Fedwa Wazwaz

Fedwa Wazwaz is a Palestinian- American born in Jerusalem, Palestine and raised in the US. By profession, she is a senior data warehouse programmer with the University of Minnesota. Read more about Fedwa Wazwaz.

Posts about Continuing education

Lessons on power and oppression from Moses 4

Posted by: Fedwa Wazwaz Updated: April 23, 2015 - 7:14 PM

God! There is no deity but He! To Him belong the most Beautiful Names. Has the story of Moses reached thee? (Qur’an 20:8-9)

 

In this blog, I continue with Lesson 4.  You can find links to previous lessons below.

Lesson 1
Lesson 2
Lesson 3

According to Islamic teachings, Moses, upon him peace, is a revered prophet and messenger. As I explained in previous blogs, Islam is not a whole new religion that started with Prophet Muhammad, upon him peace and blessings, but the culmination and continuation of previous monotheistic faiths.  So Muslims revere many of the same prophets who are revered in the Bible. Moses of the Qur’an is not exactly the same as the Christian or Jewish Moses, and this has been discussed in many interfaith dialogues.  However, the aim of the series is not to refute or disagree with other narratives of Moses, but to share lessons from the Islamic narrative on Moses.  I ended the previous lesson with Moses, upon him peace, being called to prophethood.

“…Blessed is whosoever is in the fire, and whosoever is round about it!  And far removed is God from every imperfection, the Lord of all that exists.  “O Moses!  Verily!  It is I, God, the All-Mighty, and the All-Wise.” (Quran 27:8-9)

Before I continue with this lesson, it is important to mention that although Moses, upon him peace, was a strong military leader, he did not wage war against the Pharaoh.  This story of Moses and the Pharaoh is a unique one that has many, many lessons that call for intensive study and reflection.  I only hope to capture a few of them to put on the table as we continue our conversations on Islam and Muslims.  In addition, I hope this lesson can be revisited during conversations about power and oppression.

One scholar who I respect, Reza Aslan, noted that people do not hurt the people they know.  Thus the solution to Islamophobia is relationships.  I agree and disagree, but first I ask: What type of relationships?  After all, people do hurt people they know.  Most cases of rape are between people who know one another, and domestic violence is one of the leading causes of injury to women in the United States.  Oppression cannot be fought by simply having dinner and being kind to your neighbors, who are sometimes also your oppressors.   A case in point is the Chapel Hill shootings, where three youths were shot dead execution-style by their neighbor, who apparently knew them and yet still hated them, apparently for their religion.  He knew them, yet the father of two of the victims said that he had brought a gun to their house before and threatened them with it.  Healthy boundaries within relationships are necessary for coexistence and harmony, and there was not a healthy boundary to protect the three youths from their neighbor.  

This lesson can also be found in the story of the Pharaoh, who kills his wife Asiya.  According to Islamic teachings, Asiya is a noblewoman, a role model for all women.  Yet the Pharaoh believed he was the deity, and that everyone should look up to him. He saw others as objects to exploit and enslave, acted like judge, jury and executioner and used “divide and conquer” strategies to maintain power in the land.  There was no one to call him to account for his cruelty or slaughter of others.  He acted with no accountability to any rule of law or power.

He knew his wife very well, but this didn’t stop him from killing her, as he believed he had the right to do it. Perhaps he even believed he was “defending” himself.

The oppressed, like the Jews during Moses’s time, find they must resist this abusive power to liberate themselves.  Oftentimes throughout history, religion has been used to fight wars. Some of these are for liberation, while others are a distortion of religious teachings.  I share these lessons because of the chaos that has allowed some Muslims to distort and twist Islamic teachings and promote themselves as “reformers” – harming others in the process. Others have used these reformers to malign Islam and Muslims broadly, even though their actions were repeatedly condemned by many leading voices and organizations.

One cannot trivialize or discount the valid grievances that many Muslims have toward powerful countries today.  An article by Nafeez Ahmed called “Unworthy victims,” states that Western wars have killed four million Muslims since 1990. Much of this is the result of power unchecked.  But there are other powers that are corrupt and unchecked, among them many Arab and Muslim leaders in many, areas in the Middle East, including the rise of ISIS and other Islamic groups using terror to gain power.

It is ludicrous to blame everything on the West, as it is ludicrous to blame everything on Islam.  The clash between the West and Islam is really all in our minds:  It is a means to avoid looking at the real issues: Who has power, what sort of power, and what is it being used for?

These issues cannot be wished away by getting to know each other. Many influential US columnists travel to Arab and Muslim lands, engage, share meals and discuss issues, yet what type of relationships do they establish with the residents?  As a case in point, Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times wants President Obama to be blunt with Turkey on the Armenian genocide. Indeed, Turkey should hold a reckoning about its genocide.  Yet in all his articles Kristof refuses to be similarly blunt with his own government, especially his and his colleagues’ cheerleading and shutting down of public debate on the Iraq war, a war that contributed to the rise of ISIS.  In their usual fare, most just want to blame it all on Islam.

Chris Hedges describes these false friends best in his article on Truthdig, "The Treason of the Intellectuals.”

Hedges’ argument shows that the relationships they created were not healthy, equal ones, where each knew and appreciated the other, but relationships that enable and support unchecked abusive power while silencing the voices of the oppressed.

Likewise, in an ALTERNET article by CJ Werleman, "Maher have in common with medieval Christian crusaders," Werleman equates the language and arguments on ISIS, Middle Eastern conflict, and Islamic terrorism, by Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Bill Maher, with Christian Crusaders and 21st-century U.S. neo-conservatism.  How many conversations, discussions and relationships have they established with Muslims and Arabs? What sorts of relationships are these?

One might convince oneself that they do not believe in God, but when one acts like cheerleaders for war and shuts down the public debate and any and all critical thinking -- these are actions of a Pharaoh. 

Moses, upon him peace, went through his tests in order to manifest to us the inner reality of his struggles, helping us to reflect on our inner selves and our inner realities.  These were difficult and severe trials, through which he surrendered to God's will, allowing God to be his teacher, and opening himself to the means that God uses to teach him and protect him.  The means were many.

The test of the Midian, during which Moses arrived in a foreign land as an immigrant in difficult circumstances, is a particularly beautiful test, and many of us face a similar test when we immigrate to another land and need to establish wholly new relationships.  What type of relationships did Moses establish with the residents of Midian?  Who is in our heart?  Did we run from the Pharaoh physically, yet does he still lurk in our heart and soul?  When God places another human being who is weak and unprotected before us, do we fulfill their needs without asking for anything in return, or do we exploit them?  Do we justify to ourselves their oppression and persecution because we were persecuted?  

When some Muslims and Arabs fled persecution from various Muslim and Arab countries, how did they treat women, minorities, those who are weak and unprotected?  When some early European-Americans fled persecution from Europe, what happened to the earlier residents of this land?  When Jews fled persecution from Europe to Palestine, what happened to the residents there?  

The lessons and trials so far were to teach us to look inward and ask ourselves, first and foremost: Who lurks in our heart and soul?  The first medicine that faith offers to the oppressed is not to rise up in arms and put oneself in power. Instead, it is to remove the Pharaoh from your soul. Don't be a Pharaoh to others.  Likewise Moses, upon him peace, was asked to give spiritual counseling to the Pharaoh, as well as to society, where many have a love-hate relationship toward him.

As with Prophet Muhammad, upon him peace and blessings, prayer was prescribed for Moses and his followers.  

But when he came to the fire, a voice was heard: "O Moses!  "Verily I am thy Lord! therefore (in My presence) put off thy shoes: thou art in the sacred valley Tuwa.  "Verily, I am God: There is no diety but I: So serve thou Me (only), and establish regular prayer for celebrating My praise. "Verily the Hour is coming - My design is to keep it hidden - for every soul to receive its reward by the measure of its Endeavour.  "Therefore let not such as believe not therein but follow their own lusts, divert thee therefrom, lest thou perish!".. (Quran 20:11-16)

God does not benefit by our prayers or remembering Him.  The prayers benefit us and our hearts, by protecting them from allowing the Pharaoh to enter and the light of faith to increase.  Here, I would like to reflect on the following names of God:

as-Sami - All-Hearing.  He hears all, that which comes from the lips, passes through the minds, is felt by the hearts; the rustling of leaves in the wind, the footsteps of the ants and the atoms' moving through the void.  There is no screen that prevents the sound from reaching Him, nor is one sound heard less than the other when an almost infinite number of voices is speaking.

al-Basir - All-Seeing.  He sees all that has passed, all there is and all there will be until the end of time...He has also given to His creatures the ability to see colors and movements to behold his creation...He has given man an eye of the heart, to see deeper than what meets the eye-an inner eye to see the inner man.

--The Most Beautiful Names, Sheikh Tosun Bayrak al-Jerrahi al-Halveti

Often silenced by the cheerleaders of war and abusive power, the oppressed have a strong desire for a witness to hear their pain and suffering.  Malcolm X said that power respects power, and I think healthy power respects everyone. However, abusive power only respects power that will hold it in check.  For this reason, when one finds themselves weak, and those in power are abusive, and their leaders are corrupt, one connects to the All-Seeing, the All-Hearing and seeks His guidance on how to respond and protect oneself.  

God spoke directly to Moses, and Moses was told the wisdom behind everything that had happened to him, which was in preparation for his mission in life as a prophet and messenger of God.  A dialogue begins on signs that Moses was commanded to take to the Pharaoh as proof that he was sent by God.

This was the first sign for the Pharaoh:

“And throw your stick!”  But when he saw it moving as if it were a snake, he turned in flight and looked not back.  (It was said): “O Moses!  Draw near, and fear not.  Verily, you are of those who are secure”. (Quran 28:31)

Another sign for the Pharaoh:

"Move thy hand into thy bosom, and it will come forth white without stain (or harm), and draw thy hand close to thy side (to guard) against fear. Those are the two credentials from thy Lord to Pharaoh and his Chiefs: for truly they are a people rebellious and wicked." (Quran 28:32) 

The staff that Moses used as a shepherd is turned to a snake to illustrate to Moses that God is not limited to means, and one should use the means while relying on God.  Although Moses was very strong on the outside, we see through this dialogue with God his humility, his humanity, and his vulnerability.  A healthy person does not see themselves as a deity who can take on the world, but is in touch with his or her weaknesses and vulnerability.  It also shows us that when Moses, upon him peace, faced the Pharaoh, he faced him not relying on himself, or the means in his hand (staff), seeing himself as a deity, but on God, commanded by Him and protected by Him to speak to Pharaoh.

A key is the humility of Moses, who did not forget the man he accidentally slew in error.

He said: "O my Lord! I have slain a man among them, and I fear lest they slay me. (Quran 28:33) 

Moses, upon him peace, has an inner life that shows he was aware of his weaknesses, a deeply humble person.  He argues, Maybe I am not the most qualified person for the job.  But God had selected him and was preparing him throughout his life for this mission.  He will also protect him.

"And my brother Aaron - He is more eloquent in speech than I: so send him with me as a helper, to confirm (and strengthen) me: for I fear that they may accuse me of falsehood." He said: "We will certainly strengthen thy arm through thy brother, and invest you both with authority, so they shall not be able to touch you: with Our Sign shall ye triumph,- you two as well as those who follow you." (Quran 28:34-35)

God directed Moses to go to Pharaoh.  

"Go, both of you, to Pharaoh, for he has indeed transgressed all bounds;  "But speak to him mildly; perchance he may take warning or fear (God)."

To varying degrees, we all have a pharaoh and Moses within us.  The dominant voice within is based on our relationships with those in power and those who are unprotected.  If we obsess over our security only, and are cheerleaders for those in power, then we are the Pharaoh or the Pharaoh's yes-men.  If we seek power and are obsessed with our own pain and suffering only, then we are the Israelite who fought for selfish motives, a Pharaoh wanna-be.  If we align ourselves with those in power and hold them in check and align with those who are oppressed and support them, then the dominant voice within us is Moses.  Reflect on your relationships with people who are in power and those who are unprotected.  Are these relationships that promote coexistence and harmony and security for all, or are they relationships that promote us to the top with total disregard for who is sacrificed?

To God belong the most Beautiful Names. Has the story of Moses reached you? 

NOTE:  I will be leaving Your Voices, I hope to continue the series on Engage Minnesota.  I will make updates later today or early morning.

Lessons on power and oppression from Moses 3

Posted by: Fedwa Wazwaz Updated: April 18, 2015 - 4:39 PM

God! There is no deity but He! To Him belong the most Beautiful Names. Has the story of Moses reached thee? (Qur’an 20:8-9)

 

I would like continue the series on power and oppression.  Links to the previous blogs on this series are below:

Lesson 1
Lesson 2

He prayed "O my Lord! save me from people given to wrong-doing." Then, when he turned his face towards (the land of) Midian, he said: "I do hope that my Lord will show me the smooth and straight Path."   (Quran 28:22)

Moses, upon him peace, went from being like a prince, experiencing privilege and prestige to now a fugitive running away from a tyrant out to slay him, to the land of Midian.  The land of Midian was inhabited by Arabs, and some commentators say that the Arab Prophet, Shuaib was in the town, while others say it was the esteemed believer, known in the Bible as Jethro or Yathra in Arabic.

When Moses arrived to Midian, he was traveling for eight days, exhausting himself to the very end, reaching a point of starvation with his feet bleeding from walking tirelessly without food or water, except what he can find on the trees.  He came near a well and fell underneath the shade of trees for shelter.  He had completely nothing with him, and fully exhausted himself - to the very depth of his body and soul in pursuit of survival.  It is not an easy experience - but in that state - what does he do?  

Some would commit suicide, others go on shooting rampage, and others on drugs to numb their feelings or escape from the pain, fear and a whole new reality.  He just experienced and accepted the event.  He surrendered to the new reality he was in as this is where God brought him to.  Then, in a state of dire need and exhaustion, he saw two women who had a need.  Instead, of being absorbed with his need and his near starvation and exhaustion, he got up and approached them, asked a clarifying question, then addressed their need.  He asked them for nothing in return.  He made no assumptions or ugly accusations about their standing with their flock instead of a male relative.  Afterwards, he turned to God and put forth his prayer asking for "whatever good that You bestow on me."

“And when he arrived at the water of Midian he found there a group of men watering their flocks, and beside them he found two women who were keeping back their flocks.  He said, “What is the matter with you?”  They said, “We cannot water (our flocks) until the shepherds take their flocks.  And our father is a very old man.”  Therefore, he watered their flocks for them, and then he turned back to shade, and said, “My Lord!  Truly, I am in need of whatever good that You bestow on me!”  (Quran 28:22-24)

In this blog, I would like to reflect on the following names of God:

Al Wahhab - Allah has created a creation of donors who give without expecting return.  But because they are not the creators of the things given through their hands, they are but signs of Allah's al-Wahhab.  He is the donor of all, without conditions, without limits, without asking any benefit or return, given everything to everyone, everywhere, always. he gives money to the poor, health to the sick, children to those who are barren, freedom to the trapped, knowledge to the ignorant.

Al Muhaymin - He is the Protector and Guardian.  He is the one who sees to the evolution and the growth of His creation, leading them where they are destined to go.  Nothing escapes His attention for a moment.  He is the one who watches the good deeds and rewards them fully.  He counts the sins exactly, not adding to their punishment evens an amount the size of a mustard seed.  One may find the reflection of al-Muhaymin in oneself through consciousness and awareness-by watching intently ones's actions, words, thoughts, and feelings, and by trying to control them.

--The Most Beautiful Names, Sheikh Tosun Bayrak al-Jerrahi al-Halveti

Moses hoped for anything to help him survive as he was near starvation.  Yet, God, Al Muhaymin watched the good deed that Moses fulfilled for the two women, without expecting anything in return.  So, God, rewarded him, in return, turning to him with His name al-Wahhab - giving him shelter, food, job, and a family.  Two things to note in this part of the story - a leader cannot have a deep seated prejudice towards women, see them as objects or exploit them.  

So, people who go to strip joints, and then shoot Charlie Hebdo or Boko Haram who kidnap girls to abuse them, are not reformers.

A leader or reformer does not violate the boundaries of another human being, does not manipulate, does not hype others, does not overpower others for selfish motives and is open to embracing and receiving wisdom and knowledge from others.  He does not look down at other cultures or embrace xenophobia or bigotry.  He does not fear learning "Western education" and encourages Western societies not to fear "Eastern education."

“O humankind!  We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another.” (Quran 49:13)

Like Prophet Muhammad, Moses, upon them peace and blessings, was not a tribal leader or promoted tribalism or racism.  He was able to live amongst Arabs in Midian and embrace other cultures - and appreciate them.  

Another important point to note is that the woman hinted to her dad, her desire to marry Moses.  The relationship among them was a deep loving relationship of father and daughter.  This was not a forced marriage, the father merely facilitated the process.

“Then there came to him one of the two women, walking shyly.  She said, “Verily, my father calls you that he may reward you for having watered our flocks for us.”  So when he came to him and narrated the story, he said, “Fear you not.  You have escaped from the people who are wrong-doers.”  And said one of them (the two women): “O my father!  Hire him!  Verily, the best of men for you to hire is the strong, the trustworthy.”  He said, “I intend to wed one of these two daughters of mine to you, on condition that you serve me for eight years, but if you complete ten years, it will be a favour from you.  But I intend not to place you under a difficulty.  If Allah wills, you will find me one of the righteous.”  He (Moses) said, “That is settled between me and you whichever of the two terms I fulfil, there will be no injustice to me, and Allah is Surety over what we say.”  (Quran 28:25-28)

Like all reformers, Moses was given the gift of insight and awareness. He was made to observe and witness the negatives and ugly consequences of what Pharaoh and his soldiers were doing.  He surrendered to God's will and accepted the way things are, and was nurtured by his new family of faith that there is a higher wisdom, yet outside his grasp. 

Moses married the woman, named Zopparah, and spent the next ten years working with her father (either Prophet Shuaib or Jethro) and raising his own family.  He went from a life of privilege learning leadership, politics and government and now was experiencing the life of a shepherd - a life of solitude and reflection.  Instead of watching his people suffering and humiliated, he was made to ponder the wonders of God and the universe.  There is a type of awe that penetrates one's soul when one looks at the stars in the midst of darkness.

During his time in Midian, Moses was a shepherd, like many of the prophets.  Some argue, that people are like sheep, and to guide people and nurture them, the prophets were trained by attending to sheep. If you talk to a shepherd, this is not an easy job.  Like humans, sheep, in particular, are weak animals requiring constant care and attention.  A shepherd must be constantly on alert for their safety and wellbeing.  The whole flock must be attended to and the shepherd must pull them back if they stray.  His new profession increased him in knowledge, wisdom and insight, and one can speculate, allowed him to heal.  

After the ten years of service, Moses, gathered his family together and made the long journey back to Egypt, but he got lost and was looking for guidance and how to find his way.

“Then, when Moses had fulfilled the term, and was traveling with his family, he saw a fire in the direction of Mount Tur.  He said to his family, “Wait, I have seen a fire; perhaps I may bring to you from there some news, or a burning fire-brand that you may warm yourselves”. (Quran 28:29)

The call to prophethood

He walked towards the fire, and as he did, he heard a voice.

“…Blessed is whosoever is in the fire, and whosoever is round about it!  And far removed is God from every imperfection, the Lord of all that exists.  “O Moses!  Verily!  It is I, God, the All-Mighty, and the All-Wise.” (Quran 27:8-9)

Throughout his whole stay in Midian, he was under the watchful Eyes of God, being nurtured and prepared for prophethood.  Now that he was trained and nurtured, he was ready to change the oppression he witnessed and liberate the Israelites.  His next task was to train and nurture his people, so he could liberate them.  I will discuss this in the following blog.

To God belong the most Beautiful Names. Has the story of Moses reached you? 

Lessons on power and oppression from Moses 2

Posted by: Fedwa Wazwaz Updated: April 13, 2015 - 5:10 AM

God! There is no deity but He! To Him belong the most Beautiful Names. Has the story of Moses reached thee? (Qur’an 20:8-9)

 

I began the series on power and oppression in a previous blog that can be read here.  I would like to continue the lessons and focus on another lesson in the life of Prophet Moses, upon him peace.

In many stories of the Prophets, women are introduced as playing a strong leading role in protecting, nurturing and teaching the Prophets, upon them peace and blessings.  I will elaborate more on this in the next blog. 

The Believers, men and women, are protectors one of another: they enjoin what is just, and forbid what is evil: they observe regular prayers, practice regular charity, and obey Allah and His Messenger. On them will Allah pour His mercy: for Allah is Exalted in power, Wise. (Quran 9:71)

As mentioned in the last blog, Moses, upon him peace was raised in the home of Pharaoh and his wife Asiya.  In the story, Asiya, Moses' biological mother and his biological sister are introduced as the protectors and nurturers of Moses, upon him peace.  

Generalizations of the weak in the land are part of the story of oppression.  In any oppressive social setting, there is more than just pain, humiliation and hatred; there is a general disrespect for life, and a lack of compassion of how destructive those settings can be on the soul of the victim.  Such social settings do impact everyone, some more than others.  Unless challenged the abuse festers and brews, and one is left to their own consciousness to realize the wrong in what they have done.  Very few walk that road.  This opens the door for many to want to break the chains and end the oppression.  However, what lesson can we learn from the stories of the Prophets in fighting oppression?  Do they use the same strategy or different strategies?  Is their response always war or talk, talk, and keep talking profusely to win the argument?

These are questions I ask myself when I read the Qur'an.

During the time of Moses' birth, Pharaoh ordered every male newborn, to be executed every other year.  Being inspired by God, and placing her trust in God, Moses' mother placed him in the chest and put it in the river, while his sister watched the chest as it floated to Pharaoh's place.  When Asiya took him as a son, Moses' would not accept any of the wet nurses and his biological sister suggested a woman (her mother) to Asiya who accepted.  As promised by God, Moses' mother was comforted by nursing her son and raising him during his early years.  It remained a secret that he was her son.

Under and due to Asiya's protection, Moses grew up like a prince in a world of privilege.  Due to him, the suffering of Israelites was reduced, yet they were still slaves in Egypt and oppressed.  

Moses grew up with faith and was very much conscious of the oppressive setting that his people endured.  In his own way he tried to reduce the pain and suffering, but that was more like taking a Tylenol or Advil to reduce the pain.  At times, our plans to protect others or ourselves fall short from solving problems or open up a bigger problem.  Our wisdom and consciousness or awareness are limited of how things will play out.  But these occurrences are all part of God's plan.

Two beautiful names of God that I would like focus on in this Lesson.  Al Hakim, the Wise and Al Khabir, the All-Aware.  Below is a brief description of each name.

Al Khabir - He is the one who is aware of the hidden inner occurrences in everything.  He is the one whose cognizance reaches the deepest, darkest, hidden corners of His kingdom, where neither human intelligence nor His angels can penetrate.  Occurrences which are not yet actualized, but in a state of formation or being planned and hidden, like secrets within secrets, are manifest to Him.  None can escape His attention.  Know that there is nothing that you do in secret-or think of doing-that is not known by Him.

Al Hakim - He is perfectly wise, in His knowledge and in His deeds.  There is no doubt or uncertainty in His knowledge, nor does it have an end.

--The Most Beautiful Names, Sheikh Tosun Bayrak al-Jerrahi al-Halveti

Upon reaching adulthood, abruptly, Moses faced an event which drove him out of Egypt, all under the plan of God.

One day, Moses entered the city at a time when the streets were empty and market places were closed.  He found two people fighting: an Israelite and an Egyptian.  The Israelite called him for help.  Moses had a high position which he used to protect the Israelites - so he was upset that he would be called to help him against the pharaonite.

Remorseful?

Accidentally, Moses struck the pharaonite and killed him.  Immediately he said:

"This is of Satan's doing.  Indeed, he is a clear, misleading enemy!  My Lord, indeed I have wronged myself, so forgive me!" and He forgave him.  Indeed, He is Forgiving, the Merciful.  He said, "My Lord, because of the favor You have bestowed upon me, never will I be a supporter of criminals!" And he became, within the city, fearful and anticipating the spread of the news. [28:15-18]

Important point to reflect on is his deep remorse, which was instant, within a split second.  This remorse was a private and intimate communication between him and God.  People who genuinely feel remorse, repent and have empathy toward others do not engage in projection - as we will see.

 

Sacrifice?

No one knew of what happened except Moses and the Israelite.  Moses at this point committed himself to sever his ties with Pharaoh and his tyrannical regime which was engaging in divide and conquer within Egypt and oppressing the Israelites.  He was willing to give up his privilege and high rank.

 

Clash of two Israelites 

The following day, the Quran continues the story with the following:

So he saw the morning in the city, looking about, in a state of fear, when behold, the man who had, the day before, sought his help called aloud for his help (again). Moses said to him: "Thou art truly, it is clear, a quarrelsome fellow!" Then, when he decided to lay hold of the man who was an enemy to both of them, that man (Israelite) said: "O Moses! Is it thy intention to slay me as thou slewest a man yesterday? Thy intention is none other than to become a powerful violent man in the land, and not to be one who sets things right!" (Quran 28:18-19)

Based on commentary to these verses, the Israelite who called for help again, assumed Moses was going to get hold of him, and when he feared for his life - he immediately disclosed what happened the day before, and thereby put Moses' life in danger.

Let us pause here and reflect.

The Quran gives us pearls of wisdom to help us in our struggle against oppression and if we want God's help how to introspect and with God's grace check ourselves.  When facing the enemy - both Israelites tried to resist, only Moses was resisting not for his self but for the fellow Israelite putting his rank and privilege in a state of sacrifice.  Only Moses felt remorse at the loss of life which remained with him the following day such that it made him anxious and yell at that same Israelite the following day.  

That Israelite had a pattern of being in trouble and yelling for help.  However, while Moses was aiming at protecting the Israelite and fighting oppression, the other Israelite was acting out of selfish motives, not only did he not care about the loss of life - if he genuinely did - he would have said something the day before to Moses or others.  He would have felt so much remorse that it would have left an impact on him the following day and prevented him from being in trouble again.  Upon seeing Moses again in the city, he would have refused to call him for help - given what he witnessed.

 

Projection

However, he remained silent and was in trouble again and yelling for help again.  Yet, when he assumed his life was in danger - at that point - concerned only for himself and forgetting the protection that Moses offered him the day before - he disclosed what happened, and thereby put Moses' life in danger.  He projected his internal reality onto Moses, accusing him of seeking "to become a powerful violent man in the land, and not to be one who sets things right!"

 

The Test

According to Islamic teachings, Prophets and Messengers are divinely protected from sin.  This trial is understood as a test.  There is wisdom in the mistake that Moses made to understand some of the secrets within and how trials are faced by Prophets. 

So what does Moses do?  His life is now in danger.  He could have used his privilege and power to claim that the other Israelite hyped him up - and have him arrested.  He could have hit the other Israelite for dragging him into a fight that he had no intention of engaging in, then leaving him to suffer the consequences and thinking only of himself.  Yet, he did none of the above.  God, the Wise and the All-Aware guided him to leave as he knew the whole reality.  

And there came a man, running, from the furthest end of the City. He said: "O Moses! the Chiefs are taking counsel together about thee, to slay thee: so get thee away, for I do give thee sincere advice."  He therefore got away therefrom, looking about, in a state of fear. He prayed "O my Lord! save me from people given to wrong-doing." Then, when he turned his face towards (the land of) Madyan, he said: "I do hope that my Lord will show me the smooth and straight Path."   (Quran 28:20-22)

True reformers are people who have the capacity to feel remorse.  They value life, all life.  They are people of sacrifice and when their lives are in danger, they turn to God and seek guidance - on what is the best way to respond.  At times, God inspires you to put the babe in the basket, at times He inspires you to raise that child as your own, and at times He inspires you to leave as He has other plans for you.

This is a reflection piece and meant for one to analyze themselves and not others.  

To God belongs the most beautiful names.  Has the story of Moses reached you?

Do we believe all lives are sacred?

Posted by: Fedwa Wazwaz Updated: February 6, 2015 - 6:18 AM

Thee alone do we worship, and Thine aid alone we seek. Show us the straight way, The way of those on whom Thou hast bestowed Thy Grace, those whose (portion) is not wrath, and who go not astray. (Quran 1:5-7)

When the US was beginning to wage war against Iraq, the discourse in the public square was highlighting how evil Saddam Hussein is, and a laundry list of the evil he does plus speculation that he might have weapons of mass destruction.

The same programming is played over and over again after our relations with other leaders turns sour. Each side goes to their airwaves to promote themselves as the champion and protector of their people, hyping their people up and showing how evil the other is.  

The pictures and conversations when relations were good between such people goes into hiding, as well as the secret talks and deals on how to strike a deal that robs and oppresses others.

Tariq Ramadan, Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at Oxford University, said it best on his social media accounts:

These violent extremists kill, burn alive, torture, rape... Westerners, Japanese, Jordanians, Muslims and people of other faiths... While some States imprison, rape, torture and kill.

Muslims are caught between these two madnesses. Now the silent majority - full of spirit, moderation and courage -, must speak up against these two objective allies of their historical failure. We cannot play the victims anymore and we must confront both the extremists and the despots at the same time. If we are serious, and ready to stop being apologetic.

There is no question in my mind that ISIS is a barbaric movement, yet when the Iraq war was being promoted, even by Oprah Winfrey at the time, many raised concerns that this war might open the way for terrorists to rise to power and many feared no one would be able to control them.  No one listened as we were so caught up in the hysteria of fighting evil blindly, without seeing our own contributions.

As we condemn ISIS, we are also blind to our financing of Israeli apartheid and many military bombardments of Gaza, where our weapons and money burned Palestinian civilians - men, women and children alive.  We are also blind that our drones burn people alive as well.

The deceptive dawn is a vertical light, that splits the darkness of the night into two sets of darknesses.  It happens right before the darkest moment of the night.  

Similarly, we are caught up in a deceptive reasoning reality where we must prove how evil they are, blind to our contributions, deluded that therefore we proved we are civilized and better than them.  Each side claims the vertical light, and in fact it becomes a means to see the darkness within.

The real dawn is a horizontal light, a light that gently rises and brings clarity and understanding for all.  No one can claim it for themselves, but we join hands at the junction point that all lives are sacred and condemn violence by all. 

There is no resistance in my mind or heart that ISIS needs to be condemned.  I do not in any way incline toward the evil they say or do.  Many scholars have spoken up against their vile hatred and violence.  

However, the issue is not how evil they are, but how they got to power.  

I wrote the following article, Oprah Winfrey, Warmonger?, before the Iraq war.  I have argued then as I do now that these deals and wars spill anarchy in the region producing hotbeds for extremists, terrorists and further ethnic wars.  I spoke to many politicians in groups that went to argue against the war.  Many were caught in the hysteria.  I recall arguing with the late Senator Paul Wellstone, who was facing reelection at the time and was concerned to stand with his conscience at a difficult time, since he was in a tight race with former Senator Norm Coleman.  

I told him, "If you were going to die tomorrow - what does your conscience tell you?"  He stopped and paused and didn't say anything but later, he spoke against the war, saying he has to listen to his conscience.  He died and never made it to the next election.  

Coleman became senator and later on lost a reelection.  

The Iraq war went on and now that the consequences are unfolding - we point fingers at each other.

The same discourse took place when Al Qaida emerged as well.  One day we loved Taliban and now we hate the Taliban.  This is not freedom.

The Muslim community as always is caught off guard by the emergence of ISIS and many are at a loss at their behavior.  There are no credible solutions.  Condemnations were and are continually issued as well as many refutations by scholars and intellectuals on their barbarism.  Some went to declare ISIS as kafirs or apostates, to remove any Islamic credibility to their voices.  Yet, the chaos exists and in such a situation - who listens and uses their intelligence?

We must pause here.

It is easy to start a war, or a revolution to topple evil people, but many fail to understand that stopping such violence when it spills anarchy is a very, very difficult task, and requires very strong, reliable, competent and trustworthy leadership BEFORE it begins.

In addition, if the means and discourse that brought them to power are being promoted elsewhere, then we might find ourselves closer to the darkest hour.

Let us reflect that all lives are sacred, and before we obsess with our security from them, let us also reason with ourselves that others have as much right to be secure from us, so that the real dawn break can emerge.

UPDATE

I appreciate the civil comments.  I would like to explain that I am not advocating pacifism but moreso that when we make a decision to wage war, our discourse should obsess less on how evil the other is, and moreso on how trustworthy those making the call to war are.  In addition, we must acknowledge our contributions to the current climate and choose leaders who were not involved in these contributions.  That was the reason, I interviewed Shaykh Qays Arthur, on the story of Bilqis, the Queen of Sheba and Prophet Solomon, upon him peace.  As Albert Einstein said "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them."

SEE: Conversation with Qays Arthur on Faith and Guidance 5a and Conversation with Qays Arthur on Faith and Guidance 5b

and 

SEE: How to trust intelligently

"We trust politicians who speak straightforwardly, don’t promise what they can’t deliver, explain their policies and their difficulties with reasonable caution, and visibly try to deliver what they promise."

Regarding my usage of the Quran in blogs, this is more an attempt to respond to individuals and groups who are publicly and loudly making claims that the Quran promotes violence and extremism.  These claims are now on bus ads and subway signs, etc., 

Instead of mentioning their names, I prefer to respond to their arguments by exploring the Quran and letting its wisdom and guidance speak.

Regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict - my blogs on this issue can be reviewed as well as the following sites Electronic Intifada and Jewish Voice for Peace.

UPDATE 2

The verses regarding warfare were explained many times in numerous blogs as well as inviting international speakers to visit Minnesota and engage the audience.

Regarding the verse mentioned in the comments section:  I recall in a class on communications, we discussed all types of communications.  There is a communication between family, loved ones, neighbors, and there is also communication during warfare.  People in the military discussed the this communication style.  It usually comes in form of commands, tough, forceful, as you are dealing with a climate of war.  The aim of such language is to take things seriously and to be vigilant, focused, and prepared to make split second decisions.  It is war, and war should be the last resort, but sadly it is now the first.  

During warfare, as I stated before, trustworthy leaders must have a strategy to stop the war, not just in combat, but to also prepared to nurture reconciliation, restoration and peace so that revenge attacks do not spill over.  The verse mentioned in the comment sections is a beautiful verse which speaks in the context of warfare when facing a force that is engaged in genocide.  One has a responsibility to stop such a force and push it to its boundaries.  When that force has been pushed back forcefully, then promote peace.  This is not easy to do.  It is easy to preach peace, love, compassion and mercy when you are not harmed.  Everyone does it, yes, including Muslims.

However, the truest and most authenic expression and manifestation of love, compassion and mercy is right at the point when you are fighting a force seeking to wipe you out, and you pushed them through combat to their boundaries and now have power over them.  How many can now desist and promote or preach peace?

Look carefully at the verse, as there are two wars being waged.  One against the transgressors (transgressing the boundaries of others) and another against the self to desist and promote peace when the war stops.  It is not the deceptive dawn, us versus them reasoning, but a holistic warfare to end oppression, as it is our duty to do so.

I recall reading something by Martin Luther King along the same lines.  Internally, King admonished himself, "You must not harbor anger."  To nurture society to a higher understanding and fight injustice, King said "there had developed beneath the surface a slow fire of discontent, fed by the continuing indignities and inequities to which the Negroes were subjected."  

So look at the verse again, and read the context and the time it was revealed.  There are two wars being waged, not one.

For further reading, I recommend the following books as well as the authors:

  1. Muslim and Non-Muslim Relations Reflections on Some Qur’anic Texts, Dr Jamal Badawi
  2. Islam and Peace, Dr Ibrahim Kalin
  3. Warfare in the Qur’an, Dr Joel Hayward
  4. Publications and writings of Tariq Ramadan

Lessons on power and oppression from Moses

Posted by: Fedwa Wazwaz Updated: January 30, 2015 - 4:41 AM

God! There is no deity but He! To Him belong the most Beautiful Names. Has the story of Moses reached thee? (Qur’an 20:8-9)

Fellow Muslims ask me why I focus on other Prophets more than Prophet Muhammad, upon them peace and blessings.  The reason is that I teach the way I learn.  My learning and teaching style is what I call a “Listening In” conversation.  Most conversations tend to be framed in the “elephant in the room” format.  The elephant is understood as the obvious truth which no one is allowed to talk about.  Often times, the obvious truths are based on many layers of self-deception that hinder our understanding of ourselves, thus others.  In the eyes of anti-Muslims, Bill Maher, Sam Harris, or the recent Charlie Hebdo affair – the obvious truth is Islam promotes terrorism and hatred. 

“In the hours following a shooting that left a Canadian soldier dead, Maher had this to say: ‘Turns out the attacker was Islamic—what are the odds, huh? It’s almost like there’s an elephant in the room.’”

SEE The Cowardice of Bill Maher’s Anti-Muslim Bigotry

The problem with this format is no one asks: who created the room?  And how and why is there an elephant in the room?  The room is usually the psychological and social construction of those with power and voice, while the elephant in the room is always the little people, or people who are unprotected and voiceless.  It is somewhat dishonest to argue – “It’s almost like there’s an elephant in the room.”

Truth is not as obvious as societal ills and psychological constructions bury the reality of things and people.  In addition, as Novelist Chimamanda Adichie argues in a TED talk, that our lives, our cultures, are composed of many overlapping stories, and if we hear only a single story about another person or country, and make it the definitive story, we risk a critical misunderstanding. 

It is impossible to talk about the single story without talking about power. There is a word, an Igbo word, that I think about whenever I think about the power structures of the world, and it is "nkali." It's a noun that loosely translates to "to be greater than another." Like our economic and political worlds, stories too are defined by the principle of nkali: How they are told, who tells them, when they're told, how many stories are told, are really dependent on power.

Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person. The Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti writes that if you want to dispossess a people, the simplest way to do it is to tell their story and to start with, "secondly." Start the story with the arrows of the Native Americans, and not with the arrival of the British, and you have an entirely different story. Start the story with the failure of the African state, and not with the colonial creation of the African state, and you have an entirely different story.

For this reason, I learned not to attach to the crowd, but to pray for guidance, search, investigate and verify what I hear, as people when they love or hate, project their own issues onto others, and even God – and attack people for issues they hate within themselves.  Or they try to define that person or group with a single definitive story, leading and enabling racism or xenophobia.

I learned about the Prophet Muhammad, upon him peace and blessings, only after sifting through and trying to separate fact from fiction surrounding his personality. Some Muslims and non-Muslims have used and misused his name in projecting his image that stood in sharp contrast to the normative and authentic details of his life. There was so much ridiculous or distorted information surrounding him, that one felt uncomfortable and disturbed connecting to him. 

In a “Listening In” conversation, the room is opened slightly either via a window or a crack to allow a light, an invitation to a conversation outside the room that calls us to reflect and better understand a higher level conversation that is taking place, a conversation where God is very much listening to our conversations and engaged and inviting us to guidance.

This conversation does not seek out the crowd, as the crowd usually follows authority, voices of influence and power.  Rather, it seeks out a small group of people who within their circle of influence and power can take the conversation forward, creating a ripple to other circles of influence.

Through this learning style, I learned that Prophet Muhammad, upon him peace and blessings did not promote nepotism, tribalism or a crowd mentality that shouts down the voice of consciousness.  He tore down psychological and social constructs that prevented the light from entering in the room.  He taught his followers Jihad an-nafs, or the inner struggle of the soul.  It is not self-hatred or blame.  When you hate yourself - you engage in communication of projection and fear what is different.  God told Prophet Muhammad, upon him peace and blessings; it is not you they are against, but the truth.  The elevation of truth can destroy the psychological and social constructs or the room which enable racism and xenophobia and other forms of oppression.

At times to engage in the “elephant in the room,” conversations, there is an invisible social agreement that is not accepting of everyone.  As we saw in the Charlie Hebdo affair, there were double standards regarding free speech that mocks people with power and those without influence and power.  Today, at 4pm there is an event at the University of Minnesota that is discussing the Charlie Hebdo tragedy that took place in Paris, France.  Check out the “elephant in the room” format where speakers will discuss Free Speech without any Muslim speaker.  What value is in a speech or discussion where others are treated as objects and interrogated, psychoanalyzed and judged – but not engaged as human beings?

However, in “Listening In” conversations – is all about empathy and guidance, seeking the betterment of oneself and others.

For example, Prophet Muhammad, upon him peace and blessings did not violate the boundaries of another human being be it mentally, socially, or even spiritually.  Once he tried to counsel a woman who was weeping at her brother's death - the woman did not know who he was, and told him - you do not know my pain.  He stopped.  He did not speak to her from behind a wall, but connected directly to her as a human being, yet still he stopped and left when she was not able to receive it.  She later realized who he was and went to find him and accepted his advice of being patient. 

I was recently in Saudi Arabia for Hajj or pilgrimage.  With a group of people, we climbed the mountain of Hira and saw the cave where Prophet Muhammad used to spend time in to reflect.  When he received revelation, he started out alone with a few supporters and slowly, he invited others - by promoting the truth.  He was offered power, money and many material gifts to give up his mission but he continued to build a community of people who enjoin the good and forbid the wrong.  Those closer to him, including his immediate family members were held to a much higher standard than those further away.  He corrected his closest friends as well as family members.

This community was nurtured to accept diversity, human differences, and was open to growth and the gifts of each other.  He did not just create a community for the strong, but also for the weak and oppressed.  He gave people the courage to grow instead of to hide or pretend.  They came to him with all sorts of problems, and he was known and mocked as “all ears” for being a compassionate listener.

He listened to the young and old, the weak and strong, and the poor and rich.  He spoke on behalf of the weak and the strong, as the boundaries he set were boundaries to enable the community to grow and enable the growth of each other.  It is not our differences or fear of our differences that nurture hatred amongst us, but rather it is acts of injustice that breeds hatred.  And when these acts of oppression are not repaired and we have the power and voice to do so, then the hatred brews and festers.  The obvious truths we want to discuss or elephant in the room may really be our attempt to erase in our psyche the injustices we committed against others. 

Gary Younge raises an interesting point in this article here:

"The west does not see itself the way others see it; indeed it often does not see others at all. Solipsistic in its suffering and narcissistic in its impulses, it promotes itself as the upholder of principles it does not keep, and a morality it does not practice.  Therein lays the dysfunction whereby it keeps doing hateful things while simultaneously expressing bewilderment at why some people hate it. It’s as though we are continually caught by surprise that others have not chosen to ignore their humiliation, pain, anger and sorrow just because we have."

Prophet Muhammad, upon him peace and blessings, taught his followers to seek acceptance of God first and foremost, and in doing so, freed humanity from the illness of perfectionism.  When we seek acceptance from God instead of people - we nurture a community to work hard and acknowledge that imperfections are part of being human. 

Across the globe, amongst Muslim communities and others - what we see are communities built that protect the rights and needs of the strong and demand higher standards for the vulnerable and unprotected.  Whether we use the language of promoting faith or freedom - the problems that our communities face are the same.

The word for oppression in the Arabic language is dhulm, which means darkness.  One of God’s names is An Nur or The Light.  Hence, one understanding of dhulm or oppression is a disconnection from God, the Light. 

In this blog and the continuing blogs, I will discuss power and oppression by looking at the story of Prophet Moses, upon him peace.  He is one of the five resolute Prophets, mentioned more times in the Qur'an than any Prophet.  As Muslims, we learn of his story through Prophet Muhammad, upon them peace and blessings.  As the Prophetic voice is a voice that connects people to each other.

In the series on Faith and Guidance, I discussed two important stories of Islamic teachings – the story of Salman al Farisi traveling the journey of faith from a position of weakness and the Queen of Sheba, Bilqis, traveling the journey from a position of power facing another force of power, Prophet Solomon, upon him peace.  In both stories, the journeys were about people true to their faith and/or values.

The story of Moses, upon him peace is a story about people in power clashing with people who are weak where both sides are not true to their faith and/or values.  However, things are not so simple.  Amongst those in power are many shades, most notably are people who resist and support the call to truth, and amongst those who are weak, are people who support the oppression of their own people or rebel for tyrannical motives.  Yet, deeper still are a few righteous believers, and within them the noble family of Moses, upon him peace.  Truth is not an “Us vs Them” story or a single definitive story about “Them.” 

Under the watchful gaze of God, Moses, upon him peace, was raised in the home of Pharaoh.  The beauty of this part of the story is that God tells us that He cast His love unto Moses in the home of Pharaoh.  Pharaoh’s wife, Asiya, developed a fond love of Moses, upon him peace and wanted to keep him as a son, hence protecting him in a climate of deep seated oppression:

"'Throw (the child) into the chest, and throw (the chest) into the river: the river will cast him up on the bank, and he will be taken up by one who is an enemy to Me and an enemy to him': But I cast (the garment of) love over thee from Me: and (this) in order that thou mayest be reared under Mine eye." (Quran 20:39)

Moses was reared, like all Prophets, by God Himself.  From their birth, they are connected to The Light of God, as they are to be the light and the way to God.

The story of Moses is a beautiful story of power and oppression.

Has the story of Moses reached you?

Updated:

Joe Sacco: On Satire – a response to the Charlie Hebdo attacks

Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources by Martin Lings
A History of the Prophets of Islam Vol. 1 and 2 by Suzanne Haneef

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