A MESSAGE TO ALL “ZAYTUNA” HATER-LOVERS (Abdullah bin Hamid Ali)
We were told by the Prophet–upon him Allah’s blessing and peace–that as man’s time on earth draws to an end, we would witness the pontifications of the Ruwaybidah. When asked “What are the Ruwaybidah?” he responded, “Trifling men (al-tāfih) who speak concerning the affair of the public.” Another version of this hadith calls them “Fools” (al-safīh), while another refers to them as “Little scoundrels” or “Punks” (al-fuwaysiq). While it is valid to attach the ‘Ruwaybidah’ label to reporters, Hollywood actors, and similar people uncritically reading the scripts given to them by their corporate masters, there may not be a finer application of the designation than to social media trolls, both those who reveal their true identities and those who hide behind fake profiles. Social media magnifies unimportant things and unimportant people. And in a culture starved of nuance which craves attention and oversimplicity, the ideas of the pseudo-intelligent and pathological, unfortunately, abound.
Seemingly axiomatic, a number of trolls insist that Zaytuna College, as a leading Muslim educational institution, has a moral obligation to issue an “official” statement in support of the Palestinians. That Dr. Hatem Bazian, a cofounder of the college and of American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), Imam Zaid Shakir, and others like me have been consistently posting in support of the innocent Palestinian victims means nothing to the trolls. Only an “official” statement will do. This is in spite of the fact that “corporate entities”¾what Arabs called “al-shaksiyyāt al-ma’nawiyyah”¾are not acknowledged or treated as persons in the Shariah. I would, typically, ignore such pretentious demands, since it is clear that by “official” the trolls mean “Shaykh Hamza Yusuf.”
Despite the fact that Zaytuna is a collection of predominantly Muslim professors and teachers who do not have uniform viewpoints on all matters political or theological, far too many Muslims continue to understand–and sometimes wish–Zaytuna College to be an uncritical expression of whatever Shaykh Hamza says or does not say. No official statement can represent the position of every professor. Nor can the view of a single man represent the default position of all the institution’s teachers. Consequently, an official statement on Palestine or any other matter makes little sense because it undermines the legitimacy of an educational institution whose mandate is the pursuit of truth and the allowance for legitimate difference of opinion.
In reality, such demands only reveal the love-hate relationship the trolls have with Shaykh Hamza. They assign so much value to how he feels and thinks, while also expecting his views to reflect their own; Shaykh Hamza has an obligation to speak up. And when he does, he can only say what the trolls approve of. No reasonable person would accept such unreasonable demands.
Inviting others to Islam is a communal obligation whose abandonment burdens the entire Ummah with sin. Every Muslim, however, is obligated to enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong, but that is according to one’s respective capacity. You change what you can¾when you can with your hand and tongue, but our Shariah also affords the option to withhold comment as long as our hearts disapprove of the unjust status quo. Opting for silence, even prolonged, does not give a critic the right to assume he knows what the one reserving comment actually believes. For as many scholars say, “No statement may be attributed to one who withholds comment” (lā yunsabu ilā sākit qawl). The twist in all of this is that Shaykh Hamza has many times in the past and recently offered his full support for the Palestinian struggle and has condemned the Zionist regime for their inhumane treatment. But that doesn’t deter the trolls because they are disingenuously concerned with the plight of Palestinians and highly selective in their moral outrage. Their true goal is to virtual signal, not to relieve the increased suffering of Palestinians.
Deliberateness is also an Islamic value such that the Prophet–upon him Allah’s blessing and peace–taught us that “Haste is from Satan.” A scholar may be taking considerable time to study a situation as thoroughly as possible before he decides to make a public statement. In this world of fake news, this obligation is ever more important considering the possibility that one may base his judgment on faulty information.
What trolls would actually like to hear from Shaykh Hamza is that he rejects normalization with the state of Israel, a process which is already underway. Support for normalization is attributed to Shaykh Abdullah bin Bayyah–may Allah guide and preserve him–although I don’t believe he has ever employed the term (al-tatbī’). Nor has he given a fatwa in support of it to my knowledge. The least he has done was express the legally valid and historically popular view that matters of political significance are within the purview of Muslim governs, which includes normalizing relations with hostile nations. More plainly, the decision to normalize relations with Israel is a judgment to be made by governors (al-ahkām al-sultāniyyah), not the populace, and, definitely, not by myopic trolls with limited knowledge of the Shariah on social media. Adding t0 legal schizophrenia and amnesia among Muslims is the fact that many of the same critics used a similar argument to delegitimize terrorist organizations like Qaeda and ISIS, stating that neither organization had the political legitimacy to declare war on the West. Were they wrong then and correct now?
For trolls, normalization is not simply a matter of interpretation and opinion. It does not share the same ultimate goal as political pressure, BDS, and/or armed offensives. There can be no greater betrayal of the Palestinians than normalization. In their minds, only their approach and solutions can achieve the goal of Palestinian self-determination, statehood, and the preservation of their dignity. One can only support the solutions of the Palestinian “leadership.” But are the “leaders” Hamas or The Palestinian National Authority? And does it matter at all if some from the populace care not how their suffering comes to an end just as long as it does?
I would have respect for the trolls if their argument was that normalization is not allowed because a Muslim territory cannot become a non-Muslim territory due to an invasion? They, however, appeal more to “human rights”, “international law”, and past “accords” than they do to anything from the Qur’an, Sunnah, or views of Muslim jurists. The rejection of alternative solutions which may or may not augment current approaches often validates the ideology and approach of Hamas. Zionists respond in kind with their own religious doctrine of return, which leaves us at an impasse were we to insist that only an armed struggle to the last drop of blood will resolve the matter. Do results mean more than the methods as long as the methods do not violate Islamic mores and don’t increase suffering? And is there a place for private negotiations which lead to positive outcomes?
Why does the plight of Palestinians deserve greater moral outrage than others? Is the open-air prison in Kashmir any less significant to the trolls? Why didn’t the trolls demand Shaykh Hamza’s or Zaytuna College’s “official position” about Uyghur internment? Where is the demand for official positions about the Rohingya genocide and similar populations living under inhumane conditions? Or does their moral outrage only follow the news cycle? And is it only limited to the plight of Palestinians? The trolls are more concerned with virtue signaling than with finding real solutions. Their calls for official statements from “Zaytuna College” are not worthy of serious consideration. These are people who “love” Shaykh Hamza so much that the only way they know how to express it is under the veil of resentment due to him not parroting the solutions they deem to be appropriate to the conflict.