BROTHERHOOD IN ISLAM
By Bilgin Erdogan
Brotherhood is basically defined as the relationship between brothers. In a broader scale, it is the bonding of men of various backgrounds, beliefs, places, and eras around a common set of life-directing commitments. In Islam, brotherhood is described as the bond that links a Muslim to his brother, regardless of race, nationality, color or language, with faith in Allah (SWT) as its common belief. The brotherhood of faith is the strongest of bonds between hearts and minds.
Brotherhood yields the fruits of faith and love for the sake of Allah (SWT). It is a gift from Allah (SWT) that is shared between believers and granted to whomever Allah (SWT) chooses from His servants. Brotherhood in Islam is an obligation, not a choice. Allah says:
(Hujurat, 49:10) “The believers are but brothers, so make settlement between your brothers. And fear Allah that you may receive mercy.”
(Al-Imran, 3:103) “And hold firmly to the rope of Allah all together and do not become divided. And remember the favor of Allah upon you - when you were enemies and He brought your hearts together and you became, by His favor, brothers…”
The Prophet Muhammad (saw) said: "You will not enter paradise until you believe (have faith), and you will not believe (have faith) until you love one another. Shall I not guide you to something which if you carry out you will love one another? Spread salam amongst yourselves." [Bukhari & Muslim]
It was also reported that the Messenger (saw) said: “Those who sit nearer to me are the ones among you with the best manners, the humble, who befriend and are befriended.” [Tabarani]
In the time of the Messenger (saw), he combined two groups of people; the Muhajirin (those who migrated from Makkah to Al-Madinah) and the Ansar (the people of Madinah who gave ‘Nusrah’ (good support) to Islam), consequent to the completion of the Hijrah. These two groups were essentially total strangers up to this point.
The two groups understood and accepted the responsibilities that came with this union; sharing wealth, protecting each other’s honor and other brotherly deeds, in effect easing the Muhajirin’s burden because they had left everything behind in Makkah at the beginning of the Hijrah.
This action (the union of the two groups) had changed the perception of what brotherhood means in the Muslim community. It redefined the concept of brotherhood beyond any typical understanding of blood or tribal relationships.
Brotherhood in Islam imposes a great responsibility on us to protect our brothers and sisters from harm. Ali ibn Abu Talib (ra) said, “Stick to brotherhood, for it is of great help in this world and the next.” This brotherhood of Islam creates a loyalty and affection between people that are unlike any worldly relationships.
Conditions to Brotherhood
In as much as brotherhood holds many benefits to the Muslim community, in order for it to work, there are some conditions that have to be adhered to:
- It has to be for the sake of Allah (SWT).
Loving one another for the sake of Allah (SWT) is the greatest form of worship. It is based on faith and the love for Allah (SWT). It is with the purpose of gaining the pleasure of Allah (SWT). For when we love our brothers (and sisters) for the sake of Allah’s pleasure, the bond that ties us together can never be broken. We will never hesitate to sacrifice ourselves for the benefit and justice of our brothers (and sisters).
Abu Hurayrah relates that the Messenger (saw) said: “Allah will ask on the Day of Judgment: ‘Where are those who loved each other for the sake of My glory? Today, - on a day when there is no shade but mine – I shall shade them with My shade.” [Sahih Muslim]
- It should be based on faith and piety.
As Muslim, we obtain piety by true faith which will bring about great love for and fear of Allah (SWT). That in turn, will lead to doing righteous deeds and avoiding the evil ones.
Thus, it is important that in establishing brotherhood we keep in mind our duties and obligations to Allah (SW) as He says,
(At-Tawbah, 9:71) “The believing men and believing women are allies of one another. They enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and establish prayer and give zakah and obey Allah and His Messenger. Those - Allah will have mercy upon them. Indeed, Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise.”
So by maintaining our faith and piety the brotherhood will then manage to sustain itself through any challenges and continue to serve the people according to the right path.
It was reported that one day four people asked for an appointment to see Umar Al-Khattab (ra). They were Ammar ibn Yasir (a muhajirin), Suhaybi Rumi (a former slave), Suhail ibn Amr (a prominent leader among the Quraysh) and Abu Sufyan (a leader of a Quraysh tribe). Umar (ra) agreed to meet with Suhaybi first, then Ammar, Abu Sufyan and Suhail in that order. Suhail and Abu Sufyan were angry saying that they should be met first because of their rank. However, Umar (ra) insisted that the importance should be placed on piety above else.
- We should draw examples from the Messenger (saw) and his companions. Real companionship and brotherhood were well-demonstrated in the Sunnah. When we read about the Messenger (saw) and companions’ life, we see these tremendous examples.
Khubaib Ibn Adiy (ra), one of the companions of the Messenger (saw) was the first person in history to be crucified for Islam. During the battle of Badr, he killed the Makkan Al-Harith Ibn Amir Ibn Nawfal and the sons swore to take revenge. While on the cross, Khubaib, who was being pricked and his body pierced by the spears and swords of the pagan polytheists, was asked, “Would you not rather wish that be in your place while you are safe and sound with your family?”
Khubaib answered, “By Allah! I would not like to be safe with my wife and children with the joys of the whole world while the Messenger of Allah (saw) is being hurt even with the prick of a thorn.” Such was the love he had for the Messenger (saw).
Another example was recorded by Al-Bukhari which was narrated by Abu Hurayrah (ra). A man came to the Messenger (saw) and said, “O Allah’s Messenger! Poverty has stuck me.”
The Messenger (saw) sent a messenger to his wives (to bring something for that man to eat) but they said that they had nothing. Then the Messenger (saw) said, “Who will invite this person or entertain him as a guest tonight? May Allah grant His mercy to him who does so.”
An Ansari man said, “I, O Allah’s Messenger!” So he took him to his wife and said to her, “Entertain the guest of Allah’s Messenger generously.” She said, “By Allah! We have nothing except the meal for my children.” He said, “Let your children sleep if they ask for supper. Then turn off the lamp and we will make sounds with our mouths to make the guest think that we are eating with him and then go to bed tonight while hungry.” She did what he asked her to do.
In the morning the Ansari went to the Prophet (saw) and asked if Allah (SWT) wondered (favorably) or laughed at the action of so-and-so and his wife. Allah (SWT) then revealed, “…and they give them preference over themselves even though they were in need of that…”
Such was the love of the companions and people of those times for their brothers. Not a single doubt in their hearts to sacrifice their well-being for the love of their brothers.
- It should consist of mutual advices that are for the sake of Allah (SWT).
Mutual advices should be for no other intention other than for the sake of Allah (SWT). Allah loves those who love their brothers more than themselves. This kind of value of friendship or brotherhood transcends any priceless value in this world. It is also the Sunnah of the Messenger (saw) giving advice to his companions and his companions to each other. The Messenger had said, “Religion is Nasihah”.
Nasihah is not so much about advice; rather it is about seeking the good and benefit in a situation. We look to improve the situation, or the individual, instead of debasing and humiliating them. Thus, we give nasihah in the best way possible: the way that it will be received. This, in essence, is one of the very reasons we come together as a community. So when we give advice for the sake of Allah (SWT) the brotherhood will go stronger.
- It should be based on cooperation and meeting each other’s needs in both good and difficult times.
We should be steadfast in our relationships in the brotherhood. Regardless of the situation; sick or healthy, good or bad, we should never neglect our brothers, especially in trying times.
In good times, we should continuously foster the good relations; visiting, giving advice, improving the condition of the community. So too in difficult times, the practices should never stop.
There was an incident during the battle of Yarmuk. On one day of the battle, Hudhayfah al-’Adawi went out searching for his cousin on the battlefield with a container of water. When he came across his cousin, who was going in and out of consciousness, he asked him, “Do you want me to give you some water?” His cousin nodded his head. Suddenly they heard another wounded man in the distance calling out in pain. So his cousin told Hudhayfah to go tend the man.
Hudhayfah went to him and saw that it was Hisham, the brother of Amr Ibn Al-'As. Hudhayfah asked if he wanted some water and he nodded, and suddenly they heard the sound of another man calling out in the distance in pain. So, Hisham motioned for Hudhayfah to go tend the other man. Hudhayfah went to him but found the man had already died. So he went back to tend to Hisham, only to find that he had died as well. Then he went back to tend to his cousin to find that he, too, had died.
How to build a Strong Brotherhood
- Financial protection
When faced with any financial difficulties, we must be ready to give a helping hand. This is not limited to monetary assistance only but also moral support, advice or opportunities. If we know of someone in need of a job, we should help him or her in searching for the job. If we know of some economic or investment opportunity that may help a brother, we should inform him. Any kind of assistance that may bring about improvement of the life of a brother or sister, or a community is not only going to save their life but also make the brotherhood stronger.
In order for this to happen though, we must have the awareness and pro-activeness in these situations. We need to become aware of the financial situation of our brothers. We should allocate a monthly amount for helping our brothers in need. We should also devise some collective business ventures (regulated by Shari’ah) to improve each other’s financial situation.
If a brother is in slump state or depression, we should consistently follow up with him to see how he is doing, to advice and motivate him, and make dua for him (in his absence) so that he will remain in the right path of life. Continue to involve him in activities like lectures, halaqah, etc. And give him counseling to help him through these bad times.
We should always bring joy to our brother’s heart. Keep the conversation informal, defend him from harm, race to benefit him, and never rejoice over his misfortunes. The Messenger (saw) said (narrated by Abu Huraira (ra), “Whoever relieves a believer’s distress of the distressful aspects of this world, Allah will rescue him from a difficulty of the difficulties of the Hereafter. Whoever alleviates [the situation of] one in dire straits who cannot repay his debt, Allah will alleviate his lot in both this world and in the Hereafter. Whoever conceals [the faults of] a Muslim, Allah will conceal [his faults] in this life and the Hereafter. Allah is helping the servant as long as the servant is helping his brother.” [Muslim]
Therefore, always make prayer for our brothers, and set up a consistent visitation schedule amongst our close brothers.
- Your brother’s right over your speech
Brotherhood includes guarding our tongue from hurting our brother and never mentioning him except in good manner. Do not allow anyone to complain to us about our brother lest it cause a rift between us and our brother or cause us to become impatient with him. The Messenger (saw) said: “I like to meet my brothers with a clean heart.”
We love our brothers despite their weaknesses.
Abu Huraira (ra) narrated: Once Maiz Al Aslami (ra) appeared before the Messenger (saw) and bore witness against himself four times that he had committed adultery with a woman Everytime he made his statement the Messenger (saw) turned his face away from Maiz. After the fourth time, the Messenger (saw) took action and he was ordered to be stoned to death. Later on, the Messenger (saw) heard a companion say to another, “See Maiz, he disclosed the matter, even though Allah covered the matter, and so he was stoned like a dog”.
The Messenger (saw) however kept quiet and continued walking. After a certain distance the Messenger (saw) arrived to a place where there was a dead donkey with one of its legs sticking up. Seeing this, the Prophet (saw) asked “Where are so-and-so” (i.e. the two men talking about Maiz). They replied, “We are here”. The Prophet (saw) told them to eat the dead donkey. But they replied, “May Allah forgive you O Messenger of Allah! Who can eat a dead ass?” Thereupon the Prophet (saw) observed, “What both of you said by mud-slinging your brother (Maiz) is more disgusting than eating this dead donkey. By the One who holds my life, he (Maiz) is now diving into the canals of paradise”.
Another companion of the Messenger (saw), Nuayman ibn Amr, unfortunately for a time became addicted to alcohol. He was caught drinking and the Prophet (saw) had him flogged. He was caught a second time and then he had him flogged again. Because he still did not give up the habit, the Messenger (saw) ordered that he be flogged with shoes. Umar (ra) gave vent to his anger and disgust by saying: “La ‘nat Allah alayhi – may Allah’s curse be on him.” The Messenger (saw) heard Umayr’s (ra) imprecation and said: “No, no, don’t do (such a thing). Indeed he loves Allah (SWT) and His Apostle (saws). The major sin (as this) does not put one outside the community and the mercy of Allah (SWT) is close to the believers.”
We love our brothers despite their differences in background or ideology.
Bilal Al-Habashi was given the honor by the Messenger (saw) when he was asked to climb on top of Kaabah to call the adhan. The incident was deemed humiliating for the Makkah Mushrikin because Bilal was black and a former slave that they had once tortured mercilessly. Islamic brotherhood does not discriminate. Everyone is treated with honor regardless of their background.
So is with our differences in opinion and ideology. We can see from the relations of our pious predecessors. For example the four school of thoughts Imam Hanafi, Imam Maliki, Imam Shafi’i and Imam Hanbali. Though between them there are different of opinions and quite a few disagreements in interpreting religious material, they never disrespect each other. So too are the case between Imam Abu Hanifa and his students Imam Yusuf and Imam Muhammad, and between Imam Bukhari and Imam Muslim. Conflict and disagreement are natural, and it does not mean the existence of both should destroy the brotherhood. As long as the brotherhood stands with pure intention and for the sake of Allah (SWT), any differences will not break the bond.
We must also give opportunities to our brothers to protect and guide us to bring us back to the light of Allah (SWT). Abu Hurayrah (ra) said: The Messenger (saw) said: “The believer is a mirror for the believer, and the believer is the brother of the believer. He safeguards his property for him and defends him from behind.”[Abu Daawud]
So the believer is the mirror of his fellow brother. Our brother knows the mistakes and shortcomings that we may have and therefore informs us of them so accept what he tells us. This profoundly shows the culmination of brotherhood and solidarity. Moreover, it is our duty to protect our brothers (and sisters) as commanded by Allah (SWT):
(At-Tawbah, 9:71) “The believing men and believing women are allies of one another. They enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong…”
Strengthening the Ties of Brotherhood
- Should you love a brother, tell him so.
Islam encourages us to spread love in our community. One of the ways is to tell a fellow brother of our love for him. The purpose is to open hearts and spread love and purity among the ranks of the Ummah. The Messenger (saw) said, “If a man loves his brother, let him tell him that he loves him.” [Abu Dawud and al-Tirmidhi]
- When you meet a brother, stop to smile and shake his hand.
We should always maintain a pure heart and cheerful expression. We should not meet our brothers except with warmth and smiles. The Messenger (saw) said, “Your smiling at your brother is an act of charity (sadaqah).” Saidina Ali (ra) said, “When two Muslims meet and converse, Allah will forgive the one who has the most cheerful face.”
It was the habit of the Messenger’s (saw) companions, who were the living example of Islam, to shake hands whenever they met, and whenever they returned from a journey they would embrace one another. These actions increase the feelings of love and friendship between the two who meet. The Messenger (saw) said, “When two Muslims meet and shake hands, they are forgiven their sins before they part with each other.”
- If you take leave of a brother, ask him to make prayer for you.
Making prayer for another person is proof of your love and care for them. The Messenger (saw) said, “The quickest prayer to be answered is a man's supplication for his brother in his absence.”
- Visit your brother often and on a regular basis.
Islam encourages us to have continued contact and mutual affection amongst us. Islam forbids brothers in faith to hate or abandon one another. It is also Sunnah to hold dialogues or communications to discuss issues in our community. This is exactly the wisdom behind the Jama’ah; to meet and care for each other.
Umar Al-Khattab (ra) said: To meet our brother is for our worries and difficulties of our life to go away.
- When special occasion arise, congratulate your brother and join him in rejoicing. We should share our joy with our brothers. It will strengthen the bond of brotherhood. It is a nourishment of the soul. The sweetness of our living is meeting our brothers.
Benefits of Brotherhood
Most important of all is that it results in the pleasure of faith. As Allah says in Surah Hujurat verse 10, “The believers are but brothers…” Surely fulfilling this obligation will gain us the pleasure of Allah (SWT), especially when it is done with pure intention and for the sake of the love of Allah (SWT). It is a means to have true faith. A means to achieve the love of Allah (SWT). The Messenger (saw) said, “Whoever loves for the sake of Allah, hates for the sake of Allah, gives for the sake of Allah and withholds for the sake of Allah has completed his faith.” [Abu Dawud]
The Messenger (saw) also said, “Around the Throne (of Allah) there are pulpits of light surrounded by people whose clothing is light and whose faces are light. They are neither Prophets nor martyrs but the Prophets and martyrs would be happy to be in their state.” The people said, “O Allah’s Messenger, describe them to us.” He said, “They are the ones who love for the sake of Allah, meet together for the sake of Allah and visit each other for the sake of Allah.” [An-Nasa’i]
Brotherhood also leads to an immense improvement in our community and the society at large. The spirit of Muslim brotherhood is the basis for a good Muslim society. Helping each other will remove suffering and lead to a healthy and wholesome society. It will also help to remove enmity among Muslims by trying to reduce the differences.
In a broader perspective, it will result in a good representation of Islam. With all the positive impacts the brotherhood has on our community, it will attract more people to understand the religion and later may embrace Islam.
All in all, brotherhood brings joy and peace to us Muslims. Keep in our mind to always foster the brotherhood spirit in our friend’s heart. Mingle more in the company of our brothers. Always remind ourselves of the necessity of pure intention, affection and friendliness amongst brothers (and sisters). Strive to unite all the brothers (and sisters). Concentrate on the aspect of faith that awaken the hearts and cement them together. Umar bin al-Khattab (ra) said: “If one of you is blessed with affection from his brother, he should hold onto that as tightly as possible, as it is quite rare for one to be blessed with this.”
We also should ensure that we do not allow ourselves or others around us to engage in activities that could affect the unity of the Muslim Ummah. Activity such as backbiting; we must refrain from initiating or participating in it. Envy and jealousy are also forbidden, which are the common causes of problems amongst brothers and sisters.
The Messenger (saw) said, “Do not have malice against a Muslim; do not be envious of other Muslims; do not go against a Muslim and forsake him. O the servant of Allah! Be like brothers with each other. It is not allowed for a Muslim to desert his brother for over three days.” [Muslim & Tirmidhi]
Zubair (ra) said: Allah loves it when we love our brothers more than ourselves. You can consider ourselves the most pious of person, performing all types of ibadah but if you hate a muslimin (brother or sister), Allah (SWT) will not look to us favorable. The Messenger (saw) said, “The Believers, in their mutual love, mercy and compassion, are like one body: if one organ complained, the rest of the body develops a fever.” [Bukhari & Muslim]
This is the spirit of brotherhood that we want to revive. If we can wake this spirit up, all the problems in the past is irrelevant, and all the problems in the present can be solved. Brotherhood will keep our community strong today.
Reported by Ibn ‘Umar (ra): the Messenger of Allah (saw) said, “A Muslim is a brother of (another) Muslim, he neither wrongs him nor does hand him over to one who does him wrong. If anyone fulfills his brother's needs, Allah will fulfill his needs; if one relieves a Muslim of his troubles, Allah will relieve his troubles on the Day of Resurrection; and if anyone covers up a Muslim (his sins), Allah will cover him up (his sins) on the Resurrection Day”. [Bukhari & Muslim] Be good to your brothers, and Allah will be good to you.
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