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This Past Week at The Usuli Institute (18 - 24 February 2022)
Original English Commentary
Project Illumine
What Legacy Have You Left Behind and the Philosophy of Shirazi
The Meaning of Amanat (Trust) and Rights Due to Others
Bearing Witness and
Lessons From Karbala
KHUTBAH: The Hardest Tests of Apathy, Consuming and Being Consumed, and Not Giving Up
18 February 2022 (Summary Below)
Grace's Message

Al salamu alaykum dear Friends,

I pray that you are safe, healthy, and staying engaged despite these very dark times for humanity. Let us pray for peace and better times ahead insha'Allah. Today is one of those days, as we watch the news of Russia invading Ukraine - one more horrific act of evil against humanity among the many others ongoing - that it is hard not to want to withdraw into somber silence. I must admit that I am at a loss, and pray that God will give us all the strength to reflect, regroup, and reemerge, hopefully ready to bring some light to cut through the darkness. 

In that spirit, let me first share some light from this past weekend: here is the link to the amazing talk between Dr. Abou El Fadl and Azeezah Kanji, the Director of Programming at the Noor Cultural Centre in Toronto, Canada, that took place this past Sunday. 

“What Islam Looks Like in Public”: Islamic Ethics and Social Justice

Azeezah and Dr. Abou El Fadl are always fabulous in conversation, and if you want more, once again, here is their previous conversation entitled "Reading the Qur'an in Our Times," which took place at the beginning of our Project Illumine journey. 

Another area of darkness that needs serious light: get ready for our upcoming virtual event on Dispelling Myths on Sexual and Spiritual Abuse from an Islamic Perspective, A Q&A with Shaykh Khaled Abou El Fadl, set for Sunday, March 20th at 4 pm EST.
The second event is on the topic of sexual and spiritual abuse at the hands of religious authority. It has become clear that this is a serious and pervasive problem in our community that does not often get addressed because of the sensitive and taboo nature of the topic, which thrives in darkness and silence at the expense of victims. There is a lot of confusion surrounding the Islamic obligations of the community, those in positions of leadership, brother to brother, sister to sister and every other complex relationship in between. We thought it would be extremely valuable to hold a curated Q&A with Shaykh Abou El Fadl to elevate our collective understanding on some of the most commonly held misconceptions and frequently asked questions about our role and responsibilities as ethical Muslims. You may recall that Dr. Abou El Fadl spoke candidly and powerfully about these issues in two previous khutbahs entitled, "The Unspoken Truth (Haqq) About Sexual Abuse and the Rights of Victims," and "What Occupies Your Heart? And More On Wolves in Shaykhs' Clothing." 

I am excited for our continuation of Surah Al Nisa' (Day 6) tomorrow night at 6 pm ET insha'Allah! If you don't have time to dig in to the full halaqa, take the time to listen to the powerhouse excerpts that give you a good flavor of what we have been covering. They are gold!

Please keep all of us in your prayers as we continue on our mission to complete and publish this entire Project Illumine tafsir in book form! May God keep you safe and protected and on the most beautiful path always! Wishing you a blessed weekend and hope to see you online soon insha'Allah!

In Peace and Hope,

Grace Song
Executive Director
The Usuli Institute



Find the links to articles and references mentioned in Usuli khutbahs and more!

Great independent news sources for an alternative to corporate funded media:
CJ Werleman's Patreon Page (includes Pepe Escobar, Sharmine Narwani) Matt Taibbi, a very seasoned journalist (Rolling Stone Magazine), publishes on a variety of topics. an independent media outlet promoted by Chris Hedges.

If you have other independent news outlets that you recommend, let me know and we can add them to our reference list!


The Usuli Institute SoundCloud Channel

Playlist: Project Illumine: The Light of the Quran

And please support our hard work to publish this entire Project Illumine tafsir in a multi-volume work! May God bless and elevate you for investing in knowledge and understanding God's Blessed Qur'an!

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See you online soon insha'Allah! :)

Khutbah Summary Description
Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl, Founder of The Usuli Institute and
Distinguished Professor of Law, UCLA School of Law
18 February 2022

The biggest challenge in a khutbah is to attempt to achieve relevance. This challenge of being relevant is all the more so when you speak across generations, when you remember that khutbah needs to not just be relevant to Muslims who are in many respects, just like you, but to be able to reach out to Muslims that could be very much different in their own right. Think, what can a generation say to another generation? One generation who has gone through the stages of life, who has started to enter the waning years of existence, who has most of their opportunities and choices in life past them, not ahead of them. As this generation prepares, and hopefully takes very seriously, the idea of exiting the stage, what can this generation say to those who have, at least presumptively, most of their life still ahead of them? Many opportunities still ahead of them, many choices still ahead of them.

Not just as a teacher, but as a father. The challenge of the words that we utter, the words that we write, the words that we exchange, the words that we even tell ourselves, we live by, existence is but a word. Willpower is a word. Choice is a word. The challenge of the word, the burden of the word, as a teacher and as a father, is all the more so in these khutbahs where circumstances end up meaning that my younger son is among the audience in the congregation. When this happens and my younger son is in the audience, I always pause and think very carefully about what I can possibly say that is relevant to his life? What is relevant to his life is also relevant to the lives of so many similarly situated Muslims. 

It is not just a generational gap, but there are numerous cultural gaps, psychological gaps, gaps that are dictated by the reality of disruption among generations. Because for so many Muslims, life deals them the type of exigent and exceptional circumstance where they confront challenges of displacement, relocation, migration, or disposition where they are displaced from their homelands. The challenges of struggling for acceptability, for assimilation, for some type of adaptation to their circumstance. We have generations that have experienced a deep sense of disruption in their life, disruptions that they had to cope with and, to the best of their ability, overcome. But with the generation of Muslims that are born and grow up in the United States,  their life experiences often are so fundamentally different.

Their biggest challenge is often the challenge of empathy for those who suffer disruption. The ability to understand suffering and empathize with those who suffer is very different for a generation that is born in the United States and for whom, for the most part, the suffering of others remains a theoretical construct. It is not that they do not witness suffering, but they see suffering of a very different kind. They see the suffering that is induced by the anxiety of the loss of purpose, the restlessness and the anxiety of asking yourself, “What is the point? Why am I in this world?” The anxiety of asking yourself, “How can I possibly make a difference?” Learning that so many parts of the world are not like them.

In so many parts of the world, human beings do not have the opportunities that we have as American born, American raised individuals, but yet it remains theoretical. Their challenge is quite often the challenge of nihilism, to put it simply. The challenge of the gravitational pull of apathy. Their challenge is the challenge of being born in a highly commodified world. They do not realize this because it is not taught in their schools. It is not taught in shows they watch. It is not taught in the games they purchase. It is not taught anywhere, but their challenge is the challenge that they are born in the world of a dominant civilization. The world of a supremacist, deeply racist civilization.

What this concretely means is that they are born into a world which engages them, not as moral agents, not encouraging in them a sense of wisdom, not encouraging in them a sense of morality. A world that encourages commodification in them. A world that engages them primarily as consumers. A world that is interested in them to the extent that they can purchase commodities. The challenge of that generation is that they are born in a society that commodifies them.

As I said, this is not something taught in school. This is not something that is part of the consciousness, but the way the decks are stacked is that the world that they are born into is interested in them nearly exclusively as consumers, but also commodifies them. It is not just that this world is interested in the value they place on other things that they can purchase, but they themselves become a mere statistic in the institutions of power that looks at them largely in terms of a commodity.

What is your purchasing power, what is your value as a potential commodity that is bought and sold, you yourself? Think of the way that we deal with generations and talk to them about their careers. About their hireability, their potential in the market, how much a system is willing to pay them. What is normalized to them is that they fit within a system that puts a dollar amount on everything that they are and deals with them throughout stages of life, largely in terms of what they can produce in terms of bottom line profits.

Between the dualities of being a consumer and being consumed, these generations have never experienced disruption, displacement, or the trauma of outward, explicit barbaric ugliness. This generation experiences a different type of barbarism, a different type of ugliness. It is an ugliness that is far more insular and discrete, but still very lethal. That ugliness is the ugliness of commodification because, between being a consumer and being consumed, no one is interested in the emotional substance. No one talks to these people about wisdom, inherited knowledge, philosophy, or about ultimate truth and falsehood. They grow up being taught by the system to not even believe in the possibility of justice.

For the system to work, it needs generations of people that truly believe in their own powerlessness. The system raises our children to give up. It teaches them to give up. It teaches them that the realities that surrounds them is so overwhelming that it is not just unwise, but even naive, uncool and a bit idiotic to actually believe that one can make a difference. The system itself, all the discreet hidden methods of indoctrination, tells them you either fall in line or you are out of luck. You assign value to things that you consume and in turn, you will be assigned a value by those who consume you. So even though our kids grow up wanting to be independent, wanting to be cool, wanting to be human, it is a natural impulse that they intuitively know that they are not just animals. Intuitively their insight tells them, “I should matter. My existence in this world should matter,” but everything that surrounds them tells them, "You matter only to the extent that you can assign a profit to something and consume it or that you are assigned a value so that you are consumed."

So much of what ends up being part of our constructed reality, constructed systems of knowledge, constructed psychological systems–what forms and shapes a human psychology–is designed to tell our sons and daughters, "Resistance is futile." It is very much like when the state sends a police force or a military force to apprehend what the system calls a deviant. The first, basic message you want to communicate is that resistance is futile. "Do not resist, there is no point. If you resist, you are insane." This is precisely why we do not foster a humanitarian spirit in this generation of asking the deeper questions. How can this existence be with all its fantastic complexity and multi-layered beauty? How can it be without a creator? What does this creator want from us? What does it mean to exist? What does it mean to have a relationship with your creator? What does it mean to be an agent of beauty? What does it mean to have empathy for the other? What does it mean to live with the reality that people just like you do not have the opportunities that you have, that people just like you suffer enormously? What are your moral obligations? What should you do about things? 

Many generations of immigrants think that what they have gone through is truly the hard test. They immigrated, left their homelands, left their loved ones, struggled to get ahead, struggled to make life for themselves to adapt. But the unfortunate reality is the challenge our children confront: the challenge of the system that dehumanizes them. The system that teaches them to give up, to be apathetic because there is no point to resist.

That challenge is much harder and much more lethal. Comfort in itself is one of the toughest, most lethal tests of all. Existence in privilege is its own toxic challenge. What do you say to your child? How do you convince your child to take his life or her life seriously? How do you convince them to think deeply about the way that they consume and the way that they are consumed? How do you communicate to them that it is insane not to believe in a creator, that it is insane to think that this universe just is the result of happenstance, that it is insane not to ask the question, “What does my creator want from me?”

It is insane to ignore the truth of death and to not think about what is going to happen after we die. It is insane to know of so many people who have died and to know that your turn will come and still not ask the question, “What will happen when it is my turn?” How do you communicate to your son or your daughter that it is thoroughly uncool to live a life where you are commodified, where you are just a consumer and, in turn, a commodity to be consumed? That for all the displays of coolness and being on top of things, the system gives our kids their sense of fashion, their sense of need, their sense of their impulse towards what they covet and what they desire. All of that is given to them. It is not innate. All of that are systems of indoctrination and all of it is designed to turn them into consumers and commodities.

If you were to look at pictures of what young people post on social media and reflect on what you saw deeply enough, you would notice that the poses that people take communicates, "I am a commodity." It is not uncommon that a girl complains about being sexually harassed, but when she poses herself on her social media, she is commodifying herself. She is appealing to nothing more than the animalistic sexual desire that is embedded in people. But you cannot blame her, she grew up in a world in which people post with the logic, “Look at the dish I am eating. Look at my fingernails, look at what I got, what I bought, what I spent money on.” Everyone does it. So the only way she is going to get positive reinforcement and the only way she is going to get likes is to pose herself, to commodify herself. How do you reach through to this generation and tell them, “You deserve better than that. And do not believe the lie that resistance is futile. Do not believe that it is what it is and it shall be what it is forever.” That they, in fact, matter, but they do not matter as a commodity or as a consumer. 

You matter as a thoroughly powerful, holistic, moral agent exercising moral choices. The Qur’an tells us about a very wise man known as Luqman, and when he sits and speaks to his child, Luqman starts out with precisely what you wish you could communicate to your own child. That denying your maker is a great injustice, and it is not just a great injustice towards your maker, it is a great injustice towards yourself because then, the path is clear towards human beings consuming one another, just like animals do in a forest. It is, but for God, barbarism without restraint. 

Why does Luqman tell his son, "Denying your creator, failing to understand what your creator wants from you is a great injustice because then, my son, you will live a heedless life.” You are at risk of living a life where you have consumed a lot and, in turn, you have been consumed a lot. Other people have consumed you, although you do not know. At the end of it, you come to a point and none of it makes sense.

“All the things in life that you consumed did not stay with you. All the people that you have spent money with, became friends with and spent money with, had fun with are in and out of your life, but for the most part out of your life. All the women you have crushes on grow old and lose their beauty. And you, after having consumed a lot and being consumed a lot, you end up at that junction in life where you say none of it made sense and none of it is going to make sense.

Where am I going? What is the point of any of this? I have consumed so much I am now bored. I have been consumed so often that I no longer know what I am about. Who am I? What am I truly about? How do you tell your child that, rest assured, this will come. It is not “if,” it is only a matter of “when,” and when that comes, the only thing that can save you is your relationship with your creator. Because the only one that can really answer these questions, the only one that can give you the confidence to defy the system and say, "No, I do not care what they tell me. I can make a difference because my God tells me, 'It is not up to them, it is up to God.' I have the greatest and the most powerful ally and that is God, so my life can have a meaning. My life is not just about commodities.” How do you communicate any of that? How do you communicate all of that?

“I will listen to a company that tells me, ‘This is a fashion that you need. This is makeup that you need. This is something you need to do with your nails, something you need to do with your hair,’ but I will not listen to my uncool parents or uncool anything that has wisdom.” I truly feel sorry for our children, because the test that they confront is so difficult. I have said it before many times, but pain is a great educator. So many parents were lucky enough to be blessed with real pain in their lives and that pain sobered them up, woke them up, told them what is what. When pain becomes a part of our children’s reality, it is often too late. They experience pain when they become drug addicts. When they become alcoholics, when they are trafficked. They experience pain when they go through trauma that is truly difficult to recover from.

Wisdom could have saved them from that. Faith could have saved them from that. We need to think very seriously about the plight of our children, the children of Muslim families, and human families everywhere. We should think very carefully about how we communicate with them so that they can see that we are not here to just simply judge them, that we truly want to be an agent towards their guidance. We sit not as judges, but as resources and as hopefully, venues for wisdom. 

Just before the khutbah, I became aware of the report that just came out. The World Bank, through its organ, the International Finance Corporation, the IFC, has been funding and continues to fund Chinese companies that are directly involved in the genocide against Muslims. These companies make products by using labor from the concentration camps of China. These workers, who are Muslim, are forced to work in these companies. They are enslaved labor -  slaves - and yet the World Bank for years has been doing business with these companies, supporting them financially. The economic cycle goes on and human beings just like you and me - their only fault being that they were born Muslim in China - are consumed and discarded.

At the same time we all know that years ago, the United States illegally invaded Afghanistan. The invasion and occupation of Afghanistan was against international law, leave alone against moral law. In Afghanistan, we have murdered, bombed and obliterated. For 20 years, we have slaughtered without even the least degree of accountability for who we slaughtered. Not only that, but we created black sites where we arrested and tortured people in Afghanistan. We also used private military contractors to kill, rape and pillage without accountability in Afghanistan.

Not only that, but we have created an extremely corrupt government that abused the Afghan people for 20 years and when we finally withdrew from Afghanistan, we found that there is a great inequity in our world. The entire system of trade in the world is largely done through U.S dollars. The United States as a world power does everything in its ability to make sure that when people buy and sell products, it is all done through the American dollar. What that means is that for so many countries in the world, when they deposit money in their central banking system, they do so in U.S dollars.

Afghanistan had a reserve.The government of Afghanistan through the Afghan central banking system had a modest amount of savings, about $4 billion. For us, $4 billion is nothing. We spend more on bombs that we explode and kill people with all over the Muslim world that are worth more than that. But for Afghanistan, these four billion dollars is the difference between life and death. So, although this is not our money, as an occupying force in Afghanistan, we insisted on controlling and having the final word on what happens with this money illegally. Immorally, of course. Why? Because we wanted to pay off our cronies in Afghanistan - people who agreed to cooperate with us. We wanted to make sure that they get money and the people who opposed us, we wanted to make sure that they do not get money.

But now that the U.S has withdrawn from Afghanistan, the Biden administration has decided to confiscate and seize Afghan money. A heading in the Intercept reads, "Biden's decision on frozen Afghan money is tantamount to mass murder." What that means in concrete, real terms, is that all Afghans who had money deposited in the central bank in Afghanistan have lost their money. So if you worked for 20 years saving up your salary to have savings for the future or to send your kids to college, it is gone because Uncle Sam has decided to confiscate this money. You thought you had a couple thousand dollars saved in the bank? America has taken it. Tough luck.

That means that governmental workers, teachers and doctors go without pay checks because the Afghan government does not have money to pay them. That means that for people who want to import food or medicine, there is no hard currency to import this food and medicine. There are no dollars because the Biden administration has confiscated the money that belongs to Afghanistan. What that means in real terms is that thousands upon thousands of Afghans will starve to death, or will die of disease and malnutrition. What that means is the explosion of criminality all over Afghanistan. When people get desperate, what are they going to do? They are going to sell drugs. Does the United States know that? Of course the United States knows that. Does the United States want to encourage the creation of a major drug industry? The Taliban were committed to the anti-drug movement. Does the United States want to make sure that the Taliban becomes drug producers and merchants? What interests are being served?

When we make sure that Afghanistan does not have an opportunity to rebuild after 20 years of occupation, violence and corruption, Afghanistan becomes a harbor, a central point for the planting and selling of drugs. We have made sure of that because we took away their money and in turn, we are ensuring that thousands of civilians die and starve to death. The Biden Administration just sold a huge arms shipment to Saudi Arabia so that they could continue slaughtering Yemenis.

The United Nations has warned very recently, again, that funds to help feed Yemeni children have run out and now 8 million Yemenis confront starvation. Why are we such an immoral force in the world? Why is it that when it comes to the perishing of 8 million Yemenis, 10 million Afghans, millions of Uyghur Muslims, we do not care? Why is it that our former president told the Chinese president to go ahead and build concentration camps for Muslims? 

This is the biggest trick of all to teach our children, Muslim children, "Ah come on, your parents are into this Muslim stuff. You are just American, that is not really your problem. Yemenis are dying, Afghans are dying, Chinese Muslims are dying. Your problem is to go to Hajj, to go to Umrah, to do prayer, to fast in Ramadan. Your problem is ritualistic, but even better to tell them you are just American."

If you cannot just convince them they are just American, just like white kids, then at least convince them that their Islam is served through rituals and nothing else. How do you convince a generation that has no experience, that things, like the concentration camps in China, like the world bank doing business with companies that are complicit in the concentration camps in China, do not just happen? It happens because people make the decisions that make it happen. How do you convince this generation that it should be their business and that they can make the difference?

If there were moral human beings in influential positions in the World Bank, perhaps the World Bank would not be funding a genocide against Muslims in China. Perhaps if we had greater leverage over the White House, perhaps if there were more Muslims in Congress that could pass a law that would prohibit the president from stealing the money of Afghanistan and mass murdering Afghan people, we could make a difference. Perhaps, if we had more Muslims who were artists, writers and singers, Muslims that can influence public opinion, that can make movies and documentaries, that can create art that communicates the message that to be immoral is wrong, to slaughter people is wrong, and to be complicit in starving people is wrong.

This is the biggest trick. They teach our children, "Resistance is futile. It is useless. You cannot make a difference, so do not even try. It is what it is. You will live and die without meaning." But it is human beings who created these institutions of ugliness. It is human beings who decide to commit crimes and who carry out crimes. And it is human beings that can make the principal decision to stop them. We always learn about the genocides committed, but we never learn about the genocides averted and for every genocide that has been averted, you will find moral human beings who played the critical role in averting that genocide.

Dalia's Corner

The news over the last week, and particularly the last 24 hours, has been filled with the topic of Russia, Ukraine, and the potential ramifications of the actions taken by Putin. And as we have seen, much of the world - whether civilians or political leaders - has been largely outspoken about how they do not support the actions of Russian forces. We have even seen protests against Russian military actions in Russia itself, even though protesting of that sort in Russia is very dangerous to do. Watching these protestors speak out against the actions of a dictator, not caring for their own safety but rather caring for what is right, got me thinking about the blatant lack of this type of morality with many Muslims when it comes to our own dictators.

Instead, some Muslims believe that "obedience is a religious obligation;" that if you are faced with a dictator, it is God's will that you obey him. Dr. Abou El Fadl delves into this logic, including if this position is still considered valid when it comes to an invasion or coup, in the clip from a Usuli Institute Khutbah below. While not specific to the situation going on currently, I could not help but see parallels between the situation in Ukraine and those described by Dr. Abou El Fadl in this khutbah. And with seeing these parallels, I cannot help but wonder, what would those who believe that obedience is a religious obligation say about the situation unfolding now?

Stay safe,
When obedience becomes a religious obligation
From the khutbah "On Democracy, Voting and Defending Dictators," Usuli Institute Khutbah, 4 September 2020


Between live-streamed weekly khutbahs, original English language Quranic commentary (tafsir) halaqas twice per week during the Project Illumine: Light of the Quran series, and a wealth of other free educational resources on our multimedia platforms, The Usuli Institute produces critical knowledge for Muslims to navigate the challenges of our world while anchored in the timeless moral and ethical virtues of our rich, nuanced and beautiful faith tradition.
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Read what two attendees have to say about Project Illumine: 

“As a non-Arabic speaker, I have struggled with feeling excluded from understanding the full meaning of the Qur’an, because I have been told that it is a text that requires personal proficiency in Arabic. And the English translation only got me so far, so I never imagined I would have the opportunity to finally grasp the meaning and linguistic nuances of the teachings in the Holy Book. Project Illumine, with Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl’s in-depth teachings has not only made learning the Qur’an accessible, but also provided me with a safe learning space where there are no prerequisites to receiving knowledge.”

- Marwa B.

"For too long, our communities have experienced a disconnect with the Qur'an that has manifested in inadequate responses to injustice, and even a mischaracterization of the Islamic tradition to justify ugly acts of misogyny, tribalism, and racism.  But, less than one year in and the tafsir presented in Project Illumine has taught us the centrality of challenging the status quo, seeking the truth at all costs, and prioritizing principles over optics. I truly believe that, if properly internalized by Muslims, these lessons and more taught by Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl will allow me to reclaim the Islamic message of ethics, morals and beauty in every action!"

- Rameen J.


Almost sixty surahs have already been adopted, and you can adopt your favorite one! To check the latest status on adopted and available surahs, click here.

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We have covered seventy out of one hundred fourteen surahs though Project Illumine! For Quick Links to all of the surahs and halaqas we have presented at Usuli, click here.

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