By Jaafar S. Idris
TRUE UNITY IS unity of hearts that comes as a result of faith in Allah and that makes people love each other as brothers and sisters. It is this bond of brotherhood that makes it easy for people to advise, to forgive, to excuse, to cooperate, to help and make duʿâ’ for each other.
And hold fast all together by Allah’s rope and be not divided among yourselves; and remember Allah’s favor on you, for you were enemies and He joined your hearts so that by His grace you became brothers. [Sûrat Âl ʿImrân, 3:103]
And [Allah] brought together their hearts. Had you spent all that is on the earth you would not have been able to join their hearts together, but Allah brought them together, for He is exalted in might, wise. [Sûrat Al-Anfâl, 8:63]
The Quran stresses the fact that it is this unity of hearts that matters; mere coming together of people is not unity because it can take place even among people who hate each other:
You would think that they are united but (in reality) their hearts are divided; that is because they are a people who do not understand. [Sûrat Al-Ḥashr, 59:14]
It is this true unity of hearts, which we must aspire to achieve and preserve. Since it is a faith-based unity, the best way to strengthen it is by strengthening the faith that generates and buttresses it. The more we know about Allah, the more we become sincere in worshipping Him, the more we do all this by being very strict in following the way of the Prophet ﷺ and his Companions, the more will we be united and the stronger will our loving relationship be.
By contrast, the more ignorant we become of some of the truths stated in the Quran or the Sunnah, and therefore deny them, the more we sow the seeds of discord among ourselves:
With those who call themselves naṣâra (Christians), we made a covenant, but they forgot some of that of which they were told to bear in mind; so we stirred up enmity and hatred among them to the Day of Judgment. [Sûrat Al-Mâ’idah, 5:14]
Enmity and hatred come as a natural result of denying some of the revealed truths because those who deny them will think of those who affirm them as deviating from religion or of making additions to it.
Despite its fundamental importance, unity of hearts is by itself not enough. This is so because though Islam starts its iṣlâḥ (change to the better) at the individual’s heart or mind, it never neglects the importance of external and communal behavior because of the great interaction between the mental and the physical. Faith unites hearts and minds, but the internal unity has to be expressed in and enhanced by organizational unity. Muslims are required to live as a jamâʿa (organized society), not as a scattered individuals. The ideal form of this jamâʿa is a polity whose government abides by the dictates of the Quran and the Sunnah. What if for some reason we fail to realize that ideal society? Islam advises us to always do what we can; if we are unable to do the ideal, we opt for the second best, the third best, and so on.
Allah does not require a person to do except that which he (or she) can. [Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:286]
The ideal choice for Muslims living in a country like the U.S, for example, would be to have one general organization that includes all Muslims and places them under one leadership. With such an all-embracing umbrella they can make many political, economic, educational and social achievements in a legal and peaceful way. The second best would be several organizations that are ready to coordinate their activities and cooperate among themselves in achieving common objectives (and there are many of them). That does not mean that they can never criticize each other or explain why they differ on certain issues; but difference is one thing and conflict is another.
What if one does not find a society or organization to ones liking? One must be realistic and remember that it is almost impossible to find a group with which one is in hundred percent agreement on all matters. A thinking and honest person always weighs the pros and cons of being with an organization or leaving it. The general rule is that if a person approves of the main objectives and means of the organization, he must stick to it even if he finds himself in disagreement over certain issues. I know of some people who would boycott a masjid if they find the imam in the habit of committing certain bidʿa (innovation). There is no harm in that if the alternative is to go to another masjid where the imam is better. But if the alternative is to perform Salah at home and live in seclusion from the Muslim community, then it is certainly worse than offering Salah behind an imam who commits bidʿa. One should always apply the rational and Islamic principle of opting for the lesser of two evils.
People who have faith-based relationship can cooperate on almost every thing. But it is wrong to think that cooperation must be confined to persons with whom we have such special relationship, and with whom we agree on almost every thing. The scope of cooperation is much wider. Enlightened Muslims cooperate with every one who works for the achievement of what they believe to be a noble objective. They do so because they believe that it is their duty to increase the good and lessen the evil in this world; they, therefore, believe that any one who does good or forbids evil is helping them in carrying out their duty. It makes no difference to them whether the person who does the good is a Muslim or a Non-Muslim, a hypocrite, or a deviant Muslim. Some good words of Imam Ibn Al-Qayyim are worth quoting at length in this respect. Commenting on the agreement of Ḥudaybia, which the Prophet ﷺ concluded with the people of Makkah and prior to which he promised to grant them any request in which they hold any of Allah’s commands in high esteem, Ibn Al-Qayyim remarked:
If the polytheists, the innovators, the sinful, the aggressors, ask for help in a matter in which they respect any of Allah’s commands they must be granted that help, even if they refuse to do so with other commands of Allah. They must be thus helped in matters in which they respect Allah’s commands, not in their kufr or aggression …Thus any one who seeks help in a matter which is lovable and pleasurable to Allah must be granted that help whoever he might be. He should not however be granted that help if helping him in that which is lovable to Allah, results in something which is much more hateful to Him. This is indeed a very subtle and extremely difficult situation.
There are always people in this or that non-Muslim country who are open-minded and who are keen on cooperating with Muslims on achieving common religious or humanitarian goals. Muslims should not let them down; they should not hesitate to cooperate with them in increasing the good and lessening the evil in the world.