ISLAM AND THE UNITY OF THE UMMAH: INSTRUCTIONS TO MODERN DAY MUSLIMS – By Dr. Mutiu Agboke

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  • Photo : Dr Agboke *

When one reads the Quran, one will immediately notice that it seeks to do away with racism. It reminds humans that God created us all differently for a reason, that we may know each other.

ISLAM AND THE UNITY OF THE UMMAH: INSTRUCTIONS TO MODERN DAY MUSLIMS                        

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                                                            Presented by

                                                        Dr. Mutiu Agboke

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                                   Resident Electoral Commisisioner, INEC Oyo state.

At the monthly Dawah Front of Nigeria Taalim session held at Egba Central Mosque, Kobiti, Abeokuta, today the 13th February, 2022.

Introduction  

The believers are but brethren, therefore make peace between your brethren and be careful of (your duty to) Allah that mercy may be had on you [Quran, 49:10]

And hold fast by the covenant of Allah all together and be not disunited, and remember the favor of Allah on you when you were enemies, then He united your hearts so by His favor you became brethren; and you were on the brink of a pit of fire… [Quran, 3:103]

Indeed, this, your religion (ummah), is one religion (ummah), and I am your Lord, so worship Me [Quran, 21:92]

Verily this your Ummah or your religion is one, and am your lord, so worship me. And they have broken their ummah into fragments among themselves, yet all are returning unto us Q21:92 -93

The Prophet Muhammad is reported to have said: “Three things are the best acts; first, to treat people with equity and justice; second to assist your co-religionist brethren as fellows and aid them financially; and third, to remember God under all conditions”

The Holy Prophet is reported to have said: “He who begins his day without endeavoring for the improvement of Muslims’ affairs, is no Muslim”

CONCEPT OF UNITY IN ISLAM AS DISTINGUISHED FROM BROTHERHOOD IN ISLAM

Islam is pragmatic religion as opposed to being unrealistic act of worship both in theory and in practice. There is a clear distinction between the issue of brotherhood and the need to ensure unity of Muslims at all times. The former is a situation where there is a room allowing among Muslims for affectionate and sincerely brotherly or sisterly bond, as the case may be. Whereas, the real Unity in Islam is purposely meant to ensure the common goals of the Ummah, regardless of your ideological affiliation, which the ultimate goal is focused to guarantee the satisfaction and fulfilment of Allah and Allah alone and not necessarily because of Rosululah.

This is important because all actions of worship were from Allah and must be directed back to him alone as firmly enunciated in the concept of Taoheed in Islam. See Q98:4 This is so because the fraternal bond of believers was established by Allah himself to achieve collective goal predicated on altruistic motive and not selfish one. Islam calls for Unity because it is the basis for happiness and progress. Hardly can any nation achieve progress or enjoy welfare unless its people come together.

UNITY IN DIVERSITY IN ISLAM

 Qur’ān was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him at a time when racism was rampant. The Arabs considered themselves to be superior to the non-Arabs. The wealthy considered themselves superior to the poor, and the masters considered themselves superior to their slaves. When one reads the Quran, one will immediately notice that it seeks to do away with racism. It reminds humans that God created us all differently for a reason, that we may know each other.

Racism is not only interracial e.g. between the Ilorins and other Yoruba nations who are often referred to as people from Ile Igbo derogatorily, but it is also intra racial. Meaning, that one can even find racism within certain ethnicities and races e.g. the age long intra racial dissension among the Ijebus and the Egbas. If all humans were identical, we would not be able to tell each other apart. Further, diversity is a blessing. If we all looked, dressed, ate, and spoke in an identical manner, life would be quite boring and one would definitely not be able to come to terms with the fact that we are raised over and above one and other to test us for whatever placement of Allah in our lives. Q6: 165

The Qur’ān highlights the importance of human diversityO mankind, We have created you male and female, and appointed you races and tribes, that you may know one another. Surely the noblest among you in the sight of God is the most God-fearing of you. God is All-knowing, All-aware (Qur’ān 49:13). The Qur’ān highlights the importance and necessity of racial diversity and it is to be celebrated. Racism is indeed superficial because under our very thin layer of skin, we are all the same. We are all made up of the same meat, blood, and bones. When we die, we all end up the same, as dust. This fact cannot be controverted.

The Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him reiterated this message in his final sermon. This was his farewell sermon where he addressed the Muslim community at large one last time before the end of his life. He said:

All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black nor a black has any superiority over a white – except by piety and good action. Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood. Nothing shall be legitimate to a Muslim which belongs to a fellow Muslim unless it was given freely and willingly. Do not therefore do injustice to yourselves. Remember one day you will meet Allah and answer your deeds. So, beware: do not stray from the path of righteousness after I am gone.

During his lifetime, some of the wealthy Arabs were considering becoming Muslim. However, they said they would only come to learn about Islam under the condition that they have their own sessions which did not have any poor or slaves in attendance. The Prophet peace be upon him contemplated this out of desire that they might accept his message.

However, Allah revealed a verse which rejected any such conditions and reminded the Prophet peace be upon him to stick with those who only seek God, even if they are poor. But today, our scholars are the ones patronizing such people in our society

And keep yourself patient [by being] with those who call upon their Lord in the morning and the evening, seeking His countenance. And let not your eyes pass beyond them, desiring adornments of the worldly life, and do not obey one whose heart We have made heedless of Our remembrance and who follows his desire and whose affair is ever [in] neglect. And say, “The truth is from your Lord, so whoever wills – let him believe; and whoever wills – let him disbelieve (Qur’ān 18:28-29).

These verses show that Islam will not compromise of its teachings of equality among all people. The verses rebuke the idea that there should be a distinction between the wealthy and poor, or the black and the white. However, Islam takes this concept of equality even further.

It is not limited to theory, but equality is embedded in the rituals of Islam. When Muslims perform their five daily prayers in congregation, everyone stands together in a straight line, shoulder to shoulder. There is no distinction or special place for anyone to stand based on any kind of status. Pilgrimage is perhaps the greatest ritual which instills the teaching that all humans are equal. Everyone wears two pieces of white cloth, and there are millions of people there from all walks of life who are identical before God. They have nothing but two pieces of white cloth on them which reminds them of their humanity. The black and the white are equal, the poor finally feels a sense of equality with the rich, and the servant feels equal to the king. They all stand before God with nothing but their humanity.

Below was the statement of Malcom X, a black American, who saw the equality and brotherhood of Islam and Muslims in action and declared thus:

During the past eleven days here in the Muslim world, I have eaten from the same plate, drunk from the same glass, and slept in the same bed (or on the same rug)–while praying to the same God–with fellow Muslims, whose eyes were the bluest of blue, whose hair was the blondest of blond, and whose skin was the whitest of white. And in the words and in the actions in the deeds of the ‘white’ Muslims, I felt the same sincerity that I felt among the black African Muslims of Nigeria, Sudan, and Ghana.

We were truly all the same (brothers)–because their belief in one God had removed the white from their minds, the white from their behavior, and the white from their attitude.

CAUSES OF DISUNITY

  1. Fragile ideological differences – Ideological differences cannot unify any humans in the Muslim community.  Muslims fail to realise the fact that the first  recipients of Islamic messages of Islam were Prophet Mohammad and the companions in the presence of whom there was no need or basis for ideological diversity. Note that there is a difference between ideological diversity and expression of difference of opinion on issues. Expectedly, his exit allowed for diversity of the understanding and the interpretation of the various issues of Islam. Therefore, to my own mind, no opinion of any scholar in Islam is full proof and flawless. Not even our peculiar Quranisation of issues of Islam is absolute and error free.   All that we need to do as Muslims in our attitudes to others is “This is true; I don’t interfere with others. If others are good, this is my own positon based on my understanding.” We should desist from saying: “This is the only true way; others are all false. Only mine is good, others are all wrong, unpleasant and unacceptable.
  • Needless envy and jealousy. This is not only among the Muslims but among those who are supposed to be scholars of Islam.
  • Lack of respect to other peoples’ opinion and excesses.
  • Creation of groupings that have no value to add to Muslim Community.
  • Orchestrated attack on fellow Muslims in form of abuses, blackmail, scandal and spreading of unfounded tales about one and other.

INSTRUCTIONS TO THE UMMAH

Let me attempt to instruct the ummah here that we all came to this world at difference times. No one should be complacent or be sure with certainty that any position he holds or his attitude in the religion will adequately unite Muslims, if not demonstrated or upheld with moderation and spirit of togetherness. The following should be taken as instructions for proper and better behaviours by the ummah.

  1. Do not neglect the right of others. Do not be selfish.

Thus we need to take great care not to neglect the rights of our Muslim brothers and fellow human beings, otherwise on the Day of Judgement our good deeds will be of no avail if we have violated the rights of others. Nothing we do, good or bad, should ever be considered insignificant. 

 Jabir bin Abdullah  narrates that the Prophet  said, 

‘Every good deed is sadaqah (an act of charity). Indeed, it is a good deed to meet your brother with a pleasant face and to pour water from your pail into his pot.’ (Tirmidhi)

Abu Hurairah  reports that the Prophet  said, 

‘Indeed a servant speaks a word (which is pleasing to Allah) to which he pays no attention and for which Allah elevates him many grades. And indeed the servant speaks a word (which is displeasing to Allah) to which he pays no attention and for which he shall fall into hellfire.  (Bukhari)

The importance of the rights of others is further elucidated by the fact that often when the Prophet  was informed of someone’s funeral, he would ask if that Muslim had any outstanding debts and whether arrangements had been made to repay them. The Prophet  would proceed to offer the deceased’s funeral prayer only after this question had been successfully answered. On one occasion he declined to offer the funeral prayer over a person who still had outstanding debts, simply telling the Sahabah to pray themselves. This was done to serve as an admonition and a lesson to the rest of the Ummah on the understanding that this person had neglected the rights of another. 

 Salamah bin al Akwa’  reports, 

‘We were seated with the Prophet  when a funeral was brought and the people requested him to pray over it. He asked, “Does the deceased have any outstanding debts?” They replied, “No.” He asked, “Has he left any wealth?” They replied, “No.” The Prophet  offered the funeral prayer over the deceased. Then another funeral was brought. They requested, “Oh Prophet of Allah pray over it.” He asked, “Does he have any outstanding debts?” They replied, “Yes.” He asked, “Has he left any wealth?” They replied, “Three dinars.” The Prophet  then offered the funeral prayer over the deceased. Then a third funeral was brought and they said, “Pray over it.” He asked, “Does the deceased have any outstanding debts?” They replied, “Three dinars.” He said, “Pray over your companion.” Abu Qatadah  said, “Pray over him Oh Prophet of Allah and I shall bear the burden of his debt.” The Prophet  then offered the funeral prayer over him.’ (Bukhari)

  • Respect the honour and dignity of others.

Even more sacred than the wealthof Muslim are his honour, dignity and respect. When these are neglected and abused, then the person guilty of this sin will be more forsaken on the Day of Judgement than one who does not clear his debts with his fellow Muslim. 

These issues have been explained in great detail by the Prophet  . Our being Muslims will only be complete when we take theseinto account and fulfil the rights of others as well as the rights of Allah. Our relationship with our fellow Muslims should not be limited to the simple fulfilment of their rights but should transcend even that stage to the level of desiring for them that which we desire for ourselves. 

Anas  reports that the Prophet  said, 

‘None of you will believe until he loves for his brother that which he loves for himself.’ (Bukhari)

  • Respect for one and another.

One of the greatest causes of friction and conflict is our lack of respect for one another. We hold others in contempt and are very easily incited to ridicule those whom we so wrongly consider to be less privileged and beneath us. Allah says, 

‘O you who believe! Let not (one) people laugh at (another) people perchance they may be better than they, nor let women (laugh) at (other) women, perchance they may be better than they.’ (49:11)

Here it is worth noting that although in many parts of the Quran Allah addresses the believers in general, in these verses Allah addresses the men and then the women again separately. This is to emphasise the gravity of this sin, as it is so rampant amongst Muslims, both men and women. 

We must also understand in relation to the above verse that this laughing and mocking can be in deed, word or even by sign. Although we may say sometimes that we are joking such that our words and actions of jest are merely innocent, we often fall into the prohibition of this verse. It is reported that Abdullah bin Masud  said, ‘Calamities hinge on words. I fear mocking a dog lest I be turned into a dog.’ How many of us can say with a surety that we do not, or have not, ridiculed another Muslim in any manner? 

 Aishah  said to the Prophet  , 

Safiyyah is a woman who is… (like this).’ She then motioned with her hands indicating that she was short. The Prophet  said, ‘Indeed you have said a word which if mixed with the water of the ocean it would dilute it.’ (Abu Dawood)

After addressing the evil of mockery, Allah draws our attention to another common disease that is a major factor in breeding strife and discord amongst the believers. He says: 

‘Nor defame yourselves’ (49:11)

Allah also says: 

Woe to every slanderer, defamer’ (104:1)

Allah Almighty says, ‘Nor defame yourselves’ and not ‘Nor defame one another’ because in reality a person who defames another is actually defaming himself. The believers are a united body and make up the Muslim communityonly as a collection of individuals. Attacks upon the personal character of a single person will reflect adversely on the integrity of the Muslim communityas a whole. Our taunts and abuse may only appear to hurt another individual Muslim, but ultimately the sin, the crime, the guilt and the detrimental consequences of this defamation will affect us all. 

  • Do not monitor or observe the fault of others.

Our persistence in observing the faults of one another is also major obstacle in the way of achieving harmony and brotherhood, for it makes us arrogant and contemptuous of others. At times we may even openly deride and taunt one another because of these misdeeds, failing to realise that we can fall into the same error unless Allah protects us. 

Muadh bin Jabal  narrates that the Prophet  said, 

‘One who taunts his brother for a sin will not die until he himself commits it.’ (Tirmidhi)

Addressing one another with correct names in a mutually respectful and decent manner is also conducive to attaining harmony and strengthening the bonds of Muslim brotherhood. Discourteous titles not only offend and create resentment in the hearts of those at whom they are directed, but are also considered a grave sin in the Shariah

Allah says, 

Nor insult one another by nicknames.’ (49:11)

Adopting a good name for oneself and for one’s children is also very important, for everyone will not only be remembered by these names in this world but will also be called by them on the day of judgement. 

Abu al Dardaa  narrates that the Prophet  said, 

‘On the day of judgement you will be called out by your names and the names of your forefathers. Therefore, make good your names.’ (Abu Dawood)

After Allah has blessed us with faith and enabled us to worship Him, it is extremely shameful on our part, and calamitous for us to court evil by ignoring the aforementioned commandments of Allah and to engage in mockery, ridicule, defamation, and mutual abuse through offensive names. Some of us are culpable here.

Allah says: 

Bad is the name of evil after faith, and those who do not turn in repentance are evil-doers.’ (49:11)

5.  Do not suspect one another.

Oh believers abstain from suspicion, for indeed much suspicion is a sin. And spy not.’ (49:12) 

Unfortunately, this disease is another prevalent evil of today. We merely hear someone say something or see them do something and immediately jump to conclusions, giving the words or actions an unfavourable interpretation. We must learn to avoid suspicion about everything related to another Muslim: his actions, words and statements, his beliefs and ideology, his character and manners, in his social and financial affairs and in his private and public life.  Umar bin al Khattab  is reported to have said, ‘Do not think anything but good about a word uttered by your believing brother as long as you can find a good interpretation for it.’ No one should ever be suspicious of or entertain an unfavourable opinion about someone as this is part of the dignity of a Muslim that is more sacred than the Ka’bah itself. 

Abdullah bin Umar  says, 

I saw the Prophet  performing tawaf around the Ka’bah and saying, ‘How pure you are! And how pure is your fragrance! How great you are! And how great is your sanctity! By He in whose hands lies the soul of Muhammad, the sanctity of a believer is greater with Allah than even your sanctity. (The sanctity) of his wealth, his blood, and that we think nothing of him but good.’ (Ibn Majah)

It is these very suspicions that a person harbours in his heart which lead him to probe further, adding lies to speculation and eventually spread rumours concerning others. The Quran forbids investigation of this kind, i.e. engaging in gossip and making unnecessary inquiries about the personal and social affairs of others that are of no concern. Needlessly preoccupying oneself with such matters creates a temperament that relishes backbiting, slander and gossip, and makes one explore and search for faults and shortcomings in others. 

Abu Hurairah  narrates that the Prophet  said, 

‘Beware of suspicion, for indeed suspicion is the greatest lie. Do not spy or eavesdrop. Do not fall into rivalry and do not envy, hate or turn away from one another. Be the servants of Allah, as brothers.’ (Malik)

Abu Barzah al Aslami  reports that the Prophet  said, 

‘Oh assembly of those who have believed with their tongues but iman has not yet entered their hearts! Do not backbite the Muslims and do not search for their faults, for he who searches for the faults of others, Allah will seek out his faults, and whoever’s faults Allah seeks out Allah will disgrace him in his own home.’ (Abu Dawood)

Backbiting is an evil of many ill dimensions and adverse consequences. Sadly, it has become embedded in our character and we often fail to recognise it as a sin. We try to explain it away and justify it as being ‘truth that has to be revealed’ or ‘an earnest discussion of the facts’, or even ‘I have the courage to say it to the person directly so there is nothing wrong with saying it now’. 

 Abu Hurairah  narrates that the Prophet  asked (the companions  ), 

‘Do you know what is backbiting? They replied, “Allah and his Prophet know best.” He said, ‘You saying something about your brother that he dislikes.’ Someone asked, “How about if what I say is the truth about my brother?” The Prophet  replied, ‘If what you say is the truth about him then you have backbited him. If it is not the truth about him then you have slandered him.’ (Muslim)

We have become so accustomed to backbiting that without it our conversations and meetings feel void and incomplete. It has become the nourishment and fruit of our gatherings. We satisfy our mental and emotional hunger and quench our thirst for gossip, rumour, and meaningless talk with the flesh and blood of our fellow Muslims. How can we abstain from the consumption of pork and alcohol, but have no hesitation in devouring the flesh of our Muslim brothers? 

Allah says, 

And do not backbite one another. Would any of you love to eat the flesh of your dead brother? You would abhor it! Therefore, fear Allah. Indeed, Allah is Oft returning, Merciful.’ (49:12)

The gravity of this sin is highlighted in a great number of Prophet Mohammad statement. It is related that once a person came to the Prophet of Allah  to confess his sin of adultery. The Prophet  turned away from him a number of times but he insisted on confessing. Finally the Prophet  asked him, ‘What do you seek through this confession?’ He replied, ‘I would like you to purify me.’ After asking him a number of further questions to confirm his confession the Prophet  ordered him to be stoned to death. The Prophet  then heard a person say to another, ‘Do you not see this individual whose sin was concealed by Allah but his soul did not leave him be (i.e., he revealed his sin himself) until he was stoned like the stoning of a dog.’ 

The Prophet  then travelled onwards until he came across the carcass of a donkey. He enquired about the two people who had conversed earlier and said to them, ‘Dismount and eat of the carcass of this donkey.’ They replied, ‘May Allah forgive you, Oh Messenger of Allah. Can this be eaten?’ The Prophet  said, ‘What you consumed of your brother a short while ago was a worse devouring than this. I swear by Him in whose hands rests my soul, he is now diving into the streams of paradise.’ (Narrated by Abu Ya’laa al Mawsili in his Musnad) 

 Anas bin Malik  narrates that the Prophet  said, 

‘When I was taken up (in mi’raj) I passed by a group of people who had nails of copper and who were clawing at their faces and bosoms. I asked, “Oh Jibraeel! Who are these people?” He replied, “These are the people who would consume people’s flesh and attack their honour.” (Abu Dawood)

Muhammad bin al Munkadir (A famous tabiee who narrated many tradition of the Prophet and who died in 130 A.H.) says, ‘I saw the Prophet  in a dream. He came out of this house and passed by two men whom I know and whose family lineage I know. He said to them, “May the curse of Allah, his angels and all of mankind fall on you, for you do not believe in Allah and the final day.” I said, “Yes Oh Prophet of Allah! May the curse of Allah, his angels and all of mankind fall on them. But what is their sin?” The Prophet  replied, “Their sin is that they consume people’s flesh.” (Narrated by Ibn Abdul Barr in his al Tamheed.) 

CONLUSION

Let our unity be sustained in diversity for the good of all. Not only with the Muslims, the non-Muslims alike must be held together but not to extent of the worship of their religion. See Q109:6. That their action and inaction are not in tandem with Islam is Allah’s and not any anyone

        “If Allah had willed, all those on the earth would have believed together. Would you Prophet Mohammad compel men until they believe?” Q10:99. The appropriate answer here is NO

Similarly, if Allah had willed all of us would have been one with same idiosyncrasy, mannerism, pattern of thinking etc, but everything has been given to us as test. Allah declares;

And unto thee we have revealed the scripture with the truth, confirming whatever was before it, and a watcher over it. So Judge between them by that which Allah hath revealed, and follow not their desires away from the truth which hath come unto thee. For each we have appointed a divine law and traced out way. Had Allah willed He could have made you ONE COMMUNITY. But that he may try you by that which he hath given you (He has made you as you are). So vie with one another in good works. Unto Allah ye will all return, and He will them inform you of that wherein ye differ.”  Q5:48

Let us all be worshipers of Allah as ONE COMMUNITY. This is the injunction of Allah.

Thank you for listening. God bless you all.

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