taymiyya suggests above, participating in such programs is Islamically justifiable if the goal is to reduce the harm and this is what Dr. Jackson claims. Ibn Taymiyya gives the example of someone working as a tax collector for a ruler who unjustly takes taxes from his citizens. If the individual can reduce the amount being taken then his position is Islamically valid.

One might state that such a claim – reducing the harm – is naïve and an excuse to justify their affiliations. No doubt this is a possibility, however, I once again quote Ibn Taymiyya,

“The obligation is to bring about the benefit to the best of their ability and or prevent the harm or at least reduce it. If there are two possible benefits then the individual should pursue the greater of the two even if it leads to losing the lesser. If there are two possible harms to prevent then they should prevent the greater of the two even if it results in the occurrence of the lesser.”

There are ways of determining whether a persons is clearly excusing himself. At the same time, the debate as to whether the benefits outweigh the harm is almost always within the grey area mentioned above. Thus, it is irresponsible to attack Islamic scholars and call for their accountability for positions that are not clearly against Quran and hadith.

Another rebuttal might claim that the rulers during the time of Ibn Taymiyya were better than present day rulers and that his fiqh was addressing his realities which are inconsistent with ours. My response is that although that is true, Ibn Taymiyya’s teachings are not built on contextual realities that are only effective in those realities. Rather, his teachings are built on principles that are formulated in a way that renders it capable of measuring a particular context. In other words, it acts in a way that considers the realities and context as part of the equation and decision process.

A third rebuttal might claim that Ibn Taymiyya, like many others, warned of the harms of befriending rulers. Again, this is accurate, however, an important distinction must be made and that is between spiritual advice and fiqh rulings. An issue can be spiritually problematic but permissible fiqh-wise and this differentiation is seen in the lives of the companions and spiritualists in general.

For example, the companions rejected many worldly pleasures out of zuhd and wara’ (two forms of asceticism) and not because they are forbidden. To be more specific, a person may restrict themselves from drinking green tea not because it is forbidden by Quran or hadith but because of they view it as a desire that distracts them from the next life.

Similarly, the discouragement scholars expressed towards relationships with rulers was because of the spiritual harms and not because of an unequivocal prohibition against it. This is an important facet of Islamic discourse that should be recognized by the Muslim community. That is, a person can critique an issue from various angles (for example the psychological harms of political rhetoric and how it effects a person’s spirituality) while remaining neutral to Islamic law. What I am trying to say is that legitimate criticisms can be made about a particular issues without having to bring a person’s Islamic credibility into the discussion.

To conclude, I’d like to once again emphasize a distinction between criticism and accountability. Criticism is justified when the criticizer is qualified in the topic and when the one being criticized has made a mistake. Accountability is legitimate when a person has transgressed red lines established by Islam itself. But, in order for such accountability to be valid one must invoke the Quran and hadith and here lies the problem.

In the several articles posted against UAE and CVE, Quran and hadith are excluded and such has become Muslim American discourse – we are Muslims who invoke Allah and His messenger yet exclude their words from the conversation. I remind the Muslim American community and myself of the following verse “And if you disagree over anything, refer it to Allah and the Messenger, if you should believe in Allah and the Last Day. That is the best [way] and best in result” (4:59).

I would like to pose the following questions to the Muslim American community:

  • Under what code of law and ethics should scholars be held accountable? In other words, what standards do we use to deem a scholar accountable or guilty? Who determines these laws and principles? Is it other scholars who are well versed in fiqh? Is it American standards or perhaps Muslim American activists and whatever is in line with their agenda?
  • Who or what institution has the authority to hold scholars accountable?
  • To what extent do we consider Quran, hadith, fiqh and scholarly opinions in determining illegal actions, problematic decisions, and or immoral behavior?
  • Are these laws and principles only applicable to scholars or are other Muslim leader figures held to the same standards?
  • Are all scholars “dancing bears” who have no credibility? If not, who, in your opinion, is trustworthy and credible and why do you think so? Is it because they are following Quran and Sunnah, or because they fit activism?
  • Do you believe that certain celebrated Muslim American activists / politicians present theological and moral problems to American Muslims that are corrupting their faith and behavior? Should they be held accountable for their statements and actions? What about the various Muslim organizations that invite them as keynote speakers and continue to show unwavering support?
  • Do you believe it is fair to say that these celebrated activists are not responsible for clarifying to the community their controversial positions and statements because they are not scholars or seen as religious figures?
  • Do you believe that activism is dominating Muslim American discourse and do you believe that there is a serious exclusion of Quran and hadith in that discourse?

I hope the community will acknowledge the concerning reality of the exclusion of Quran and hadith from our affairs. Until we live up to the standards of Quran and sunnah our criticism will only lead to further division and harm.

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Sherman Jackson, CVE, UAE and some questions




question mark, Sherman Jackson

For Muslims in the United States, it is easy to fall for the fallacy of “American Muslim exceptionalism.” Some Muslims view Muslim-majority countries as dark, corrupt, and authoritarian places while we in the United States are the light. As we have written about in various contexts, including Zakat abuse and Countering Violent Extremism (CVE), the Muslim community’s leaders are capable of corruption and other abuses. There is no reason to believe  Muslims in the United States are any better than Muslims anywhere else.

A few years ago, the federal government started to offer ways for Muslims to profit from the global war on terrorism. It started a race among the unscrupulous to show national security-focused agencies and even foreign governments, how they are best qualified to tame Muslims and Islam. In CVE, Muslims were singled out as a problem religion and a problem community, though they did not start out being explicit about this.  There was strong opposition to CVE from Muslim communities and others and those who organized and worked hard to oppose it found success.

One group of Muslims that for the most part, we did not see participate in CVE were our students of knowledge, our Islamic teachers. Many cared about the dignity of their community and their religion. We can be grateful for this. Unfortunately, there were exceptions.  As a community, it is vital we hold our leaders accountable and correct things when they are wrong. Ali Al-Arian recently called attention to the CVE work of Dr. Sherman Jackson which was uniquely troubling among various CVE ventures for reasons I will discuss below. Jackson’s response was inadequate, and he needs to do better.

Sherman Jackson in the CVE racket

Dr. Sherman Jackson has been a player in CVE (Countering Violent Extremism) for several years. Unlike other CVE proponents in the Muslim community, Jackson did not speak in American Muslim spaces on the subject as best as I am aware.  CVE is the now widely discredited, (yet somehow still very much alive in various forms) project to move the war on terrorism to Muslim spaces, in schools, and in mental health.  Jackson was a commissioner in the Council of Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) CVE Commission in November 2016.  You can read their CVE report online.  

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former CIA Director and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta co-chaired this CVE Commission.   The report represents a consensus view of all commissioners.  Jackson was only one of two known Islamic scholars who lent their name to this project.  

This “comprehensive new strategy” was meant to be for the benefit of the next President of the United States, assumed to be Clinton. The person who ended up as President seemed uninterested in the advice provided mainly by supporters of his opponent.  

Ali Al-Arian and Sherman Jackson 

Al-Arian’s description of Jackson’s CVE efforts and UAE collaboration is sparse.   Most of his article is not really about Jackson’s CVE work and UAE connections and outside my scope. Though it clearly made a big impact on Jackson.

Dr. Sherman Jackson corrects a few of Al-Arian’s minor mistakes and offers an emotional rebuttal.  He was not an “advisor” to the commission, but a commissioner himself. The product of the commission is Jackson’s product, however. Putting his name on it was his choice.  CSIS is not a “right-wing” organization. They are worse than that, something I will get to below.

Other claims by Jackson were speculative at best (Tony Blair would not have wanted him on the commission) or require clarification.  I hope Sherman Jackson will be able to clarify these from the questions below.

White Supremacy

I am not interested in engaging on Dr. Sherman Jackson’s racial politics and views on immigrants or Al-Arian’s preferred framing in the context of global empire and white supremacy as a system. Instead, it is more useful to look at white supremacy in the context of CVE.  In the national media, CVE has come back into vogue as a way to address mass-shootings by white-nationalists. It has come up recently after the El Paso shooting, for example.    

Those who want to look to CVE as a way to prevent ideological violence in the name of white supremacy will find no help from the CVE Commissioners. The only CVE Dr. Sherman Jackson co-signed is interested in is targeting Muslims. The CVE Commission Report helpfully tells us what a “violent extremist” is. On page 2 of the report, the commissioners (including Dr. Jackson) tell us:

Throughout this report, we use the general term “violent extremism” to refer to the subset of violent extremist organizations that claim the religion of Islam as their motivating source and to justify their nefarious goals, and the term “extremist” to describe the ideologies and narratives deployed by these groups. 

Quite simply, for purposes of US Government policy, the CVE Commission was advocating that Muslims and Muslims alone can be capable of violent extremism. Nobody from any other religion or anyone with a secular ideology could be a violent extremist.  

A stylistic departure for CVE

For the CVE Commission, this was a stylistic departure from the Obama Administration CVE policy, which claimed to address other forms of extremism. However, it was always clear that while there was no real intention to address white supremacy. The war on terror involved spying on Muslim students going rafting but the government did not even know who the armed white supremacist groups were. CVE was always meant to single out the Muslim community, like the rest of the war on terror.  

The CVE Commission would have done away with any Obama-era window dressing. Leaving CVE as the preferred term to not offend partners, who may not sign up for a program called “Countering Islamic Extremism” (a term Republicans would prefer). In a sense, it was more honest than the Obama Administration policy. Another bout of honesty from the CVE Commission is that CVE is not an alternative to the war on terror. It is part of the war.  

Dylann Roof was not a violent extremist because he was not Muslim

In 2015, the year the work of the CVE Commission started, Dylann Roof walked into a black church in Charleston, South Carolina and murdered nine worshipers.  Violence by white supremacists had a long history in the United States before 2015, a fact Dr. Jackson had known. White nationalist violence has continued since.   

Dr. Jackson, who has proclaimed himself to be the most “explicit” and “eloquent” on white supremacy, somehow managed to co-sign a report that failed to include the murder of black people in a church by a white supremacist in the definition of “violent extremism.” Indeed the document with his name on it failed to mention white supremacy even once while claiming to be a “comprehensive new strategy.”  It appears Dr. Jackson was unable to be either “explicit” or “eloquent” on white supremacy when it may have mattered.  

The co-chairs dismissed “extremism” by non-Muslims as something we should worry about by stating that “we must be clear-eyed about the nature of the enemy.” That makes sense, CVE is an extension of the war on terrorism.  

 The Value Proposition 

The CVE Commission report, other than to commit exclusively to the perceived Muslim problem, something Republicans already did in the CVE Grants Act in 2015, was not groundbreaking.  The document recycled tropes and jargon from prior CVE documents.  The commissioners failed to offer any solutions other than providing more funding to programs that are “proven.”   Objectively, there have never been any proven CVE programs. The report included “enlisting” technology, religious and other sector leaders, getting the White House to lead, and other meaningless gobbledygook. None of this was actionable as policy, except the funding part.  

How do governments fight ideologies they don’t like without getting into thought policing? Is there a way to know if someone is about to become a terrorist in the future? How do we prevent CVE from merely becoming code for political repression? You won’t find answers to any of this in the CVE Commission report.  

CVE was never able to live up to its promise of being a solution to anything. According to an FBI study, for example, there is no way to tell by looking at someone’s ideology that they are more likely to commit violence.  CVE was always a corrupt and fraudulent enterprise. It was junk science attempting to convince policymakers and the public that soothsaying can be actual public policy.  

It seemed clear that for CSIS, the CVE Commission was mainly a fundraising play. The donors were getting something though: a narrative that reflects their values, and loyalty. The UAE, for example, engages in thought policing and political repression. In the UAE, peaceful protest of government policies falls under the terrorism law and can lead to the death penalty. If the UAE or other seriously sick regimes fund you, it makes sense to sidestep difficult issues and discuss the things they want to hear. 

The CVE Commission report was emphatically not scholarship. It was political hackery for money. Dr. Jackson stated he consulted with “Washington insiders” before accepting. The end product seems to reflect the quality of the counsel he sought. It was garbage in, garbage out.  

Why Credibility with the UAE matters

It is impossible to separate Sherman Jackson’s work on the CVE Commission from his UAE affiliation. To CSIS’s credit, they disclose the United Arab Emirates is one of their largest government donors. Though CSIS credits funding for the report itself to Mark Penn, a Clinton pollster who has since become a pro-Trump pundit on TV, and Fred  Khosravi, a businessman who reportedly once told his cellmate he was a “freelance consultant for the FBI.” Both of these individuals were also commissioners alongside Jackson.  Defense contractors and oil companies are also prominent funders for CSIS. That guy from your local masjid who generously donates every Ramadan is likely not on CSIS’s fundraising mailers.  

If you are going to fundraise for a commission report, you want to name commissioners the donors like and trust. Tony Blair is best known for lying his country into a war that killed hundreds of thousands of people, nearly all of them Muslim. For the funders, he had the requisite credibility and moral authority to co-lead his fellow commissioners. This seems especially true when it comes to the UAE.  

Islamic Scholars “clean and…vetted”

In 2015, we learned the UAE donated $1,000,000 to the NYPD’s Intelligence Division through a foundation three years earlier. This agency had an aggressive anti-Muslim surveillance operation. In 2014, the UAE, through a cabinet-level decision, absurdly designated the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Muslim American Society (MAS), “terrorist” organizations. Both are entirely American organizations that have nothing to do with the UAE.  

In the years since, the UAE has prosecuted an aggressive and unflinchingly violent foreign policy in Libya, Egypt, and Yemen. In Yemen, the UAE reportedly operates a network of dozens of sites dedicated to engaging in systematic rape and torture. Moreover, it has been a champion of domestic political repression and oppression of the Uighurs and Kashmiris. Indeed, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the butcher of Gujarat and currently in the midst of shocking actions in Kashmir, was just given the UAE’s highest honor. India’s fascist government and the UAE’s rulers deserve each other. More troubling is that some prominent American Muslim scholars, including Sherman Jackson, appear to have no problem with the honor of being considered “clean and…vetted” by the UAE so that their actions are consistent with UAE’s overall foreign policy goals.  

A Question of Values 

When Muslim scholars find reasons to affiliate with such a foreign government so dedicated to oppression, it deserves some communal self-evaluation.

US Muslim scholars, including Dr. Sherman Jackson, continue to attend a conference hosted by the UAE’s government on, and this is seriously the name, “Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies.” Getting American Muslim scholars in the UAE’s corner to grant themselves religious legitimacy is part of UAE foreign policy. That all of this seems cartoonishly absurd mockery of their religion does not stop Muslim scholars from collaborating with the UAE’s government. Worse though, Muslim scholars in the United States who have nothing to do with the UAE have not done anything to self-police this servile and propagandistic sham.

It is not at all surprising someone like Tony Blair aligns perfectly with CSIS donor UAE’s values. But do Islamic scholars in the United States have values similar to the UAE’s shaykhdom?  Do American Muslims? 

I don’t agree with everything the mafia does

Dr. Jackson notes he spoke twice about the problem of religious violence as well as “the problem of government repression, mass imprisonment, and torture.” Neither the CVE Commission or the MCE has any project to address these things. Reciting platitudes about human rights is not synonymous with moral courage. The UAE itself publicly and repeatedly proclaims itself as a champion of human rights. That does not make it one.      

In his post, Dr. Jackson notes that just because he works with a UAE sponsored entity, it does not mean he agrees with everything the UAE does. Dr. Jackson wants the Muslim community to hold him to a meaningless ethical standard. Nobody agrees with everything anyone does. 

If a scholar joined a Mafia-sponsored effort to give itself religious legitimacy, “I don’t agree with everything the mafia does” won’t work as a moral defense.  It should not work when collaborating with the UAE government either. Dr. Sherman Jackson gets to decide who he associates his name with. That is a moral choice.  

Benefit and Harm

What we need to do is evaluate the benefit to be gained by the community versus the harm Dr. Jackson may be causing. 

There is significant harm from scholars to providing religious legitimacy to regimes that have foreign policies dedicated to oppression and murder in multiple countries.    There is further harm because the UAE stages it’s religious scholars as props in a way that makes a mockery of religion and religious authority. It is undignified and far below the station of any scholar of Islam to play in such farces, yet,  there they are.

The CVE Commission in the United States was merely an extension of this game.  Use religious leaders to give cover to policies meant to harm people who follow that religion. Dr. Jackson’s participation in the CVE Commission shows there is virtually no bottom to what you can get a prominent Islamic scholar to co-sign. Islamic Scholars willing to collaborate with war criminals to make Muslims less violent are little more than dancing bears for the national security state. The dignity of the religion of Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) deserves better.      

Benefits of this display to the Muslim community are not clear, at least not to me.  I hope Dr. Jackson can explain why the immense cost of his participation is worth it. 

If I act wrongly, correct me

An Islamic Scholar is someone who holds a position of a sacred public trust.  That requires public integrity. According to a hadith of Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), ulema (not all religious leaders qualify here) are heirs of the Prophets.  However, that does not mean they are infallible and somehow incapable of making serious mistakes.  

Abu Bakr raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him), in his inaugural speech as Khalifah, reportedly said:

“O people, I have been appointed over you, though I am not the best among you. If I do well, then help me; and if I act wrongly, then correct me.”

Those who honor our tradition should not merely be deferential to scholars and leaders when they start doing things that make no sense or are objectively harmful.  They should correct them and not be afraid of asking difficult questions.  

Some Muslims, including some leaders and scholars, seem to think of Dr. Sherman Jackson as the Muslim ummah’s grandmaster chess player (something he alluded to in his post). We may not understand what he is doing, but that is only because he must be several moves ahead of what our brains can process. I do hope those Muslims can stop thinking this way. Sometimes, even people whose work you admire can make severe errors in judgment.   

Nobody likes to have their integrity questioned. Sherman Jackson would plainly prefer the Muslim community see him as above reproach. But if a scholar collaborates with human rights abusers and mass-murderers to make the world a more peaceful place, a few Muslims may start raising their hands to ask a few questions.  

Some Questions

I have a few questions for Dr. Sherman Jackson, but if readers have their own,  leave them in the comments:

  1. Do you agree with any portion of the CVE Commission Report?  If so, please share with the Muslim community what parts you agree with and why. If you repudiate this report in full, please tell us. 
  2. I understand you signed on to the CVE Commission to prevent a product with undue bias. However, why did you agree to include your name on the final product that excluded Dylann Roof from the definition of “violent extremist”? 
  3. Do you believe CVE is not fraudulent and actually works? If so, do you have any evidence of this?  
  4. You mentioned in your post you told scholars that people who disagree with CVE should protest outside. Did you ever inform them or anyone about where and when the largely secret meetings were so that they can organize protests?
  5. Have there been any concrete benefits to oppressed Muslims anywhere because of your affiliation with the UAE-based MCE?  
  6. What benefits have you personally enjoyed as a result of your affiliation with the CVE Commission and the UAE? 
  7. Do you believe Tony Blair should be charged, and tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in Iraq? 
  8. Do you believe the senior leadership of the United Arab Emirates should be charged for war crimes and crimes against humanity?  
  9. What value do you believe you are offering the government of the UAE’s rulers by serving on the MCE?   

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#Current Affairs

Allah’s Will and Our Responsibility: Responding To Forest Fires

Abu Ryan Dardir



Forest Fires

What do Indonesia, Greenland, Brazil, Siberia, Turkey, Bolivia, The Canary Islands, and The Congo, have in common? They are losing their forests due to wildfires, commonly known as forest fires.

The image above is not an image of city lights at night.

It represents wildfires that happened around the world in July of 2019. The purpose of this article is to clarify misconceptions, provide the facts, and suggest possible solutions. Despite media coverage, forest fires are not typically bad. If you remember back to your Biology class in High School, a forest fire can be part of secondary succession. It plays a role in our environment. Forest fires stimulate new growth, and it opens up the canopy allowing sunlight to hit the forest floor. Forest fires also release nutrients trapped in the forest floor. Currently, we have reached a state of panic and misinformation. High profile social media accounts have been sharing pictures and information that is not accurate in time and location. These only fuels fear and doubt, and like anything on the media, you need to fact check.

While it is true that the Amazon forest is experiencing a more significant number of fires this year than last, the pattern isn’t necessarily abnormal on a global scale. In 2015 we experienced 4.7 million forest fires globally, and that number has been steadily decreasing every year since. To date, we have experienced 2.9 million forest fires in 2019. From 2003 to 2008 we averaged 5 million forest fires annually.

Forest Fires data

Right now, we are at the average number of forest fires we would be experiencing in August, based on 20 years of data. While the media is focusing on Brazil, Brazil ranks number 5 in the number of forest fires in the last year. The Congo has ranked number 1 for several years now in regards to forest fires. The Congo loses about 1% of their forest annually to wildfires, and Brazil about 0.15% of their forest. Either way, these are huge losses. Our brothers and sisters in Indonesia are suffering as well, including some critically endangered species.

What is causing this? Nothing happens without the will of Allah ﷻ. In Surat Yusuf, verse 21 Allah ﷻ says “The Will of God prevails, but most of the people know not”

In a narration, we hear the Prophet subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) reminding us of the above verse.

عَنْ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ عَبَّاسٍ رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهُمَا قَالَ: “كُنْت خَلْفَ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه و سلم يَوْمًا، فَقَالَ: يَا غُلَامِ! إنِّي أُعَلِّمُك كَلِمَاتٍ: احْفَظْ اللَّهَ يَحْفَظْك، احْفَظْ اللَّهَ تَجِدْهُ تُجَاهَك، إذَا سَأَلْت فَاسْأَلْ اللَّهَ، وَإِذَا اسْتَعَنْت فَاسْتَعِنْ بِاَللَّهِ، وَاعْلَمْ أَنَّ الْأُمَّةَ لَوْ اجْتَمَعَتْ عَلَى أَنْ يَنْفَعُوك بِشَيْءٍ لَمْ يَنْفَعُوك إلَّا بِشَيْءٍ قَدْ كَتَبَهُ اللَّهُ لَك، وَإِنْ اجْتَمَعُوا عَلَى أَنْ يَضُرُّوك بِشَيْءٍ لَمْ يَضُرُّوك إلَّا بِشَيْءٍ قَدْ كَتَبَهُ اللَّهُ عَلَيْك؛ رُفِعَتْ الْأَقْلَامُ، وَجَفَّتْ الصُّحُفُ”. رَوَاهُ التِّرْمِذِيُّ

Abu al-‘Abbas ‘Abdullah bin ‘Abbas raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him)  reports:

“One day I was riding (a horse/camel) behind the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, when he said, ‘Young man, I will teach you some words. Be mindful of God, and He will take care of you. Be mindful of Him, and you shall find Him at your side. If you ask, ask of God. If you need help, seek it from God. Know that if the whole world were to gather together in order to help you, they would not be able to help you except if God had written so. And if the whole world were to gather together in order to harm you, they would not harm you except if God had written so. The pens have been lifted, and the pages are dry.'” Related by Tirmidhi

There is a sense of freedom through the reliance of Allah ﷻ.

But Allah ﷻ has given us a responsibility, an amanah.

وَهُوَ الَّذِي جَعَلَكُمْ خَلَائِفَ الْأَرْضِ وَرَفَعَ بَعْضَكُمْ فَوْقَ بَعْضٍ دَرَجَاتٍ لِّيَبْلُوَكُمْ فِي مَا آتَاكُمْ ۗ إِنَّ رَبَّكَ سَرِيعُ الْعِقَابِ وَإِنَّهُ لَغَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ

“And it is He (God) who has made you successors (Khalifa) upon the Earth and has raised some of you above others in degrees [of rank] that He may try you through what He has given you. Indeed, your Lord is swift in penalty; but indeed, He is Forgiving and Merciful.” [Surah Al-An’am:165]

I worry the world is neglecting that responsibility, and taking the Earth for granted. Not only are we neglecting this responsibility, but we are also exploiting what Allah ﷻ gave us.

“Eat and drink from the provision of Allah, and do not commit abuse on the earth, spreading corruption.” (Qur’an, 2:60)

We are in a state of a “climate crisis,” yet we have not taken the proper steps to address it. We worry about the world that our children will inherit, but lack the passion for doing something about it.

A lot of it is at the government level. The Green New Deal failed and living in a plutocracy, and it may not come to fruition. Capitalism that fuels our consumeristic manners only speed up this destruction we are inflicting on ourselves. The solutions are simple and need to come from the community and work outward. We see the forests of the world burning, are we going to sit and watch the world burn, or will we implement the words of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)? Our Prophet Muhammad said: “There is no Muslim who plants a tree or sows a field for a human, bird, or animal eats from it, but it shall be reckoned as charity from him.” [Bukhari, Muslim]

عَنْ أَنَسٍ، عَنِ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ ‏ “‏ مَا مِنْ مُسْلِمٍ يَغْرِسُ غَرْسًا أَوْ يَزْرَعُ زَرْعًا فَيَأْكُلُ مِنْهُ إِنْسَانٌ أَوْ طَيْرٌ أَوْ بَهِيمَةٌ إِلاَّ كَانَتْ لَهُ صَدَقَةٌ ‏”

If the Forest Burns, We Plant More Trees

If the forests burn, we plant more trees; this gives us sadaqah jariyah (continous reward), and allows us to fulfill our obligation as stewards of this planet. Countries with much fewer resources are doing it, and so can you. The Great Green Wall is an African-led movement with an epic ambition to grow an 8,000km natural wonder of the world across the entire width of Africa. Its foundation is in the Sahel the southeastern part of the Sahara. That part of the world is on the frontline of climate change, and the people are changing their ways to address it.

As Brazil loses 0.15% of forest due to fires, India has increased its forestry by 1% in two years. There is no doubt that capitalism plays a role, and we play a role in capitalism, and instead of being blind consumers, we can be informed consumers. Your dollar forces companies to make choices that can be better for the planet. It is essential to be cautious of your purchases and the role that the company plays in our delicate ecosystems. Three significant regions are suffering tremendously due to forest fires. The Congo, Brazil, and Indonesia, each has its unique part in our capitalistic lives.

Cells for Congo

Mining to get rare earth metals comes from the Congo; mining requires deforestation to reach the resources needed. These “rare earth” metals are used by anyone that has a cell phone, laptop, computer, etc. One thing we can do not to be part of the problem is to find more ethical companies in regards to technology usage.

Investigate for Indonesia

Next is Indonesia, and it is notorious for having corporations burn its trees down for palm oil. Palm oil is an ingredient found in many processed foods, cosmetics, and toiletries. It’s said that the equivalent of 300 soccer fields of rainforest is cleared every hour for the production of palm oil worldwide. Palm oil can be produced in a responsible manner that respects the environment and the communities where it is commonly grown. Find no palm oil alternatives here. Look for the RSPO label to ensure you purchase products made with certified sustainable palm oil. This label gives you the confidence that the palm oil was produced in a socially and environmentally responsible way.

Beefless for Brazil

Then there is Brazil the largest exporter of beef in the world. Cows are not small or cheap. They use a lot of water and resources to accommodate a growing demand for meat. One pound of beef uses 1800 gallons of water; this includes the water it drinks and the water used for its food. Add the amount of space needed, and one can’t help but think if beef is worth it.

These three very sought out resources and luxuries increase profits for the corporation for companies like Google, Samsung, Sony, Apple, Nestle, Kelloggs, General Mills, Colgate-Palmolive, and the beef industry supported by the populist Brazilian President. One can’t help but think that some of these fires are not naturally occurring. There is enough by the greed and selfishness by those that can impose their power on other people and our planet to fuel these fires. Use your dollar wisely, and voice your concern to any corporation that exploits the resources that Allah ﷻ bestowed upon us.

I want to conclude with a hadith that should make us respond to the loss of our forests. Planting trees and preserving what we have is so crucial that Anas Ibn Malik is said to have reported: that the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), said, “If the Final Hour comes while you have a palm-cutting in your hands and it is possible to plant it before the Hour comes, you should plant it.” [Ahmad]

عَنْ أَنَسِ بْنِ مَالِكٍ، عَنِ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ‏:‏ إِنْ قَامَتِ السَّاعَةُ وَفِي يَدِ أَحَدِكُمْ فَسِيلَةٌ، فَإِنِ اسْتَطَاعَ أَنْ لاَ تَقُومَ حَتَّى يَغْرِسَهَا فَلْيَغْرِسْهَا‏.

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