It appears that there are only a limited number of individuals who truly grasp the extent of the Shariah’s emphasis in achieving Muslim unity, let alone the fewer persons who actively strive towards it with all their might, wisdom, and patience. Indeed, what may seem obvious to you may be astonishing to others. Thus, for the benefit of those unsure or those who need reminding, let us spell out the “obvious”.
The unity of the Muslim nation is undoubtedly a wājib (obligation), as dictated explicitly by the Qur’an and Sunnah. Anyone who feels or behaves otherwise is sinful. In fact, this obligation is so central that the sacred texts have employed a vast array of methods and styles to draw the attention of the reciter with respect to the magnitude of the topic at hand. Coming only second place to the topic of unity of Allah, Tawheed, the topic of this article tops the list; unity of those who unify Allah.
Styles of emphasis
At times, revelation emphatically commands the unification of Muslims
وَاعْتَصِمُوا بِحَبْلِ اللَّهِ جَمِيعًا وَلَا تَفَرَّقُوا وَاذْكُرُوا نِعْمَتَ اللَّهِ عَلَيْكُمْ إِذْ كُنْتُمْ أَعْدَاءً فَأَلَّفَ بَيْنَ قُلُوبِكُمْ فَأَصْبَحْتُمْ بِنِعْمَتِهِ إِخْوَانًا وَكُنْتُمْ عَلَى شَفَا حُفْرَةٍ مِنَ النَّارِ فَأَنْقَذَكُمْ مِنْهَا كَذَلِكَ يُبَيِّنُ اللَّهُ لَكُمْ آيَاتِهِ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَهْتَدُونَ
“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. And [remember when] you were on the edge of a pit of the Fire, and He saved you from it. Thus does Allah make clear to you His verses, so that you may be guided.”
The injunction of “hold firmly to the rope of Allah all together” is not optional, nor intended as decorum for the opening speeches at conferences and public events. At the heart of it is a divinely-ordained obligation that applies at both the individual and collective levels. On this note, what is the “rope of Allah” that we have been obligated to hold on to? Imam al-Ṭabarī narrated that ʿAbd Allāh ibn Masʿūd said: حبل الله الجماعة “The rope of Allah is the jamāʿah (Muslim collective body).”
At times, revelation emphatically prohibits Muslims from disuniting
Allah has said:
وَأَطِيعُوا اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ وَلَا تَنَازَعُوا فَتَفْشَلُوا وَتَذْهَبَ رِيحُكُمْ وَاصْبِرُوا إِنَّ اللَّهَ مَعَ الصَّابِرِينَ
“And obey Allah and His Messenger, and do not dispute and thus you will lose courage and then your strength would depart; and be patient. Indeed, Allah is with the patient.”
He also said:
وَلَا تَكُونُوا كَالَّذِينَ تَفَرَّقُوا وَاخْتَلَفُوا مِنْ بَعْدِ مَا جَاءَهُمُ الْبَيِّنَاتُ وَأُولَئِكَ لَهُمْ عَذَابٌ عَظِيمٌ
“And do not be like the ones who became divided and differed after the clear proofs had come to them. And those will have a great punishment.”
Not only is unity stressed, but revelation commands all those matters that lead to it
Furthermore, He stresses that:
إنَّمَا ٱلْمُؤْمِنُونَ إِخْوَةٌ فَأَصْلِحُواْ بَيْنَ أَخَوَيْكُمْ
“Indeed the believers are brothers, so amend that which is between your brothers.”
Not only is disunity prohibited, revelation prohibits all those matters that lead to it
The Prophet ﷺ said:
لا تَقَاطَعُوا وَلاَ تَدَابَرُوا وَلاَ تَبَاغَضُوا وَلاَ تَحَاسَدُوا وَكُونُوا عِبَادَ اللهِ إخْوَاناً وَلاَ يَحِلُّ لِمُسْلِمٍ أَنْ يَهْجُرَ أَخَاهُ فَوْقَ ثَلاَث
“Do not cut relations between yourselves, do not turn your backs on one another, do not hate one another, do not envy one another, and be brotherly servants of Allah. It is not permissible for a Muslim to forsake his brother for over three days.”
At times, revelation tells us that division is a form of punishment that Allah afflicts upon a people
قُلْ هُوَ القَادِرُ عَلَى أَن يَبْعَثَ عَلَيْكُمْ عَذَاباً مِّن فَوْقِكُمْ أَوْ مِن تَحْتِ أَرْجُلِكُمْ أَوْ يَلْبِسَكُمْ شِيَعاً ويُذِيقَ بَعْضَكُم بَأْسَ بَعْضٍ انظُرْ كـَـيْـفَ نُـصَـرِّفُ الآيَاتِ لَـعَـلَّـهُـمْ يَفْقَهُونَ
“Say, ‘He is the One able to send upon you affliction from above you or from beneath your feet or to confuse you so you become sects and make you taste the violence of one another.’ Look how We diversify the signs that they might understand!”
Furthermore, notice how the Shariah has:
– Instructed that we greet one another with the salām upon meeting.
– Instructed the able-bodied males to pray in congregation inside the masjid.
– Instructed an ankle to ankle, shoulder to shoulder prayer arrangement which is further bolstered by a unified direction of prayer, where everyone is led by one Imam.
– Prohibited gossip, backbiting, and mockery in all of its forms, as well as suspecting the worst of Muslims.
– Prohibited that one make an offer of purchase while the bid of his brother is pending.
– Prohibited that one make a proposal for marriage while the request of his brother is pending.
– Discouraged one to travel or sleep alone, and so on.
This is what unity means to the Legislator. But what will it take for this sentiment to trickle down to the Muslims?
Touring the events of yesterday
The fact that our Ummah’s golden ages were heralded with large scale campaigns for unity is not a coincidence. Similarly, the fact that some of the darkest periods in our history were foreshadowed by disunity is, again, not an accident.
The Abbasid dynasty – which lasted for around 500 years – only fell into ruins after it first fractured into smaller autonomous and conflicting states. These splinter states included the Buwayhiyyah, Mamālīk, Sāminiyyūn, Aghālibah, Safāriyyūn, and the Qarāmiṭah, just to name but a few. Every one of these polities was at odds with its neighbour, until very little remained of the collective body of the dynasty. As a result, when the Mongol army made its way to Baghdad – the very capital of the Abbasid caliphate – not a single city stood in defence of Baghdad. Unable to fend off the enemy, the entire city was sacked, and no less than 800,000 Muslims in the city were butchered at the hands of the Mongol army.
Similarly, the Muslim presence in al-Andalus – which lasted for just under 800 years – came to an end after the toxic seeds of disunity were allowed to flourish in society; the desperate calls of the reformers who warned against the planting of such seeds were ignored. Their pleas fell on deaf ears, and so al-Andalus met an equally fatal fate. It became a fractured nation of small quarrelling emirates, where their highest ambitions in life became prestigious titles, as lamented by one Andalusian poet who said:
مما يزهدني في أرض أندلس ** أسمــاء معتضـد فيها ومعتمد
ألقاب مملكة في غير موضعها ** كالهر يحكي انتفاخاً صولة الأسد
“What has made me dislike the land of al-Andalus,
Are grand titles like ‘the one aided by Allah’ and ‘the one reliant upon Allah’.
Titles of kingdoms that are out of place,
Like a cat which haughtily fantasises itself as a lion.”
Matters continued to disintegrate until nothing of al-Andalus remained save the exposed Emirate of Granada. The path therefore was paved for the final assault at the hands of Ferdinand of Aragon and his wife Isabella of Castille. The fall of Granada would mark the beginning of the Spanish Inquisition. The cruellest forms of torture were employed against Muslims and Jews for over 200 years in a bloody campaign of forced conversions. Today, indigenous Islam in Spain is extinct.
The exact same thing can be said about the Ottoman dynasty. The limbs of what was once a unified body of Muslims would claim independence from one another in return for hollow and misleading European promises that were never honoured. After having implemented the principle of ‘divide and conquer’ with such damaging precision, matters are as we see today.
Allah has said:
إِنْ تَمْسَسْكُمْ حَسَنَةٌ تَسُؤْهُمْ وَإِنْ تُصِبْكُمْ سَيِّئَةٌ يَفْرَحُوا بِهَا
“If good touches you, it distresses them; but if harm strikes you, they rejoice at it…”
What is the nature of this “good” which distresses them to see us in and the “harm” which causes them to rejoice? Qatādah said:
الحسنة هي الألفة والجماعة، والسيئة: الفرقة والاختلاف
“The ‘good’ is harmony and unity, while the ‘harm’ is disunity and dissension.”
It is no surprise to find that the global powers exerted their utmost efforts to divide nations along sectarian and ethnic lines, such as Sudan, Yemen, Iraq, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Meanwhile, in the aftermath of the Second World War, Europe strove with all its might towards mutual cooperation, a single market, a multilateral currency, and a commitment to never repeat the devastation of the past. They saw it as an obligation upon themselves to maintain their unity. The obligation of unity upon us, however, comes from above – the Divine Himself – as the Muslims have a universal message to convey to humanity as a whole.
Our role in fostering a culture of unity
It starts at home
Society starts with the smallest possible units. A country incorporates many cities, cities consist of towns, towns comprise of streets, and streets are made up of families. If it’s broken at the fundamental level, then it’s broken all the way up.
Family unity is the cornerstone to Muslim unity. For married couples, the fundamental marriage maxim is that what binds us together as a family is greater, deeper, and richer than that which divides us. When conflicts arise, the approach of the two parties is both balanced and wise, as they both share the same vision, which is attaining salvation in the afterlife. Should a conflict ensue, they make every effort to conceal it from the children, so as to spare them from replaying their parents’ deficiencies later on in their own married lives. In addition, they are keen to show their children how hasty they are to reconcile whenever an argument arises. Each spouse is eager to be the first who initiates the apology before the other.
Without any doubt, the news bulletins you receive about the international affairs of Muslims will not change until the news from our homes first changes. Household unity is first.
Take the initiative
The notion of taking the lead in initiating friendly communication is highly stressed in the Shariah. Allah has said:
وَلَا تَسْتَوِى ٱلْحَسَنَةُ وَلَا ٱلسَّيِّئَةُ ۚ ٱدْفَعْ بِٱلَّتِى هِىَ أَحْسَنُ
“Good and evil are not equal. Repel evil with what is good.”
Similarly, when speaking about two people who have fallen out, the Prophet ﷺ said:
وخَيْرُهُما الذي يَبْدَأُ بالسَّلامِ
“The best of them is he who initiates the greeting of peace.”
Thus, the Muslim who fosters unity is an initiative taker: he does not wait for his neighbour to send him gifts, but instead insists to be the first to offer them. He does not wait for relatives to get in touch, but is always first to drop the thoughtful text or call. Similarly, the Imam of a masjid does not wait for the fellow Imam next door to pay him a visit in his centre. Instead, he makes a point in being first in fostering solidarity by praying behind other Imams and being present in their congregations. The impact of this latter suggestion simply cannot be overstated, as it has been proven to be one of the most effective methods in nurturing harmony and easing tensions between existing communities.
Pardon again and again
Ahead of you is an enormous Day: the Day of Reckoning. The mere belief in it elevates the believer above bickering, animosity, jealousy, and lowly behaviour. The thought of that Day never leaves you, and so – in pursuit of Muslim unity – you can and should be able to pardon again and again.
وَإِنَّ ٱلسَّاعَةَ لَـَٔاتِيَةٌ ۖ فَٱصْفَحِ ٱلصَّفْحَ ٱلْجَمِيلَ
“And the Hour is certain to come, so forgive with a gracious forgiveness.”
Patience: Unite, or die trying
وَلَا تَنَـٰزَعُوا۟ فَتَفْشَلُوا۟ وَتَذْهَبَ رِيحُكُمْ ۖ وَٱصْبِرُوٓا۟ ۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ مَعَ ٱلصَّـٰبِرِينَ
“…and do not dispute lest you lose courage and your strength departs, and be patient, surely Allah is with the patient.”
Notice the link between “not disputing” and the instruction to “be patient”. The supply of patience in the life of a unity-facilitating Muslim must be brimming at all times. It simply cannot afford to dip. That is because he will meet opposition from people who simply cannot see the bigger picture which he sees. To them, life stops at the frosted windows of their mosques, their circle of attendees, and their impossibly rigid curriculums of study. As observed from their reactions, it would seem that persuading them to work lovingly with other Muslims in pursuit of unity is akin to selling a case for drugs; bizarre.
Why else must the uniting Muslim ensure that his stores of patience remain at full capacity? One key reason is that he will also face opposition from his very own nafs (self). Unifying the believers entails group work and collective efforts, which means that you cannot sit around in the limelight for ever. You will have to accept taking a backseat, to not being the one who cuts the red ribbon every time, and even consent to being a mere component in a much bigger machine. In other words, the daʿwah project that you may have branded around your name, face, and voice may need to look significantly different when working with a bigger group with higher causes.
No room for false dilemmas
Lastly, beware of the perfectionist fallacy. There is a key Islamic maxim which says:
إن ما لا يدرك كله لا يترك جله
“That which cannot be attained in its entirety should not be abandoned in its entirety.”
Whilst it is true that most of us cannot change matters in a top down way, every one of us has a role to play from the bottom up. In fact, as alluded to above, the bottom of the pyramid is where genuine grassroots work begins. These include your local masjid, business, social media channels, choice of words and mannerism when “refuting” a Muslim doctrine, university Islamic society, and above and beyond all, from your very own home.
 Al-Qur’an, 3:103.
 Al-Qur’an, 8:46.
 Al-Qur’an, 3:105.
 Al-Qur’an, 49:10.
 Al-Bukhari and Muslim, on the authority of Anas.
 Al-Qur’an, 6:65.
 al-Dhahabī, Siyar aʿlām al-nubalā’.
 Al-Qur’an, 3:120.
 Ibn al-Jawzī, Zād al-masīr fī ʿilm al-tafsīr.
 Al-Qur’an, 42:34.
 Muslim, on the authority of Abū Ayyūb al-Anṣārī.
 Al-Qur’an, 15:85.
 Al-Qur’an, 8:46.