So as to make sure that we are in line with what is required of each of us by our Lord, let us review what are our basic “ways and means.”  They are the prescribed intention-driven and behavioral conventions, acts and practices that emerged during a prosperous state of affairs among the earliest people of Muhammad in the seventh century CE.  How is traveling this Straight Path implemented and assured?

Again, we Muslims have always known the answer, even those of us who have not yet consciously ‘connected the dots’ for living in the modern world,  or even if we have not worked out the inter-connections between implementing ritual-practice and living in psycho-spiritual health and strength.  It is imperative for modern Muslims to develop a consciously insightful and sound understanding —geared to our modern world— of our basic rituals of worship and patterns of a godly lifestyle.

The Ways and Means designed to keep us on the Straight Path are first and foremost our practice of the so-called Pillars of Islam. These ‘pillars’ are the ‘That-Without-Which-Not’ regarding our practice of Islam.  It is around these that we live our Islam and plumb its riches and depth. A hadith of the Prophet sums up, thusly, for us our mandated Principles of Practice:

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It is narrated on the authority of [‘Abdullah] son of Umar that he [Muhammad] said: [The superstructure of] Islam is raised on five [pillars]: [Testification to] the oneness of Allah; the establishment of alâh prayer; payment of Zakat charitable giving; the Sawm fast of Ramadan; Hajj Pilgrimage (to Makkah).

A person said [to ‘Abdullah b. Umar the narrator]: Which of the two precedes [in mention] the other: Pilgrimage or the fasts of Ramadan? Upon this he [the narrator] replied: No [it is not the Pilgrimage which was mentioned first] but the fasts of Ramadan precede the Pilgrimage. (Ṣaḥîḥ Muslim 16a)

Just as a set of properly arranged building pillars can solidly support a physical structure, so, too, any mutually interdependent, co-operative institution—here the institution is our religious community— depends upon shared commitment to its “mission purpose” and operating principles. Brotherhood unites our community, but individual conscientious physical practice of the spiritual Pillars reinforces our shared purpose and principles.

Brotherhood is not of much use unless its individual ‘brothers’ —both male and female, of course— live up to the standard of right behavior and personal ‘goodness’ required for God’s approval. At the same time, God-fearing individuals fail in their responsibilities when they opt out of supporting a local community. Our local communities are always in need of sincere, righteous believers to maintain the Straight Path in the full view of all age levels—whether children, youth, mature adults or community elders— and all personal and social conditions.

Anas ibn Malik reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said: “Support your brother, whether he is an oppressor or whether he is being oppressed.”  It was said, “O Messenger of Allah, we help the one being oppressed but how do we help an oppressor?” The Prophet said:  “By restraining him or preventing him from committing injustice, for that is how you support him.”  (Ṣaḥîḥ al-Bukhari  6552)

Jubair b. Mut’im reported Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) as saying:  There is no alliance (ilf) in Islam but (the ilf) established in the pre-Islamic days (for good). Islam intensifies and strengthens it.  (aḥîḥ Muslim 2530)

A word of caution: One does not ‘jump ship’ when one discovers that his Muslim partners are less than perfect —or perhaps less perfect than one imagines oneself. Fortunately, the strength of our Pillars does not depend upon the perfection of Muslims. But rather their effectiveness is linked to the seriousness of intent with which we conduct our performance of the duties laid upon us —starting with the Five Pillars.  We must learn to follow the admonition given by Allah to our Prophet when we work with our brothers —and they with us— even when it might seem to us that they display serious flaws —and vice versa.

Call to the path of your Lord, [O Prophet,] with [sound] wisdom and fair admonition. And [as to all people,] argue [gently] with them in the fairest manner. Indeed, it is your Lord [alone] who knows best [all] those who have strayed from His [straight] path; and He knows best [all] those who are guided aright. [Sûrah Al-Nahl, 16:125]

Similarly, our Islamic Pillars of Faith serve to help hold in place the bonds cementing together a Muslim community within a healthy, dynamic tension.

The brotherly bonds among Muslims are not optional in the sight of Allah. We are required to help and be helped by our fellow believers. We are in this together, working toward the same personal and community excellence.

O you who believe! Be ever God-fearing, with a fear justly due Him. And make sure that you do not die [meet your death], except as muslims: in willing submission to God [alone].

So hold fast to the rope of God—all [of you] together! You shall not divide! And remember [with reverence] the grace of God upon you when you were enemies and He bound your hearts together, so that you became—by His grace—brothers [to one another]. For you were on the brink of a pit of Fire. And He rescued you from it. Thus does God make His revealed signs clear to you, so that you may be guided aright. So let there be of you one [united] community calling to all that is good and enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong. For it is these who are the [truly] successful. [Sûrah Âl ‘Imrân, 3:101-104]

The same healthy dynamic tensions of brotherhood affect all individuals as we travel the Straight Path. A stable society or community operates with the interpersonal dynamic tensions which govern any brotherly cooperative society.

Indeed, all the believers are brethren. Thus set aright [relationship] between your brothers. And fear God, so that you may be shown mercy. [Surât Al-Hujurât, 49:10]

O you who have attained to faith! When you are told, “Make room for one another in your collective life,” do make room: [and in return,] God will make room for you [in His grace]. [Surât Al-Mujâdilah, 58:11]

We are not intended to walk the Straight Path alone. We cannot escape the fact that we will disagree on various matters.

Yet if ever two groups of the believers fight one another, then set things aright between them. [Surât Al-Hujurât, 49:9]

However, we are required to agree on practicing the same set of ritual-pillars, together, as a brotherly group, focusing on the pleasure of Allah. In order for each of us to secure our own taqwa, our own purity, and seeking of forgiveness, it is highly recommended for the group to support those struggling within our community. Each of us is ‘down’ at one time or another. Each needs to know that he can depend upon his group to help him as he struggles to pick himself up.

The term “ritual” or “practice” as pertaining to a brotherly community implies activity, even when applied to our Islamic Pillars. These pillars are not static props. They are not intended to be markers of tribal belonging or membership within our “in-group,” whether an ethnic group or a social class.  If our communities are to be alive and functioning, then our Pillars, too, must be dynamic and functioning spiritually, in conformance with our human psycho-social needs.

…To be continued in Part 17

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