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Ukhuwwah, or brotherhood, is one of the main founding principles of Islam in society. It is the second of Islam’s two main objectives: Tawḥīd of Allāh, and the unity of the Muslims. Perhaps the first thing our beloved Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) did to address the enormous challenge of establishing the first Muslim state in Madīnah was to establish impeccable and purpose-driven relationships both between Muslims and Allāh and between Muslims and one another. Remember the theme of al-Ḥujurāt. These intrinsically linked relationships form the cornerstones to developing institutions or conducting projects, from laying the foundations of a state and forming coherent groups and societies, to carrying out small and large projects successfully:
إِنَّمَا الْمُؤْمِنُونَ إِخْوَةٌ فَأَصْلِحُوا بَيْنَ أَخَوَيْكُمْ ۚ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُرْحَمُونَ
“The believers are brothers, so make peace between your brothers and have Taqwa of Allāh so that hopefully you will gain mercy.”
It is due to one’s relationship with Allāh that the bond of Islamic brotherhood manages to transcend blood relationships. While the latter links siblings biologically by way of a common mother, father, or both, the first links creatures by way of servitude to their Creator. Allāh says:
لَّا تَجِدُ قَوْمًا يُؤْمِنُونَ بِاللَّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ يُوَادُّونَ مَنْ حَادَّ اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ وَلَوْ كَانُوا آبَاءَهُمْ أَوْ أَبْنَاءَهُمْ أَوْ إِخْوَانَهُمْ أَوْ عَشِيرَتَهُمْ…
“You will not find people who have īmān in Allāh and the Last Day having love for anyone who opposes Allāh and His Messenger, though they be their fathers, their sons, their brothers or their clan…”
Through this, the Prophet’s companions achieved the near impossible after a pre-Islamic era of sworn hostility for 120 years. They would later command armies westwards to Rome and eastwards into Persia and into the depths of Africa and Asia. Anything beneath the purpose it was established upon cannot break it, even the wealth of the entire world. Such a relationship, by inverse implication, could not have been developed by the wealth of the entire world:
وَأَلَّفَ بَيْنَ قُلُوبِهِمْ ۚ لَوْ أَنفَقْتَ مَا فِي الْأَرْضِ جَمِيعًا مَّا أَلَّفْتَ بَيْنَ قُلُوبِهِمْ وَلَٰكِنَّ اللَّهَ أَلَّفَ بَيْنَهُمْ ۚ إِنَّهُ عَزِيزٌ حَكِيمٌ
“And (Allāh) unified their hearts. Even if you had spent everything on the earth, you could not have unified their hearts. But Allāh has unified them. He is Almighty, All-Wise.”
Everything material upon which other relationships are established became contentedly dispensable. They saw through their ‘tribes’, social statuses and wealth, making their aim their collective servitude to Allāh and His religion. They rushed to obey their guide, the Messenger (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam), and excelled together.
How can we actualise ‘Ukhuwwah’?
How do we begin feeling like siblings in Īmān? To wish good for one another is the most basic manifestation of Ukhuwwah. Start by knowing that if others have been blessed with what you desire, you have been blessed with what they desire. If they have reached success on the back of hard work, either that opportunity is also available to you, or you are excused from even pursuing it. If they are famous, then know that with fame comes burden and superficiality. If you feel obscure, then with obscurity comes inner peace and authenticity. If they have reached the stars, accompany them to the moon. Sometimes accompanying great people takes you even higher than competing with them!
Ask yourself: are they not slaves of Allāh? Do they not yearn for the destination you yearn for? Do they not pray in your direction and face your Lord? Are they not passengers on a ship you also sail on? What benefit does their detriment bring to you and what detriment does their benefit bring to you? The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) tells us:
لا يؤمن أحدكم حتى يحب لأخيه ما يحب لنفسه
“No one of you believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.”
Seek out means to gather the hearts, not to drive them apart. Search relentlessly for excuses, work on terms of agreement, and overlook one another’s mistakes. If it is recommended to abandon an action that is recommended and yields reward if doing it causes upset, it stands to reason that such should be our attitude for that which is less than recommended too. Is that brother’s ‘reserved’ space on the front row worth a fight just because prayer spaces cannot technically be reserved? Is the purpose of Salāh to declare a toe-to-toe war and are you really teaching the Sunnah or ‘making a point’ carried by your irritation? B. Taymiyyah said:
“It is recommended (Mustahab) to leave a recommended action for the sake of bringing hearts together… the benefit of bringing together the hearts in Dīn is greater than that brought about through doing such things.”
Bitterness is what triggers pettiness. We find that we are able to overlook our child slamming the door or their temper tantrums, but we burn and rage if we are not handed a wedding invite or if our Salām is mistakenly ignored. Pettiness is the one predicament that shackles big ideas and otherwise strong societies and teams. If you say ‘white’ and the ‘wise guy’ says ‘magnolia’, is it worth the debate? Bitterness creates lingering thoughts and fills your mind with pseudo-debates. If nothing else, bitterness puts unnecessary ‘pressure’ on the heart that is otherwise a vessel for īmān. Maybe through this lens we can better understand how īmān is better accommodated in a serene cordial heart. As the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said:
لاَ تَدْخُلُونَ الْجَنَّةَ حَتَّى تُؤْمِنُوا وَلاَ تُؤْمِنُوا حَتَّى تَحَابُّوا . أَوَلاَ أَدُلُّكُمْ عَلَى شَىْءٍ إِذَا فَعَلْتُمُوهُ تَحَابَبْتُمْ أَفْشُوا السَّلاَمَ بَيْنَكُمْ
“You will not enter Paradise until you believe, and you will not believe until you love one another. Shall I not tell you of that which will strengthen love between you? Spread (the greeting of) salām (peace) amongst yourselves.”
He also said:
تَرَى الْمُؤْمِنِينَ فِي تَرَاحُمِهِمْ وَتَوَادِّهِمْ وَتَعَاطُفِهِمْ كَمَثَلِ الْجَسَدِ إِذَا اشْتَكَى عُضْوًا تَدَاعَى لَهُ سَائِرُ جَسَدِهِ بِالسَّهَرِ وَالْحُمَّى
“You see the believers as regards their being merciful among themselves and showing love among themselves and being kind, resembling one body, so that, if any part of the body is not well, the whole body shares the sleeplessness (insomnia) and fever with it.”
Ponder over this ḥadīth. When exposed to trauma, the body instinctively prioritises the limb to ‘sacrifice’. If you fall, or you see something coming your way, the hands will fling in front of you in defence. But if you are left to choose between any limb and your eyes, your instinct is to choose your eyes, our two ‘beloved limbs’. Your eyes, however, will not find sleep if your hand was hurt defending them! The Ummah is not only connected as a body, but interdependent as one. True brotherhood is as elucidated in the couplets attributed to ʿAlī (rady Allāhu ‘anhu):
إن أخاك الصدق من كان معك ومن يضر نفسه لينفعك
ومن إذا ريب الزمان صدعك شتت فيك شمله ليجمعك
“Your true brother is the one who is with you, harming himself to benefit you. The one who, if the misfortune of time shatters you, will disband himself to gather you.”
The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said:
اَلْمُسْلِمُ أَخُو اَلْمُسْلِمِ, لَا يَظْلِمُهُ, وَلَا يَخْذُلُهُ, وَلَا يَحْقِرُهُ, اَلتَّقْوَى هَا هُنَا, وَيُشِيرُ إِلَى صَدْرِهِ ثَلَاثَ مِرَارٍ, بِحَسْبِ اِمْرِئٍ مِنْ اَلشَّرِّ أَنْ يَحْقِرَ أَخَاهُ اَلْمُسْلِمَ …
“The Muslim is the brother of another Muslim. He does not oppress him, nor does he disgrace him, nor does he hold him in contempt. Taqwa is here (pointing to his chest three times). It is evil enough for a person to hold his Muslim brother in contempt…”
He does not oppress him
Oppression is not only a transaction between the leader and led, but between you and all whom you encounter. It is a person’s divinely authorised right that his ‘Salām’ is answered and his invitation is accepted. If this is the case when you are the recipient of a virtue he initiated, what says of his sanctity when taking his wealth, slandering him, tarnishing his reputation, or the like? In the narration in Bukhārī and Muslim, the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) says “wala yuslimuh”, meaning that ‘he does not hand him over’ to his own evil, or to anything or anyone who will bring about his harm. What then of tarnishing him on tabloids or writing an ‘exposé’ on social media timelines for a few vain likes and shares?
He does not hold him in contempt
The sensation of ‘superiority’ is often lent to the material; more money, a bigger house, a faster car or a better paying job. But maybe more seriously are its permeating practicing circles that monopolise ‘conformance to the Sunnah’, ‘Tawḥīd’, and salvation, whilst others are small, worthless, and impermissible to ‘sit with’, doomed to innovation and destined to hell. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) tells us that “pride means denying the truth and looking down on people,” an atom’s weight of which is enough to shield one from entering Paradise. Why? Because “Taqwa is here (in the heart).”
Taqwa – inextricably linked to Ukhuwwah
Reviewing the Qur’ān and Sunnah, one will very often find brotherhood mentioned alongside Taqwa. The above Hadith mentions “Taqwa is here (in the heart)” just a few sentences after “the Muslim is the brother of another Muslim.” In the verse of al-Ḥujurāt, Allāh says:
“The believers are brothers… and have Taqwa of Allāh.”
Later, within this context Allāh tells us:
“Verily, the most honourable of you with Allāh is that who has Taqwa…”
Elsewhere in the Qur’ān, He says:
“You who have Īmān, have Taqwa of Allāh as is His due and do not die except as Muslims. And remember Allāh’s Favour on you, for you were enemies one to another but He joined your hearts together, so that, by His Grace, you became brethren (in Islamic faith), and you were on the brink of a pit of Fire, and He saved you from it…”
In another verse, He informs us:
“Close friends, that Day, will be enemies to each other, except for the Muttaqīn.”
Without doubt, Taqwa is inextricably linked to Ukhuwwah, whilst Taqwa, or the determination of a person’s real value, is hidden. This is real food for thought. People are oppressed, disgraced, or held in contempt because of their being perceived as ‘inferior’. But since the criterion upon which the culprit created his ‘superior’ perception is hidden, there is nothing material upon which to definitely conclude one’s superiority over another! In Islām, the main criterion for real superiority is Taqwa, or observance or consciousness of Allāh. That criterion is divinely classified: it is “in the heart”. By extension, how can we hold any Muslim in contempt or afford them anything less than honour and respect when we have no idea what that Taqwa they possess looks like?
Shift your paradigm to the real benchmark: Taqwa resides in the heart. If you stand in the night in Qiyām, do not belittle those who sleep. If you fast throughout the year, do not belittle those who do not. Qiyām and fasting are virtuous, but tell yourself, what if they regret their actions or ‘inaction’ in this case, whilst I admire mine? What if they are guilty for their sins, whilst I am impressed by my deeds?
B. Aṭā Allāh al-Iskandarī said:
“It may be that a sin that creates humility and a feeling of destitution to Allāh is better than an act of obedience that creates pride and arrogance.”
The events at Badr, Uḥud, al-Ahzāb, and the conquest of Makkah leave us in awe – and rightly so. But how often do we study these feats through the lens of brotherhood? The Prophet’s project of uniting hearts ahead of these mighty challenges was nothing less of scrupulously timed. Likewise, in the West, it is not the size of the challenges that trounce us, but our thinking that ‘uniting hearts’ comes after trying to address them, when it is in fact the single most important goal after our relationship with Allāh that we can pursue. “Make peace between your brothers”, because we, as a community, are much stronger as one. Allah tells us:
“Obey Allāh and His Messenger and do not quarrel among yourselves lest you lose heart and your momentum disappears. And be steadfast. Allāh is with the steadfast.”
Reason for Revelation
Anas (rady Allāhu ‘anhu) narrates that he said: “Messenger of Allāh, why not go to Abdullah b. Ubayy?” Abdullah b. Ubayy was the leader of the hypocrites who, in the early part of the Sīrah, was one of the leaders of the al-Khazraj clan in Madinah. It was said that before the arrival of the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam), he was a contender for the leadership of Yathrib after a pact between the ‘Aws and the Khazraj. Anas seemingly wanted the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) to guide him as his devotion to Islam would have had a huge influence on his clan.
The Prophet indeed went to Abdullah b. Ubayy riding his mule, and the Muslims followed on what was a muddy terrain at the time. On passing, the despicable hypocrite could not but express his animosity towards the Messenger of Allāh, who had transformed Madinah and gathered its tribes and clans around him.
Abdullah b. Ubayy said: “Get away from me, for by Allāh I have been disturbed by the smell of your mule.” According to some narrations, a man from the Ansār, ‘Abdullah b. Rawāha (rady Allāhu ‘anhu), replied, “The donkey of the Messenger of Allāh smells better than you!” A man from Abdullah b. Ubayy’s friends got infuriated and each companion got involved to defend his friend. A fight broke out and the Muslims began exchanging blows with palm stalks, fists, and shoes. Anas said that it reached us that the verse “If two parties of believers fight, make peace between them” was revealed specifically about this incident.
B. ʿĀshūr disputes this as the reason for revelation. He argues that this particular event involving Abdullah b. Ubayy occurred in the earliest days of Madinah, whilst al-Ḥujurāt was revealed in the ninth year. He says that Anas said “it reached us that the verse was revealed”. He did not thus assert with certainty that this was the case. This is unless, of course, the verse became part of this Surah many years later.
It was also reported by Qatādah and al-Sudī that the verse was actually revealed about a dispute that broke out between a man and his wife, one of whom was from the tribe of Aws and the other from al-Khazraj, with each invoking their tribes for support, which ended up in a group fist-fight.
The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) rushed to make peace between the two parties (in either of the two incidents) and thus this verse became a general ruling concerning a specific incident as is generally the case with ‘reasons of revelation’. Just because this incident is exactly the reason for why this verse was revealed, it does not mean that it can only be applied in an identical situation.
And Allāh knows best.
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 Al-Qur’ān 49:10
 Al-Qur’ān 58:22
 Al-Qur’ān 8:63
 Bukhari and Muslim
 Majmū’ al-Fatāwā (22/407), b. Taymiyyah
 Al-Qur’ān 49:10
 Al-Qur’ān 49:13
 Al-Qur’ān 3:102-103
 Al-Qur’ān 43:67
 Al-Qur’ān 8:46
 Both narrations are mentioned in a number of Tafsīr books. The latter discussion on what is more likely the case is mentioned in Tafsir Al-Taḥrīr wa al-Tanwīr, Ibn ʿĀshūr
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