How ‘Don’t judge’ has taken a wrong turn among American Muslims

There’s been a trend in recent years in the American Muslim community of people invoking “Don’t judge” when they see fellow Muslims questioning certain speech and behaviors as being outside the Islamic bounds.  In my anecdotal observations, the major swath of those primarily invoking this phrase come from the “Unmosqued,” meaning those who have a connection to Islam without necessarily having an attachment to institutions based upon inadequacies within their structures and/or behaviors of their members.  While there is a tendency among too many Muslims to expect a monolithic understanding or practice of Islam, “Don’t judge” has also been used as a phrase to minimize certain matters that have been Divinely legislated in which there have always been consensus and as a means of paradoxically painting those who do not agree with their whims as being intolerant.

People are judges, but not the Ultimate Judge

“We judge with the outward while Allah is connected to non-apparent matters” – Prophet Muhammad (prayers & peace be upon him and his family).

We are not supposed to make judgments to assess persons’ human value, their intentions and their after-lives.  Allah (Mighty & Sublime) gave all humans intrinsic dignity upon their creation; thus, none should dehumanize others.  He (Mighty & Sublime) is also the All-Knowing who fully knows matters of the hearts, which are secrets between His servants and Him in which (wo)men can not totally ascertain.  People also don’t know the status of others’ after-lives, for they can’t even be 100% sure of their own status once being lowered into their own graves.

We, however, are to make individual judgments as a natural function of intellect in order to advance, in a healthy manner, our own individual selves, families, groups and society as a whole.  Likewise, we are to make judgments in order to keep ourselves safe from personal injury and that which causes harm to the common good.  All societies have judges to enforce the law when people step outside of the boundaries of what has been legislated by governments compromised of (wo)men.  These judges have criterion in which there are parameters that differentiate right from wrong.

Al-Qur’an, Prophetic Statements and Absolute Consensus of Early Muslim are Criterion

And whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed, they are from the ingrates[Al-Qur'an 5:44]

And whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed, they are from the wrongdoers – [Al-Qur'an 5:45]

And whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed, they are from the transgressors[Al-Qur'an 5:47]

The three ayaat stated above directly refer to the People of the Book but are also warnings for Muslims.  Those who decided to act upon their own whims while ignoring or covering up what Allah (Mighty & Sublime) revealed are referred to as “Al-Kaafireen,” “Al-Thaalimeen” and “Al-Faasiqeen.”  The word “Al-Kaafireen” or ingrates means those who covered the Divine truth given to them; therefore, they showed a lack of gratitude for that which was revealed to guide them towards success.  “Al-Thaalimeen” or wrong-doers means those who have committed wrong because they took matters out of their proper places in which they were ordained to be.  All three of these groups mentioned were those who professed belief in One Deity and had “religious” affiliations yet were spoken of in these terms.  In these are signs that we can go astray from the path by not judging matters by what was Divinely revealed.

It is not befitting for a believing man or believing woman that when Allah and His messenger decree a matter that they have an opinion about it, and whoever disobeys Allah and His messenger have clearly gone into manifest error[Al-Qur'an 33:36]

Oh you who believe! Obey Allah, obey the messenger and those in authority among you. And if you disagree over anything, refer it back to Allah and the messenger if you believe in Allah and the Last Day. That is better and is the most excellent interpretation -

[Al-Qur'an 4:59]


Though there is much room for interpretation on some issues, there are specific matters that are not subject to reinterpretation of permissibility, which have been made clearly unlawful in Al-Qur’an, by the Prophet (prayers & peace be upon him and his family) and agreed upon by his pious family and descendants and righteous companions.  Those who believe in Al-Qur’an are obligated to obey the Prophet (prayers & peace be upon him and his family) on that which can be authenticated through sound transmission, which does not contradict Al-Qur’an.  Similarly, the absolute consensus of the early community of how specific matters were understood that agree with these two are confirmation.  It is only natural that the Muslims who recognize these authorities will base what is correct and incorrect within these parameters.

 

The Folly of Moral Relativism in Post-Modernity

“Don’t judge” is influenced by the post-modernist trend of moral relativism, meaning that individuals can claim that everyone has the right to individual “truths” and that these constitute a singular truth.  In other words, everyone can have independent “truths” and to negate others’ “truths” is being dogmatic and judgmental.  Hence, for those who state that anything that clouds judgment for non-medicinal purposes such as marijuana is forbidden according to Islam and should not be legalized, these are considered closed minded people.  For those who say that they are not in favor of same-sex marriage because Qawm Lut received the greatest punishment including the wife of Lut (AS), who was a monotheist that did not take issue with that sexual behavior and lifestyle, these people are incorrectly labeled as homophobes.  Thus, those who uphold the sacred, which does not jibe with particular worldviews based upon obtuse individualism’s right to define what “truths” should be accepted are deemed as being judgmental and intolerant people.   This postulation is complete nonsense, for even those who put forth such claims make judgments about those who don’t accept their worldviews.

One of the greatest challenges to American Muslims is the erosion of particular values due to many of us compromising Islamic mandates and seeking to be accepted by the status quo and/or coming under the influence of secular post-modernism.   Enjoining right and forbidding evil is a non-negotiable part of the Islamic faith, which is an individual obligation (fard ‘ayn) as well as a community obligation (fard kifaayah).  We are not to desist from our morals and ethics due to changing public opinion polls and the rise of intellectual currents that seek to eliminate the sacred from the public socio-political discourse.  We are to present an intellectual discourse based upon our text absent of hostility and harshness.   This should be non-negotiable for all of us.

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25 thoughts on “How ‘Don’t judge’ has taken a wrong turn among American Muslims

  1. Mashallah brother, very beautiful article. Probably one of the best things that I’ve read in a while. May Allah bless you, your family, and accept your services to the Deen. Aamin

  2. Opposition to marijuana prohibition in the United States does not mean that a person thinks it is a good idea to use marijuana recreationally. Sometimes, when government is used to enforce personal morality, unexpected, harmful consequences result. And it is part of Islam, IMO, to take into account those consequences.

    Regarding rights of LGBTQ individuals, I don’t know why that is taken as an example of moral relativism. Even assuming the standard Muslim position that marriage must be between men & women and sex outside of marriage is prohibited, are Muslims supposed to attack LGBTQ individuals or approve when they suffer assaults and discrimination? If so, why don’t we organize vigilante groups to assault men in extra-marital relationships with women?

    If USA society’s prejudice happens to coincide with one aspect of Islam, do we emphasize that aspect of Islam to fit in better with USA society?

    • Since vigilantism is clearly not correct according to Islam, I don’t know how you extrapolated that my comments inferred not lobbying in favor of haram activity as a matter of public policy is somehow justifying or promoting hate crimes or workplace & housing discrimination. I put forth nothing of the such as to policing people or taking the law into our own hands. My piece is speaking towards an intellectual perspective that guides how we view ourselves and how it should guide how we look at public policy. I thought that was clear but perhaps it wasn’t.

      All people with dignity lobbying or take public policy positions based upon principles or values. We have transcendent values that should inform our positions even if they are not socially and politically popular. That which is legal can be made illegal and vice versa based upon our governmental process. What constitutes a “better” USA society and what are the parameters is not subjected to trends from my viewpoint.

      Again, the issue of moral relativism under the guise of “Don’t judge” is being deployed to stifle discussion and brand people as intolerant or bigots just as others have pronounced takfeer over gay Muslims, Bohra Isma’ilis, etc. It’s a different type of extreme.

      • Lol, you’re telling other Muslims to judge other Muslims simply because they don’t practice the same Wahabist/Salafist shit that you do?

        Do everyone a favor and go deport your sandnigger ass back to Saudi Arabia or Pakistan or whatever theocratic shithole you came from, then you can judge everyone as much as you fucking want. America doesn’t need extremist cunts like you.

        PS: Don’t think I’m being racist simply because I called you a sandnigger. I called you a sandnigger because calling you middle-eastern would be an insult to middle-easterners everywhere.

      • I’m far from a Wahabi/Salafi. Try coming up with a more intellectual reply instead of name calling.

    • 1) What constitutes human rights & who endows those human rights?
      2) Is opposing certain things for the common good of society “discrimination,” which is a term that carries a negative connotation?

      It is very clear that Al-Qur’an and the widely narrated and sound traditions have made it impermissible to advocate for what is munkar in the general society. Voting for or against matters is part of enjoining right and forbidding evil. Even when Umar ibn al-Khattab allowed the Majusi people to participate in incest marriages, it was based upon it being the consensus of belief among Majusi people and was not allowed for the Jews, Christians and Muslims. Furthermore, Umar to Imam Ali (KW) preached against this. Umar never accepted it and continued to advocate against it. Anything that becomes legal in America is for all and cannot be restricted by religion or gender. Hence, why I’m also not an advocate of the legalization of polygamy in the USA because the fitnah that it could cause would outweigh the common good.

      Since Allah (SWT) is Al-’Adl, the one who put everything in their rightful places, anyone who takes things out of their proper places or advocates for such is committing thulm – wrong/injustice according to the shari’ah definition of what thulm means. And since Allah (SWT) is Al-Haqq, who also gave the huqooq al-insaan – human rights, it’s not the place of people to redefine what rights are that He (SWT) endowed to then call it discrimination when people oppose the redefinition of human rights. Freedom to do whatever in private and what is sanction by the government that is public policy are hugely different.

      I am for decriminalization of marijuana but not legalization by the way. Decriminalization but having it as a civil offense like a speeding ticket is not advancing it whereas legalization and taxation of it is government sanctioning of its social acceptability. If I voted to legalize weed for recreational use, I would be counted as those who are promoting munkar. This is very serious.

      This matter is not simply a matter of fiqh; it begins as a matter of ‘aqeedah. I’ve discussed these issues in depth with a number of Islamic scholars (American and foreign born) including a couple of my teachers as well as a couple of Muslim sociologists. My writing of this was shaped by those conversations and dialectics.

      I respect your feedback but fundamentally disagree. I can always be persuaded to shift my viewpoint with daleel from our texts firstly before arguments from organizations rooted in secular humanism, which are part of the post-modernity relativism that I’m critiquing.

  3. You do not advocate vigilantism. I should not have implied that.

    I do believe that the enforcement of legal discrimination against a class of individuals (recreational marijuana users, gays and lesbians who want to marry) almost inevitably leads to private acts of discrimination, which on the extreme end will be assaults. For example, when the government says that all visitors from Muslim-majority nations have to register (the NSEERS program), it’s a signal to the general public that Muslims are dangerous.

    I think the examples you used oversimplify how “transcendent values” should translate into an individual Muslim’s political commitments in the United States. I’m also particularly concerned about your specification of same-sex marriage, because my anti-gayness was homophobia/adoption of the “values” of the dominant culture.

    I actually agree with your broader point about values. If we Muslims were to implement same-sex marriage, it would have to be based on principles that could apply when discussing other aspects of our religion’s dictates.

    But I can vote for legalization of same-sex marriages in my state of Georgia and still preserve the right of Muslim organizations/masajid not to host or support same-sex marriages without having to come up with an Islam-based permission for same-sex marriage. I can vote for decriminalization of recreational marijuana use and still refuse to host a marijuana-consumption event, just like I don’t advocate for criminalization of alcohol and I deny my guests permission to consume it in my house.

      • I listened to the khutbah. I want to make clear that I don’t vote for legalizing same-sex marriage in Georgia as a quid pro quo for LGBT support for Muslims’ civil rights. Nor do I vote for it because I believe Georgia law has nothing to do with non-Muslims and hence I can ignore Islam in my political decisions. After all, there are Muslims in Georgia. I vote for extending marriage rights to LGBT because I don’t believe there is a rational reason to discriminate/distinguish since there is no empirical evidence that LGBT marriage is harmful to society. There may be a religious reason, but the Georgia and US Constitution prevent government from establishing religion, and I believe the establishment clause is worth preserving. I also believe that individuals denied the right to marry suffer disabilities related to their property, health decisions, childhood custody, etc, and I don’t like people treated unfairly. So I think the khutbah puts up the straw man of the Muslim who ignores Allah’s instructions as a way to dismiss the issue.

        I do question the Muslim party line on same sex marriage. My evidence is not texts. My evidence is listening to LGBT individuals, none of whom have ever told me that they were happy or excited when they discovered that they were not “straight.” I believe in Allah’s justice, and I don’t believe Allah would place in a person sexual attraction to members of the same sex and then punish that person for acting on it. And I also believe it is better to face Allah on the Day of Judgment having acted on one’s conscience rather than parrot what one heard at a khutbah or read in a book written 250 or 800 or 1100 years ago.

        Another way of putting this is that I see a contradiction in the texts. Some texts command us to be just, and others command us to discriminate/distinguish in ways that I understand to be unjust. Ustaz Dawud’s khutbah resolves this by basically saying that any far` (detailed ruling of fiqh) is by definition justice and hence there can never be a contradiction.

        Let me give another example. I find vegetarian arguments based on ecology of the planet very persuasive. So let’s say I stop eating meat. What should I do for eid al-adha? Should I sacrifice an animal to participate in the sunnah? If my arguments are based on ecology, I probably would sacrifice an animal, because one animal a year, feeding it to the poor, is minimal impact. What if am a vegetarian because I dislike the killing of animals and believe it to be immoral? Am I then in bid`a land simply for believing it wrong to sacrifice animals, regardless of whether I twist my conscience into slaughtering an animal the day of eid?

        Finally, and this is the most important point, just because an action is prohibited in Islam does not mean that the government should compel people to avoid it. Choosing not to send the police after non-violent marijuana consumers is not “promoting” marijuana use such that I who advocate for decriminalization will acquire sayii’aat of those who imbibe marijuana recreationally. Likewise, my preserving the dignity of same-sex couples and not opposing their ease of access to the rights mixed sex couples easily acquire through marriage is not “promoting” Islamically-illicit same sex acts.

        I also have a broader criticism of the “promoting the good, forbidding the evil” message of the khutbah. I believe that “promoting the good, forbidding the evil” must start with one’s own community and with the most powerful, not the weak. GLBT individuals are an easy target for Muslim preachers because a large segment of USA society despises them. But I’d rather the khutaba tell Muslims they can’t lock a domestic worker in the basement and take away her passport. I’d rather they tell Muslims that, when they buy chocolate, they are passing money to the people who abuse child labor in Ivory Coast. Or when they buy tomatoes at Publix, the workers who are picking those tomatoes are making $0.50 for every 32-pound bucket (or worse). Why don’t they tell the worshippers at jumu’a about the evil of the US military threatening the world with nuclear weapons? Or, as Ustaz Dawud has done well, the evils of our racism? Etc, etc. It’s odd to me that nearly every time a khateeb talks about innovation or promoting good & forbidding evil, the example is same-sex relations.

      • As-Salaamu ‘Alaykum,

        I talk about enjoining good and forbidding evil all the time in the American Muslim community. If you were to go back to the times which I’ve discussed this issue in the past 5 years, I have mentioned the same sex marriage issue maybe two, maybe three times. I focus more on racism, classism and misogyny actually which are community illnesses. It’s not an either or proposition in terms of talking about this internally and externally, especially when people in our community are enjoining things that are munkaraat in coalition with others. Also, I rarely speak about what takes place in the 57 majority Muslim countries and places such as India, which I don’t understand their cultures fully nor have much if any influence. I’m not overly fixated with the pathologies which plague other societies.

        I also don’t want the convo side tracked by that issue. That is but one of other examples that can be given. The premise and basis of the argument that was put forward is more important, which is individualism within post-modernity that breeds intellectual arrogance and/or pseudo-relativism that seeks to belittle the sacred in the public discourse.

        Back to your earlier point, I do believe that we should follow what makes us feel comfortable to an extent. I also believe that it cannot for Muslims based alone on independent reasoning separate from the Divine text. The ayatayn that I mentioned in my post relating to the Bani Isra’il going off of their own desires to the exclusion of clear commands of what Allah revealed is exactly what led to them being punished. In fact, this was the grave error that Iblees (LA) made with his faulty analogical reasoning (qiyaas) when he ignored a Divine command due to rationalization based upon a comparison. Thus, I’m concerned when I hear this echoed among Muslims.

        I’m glad that you’re engaged and discussing these matters, however. I truly believe that through dialectics, the best solutions rise to the top.

        Was-Salaam

    • @ Ayman Fadel You can’t vote to legalize same sex marriages or any other clear Haraam act. Fear Allaah (SubHaanahu wa Ta’aala), brother. Trying to make a major sinful act legal is a major sin in and of itself. Yes, don’t harass individuals that commit homosexual acts. Give them Da’wah! If you worship, love, and fear Allaah (SubHaanahu wa Ta’aala)… and you understand that the Day of Judgement IS coming then don’t be complacent about sinful acts. May Allaah (SubHaanahu wa Ta’aala) take us on the straight path. Aameen.

      • May Allah (SWT) reward Abu Bakr and Umar for what sacrificed and contributed. They migrated for Allah’s sake when there was no dunya gain, freed slaves and fought in ghazwaat.

        It’s interesting that you chose to point out how I mentioned Ali’s name in comparison to Umar’s as a point of contention instead of focusing on the substance of what I wrote.

        May Allah (SWT) forgive us and have mercy on us.

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  5. “But I can vote for legalization of same-sex marriages in my state of Georgia” – you could, but I would be curious how you think Allah could be pleased with such an act. Incidentally, why not the reverse? Not voting for legalization of same-sex marriages in your state and letting the LGBT community come up with its own options on its own. Given the blatant message in the Qur’an and the narrations from the Prophet صلى الله وسلم I fail to see how anyone could justify this. Is this your personal conjecture or are you actually interrogating the sacred sources to come to this conclusion?

    • What do you mean “options on its own”? The majority of LGBT folks want the right to marry. It’s others who are denying them that option. What do you suggest? Celibacy? Grin & bear it, fraudulent marriages to people of the opposite sex? Civil unions?

      My preference is that government get out of the marriage business entirely, and everybody above a certain age be allowed to enter into consensual civil unions.

  6. @ DawudWalid You mentioned Sayyiduna ‘Umar’s (Radhiallaahu ‘Anhu) name as “Umar Ibn Khattab”, “Umar”, and you also said “…Umar to Imam Ali (KW)…” I know it is permissible to just say the name of a SaHaabi. But you said “Imam Ali (KW)”. So I’m wondering. I see that you obviously don’t HATE Sayyiduna ‘Umar (Radhiallaahu ‘Anhu) because you were actually mentioning something good about him so you’re not a “hating” Shi’a. But the way you wrote that made it look like you are either a Shi’a who has the highest love for the Ahlul Bayt but doesn’t hate any of the SaHaaba (Allaah be pleased with them) OR a Sunni who loves the Ahlul Bayt a lot more than the SaHaaba… enough to say Imam and KW for Sayyiduna ‘Ali (Radhiallaahu ‘Anhu) but nothing before or after Sayyiduna ‘Umar’s (Radhiallaahu ‘Anhu) name… whose name you mentioned thrice. So I’m wondering what you are then because I’m confused. Jazakallaahu Khayran.

  7. @ DawudWalid You misunderstood me. I didn’t write this to annoy you. I agreed with your whole post. I would press like on it if I could. I only asked this out of extreme curiosity as to why his name was mentioned 3 times but not in the way Sayyiduna ‘Ali (Radhiallahu ‘Anhu) was mentioned. It seemed a little strange because I can understand doing it once but you said his name 3 times and didn’t mention it but said ‘Ali’s (Radhiallahu ‘Anhu) name once and said it…I mean it’s starting to look like you might be actually Shi’a (The still Muslim kind… not the going into Kufr kind)… but a respectful Shi’a.

  8. Salam, Jazak Allah for this article. I know you brother and I a respect and admire you, but this article is scary.

    You say vigilantism is not permitted in Islam. But Muslims are admirers of many such groups such as the Al Qaeda. The chief of Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan just issued a statement admiring Bin Ladin, and across the Muslim World vigilante groups are fighting and killing minorities, non-Muslim and Muslim for offenses such as tearing a page on which Quran is written etc. In such a global environment is it wise in your opinion to issue a fatwa that invites Muslims to be judgmental on some issues. You do not even speak of the qualifications of Muslims who you wish to judge, you are actually licensing everyone to judge on hear-say. Take the case of Mewlid for example. A Salafi Imam in a local mosque called it haraam and shirk, you are empowering his audience to now go and call other believing and practicing Muslims Mushriks! Is this what you want Muslims sitting in judgment on the belief and faith of fellow Muslims. You probably want to unleash them only on GLBT but once the demons of intolerance are set loose they will burn everyone.

    Unlike much of the Muslim World America has provided American Muslims safe haven where they can live in security and peace, practice their faith and let others practice what they believe (Lakum deenukum walia deen). I hope people don’t take your call to judge everyone and make America also like Syria, Egypt, Pakistan…..

    You cited 5:44, 5:46, 5:47…from the Quran. I wish you had also discussed 5:48, the very next Ayah, which is the most beautiful call for religious and epistemological pluralism (shar wa minhaj) one can find in any religious tradition. I am not going to take your advice and sit in judgment, but others could argue that ignoring the message of 5:48 while using 5:44-5:47 which is primarily addressed to Jews and Christians you are selectively using sources to stir a culture of intolerance within Muslims.

    Is it not enough that Muslims are slaughtering Muslims in other places? What next, a list of who is Wajib ul-Qatal?

    Muqtedar Khan

    • As-Salaamu ‘Alaykum,

      Your point is a major extrapolation. Given that the political environments of Syria, Egypt and Pakistan are very different from here, including the “Scholars for Dollars” that exist and promote violence, I don’t see any evidence of such happening here. Nothing that I’ve said in this, write or preach even comes close to promoting violence or leads people towards “Waajib al-Qatal.”

      Our scholars also say including Sufis like Shaykh Yahya An-Ninowy is that we don’t judge people’s deen or humanity, we do judge people ethics/character (akhlaaq).

      Was-Salaam

      • Br. Thanks for your response. I am not sure that you are writing about just ethics or character. One does not need to make such an elaborate appeal to textual sources to call a thief a thief or a rude person rude.

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