Ustadh Ubaydullah Evans
The American Learning Institute for Muslims (ALIM) condemns in the strongest possible terms the violence that has been perpetrated against the Palestinian people by the Israeli regime and its enablers. It is at once harrowing and humiliating for the American community to watch passively as the lethal machinery of modern warfare is deployed against a defenseless, civilian population. Contrary to some uninformed opinion, ALIM has never defined itself as apolitical or quietest. Over our more than twenty year history, ALIM has offered an unrestricted platform to our faculty and guest contributors. This means we’ve learned from scholars and activists who have broadened the scope of our political awareness, challenged us to identify with the oppressed, and agitated concerning our complicity with injustice. Stated unequivocally, solidarity with our brothers and sisters suffering oppression is a core tenet of our faith. As such, to deny the imperative of advocating for them would violate our mission of empowering the American Muslim community through literacy. What Islamic literacy can our community claim if we fail to recognize the centrality of condemning injustice to Islam? How can our community claim empowerment if we can’t voice disapproval with the fact that our tax dollars are used to fund the unjustifiable deaths of our co-religionists?
However, as much as ALIM aspires to edify our community through deep engagement with ideas, we’ve resisted a culture of empty sloganeering. An intentional statement made via social media or mass email in support of Palestinians is NOT an empty slogan. An occupying force which boasts all of the appurtenances of modern, militaristic statehood (possibly including nuclear weapons) using its military might to kill civilians and destroy critical infrastructure in the name of “defending itself” against sporadic, guerilla attacks is unconscionable. This doesn’t demand trenchant analysis and I would venture to say that very few American Muslims are even conflicted about it. However, the central issues of holding Israel and America accountable for the sheer brutality of the recent attacks in the Gaza, affirming the dignity of Palestinian life and the inviolability of al-Quds as a sacred site of Islam are surrounded by a constellation of other issues which demand understanding, conversation, and deliberation.
The Qur’an declares: “…whoever kills a soul unless for a soul or for corruption [done] in the land—it is as if he had killed all of humanity…” [5:32] Life is sacred and all people, save the sociopathic and morally depraved, regard human bloodshed as an enormity. As such, I understand the tendency to treat the loss of precious human life with urgency not amenable to conversations about priorities, strategies, and generational shifts in culture that might be employed within our context to confront this issue. The abovementioned perspective is perhaps epitomized in the statement, “only those removed from a crisis have the luxury of theorizing about it.” Stated differently, people are dying and for many, anything besides or in addition to a voluble condemnation of the state-sanctioned violence causing their deaths is simply an insensitive, unwise, wasteful use of time.
The celebrated collection of Imam al-Bukhāri includes the tradition of al-Nu’mān ibn Bashīr; in which The Messenger of God (upon him be peace) said, “The likeness of the believers in their affection, mercy, and compassion for each other is that of a body. When any limb aches, the whole body reacts with sleeplessness and fever.” We feel the pain of our Palestinian brothers and sisters with the same immediacy with which we feel our own. And yet, extending the analogy of the Prophet (upon him be peace), feeling pain is not the same as understanding illness and seeking a cure. In regard to the latter, distance from a crisis may offer perspective and clarity that proximity does not.
For instance, does talking about the disproportionate amount of political capital the American Muslim community has expended on issues abroad represent a betrayal of our Palestinian brothers and sisters? I pray not. Is there any room for a perspective that recognizes that our ability to effectively advocate on behalf of Palestine might be contingent upon our ability to first be seen as a self-authenticating, legitimately American religious community? Is it significant that the Blackamerican community, which enjoys the highest moral authority in America—especially with regard to issues of racial genocide and ethnic cleansing—only has a peripheral connection to the Palestinian issue? One is reminded of the great momentum gathered by the Free South Africa Movement (FSAM) and other Anti-Apartheid movements within the Blackamerican community and how those affected a seachange in American attitudes toward apartheid South Africa.
Fundamentally, there are elements within America that have displayed what can only be described as a completely irrational, obsessive commitment to eliminating all dissent concerning Israeli policy in the Gaza and Occupied Territories. The 2018 CNN firing of Professor Lamont Hill after his speech at the United Nations urging a free Palestine comes directly to mind. Is it an abdication of our responsibility to our Palestinian brothers and sisters to engage in strategic planning about exactly what we are willing to sacrifice in pursuit of justice? Of course, here, we’re speaking directly about advocacy and political agitation. However, God does offer a powerful parallel concerning martial engagement: “Nor should the Believers all go forth to meet the enemy: if a contingent from every troop remained behind, they could devote themselves to studies in religion, and admonish the people when they return to them…” [9:122]
In other words, while great losses are anticipated in pursuit of justice and defense of the community, religious knowledge and the ability to help the ummah connect with faith through education, is a loss that should be avoided if possible. Does that have any bearing on what we should expect of Islamic educational organizations and institutions of higher learning in response to the crisis in Palestine?
At ALIM we’ve shown consistent dedication to circumspect thinking because we believe that doing so is in the best interest of our community. However, our repudiation of injustice in all of its forms and our solidarity with our Palestinian family is unstinting. May God aid them in overcoming injustice and may He make our American Muslim community a constructive element in the establishment of peace and justice. Amin
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