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This Past Week at The Usuli Institute (25 Feb - 3 Mar 2022)
Original English Commentary
Project Illumine
Reflecting on Reactions to the Invasion of Ukraine vs the Annexation of Jerusalem
KHUTBAH: The Plight of the Individual and the Sunnah of the Maker (Summary Below) 2.25.22
On Deep Reflection (tadabur)
of the Qur'an
Grace's Message

Dear Friends,

Greetings of Peace, especially in these times of war. I pray that you are safe, healthy, and well. It has been a very difficult week, watching the news of Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the catastrophic devastation of war. Further, it is heart-wrenching to know that yet another war has turned at least another million human beings into refugees. But I must admit, watching the news has become a bitterly painful experience when I see the outpouring of love, empathy and compassion - rightfully so - for the Ukrainians in our media and from fellow humans, juxtaposed against the stone cold, heartless and soulless treatment afforded Muslim refugees and victims around the world from the same. This morning brings news of countless people who are heroically volunteering to travel thousands of miles to Ukraine to join the fight simply to defend against injustice. It is hard to fathom that humans can be at once so beautifully selfless and ready to sacrifice for some human beings, while not thinking twice about the same plight of other human beings in a different part of the world. The racism, bigotry and hypocrisy screams loud and clear, but few want to pay attention.

The pain cuts even deeper when you compare the overall human reaction to Ukraine compared to the Muslim reaction to what is happening in Jerusalem. Dr. Abou El Fadl articulates this powerful in this week's latest Usuli Excerpt: "Reflecting on Reactions to the Invasion of Ukraine vs the Annexation of Jerusalem."

My only hope is that if and when the situation improves, that perhaps those who have found themselves forced into the shoes of refugees will find their eyes and hearts open to the longstanding plight of other human beings who have been refugees for so long that they no longer even have shoes. Perhaps from that forced experience will emerge an empathy that could lead to change and betterment for the human refugees that have been neglected for so long. One can only hope and pray for that kind of silver lining for humanity, insha'Allah.

As we have learned in the Project Illumine halaqas, tests, trials and even devastation are an opportunity for learning, growth and drawing closer to God. In that spirit, I draw your attention to the upcoming virtual event: Sexual and Spiritual Abuse: Dispelling Myths from an Islamic Perspective, Q&A with Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl, set for Sunday, March 20th at 4 pm EST. 

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." 
Please join us for what promises to be a powerful and transparent conversation as you can imagine and have come to expect from Shaykh Abou El Fadl. 

Lastly, I would like to call your attention to the wonderful excerpt from last week's halaqa, Day 6 of Sura al Nisa', where Dr. Abou El Fadl talks about tadabur, deep reflection that is called for in the Qur'an. If you haven't had time to watch any of the Project Illumine halaqas, I hope you can take the time to take in these short excerpts, which are beautiful gold nuggets of knowledge that can boost your spirit. This one in particular underscores what is so special about our Qu'ran, which is like no other.

Please join us online! I am excited for the khutbah today - every week, Dr. Abou El Fadl's khutbahs just get better and better - and for our continuation of Surah Al Nisa' (Day 7) tomorrow night at 6 pm ET insha'Allah! 

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!


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

Often as major world events unfold, the simple reality is that as these events unfold and we witness human beings engaged in minor and major challenges, for a Muslim, what ought to be the reality is the constant, persistent voice of the Qur'an reminding, alerting and provoking. The voice of the Qur'an is the very agency of God in our living reality.

Look at the simple challenge. In Surah Al Shams, when God reminds us of the nafs [soul/spirit] that God has created, and of the reality of fujoor and taqwa. “Taqwa” is not just to refrain from sin, taqwa is to be God conscious in all of your affairs. Taqwa is to internalize the reality that you are created, not as an agent of yourself, but as an agent by your Maker, for your Maker. Taqwa is to understand that self, yourself, is not yours. The force of your thoughts are not yours. You are not free to serve the demonic with your thinking, but you are also not free to serve yourself with your thinking.

Taqwa is to realize that the intellect that God has given us is to be used to fulfill the objectives of the divine on God's earth. Not only your intellect, your ideas and your thought, but even your heart. Taqwa, as the Prophet time and again taught, is for your hawa [whim] to become consistent with God's will; for what you perceive yourself to be entitled to, your perception of what you deserve or what is justly yours, to be consistent with godliness, not selfishness.

As God reminds us in the simple, straightforward words, for the material effect of taqwa, this taqwa has to have a tangible reality, and that tangible reality is to purify the self, to emerge with the self from a state of dasisa. Dasisa is everything that is lowly, self-centered, selfish, treacherous, untrue. God challenges us by telling us, "I have given you the self. What are you going to do with it? Are you going to rise to the challenge of the real sense of taqwa - purifying the self - or are you going to debase it by relegating it to everything that is ungodly?"

You wish to understand the godly? I could tell you that God is beautiful, but sadly for modern Muslims, it seems like they cannot comprehend an abstract concept like beauty. It seems like it does not resonate within them. So let me tell you a truth about your God. God did not labor us with the obligation to understand God, because God is giving, giving to the extreme. To put it in simple human terms, nothing God has taught us, has revealed to us, or has created is for the benefit of God's self. God did not even say, "Occupy yourself with understanding me," God said, "Occupy yourself with using what I have given you justly and fairly."

The most basic thing about purifying the self, about being a godly human being, is to live beyond the self, to imitate your Lord, to live in the sunna of your Lord, to live and give, just like your Lord. Imagine if our lives as Muslims were not about, “Look at me, understand me, feel me. Me, me, me. Do you appreciate me? Do you like me?” Imagine if our lives as Muslims were actually according to the sunna of your Maker. “I give. I exist because this world is not the goal, it is not the ultimate, and because nothing I own is mine. The intellect, the self and the emotions are all God's, and I use them to honor what God has given so that I use what God has given justly and fairly.” What a different ummah we would be.

Imagine a human being who is dasas. A human being who is dasas is a human being who lives life to talk about people. All they live for is, “Who did this? Who said that? How did this person affect me, make me feel? What can I do? What have I done?” Stories upon stories, what we call gossip. A lowly human being. A human being hardly with a vestige of divinity. A human being for which the light of divinity within has dissipated and disappeared. They live for nothing but their own career. They live for nothing but, “How am I going to look? How do I look? What do people think of me? What do people say about me? How do people treat me? Me, me, me.” Not a glimmer of divinity in the dasas - in the abasement of the self - because they do not imitate, replicate or in any way honor what the divine is within.

Our ummah is challenged, but the longer I remain on this earth, the more I realize that it is not the fancy theoretical constructs I have read in books. It is not the flowery and eloquent language, conceptualizations, categorizations, distinctions, qualifications and supra qualifications  on the qualifications of intellectuals. The longer I remain on this earth, the more the glamour of all of that seems to fade away, the more that I realize the plight of our ummah is really the individual.

We are a selfish people. We are raised to be a selfish people. We are a people that rarely live beyond ourselves. We are born as if breast-fed the milk of hypocrisy. We are born to talk about God, piety, and being a good Muslim, but we insult God in every minute of every day in our life. We insult God because we construct God as if God really cares about whether we correctly perform this or correctly perform that, about whether we rush through five prayers a day while our mind is somewhere else.

We do not understand our God. We do not understand our Qur'an. We do not care to understand our God, and we do not care to understand our Qur'an. For whatever reason, every individual Muslim seems to think that they are God's gift to the universe, that the world starts and ends with their emotions, but in reality, they live and die making very little difference in the world they lived in.

The more I remain on the face of this earth, I realize that the plight of the Muslim starts and ends with each individual Muslim. There is a deep flaw in the way we understand our religion. We take from our religion what boosts our egos, what makes us feel special or exceptional, but we leave out of our religion everything that is summed up with, “Do you purify or do you debase?” By the time you go to bed, are the sum total of your thoughts and feelings about serving God’s purposes, serving others, or about you - who made you feel happy, who disappointed you, who promoted you, who praised you, who served you?

It is not the grand theories, it is not the obfuscations and obscurities of academia. Fancy words often camouflage hypocritical hearts. The eloquence of scholars often camouflages a deep-seated hypocrisy, an ailment of the soul. Look at our ummah. Whatever we thought would work has not been working, and I will show you precisely how it has not been working.

The world witnesses a new war that breaks out in Europe. Russia invades Ukraine. There is so much that one could say, but I will focus on one thing. What struck me about this is the language that we hear from every side and angle about Ukrainian casualties, Ukrainian life, Ukrainian spirit. It is easy to tell just from the language being used that the people who are invaded and the people who are being dominated are white people, because with the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, no one spoke in lofty terms about how the Iraqi and Afghan people love their country, and that they will resist bravely and heroically.

The language that is being used about Ukraine justly and fairly describes how they are a heroic people who hate domination and who will fight for their freedom. But it is a very different language than that that is used about Yemenis, Iraqis, and Afghans. At the same time that we have this very much racialized reality going on, you gaze upon the face of our ummah, and what meets you?

I have mentioned before that Amnesty International came out with an important report. That report documented how Israel is an apartheid state, and of course, the White House completely ignored the report. Of course, the LA Times, the Washington Post, and the New York Times completely ignored the report. Not only that, but it becomes clear that these newspapers not only avoid the word “apartheid” in regards to Israel, but they even avoid the word “Palestine.”

How many Muslims will sit there and waste hours on social media, pontificating and spewing nonsense? How many Muslims will sit there and talk about their feelings day and night; what bothered them, what hurt them, and what irritated them? How many of these same Muslims have actually read the Amnesty International report or even really cared? How many Muslims know that just a day ago, Israel again killed Muhammad Shahada, a 13-year-old? Israel shot the child in the stomach and when he dropped to the ground, Israeli soldiers would not allow ambulances to reach the body for half an hour, until the child died. Israeli soldiers then abused the father who arrived on the scene. Of course, this is not the first or the second child to be shot by Israel in 2022. In 2021, Israel killed 78 Palestinian children in occupied territory. For all those Muslims who spend time yapping about their feelings, who irritated them, and who annoyed them, how much time have you spent thinking about these children in the apartheid state of Israel? How invested is your life about anything beyond yourself?

I am sure we all heard about how various states in India have banned the hijab. The school districts that instituted the hijab ban in India did so three months before the start of exams, effectively a complete disaster for Muslim women who are trying to get an education. They are forced to choose either to take off the hijab or to forego their dreams of being an educated Muslim woman. I have been following the reports, and it is not just that school districts are banning the hijab and denying Muslim women the right to an education, but even banks have started denying service to Muslim women wearing the hijab. Bank tellers are telling Muslim women, "You cannot withdraw money or do whatever business you have until you take off your hijab."

Alongside this, I have read a very disturbing story that Hindu extremists have started doing mock auctions on the killing and raping of Muslim women, as the clear signs of a threat of genocide escalate in India, as physical assaults rise against Muslims, plus the banning of hijab.

Before I get there, let us pause on the banning of hijab. How many will talk about how the Taliban, who cannot feed their people, have denied women the right to an education? Of course, it is disgusting that they would deny women the right to an education, but how many have talked about how it is similarly disgusting that Hindus are denying Muslim women the right to an education? Instead of being preoccupied with yourself, have you thought beyond the self? Have you even obligated the self to live the trauma of your fellow Muslim? If you cannot do anything else, can you even just share in their reality, their agony and their pain? Maybe you will  eventually get sick of feeling miserable and wake up to do something about it.

Recently, the U.S. Commission for Religious Freedom wanted to list India as a systematic abuser of the right to religious freedom, but the Biden administration rejected. The Biden administration refused to list India as a country that consistently and systematically denies Muslims their religious freedoms, although at this point it is undeniable. Congress is horrifically silent about the persecution of Muslims in India. The world is shockingly silent about how Muslim women are being denied the right to education. When the Taliban do it, it is a sign of how backwards Muslims are. But when the Hindus do it to Muslims, it causes no outrage.

Even when Muslim women attempted to protest the hijab bans, they were assaulted by Hindu nationalists. Hindus organized counter-demonstrations and attacked these Muslim women. Not only is the world silent, but even more than that, remember that before he came to power, the Prime Minister of India, Modi, was responsible for the murder of 2,000 Muslims. Just last week, 51 Muslims were killed by Hindu extremists and the world is silent. But since he has come to power, hundreds more Muslims have been killed, assaulted, beaten, as well as Muslim women raped.

Not only is the American government silent, but Saudi Arabia a few months ago signed an investment agreement with the Indian government to invest billions of dollars in occupied Kashmiri land that India has annexed. In fact, MBS snubbed the Pakistani president in an incident at an event that is quite well-known, and signed agreements with Modi's government to invest billions of dollars in annexed Kashmir. When asked about India's abysmal human rights record in Kashmir, the guardian of the two holy sites said, "That is an internal Indian matter."

But it does not stop there. India and the United Arab Emirates have signed a major investment pact in which over $100 billion are to be invested by the Emirates in India. Do you see how it works? How can non-Muslims stop racializing Muslims - stop devaluing Muslim life - if we do not even do that ourselves? Did you know that, recently, one of the biggest human rights issues is that human rights organizations are appealing and begging the Egyptian, Saudi and Emirati governments to stop turning in Uyghur Muslims to China? Even if they come to Saudi Arabia on Hajj or Umrah, they are turned over to the Chinese government.

We have a systematic, real problem. There is a figure who is quite well-known in the Muslim world, at least in the Arabic-speaking world, a fellow called Adnan Ibrahim. Adnan Ibrahim became very famous about 10 years ago because Adnan Ibrahim, like Hassan Farhan al Maliki, developed a sustained critique tracing the origins of despotic, autocratic, authoritarian thinking in the Muslim world. Like Hassan Farhan al Maliki, Adnan Ibrahim emerged on the scene talking about at what point in their history Muslims have learned to be so unethical.

Hassan Farhan al Maliki ended up in prison and continues to be in prison to this day. In 2018, Adnan Ibrahim shocked all his followers by suddenly praising in ridiculously lofty language MBS, the Saudi government, and the Emirati government. Fill in the blanks. First, the Saudi government gave him a TV program in Saudi Arabia, and after broadcasting for a period, they stopped the program and banned him from entering Saudi Arabia. The Emirati government did the same. They gave him a TV program for a short period of time, then stopped it and banned him from entering the Emirates; or that is at least what Adnan Ibrahim said. One thing that is clear is that the Adnan Ibrahim of 10 years ago, who used to talk about issues of justice, democracy, immorality, unethical thinking, despotism, is no more. What he talks about these days is completely different.

My point is individual morality. The Emirates betray Muslims every single day. They betrayed the Muslims with the Arab revolutions, betrayed Muslims in Libya, betrayed Muslims in Yemen, betrayed Muslims in Somalia, betrayed Muslims in Egypt, betrayed Muslims in China, and betray Muslims in India. Yet, all types of scholars have sold themselves to Emirati money, and we as individual Muslims continue to give legitimacy and validity to the scholars who sold themselves to the Emirates. You make the individual decision every day in your life to tell them, "We are not mad at you because you sold yourself to the Emirates, although we know you never speak against what the Emiratis do."

The Emirates has promised major new investments with Israel, despite the 78 Palestinian children killed, despite the apartheid regime, despite the 13-year-old that was just killed a couple days ago. The Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt all do not care. When we validate the scholars that continue to sell themselves to the Egyptian, Saudi government and Emirati governments, we do not care.

The longer I remain on this earth, the more I hear the words of God. “That who purifies the soul…” – purifies it how? By not being so selfish, so egocentric. By not being a person who lives to whine, but does nothing. By being a human being who does not matter, who does not take a position, whose only position is, "I care about my feelings. I care about my emotions. I care about myself. I care about my career. I care about how I look. Me, me, me, me." Remember, grand theories and eloquent words are an excellent camouflage for the ailments and hypocrisies of the soul.

Dalia's Corner

This week, I wanted to share a short yet impactful chapter from The Search for Beauty in Islam: A Conference of the Book, titled "The Truth of Silence." In my opinion, the chapter serves as an excellent reminder of how we should prioritize our ultimate purpose, and how we should strive towards having a good relationship with our Creator. In everyday life, it is so easy to forget how fragile we as human beings truly are and that we will one day be held accountable. That is why, in my belief, it is so important to have these small reminders to re-center our priorities: As to not be swept up in trivial matters like work, personal relationships and money. 

Stay safe,
Chapter 40: The Truth of Silence
The Search for Beauty in Islam: A Conference of the Books


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.
We are working towards publishing the first complete English Commentary on the Quran in the last 40+ years insha'Allah (God willing)! This would be a major achievement and legacy for future generations to be able to reconnect with God's Book in a meaningful and modern way, but it will take a massive investment of time and money. Transcription, editing and publishing costs will be completely donor-funded. Currently, we spend over $1500 per week on transcription costs alone between two halaqas and our weekly khutbah. We offer all of our virtual content for free. 
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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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Interested in getting more connected at the Usuli Institute? Apply to be a part of our Project Illumine Interactive Group! As a member, you will join us virtually online so that Dr. Abou El Fadl can see you, and possibly answer your questions during the halaqa sessions. We have a limited number of spaces available, please email us at and tell us about yourself (your background, interests, how you came across the Usuli Institute, and anything else you would like to share!) As a member of the interactive group, you can submit questions through the chat function during the Q&A, and these get priority after the Project Illumine Fellows who are attending in person. Also, after the halaqa if time permits, we try to spend a little time connecting with members of the interactive group to say hello and connect virtually at a personal level.


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