Dear Leaders, Activists, and Community Members,
The Orlando massacre has thrust the Muslim community once again into the national spotlight and this time the American people demand to know what Islam has to say about homosexuality and the “LGBT liberation” movement. We need to be open, unambiguous, and principled in answering these questions now, speaking with a Prophetic voice in times of great confusion.
Let me start by reiterating what many Muslims have been saying. I sympathize with those who have lost loved ones in this killing spree. Furthermore, gunning down people, whether they are at a school, a church, or a gay club, is a grave crime as far as Islam is concerned. I understand that some Americans will never believe such assurances, but there is little that we could say to convince such naysayers. After all, if the veritable freight train of cultural capital known as Muhammad Ali could not, in life or in death, convince the American public that Islam is not a murderous ideology of hate, what hope do the rest of us have?
Spurred by this shooting and the Muslim community’s subsequent condemnations, the public has been asking, Does Islam support LGBT rights? This has put tremendous pressure on imams and community leaders to respond in a way that is true to Islamic teachings but is also sympathetic to the recent tragedy and, even more importantly, is conversant with the wider cultural discourse on the LGBT identity and lifestyle.
Given the circumstances, the question itself is unfair. The implicit binary is that either Muslims are fully in support of the LGBT movement or they are no different from Omar Mateen, i.e., bloodthirsty bigots on the verge of gunning down the nearest gay bar. But there is a third option.
A Question of Affirmation
In my past writing on this topic, I have been clear that bullying, assaulting, or indiscriminately killing people merely because they self-identify as or are presumed to be gay is something Muslims around the world should oppose according to their religious principles and traditions. For example, if a Muslim were to come upon a person being attacked in the street for “being gay,” it would be that Muslim’s Islamic duty to intervene and help the victim.
That being said, I maintain that Muslims cannot uncritically and unconditionally endorse the LGBT rights movement without simultaneously violating basic principles of Islam.
It would be easy to portray this lack of endorsement as “homophobia” or a callous indifference to people for who they are. But let me emphatically dispel such a simplistic and reductive portrayal. In actuality, I do care about those who consider themselves gay, lesbian, or transgender, whether they are Muslims or non-Muslims. In fact, I deeply care and I believe other Muslims should care as well.
But that care does not translate into support for much of what the LGBT rights movement stands for. As Muslims, we do not have grounds to believe that the assumptions and goals of that movement benefit in the short or long term those individuals who self-identify as LGBT. Rather, this movement and the lifestyle it assumes and enables is harmful to the very people it purports to liberate — harmful in the physical and metaphysical senses. So, how could I or any other Muslim lend support?
Along these same lines, if “standing with the LGBT community” means supporting the LGBT movement in all its implications and demands and, hence, enabling those identifications and those lifestyle choices that I, as a Muslim, believe to be incorrect, immoral, and, ultimately, harmful, then clearly I do not and cannot take such a stand. But again, that does not mean that I do not care for the well-being, happiness, and success of my fellow human beings. In fact, from my perspective, I care a great deal more than others who are eager to enable and normalize what I and my religion maintain are self-destructive behaviors.
Of course, others will vehemently disagree on the destructiveness of same-sex sexual behavior, but that is beside the point. Truth be told, all religions and life philosophies commit their adherents to a certain moral outlook when it comes to sex. Even secular humanism has its do’s and don’ts when it comes to people’s sex lives. (Simply consider the severe taboos and laws against incest, pedophilia, and so forth. Or consider the inherent normativity implicit in modern psychiatry’s extensive categorization of sexual “dysfunctions” and “paraphilias.”) Be that as it may, in present day America, one specific, idiosyncratic kind of sexual morality is the dominant view, a view that is increasingly being established in federal and state law. It just so happens that that view conflicts with Islamic sexual morality on the question of same-sex intimacy.
Sure, we can have a conversation about which of these systems is the right one, which is more compelling, more just, etc. I am more than willing to discuss that (and have written to this effect elsewhere). But, at the end of the day, Muslims’ most deeply held beliefs on this issue do not allow them in good conscience to support, let alone “celebrate,” the LGBT movement.
A Question of Reconciliation
Now, the question is, Do Muslims have a right to their beliefs, or will they be bullied and silenced into a position that is fundamentally opposed to their deepest ethical and theological commitments?
The claim that secular democracy makes is that it can accommodate a diversity of beliefs, even conflicting beliefs. And if liberal secular democracy is truly tolerant of a diversity of beliefs, then my religious beliefs ought to be meaningfully allowed and protected. If liberal secular democracy is what it claims to be, especially regarding its treatment of religious plurality, then it ought not to force Muslims (or other religious groups) to accept something that is so contrary to their faith.
Yet, how can liberal secularism claim to tolerate religious belief if it requires certain groups essentially to abandon their faith? If tomorrow laws are passed that, for example, require Muslim institutions not to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, require Muslim leaders to refrain from calling same-sex behavior a sin, require Muslim communities to abide by homonormative speech guidelines, require Muslim businesses to serve same-sex weddings, require Islamic schools and mosques not to discriminate on the basis of professed sexual ethical commitments in their hiring practices, etc., etc., then how can this be called tolerance when all of these things would, from our perspective, destroy the moral fabric of our communities and radically undermine our faith and autonomy?
The point is that the issue of reconciling “freedom of faith” and “gay rights” is not a problem for Muslims to solve. This is a problem for liberal secularism to solve since it is the one that claims to be able to reconcile diverse communities and divergent belief systems under one legal system and one government. If liberal secular states, like the U.S., force Muslims to accept something antithetical to their religion, then this proves that the liberal secular vision of universal tolerance, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, etc., are a mirage and that such states are not unlike any other authoritarian or theocratic regime that imposes beliefs on its populace by force of law.
A Question of Reciprocation
What is often brought up in these discussions is the fact that numerous LGBT groups and individuals have bravely stood with Muslims in advocating for Muslim rights, whether protesting Guantanamo Bay, or pushing back against anti-Muslim bigots who want to shut down mosques, or opposing aggressive U.S. foreign policy that has resulted in wars, occupation, and the loss of millions of innocent lives across numerous Muslim countries. If LGBT activists are willing to stand for Muslim rights, then shouldn’t Muslims return the favor and stand for LGBT rights? Isn’t it hypocritical for American Muslims to demand rights for themselves but withhold support when it comes to the rights of gays, lesbians, and transgendered people? The question is, How can Muslims insist on fair treatment in the Western context while also opposing, or at least not actively endorsing, the LGBT movement?
This question requires an in-depth response that I have provided elsewhere. Suffice it to say, however, that the same liberal dilemma applies. Why are Muslims required to compromise central parts of their faith – by accepting and normalizing same-sex intimacy, something they consider impermissible according to their faith – in order to secure their basic religious rights in the West, religious rights which one would think are guaranteed by the US Constitution in the first place? Why are Muslims placed in this lose-lose situation? Is this something unique to Muslims or are other groups challenged with analogous requirements? Is this conundrum inescapable in liberal secular societies?
A Question of Imposition
Another misconception that I would like to address is the contentious issue of Muslim democratic participation on the basis of Islamic ethics. Can I as a Muslim living in a Western democracy support public policy positions on the basis of my religious values? For example, if, prior to the Supreme Court decision, the question of gay marriage was on the ballot, should I take my religious beliefs into account in voting against it? Or would this be nothing more than illegitimately “imposing my beliefs upon others”?
Recently, a large number of American Muslim community leaders signed a joint statement condemning the Orlando shooting and also testifying to the “cherished political right” of “individuals [who] are at liberty to pursue happiness as each sees fit,” and that Muslims have no right to “impose” their views on non-Muslims since, as we read in the Quran, “There is (absolutely) no compulsion in religion.” The joint statement leaves it open to interpretation whether this “freedom from imposition” applies equally to Muslim societies overseas, the majority of which have laws against homosexuality that reflect Islamic notions of sexual morality. Also ambiguous is whether those “individuals who are at liberty to pursue happiness” in loud and proud same-sex relationships will be welcome, right here in the United States, to teach at the Islamic colleges, schools, and institutes of the signatories or to lead prayers at their mosques. Given that the entire thrust of the statement is to express condolences for the death of LGBT community members and to emphasize the importance of “inclusivity, tolerance, and respect for all,” it would not be a stretch to assume that many will interpret the statement in a “pro-LGBT” light as typically understood in contemporary American society (including full endorsement of the moral neutrality of same-sex behavior).
The fact that the statement, in places, uses the very language of the LGBT rights movement only adds to that impression. It is LGBT activists, after all, who claim that all they really want is “equality before the law” and “the liberty to pursue happiness as they see fit.” If the signatories did not intend the statement to be interpreted thus, I am afraid they have inadvertently opened the doors to accusations of hypocrisy from LGBT activists, who could easily and very publicly cite the statement in putting pressure on their Islamic schools, businesses, mosques, and other organizations in demanding space, resources, and institutional support for their movement. It is not clear that most American Muslim institutions could hold up against such pressure. Potential confusion could have been avoided entirely had the statement stuck to condolences and condemnation of wanton murder and not wandered into an acknowledgement of the irrational liberal secular paranoia regarding the “religious imposition of belief on the non-believing masses.” Well, how ought one address this paranoia?
In a liberal secular democracy, the theory is that citizens are expected to participate according to their values and beliefs. All citizens are expected to want to “impose” their political views – i.e., to see them implemented by force of law – whether those citizens are Democrats, Republicans, Trump supporters, libertarians, socialists, vegans, etc. They can register their views through the electoral process and other democratic avenues.
Now, if this theory is truly coherent, then by definition everyone is striving to make such “impositions” upon everyone else. And those “impositions” are based on one’s most cherished personal values and beliefs, whether they be formally religious or not. Some people have deep moralistic beliefs about firearms and will participate in the democratic process on that basis. Others have deep moralistic beliefs about the environment, about poverty, about corporate greed, etc., and will vote, lobby, speak, and organize accordingly. This is just what democratic participation amounts to.
Yet, all of these views are no less “moralistic,” or “deeply held,” or “personal” than any particular religious value. (In fact, some people are downright religious when it comes to their views on certain social issues.) Thus, it follows that if I believe certain sexual practices to be immoral, I have a prerogative to publicly denounce them and to politically participate in democracy on the basis of my beliefs; that is simply what political participation means. And if I am not allowed to participate politically on the basis of my moral values in this way, then in what sense can it be said that I am meaningfully participating in democracy, as a citizen, at all?
A Question of Discrimination
As it turns out, American Muslims have long been living in a society that does not share many Islamic sexual values, whether it comes to the licitness of premarital sex, adultery, casual sex, “hooking up,” and any number of other practices. Presumably, if there ever were a referendum or policy initiative against these practices, Muslims would have to vote according to their conscience. But the question of homosexuality, in comparison to these other practices, is very different politically and legally. For example, there is no question that an Islamic college or Catholic university would be within its legally-defined prerogative to deny, say, a professorship to a person who openly and unabashedly promoted adultery, or anything else that conflicted with that institution’s code of ethics. But when it comes to the promotion of another sexual behavior – namely, same-sex sexuality – then to deny a professorship could be seen as discrimination. But why?
Sure, according to the dominant sexual mores, one’s sexual orientation is conceived as constituting a person’s essential identity and, as such, it would be immoral and even illegal to discriminate on the basis of that identity. But Muslims and other religious groups do not necessarily share these beliefs. From an Islamic perspective, it could be conceded that something like sexual orientation exists and is immutable – i.e., that some people simply are attracted to the same or opposite sex. Yet conceding this does not compel one to maintain that this sexual orientation should be regarded as the core of people’s identity, i.e., defining who they are, who they see themselves as, and how others are required to treat them. There are, for example, Muslims and Christians who experience same-sex attraction, but they do not self-identify as “gay Muslims” or “gay Christians” – they simply consider themselves as Muslims and Christians who happen to have certain kinds of sexual desires.
To understand the significance of this, consider the following. Recent scientific research claims that people’s inclinations or disinclinations to commit infidelity are biologically hardwired. Given this, we could say that the tendency to be unfaithful constitutes a portion of people’s inherent, immutable sexual orientation. Based on this, would there be a need to categorize people into identity groups or communities based on that? For example, would those with a greater pull to cheat self-identify as “extrasexuals” with everyone else identifying as “intrasexuals”? Would there be “extrasexual pride parades” and an “extrasexual rights movement” that would demand that Islamic and Catholic schools make space for “alternative (read, ‘adulterous’) lifestyles” and give voice to loud and proud cheaters? Would refusal by these institutions then be stigmatized as “extraphobia”?
We can duplicate this maneuver for any given sexual behavior or inclination and thereby dictate to and control religious institutions accordingly, all on the basis of “anti-discrimination.” In fact, in recent times, groups like the Virtuous Pedophiles have argued along these exact lines, which goes to show how contingent and subjective the appeals to recognize and accommodate LGBT identities really are.
A Question of Compassion
Finally, the notion of “hate the sin, not the sinner” is important to note. There are a lot of Muslims today around the world who struggle with same-sex desires and inclinations. They do not want to have these desires but they are there and they are struggling to abide by Islamic moral norms and refrain from prohibited sexual behavior. We need to support these brothers and sisters, not by encouraging them to cave in to their desires, but to provide a shoulder to lean on and an ear to hear their concerns, to support them in their resistance to engaging in forbidden behaviors without shaming them. This is the same support that should be provided to other Muslims struggling with opposite sex attraction who feel strong desires for premarital or extramarital sex. After all, from the Islamic perspective, sexual desires (shahawat) are treated equally, whether those desires are fixated on the same or the opposite sex.
Furthermore, mosques should always be open to these community members and faith-based counseling should be facilitated to help them manage their desires and find ethical solutions for them. Yes, I understand that such a suggestion is considered highly offensive and taboo to the dominant discourse, which considers it oppressive to discourage a person from acting out according to their sexual orientation and identity. But, again, Muslims do not share these particular assumptions.
I understand that those who consider themselves part of the LGBT community (and its allies) will adamantly disagree with and take offense at much of what I have expressed here. Ultimately, my aim was to address the most common questions and challenges that are posed to Muslims in light of the LGBT movement so that we can be prepared to provide reasonable, compelling answers that are fully concordant with Islamic principles. Even if these arguments are not convincing to others, my hope is that at least we can avoid the accusation that Muslims’ public positions on the LGBT movement are backwards, irrational, inconsistent, repressive, and unmerciful.
WaAllahu ta`ala a`lam.
Image Credit: The All-Nite Images
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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