THE BELIEVERS ARE but a single Brotherhood: So make peace and reconciliation between your brothers; and fear Allah, that you may receive Mercy. [Sûrat Al- Ḥujarât, 49:10]
What Happened to Brotherhood?
My long, mountainous journey to Islam — it was as if I had run a marathon. I ran all that way and I knew when I crossed that finish line, I had become part of a global family. I think somewhere in the back of my mind, I was hoping I’d find them waiting for me bursting with happiness that I had made it. Not because I deserved it, but merely because of our shared choice to lovingly submit to God and strive in His way. I thought meeting them would feel like coming home.
In reality, much of my homecoming was fraught with isolation, sometimes even rejection. Looking around the world at all the Muslims; the wars, the arguments, the lack of aid, the pursuit of power, I wondered what caused us to become such a dysfunctional family. I’ve wondered if we are actually losing this favor from Allah altogether. Let down, worried, I’ve wondered, “What can I do about it?”
Most disappointments in life result from misplaced expectations. For some time, I had focused on what I anticipated from my new Muslim brethren, and what I wished to see in the ways Muslims treated each other.
Fortunately, over the last 14 years I have been blessed with amazing people in my life for whom I am deeply grateful. And, although our Muslim family isn’t perfect, all is not lost. Muslims all over the world shine and display the true meaning of brotherhood every day. I haven’t lost hope. The more we rectify ourselves for Allah’s sake, He will provide the peace and love we so desire to see among ourselves and throughout the world.
My view of brotherhood, humanity and the world has matured and become soberer than my previously idealistic optimism. With a more realistic understanding of brotherhood in Islam, and by tempering my expectations, disappointment has been replaced with resolve. I’ve found, that what is practiced within myself –not for the sake of others, but for the sake of pleasing the One who gave us this favor, Allah– is the only way towards true brotherhood.
The Transformative Power of Islam
I know the transformative power of Islam. I’ve experienced it –a taste of what is possible by Allah’s supreme power and guidance– that even enemies can be transformed into the best of friends, brothers in fact.
Can you think of one person in the world you dislike so much that you consider them a potential enemy? Someone whose world views, attitude, character and personality are completely at odds with your own, or one who’s done something seemingly unforgivable?
What it would take to make you love that person to the extent that you would prefer their well-being to your own, to the extent that you would be willing to give up your own comfort for their benefit?
That is the favor of Allah to the ones who cling altogether to His guidance. It’s what turned the heart of ʿUmar ibn Al-Khaṭṭâb from seeking to kill the Prophet ﷺ, to loving him more than himself. It ended the long-standing rivalry that had embroiled the Aws and Khazraj tribes in continual conflict. It can transform us today too –if our faith and ensuing actions warrant this divine favor.
Ways to Be a Better Brother or Sister in Faith:
Once we shift our focus away from other Muslims and their behavior –to our own– there are several steps we can take:
- Have Realistic Expectations: Our Muslim fraternity will never be perfect. Even in the time of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ there were hypocrites, those who wished to undermine Islam, living amongst the best Muslims ever to walk the face of the Earth. This is important to remember –rather than misplacing expectations– we know that not everyone we meet, not every country, leader, culture, will be a seamless, healthy part of this brotherhood. Not everyone will see eye to eye. Our primary responsibility is to gain control over our own selves and work to embody the characteristics we would like to see in others.
- Reject Resentment: They say: Our Lord, forgive us and our brothers who preceded us in faith and put not in our hearts any resentment toward those who have faith. Our Lord, you are kind and merciful. [Sûrat Al- Ḥashr, 59:10]Stay true to your purpose, no matter what you hear or see from other people, or how many times they hurt you. Truly forgiving those who hurt us is a great feat.The famous hadith about an ordinary man whom the Prophet declared to be a person of paradise, is a great reminder that this is no small achievement: ʿAbdullâh ibn ʿAmr was determined to discover what special quality ensured that this apparently unremarkable man was a ‘man of paradise,’ so he stayed with him to find out. After several days together, ʿAbdullah was perplexed – so he asked. At first, even the man couldn’t think of anything special about himself. Finally, one thing came to mind. He explained, “I do not harbor any evil or malice in my heart against any fellow Muslim. I am not jealous over whatever good Allah bestows upon any of them.” Satisfied, ʿAbdullâh ibn ʿAmr replied, “That is precisely the reason for you reaching such a lofty status.” (Aḥmad)
- Never Expect Anything in Return from People: There is a popular saying that goes, “No good deed goes unpunished.” If we do good seeking the approval and appreciation of people we will inevitably be disappointed, but if we act solely for Allah, He has promised: Indeed, those who have believed and done righteous deeds – surely, We will not allow to be lost the reward of any who did well in deeds. [Sûrat Al-Kahf, 18:30]
- Know Your Worth: Being kind does not mean being weak. Stand your ground and maintain your personal integrity. You may find yourself among toxic people who bring you down or disrespect you. Don’t lower your standards for your own personal conduct, by listening to useless gossip or backbiting –wasting time that could be well spent. By remaining in settings where these things go on, you’re not respecting yourself or your own values.Choose with whom and how you spend time with friends. This does not mean you blow them off with an air of superiority. Instead, suggest getting together to discuss a book, or to do community service. Turn your together time into something more productive.
- Choose friends wisely: Allah said, O you who believe! Fear Allah, and be with those who are true in words and deeds. [Sûra Maryam, 9:119]The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ sat with people who were rich, poor and enslaved. It’s not from Islam to restrict our companions based on physical, ethnic, cultural or social status traits. Rather, we are advised to avoid spending time with those who are heedless: And leave alone those who take their religion as play and amusement, and are deceived by the life of this world. [Sûrat Al-Anʿâm, 6:70]
- Uphold the Values of Brotherhood: Do not hate each other, do not envy each other, do not turn away from each other, but rather be servants of Allah as brothers. It is not lawful for a Muslim to boycott his brother for more than three days. (Bukhâri)Is there anyone you have yet to make amends with? Maybe you should give them a call.
- Appreciate the People you Have: Relationships need cultivation and care. All of our lives are hectic these days. Don’t let your relationships fall by the wayside. Sometimes a simple call to say Salam, or a note sent in the mail is enough to keep a connection alive. When you find a good person whom you feel helps you be a better human being –a better Muslim– guard that relationship. Make duʿâ’ for them and tell them you care. With all the coldness in this world a little warmth goes a long way.
- Forgive: Everyone struggles and everyone’s struggles are different. Make excuses for your brothers and sisters in Islam, and if you can’t think of any, realize there may be a reason you can’t imagine.
- The Stakes are High: Neglecting our brotherhood of faith comes at the risk of more than unity and happiness on earth. The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said, You shall not enter Paradise until you believe, and you have not believed until you love one another. (Muslim)Our faith and love for one another are not mutually exclusive. By devaluing brotherhood, we actually risk ultimate failure and may find ourselves losers in the hereafter.
- Be the Change: Sometimes solutions are so simple that we overlook them. The prophet Muhammad ﷺ offered a solution each of us can begin to implement today. He said: Shall I tell you of something you can do to make you love one another? Spread the greetings of Salam (peace) among yourselves. (Muslim)
May peace be upon you, and the Mercy and Blessings of Allah.