وَاعْتَصِمُوا بِحَبْلِ اللَّهِ جَمِيعًا وَلَا تَفَرَّقُوا ۚ وَاذْكُرُوا نِعْمَتَ اللَّهِ عَلَيْكُمْ إِذْ كُنتُمْ أَعْدَاءً فَأَلَّفَ بَيْنَ قُلُوبِكُمْ فَأَصْبَحْتُم بِنِعْمَتِهِ إِخْوَانًا وَكُنتُمْ عَلَىٰ شَفَا حُفْرَةٍ مِّنَ النَّارِ فَأَنقَذَكُم مِّنْهَا ۗ كَذَٰلِكَ يُبَيِّنُ اللَّهُ لَكُمْ آيَاتِهِ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَهْتَدُونَ
And hold fast, all together, unto the bond with Allāh, and do not draw apart from one another. And remember the blessings which Allāh has bestowed upon you: how, when you were enemies, He brought your hearts together, so that through His blessing you became brethren; and (how, when) you were on the brink of a fiery abyss, He saved you from it. This is how Allāh makes His signs clear to you, so that you may take the right path. (Āli ʿImrān, 3:103)
Unity is a subject discussed often in Muslim circles. The problems caused by its absence at every level, from small local communities to the worldwide ummah, are too vivid to be ignored. Unfortunately we talk about unity the way we talk about the weather; something that is happening to us. We take no responsibility for it and thus assure that the sorry state of disunity will continue.
This āyah should change that fatal attitude for it starts with two command verbs, a do and a don’t. Do hold fast together unto the bond with Allāh and do not cause divisions among yourself. The word used is ḥabl or rope. The metaphor is that of a lifeline thrown at us by Allāh. If we hold on to it we will be saved. It will keep us together as well as we will all be pulled by the same rope. This lifeline can never break. But we can choose to not hold on to it. This is the fundamental reason for all the disunity today. If we choose to attain unity on any other basis (e.g. nationalism, democracy, or economic goals) we will fail as has been witnessed in so many cases in recent history alone. Ultimately all of these appeal to interests that will collide at some point or another.
The brotherhood that brought the tribes that had been at war with each other for centuries is mentioned as a blessing. Not only the Muhājirs of Makkah and Anṣārs of Madinah were brought together in an exemplary brotherhood, so were the tribes of Aws and Khazraj, the Madinan tribes whose last war lasted for 120 years and ended only a short time before the coming of the Prophet ﷺ to Madinah.
But this blessing came when the new Muslim society had been taking steps that qualified it for receiving it. From the moment the Prophet ﷺ set his foot in Madinah he took steps to nurture brotherhood. Among the first hadith reported from that period is the famous one: “Spread salam, feed others, pray (nafl tahajjud ṣalāh) when the people are asleep, and you will enter the Paradise with ease.” Here interpersonal relations were put at the same level as acts of worship. Greeting everyone and not just those with whom we have good terms was emphasized. So was inviting people to break bread together. Such seemingly minor acts have big consequences in nurturing brotherly love and creating the environment which promotes unity and stifles the negative feelings that cause disunity. It is remarkable how the smallest things that can cause ill feelings were elaborated. For example it was prohibited that in the presence of a third person two people should start a whispering conversation among themselves. This would make him feel left out. Making fun of each other was strictly prohibited on moral grounds.
Today we ignore all of these commands. Backbiting, suspicions, and slander are common. We are driven by personal interests and egos while running Islamic organizations. Then we complain that unity is not happening to us. Things will change only when we take personal responsibility for it.
Charter of the Ummah: Enjoining Good
كُنتُمْ خَيْرَ أُمَّةٍ أُخْرِجَتْ لِلنَّاسِ تَأْمُرُونَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَتَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ الْمُنكَرِ وَتُؤْمِنُونَ بِاللَّهِ ۗ وَلَوْ آمَنَ أَهْلُ الْكِتَابِ لَكَانَ خَيْرًا لَّهُم ۚ مِّنْهُمُ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ وَأَكْثَرُهُمُ الْفَاسِقُونَ
You are the best ‘Ummah ever raised for (the good of ) mankind. You enjoin the doing of what is right and forbid the doing of what is wrong and you believe in Allāh. (Āli ʿImrān, 3:110)
Here, promoting good, truth, and justice and checking evil and injustice in the community and the world is declared as the defining mission for this ummah. This gives rise to that cherished (and much maligned in the secular world) institution of amr-bil-maʿrūf.
In amr-bil-maʿrūf, the community of believers has a built- in self-correcting mechanism. Consider cruise control in an automobile. Once turned on, it keeps monitoring the car speed and pulling it towards the set point. It does not mean absence of tendency to deviate from the desired speed, only an effective mechanism for monitoring and countering it. What cruise control does for car speed, amr-bil-maʿrūf does for the direction of the society.
This mechanism works at two levels. At one level it is the responsibility of every member of the society. When we see a wrong we should correct it. A very famous hadith declares it as an issue of faith. “Whoever amongst you sees an evil should change it with his hand. If he is unable to do that then with his tongue. If he is unable to do that, then with his heart, and that is the weakest level of Īmān.” So if a person does not even feel bad about an evil, he has no faith whatsoever. Similarly we are encouraged to promote good. One hadith promises that a person who persuades another one to do some good deed will get the same reward as the person he persuaded. At this level the responsibility of every member of the society is for his or her own sphere of influence: family, friends, colleagues, neighbors. When taken together these spheres would encompass the entire society.
At a higher level this is a specialized task. A full time job for a qualified group to always monitor the direction of the society and fight deviations at a collective level. We must remember that the Islamic society is the only society with a declared mission of promoting good and forbidding evil. So this is also a unique institution that will not be looked at kindly by those who oppose this objective. Further, its definition of good and evil is not subject to the whims and desires of every generation or the perceived interests of a nation-state. They are permanent concepts as defined in its unalterable sources: Qur’ān and Sunnah. In a world of moral relativism these permanent values are the hope for the whole mankind. To keep these alive in the society we need the institution of amr-bil-maʿrūf.
لَتُبْلَوُنَّ فِي أَمْوَالِكُمْ وَأَنفُسِكُمْ وَلَتَسْمَعُنَّ مِنَ الَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْكِتَابَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ وَمِنَ الَّذِينَ أَشْرَكُوا أَذًى كَثِيرًا ۚ وَإِن تَصْبِرُوا وَتَتَّقُوا فَإِنَّ ذَٰلِكَ مِنْ عَزْمِ الْأُمُورِ
You shall certainly be tried and tested in your possessions and in your persons; and you shall certainly hear much that will grieve you from those who received the Book before you and from those who worship many gods. But if you persevere patiently, and guard against evil, then that will be a determining factor in all affairs. (Āli ʿImrān, 3:186)
Many of us get unnerved when the propaganda machine goes in the attack mode. While it is our job to respond to the allegations and portray the correct image, nevertheless it is not right to get panicky and start appeasing to “correct the image.” A Muslim must not be intimidated by false propaganda, no matter how ferocious. The Qur’ān mentions as a quality of the believers who love Allāh and are loved by Him that they strive in His path “fearing not the blame of any blamer.” It assures us that the propaganda will continue as part of our test. But it will not harm us if we persevere.
Wisdom and Science Education
الَّذِينَ يَذْكُرُونَ اللَّهَ قِيَامًا وَقُعُودًا وَعَلَىٰ جُنُوبِهِمْ وَيَتَفَكَّرُونَ فِي خَلْقِ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ رَبَّنَا مَا خَلَقْتَ هَٰذَا بَاطِلًا سُبْحَانَكَ فَقِنَا عَذَابَ النَّارِ
Surely, in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the alternation of night and day, there are indeed Signs for men of wisdom. (Āli ʿImrān, 3:190)
This āyah gives a totally revolutionary concept of wisdom. The truly wise person is one who looks at the universe and the phenomena taking place here, reflects on them, and sees the Hand of Allāh in all this. The observation of the creations leads him to the Creator. The more he reflects the more he remembers Allāh.
It follows that the person who remains disinterested or a disbeliever in the Creator while looking at the universe is not a person of understanding or wisdom. He may have the most prestigious degrees, yet he remains an ignorant person in reality.
This is the fundamental problem with the education of science today. It teaches that God is irrelevant to the running and study of the universe. This position itself is not scientific; it is not that science has discovered and proved that God is not there or is not running the universe. It is only a dogma that is forced on its students.
In schools throughout the Muslim world this dogma is being spread in the name of science education, with devastating results. That is why Islamization of the entire curriculum is so important.
Taqwā and Marital Bliss
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ اتَّقُوا رَبَّكُمُ الَّذِي خَلَقَكُم مِّن نَّفْسٍ وَاحِدَةٍ وَخَلَقَ مِنْهَا زَوْجَهَا وَبَثَّ مِنْهُمَا رِجَالًا كَثِيرًا وَنِسَاءً ۚ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ الَّذِي تَسَاءَلُونَ بِهِ وَالْأَرْحَامَ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ عَلَيْكُمْ رَقِيبًا
O Mankind! Have taqwā of your Sustainer, who has created you out of one living entity, and out of it created its mate, and out of the two spread abroad a multitude of men and women. And have taqwā of Allāh, in whose name you demand (your rights) from one another, and fear (the violation of the rights of ) the ties of kinship. Surely, Allāh is watchful over you. (An-Nisā’, 4:1)
This āyah should be familiar to anyone who has attended a Muslim wedding ceremony and listened to the khuṭbah of nikah. What is the relevance of this āyah to the marriage ceremony? Taqwā, as is usually imagined, involves visions of austere piety. In typical marriage ceremonies the atmosphere is as far away from any sense of taqwā as possible. Yet the short khuṭbah on this occasion heavily emphasizes taqwā.
While the atmosphere in these ceremonies is a great misfortune, the question remains: What does taqwā have to do with success in married life? The short answer is, everything. Taqwā is the consciousness of Allāh and fear of displeasing Him. It applies to every aspect of our life, not just the acts of worship to which it is usually and erroneously restricted. And it is especially the taqwā in dealings which is the key to solving all marital problems. It is when problems arise—which is natural—that negative feelings of frustrations and anger are engendered, which lead to negative actions. Trouble starts in these moments of weakness. Taqwā in dealings—although not found easily even among otherwise religious people—is the key to maintaining a fair and balanced attitude exactly at these difficult times.
A husband or wife conscious of their accountability to Allāh will not get carried away in their anger nor will they be ready to exploit the weakness of the other party. They will be kind and patient. They will be willing to make sacrifices and compromises when indicated by the situation. They will be forgiving. They will not be preoccupied with their rights but with their responsibilities in marriage. The Prophetic guidance on this matter is sufficient to solve marital problems and bring about true marital bliss. Taqwā will make it possible for the couple to listen to the Prophetic advice even in the heat of the moment and benefit from it.