By Alia J. Bilal
In the name of God, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful.
Upon reviewing the 28th juz’ (58:1–66:12), three themes occurred to me. The first revolves around the forces that gather to conspire against groups of people and the Divine response to those plans; the second considers those who align themselves with those who secretly (or not-so-secretly) oppose our community; and the third reminds us of God’s power over all people, plots and plans.
The first chapter in Juz’ 28, Surah al-Mujadilah (58), includes four consecutive verses about holding secret meetings. As a community organizer, I think about all of the secret meetings that take place on a daily basis that decide the fates of entire communities, either because the meetings’ decision makers seek to control (or destroy) those communities or because the people in those communities are deemed unfit to make suitable decisions for themselves. These meetings occur in boardrooms and in back alleys, in state capitals and police departments, in hushed whispers or announced with the veneer of progress. I suppose it is comforting to know that The Almighty has already forewarned us of this type of treachery and that He has placed Himself in the equation where these meetings are concerned
…There is no secret conversation between three people where He is not the fourth, nor between five where He is not the sixth, nor between less or more than that without Him being with them, wherever they may be… — 58:7.
I read Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince for the first time in 2017. Like many people, before reading it, I only assumed from context clues that Machiavelli was an evil, scheming, conniving man, for that’s what we had always understood the term “Machiavellian” to mean. I now think of the author of the famed (or infamous) series of political maxims as akin to many of the leaders of our “free world” today. His calm, self-possessed, even-keeled advice about manipulating and controlling the masses seems to be the playbook for many of our seemingly stable-minded politicians and leaders today. Moreover, the secret meetings they undoubtedly have helped to create or maintain policies that continue to marginalize, denigrate and criminalize our most vulnerable communities.
It is comforting to know that The Almighty has already forewarned us of this type of treachery and that He has placed Himself in the equation where these meetings are concerned
But “[God] knows what is hidden as well as what is in the open…” (59:22), and He reminds us that as long as we organizers, activists, creatives and scholars hold our secret meetings “in a way that is good and mindful [of God]” (58:9), and put our trust in Him, the other Satanic conversations cannot harm us in the least (58:10).
And “God has written, ‘I shall most certainly win, I and My messengers.’ God is powerful and almighty” (58:21).
The second theme became evident after reading the following from Surah al-Mumtahanah:
You who believe, do not take My enemies and yours as your allies, showing them friendship when they have rejected the truth you have received, and have driven you and the Messenger out simply because you believe in God, your Lord… — 60:1
At a time when we who are working to uphold our own human dignity and the dignity of other marginalized people across the world are confronted by those who profess to speak for us, and yet align themselves with those who not only disparage and vilify us, but also actively work to eviscerate our humanity, this theme hits all too hard. Lest anyone reading mistake this statement as an indictment on forming alliances across ethnic, religious, geographic or socio-economic lines — don’t. For we are reminded that God,
does not forbid you to deal kindly and justly with anyone who has not fought you for your faith or driven you out of your homes: God loves the just. — 60:8
What this brings to mind is the concern that too many Muslims and people of conscience have allowed themselves to pander to those in power in a futile effort to be seen as “one of the good ones.” The Almighty warns us against “giving loyalty to people with whom God is angry” (58:14).
But Muslims should be people that call up as well as call out, and I firmly believe that we will get nothing and nowhere without the joint effort of all people of God and conscience. When facing individuals and institutions committed to stripping us of our humanity, we are reminded that “Fear of you [believers] is more intense in their hearts than fear of God because they are people devoid of understanding.” The Powers that be appear indomitable and all the more so because the network of dark forces that create and perpetuate racist and unjust systems seem so inextricably linked. But God, yet again, declares, “Even united they would never fight you…you think they are united but their hearts are divided because they are people devoid of reason…” (59:14).
But Muslims should be people that call up as well as call out, and I firmly believe that we will get nothing and nowhere without the joint effort of all people of God and conscience.
One of the things I’ve been working on for the last couple of years has been allowing myself to truly be content with God’s decree. The final theme of being patient with God’s qadr and might in this juz took that point home. The Qur’an constantly beseeches us to be people who think, ponder, and reflect. As an organizer, trying to work myself out of a job with the full knowledge that I never could, I have recently found myself asking questions that have no easy answers. What kind of world was I born into? How does one understand the evil in this world alongside the Beauty of the Creator? Why has one group of people been made to suffer the brutality and scorn of humanity for so many agonizing centuries? These are just some of the questions I am currently asking myself.
But, again, always, I am reminded in this juz that “misfortunes can only happen with God’s permission” (64:11).
Again, I am reminded that “…God does not burden any soul with more than He has given it” (65:7).
And that “…power belongs to God…” (63:8). Therefore, the machinations and plans of enemies, the foolish words and dalliances of friends, the wavering of our own hearts and minds all succumb to the reality that God’s infinite Hand lay over every matter and everything.
Though I won’t work myself out of a job, I find comfort in an assurance from the All-Merciful,
…Anyone who believes in God and the Last Day should heed this: God will find a way out for those who are mindful of Him, and will provide for them from an unexpected source; God will be enough for those who put their trust in Him… — 65:2–3.
For surely, “after hardship, God will bring ease”(65:7).
I seek refuge in God from my own nafs and from speaking about matters of which I have little knowledge.
This reflection was originally posted in 2018.
Alia J. Bilal serves as Director of Community Relations at the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN), where she is responsible for cultivating and maintaining individual donors to sustain and advance IMAN’s social justice work, and engaging other organizations and institutions around strategic programs and initiatives. Ms. Bilal is also a volunteer for Ta’leef Collective Chicago, where she helps people understand the basics of Islamic doctrine and practice, and works to cultivate fellowship among newcomers to the community. A native of Chicago’s South Side, Ms. Bilal graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a degree in International Studies and a concentration in Islamic World Studies. She was an appointee of the Equity Advisory Council of the Chicago Commission on Human Relations and a graduate of the Civic Leadership Academy at the University of Chicago.