The following are notes from my recent appearance on "The Family Tree," a local Boston radio program on WRBB 104.9 hosted by local activist, Ms. Latifa Ziyad Turner.
In the name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate.
May peace be upon you.
I testify that there is no god but Allah, alone without partner. I testify that Muhammad is Messenger of God and His Servant.
Today I want to speak to you about speaking truth to power.
Speaking truth to power is an expression that one can hear on people's tongues a great deal nowadays. It means to point out a flaw, to say that something is wrong, to note that all is not right, in the presence of authority, of the wealthy, of those in command. Many think of it as a political act: Speaking out against a war, for example. This is speaking truth to power. This is important. However, speaking truth to power is more: it is a comprehensive practice that applies to the external, the internal, the personal and the social.
God says: "O you who have believed, fear God and say a word that hits goes to the points (qawlan sadidan)." The commentators notes that this 'word that goes to the point' refers to the Statment "there is no god but Allah." The statement really does "hit home": all other truths flows from it. A person who lives this truth is drawn, pulled by the demands of basic consistency, to live true in every area of his/her life.
The Prophet Muhammad (may peace and upon whom) taught that the best struggle, the best jihad, is a word of truth in the presence of a tyrannical leader. This is speaking truth to power.
The Prophet Muhammad (may peace and upon whom) taught the believers to speak truth even if it is difficult. And speaking truth can be difficult. When every one around you, for example, says that making money is what life is about--and the truth is that making money in itself can not save any one--then speaking and living truth can feel like swimming against the current.
Faith is intricately linked with speaking truth to power. We bear witness that there is no god but Allah, the One, the Only, the Lord of all that exists, the All-knowing, All-powerful. This means that we know that only God can benefit us or harm us. Not our boss, our leaders. A person that internalizes this is freed from the paralysis of fear of every would-be tyrant.
Speaking truth to power means being ready to hear the truth when in position of responsibility. As husbands, are we ready to hear truth from our wives? As parents, our we ready to hear truth from our children?
It means pointing out what is wrong with ourselves. God tells us in the Qur'an to stand up as witnesses even if against our relatives and own folk. This requires us to be real with ourselves.
The Prophet (may peace and upon whom) taught that speaking truth to power can be an expresion of loyalty: "'Religion is loyalty.' They said 'To whom.' He said 'To God, His Book, His Messenger, to the leaders of Muslims and Muslims in general'"
May god makes us people who speak truth to power in the comprehensive sense of the expression and illuminate our hearts.