“What’s up bro?” A common phrase heard today, but one which has a deep sense of responsibility in an Islamic culture. The reason is that Muslims, those who follow Islam as an entire way of life, try to follow all that the Qur’an teaches, and this is one of its major teachings:
The believers are but brothers. (Al-Hujurat 49:10)
Many countries, schools, and organizations coin phrases like “united we stand”, and “strength in unity”, but it’s rare to see or experience unity in these institutions. As stated by R. L. Mellema, a Dutch anthropologist, writer, and scholar:
The doctrine of brotherhood of Islam extends to all human beings, no matter what color, race, or creed. Islam is the only religion which has been able to realize this doctrine in practice. Muslims, wherever in the world they are, will recognize each other as brothers.
Unity as explained by the Online Merriam-Webster dictionary is (1) a condition of harmony (2) a totality of related parts.
Muslims follow these meanings in their entirety, as they are advised by Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) to be like one body, when one part of it is hurt, the whole body aches. This is why Muslims in Alaska would feel sad and pray for Muslims whose families died when a boat overturned in Asia.
Why is unity important for a community and for individuals?
Extensive research in the field of psychology has made several connections between depression, suicide, and community. According to popular statistics in America, white male Protestants are more likely to commit suicide than Asian males. This is mainly due to the fact that Asians are more of a community-based people, whereas white Americans stress heavily on individualism.
The phrase, “No man is an island,” by John Donne, sums up a great deal in few words. In this, Donne does not only mean humans are interdependent for their basic physical or material needs like food and clothing, but humans are unable to work to their potential alone, as they acquire motivation from others around.
“Where there is unity there is always victory.” Publilius Syrus, a Roman author, 1st century B.C.
Unity, and especially religious unity, has played an important part in shaping civilizations and continues to play a pivotal role in shaping societies. Many great empires disintegrated due to disparity amongst their people. All nations invest in advertising the unity of the country. China is a good example of achieving great heights due to national unity. But yet they have ethnic groups that are ill-treated and do not feel to be part of this great nation.
Brotherhood & Equality
“Islam replaced monkishness by manliness. It gives hope to the slave, brotherhood to mankind, and recognition of the fundamental facts of human nature.” (Taylor 171-172)
Looking back at the history of Islam right from its advent, one realizes that many Muslim rulers have made great effort to preserve unity and equality amongst their citizens, regardless of their religion, race, or region.
If we look at what most of the Western narrators have to say about Prophet Muhammad’s achievements, the one that stands out above all is his ability to unite not only the Arabs, but all the people of Mecca, Medinah, and the surrounding areas.
Of course Muslims believe that this was all possible due to the will of God. At the time of the Prophet, the Arabs were divided, warring factions, who were brought together as one force. The ideologies of Islam pertaining to equality and brotherhood convinced the various tribes.
“The extinction of race consciousness between Muslims is one of the outstanding achievements of Islam, and in the contemporary world there is, as it happens, a crying need for the propagation of this Islamic virtue.” (Toynbee 205)
One should identify that Islam is not only for Muslims; it is for all humanity. Almighty Allah tells us that He created Adam and Eve and made all humans their descendants. This gives all mankind a common start, a roadway on the journey that leads to unity. It makes one realize that colors, tribes, nations, and ethnicity came later — due to expansion and immigration. But, eventually, we are all children of Adam, and hence all one.
This is far from the teachings of Darwin’s theory, where existence depends on the survival of the fittest. Sadly, people who agree with it become individualistic and divided. Muslims reject this theory and can hence strengthen their bonds further.
The noble Qur’an then narrows down the uniting factor to include the people of the three monotheistic religions — Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. It does this by referring to all of them as People of the Book.
According to Islam, Allah sent prophets, as warners and guides, to every nation. A few of these prophets are considered to be specially important, and whose accounts are related in more details, namely Abraham (regarded as the father of the three monotheistic religions by most historians), Moses, Jesus, David, and Muhammad (peace be upon them all).
The latter four were provided scriptures and laws by Allah. And hence in this way, Jews and Christians are recognized as People of the Book in the Qur’an and Islamic traditions. Also, all these faiths await the coming of a Messiah, which is declared in their respective religious books.
Eventually the broad scope of the equality and brotherhood in Islam is extended to all Muslims. One of the chief uniting factors for Muslims is found in the testimony of faith, which every Muslim should utter sincerely and wholeheartedly: There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is His Messenger.
This highlights two factors. Foremost, there is only One God, Allah; He is the ultimate unity. Every Muslim prays, beseeches, and bows down to the same One God. We are all united in this thought and action. Furthermore, it provides all Muslims with one teacher. All Muslims, no matter what name they give their sects, have the same One God, Allah, and the same leader, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). This is the highest form of unity in Islam.
Moving a step further, there is only one book that every Muslim is prescribed to read, recite, and understand: the Qur’an. From Japan to Hawaii, the Qur’an is every Muslim’s comprehensive guide, which Muslims believe was sent down by the one God above.
No matter what their language is, the recitation of the Qur’an is always done in Arabic. Many people read translations of the meanings of the Qur’an in their native tongue to comprehend what the illustrious book explains, but when they recite it, it’s always in one language, Arabic. Because of this, many people who are unaware of Islam think it is an Arab religion, whereas most Muslims are non-Arabs.
Islam is an entire way of life. Each person tries to embody it to the best of their abilities. But Islam has five pillars, which are five requirements a Muslim must complete or fulfill.
First: The aforementioned testimony that there is no god but Allah, and that Muhammad is His Messenger.
Second: Performing five Prayers a day.
Third: Annually paying a certain paltry percentage of savings towards charity.
Fourth: Fasting the month of Ramadan.
Fifth: Performing Hajj to Mecca (the sacred city located in modern-day Saudi Arabia).
Worship That Unites
Hajj, as mentioned above, is one of the five tenets of Islam. It is obligatory upon every able-bodied and financially capable Muslim at least once in a life-time. Approximately three million people from 160 different countries unite for a period of 10 days every year. One can say that there are literally people from every corner of the world in the region of Mecca and Medinah during the Hajj season.
Hajj is declared by all experts to be the most diverse gathering in the world. Yet all the people there are united in their actions and goals. Each person performs the same procedures to complete their Hajj. All the people dress alike, men are to wear two pieces of unstitched white cloth and women wear cloaks or simple gowns and a headscarf.
In fact, several groups have identifiers — arm-bands, headbands, and so on — to make it easier for each group to stay together. This way one can spot one’s relatives and friends amongst the waves of people.
For the people at Hajj, consumerism and worldliness are farthest from daily thought; whereas spirituality and good-will are powerfully present. This spiritually bonds the people to a level above daily life. Hence the fervor and brotherhood seen at Hajj is hard to even glimpse in everyday life.
There are several accounts where people have said they were old or sick and helped through the crowds by total strangers. It is not uncommon to see young sons carrying their elders on their backs and walking miles.
Malcom X, the African American Muslim minister and human rights activist, changed some of his views after performing Hajj. He had never imagined, let alone seen so many different colors with no distinctions. He truly realized that there is no discrimination in Islam, whether towards the blacks or whites, as he mentioned in one of his speeches after his return:
I am a Muslim and my religion makes me be against all forms of racism. It keeps me from judging any man by the color of his skin.
This unity and brotherhood is one of the major attractions of Islam. Many seekers of truth have come to Islam starting with their interactions with Muslims who acted like brothers.
On such unequalled brotherhood, Colonel Donald S. Rockwell, an American Muslim convert, said:
The universal brotherhood of Islam, regardless of race, politics, color, or country, has been brought home to me most keenly many times in my life – and this is another feature which drew me towards the Faith.
This article has been taken with slight modifications from onislam.net.