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The Keys to Our Dream

In the Name of Allâh, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful

A poem by Tarek Mehanna

(In the Name of Allah)

I walked by our dream and was saddened to find
Tears filling her eyes with a look quite resigned.
She sat in the jail where we left her behind
Trapped behind the bars of a colonized mind.

I stood and wondered how I could set her free
So I asked if she knew where they’d hidden the key.
She wiped away tears and looked over at me
With pity that I assumed it would be so easy!

She said: “Buried inside pages of distant past
With a heritage of lions, so rich and so vast
You’ll find the key with Sumayyah, when to faith she held fast
As they speared her chastity, and she breathed her last.

And it’s the finger of Bilal, the heroic black slave,
The sign of Tawhid that in their faces he’d wave
As he lay tied down in a hot desert grave
Their harming of him made him all the more brave.

And it’s the pledge of ‘Ikrimah, enemy turned warrior
Who changed his life to make the truth superior.
Khalid himself could not hold him back from more
When his pledge at Yarmuk left the Romans so sore.

It is the back with shredded flesh and torn skin
Of Ahmad bin Hambal, who refused to give in.
He answered their whips with the truth and a grin
To protect our religion, he would not let them win.

And it is the bittersweet dust of the land of Hittin,
That once engulfed the knights of Salah ad-Din
From the filth of dishonor, he made that dust clean
And for the respect of the world did he set the scene.

It was the rope around the neck of the desert’s lion
‘Umar Mukhatar, who would bow down to no Italian.
Refusing to live in a state of humiliation
His chin high to the end, with no fear of the Creation.

The rope was passed on to Sayyid’s waiting head
With one last chance for him to be spared from this dread.
And from the choicest fruits, they promised he would be fed
But his index finger led him to another door instead.

The same finger that pointed up as Malcolm X lay still
Ending a life of honor, that was one struggle uphill.
He left a life of crime, transforming himself until
He spoke bitter truth with eloquence and skill…”

She sat in the jail where we left her behind
Indeed this key will be difficult to find
But it is you if you refuse to be blind
And decide to free yourself from the colonized mind.

Poem written by Tarek Mehanna

27th of Dhu al-Hijjah 1430
(14th of December 2009)
In the hours before Fajr; in the traces of the pale floodlights shining into my cell.
Plymouth County Correctional Facility, Isolation Unit.

Our Right to Moses (pbuh)

by: Tarek Mehanna

In the Name of Allah, I invoke peace and blessings on His Messenger.

Ibn 'Abbas related that the Prophet came to Madinah and found the Jews fasting the 10th day of Muharram. When he inquired about this, they replied: "This is a good day. It is the day that Allah saved the Children of Israel from their enemy. So, Moses fasted it." The Prophet replied: "I have more of a right to Moses than you." and he ordered us to fast it.

Several thousand years ago today, Allah saved one of His Prophets and his believing followers from the oppressive policies of the greatest tyrant on Earth. Prophet Moses and the Children of Israel he had come to protect were the target of a campaign of persecution so brutal, so continuous that there seemed to be no end to it in sight. When that end finally did come with Pharaoh's watery demise, it was such a relief and mercy that it was legislated in our religion to mark that day by fasting, as a means of both gratitude to Allah and solidarity with fellow muslims who preserved their faith under tyranny.

As we continue to fast the 10th of Muharram several millennia later, I thought it appropriate to extract some significance and relevance from the experiences of the Children of Israel at the hands of Pharaoh in order to appreciate exactly what it was they were rescued from. By touching upon a few examples of Pharaoh's methods of persecution, perhaps we will be able to draw some parallels between the reality faced by the Children of Israel thousands of years ago and the reality faced by this Ummah today, leading us to recognize why it is we fast this day and what place it should have in our hearts.

So let us look through the Qur'an and list some of these Pharonic methods.

1.) Demonization

In Surat Ghafir, v. 26, Pharaoh said: {"Leave me to kill Moses, and let him call upon his Lord! I fear that he will change your way of life or bring about ruin and evil on Earth."}

Here, we see Pharaoh accusing Prophet Moses with two accusations: i) he wants to change their way of life, and ii) he is out to spread evil and destruction on Earth. Sound familiar? Moses was sent by Allah to Pharaoh, in fact, for two reasons: to end Pharaoh's oppression of the Children of Israel, and to call Pharaoh to worship the Creator. So, he was on a mission to do the exact opposite of what Pharaoh accused him of, while it was in fact Pharaoh who was carrying out what he accused Moses of! This a classic case of what is known as psychological projection (look it up).

Then, Pharaoh ironically sets himself up as the valiant defender of his 'good' in the face of the 'evil' of Moses, in v. 29: {"I show you only what I see to be correct, and I only guide you to the right way!"} Just as Allah indicated in Surat al-Baqarah, v. 11: {"And if it is said to them: 'Stop spreading evil on Earth!' they say: We are only peacemakers!"}

So, the practice of demonization and accusing the victim of violence, corruption, etc. is an ancient one. It's just that nowadays, the fashionable terms to use are 'extremism', 'radicalism', and 'terrorism.' Had Pharaoh known of these words, he probably would've used them against Moses, too.

2.) Belittlement

In Surat az-Zukhraf, v. 51-52, Pharaoh said: {"My people! Isn't the kingdom of Egypt and all of these rivers flowing underneath me all mine? Don't you see? Am I not better than this one who is despicable and can barely express himself?"}

Moses went to Pharaoh for two reasons: to end his oppression of others and to call him to worship his Creator. Pharaoh had no moral or logical grounds for debate for either of the two of these challenges posed to him by Moses, and he knew it. So, his resort was to belittle Moses in order to draw the public's attention away from this fact and distract them from the simple logic of what Moses was saying. Rather than directly address these challenges responsibly and honestly, he points to himself as the strong, civilized established authority facing the speech-imped, weak, helpless outcast who offers no prestige or status to anyone who would be unfortunate enough to choose to join him, all in an effort to counter the legitimacy and appeal of his words.

The same tactic is used today. We often hear parts of the Shariah being characterized as backwards, barbaric, uncivilized, inhumane, etc. We hear of how Muslims in certain parts of the world are in need of learning how to live under 'freedom' and so on. We are subtly taught that we need others to solve our problems for us, and how we are weak and dependent on the powerful, and how we can't, we can't, we can't/ We are made to feel insignificant and defensive and apologetic, and act so.

None of this is haphazard. It is a tactic borrowed from Pharaoh, and its purpose is twofold: to create an inferiority complex in the Muslim mind, as well as to create a smokescreen to block the non-Muslim mind from being attracted to the truth. The message of Moses was very clear and logical: Stop oppressing others and worship the Creator. Pharaoh's belittlement was simply an act of desperation and a tactic of manipulation to make up for this, and as stated in v. 54: {"Thus, he fooled his people and they followed along ..."}

3.) Imprisonment

In Surat ash-Shu'ara', v. 29, Pharaoh said: {"If you choose a god besides me, I will make you a prisoner!"}

This threat came in the midst of a public confrontation with Prophet Moses, as he was making one eloquent presentation of Tawhid after another. People were beginning to hear this strange new message, and Pharaoh wasn't liking it one bit. This was a radical message, as Webster's dictionary defines radical as "Going to the root or source," and this is exactly what the call to Tawhid presented by Moses and all the Prophets does. It is an irresistible straight-to-the-point call to those who seek humility, but it was also a clear and present danger to this claimant to godhood, Pharaoh. The only way to silence Moses and lock away his message was to lock him up. The threat of incarceration has always been used to do away with undesired and unpopular speech and beliefs and those who manifest them, and the Muslim Ummah in particular is not bereft of examples throughout its history and present. So prison here was being used as a tool of suppression.

However, prison has also been used as a means of coercing the commission of certain deeds, usually those shameful in nature. In Surat Yusuf, v. 32, Prophet Joseph was threatened with it if he refused to sleep with the King's wife: {"... I did seek to seduce him , but he refused. Now, if he refuses to comply with what I demand, he will certainly be thrown into prison!"} Joseph's response was simply to say: {"O Lord! Prison is more preferable to me than what they want me to do."} And as it was, he was imprisoned when he refused to comply with that shameful, treacherous demand: {"The it occurred to them, after seeing proofs of his innocence, to imprison him for a time."}

May Allah free the imprisoned Muslims around the globe, amin.

4.) Instilling Societal Fear

In Surat yunus, v. 83: {"But none believed in Moses except some descendent of his people because of the fear of Pharaoh and their chiefs that they would persecute them ..."}

Fear is the most cost-effective method of countering an undesired presence simply because it is a preventative measure meant to keep an individual, group, or society in check. Rather than wait until the spread of a message or a movement that challenges the status quo, it is much easier to simply scare everyone into conforming. Rather than allow Moses the freedom to teach his message and lose the large number of subject enslaved to him, Pharaoh instead implemented a campaign of fear to dissuade anyone from being affected by this radicalism, lending an ear to Moses' words, or even displaying sympathy to him or his followers. This way, not only would Moses not be able to spread his message, but there could be no hint of support for any of its tenets expressed openly throughout Pharaoh's kingdom. Why? Because this message was a direct challenge to both Pharaoh's arrogance and his oppression of others, and it had to be contained to preserve his authority. Any challenge or dissent from this authority had to be found, contained, weakened, outcast and eliminated. In essence, Pharaoh had mastered the ancient art of terrorism, which is defined in Webster's dictionary as: "the political use of terror or intimidation."

The words of Sayyid Qutb apply well to Moses in this situation: "A society has a governing logic and a common mode, its pressure is strong and its weight heavy on anyone who is not protected by some powerful member of society or who challenges it without a strong power... The person who takes a stand against the direction of the society -its governing logic, its common mindset, its standards, its concepts, its error and deviations - will find himself a stranger and helpless unless his authority comes from a source which is more powerful than the people, more permanent than the Earth, and nobler that life ..." This is exactly how Moses was, peace be upon him , in the midst of Pharaoh's campaign against his message, his beliefs, his words, and his way of life - despite facing demonization, belittlement, threats of imprisonment and torture, and having the entire society too frightened to even be associated with him. As Emily Dickinson wrote:

"Much madness is divinest sense -

To a discerning eye -

Much sense - the starkest madness -

'Tis the majority

In this, as all, prevail -

Assent, and you are sane -

Demur - you're straight away dangerous -

And handled with a chain."

However, despite the intimidation by Pharaoh, there were a few individuals who cast aside their fears and boldly spike in defense of Moses, in fact accepting his message; as we learn in Surat Ghafir, v. 28: {"And a man who believed from Pharaoh's household and had his his faith said: "would you kill a man because he says 'My Lord is Allah' and has come to you with clear signs from your Lord?""} So, this man who was from Pharaoh's very bloodline came out in defense of the truth even though society at large was either too scared or too heedless to. In the same spirit, anyone who pays attention to current events involving Muslim affairs will note the many non-Muslims who appear even bolder in standing up for Muslims than the Muslims themselves. We have even witnessed a few of them, much like this man from Pharaoh's household, choosing to actually become Muslims as occurred with a number of former guards who served at Guantánamo Bay, for example.

These are just a few examples of many, but the statement of the Prophet to the Jews of Madinah: "I have more of a right to Moses than you" when he had the Muslims fast on this day should carry a greater significance with us as we observe the unmistakable similarities between what Moses and the Children of Israel were saved from and what we are facing thousands of years later today. Likewise, we await the same aid and victory given to them by Allah, and we ask Allah to grant us the same faith, taqwa, and adherence to His Religion manifested by Moses as he watched the Red Sea part before his eyes.

O Allah, as You saved Moses from distress, save us from the distress of this life and the next ...


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