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Why I Left The Muslim Leadership Initiative

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By Homayra Ziad

I was a member of the first cohort of the Muslim Leadership Initiative (MLI) at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. MLI was billed as an immersive experience for Muslim participants to engage Jewish scholars and educators about their religious lives and relationship to Israel.

Let me unequivocally state that it was a serious mistake and an egregious arrogance on my part to have played any kind of role in this program. MLI was, and continues to be, a divisive and harmful project for American Muslim communities. Projects like MLI embody values that privilege state-centered narratives of power and structurally exclude the voices of those who are most harmed by these narratives. MLI excludes the voices of Palestinians (save the most carefully curated ones) and tokenizes communities of color and feminist and activist communities in Israel. Those of us who once lent our support to this initiative must contend with the moral wound that we inflicted on the communities we work within. The imperative to dialogue cannot justify forsaking an analysis of power, because it is precisely these analyses that give us greater moral clarity about our commitment to meaningful projects of justice. To seek a seat at the table of power at the expense of those who are disenfranchised by that exercise of power is a morally bankrupt choice.

I am a scholar of Islam and a leader in interfaith engagement. I was raised with a deep respect, even love, for religious traditions not my own. I participate in and co-create interreligious encounters that are transformative. I have been a part of interfaith learning that is deeply intentional, that embraces parity and strong structures of co-accountability, humility and collective liberation. Nevertheless, much of what is billed as interfaith dialogue today continues to function as a neo-colonial project. At its best, it becomes cultural tourism, at its worst, a “civilizing mission” that seeks to control, co-opt and coerce communities that challenge master narratives of democracy, freedom, citizenship, and security. Working in an interfaith organization that struggles with its own history of racial and economic inequality, I have become acutely conscious of the ways in which interfaith engagement can be used to assert power through the avoidance of structural analyses. Without a structural analysis of power and privilege, “engaging difference” (a catch-phrase in the world of interfaith dialogue) becomes a voyeuristic exercise, where all conversation is reduced to the interpersonal realm. The individualistic emphasis on sharing our stories “across difference” (another catch-phrase) obscures the question of whether we are actually meeting at the table as equal partners. Who is invited to the table, who sets the rules of engagement at the table, who owns the table, and who is paying for the meal? And why?

I participated in MLI to immerse myself in narratives with which I fundamentally disagreed. One of the most intractable conversations in Muslim-Jewish dialogue is the conflict in Israel and Palestine, a threshold issue that affects the decision of many Jews and Muslims to collaborate with one another as civic partners. While American Muslims do not understand this political conflict as a religious war, a commitment to Palestinian liberation is an integral part of the religious discourse around justice. Among many American Jewish communities who embrace the narrative of the security of Israel at all costs, there is suspicion of Muslims, and often tacit or overt support of Islamophobia.

MLI was intended to provide Muslims engaged in religious or civic dialogue with a sophisticated understanding of Jews, Judaism, and Israel. How do we establish trust with Jews for whom Israel holds a strong symbolic place in their spiritual lives, but find troubling the narrative of the muscular state of Israel as a bastion of civilization among barbarians? How do we understand Jews who are adamantly opposed to the Israeli Occupation, but do not support the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement? Also, how do we understand the support of Islamophobia in certain Jewish communities?

I hoped that a deeper understanding of the complexity of the Jewish relationship to Israel and peoplehood would result in more fruitful and humane collaboration between our communities. As religious minorities in America, the interests of Muslims and Jews run parallel.  What is good for American Jews in the realm of civil rights is often good for American Muslims as well.  There is much that American Muslims can learn from American Jews in the realm of community and institution building, civil rights advocacy and from the Jewish minority experience in the United States. But this relationship cannot be opportunistic; we have to earn the trust of Jewish communities by engaging the narratives with which we fundamentally disagree.

The Dynamics of The Tablescape

These were and remain good intentions, and indeed continue to shape my engagement with Jewish communities. However, MLI was an ethically flawed project from the start.

With its structure of non-parity at every level, and a lack of political and pastoral accountability to Muslim communities, MLI was an exercise of power at the expense of equity and justice. As Muslim participants, we exercised our privilege to “engage difference” at the expense of our own moral health, communal well-being, and the will of Palestinian civil society. We either failed to recognize, or ignored, the power dynamics at play: who is invited to the table, who sets the rules of engagement at the table, who owns the table, and who is paying for the meal?

From the get-go, the structure of the program raised multiple red flags. There was no outreach to grassroots Muslim communities in the forefront of activism, and a fear of acknowledging the consensus of Palestinian civil society in the form of the non-violent BDS movement, which seeks targeted economic, cultural and educational boycotts of companies, organizations, and institutions complicit in the violation of Palestinian human rights. I was brought onto the leadership team after the program had been pitched to Hartman, and my first requests were concerned with accountability. I asked that the engagement be moved to the Hartman Institute in New York (where we could have the same conversations, arguably more relevant to our location as American Muslims, and avoid violating BDS), that we refrain from anointing ourselves “Muslim Leaders,” and that the learning be explicitly dialogical in nature. These requests were denied by MLI leadership.

Examining our Choices

As later evidenced by the ways in which this program was marketed to funders, MLI was never intended to be a relationship of equity. Sure, we had some rich, even challenging, conversations about Zionism and the Israeli state. Some good relationships and friendships were formed; alliances that may even have done some good in the world. But these were all incidental. Like any neo-colonial project, MLI anointed a group of Good Muslims who could be publicly and privately pitted against the Bad Muslims (supporters of BDS), and who by their very existence would drive a wedge through Muslim solidarity movements.

Several MLI participants came in with a shaky understanding of BDS and the gains of BDS, and in some cases, a lack of experience with activism as a strategy. Some came in as burned-out activists looking for another way to engage. All of the participants in the first cohort were Americans and not one of us came from a Palestinian background.  All of us were seduced by the idea of doing something “different” around Israel/Palestine, and disregarded the fact that we had no right to make that choice in a vacuum. The discourse of solidarity was carelessly thrown about, without admitting that the very act of being there was an insult to solidarity movements. MLI was the opposite of a grassroots initiative: a program hosted and fully funded by an organization deeply embedded in the State, whose leadership, till today, continues to normalize the Occupation and conflate Islam and terror. An organization that chose to ship over (largely South Asian) Muslims from the United States rather than engage with Muslim communities living a few miles away, behind the wall. We stayed in luxurious surroundings, ate lavish meals, and spent our days in highbrow conversations about religion and politics (with mostly white male instructors), and with the privilege of stepping in and out of the conversation whenever we wished.

And yet, while several of us felt very uncomfortable during those first two weeks in Jerusalem, over a century of intellectual and cultural colonization is hard to shake off. Most of the MLI participants hail from South Asian immigrant families. We are products of white colonialism, having learned from the violent colonial histories of our motherlands that material success comes from keeping your head down and working dutifully within the system. Many Muslims (among them, my South Asian brothers and sisters) who immigrate to this country as white-collar professionals have internalized the idea that alliance with white or white-allied privilege at all costs is the only way to “get ahead.” Even those of us who believe that alliance with power at the expense of justice is immoral, still believe in working within the system, that real change can only emerge from within the halls of power. It’s what we continue to perform when we pass around the CVE hat, kowtow to Saudi princes, or take part in initiatives like MLI.

As soon as I understood that we were effectively assenting to our own cooptation, I should have bowed out. Yet, even after that first sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, I stayed connected to the program for a full year and a half. While I never went back to Jerusalem after the first two-week stint, I continued to justify remaining involved in the conversation, each explanation ringing more hollow than the last. I thought of myself as one of the voices of accountability that would redeem and reshape a dialogue that I still thought was worth pursuing. I felt accountable to the participants, in particular friends who I had invited to join the program. But mostly, I stayed because of the misguided and arrogant presumption that we could dismantle the master’s house with the master’s tools, and step out unscathed.

Eventually, as I became more aware about the personal political agendas of the organizers (on both sides), and the troubling sources of funding that were beginning to emerge (MLI was being partly funded by organizations and individuals that were simultaneously bankrolling the most virulent campaigns of Islamophobia in the United States), I worked behind the scenes to try and reshape or freeze the program. I eventually removed myself from leadership. I was not the only one; several MLI participants deeply regretted their involvement in this program.

The desire for power at the expense of justice can infect even those of us who believe that we have a strong equity analysis. As a child, I grew up in the world of international development and I was well aware of the neo-imperialism that governs these spaces: the structural inequity of lending, the bunkered, pampered lives of ex-pats, and the deep racism that supports the entire enterprise. And yet, I materially benefited from that same system, growing up highly privileged, highly educated and well travelled. How often do wealthy American Muslims from immigrant communities turn the lens on our own privilege? When we have the privilege to make alliances with powerful individuals and institutions, are we allying with power at the expense of justice? What are we giving up morally to be in this partnership? And should we not use our privilege to stand in solidarity with, rather than further marginalize, the vulnerable among us? These are questions that should accompany a life-long self-examination of privilege.

MLI in The Atlantic

It is not surprising that Wajahat Ali invokes his MLI experience in his recent controversial Atlantic piece, “A Muslim Among Israeli Settlers” (The Atlantic, June 2018). Indeed, Ali’s article dovetails with the ethos of MLI, which obscures relationships of power and privilege in the service of a titillating engagement with “the Other.” In this piece, too, storytelling “across difference” becomes an obfuscating device. Vivid snapshots of life in the Occupied Territories distract readers from the fact that this piece is just a more sophisticated version of the moral equivalence narrative that dominates the media landscape on Israel/Palestine. It is indeed possible to offer different and conflicting narratives, including the acknowledgment of suffering on both sides, without falling into moral equivocation. And yet, while Ali clearly acknowledges the reality of an occupation, the reader is treated throughout to false equivalencies between the occupier and occupied. Ali also continues to recycle the categories of ‘Jew’ and ‘Muslim,’ which allow the conflict to be hijacked into a theological conversation, rather than the more appropriate categories of Israeli and Palestinian. Unfortunately, these narratives become far more dangerous when served up by a native informant: Ali’s self-identification as a Muslim lends credence to racist mainstream narratives on Palestine.

Akin to the ill-conceived profiles of white supremacists that cropped up in mainstream media after the election of Trump, the settlers are larger than life, lovable, complicated. Even their racist diatribes are handled in such a way as to render them “complex.” While they are described as fundamentalists, it is their voice that determines the narrative. Ali’s article does not offer facts that would allow the reader to complicate the settlers’ binary view of the conflict, which frankly, mirrors the way in which much of the American public reads and understands the conflict to begin with. The problem with the public understanding of the conflict is not a lack of empathy with settlers. It is the consistent marginalization and outright erasure of Palestinian narratives. Ali’s piece, ostensibly part of a project to work out “how Palestinians could emerge from under the often-brutal Israeli occupation,” continues to engage in the same project of erasure.

Next to the carefully rendered, almost noble, portraits of Israeli settlers, the Palestinians in this article are caricatures. A “woke” settler tells Ali that he used to see all Palestinians as “background noise—the gray, drab scenery that passes in the distance in a movie.” He could easily be describing the treatment of Palestinians in the piece itself. Ali approaches and treats them as bystanders, unable to offer a sensitive analysis of the expressions of anger and pain that he encounters. Without any serious discussion of the regimes of systemic, institutional, and legalized discrimination faced by the communities that he comes across, his descriptions serve only to confirm the mainstream narrative of the angry Palestinian hell-bent on destroying Israel at all costs. There is little analysis of the policies of Occupation, which include forced migration, second class citizenship, arbitrary access to land and travel permits, lack of access to clean water, severe restrictions on movement, lack of access to labor markets, systematic destruction of crops and infrastructure, and systematic threats to life, liberty and personal security. The flippant humor – Jerusalem is “sunny with a slight chance of apocalypse” – is jarring in the face of human suffering.

We are served up evocatively rendered snapshots of pain (the Palestinian boy holding a basketball) without a critical analysis of why the pain exists. Without that analysis, we are mere spectators, consumers of suffering, left shaking our heads about the inherent “madness” of the Middle East. Before Ali travels to Hebron, Abdullah Antepli (co-founder of MLI) warns him, “You’ll need to detox with a lot of strong sheesha.” What about those who do not have the luxury to detox? At another point, Ali wonders about a Palestinian woman in Hebron who would not sell her ancestral land for 4 million to the settlers that live around her. “Just take the $4 million, I thought to myself, shaking my head, observing this absurd existence…” Statements like these are voyeuristic and elitist, and betray a lack of empathy with the complexity of protest and resistance.

We are not going to critically engage structural racism in the United States by humanizing white supremacists. Similarly, Ali’s empathetic portrayal of settlers against cardboard cutouts of angry Palestinians only serves to entrench the mainstream discourse on Israel and Palestine. But that is the ethos that MLI cultivates – we can congratulate ourselves on “engaging difference” without a structural analysis of power and privilege. We can pretend that we are bravely moving the conversation forward, when instead we are merely lending our voices to a brutal exercise of power. Throughout my life, I have prided myself on being able to step into the shoes of others. I have embraced the practice of deep listening, of allowing conflicting narratives to sit side by side. That practice has been integral to my work in education and in interfaith dialogue. But at certain critical moments, that stance becomes a copout. Ali’s storytelling obscures an issue that demands moral clarity.

In a recent article on MLI, Antepli claims, “Jews and Muslims in America only talk to each other in two ways – either about hummus, halal and kashrut or they debate and throw their own facts and UN resolutions at each other.” Building on similar experiences, many buy into the myth that initiatives like MLI are the only way forward. But thankfully, I have experienced interfaith dialogue that is founded on liberation and accountability for all, that honors the diversity within each of our communities, and where we are raising our religious voices not to consolidate power but to advocate for justice. It is the equitable, accountable, and healthy engagement with difference that allows us to stand together against Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-Black racism, and bigotry in all its forms. This is the dialogue that I choose to empower.

Dr. Homayra Ziad is a scholar-activist, educator and writer with fifteen years of experience in religious and interreligious education and programming. After receiving a doctorate in Islamic Studies from Yale University, she was Assistant Professor of Religion at Trinity College in Hartford and currently spearheads education on Islam and engagement with Muslim communities at the Institute for Islamic, Christian, and Jewish Studies in Baltimore. Homayra co-chairs the American Academy of Religion’s Interreligious and Interfaith Studies Group, and is co-editor of Words to Live By: Sacred Sources for Interreligious Engagement (Orbis Press, 2018).

 

 

 

8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Hamid

    June 7, 2018 at 12:49 AM

    Appreciate the deep analysis and the imbalanced juxtaposition of Palestine and Israel through MLI, and for acknowledging your mistakes of association with MLI.
    I pray and hope that you will now work thrice as hard to counter MLI and similar misguided initiatives.
    Ramadan Mubarak.

  2. Avatar

    Umm Qais

    June 7, 2018 at 8:45 AM

    Thank You for your public acknowledge of a grave mistake. We as a community lookup to you and several other leaders like you to lead and protect this ummah from whatever harm others are trying to inflict.

    It is sad to see that even well educated and thoughtful individuals can easily be seduced by those who consistently plan and execute harm to the muslim community. You and others played directly in their hands.

    May Allah forgive you all and elevate the wisdom of our scholars, leaders, and muslims in general to identify and protect ourselves from any harm that comes our way. Ameen.

  3. Avatar

    Haithem

    June 8, 2018 at 2:00 AM

    Excellent and well thought out article. Thank you for owning up. I do wonder however how will you cultivate justice without power. Sometimes you have to make the unjust behave by force. I think to ignore this is all submitting to the will of existing structures.

  4. Avatar

    Ashfaq Mehdi

    June 8, 2018 at 9:48 PM

    Do you have anything to say Wajahat Ali as to why you are still active in MLI.

  5. Avatar

    John Tindall

    June 19, 2018 at 3:28 PM

    Can you rephrase this into more plainspoken “street English”:

    “The imperative to dialogue cannot justify forsaking an analysis of power, because it is precisely these analyses that give us greater moral clarity about our commitment to meaningful projects of justice. To seek a seat at the table of power at the expense of those who are disenfranchised by that exercise of power is a morally bankrupt choice.”

  6. Avatar

    nawaz

    July 5, 2018 at 3:51 AM

    Great article.Thank you for sharing.

    From : http://bit.ly/2K52w3R

  7. Avatar

    Alkalaam

    July 9, 2018 at 4:36 AM

    May Allah bless you with steadfastness on his deen.
    The Ummah needs many more humble leaders like you.

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#Current Affairs

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

Shaykh Tarik Ata

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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

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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

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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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