On “idolagy”

Today’s ideology is yesterday’s idolatry
Developing Just Leadership

Afeef Khan

Rabi' al-Thani 24, 1440 2019-01-01

Special Reports

by Afeef Khan (Special Reports, Crescent International Vol. 47, No. 11, Rabi' al-Thani, 1440)

All responsibility flows from commitment. Without a solid commitment to do something or accomplish a goal, any plans of action would have no direction and assembling a group(s) of people to execute those plans would be fruitless. It is the discharge of responsibility that is measured by accountability. Consistently, therefore, all accountability flows from commitment. In other words, without commitment, the domains of responsibility and accountability would have little scope.

For instance, if you make a commitment to lose weight, then you consent to the responsibility of altering a lifestyle that contributes to the problem, that is, you agree to develop better eating habits, to engage in an exercise program, and to establish repeatable sleeping patterns — the kind of responsibilities that allow you to hold yourself accountable through a monitoring of progress toward a sought-after destination. Or, if you commit to becoming a civil engineer, you agree to accept the responsibility of doing the work and engaging in a curriculum of study in order to incrementally acquire the knowledge of a certain field of experience and recorded observations. As you advance toward qualifying as an engineer, you hold yourself accountable at each step by testing whether or not you have gained enough proficiency to advance to the next level. And thus both accountability and responsibility flow from the initial commitment made.

At a societal level, social justice is a civic and Islamic responsibility; this is sustained by many ayat in Allah’s guidance, two of which are,

Allah [Himself] proffers evidence — and [so do] the angels and all who are endowed with knowledge — that there is no deity save Him, the Upholder of social justice. There is no deity save Him, the Almighty, the Truly Wise (3:18);

Indeed, [even aforetime] did We send forth Our apostles with all evidence of [this] truth; and through them We bestowed revelation from on high, and [thus gave you] a balance [wherewith to weigh right and wrong], so that [the societies of] men may be erected upon [a platform of institutional] justice (57:25).

Similarly, economic justice is a human and moral responsibility; once again Allah’s revealed words say,

Virtue does not consist in turning your faces toward the east or the west — but truly virtuous is he who is committed to Allah; and the Last Day; and the angels; and scripture; and the prophets; and distributes wealth, however much he himself may cherish it, upon his near of kin, and the orphans, and the needy, and the wayfarer, and the beggars, and for the freeing of human beings from bondage; and upholds [the standards of] divine communion, and renders the purifying dues [zakah]; and [truly virtuous are] they who keep their promises whenever they promise, and are patient in misfortune and hardship and in time of peril: it is they who have proved themselves true, and it is they, they who are consciously defensive [vis-à-vis Allah’s power] (2:177).

But what happens when the dominant power culture demonstrates little interest in these social responsibilities, or at best only gives them lip service? Who, for instance, has more temporal power than America to hold the latter accountable when it makes a decision to transform, on a false public justification of liberation as part of the “Arab Spring,” a functioning country (Libya) into a failed state for generations to come? Has the political will of the majority proven to be powerful enough to restrain America from the calculated misdeeds of its empire building? Has the international community been strong enough to prevent America from engaging in its perpetual wars of aggression and occupation (the Philippines, Korea, VietNam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Syria, Panama, Grenada, and on and on)? Is there a more dominant power than America to prevent it from invading an “independent” country under false pretences? Who has the capacity to force America to pay restitution to the six million displaced Syrians and the families of its one million dead for a war of choice to overthrow a functioning government to guarantee the security of the thieves of the Holy Land? Who can punish America for thwarting all attempts over the past 25 years by the Somali people to bring order and civility back to their society? Who is there to hold American soldiers at bay when their main function is to guard a corrupt, drug-dealing puppet government while fixing opposition forces so that they can be attacked by US airpower (Afghanistan)? Who can prevent the unholy alliance of Israel, America, and Saudi Arabia from starving the people of Yemen to death? Who has the power to hold America accountable to its oaths (JCPOA)? Who has the wherewithal to prevent America from dismembering (or attempting to) other countries (Korea, VietNam, Iraq, Syria, Sudan)?

In short, the question of history is: how is the dominant power culture (Rome yesterday, America today) to be held to account? This is why a sustained commitment to the Day of Judgement, the Day of Accountability is important. It applies more to the dominant power culture than anyone else, as the potential for the greatest abuse of power lies there. Temporal power creates its own legitimacy (especially when the power of God has been erased or “separated” from the public consciousness). What is being said here is that for a commitment (Day of Judgement) to turn into a public responsibility (social and economic justice), the necessary catalyst is the legitimate exercise of power. A key feature of the Makkan ayat relates to highlighting and then deconstructing the illegitimate exercise of power by those who felt unaccountable to public responsibility. By contrast and as an answer to the former, the Madinan ayat concentrate on demonstrating the legitimate exercise of power by those who hold themselves accountable to social responsibility. The kind of commitment from which such responsibility to social and economic justice flows is the voluntary conformity and subservience to the authority and divinity of Allah (swt) — His ultimate power, His wise counsel, His incontestible command, His corrective justice, and finally His judgement. In Qur’anic language, this is iman; its opposite is kufr. And any dislocation of this commitment to the temporal authority of man is shirk. In other words, displacing man’s commitment from the authority of God to the sovereignty of man over man corrupts the notion of responsibility in man’s mind and perverts the awareness of accountability in man’s heart.

In practical terms, Howard Zinn, the famous American historian from a dying breed of academics who have not been deceived by the exceptionalist, sanitized narrative of Euro-American history, brought this point home. He indicated that a person’s rights on paper (constitutional rights) are not necessarily the same as his rights in fact (civil rights, natural rights, human rights). Any congruence between the two depends on the people in power. If they are principled (that is, they are cognizant of the fact that their own accountability is an inevitability), then the rights on paper are emblematic of the rights on the ground; if they are corrupt and use their power to concentrate wealth and influence, then the rights on paper are merely slogans to delude the masses so that they can be exploited of all their wealth and divorced of their legitimate responsibility of holding their public representatives accountable for their decisions.

Of course, despite the quality and quantity of words used to describe this phaenomenon, defective commitment contaminating responsibility and accountability is nothing new, it has a sordid and painful human history; the names and the faces may be new, but the characteristics they exhibit are as old as man himself. Consider the following ayat,

Do they, then, ascribe divinity/authority, side by side, with Him, to beings that cannot create anything — since they themselves are created — and neither are able to give them support nor can support themselves? And, if you pray to them [the idols] for guidance, they do not respond to you! As far as you are concerned, it is all one whether you invoke them or keep silent. Verily, all those whom you invoke besides Allah are but created beings like yourselves: invoke them, then, and let them answer your prayer — if what you claim is true! Have these [images], perchance, feet on which they could walk? Or have they hands with which they could grasp? Or have they eyes with which they could see? Or have they ears with which they could hear? (7:191–195).

These were revealed to a preliterate Arabian society, but this doesn’t mean they apply exclusively to primitive cultures and pre-modern societies. “Worshipping idols” is not a characteristic of ancient peoples only. The Qur’an is meant for all times and all places, and today, hardly anyone in an institutional or influential sense regards things sculpted out of stone or wood to be objects of veneration.

There is a form of prevalent present-day idolatry. Yes, it is obvious that the idols of yore themselves had no senses or appendages to utilize, but what is less apparent or being lost between the lines is the fact that these idols saw, heard, walked, and grasped through the eyes, ears, feet, and hands of their human agents. Whatever was attributed to these idols was made real in the public space and the social milieu by human faculties. Furthermore, all of the mystery surrounding the idols and any supposed agency or power they had to influence human activity was all invented and pioneered by prior human beings — ancestors, patriarchs, tribal bosses, “wise” men, etc. By describing these idols in terms of human features, senses, and abilities, Allah (swt) is alluding to the fact that it is human beings who do things, that it is human beings who displace the veneration of Allah with the objectification of that which is created by human beings.

And so it is with human philosophies-cum-ideologies: in order for them to become social policies, public priorities, political programs, or military incursions, they require a human instrument or agency, what has been characterized in Islamic terminology as an ummah. For an ideology to command authority over its ummah (human adherents or agents working together to achieve an objective) in the form of resocialized human behavior, it must demand absolute conformity (‘ibadah) to a foundational set of ideas, suppositions, or delineations of a divinely sanctioned exceptionalism. Allah (swt) also demands conformity (‘ibadah), only He demands conformity to the truth — which is both just and beneficial for man — whereas ideologies demand conformity to the views and attitudes of certain, usually powerful or wealthy, human beings. Hence, if these humans are:

1. racists, then their ideology demands ‘ibadah (conformity) to the suppositions that infer the superiority of one people over all others;

2. nationalists, they demand ‘ibadah to whatever they perceive to be the national interest at the given moment, even if it is narrow, exploitative, unjust, and oppressive, which it usually is;

3. capitalists, they demand ‘ibadah to a class structure that continually transfers wealth from the poor to the rich;

4. communists, then they demand ‘ibadah to perpetual and reactionary class warfare that is meant to protect society from the endemic class subservience of capitalism;

5. feminists, they demand ‘ibadah to the notion that not only is the feminine identity unique, and thereby lesbianism as a consummation of that uniqueness, but necessarily independent of the masculine;

6. materialists, they demand ‘ibadah to the idea that there is no knowledge beyond or outside of what man can ascertain with his senses;

7. Zionists, they demand conformity to the subjugation and derogation of all races to the “chosen people,” the “elect,” the “elite”; and this can go on and on.

Such a use of the Qur’anic term ‘ibadah may come as a shock to those who have regularly seen it to mean worship, or have seen it applied strictly to religious practices. They would ask, “How is it possible for someone to be “worshipping” racism, capitalism, materialism, etc?” However, if you continue to justify and rationalize a particular philosophical orientation, especially one that is founded on a departure from morality, even when that orientation is suffocating the very environment you live in, then what is that if it is not worship?

Idolatry and ideology are both human inventions and thus two sides of the same coin: flip it in the past and you get idolatry, flip it today and you get ideology. To put it more succinctly — “idolagy.” It is this dislocation of conformity from Allah (swt) as authority to any other source, be it idolatry or ideology, that at its very core is shirk. All human ideologies, even if conceived of by the “best of intentions,” are dead ends and blind alleys: their transformational potential is limited to whatever can be temporarily achieved by force, and not by voluntary action through conviction. This requires little proof for those who are looking at their real world with open eyes as democratization is carried to your friendly neighborhood Third-World country on the payload of a missile, in the “responsibility to protect” prosecuted by terrorists-cum-rebels, and in continued colonialism justified by false flags.

Free speech is supposed to be a pillar of democracy. Just look at how the mainstream Zionist media, especially the Washington media, has hypocritically exploited the murder and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. To begin with, calling him a journalist is a stretch. Jamal, nephew of the Saudi arms dealer, Adnan Khashoggi (the “Pirate”), was a consummate insider of the Saudi deep state, a functionary who dutifully advanced the agenda of the Zio-Wahhabi establishmentarians in Riyadh. He endorsed the execution of Shaykh Nimr al-Nimr, rubber-stamped the Saudi/American invasion and starvation of Yemen, and applauded the potential dismemberment and annihilation of a fellow Arab country (Syria) by organ-eating and head-chopping terrorists. Just because such a person was placed as a gatekeeper at one of the leading state media organs (al-Arabiya) doesn’t make him a journalist. Furthermore, Khashoggi was submitting his articles to the Washington Post in Arabic; it would be interesting to see what kind of creative license the Post used in translating them into English. The Turkish ambassador to Lebanon indicated that the CIA set up the entire entrapment scheme to ensnare the presumptuous impetuous Clown Prince of Arabia in an extortion racket. As soon as news of the murder hit the airwaves, the Trump White House and the deep state (media, Wall Street, and the intelligence community), on the same page as far as this issue is concerned, revved up the engine and went public with the extortion scheme that was already in motion. The objective: to squeeze every last penny out of those oily royals dripping with petro-dollars. That plan is still in motion as just last week, the US consulate in Riyadh posted messages on its social media platforms to incite protests against the royal regime in Arabia. Dare this White House set up Israel in this way?

One wonders why real US journalists like Michael Hastings and Gary Webb did not receive 24/7, round-the-clock coverage in multiple news outlets and social media after their suspicious deaths. Michael Hastings, killed in 2013 in what was probably a car cyber attack, was a war correspondent who wrote a profile of US General Stanley McChrystal (commander of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan) for Rolling Stone magazine, “The Runaway General,” and then later wrote on “Why Democrats Love to Spy on Americans” during the Obama administration. Before he was killed in the car crash, he suspected that he was being monitored and followed by US intelligence. Gary Webb, victim of an apparent suicide in 2004, was the author of a series of articles (later a book) in the San Jose Mercury News called “Dark Alliance,” an exposé of CIA involvement in the crack epidemic in poor, inner-city African-American neighborhoods. At the time of his reporting, Webb was roundly discredited by the entire commercial and official media establishment, including his “friends” at the Washington Post. A decade later, his investigative journalism proved to be on the mark.

Democracy and democratization have a sunnah (social pattern, implementation model), and unfortunately, it is that of the United States. The sunnah of democracy defeats the principles of democracy. However, not so with the Sunnah of Muhammad (pbuh), which affirms the huda from Allah (swt); there were no human wrongs in the mission of Muhammad, and thus there was no need for a reactionary declaration of human rights, especially when those rights on paper in the secular world of today were never intended to be translated into rights on the ground. Subsuming mass human behavior — that is, human eyes, human ears, human hands, human legs — to ideologies, just like the idols of the past, is a greater crime and treachery to the Creator and Sustainer than to intellectually conceive an ideological orientation to begin with — an unforgiveable crime. Yesterday’s idolatry, dressed up and “avant-garded,” is today’s ideology.

In other words, Allah (swt) does not have to overstate the self-evident by telling us that idols (and ideologies) do not possess the faculties of human beings; we already know that. Doing so would be an insult to the intelligence He graciously endowed us with. Rather, His metaphor is alluding to the persistent reality that these eyes, ears, hands, and feet are the very institutions, departments, agencies, ministries, think tanks, focus groups, intelligence apparatus, corporations, and militaries of governments — the instruments of shirk — that transform ideological kufr into structural Zulm.

Nothing represents this better than the transformation, rather distillation, of ideological materialism or institutional capitalism into the cult of the billionaire. Today, billionaires have become the ministers, presidents, and prime ministers of the power governments in the world, not the least of which are Washington, Tel Aviv, and Riyadh. One ought to expect that in a capitalist, materialist, secular world, those who possess the most end up becoming the gods.

What?! Nobody worships these guys. Look again. Ordinary people for at least the last two decades are being socialized to look to billionaires for guidance; public rationalizations, no doubt funded by the billionaires themselves through think tanks and university endowments, popularize the notion that having made all this money (or in the parlance “creating all this wealth”), they must have done something right. And so now, billionaires’ views on important social issues are actively solicited.

The “most powerful” man in the “most powerful” city of the “most powerful” country in the world and in history, now the president of the United States, accumulated his fortune through shady real estate deals with developers and elected officials bribed to look the other way, tax evasion, and misappropriation of funds. Demonstrating himself to be a misogynist, narcissist, racist, Zionist, and corporate lobbyist, he now decides policy on the strength of watching Fox News and cable television for at least five hours a day, if not more. Elected by the people and for the people, “the people” who got a windfall benefit from his tax cuts are his best bud billionaire pals. And for all his crowing about a bustling economy, his debt financed recovery is now petering to a halt two years into his term of office, and no amount of blaming, caterwauling, and gaslighting is going to put Humpty Trumpy’s economy back together again.

The head of the largest computer and cell-phone manufacturing company (Apple) sees a windfall opportunity over the next half century in revamping the delivery of public education, especially in the underdeveloped world, through educational software and hardware tools, and thus it feels compelled to offer its views on the larger issue of institutional education — and the unfortunate part of this is that because of the reverence of the billionaire that has been carefully cultivated and groomed by PR firms, Hollywood, and others, ordinary people will listen. The head of the largest online retailer in the world (Amazon) feels he can offer cogent advice on the living wage just because he employs tens of thousands of laborers, many of whom until recently were only being paid subsistence wages. He only changed course when the practice was discovered and the internal cost-benefit analysis revealed that the diminution of profits from the public hue and cry would be greater than if he did nothing. The head of the most prolific social media platform (Facebook) thinks he has something valuable to say about privacy, online security, and censorship, especially after the platform was hacked in the last election cycle — a practice US intelligence had been employing by these and other means for at least a century to overthrow representative governments in other, primarily emerging and developing, countries.

The head of the largest producer of GMO crops and pesticide-du-jour (glyphosate or Round-Up) — Monsanto (recently acquired by German health and agricultural company Bayer in a $66 billion merger), also called MonSatan by environmental activists — through its network of ownership relationships with various news organizations (that is, shares in their companies), can justify the production and yield benefits of its pesticides/herbicides, as well as the health benefits of its GMO seeds and crops. Monsanto just lost a $289 million class-action lawsuit for covering up its own research that its pesticide Round-Up is carcinogenic. More lawsuits are to follow, however the cancer “industry” (now around $170 billion/year) is not expected to be dented in the least. Today, cancer victims are nothing more than an unlimited supply of customers for an unresponsive and disease-management-oriented medical, food packaging, and agribusiness conglomerate. The latter is not interested in disease going away (more doctors are now being supported by cancer than there are new cancer victims every year) because that would mean billions in profits down the drain. And so their products and services must be presented to the public as beneficial and necessary for a population expansion that cannot be supported by other means.

What gets lost in the murkiness of the legal back and forth is the fact that public education, wages, privacy and security, genetic modification, in addition to many other issues, are all to be tackled by deliberative assemblies — parliaments, congresses, caucuses, majlises, etc. They are not to be left to the purview of those whose views are overwhelmed by notions of market dominance and financial priorities. Regardless of how expansive one’s view of the big picture may be, whether he is an individual or a company, it cannot substitute for the pieces of the big picture that are brought to the table of discussion by many and varied experts and ordinary civic-minded people — the so-called representatives of the masses that are supposed to populate deliberative institutions. They are required to weigh the social and moral implications of technologies, services, and policies before they become laws for people to abide by. But because most of these congresses and parliaments are to be found buried deep in the pockets of the billionaires who are the gods of materialism and consumerism (through bribes disguised as campaign contributions), what has emerged and substituted for the objective, non-aligned, impartial, and unleveragable representatives of the people are the coteries of lawyers, accountants, academics, resident scholars, and subject “experts” the billionaires carry in tow.

The commitment to Allah (swt) is what brings his guidance to the table, and the associated responsibilities that ensue upon the devoted,

And if We are determined to destroy a social order, We render its luxury class [or capital class] its rulers; and then they spread disintegration all over [that social order], [so that] the sentence [of doom] passed on the community takes effect, and We break it to smithereens (17:16).

Today, per this ayah, we have a human habitat that is literally vanishing: the home base of the dominant power culture is being pelted by evermore destructive hurricanes to the east and cataclysmic fires to the west. And why? Because the largely unprincipled wealthy are the ones who wield the power and make the decisions. With the Muslims absent from the environmental issue — not to mention the ravages of wars of aggression, debt slavery, and a whole host of other oppressions — on one side there are those who deny climate change altogether, and on the other extreme there are those who use environmental catastrophe as an excuse for totalitarianism. If the Muslims are not around to provide a divine reference point, can the capitalists, nationalists, secularists, Zionists, and imperialists be counted on to do so?

Corruption has appeared on land and in the sea as an outcome of what men’s hands have wrought: and so He will let them taste [the evil of] some of their doings, so that they might return [to the right path] (30:41).

Let it be said with full confidence and a sense of appreciation and gratitude that no one demonstrated how to transform commitment into responsibility and accountability through the principled exercise of power better than Muhammad (pbuh). Muhammad did not have billions, but nonetheless he enriched all humanity — past, present, and, future — with the most priceless things of all: truth, justice, and mercy. Muhammad did not control armies and weapons of mass destruction, but nonetheless he had the power to liberate empires. Both Muhammad and the Qur’an he delivered to humanity are accessible, but we Muslims are letting his legacy wither on the vine as our ignorance and infidelity to his Sunnah and His guidance are exhibiting daily as sectarian violence and an uncritical attachment to anything and everything that will not help us or the world at large,

With all this, [remember that] those who are bent on denying the truth [of Allah’s power presence] are allies of one another; and unless you act likewise [among yourselves], a grand sedition will reign on earth, and great corruption (8:73).

To deny that a grand corruption has overtaken the earth, in all aspects of public and personal life, is to bury our heads in the sand, as many of us, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, have done. This must mean that we Muslims are not patrons, supporters, and confidants of one another. In no place are Sunnis and Shi‘is acting as guardians and protectors of one another. Corruption becomes the light when the agents of Islam recede into the shadows. And when such corruption has expanded to a global magnitude, one or two countries committed to Allah’s cause are not going to be able to reverse it. Worldwide corruption entails a worldwide movement of brotherhood in which there is no adverse judgement of one over the “other,” and the words of Muhammad (pbuh) show the way,

All of you are from Adam, and Adam was from dust. [Hence] there is no preference for an Arab over a non-Arab, or for a non-Arab over an Arab; or for a white man over a black man, or for a black man over a white man except [in the degree to which] one protects himself from Allah’s corrective justice and [the proliferation of] associated good works.

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