BY ALLAH’S FAVOR: BROTHERHOOD
There it is in the Quran:
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 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 that you may be guided. [Sûrat Âl ʿImrân, 3:103]
“Hold firmly, all Together.”
It doesn’t say born Muslims hold firmly all together; or Arab Muslims hold on all together. The âyah before this says,
O you who have believed, be careful of (your duty to) Allah with the care which is due to Him and do not die except as Muslims. [Sûrat Âl ʿImrân, 3:102]
This refers to every single one of us who believe in God and His Messengers – regardless of ethnicity, nationality, gender or how new one may be to the faith. The rope of Allah is one. The Quran –His guidance– is what tethers us to our Lord and to true success. But by our divisiveness, we risk losing sight of this and straying.
“You were enemies and He brought your hearts together.”
The Muslims in the time of the Prophet Muhammad had previously been actual enemies in many cases. ʿUmar ibn Al-Khaṭṭâb had intended to kill the Prophet with his own hands. Khâlid ibn Al-Walîd had fought against the Muslims, no doubt killing some of the believers before his conversion. Hind, the wife of Abû Sufyân, had ordered the murder of Ḥamzah – beloved uncle and defender of the Prophet Muhammad. Tribes like Al-Aws and Al-Khazraj had been at war historically. Yet, upon entering Islam, they rectified themselves and became beloved to one another. Their hearts were brought together in unity. Have you heard of this phenomenon happening for any other reason?
This verse makes me cry sometimes for several reasons:
- The beauty of this idea, that humans can be brought together; that by faith and rectification, hatred and resent can be replaced with affection and care.
- I yearn to see more of this amongst our Muslim communities.
- I sorrow after all the Muslims who seem to have forgotten this âyah and divide over issues large and small – whether it be in our small organizations and masâjid, neighborhoods, or on a state level where we have Muslims fighting and killing each other over political ideologies and power.
Where is that brotherhood today?
ENTERING ISLAM: A CONVERT’S PERSPECTIVE
Ink on Paper
This book, the Quran, gave meaning to the previously enigmatic starlight. Where I had once gazed in wonder, I began to contemplate with ever increasing awe of the Creator and Sustainer I had once doubted. Connections were made. I saw the Bible, history, science and evolution and humanity in a new light. In the beginning, it was between me and the ink on the paper. My relationship with that paper-bound translation, like a secret kept in a dairy, was unknown to passers- by.
Me and Myself – Two Sides Collide
The relationship progressed. Developing into a conversation within myself. Rational, critical thinker, mocker of the faithful – how could I now be a believer? Helplessly swept away by words that took hold of my being, reinforced my spirit and satisfied my soul. Harmoniously reconciled, not compromised; I surrendered like one in complete love.
Both intellect and heart at ease, I became excited and enthusiastic. And the relationship progressed. I moved beyond the ink and paper of books, beyond the acceptance of a new internal and external paradigm. For the first time since I was a child, silently speaking to God alone in the dark of my room, it was directly between Allah and me.
Me and the Lord of the Worlds
I had thought I was alone. But I was never alone. Not for a minute. My secrets had been known. The questions I hadn’t even acknowledged consciously had been answered. My feet felt firmly planted and adrenaline rushed through my veins as I woke in the watches of the night to pray.
Me. Recklessly independent me. Ask my parents if they could ever nail me down, hold me back. I was the one who learned through mistakes, who had to touch it, feel it, see it, to believe it. Their words and cautions almost always fell on unyielding ears. Like a scientist, I needed to test everything first.
But this was different. Certain of the wisdom of the Words of my Lord:
- “Be not loud in speech,” my speech became tamer and mellow.
- “Intoxicants and games of chance are the handiwork of the devil,” and not a single drop of wine would touch my
- “Spread the salâm.” (Muslim), Al-salâmu ʿalaykum, Peace be upon you.
It was great growing as a new Muslim. I continued learning and becoming more and more confident. What wasn’t so great, was suddenly being a Muslim amongst my old circles of friends. As I completed college, friends and fellow students would ask, “So, what are your plans after graduation?” and it became typical for those who asked to hear, “I want to learn more about Islam.” That was precisely my post-graduate plan.
I easily dismissed the raised eyebrows, shrugs and resigned responses, “uh….. well, I hope that works out for ya…” because the happiness Islam had brought to me, the peace, was worth more than pleasing anyone …. But I never imagined how hard it would really be.
Islam is more than worship and faith; it’s a lifestyle. So it became difficult to walk down a familiar street, where familiar people might also be walking. I began dreading to encounter anyone I knew. I wanted to run away with my Islam.
So that’s what I did.
I moved to an apartment in Brooklyn nearby a large Muslim population. There were mosques within walking distance, and ḥalâl meat. Still, no one knew I was Muslim. I gradually craved to meet my Muslim brethren. I longed for the companionship and love for the sake of Allah. After all, Allah emphasized this fraternity and bid us to stick together. But I was busy. Working. Learning… Timid.
But I got to a point where I could say it. I could allow the words to escape my lips, “I’m a Muslim.” Everyone around me was new. They didn’t know about how I had once disdained and mocked religions. They hadn’t giggled beside me at the evangelists handing out Bibles on the street corner. I felt so much less pressure not having to explain. It felt good to announce with a smile, “I’m a Muslim.”
Donning the Uniform
Hijab was the next step after that. It was very strange… can you think of wearing something that appears to be very out of character? Like if a cool biker dude suddenly showed up in a preppy sweater and oxfords. I wanted with a passion to cover – but I couldn’t help but fear how I would be perceived.
I finally did it by the mercy and help of Allah, alḥamdulillâh. One day I was just another person moving through the city, and the next day, everyone would know me as a Muslim.
In Search of Community
I mustered up the courage to go to a mosque. My first attempts were failures, I turned away from signage in foreign languages, feeling alien. I waited outside the closest mosque several mornings at dawn, having found the door locked. I walked alone around the block and came back, still locked. Maybe they didn’t open for Fajr. I never did find out.
Finally, one night in Ramadan, I trekked to a large Islamic center in uptown Manhattan. I was at once hesitant, anxious and eager to meet my Muslim sisters – To stand shoulder to shoulder with them. To recite Al-Fâtiḥah while they were also reciting it, calling on the Almighty, in unison, in solidarity. To stand with them; our purposes and intentions directed in the same way, a fortress against evil and in reverence of the One True God.
In my heart and my mind every Muslim was my sister or brother. I greeted them eagerly, enthusiastically. It was beyond exciting to pass them on the street –There they were, my ummah, My family in faith. I was oozing with love.
Down to Earth
Since then I’ve come crashing down to earth. Okay, I get it. Muslims are human: diverse in personality, at different points in their journeys in faith, with faults, limitations, emotions… We were created weak. Islam is not a mind-control device or a magic pill; but, my brothers and sisters, can’t we do better? I believe we can. We have to.
The believing men and women are allies to one another. [Sûrat Al-Tawbah, 9:71]
Islam gives us the very best guidelines and inspires us to be our best selves. Our faith is incomplete without the crucial understanding and application of brotherhood. Think of a single drop of water — how insignificant it is on its own. Yet millions upon millions of raindrops can form a river — powerful, beneficial and abundant with life.
In this key ingredient lies our ability to flourish as a people, by Allah’s Grace. Our disunity is a colossal disservice, not only to ourselves, but to humanity. If we are not united and inviolable – allies to one another— how on earth can we be bearers of the message of the Lord of the Worlds? How can we achieve any goals of magnitude when Allah has commanded us not to divide?
And hold firmly to the rope of Allah all together and do not become divided. [Sûrat Âl ʿImrân, 3:103]
In the next article I intend to address some of the root causes of our division and practical advice to help us reinstate the solidarity and love that we are so sorely missing.