Speaking Truth to Power
By Fedwa Wazwaz, Engage Minnesota
God! There is no deity but He! To Him belong the most Beautiful Names. Has the story of Moses reached thee? (Qur’an 20:8-9)
As a former YourVoices blogger for the Star Tribune, I began a series of essays on power and oppression, extracting lessons from the Life of Moses, upon him peace. I stopped at Lesson 4, when my term as a blogger ended.
Before I continue with the series, I want to clarify that the blogs on power and oppression are reflection pieces. I began the series with some wisdom from the Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie, which she expressed in a TED Talk about the danger of a single story. In the talk, she explains that if we only hear a single story about another person or group, and make it the definitive story, we risk a critical misunderstanding.
Likewise, I do not expect these pieces of wisdom to be taken as the scholarly or definite analysis on power and oppression. They are meant to foster a relationship with the Qur’an and help us connect with the Prophets, upon them peace and blessings.
In Lesson 4, I stopped where Moses, upon him peace, was told to go to the Pharaoh.
Some responded to me that President Bush claimed that God told him to go to war. How do we know the difference between a false commandment and a real one?
Prophet Muhammad, upon him peace and blessings, preached against seeking to meet the enemy (in warfare) but rather to pray – “O God I place you before them and I seek refuge from their evil.”
As I described in Lesson 4, Moses, upon him peace, was not looking forward to speaking with the Pharaoh. God did not tell him what he wanted to hear. In the case of Bush or others who falsely claim God spoke to them, God seems to tell them what they want to hear. Bush said about the war: “Bring it on!”
Many want to speak truth to power, but what does that mean? And how can one challenge themselves to discover whether they really are speaking truth to power or just promoting themselves as brave and fearless?
Lesson 5 will explore these questions. In preparation, I’d like to clarify a few of my observations about truth.
Sometimes, people question God’s justice and His power over tyrants.
They accuse Him of being impotent.
They accuse Him of not having an intelligent response to falsehood.
They wonder why He won’t bring down punishment.
These questions come from a failure to understand what falsehood is, how it emerged, and how truth responds and emerges.
I heard from a scholar that during the time of the early salaf (righteous people), those who closely followed the companions wondered if the time of the dajjal (Anti-Christ) was around the corner. The scholar responded that if the dajjal was to show up now the children in the city would play with him like a football.
Their connection to God was so strong that they had the spiritual insight to see through his deception.
I heard from another scholar once that God allows falsehood to prevail and become prevalent before allowing truth to emerge. It must prevail by revealing itself by itself. This revelation must happen at all levels: mentally, emotionally, and socially.
We see many stories in the Qur’an which point at this.
Why does God allow this to happen?
When people are disconnected from God, truth cannot be recognized or understood. People start ascribing all sorts of false accusations to God, and even to the Prophets who come to bring truth and guidance.
Scripture becomes manipulated and twisted, and people who lack insight fail to differentiate between the dajjal (anti-Christ) and the one calling to God.
When society cannot see or differentiate between deception and truth, tyrants emerge – they are masters at taking advantage of chaos and hyping the crowd through games that divide and conquer.
When people are disconnected from God, Truth will not be fully understood – unless falsehood is allowed to play out, and people come to challenge it on their own.
Once society sees and witnesses falsehood – then and only then does God allow truth to come forth and knock out its brains.
At an appointed time.
Before that appointed time, people will just kill the messengers, or the prophets.
Truth teaches people to see, to understand, and to become connected to God. Like the kids who would have played with the dajjal like a football, truth teaches people to see layer by layer. This is how truth speaks to power during times of chaos. Bringing a tyrant down without teaching people to see will just open the door for another tyrant or further chaos.
Falsehood usually responds with power: It kills or silences.
God mentions that those who know Him are God-fearing. This type of fear is not a fear of the unknown, but based on knowledge and connectedness to God.
And say: “Truth has (now) arrived, and Falsehood perished: for Falsehood is (by its nature) bound to perish.” – 17:81
Nay, We hurl the Truth against falsehood, and it knocks out its brain, and behold, falsehood doth perish! Ah! woe be to you for the (false) things ye ascribe (to Us). – 21:18
This does not mean that we do nothing while falsehood is allowed to play out. It means that we do not hold God to judgment and we understand the wisdom behind the timing. My faith teaches me, that if the day of judgment arrives, the believers are building trees. You focus on your circle of influence and concern, then build and nurture. Because truth is not bits here and there, but a light that allows us to listen and understand reality one layer at a time when we are emotionally and mentally centered and not incited.
Prophet Muhammad, upon him peace and blessings, said: “Oh Allah (God), show us truth as truth and enable us to observe it and show us falsehood as falsehood and enable us to avoid it.”
Lesson 5 will be posted soon.
This is an excerpt from a forthcoming book, currently titled Reflections of Faith: Lessons from the Prophets.
Fedwa Wazwaz is a Palestinian-American born in Jerusalem, Palestine and raised in the US. She has completed training in restorative justice at the University’s Center for Restorative Justice and Peacemaking. She was a 2008-2009 policy fellow at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs. She lives in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota.
WANT TO ADD YOUR VOICE?
If you like this piece, share it on social media. We invite you to join us in this project on our social media sites. We welcome your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a commentary, podcast or photo story. (For more information, email engageminnesota@.)