In the name of politics, they demand your silence on moral issues normally upheld, insistent that cunning conspirators are at work. You are being played, they contend obstinately, raising their voices. Perhaps so, but here the protagonists are many. One thing to be certain of: when activists demand your silence on the precepts and prohibitions of your religion, those playing you may be closer to home than you imagine.
How often do those presenting themselves as victims exploit the existence of an environment of political oppression to absolve themselves of personal responsibility for their own actions? What they conveniently ignore is that the morality they think to free themselves from was itself established against the backdrop of rampant persecution and injustice. Nobody then said morality should be suspended because enemies were beating at the door.
It is true that in times of famine or war, a court would be justified in not pursuing retribution against the destitute on the brink of starvation, caught stealing food to feed their families. Likewise, a man who accidentally killed another man, having been ambushed by armed brigands on the road, might expect to be treated leniently, pleading self-defence. Extreme environments and specific circumstances naturally lend themselves to exceptions being made.
Ordinarily, however, the Muslim is called to personal piety, irregardless of the conditions he finds himself in. He is called to live an upright life, even if all around him there is chaos. Even if anarchy and oppression reigns, he strives to live a righteous life, undeterred by the calls towards evil of others. Never did the Qur’an say that because their opponents had the upper hand, Muslims could dispense with its prohibitions or guidance.
Easy for you to say, comes the bitter retort of one who thinks himself downtrodden, maltreated by the state and perpetually undermined. And that much is true: my life has mostly seen ease, unburdened by poverty, discrimination or war. I cannot walk in my brother’s shoes, of course. I cannot speak of his experience. I cannot judge him as I judge myself. In different circumstances, I have no idea how I might react to my environment. By such tests we are known.
But be careful here; be discerning. The one who demands your silence on moral issues may be spinning a yarn, to exonerate himself from condemnation. He begins by setting himself up as a principled man, targeted for speaking the truth to power. It does not matter that much whether the historical record affirms this or not, for he is in control of his own narrative.
With influential friends in search of mutual support, he pens an article in his own defence, detailing the alleged socio-political factors behind the accusations made against him and has it published under a pseudonym in friendly media. From here on, the case is a political setup. As long as he does not deviate from this narrative, the case will grow ever more compelling and forever more convincing.
Whatever happens to him will have a political explanation. If he is arrested and detained, his experience becomes unique and discriminatory, not on the basis of facts, but as a result of the narrative set from the start. If he is taken into remand on the basis of serious allegations, never will you be reminded of the thousands of others detained in similar circumstances. If the legal process advances at a snail’s pace, never will you learn that this is the norm. Whatever happens from here will have a political dimension that obscures the real issues at its core.
He was targeted not because of his behaviour, but because he has vision and is principled. He is targeted, not because he has done anything wrong, but because he himself stands against all that is wrong. He has been targeted because he was ready to stick to his principles and be vocal about it. Yes, he was targeted because he spoke a word of truth in front of a tyrant ruler.
All of this is leading somewhere, of course. Though his companions may pause for a moment, scratch their heads and ask themselves whether he really was a thorn in the side of the powerful, their own predisposition to seeing a conspiracy everywhere naturally allows them to entertain his version of events. If you know there is a political game at play, he tells them, and you see political forces manipulating the case for their own gain, be wise: don’t fall into the trap they have set for you.
And here you fall into the trap he has set for you too. Because our enemies exploit our wrongdoing to further their own agenda, he tells you, you should be silent on his crimes. Before you, he has successfully painted himself an intrepid buttress against evil and now challenges you: your job is to stand with me against our oppressors, not to condemn me because I sinned. The game is this, he tells you: they want you to abandon me — voice for the voiceless, such as I am — in the name of the ethical precepts of your faith. They have used your faith to neutralise you!
Naturally, the clashing of political titans on the world stage supplants personal piety here. In these battles for supremacy, there is no room for religion. Your self-appointed hero does not want you to think for yourself now. For if you did, you would realise that there is no logic to the binary explanation he has set up for you.
It is always the case that our enemies will make the most of our own failings to boost their own agendas, but their exploitation should not prevent us from taking ourselves to account. The alternative to the binary equation set out before us is to not let yourself be neutralised, by not being a hypocrite, preaching one thing and doing something else completely. That alternative is to live in accordance with the message you preach, as best you can, so that nobody can call you a liar and undermine your whole life’s work.
Our Prophet — peace be upon him — and those who were with him, despite being victims of actual persecution and frequently under physical attack from those who threatened their lives, never permitted his followers to abandon their precepts and prohibitions in the name of solidarity. On the contrary, he is reported to have said in response to a family seeking clemency:
“The people before you were destroyed because they used to inflict legal punishments on the poor and forgive the rich. By Him in Whose Hand my soul is! If Fatima [my own daughter] did that, I would punish her.”
It is not true, dear Muslims, that you have been politically trapped as citizens by the morality that you proclaim. Activists may wish to convince you that your religious teachings and beliefs have undermined our ability to work for a better world, because they reveal us to be compromised hypocrites, but do not fall for this. It is a political setup. Stand up for your ethical principles and demand leaders that do the same. As for the one who demands your silence: stand firm in justice, witnesses for God, even if it be against yourselves.