Q. At a recent Jumu'a prayer, I overheard a Muslim say to another Muslim that he never criticizes any Muslim country regardless of what they do. I gathered from the conversation that the khatib at the previous Jumu'a prayer was critical of some Muslim countries. How did Muslims develop this mindset and why do many of them feel that it is abhorrent to criticize other Muslims? I have been at odds with other Muslims who have defended the actions of the Taliban and despotic leaders in Muslim countries? Is there anything in the Qur'an or ahadith that justifies covering up the atrocities or hypocrisy of other Muslims?

A. The answer is short and simple, for it is found in the Qur'an. On two occasions, God tells us:

(1) O you who believe! Be upholders of Justice, witnesses for Allah, even if it be against yourselves or parents and kinfolk. (4:135)

(2) O you who believe! Be stalwarts for God, witnesses for justice. Do not let hatred of a people sway you from justice. Be just: this is closest to piety, and be conscious of God.  God is well aware of what you do. (5:8)

The foregoing two verses are the most explicit in telling us what position we must take. There are several other verses in the same genre, when God tells us that we must not take others as lords, e.g., (3:64). This is a direct imperative that we must not let the words or actions of anyone sway us when we know that it is wrong. To read the Qur'an and then take the position that we must support tyranny and oppression -- the state of affairs in almost all of the Muslim countries -- is to commit an atrocity. The Qur'an asks other communities: "Do you order the people to piety and forget yourselves when you read the book? (2:44) For what purpose do we claim to be Muslims if we agree with Muslim countries or entities simply because we share the same declaration of faith? This stinks of what is known as "asabiyya" -- nationalism, tribalism, sticking with your own regardless of their wrongdoings. Islam stands against this in every way -- the command at the end of most traditional Friday sermons, a Qur'anic ayah, shows the importance of the concept of standing up for truth and justice: "Verily God orders you to justice and good..." (16:90). The entire concept of "amr bi'l maruf" and "nahy an il munkar" is based on stating clearly what is wrong, and is one of the five principles of Mutazilite Islam.

As to why Muslims feel it is okay to take the ungodly position of not doing what is right, supporting each other in wrong -- my view is that it is the result of the stultification of thought. We have become an umma that lets others do our thinking for us, the rank and file of Islam are probably the most inattentive to their scripture, instead letting demagogic "imams" and retrogressive non-thinkers tell us what to do. The story of Umar should be a lesson for us. It is said that when he became caliph, he did not want a bunch of yes-men around him, and he asked a companion, what would that companion do if he saw Umar deviating from the path of Islam? The man indicated that he would have Umar's head, upon which Umar is said to have complimented him. This is no different from Abu Bakr's example, who when he took office is supposed to have said to the umma: If you find that what I am doing is right, then support me, if you find what I am doing is wrong, then stand against me (literally: block me).

It is a betrayal of all that Islam stands for -- justice in all of its meaning -- to assume that we must stay quiet when our co-religionists are wrong. We know well the wars of early Islam, when Muslims fought against Muslims. We know that they resorted to swords because they perceived a wrong and acted against it. While we may consider ourselves to have achieved a more humane approach to conflict resolution, this does not give us the right to remain silent, or worse, aid and abet injustice. Praise be to God who has given us the power of reason, and sent unto us the Qur'an and the antecedent scriptures as our guide.

Posted March 31, 2003