Monday, June 18, 2007

The Concept of Brotherhood in Islam

By Siddiq Buckley

Sydney, New South Wales
A presentation given to FAMSY (QLD) in Brisbane.
SALAM Magazine, March-April 2004

It is unnatural for people on this planet to live in isolation. It is irrational and illogical for people to perpetually avoid each other or fight with each other. Allah created all people from one source. All of them were created from Adam and Eve. All people, black or white, Arab or non-Arab, rich or poor, are their descendants. The most unnatural idea of all is that Allah would create all people from one common source and yet their ultimate destinies and purposes would be completely different.
For this reason, Islam has taken every necessary measure to preserve humanity from division and discord. One of these measures is the principle of brotherhood. This principle wipes away all the differences that exist between people, like lineage, wealth, and all other qualities that people use to distinguish themselves above one another.
* What, then, is this thing called brotherhood?
* On what is it based?
* What are its benefits?
* How does Islam bring it about?
These are the questions that will be addressed in the following paragraphs.
The concept of brotherhood has its origin in two people sharing a common lineage, either through immediate parentage, or through a more distant relationship. As for immediate parentage, it is exemplified by Mûsâ and Hârûn (Moses and Aaron, peace be upon them) who shared the same father and mother. Allah says about them: "He (Musa) threw down the tablets and grabbed his brother by his head, dragging him towards him. Hârûn said: ‘Son of my mother, the people considered me weak and almost killed me’."
Al-Qurtubî in his commentary on the Qur’ân states that he was the son of his mother and his father. Ibn Kathîr, in his commentary, concurred.
This is biological brotherhood of the closest kind.
A more distant relationship can be seen between Hûd and his people, the ‘Ad. Allah says: "And to ‘Ad (We sent) their brother Hûd." Some have understood this brotherhood to refer to their tribal kinship. Others state that it refers to the fact that all of them were descendants of their forefather Adam.
The meaning of brotherhood as we intend it is a brotherhood based on faith and respect. It is a brotherhood that exists between a large number of people who share the same beliefs and religious identity. Allah says: "And He has brought their hearts together. If you had spent all that was in the Earth, you would not have brought their hearts together."
Allah describes the believers as being brothers. He says: "The believers are but brothers."
The reason for their being described in this way is that they:
* all share the same beliefs,
* work towards the same goals,
* and share the same code of behavior.
If we look carefully into the literal meaning of brotherhood and its Islamic usage, we find that brotherhood is of three types:
(a). Brotherhood can be based on biological relatedness. This is the meaning of brotherhood with respect to the laws of inheritance. In this context, Allah says: "And each of his parents have a sixth of what he left if he had a child. If he did not have a child, and his parents are his only heirs, then his mother receives a third. If he has brothers, then his mother receives a sixth."
(b). Brotherhood exists between all people on account of their common humanity. This is the brotherhood between all the descendants of Adam. Allah says: "We have honoured the children of Adam and have carried them over land and sea and have provided for them good things and have preferred them over much of what We have created."
Ibn Kathîr says in his commentary on the Qur’ân: "This verse is used as proof that humanity is preferable as a race to the race of angels." Allah says: "O mankind, verily We created you from a male and a female and made you nations and tribes so you could come to know one another. Verily the noblest of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you."
This refers to all of humanity: believers and disbelievers, people of lineage and those without, close relatives and distant ones.
(c). Brotherhood can be based on belief and religious identity. This is the meaning intended when speaking about faith and other related topics. Allah says: "The Believers are but a single Brotherhood." [Al-Hujurat 49:10] and "…so you, by His grace, became brothers."
This verse means that they became brothers by virtue of their Islam and loved one another and were united through the greatness of Allah, so they cooperated in acts of righteousness and piety.
Allah’s Messenger (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: "A Muslim is the brother of another Muslim, so he should not oppress him, forsake him, or despise him."
Why did Islam establish brotherhood on the basis of faith and not on the basis of relationship or race?
The reason why Islam did not build its concept of brotherhood on blood relationship or race is because these two things have their basis in material considerations. Consequently, they cannot bring about a strong and united community that can resist the disagreements and conflicts that might tear it apart. This is especially true if the differences are ideological in nature or are based on beliefs and methodology. It has repeatedly been seen that blood brothers can be brought to kill one another when their beliefs or interests differ (eg: Cain and Abel). In contrast, people who share the same faith or belief system can work together even though they come from different countries, speak different languages, or have different racial backgrounds.
For this reason, Islam establishes human brotherhood on the basis of faith, since faith is a strong bond that takes control of the soul and the inner self, making them respond to its voice. Moreover, race or nationality does not limit this bond. It is not confined to any geographical area. It transcends all of these limitations. It extends to the ends of the Earth. It seeks to bring about a worldwide human society united by brotherhood and love.
The concept of the Ummah, that all Muslims are linked in one community of faith and belief is an integral part of Islam.
The topic of racism has no basis in Islam. The Prophet (s) is reported as to having said: * "There is no superiority of the white over the black, nor of the black over the white". In Islam, all are equal; only one who is more righteous is better in the sight of God, and God alone will decide who is really righteous.
* "All of you people are equal because you have the same father, Adam, and you are his descendants."
* "And Adam was made of clay."
* "You shall not enter Paradise until you have faith; and you cannot attain to faith until you love one another."
In the early days of Islam, one of the greatest honours was to call Muslims to prayer, or to be the Muezzin. Muhammed Ibn Abdullah gave this honour to Bilal in Mecca, who was a freed Negro slave. Some proud Arabs said to this, "Oh, this black Negro slave, woe to him. He stands on the roof of the Holy Kaaba to call for prayer."
To this, the Prophet delivered this sermon: "God is to be praised and thanked for ridding us of the vices and pride of the days of ignorance. O people! Note that all men are divided in two categories only:
* the pious and God-fearing who are esteemable in God’s reckoning,
* and the transgressors and hard-hearted, who are lowly and contemptible in the eye of God."
Many African-Americans have converted to Islam because of this single colour-blindness; because they recognise that in Islam, the problem of racism is fully and completely solved by eradicating it.
The extinction of race consciousness between Muslims is one of the outstanding achievements of Islam and in the contemporary world there is, as it happens, a crying need for the propagation of this Islamic virtue.
The Islamic Brotherhood is not based on economic interests, race, or colour. It is based on something infinitely superior: Rejection of falsehood and acceptance of the Truth as revealed by the One True God.
Not only is this Brotherhood based on faith, it is also a part of that faith. The Prophet (s) said: "You cannot enter paradise unless you become a total believer and you won’t become a total believer unless you love each other." Obviously, faith and community are inseparable in the faith community produced by Islam. Even a casual reader of the Qur’an would note that it almost always addresses the Believers and not the Believer. All acts of worship that are declared pillars of Islam have a collective form practically illustrated from the fundamental aspects of Islam: -
* The Salaah (Prayer) - All Muslims stand shoulder to shoulder while praying. The five daily prayers are best performed in congregation, that being twenty-seven times more valuable than the individual prayer. The special Friday prayer cannot be offered individually at all.
* Zakaah (Annual Charity) - Charity is highly encouraged in Islam and made obligatory for the wealthy Muslim to give a portion of their yearly savings to his poor Muslim brother. Zakat is obviously aimed at making the rich of the community take care of the needs of its poor.
* Saum (Fasting) - an essentially individual act, has been given a collective form through unity in time.
* Hajj (Pilgrimage) - Muslims (men) wear a similar dress of two sheets of cloth indicating the equality of Islamic brotherhood. Hajj enforces unity in both time and place, bringing the believers together in the plains of Arafat in their remembrance of Allah.
Those who join in the worship of Allah produce a Brotherhood that embodies the best moral values of the faith: Mercy, compassion, fear of Allah, piety, and justice.
* It is a Solid Cemented Structure [As-Saff, 61:4], a defence in the service of Right and against Wrong.
* Its members are to help each other in righteousness and piety but not in sin and rancor [Al-Maida 5:2]
* They are to be "strong against unbelievers but compassionate amongst each other" [Al-Fat-h 48:29].
* They do not do injustice to others nor do they tolerate any injustice to themselves. In their love and concern for each other, all members of this Brotherhood are one body: when any part of the body suffers, the whole body feels the pain. [Sahih Muslim]
This Brotherhood was established in the most unlikely place: Arabia, where before Islam internecine war was a way of life. On both social and political levels, this was one of the greatest achievements of Islam. On both levels, it remains one of Islam’s greatest goals. We can imagine the sensitivity of the Shariah (Islamic Law) about it by reflecting on its teachings regarding the relations between believers. It is forbidden, for example, for two Muslims to start a whispering conversation in the presence of the third. This might offend the one left out and weaken the Brotherhood. It is not permissible for a Muslim to sever relations with his brother for more than three days. "It is sufficient evil for a Muslim that he should look down upon his brother. The life, wealth, and honor of a Muslim are inviolable by another Muslim." [Sahih Muslim]. The books of hadith are full of such teachings.
Two unfortunate developments last century have impaired this Brotherhood:
* The first was the destruction of the Khilaafah and the emergence of independent nation-states in the Muslim world. This made it possible for "national interests" to be declared that are at cross-purposes to the interests of the Brotherhood. Not only that, it destroyed the means for both defining and defending the Brotherhood interests.
* The second development was the emergence of the United Nations Organization and the participation of individual Muslim nation-states in it, solely on its terms. The U.N. was and remains an organization of unequal powers, designed to perpetuate that inequality. Its purpose was to establish hegemony of the Western alliance over the rest of the world— not for any higher moral purpose but solely for economic exploitation. Its very structure (with real decision making in the hands of a few in the Security Council) guaranteed the disenfranchisement of the weak, and the entire Muslim world found itself in that category at the end of official colonialism.
When giving commands regarding the Islamic Brotherhood, the Qur’an uses a beautiful style with a profound message. Instead of saying, "greet each other" it says, "greet yourself." [An-Nur 24:61]. Instead of saying, "do not defame each other," it says, "do not defame yourself." [Al-Hujurat 49:11]. Instead of saying, "do not kill each other," it says, "do not kill yourself." [An-Nisaa 4:29]. The message is clear: Whatever is happening to others in the Brotherhood, is actually happening to yourself. Any aggression against any part of the Brotherhood is an aggression against all of it.
Hudayfa relates: "The Battle of Yarmuk had just ended. I was walking over the battlefield among the martyred and injured with a pitcher of water. I was looking for the son of my uncle. I found him lying in blood on the burning sand. He was about to die. I asked him whether he wanted water. Unable to speak, he gestured that he did. I was just offering it to him when a groaning was heard: ‘Water! Water! Please, a drop of water!’
My uncle’s son, whose name was Harith, heard that and gestured that I should take the water to him. I hastened to the groaning one, who was Ikrima. Ikrima had not yet taken the pitcher when a similar groaning was heard. Refusing to take the water, Ikrima wanted me to take it to the one groaning. When I got to that one, who was ‘Iyash, he was supplicating: "O God! We have never refrained from sacrificing our lives for the sake of faith. Honor us with the rank of martyrdom, and forgive our sins!"
‘Iyash saw the water but did not live long enough to drink it. I immediately returned to take the water to Ikrima. However, I found Ikrima also martyred. Then I hastened to Harith, my uncle’s son. Unfortunately, he too was lying dead on the burning sand.
This is the most touching event I have witnessed in my life. It was their unshakable belief in Islam, which caused them to behave that way. It was Islam which created such degree of brotherhood among people."
It is related by Abu Hurairah (ra) that the Prophet said, "There are five claims of a Muslim upon a Muslim: to return his greetings when he greets; to visit him when he falls ill; to attend his funeral; to accept his invitation to a meal and to pray for him, when he sneezes, by saying ‘yarhamukallah’ (May the mercy of Allah be on you)."
The five things mentioned in the hadith are acts, which not only give expression to, but also promote brotherly feelings between Muslims and therefore special attention should be paid to them. In another report, some other acts are specified, which shows that the claims described here are by way of example only and not conclusive.
Anas (ra) reports that Rasulullah (s) once said: "I swear by the Holy Being in whose power my life is, any one of you cannot be a true believer unless he desires for his fellow-brother what he desires for himself."
It is related by Abu Musa Ash’ari (ra) that The Messenger of Allah said "The connection between Muslims is like that of a strong building - one part strengthens another." The Prophet then showed this by interlocking the fingers of one hand with those of the other (that Muslims should remain united and combined - thereby strengthening one another).
As related by Huthaifah (ra) the Prophet said: "Whoever does not take an interest in the affairs and problems of the Muslims, he is not of them. And whoever’s state is such that, each morning and evening, he is not loyal and earnest to Allah, his Apostle, His Book, the Islamic ruler and towards the Muslims, as a whole, he is not of them."
"And hold fast to the covenant of God, all together, and remember the favour of God upon you when you were enemies, then He united your hearts so by His favour you became brethren, and you were on the brink of a pit of fire, then He saved you from it; thus does God make clear to you His communications that you may follow the right way" (Q3:3).
Brotherhood is synonymous with Islam. It is a force for good, a source of peace and justice for everyone. It provides stability in a quarrelsome world. To the downtrodden and oppressed everywhere in the past, it provided freedom. When it was powerful, it even saved the Jews and Christians in Palestine and Spain from each other.
So much for the past. What about the present? Do we understand the noble concept of Islamic brotherhood? Do we practise it? Do we belong to it?

SALAM Magazine, March-April 2004

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