Sunlight beams through a prison window

Fitnah: Sunshine from a Cage

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Imprisoned for Thought Crimes

by Lenna

Tarek Mehanna still writes from prison. I’ve published in full one of his pieces called “Fitnah” below this commentary.

The imprisonment of Tarek Mehanna was controversial. In April of 2012, he was convicted and sentenced to 17 years in prison on various (somewhat murky) charges related to his alleged support for terrorism.

At the time, some civil liberties groups said prosecutors had put Mehanna in prison for nothing more than spreading unpopular ideas. The Nation went so far as to publish an article entitled, “How Tarek Mehanna Went to Prison for a Thought Crime.”

Eloquent Sentencing Statement

Regardless of where one lands on the justice of his imprisonment, Mehanna read a statement at his sentencing that was widely praised as eloquent and moving, even by some of his detractors. In part, he said:

“…this trial was not about my position on Muslims killing American civilians. It was about my position on Americans killing Muslim civilians, which is that Muslims should defend their lands from foreign invaders – Soviets, Americans, or Martians. This is what I believe. It’s what I’ve always believed, and what I will always believe. This is not terrorism, and it’s not extremism. It’s the simple logic of self-defense.”

War on Terror

Nearly everyone agrees, at least in principle, to the right of self-defense. Whether the target of aggression is an individual, a group, or a nation.

Support for the right of self-defense is a near consensus opinion. Therefore it’s very useful for aggressors to portray their aggression as “self-defense” and the self-defense of their targets as “aggression.”

The US-led “War on Terror” is a prime example of this sort of inversion.


American leaders do not wage wars to defend the American people. If safety were a top priority, the US would change its unjust, aggressive foreign policy.

It is that policy that is the engine driving terrorism around the world. The CIA acknowledges this link, and even coined a term for it: “blowback.”

Muslims want to loosen the Western imperial grip on their lands. As such, American-born Mehanna’s cross-cultural and linguistic fluency were strategic assets.

One of the key pieces of evidence used against him in the trial were Arabic/English translations.  Prosecutors insisted those translations constituted criminal support for terrorism.

Civil liberties groups argued his activities were protected “free speech” under the First Amendment. Mehanna translated the material of his own volition. No group commissioned his work.

The West sometimes seems obsessed with free speech. Yet Mehanna’s case proves this ideal can take a back seat when the government’s strategic interests are at stake.

Eloquent and well educated, Mehanna is able to clearly articulate Muslim grievances and help formulate strategies against Western imperial aggression. The US government hobbled his efforts.

Had Mehanna remained overseas, the US may have resorted to more drastic measures. If so, the silence of Mehanna might have been complete.

A Similar Case?

In some ways, Mehanna is similar to American-born cleric Anwar Awlaki. Awlaki was also eloquent and had similar cross-cultural and linguistic fluency.

The US assassinated Awlaki in a controversial US drone strike in Yemen. Some civil liberties groups protested the killing as an illegal, “extrajudicial” execution.

Was vaporizing Awlaki (and some innocent bystanders) with a Hellfire missile legitimate? Why or why not?

A hint as to the probable real motive behind the strike emerged two weeks later. The US also murdered Awlaki’s American-born teenage son (and some innocent bystanders) in a second drone strike.

Why did the US government execute Awlaki’s 16-year-old son? The government did not even accuse the boy of any wrongdoing!

When cornered by reporters and asked this question, Obama’s White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the victim should have “had a more responsible father.”

Do you think that’s a reasonable answer?

Does that answer even make sense?

What could the real answer be?

Consider how Awlaki’s son could have deployed his own skills in the struggle to defend Muslims from US aggression. Perhaps the US government did not want the younger Awlaki to follow in his father’s footsteps.

I’ll leave you to evaluate for yourself which answer sounds more plausible.

Last February, US forces shot to death Awlaki’s 8-year-old daughter, Nawar, during a commando raid in Yemen. Meanwhile, Mehanna continues to languish in prison.


Fitnah by Tarek Mehanna

In the Name of Allâh, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful

It’s my eighth autumn looking at the Sun through a cage.

Though I’m looking directly at it, the fact that the part of the planet on which I’m standing is tilted away from the Sun at this time of year means that its light strikes it at a less direct angle, leaving its energy less concentrated, which is the reason we’re feeling the biting cold here. We adapt to this cold, but we can’t adjust the Earth’s tilt or orbit to prevent it. It’s a law of this particular time Allah has laid down that we can’t change. Allah said: “I am time. I alternate its night & day, and if I want, I could withhold them both.”

Nor can we change the laws of time as it nears its end.

Compressed Time

We can’t change the fact that, as the Prophet (sall Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, “time will become compressed.” Explaining this, an-Nawawi wrote that “time being compressed is the disappearance of barakah from it. For example, an entire day will contain the barakah of just a single hour.” Ibn Abi Jamrah wrote that “this has been the case for some time now. Those with religious knowledge, as well as the clever ones with worldly knowledge, know this very well. They find themselves unable to accomplish the same tasks they were able to before. They complain of this, and can’t explain it.” Ibn Hajar wrote that “we see the days go by much faster than they did before… In truth, this is describing the removal of barakah from everything, even time. This is from the signs of the Hour…”

Barakah Removed

Nor can we change the fact that as time nears its end, barakah is removed from people. ‘Abdullah bin al-Mubarak once wrote the following lines of poetry:

Gone are the men whose actions are worth emulating * The men who oppose every evil, And I’m left behind with people deluded about each other * Such that one corrupt man emulates another…Before him, Abu ad-Darda’ said that “people used to be leaves without thorns. But now, they’re thorns without leaves.”

And before all of them, the Prophet said that “the righteous people will die, one after the other, until only useless people will remain.”

Fitnah is Worse Than Killing

Centuries later, Ibn Kathir wrote that when the Crusaders advanced on al-Quds, the Khalifah pushed the scholars to mobilize the local governors to resist them. Instead, Muslims fled en masse from Sham to Iraq. One of the few scholars who pleaded with them to fight was Ibn ‘Aqil, who summarized the attitude of the masses by writing that “one of the strangest things I’ve observed in people is how they grieve over deteriorating homes, dying relatives, and declining income by blaming the times they live in & the people living in them, and complaining of how miserable life is.

All the while, they see the attempts to destroy Islam, the decay of religion, the disappearance of the Sunnah, the appearance of bid’ah, indulgence in sin, and time wasted in useless & harmful matters – yet I don’t see any of them grieving over his religion or weeping with sadness over the wasted years of his life. The only reason I see for this is that they don’t care about their religion, and are in awe of the dunya. This is exactly the opposite of how the righteous Salaf were…


So these people had it backwards, failing to understand that the most valuable thing you possess is Iman. To lose it is worse than to lose your life, as Allah said that {“fitnah is worse than killing…”} (2:191) ash-Shawkani explained this to mean that “being afflicted with any type of fitnah affecting the Din – no matter what form it takes – is worse than being killed.”

This fitnah is often subtle, and may even come from those who are sympathetic. For example, Muslims are today one of many communities expecting to suffer under Trump’s rule. This means that we find ourselves being lumped together with homosexuals, transgenders, and so on. Because the Islamic position on homosexuality is offensive to many in the world who are sympathetic to us, some American Muslims adapted to this awkward situation by softening their stance on it. By doing so, they fell into a fitnah worse than the one they thought they were repelling.

Jamal Zarabozo made the point in his book ‘Purification of the Soul’ that “the Muslim must realize that his very goal, purpose, and way in life is fundamentally different from everyone else in the world today. For example, today, in particular, those who have previous scriptures are, for the most part, secularized in their thinking, especially about social and political issues. The Muslim’s life, on the other hand, is supposed to be based completely on the guidance that has come from Allah. No human opinion or view can ever take the place of what Allah or His Messenger have stated.”


He continued, writing that “in reality, non-Muslims are either of bad intentions or they are ignorant of the final revelation that has come from Allah via the Prophet Muhammad. Therefore, when it comes to spiritual knowledge, worship, and belief in God, ethics and morals, they have virtually nothing – if anything at all – to offer the Muslim. Indeed, they can only harm the Muslim. Since most non-Muslims do not understand Islam at all – and perhaps view it within the light of their own faiths that have been modernized – even those who seem sympathetic to Muslims want something from Muslims that is no more than an abandonment of Islam.”

Finally, he wrote that “Allah will judge such people who think themselves sincere and just. However, that does not change what the Muslim’s attitude must be today: he must stick to his religion no matter how much these people strive, no matter how good their intentions are made to look, and no matter how many wonderful sounding slogans they give. In other words, in what they see as the best approach for Muslims, they want to see Islam changed.

This is in reality nothing more than them taking the Muslim away from the path of purification. Even if one claims that their intentions are good but they are simply ignorant, the end result is the same for the Muslim: they are working to distort the path of purification. The result is clearly one: the Muslim must remain on the straight path and ignore any suggestions to do otherwise.”

Rough Times Ahead

Nor can we change the fact that as time nears its end, doing this will get so tough that, as the Prophet said, “a time will come in which my ummah will wish for the Dajjal to appear.” When asked why, he took hold of his ears, shook them, and then said: “Because of the fitan they’ll be facing.” These fitan are harsh in nature, as Lane’s ‘Lexicon’ defines fitnah as “a burning with fire,” and as “the melting of gold and of silver in order to separate or distinguish the bad from the good,” and as “an affliction whereby one is tried, proved, or tested,” and as “temptation,” and even as “madness, insanity, or diabolical possession.”

Nor can we change the fact that as time nears its end, barakah is removed from places around the world to make way for this madness. Referring to these fitan, Ibn Hajar wrote that “these began to appear in the era of the Sahabah, then increased in some places in exclusion to others. It’s when these aspects become dominant that the Hour will then occur… These aspects are now on the rise everywhere, although more so in some places than others. Whenever one generation passes, a lot of deficiency appears in the one following it.”

The Door to the Khilafah

The door to the Khilafah has been re-opened, but this general decline will continue everywhere else until, as the Prophet said, “the world will be filled with injustice & tyranny” by the time the Mahdi appears to reverse it all. Even as he was swallowing large swaths of Persian & Roman territory into the Khilafah, Khalid bin al-Walid understood that there would be believers living in the future feeling that there’s nowhere to go. So when asked about the fitan, he replied that “a man will look around and ask himself if there’s a place where he hasn’t been stricken with the same fitnah & evil he’s been stricken with where he’s standing, but he won’t be able to find such a place.”

Regardless of where you live, what you’ve seen around the world lately confirms that the Prophet was saying what could only have come to him through revelation when he said that “no time will come except that the one after it is worse.” This law was laid down for a reason. We can’t change it, but we can adapt to it the way the Sahabah did when they saw his promise manifest before their eyes, as the Dawlah of Madinah was under attack by the largest coalition it had seen by that point:

{“And when the believers saw the coalition, they said: “This is what Allah & His Messenger promised us, and they spoke the truth,” and it increased them only in Iman & submission.”} (33:22)

The Promise

Explaining the promise referred to in this ayah, al-Mawdudi wrote that “when they saw the storms of danger gathering, they remembered Allah’s promise. But this promise wasn’t that once they believed, they’d instantly take over the whole world without any effort and the Angels would come down to place crowns on their heads. Rather, the promise was that they’d pass through severe trials, endure extreme hardship & fitnah, and sacrifice a lot, after which Allah would bless them with His grace and give them that promised success in this world & the next.”

He continued: “On seeing fitnah approaching, they didn’t waver in their Iman. Rather, they only became stronger in it. Rather than giving up on obeying Allah, they were ready to surrender to Him whatever they had with complete conviction. Here, you must fully understand that Iman & reliance are qualities of the soul which are tested with every command & demand.


At every step in life, you come across situations where Iman either enjoins something, forbids it, or requires you to sacrifice yourself, your money, your time, and your desires. At every such occasion, the faith & conviction of one who deviates from obedience will decline, while the faith & conviction of one who submits to the commands & demands will be strengthened & enhanced.”

He finished: “Yes, you become a believer & a Muslim by uttering the Shahadatayn. But Iman doesn’t remain static. It’s open to both deterioration & development. Decline in sincerity & the spirit of obedience causes your Iman to deteriorate, such that constant regression will push you to the last limits of faith where the slightest move backwards will turn you from a believer into a munafiq. Conversely, the more sincere, obedient, and dedicated to Iman you are, the stronger you’ll grow to the point that you can even attain the rank of a siddiq…”

Adapt to Any Season

So Iman enables you to adapt to any season, as the Prophet said that “the believer is like a flexible plant, which the wind pushes left & right – knocking it over, only to raise it up again – until it dries…”

And Iman transforms any situation into a good one, as he said that “I’m amazed at the situation of the believer. Indeed, every situation is good for him. He’s thankful if he experiences something good, and that’s good for him. And he’s patient if he experiences something bad, and that’s good for him. This doesn’t happen for anyone but the believer.”

And Iman can be fulfilled in any condition you find yourself, as he told the Ansar: “Give me bay’ah that you’ll listen & obey whether you’re energized or lazy, and that you’ll spend your money for Allah’s sake in good times & bad, and that you’ll enjoin the good & forbid the evil, and that you’ll speak the truth for Allah’s sake without fearing anyone’s condemnation… If you do this, Jannah is yours.”

Written by: Tarek Mehanna
Thursday, the 24th of Safar 1438 (24th of November 2016)
Marion CMO

Source: Kalamullah

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Graham Askey

As much as I can sympathize with the injustice of his imprisonment, those sympathies ran out on reading his opinion on non Muslims. To dismiss all non Muslims only serves to perpetuate ignorance and hate. Although there are good reasons to distrust the motives of western leaders, it is only through the efforts of individuals on both sides that understanding and hence peace will come. Suppose Mohammed had similarly rejected his idol worshiping uncle Abu Talib, without his protection the very existence of Islam might be in doubt. God has clearly worked through non Muslims such as Abu Talib and… Read more »


I’m glad to hear that’s what you took from it and l can fully appreciate the demands placed upon Muslims in the West so it would hardly be a surprise if some chose to reject interaction in response. Regardless of the writer’s intentions, who may well have good reason to be negative, l must agree with you that the language should be moderated. I’d hate to place extra demands on Muslims who have endured the kind of experiences you recount and much worse, but as hard as it may be, inclusive language is a vital start to the long process… Read more »