A Rejoinder to PR/Media Islam & Muslims


As a rejoinder to our PR-oriented leadership and their Muharram-inspired press releases regarding the Charlie Hebdo fiasco in Paris, I posit the following:

I- Some Points to Consider 1- Charlie Hebdo is about the most offensive, racist, and malevolent publication one can imagine. France subjugated the nations of Algeria, Mauritania, Morocco, Tunisia, Senegal, and more recently Mali and Central African Republic to name a few, killed their people like animals, dismantled their institutions of religion, state, trade, education, and culture, and left despotic lunacy in their wake, all without ever apologizing. Those of its former colonies who decided to pursue economic opportunities in France were rewarded by ghettoisation, institutional racism, systemic discrimination in government services, jobs, and social spheres to the point that France actually legislates what a Muslim woman can and cannot wear. On top of that, they selectively enshrine the right of a racist publication to repeatedly desecrate the one who those downtrodden people love more than anyone and anything else, 'alayhissalatu wassalam?

Sound familiar? It is along the lines of what white folk in America did to Black folk, and although even I find some exaggeration in that analogy, I contend that the exaggeration is quantitative, not qualitative, in terms of the master/servant dynamic at play. Imagine if the KKK had a publication the prime directive of which was to degrade, humiliate and dehumanize black folks, Jews, and Catholics (which Charlie Hebdo does quite frequently as well, or at least did till recently); if two black men did to it what happened to Charlie Hebdo, how would black folk respond, even if they didn't agree with the methods used, or the use of lethal force? How would you expect them to respond? How fake would an outpouring of support for freedom of speech by racist parties at such an occasion be?

This is not an exaggeration. In the USA we have a more fair benchmark for freedom of speech and religion. It may not conform to the standards of Islamic law, but it is much more fair. In France, there are laws that ban female Muslims from attending school in Hijab, from wearing the Niqab at all, and mosques are systematically and routinely denied permits to build despite overcrowding and genuine need. It is a state which utterly fails to uphold freedom of religion by American standards. It also has stridently outlawed anti-Semitic (Jewish) speech, which, despite me not objecting to it, means that it also fails the American standard of freedom of speech as well. Period. Charlie Hebdo used to do business with the same staff and a different name until 1970; it was Hara Kiri Hebdo, until it was banned in that year by the French Interior Ministry for its disrespectful material regarding the death of former French President Charles de Gaulle. WAIT! WHAT? Yes, it was actually censored by the French government, and it had to reopen by a different name, Charlie Hebdo (hebdo meaning "weekly"). Now tell me how this frankly racist state (no pun intended), which has actually severely censured and censored this malevolently racist publication in the past for its outbursts against a French hero, can show a straight face when it defends the aforementioned publication as beacon of freedom and free speech? This is nonsense. Anyone who acts like what happened is a purely one-sided instance of hate against an innocent party, is being disingenuous to say the least.

2- (Points 2 and 3 require a book to be written about each of them to do them justice academically. Suffice to say that will not happen here, but it should happen in the future...)

Islam does not now, nor did in the past, sanction absolute freedom of speech. A more astute reader will note that even the US constitution or European law don't sanction absolute freedom of speech. Hate speech, shouting "fire" in a crowded theater, libel, and the like are also not protected by freedom of speech laws here either. However, Islam goes one step further. In its legal theory it considers one of the basic mandates of the law to be the protection of honor; this much is explicitly borne out by the last Sermon of the messenger of Allah, sallallahu'alayhi wa sallam. Therefore in our sacred law, there is no concept that a person is legal or morally vouchsafed the right to disparage the honor of another. Platitudes about support of freedom of speech are at best, deceptive.

I support the 1st amendment version freedom of speech, not morally, or as a scholar of the shari'ah, but to uphold my fair end of the bargain in my social contract as a practicing Muslim in my social contract with my native country, America, a social contract I intend to uphold,and encourage my fellow citizens here to uphold as well. If I were asked to comment about a situation in a third place, I would feel no legal or moral commitment, spoken or unspoken to the concept of absolute free speech, vis-a-vis the freedom to lampoon, mock and blaspheme Islam, Christianity or Judaism, or the prophets, upon whom be peace (although I do feel strongly that a human being has the right to speak the truth whenever and wherever he or she is, and this right cannot be arrogated by a state). I further would not feel it immoral if such speech was outlawed and punishable. This much is the canonical position of the Maliki school, the mainstream and normative Islamic legal tradition which I follow, and I more than suspect it is the same for the other three schools as well. The fact is that the legal precedent sent down from the age of the salaf who are essentially the prophetic companions, and the two successive generations succeeding them, is that disparaging God, the prophets, upon whom be peace, the Qur'an, and the like, was punishable by the government. Such a concept is not a fringe, nor is is a minority or even majority opinion; it is the normative Sunni tradition. One who chooses to ignore that fact, is not representative of the Sunni tradition, and if he or she claims they are, then they are being disingenuous.

Please note, that this does not mean that Islam stifles discussion or inquiry, especially from those of other faith traditions. Many sophisticated Christian, Jewish, atheistic, and heterodox Islamic refutations of the Sunni tradition were authored under the most dominant of Sunni theocracies. John of Damascus penned the first major Christian refutation of Islam under the rule of the Umayyids, during the age of the salaf. He was not killed or harassed for it. It was an academic work, not one of blasphemy, disparagement, libel, and mockery. It conveyed his intellectual and theological disagreements with Islam in an academic manner.

3- The normative moral and legal punishment in the sacred law for blasphemously disparaging the prophets, upon whom be peace, is death. This much is also clear from basic texts of the Maliki and other schools (please see from pp. 520 of volume 2, onwards in Wansharisi's canonical collection of legal precedents of the Maliki school in Andalusia, North, and West Africa, al-Miy'ar al-Mu'rib). This does not mean that anyone and everyone is encouraged or even allowed to kill each person who disparages the prophets. Vigilantism is prohibited in the Muslim sacred law for similar practical reasons it is prohibited in other legal codes: it leads to the spectacle of chaos, the avoidance of which calls for extreme measures. Legally the enforcement of the death penalty in such a case can only be done through a court procedure or as an act of war on behalf of a sovereign state. However, we said that the death penalty is not merely a legal punishment but a moral one as well, meaning that the moral right to life that one guilty of blasphemy is entitled to, is forfeit upon commission of such a crime until and unless there is repentance from the guilty party (which involves some further details) from a purely Islamic ethical point of view.

This means that one who extra-judicially kills a person guilty of blasphemy is a criminal, but his or her moral crime is not murder, rather it is that of arrogating the prerogative of the state. Even if the state chooses to punish such a person harshly due to the difficulties their act will cause society, they are not morally culpable for murder.

II- Regarding the Paris Shootings:

My heart goes out to the families of the two police officers, one maintenance worker, and one visitor to the building that were killed in the carnage. Their deaths were morally unjustifiable by anyone who doesn't believe in the concept of morally justified loss of life as collateral damage, which includes myself to the exclusion of many in our government. Such a loss of precious life is precisely why vigilante actions such as these are not good.

As for the killing of Charlie Hebdo staff by two or three gunmen, I hold my head high and say that even though I don't sanction, encourage, or endorse what they did, I'm not going to shed any tears for the vicious, racist, and malevolent victims who were the target of their excess. If a drug dealer gets run over by a car in my neighborhood, I'm not expected to do a #Je_Suis_Drug_Dealer hash tag on twitter. I have more self-respect than that as a human being and as a Muslim. I do feel some pity for the Charlie Hebdo staff. I feel sorry that they chose to live a life of hate and die a death of hate, and that they could not find the stuff of human goodness in their hearts to do something better than be the Pharonic slave driver whipping the poor Hebrews of French society under their lash.

I don't condemn all forms of curtailing of free speech, either in the USA or abroad. I support the freedom of all people to speak the truth. I don't support the real legal right or supposed moral right for people to mock and lampoon the prophets, upon whom be peace. I do condemn racism, totalitarianism, fascism, injustice, killing innocents, and the like, worldwide and in a balanced way. If the racist French state treats some of its most disenfranchised and downtrodden people in a subhuman fashion, and then they wake up one day, see something they don't like, and scream about it, I don't feel obliged to show it sympathy for a problem it provoked in the first place; they readily provided another hand to complete the clap sounding off this whole matter.

In general, I feel that there is too much violence in this world and it needs more mercy. I also am not so enchanted by the emperor's new clothes that I feel that that mercy is the sole burden of one group to be carried at its expense to benefit the other.

Can Supplications to the Divine Change One's Destiny?

Having taught basic `aqidah courses several times over, through phone, internet, and the time honored medium of person to person contact, I can tell you that one of the trickiest subjects to tackle is always that of qadr or divine predestination: are we in control of our own lives, or are we living out a hard deterministic cosmic script in which we are bound without any choice of our own?

The brief answer according to orthodox Sunni theology based on the Qur'an and Sunnah is:

(a) Allah knew everything before He created anything, in both gross and minute detail, that which was, that which is, and that which shall for ever be through His perfect and all-encompassing knowledge, which is an essential attribute of His divine essence.

(b) Everything that ever happened only happened, happens and shall happen through His causing it to happen. He has control over what happens in terms of times, outcomes, measurements, amounts, quanta, etc., to the minutest degree. Nothing happens in creation against His will or according to anything other than His plan. We do not believe like the misguided nations before us, or their heretical conjugate counterparts within our fold, that anything happens against His will, or that he regrets or resents anything that happens. Indeed the meaning of the divine name al-Samad mentioned in surat al-Ikhlas is He through whom if something is to happen, it must be done, and He, who if He doesn't partake in a matter, that matter will never be realized.

(c) Every human being has the ability to chose between good and evil at every turn. Those choices earn a person a place in the hereafter which is commensurate with the quality of said choices made.

Those choices plays out in one of five combination scenarios.

1- Tawfiq: This is when you wish for good, and Allah wishes for you to execute that good you wish for. This results in earning a minimum of ten times that good deed's value in reward, up to 700 and beyond, as well as having further doors for good opened.

      2- Reward without tawfiq: This is when you wish for good, but Allah doesn't allow you to execute what you wished for. This results in earning the good deed intended at face value.

      3- Null result: This is when someone wishes for something which is morally neutral like buying lavender soap rather than pine. The result is likewise null whether the person gets what they wanted or not.

      4- Protection from evil: This is when one wishes to sin and indeed goes through with the attempt, but is thwarted by Allah's not wishing for that sin to be actualized. From Allah's grace, such a person is not punished for such a matter.

      5- Khudhlan: This is when a person wishes to sin, and Allah allows them to carry out such a self-destructing act so that they can be indisputably deserving of the punishment that they earn by their own hands on the day of Judgment. Such an act is punished at face value.

Now when taken in isolation, each (a), (b), and (c), seem very straightforward and even intuitive. The problem lies in reconciling, how they can all be true at the same time.

The messenger of Allah, sallallahu`alayhi wa sallam, informed us that the reconciliation would not be graspable by the mind which is trapped in the cage of time and space, so we should save our time and bandwidth from being sunk in this question. There is great wisdom in his prescription: it allows one, by accepting their inability to grasp the common thread that binds three such basic and intuitive concepts, to come to terms with the greater and more important realization that Allah has the prerogative to chose what He chooses without having to answer to others: "[None have such right that] He be asked about what He does, but [He has the right that] they be asked." (surat al-Anbiya').

Far from being a crippling blow to the intellect, the acceptance of (a), (b), and (c) being true at the same time is as much a sign of suspending one's intellect as using a cell phone while not being able to explain how it works in complete detail. To conceive of the idea that some parts of the mechanics of creation might be beyond the grasp of most, if not all of the creation is a given when considering that in physical scale, the laws that govern the seven firmaments, heaven, hell, multiple dimensions (which are talked about in the hadith literature), is not far-fetched. The laws of predestination apply to all of them universally, and are therefore functioning at a fundamental level that to which we have not been, and, in this life, are not to be exposed.

This is in line with a saying attributed to Sayyiduna al-Hasan bin Ali bin Abi Talib by Shaykh Ali Hajwiri in his Kashf al-Mahjub: "I saw the position of the companions of the messenger of Allah sallallahu`alayhi wa sallam with regards to predestination was to believe in their hearts that Allah was in total control of all affairs, while practically conducting themselves as if they were in complete control of their affairs."

The messenger of Allah, sallallahu`alayhi wa sallam said, "Each is facilitated to [behave in the manner for] which he was created." This is with regards to the idea that in Allah's predestination, each soul was divinely preordained to either be from the people of felicity or wretchedness. With regards to the issue of fate, I have found that there are two reactions in people, each being indicative of one of the two aforementioned states. Those with propensity towards wretchedness will respond by saying that if they are going to hell anyways, then there is no point in even trying anymore. Those who have a propensity towards felicity will understand that the only One who has the power to switch their fate one way or the other is Allah, and so this realization will increase them in their humility toward Him, by highlighting the knowledge that He is the only one who can help them out in this matter.

To question whether such a system is fair, or why it is in place is to run afoul of the Qur'anic maxim of surat al-Anbiya' mentioned earlier: the Muslim theological definition of justice is that to which Allah commands. The fact that that command is one in which there is great mercy and benefit to us is not an essential quality of Justice, but an incidental one which Allah chose through His generosity. We do not, like the neo-Platonic mu`tazilah or the Christians, hold Allah to an external and synthetic standard of justice. If He was beholden to anything, it, rather than He would be the supreme power in the universe and more worthy of worship and veneration, which, as a concept is alien to the prophetic tradition and will lead an utterly ludicrous and paradoxical trap regarding the nature of divinity.

Finally coming to the question indicated in the title, can supplication or dua change one's fate, the authentic hadith literature would seem to indicate so, as Hakim narrates a hadith which Dhahabi accepts as sahih: "On the authority of Thawban, [may Allah be pleased with him], the messenger of Allah, sallallahualayhi wa sallam said, 'Nothing can repel fate, except du`a, and nothing can increase one's lifespan, except piety. Verily a man will be deprived of his apportioned lot in this world due to sins he commits.'"

Does this mean that dua is a wildcard in the system? Hardly. Rather the meaning is there to reaffirm (c) which is the idea that the choices that you and I make are very intimately tied to the outcomes that we experience in this world and the hereafter, by stating the benefits and power of an act of piety such as dua or the harms of an impiety like sin. Does this necessarily negate (a) or (b)? Not at all. Allah knows that the person making dua will make dua and He allows it to happen. The fate that is repelled when such a person makes dua is that evil fate that they would have had had (a), (b), and (c) not lined up in such a way to save him from it by means of dua.

Perhaps this is what is meant in the hadith of Bukhari narrated by Sayyiduna Anas, may Allah be pleased with him: "The Messenger of Allah, sallallahualayhi wa sallam, said, 'Indeed the slave, when placed in his grave, and his companions turn around and leave him and he hears the footfalls of their sandals, at that time two angels will come to him, sit him up, and ask him, 'What did you used to say about this man, Muhammad, sallallahualahyhi wa sallam?' As for the believer, he will say, 'I testify that he is the slave of Allah and His messenger.' It will be said to him, 'Look at your your seat in the fire. Indeed Allah has exchanged for it a place in jannah.' He will be able to see both of them at the same time..." One possible fate was replaced by another through piety, all the while with Allah's primordial knowledge of one taking precedence over the other, and His allowing and facilitating one to overtake the other.

... and Allah knows best.