Jerrmein Abu Shahba
We live at a time of uncertainly, a time where people are divided for the most trivial of reasons, a time where differences over rule commonalities. A time where the eyes see only the differences, while the unifying aspects are zoomed out. A time where the hearts look at one another with doubt and skepticism. Reality stares us in the face but we choose to ignore it and look elsewhere. Today we live in the midst of the current geo-political climate where people are confronted with an identity crisis after a travel ban has been on imposed on immigrants in the US after Trump’s recent executive order. According to ACS data, the U.S. immigrant population stood at more than 42.4 million, or 13.3 percent, of the total U.S. population of 318.9 million in 2014,. Between 2013 and 2014, the foreign-born population increased by 1 million, or 2.5 percent. Immigrants in the United States and their U.S.-born children now number approximately 81 million people, or 26 percent of the overall U.S. population, a number far from trivial.
In the midst of this time of instability, insecurity, and disappointment by the immigrants of the U.S., we are ever more in need of uniting and unifying together under one umbrella and one aim. This sense of unity is required not only among Muslims as a whole, but also among our brethren among inter-faith believers (Christians and Jews). It is essential not only among the also among people of other divine faiths, it is necessary to exist among all cultures, and backgrounds regardless of their differences. A unity that serves the basic human principles, of, love, compassion, and justice to one another even if we are personally not affected. Nowadays, Muslims living in the West stand in awe as they continue to witness the multitudes of common people who came to protest the immigrant travel ban and many or most of them were not Muslim or immigrant! People marched in rallies in big numbers across the nation, held banners, and chanted their disapproval of this ridiculous executive order which was discriminative against innocent Muslims. It was a beautiful signature of unity by human beings who care for one another regardless of their differences and even if they don’t know one another or is affected by that act of injustice.
When we commemorate the pure memory of the Seal of Prophets of mankind on Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) Day, we celebrate a ‘human being’ by all its meaning; we remember a symbol which personifies all the commendable qualities which God desired for a human being to dress himself. Qualities and attributes which elevate the human being to the highest of ranks among all creations, by the freedom to successfully choose right from wrong, and truth from falsehood. We take example in a man who taught all of humanity the meaning of love, compassion, and justice which join hands together to result in the ultimate result of “unity” among the creatures. There are three types of unity one can and should achieve: intrafaith unity, interfaith unity, and human unity.
The purpose of this article is to investigate through the Holy Qur’an and teachings of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and his purified progeny where the boundaries of unity should exist and why.
If we survey the verses of the Holy Qur’an, we find that the concept of unity is highly emphasized by the Almighty God who said, “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.” [3:103] Here, we understand that the key achieving unity is first to unite with our hearts which carry care and compassion to one another.
It is narrated by Anas ibn Malik that the Holy Prophet (pbuh) has said, “Whoever prays like us and faces our Qibla and eats our slaughtered animals is a Muslim and is under Allah’s and His Apostle’s protection. So do not betray Allah by betraying those who are in His protection.” (Sahih Bukhari) As Muslims we are instructed to take a bird’s eye view approach and look at our commonalities and that which we share, not our specific differences among sects and schools of thoughts.
We find that the famous historical event of “Mu’akhaat” (Brotherhood) portrays a lot when it comes to unity among those who share the same faith. In the fifth year of Hijra, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) created a brotherly contract between each of the Muhajireen and Ansaar by appointing pairs of brothers among those who migrated to Madina and the residents of Madina. The Muslim immigrants were granted not only a safe haven and the ability to travel to another land to seek refuge, but also they were granted the benefit of getting personalized help symbolized by brotherhood which granted emotional, spiritual and materialistic assistance. The fruits of this brotherhood cannot be enumerated and only shows the immense wisdom and insight which the Prophet of Islam (pbuh) enjoyed. One can only imagine how the world would look today if every immigrant was granted a similar benefit of brotherly assistance from their fellow human beings!
This act of brotherhood certainly goes against the idea of division among the Muslim nation and the Almighty God has warned about this division when He said, “Surely they who divided their religion into parts and became sects, you have no concern with them; their affair is only with Allah, then He will inform them of what they did.” [6:159] According to the Prophetic tradition, he admonished the idea of Muslims fighting one another regardless of their disagreements by saying, “If two Muslims faced each other with their swords, both the killer and the one killed are in Hell-Fire.” That is because both were ready to spill the blood of one another. Even if there are instances that two groups of Muslims fight one another, the responsibility falls on our shoulders to bring peace between them, as Allah (SWT) beseeched, “And if two parties of the believers quarrel, make peace between them; but if one of them acts wrongfully towards the other.” [49:9]
What about achieving unity among believers of different faiths emanating from the same Almighty God? Yes, it is possible and it is a must. Muslims, Christians, and Jews all believe in the same God and the core moral principles of these messages are one and the same. Religions which submit to the One Almighty Creator and believe in the idea of prophethood, resurrection, and accounting on the day of Judgment. These are religions that promote the good and forbid the evil, encourage forgiveness and open the door for repentance.
The Almighty God has testified in the Qur’an on behalf of His last Prophet, “The messenger believes in what has been revealed to him from his Lord, and (so do) the believers; they all believe in Allah and His angels and His books and His messengers; We make no difference between any of His messengers; and they say: We hear and obey, our Lord! Thy forgiveness (do we crave), and to Thee is the end of all journeys.” [2:285] The divine testimony acknowledging the similarities among divine faiths is a clear indication of God’s will and desire for people to unite based on their commonalities and to set aside their differences for He along knows the extent and degrees of differences which exist among mankind. It is much better to look at the cup half full, meaning to look at the areas where we are similar, rather than to magnify our lens on areas which make us different. Again, God affirms the need for unity among inter-faith religions and specifically reminds Muslims that, “Surely those who believe, and those who are Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabians, whoever believes in Allah and the Last day and does good, they shall have their reward from their Lord, and there is no fear for them, nor shall they grieve.” [2:62] The Qur’an values the institution of moral principles and praises all those who uphold justice regardless of their religion, One example mentioned in the Qur’an is al-Najashi Christian King whom out of human consideration and justice, provided refuge for the Muslim immigrants to Ethiopia after they were persecuted in Makkah.
When we look at a holistic approach among the divine faiths, it is much better for us (the believers of the monotheistic religions) to unite and unify under the divine umbrella which promotes love, care, justice, and all the beautiful moral attributes which mankind must strive to uphold. One of the companions, Nu’man ibn Bashir narrates that the Prophet (pbuh) said, “The similitude of believers in regard to mutual love, affection, and brotherly feeling is that of one body; when any limb of it aches, the whole body aches because of sleeplessness and fever.” (Sahih Muslim)
The word “Islam” is derived from the word meaning “peace” in Arabic. Islam is a religion revealed to mankind with the intention of presenting a peaceful life where the infinite compassion and mercy of God manifests on earth. God calls all people to live by the moral values He sets so that compassion, mercy, peace and love can be experienced all over the world. Peace is a cornerstone of Islam; hence no one should be forced to believe in Islam, as the Quran states, “There is no compulsion where the religion is concerned.” [2:256]
The Quran provides an environment where people can fully enjoy freedom of thought and freedom of religion and allows people to live by the faith and values they believe in. According to Islam, everyone has the right to live freely by his beliefs, whatever they may be. In this sense, freedom of religion, or freedom of belief, is one of the basic tenets of Islam. “God does not forbid you from being good to those who have not fought you in the religion or driven you from your homes, or from being just towards them. God loves those who are just.” [60: 8]
The Almighty explicitly states that the existence of people from different faiths and opinions is something that we have to acknowledge and welcome heartily, for this is how He created and predestined humankind in this world, “We have appointed a law and a practice for every one of you. Had God willed, He would have made you a single community, but He wanted to test you regarding what has come to you. So compete with each other in doing good. Every one of you will return to God and He will inform you regarding the things about which you differed.” [5:48]
If we as human beings remember that we share the same Grand great grandfather and grandmother, Adam and Eve, we will be forced to forget our differences and to remember that which we share in common. We will then see and treat each other as brothers and sisters as Imam Ali ibn Abi Taleb beautifully said, “Man is either your brother in faith or your brother in humanity.” If we remember that we will all experience death and turn back into dust, our level of arrogance, self-conceit and discrimination will diminish. We live in a time and age where achieving unity is an absolute necessity, not a luxury. It is an obligation, not a recommendation. It is source of mercy to all of mankind and the lack of it has grave implications, the least of it is bloodshed and havoc. We as human citizens on earth carry an obligation on our shoulders to promote love, unity, and justice among our brethren and not to engage the active or passive promotion of sectarian violence and mischief among people of different faiths. If we live with the motto that ‘united we live and united we die”, the stability and security of mankind will be accomplished to a large extent.