Da’wah & Fraternity in Islam

Among some of the most daunting challenges facing Muslims today is the challenge of religious literacy. While Muslims in America by and large excel at secular literacy, as a community, we are still laboring under the weight of a holistic understanding of Islam. Some of these malfeasance can be seen in the protest spirit Muslims exhibit [in America and globally]. The first half of the Shahadah [Testimony of Faith] has been truncated from “there is no god but God”/لا إله إلا الله to something dangerously close to “there is no god”/لا إله. What I mean here is not to suggest that Muslims are practicing atheism, but rather that we have let our protest spirit runway wild on us. For the most part, our protest [from American culture to foreign policy, etc.] is seldom passed on principal, but instead, based on something more mundane, such as politics, ideology, and aesthetics. So the topic at hand is da’wah, or the calling to God. The question at hand here is how can Muslims be successful at calling to God if there is no love, no fraternity between Muslims and their non-Muslim neighbors? This is further complicated by the fact that many indigenous American Muslims are either encouraged to feel a cultural disconnect in the guise of religiosity. Not only is this not in Muslim’s [nor Islam’s] best interest in America, it in fact contradicts the very nuanced  argument that God puts forth in the Qur’ān regarding this very same dilemma. Let us examine a few Qur’ānic verses that speak to brotherhood in the context of believers and non-believers:

وَاعْتَصِمُوا۟ بِحَبْلِ اللَّهِ جَمِيعًۭا وَلَا تَفَرَّقُوا۟ ۚ وَاذْكُرُوا۟ نِعْمَتَ ٱللَّهِ عَلَيْكُمْ إِذْ كُنتُمْ أَعْدَآءًۭ فَأَلَّفَ بَيْنَ قُلُوبِكُمْ فَأَصْبَحْتُم بِنِعْمَتِهِۦٓ إِخْوَٰنًۭا وَكُنتُمْ عَلَىٰ شَفَا حُفْرَةٍۢ مِّنَ ٱلنَّارِ فَأَنقَذَكُم مِّنْهَا ۗ كَذَٰلِكَ يُبَيِّنُ ٱللَّهُ لَكُمْ ءَايَٰتِهِۦ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَهْتَدُونَ

“Hold fast to the rope of God all together, and do not separate. Remember God’s blessing to you when you were enemies and God joined your hearts together so that you became brothers by God’s blessing. You were on the very brink of a pit of the Fire and God rescued you from it. In this way God makes God’s Signs clear to you, so that hopefully you will be guided.” [Qur’ān Āl-‘Imrān (3):103]

لَقَدْ أَرْسَلْنَا نُوحًا إِلَىٰ قَوْمِهِۦ فَقَالَ يَٰقَوْمِ ٱعْبُدُوا۟ ٱللَّهَ مَا لَكُم مِّنْ إِلَٰهٍ غَيْرُهُۥٓ إِنِّىٓ أَخَافُ عَلَيْكُمْ عَذَابَ يَوْمٍ عَظِيمٍۢ

“We sent Noah to his people and he said, ‘My people, worship God! You have no other deity than Him. I fear for you the punishment of a dreadful Day’.” [Qur’ān al-A’rāf (7):59]

أَوَعَجِبْتُمْ أَن جَآءَكُمْ ذِكْرٌۭ مِّن رَّبِّكُمْ عَلَىٰ رَجُلٍۢ مِّنكُمْ لِيُنذِرَكُمْ وَلِتَتَّقُوا۟ وَلَعَلَّكُمْ تُرْحَمُونَ

“Or are you astonished that a reminder should come to you from your Lord by way of a man among you, to warn you and make you have taqwā so that hopefully you will gain mercy?’” [Qur’ān al-A’rāf (7):63]

وَإِلَىٰ عَادٍ أَخَاهُمْ هُودًۭا ۗ قَالَ يَٰقَوْمِ ٱعْبُدُوا۟ ٱللَّهَ مَا لَكُم مِّنْ إِلَٰهٍ غَيْرُهُۥٓ ۚ أَفَلَا تَتَّقُونَ

“And to ‘Ād We sent their brother Hūd, who said, ‘My people, worship God! You have no other deity than Him. So will you not have taqwā?’” [Qur’ān al-A’rāf (7):65]

وَإِلَىٰ ثَمُودَ أَخَاهُمْ صَٰلِحًۭا

“And to Thamūd We sent their brother Sāliḥ” [Qur’ān al-A’rāf (7):73]

وَلُوطًا إِذْ قَالَ لِقَوْمِهِۦٓ أَتَأْتُونَ ٱلْفَٰحِشَةَ مَا سَبَقَكُم بِهَا مِنْ أَحَدٍۢ مِّنَ ٱلْعَٰلَمِينَ

“And Lot, when he said to his people, ‘Do you commit an obscenity not perpetrated before you by anyone in all the worlds?.” [Qur’ān al-A’rāf (7):80]

وَإِلَىٰ مَدْيَنَ أَخَاهُمْ شُعَيْبًۭا ۗ قَالَ يَٰقَوْمِ ٱعْبُدُوا۟ ٱللَّهَ مَا لَكُم مِّنْ إِلَٰهٍ غَيْرُهُۥ ۖ قَدْ جَآءَتْكُم بَيِّنَةٌۭ مِّن رَّبِّكُمْ ۖ فَأَوْفُوا۟ ٱلْكَيْلَ وَٱلْمِيزَانَ وَلَا تَبْخَسُوا۟ ٱلنَّاسَ أَشْيَآءَهُمْ وَلَا تُفْسِدُوا۟ فِى ٱلْأَرْضِ بَعْدَ إِصْلَٰحِهَا ۚ ذَٰلِكُمْ خَيْرٌۭ لَّكُمْ إِن كُنتُم مُّؤْمِنِينَ

“And to Madyān We sent their brother Shu‘ayb who said, ‘My people, worship God! You have no other deity than Him. A Clear Sign has come to you from your Lord. Give full measure and full weight. Do not diminish people’s goods. Do not cause corruption in the land after it has been put right. That is better for you if you are Mu’minūn.” [Qur’ān al-A’rāf (7):85]

وَءَاتِ ذَا ٱلْقُرْبَىٰ حَقَّهُۥ وَٱلْمِسْكِينَ وَٱبْنَ ٱلسَّبِيلِ وَلَا تُبَذِّرْ تَبْذِيرًا ﴿٦٢﴾ إِنَّ ٱلْمُبَذِّرِينَ كَانُوٓا۟ إِخْوَٰنَ ٱلشَّيَٰطِينِ ۖ وَكَانَ ٱلشَّيْطَٰنُ لِرَبِّهِۦ كَفُورًۭا

Clearly, there is a theme running between these verses that God is calling our attention to. One, is the method and function of Prophecy itself: All of the above Prophets are referred to as “brother”/أخ. Either God refers to them as their brother, in the case in Sūrah al-A’rāf (7):85:“And to Madyān We sent their brother Shu‘ayb…”, or God refers to them as one of their people: “We sent Noah to his people…”, in Sūrah al-A’rāf (7):59. The point here is that Prophecy/Prophethood, and by extension, Islam!, always operated in a context where it was familiar and known. Noah, Lot, Shu’ayb and all of the other Prophets [peace and blessings on all of them] were known and knew their peoples. This means that believer/مؤمن and non-believer/كافر operated in a mutual context where the Prophets had an emotional [and likely, cultural] attachment to their people. Without this connection, the message of Islam, the Oneness of God, would have been alienated and marginalized. What is worth mentioning here is that despite the apparent familiarity that these Prophet’s had with their respective peoples, the message was still rejected by some. Believe, faith, and non-belief is far more complicated than we often wish to admit and recognize. But if we are to make ourselves understood and deliver the message of Islam clearly and effectively, then we must address the rift many of us feel [and feel we have to feel] towards our current cultural context. To be sure, this is not some new-fangled ideology, but in fact, keeping with God’s sunnan, God’s intended way, for religion to be preached and carried out.

So why is it, if the message of Islam that was preached by the Prophets and Messengers of God to various peoples was always done through the medium of the familiar, that we as Muslism today, act in contradiction to this? In my nearly twenty years of observation, I feel it has something to do with ideas. A small quote here from Chris Nolan’s Inception, points to the power of persuasion that ideas have:

“What is the most resistant parasite? Bacteria? A virus? An intestinal worm? An idea. Resilient; highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold in the brain, it is almost impossible to eradicate. An idea that is fully formed, fully understood, that sticks.” [Dom Cobb – Inception]

Moreover, we can see that brotherhood is a God-given cure to the stinginess and miserliness we see prevalent in our culture today:

“Give your relatives their due, and the very poor and travellers but do not squander what you have. Squanderers are brothers to the shaytans, and Shaytan was ungrateful to his Lord.” [Qur’ān al-Isrā (17):27]

Brotherhood is not some secular means of feeling good, it is also an extension of worship/عبادة and is a  means of showing gratitude to God.

So let us remember God, remember God’s beloved Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلمand all of God’s Prophets and Messengers, peace be upon all of them, and have it serve as a reminder of how we treat each other, how we treat our neighbors, and how we treat our Islam, that we approach it with humility, dignity, and a sense of awe regarding the mantle we have had bestowed on us from God’s mercy. Amin.

ربنا اغفر لنا ولإخوننا الذين سبقونا بالإيمان و لا تجعل في قلوبنا غلا للذين ءامنوا ربنا إنك رؤوف رحيم

“‘Our Lord, forgive us and our brothers who preceded us in imān and do not put any rancor in our hearts towards those who have imān. Our Lord, You are All-Gentle, Most Merciful’.” [Qur’ān al-Ḥashr (59):10]

Additional Sources

The Sacred

Today’s world is a cynical world. How often do we see the deepest, the most egregious problems dealt with a cynical hand? I heard once from a modern scholar that the only people in today’s society that have the power to critique are the comedians. But they loose their impact because they trivialize the issue by making a jest of it (whether or not that make a jest of it).

I recently gave a talk at Rutgers University, to a group of students who were taking a class on spiritual autobiography. Like many people I’ve talked to this year in regards to Islam, “why did the Muslims react the way in which they did towards the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad” has been been one of the more popular questions. My answer has been long coming to me – but the answer I gave that day and the one I’ll give again today is because of The Sacred. I will outline what I mean by sacred so that one will not conflate my words to mean that I condone actions of violence. I most certainly do not. But in an effort to break away from the certain perspectives (Orientalist, Islamophobes…) that these violent reactions are a result of the Eastern Mind or something inherent in Islam and instead, people’s (misguided, and I’ll get to that as well) frustrations towards The Sacred being violated. For many people who had issue with the cartoons (myself included), we were told that Freedom of Speech trumped our concepts of The Sacred. Being able to say whatever comes to one’s mind supersedes that of moral, ethical and public judgment. With this reckless abandonment of wisdom as a system, then there will always be people who will lash out (hopefully in a proverbial way) against having that which they hold as Sacred, trampled underneath someone else’s belief system. The final part of this short essay is the re-examination of what is and isn’t Sacred for Muslims, or if I may be so bold, what aught to be Sacred and the re-prioritization of The Sacred for Muslims based on what the Prophet and his companions held as Sacred, as a guide for Muslims living in this “Western” part of the world.

Before we can clear the deck for me to leap into this topic I’d like to clarify a few short topics. In a recent interview I was quoted as being a “progressive Muslim”. In today’s world of headlines and sound-bites, one little word, one little phrase can pigeonhole a person. To state it for the record, I never used this word “progressive” to describe myself or any of my ideologies. Islam in the 20th century has a seen a vast array of movements: Reformists. Traditionalists. Jihadists. And yes, Progressives. While it is not the focus of this post to target any of those groups or to even say that they are not legitimate, I will say that I am not a reformist, a traditionalist, a jihadist or a progressive. Now that isn’t to say that I may not share specific sentiments with some of these groups but I do not want my labeling as a Progressive to be conflated as consensual.

The most sacred thing for Muslims is God. That is a simple fact. And it is not just simply that there is a god but that there is no god except God (La ilaha illallah). This simple phrase, known as the Testimony of Faith (al-Shahadah) is the foundation of Muslim theology and belief. At the time of the Prophet Muhammad, one of the key aspects of his mission was to reintroduce Monotheism back to the world. The majority of the Arabs living in the Arabian peninsula during the time of the Prophet had slipped into idol worship, despite many of them being descendants of great prophets of God themselves (Abraham, Jonah, Shu’aib to name a few). The center of interest in Makkah was the Ka’bah, the house that Abraham built as a place of worship. And while the Qur’an was revealed throughout the 23 years of the Prophet’s stay in Arabia, it dealt theologically with Sacred Ideologies, chief amongst them was not ascribing partners or association with God. God admonishes those that say God is three or that Jesus the son of Mary, the Messiah, is God himself [Q 5: 72-75]. I state this here not polemically – that is not the point of my argument. But rather to reinforce what is sacred to Muslims. God is the most sacred – one of God’s names is al-Quddus, or The Holy or The Sacred. So with this understanding, why is it that Muslims aren’t jumping off at every Christian for wearing a cross on their necks or building churches that have Jesus on the cross, worshipped as God or the son of God? Because of another sacred source for Muslims – the Sunnah.

That the Prophet Muhammad is sacred for Muslims goes without saying. His life is a holy example for all Muslims in terms of morals, permissible actions and so forth. Many rulings for Shari’ah or Islamic Law, comes from his life. But if we were to examine the Prophet’s life and look at what he considered sacred, would it coincide with what Muslims hold as sacred?

To take the example from above, referring to Christians and their theological stance that they proclaim Jesus the son of Mary is the Son of God, this would contradict the teachings that the Prophet was preaching. And yet, while going against the grain of God’s theological bounds, the Prophet never proclaimed the life of the Christians forfeit. No churches were burned down on his order. No representatives of Christianity were assassinated. To take it a step further, the pagans were not indiscriminately slaughtered. Their idols were not even allowed to be desecrated. Why? Because the Prophet knew that Jesus was holy, sacred to the Christians even while he believed it wrong! The pagan Arabs (who, on a scale, ranked much lower than Jews or Christians because they were people who had received Divine Revelation) were still treated with respect and treaties were signed with them. If Muslims would but take the time to study their own “traditions”, we might see that that which we hold as sacred and that which the Prophet held as sacred are not one and the same. And further, even when something this is sacred to us is violated, are actions are woefully unacceptable.

Our modern age is one of false universals and failed utopian ideologies. And while the Muslims are not alone in perpetuating such rhetoric, ironically, they are just as guilty as their Western counterparts which they blame of the same crime. Often wrapped in the guise of “tradition”, this one-size fits all mentality has and is causing grave harm to Muslim communities across the globe and I have personally seen its insidious affects in my 14-year career as a Muslim. For those who call for an Islamic state to be raised in America I say that you would have to obtain the rights from Roberta Flack for its national anthem, for surely this is “killing us softly”.

So what are some other things that the Prophet held as sacred? Human life would most certainly rank high on his list. Caring for the poor. Visiting the sick and caring for the old. As Muslims, where do these categories rank on our lists? This is where Muslims fail in my opinion. As a group that believes it should uphold high moral standards, how are we caring for the poor? How many Muslim organizations have we developed that care for old and sick people in our neighborhoods, regardless of race, creed or religion? How many Muslim organizations have we built that care for the poor? Are we involved in urban development? Big brother, big sister organizations? I’m sure I will receive many emails confirming that we do partake in such actions. And while there may be a few why are they absent from the public spot light?

As it stands now, Muslims are not known as a group that participate in the greater society (and yet we want people to sympathize with us when we have problems). At a recent meeting between myself and other fellow bloggers, astonishment would be the word that would best describe the reactions of others when they found out that I was a Muslim and that I desired to participate in society. This is not a PR statement for myself but rather a reflection on the status of Muslims in society. If Ralph Ellison wrote Invisible Man today he’d have to re-title it Invisible People.

So in the end I believe we as Muslims are in need of a serious revamping of what is and isn’t Sacred to us. We need to seriously reevaluate what is important to us and what isn’t. The military developed a term called triage – we need to stop the bleeding and then reexamine what we’re about. I believe this reexamination starts with the basics – Qur’an and Sunnah. It may surprise you that I would choose such a sloganized answer but none the less, I do believe the answer lies there in. By Qur’an, I mean we should actually spend time reading it. Many of us do not. We rely on regurgitated quotes from people who have little formal training and short intellects. The Sunnah of the Prophet is also do for a serious reexamination. What did he say? What did he do? How was he both simultaneously stern and flexible? How could he proclaim no god but God and yet make concessions with idolators? Muhammad was a complex man – revisiting his life and his prophethood will no doubt turn up many unknown gems for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. This is a topic which deserves deeper introspection – an introspection that cannot fully be dealt with in a small post as it is here. Rather, it is my hope that we may ponder this questions, these situations and feel moved to do something about it. And in the words of Umar Ibn al-Khattab, “Allah and His Messenger know best”.