By Imam Muzzammil Ahmad | 16 Feb 2024

With the death toll in Gaza surpassing 30,000 following four months of attacks by Israeli forces, this week’s Friday sermon centred on the theme of oppression and injustice. I emphasised the importance of remaining vigilant against oppression in various aspects of life, drawing from numerous verses in the Qur’an and teachings of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ (peace be upon him).

The scholars define oppression (zulm) as the act of displacing something from its rightful position, either by lacking what is due or by going beyond bounds, whether in quantity, timing, or context. This concept encompasses a multitude of manifestations, all centering around the fundamental notion of placing something where it doesn't rightfully belong.

Oppression often starts small but accumulates over time. Eventually, if left unchecked, zulm leads to societal destruction and even civilisational collapse. This principle is evident throughout the Qur’an and Prophetic tradition. 

Allah Almighty states: 

And your Lord [O Prophet] would never destroy a society unjustly while its people were acting rightly.

Surah Hud (11:117)

This clarifies that if there are people standing up to injustices and oppression, Allah will not destroy them. When oppression spreads and people remain silent or accept it, total ruin may befall society as was the case with past civilisations.

Further, Allah warns: 

Beware of a trial that will not only affect the wrongdoers among you.

Surah Al-Anfal (8:25)

The exegetes explained that previous peoples were wiped out because they tolerated oppression and evil until it was rampant, with none speaking out.

The Prophet ﷺ confirmed per an authentic narration that Allah can collectively punish all people for the sins of some if transgression against the Almighty becomes widespread. The spread of oppression and the fate of a community are interlinked.

The Qur’an teaches us that oppression slowly weakens society and can eventually lead to its downfall if unchallenged. Injustice not only inflicts suffering on those who are the victims of oppression, it scars the entire community. The Qur’an stresses the importance of tackling oppression at its roots and to stop its proliferation in society.

Reflecting inwardly, I emphasise that we must reflect deeply on the oppression taking place both in our personal lives and in society. I urged the congregation to be vigilant of our own complicity in injustices through our silence and inaction. 

I listed two types of oppression that we need to be mindful off.

The first type is the oppression against Allah the Highest, as mentioned in the Qur’an, where Luqman advises his son:

O my son, do not associate [anything] with Allah. Indeed, association [with him] is great injustice [zulm].

Surah Luqman (31:13)

The second type of oppression is the mistreatment between people. This can be seen in how we interact with children, our spouses, colleagues, and even strangers. When we mistreat others, it leads to various problems in our community, including broken families resulting from our own oppressive actions and those of others around us.

When we tolerate oppression both within our own communities and from external sources, we inadvertently facilitate its most extreme forms, as evidenced by the appalling crimes committed against innocent individuals today. The killing of Palestinians underscores the urgent need to courageously speak out against oppression and challenge injustice at its source.

Our responsibility is to firstly address the injustices we perpetrate, and secondly, stand up to oppression we see around us. Moving forward, we must uphold the rights others have over us with honesty, just as we advocate justice for those who are oppressed.

The horrific oppression that our Palestinian brothers and sisters face today is but the latest example of the oppression that we as an ummah have suffered. Their suffering reminds me of the time of the invasion of the Tartars, when the Mongols swept through Baghdad and other Muslim lands, massacring people and destroying homes, libraries, and mosques indiscriminately. Despite the devastation, such tragedies have historically strengthened our faith and united the Muslim Ummah.

As we weep at the suffering of the Palestinians today, we need to always be conscious of the shortcomings within ourselves and remain vigilant that we do not become the sources of greater oppression within the ummah. Our brothers and sisters in Palestine, and across the world, have a right upon us, a right which we must honour through more than sorrow and tears. The real battle against oppression begins with self-reflection and accountability. Their political liberation is inextricably bound up with our own spiritual growth.

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