The Moral Failure of “Yeah, But”
In the Name of God, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful
As the death toll rises in London and the eyes of suspicion fall ever more sharply on Al Qaeda, I can’t help but despair at the ever spiraling violence in our world today. And it pains me even more deeply that a significant portion of that violence occurs at the hands of Muslims in the name of Islam. Of course, we have all condemned this latest attack in London; we have all stated that Islam is a religion of peace; we have all stated “Islamic terror” is neither sacred nor Islamic.
Yet, inevitably, I get a question from one - or more than one - reader which goes something like this: “Yeah, but what about the suffering of Muslims in Iraq? Isn’t that also wrong? Why don’t you condemn that?” You can replace Iraq with a number of other hot spots in the Muslim World: Palestine, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Kashmir, and so on. Right then and there - with those two words of “yeah, but” - the questioner begins down a path of moral failure. The “yeah, but” indicates that the loss of innocent life in London can somehow be justified, that if innocent Muslims are dying at the hands of the British, then the death of innocent Britons (perhaps at the hands of Muslims) is somehow acceptable. Utter moral failure.
Admittedly, that may not be the intention of the questioner, but - to me, at least - that is the impression that comes through; that is the connotation of the “yeah, but.” Our faith has absolutely no room for any “yeah, buts.” The sanctity of human life in the Qur’an is absolute, without condition or qualification:
Say: “Come, I will rehearse what God hath (really) prohibited you from: Join not anything as equal with Him; be good to your parents; kill not yourchildren on a plea of want—We provide sustenance for you and for them; come not nigh to shameful deeds, whether open or secret; take not life, which God hath made sacred, except by way of justice and law. Thus doth He command you, that ye may learn wisdom” (6:151)
Nor take life - which God has made sacred - except for just cause…. (17:33)
And the servants of the Most Gracious are those who…Those who invoke not, with God, any other god, nor slay such life as God has made sacred except for just cause… (25:63-68)
By no stretch of the imagination could killing someone in London, or Baghdad, or Kirkuk, or Beslan, or Tel Aviv fall under the denotation of “just cause.” Yet, there is an even more profound statement in the Qur’an, one that solidifies the moral failure of “yeah, but.” In fact, I believe this statement to be one of the most - if not the most - profound statements in the entire Qur’an:
Believers, stand out firmly for god, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to piety, and fear God. For God is well-acquainted with all that you do. (5:8) [emphasis added]
Earlier in the same chapter, God says:
...let not the hatred of some people in (once) shutting you out of the Sacred Mosque lead you to transgression (and hostility on your part). Help ye one another in righteousness and piety, but help ye not one another in sin and rancour: fear God, for God is strict in punishment. (5:2)
These two verses leave absolutely no wiggle room; they choke the air of any argument that would begin with “yeah, but.” No matter what evil has been committed against us, that does not give us license to commit injustice. And what worse injustice could there be besides taking the life of an innocent human being? The second of the two verses (5:2) especially brings home this message loud and clear.
This verse was initially revealed to the Prophet and his companions just after the conquest of Mecca, the inhabitants of which violently opposed the Prophet from the very beginnings of his ministry. They attacked, tortured, maimed, and murdered the early Muslims. They starved the Muslims for three years, directly leading to the deaths of Abu Talib and Khadijah. They killed Sumaya and Yasser in front of their son Ammar. They drove the Prophet (pbuh) and his followers from their homes and then seized their property to enrich themselves and their caravans. They led attack after attack against the Muslims in Medina, and they nearly killed the Prophet (pbuh) at Uhud. They treacherously violated the Treaty of Hudaybiyah, killing the Prophet’s (pbuh) allies within the Sacred Precincts.
Yet despite all of that, God told the Muslims that they had no license to transgress against the Meccans. They could not say, “yeah, but.” When the Muslims were marching into Mecca, one of the Prophet’s companions yelled out, “Today is a day of slaughter! Today, God will debase Quraysh.” When the Prophet (pbuh) learned of this, he became very angry and retorted, “He has spoken incorrectly! Today is a day of mercy. Today, God will elevate Quraysh in strength and status (by their acceptance of Islam).” The Prophet (pbuh) responded to all of the ugliness of Quraysh with mercy, forgiveness, and kindness. He did not take the opportunity of war to wantonly slaughter his most bitter of enemies. So should it be with Muslims today.
In no way, shape, or form does this mean that I am indifferent to the sufferings of Muslims. Why is this always brought up? I am frequently criticized for my harsh criticisms of the sins of Muslims, especially when it comes to violence and terror, and the implication is that I don’t care about the countless loss of Muslim life. That is not true. The suffering of Muslims around the world pains me very deeply, and the way to end that suffering is to work to end injustice across the globe.
But, I have to take us back to the word of God: “Never let the hatred of a people toward you move you to commit injustice.” Our faith does not allow us to ever say, “yeah, but.” It is the path to the Dark Side; once we start down that path, forever will it dominate our destiny. Once we let “yeah, but” guide our morality, then we risk becoming completely amoral. We cannot take that risk, ever.
Originally published on Dr. Hassaballa’s website at http://drhassaballa.blogspot.com/2005/07/moral-failure-of-yeah-but.html and reprinted in TAM with permission of the author.