“Surely God has vessels on His earth, namely our hearts. And the vessels dearest to Allah are the purest and strongest and finest: purest from sins, strongest in the faith, finest towards their brothers.”
Following on from last week’s tarbiya, we will conclude with a brief overview of the duties of brother hood in Islam. The following is a summary of Imam al-Ghazalis chapter on brotherhood as found in the ‘Revival of the Religious Sciences’, as it’s only a summary, I can’t go into all the detail and I urge everyone to read a copy of the text if you can. (The text I am using is a translation of this chapter by Muhtar Holland, ‘The Duties of Brotherhood in Islam’ The Islamic Foundation) It’s a bit of ‘what to do, what not to do’ read, to avoid a very lengthy piece I’ve stuck to the instructive parts of the text, rather than the discursive.
The contract of brotherhood is between two people and entails certain duties upon agreeing to this contract. Imam al-Ghazali identifies 8 broad duties: material assistance, personal aid, keeping silent; speaking out, forgiveness, prayer, loyalty and sincerity, informality.
Wealth, property and other worldly possession are often the cause of divisions between families, friends, relations and brothers. The desire to accumulate, save and acquire possessions can lead to selfishness, possessiveness and an unamiable level of competitiveness. Sharing our worldly possessions in three ways can prevent disunity:
a)Sharing any excess or surplus we may have without being asked to share. By sharing in this way, your brother may not have as much as you, but never-the- less he has more than he did prior to your contribution.
b)Ensuring that your brother has an equal amount as you, and that you are both on an equal footing. Therefore his success results in your success and his losses results in your losses, in either instance there is consistent equality.
c)Preferring your brother to yourself and putting his needs before your own. Achieving this requires the greatest level of self sacrifice. Of the three options, this is the highest display of brotherhood.
Ghazali writes: ‘If you do not find yourself at any of these stages in relation to your brother, than you must realise that the contract of brotherhood is not yet concluded in the Inner. All that lies between you is the formal connection, lacking real force in reason or religions’.
2.Personal aid to your brother.
The second duty is to help and provide for the needs of our brothers, without waiting to be asked. Achieving this require us to constantly learn and understand the circumstances of our brothers – it’s impossible to know what and individual may need without engaging with them. Furthermore you assistance should not imply payback or repayment, it is simply done with the intention to help your brother and please Allah.
As relationships grow, and we learn more about our friends we may become aware of small faults and bad habits. At all time we must avoid exposing these faults to others; rather we should tactfully attempt to address them so as to improve and better our brothers. At times we may become exhausted with our brothers repeated bad habits, but be patient and remind yourself that none of us are free of faults, including you.
We should also seek to silence our heart in this respect. Meaning we should avoid being suspicious of our brothers, be it a suspicion that is borne from observation, or suspicions that arise from prejudice and presumptions. The root of both is assuming the worst of our brothers, with little or no justification for it.:
The Prophet (pbuh) said:
‘God has forbidden one believer to tamper with the blood, property or honour of another or to hold a bad suspicion of him’
“Beware of suspicion, for suspicion is the worst of false tales; and do not look for the others’ faults and do not spy, and do not be jealous of one another, and do not desert (cut your relation with) one another, and do not hate one another; and O Allah’s worshipers! Be brothers (as Allah has ordered you!”) (Bukhari)
Upon hearing gossip and rumours about our brothers we must not indulge or further the gossip, in the same way we would try to mitigate any other embarrassment or hurt our brother might feel. Finally if your brother confides in you, or entrust a secret with you – you are obliged to keep that secret safe:
‘The fool’s heart is in his mouth, but the intelligent man’s tongue is in his heart’
4. Speaking out
The use of the tongue is twofold, to keep silent regarding unpleasant things and to speak out with affection to your brother. Allah’s Messenger said:
‘If one of you loves his brother, let him know it!’
We should actively show our love affection through words and greeting of peace, thanking him for his efforts and intentions and reminding him of his place in our heart. Reminders of this nature increase the warmth between brothers and forge stronger bonds.
Speaking out on behalf of your brother is of equal importance in situations where your brother cannot defend himself due to absence, or his reputation is being tarnished. Mujahid said: ‘refer to your brother in His absence only as you would want him to refer to you in your absence.
‘Through concord, sincerity comes to completion; and he who is not sincere in his brotherhood is a hypocrite. Sincerity means equality between absence and presence, between the tongue and the heart, between the private and the public. Separateness, contradiction and non-conformity in any of this is adulteration of true affection.’
Our final duty is to share and spread knowledge to our brothers, be it in the form of advice, or education in worldly and religious matters. Both imply that we want our brothers to improve and better themselves, and we will aid them in this course.
5. Forgiveness of mistakes.
Mistakes and failing may come in two forms: ‘in religion, through the commission of an offence; or in his duty to you, through an omission in brotherhood’. In response to the former we must advise and help our brothers correct themselves in issues of religion; this should be done with kindness and discretion. Abu’l Darada said: ‘If your brother alters and changed is hue do not desert him on that account, for you brother will sometimes be crooked and sometimes straight’. Just as we would not neglect our brother poverty in material forms, nor should we neglect his poverty in religious affairs, but strive to improve each other.
If our brothers fail us in the worldly duty, then again patience and forgiveness should be sought. The Prophet (pbuh) said we should seek 70 excuses for a mistake, thus implying that we always try to think the best of a person and retain a good image of him in our hearts. Apologies should also be accepted and responded to with forgiveness.
6. Praying for your brother.
A sincere pray for our brother is hugely valuable, not only for the person being prayed for, but also to the person praying. The Prophet (pbuh) said:
‘Whenever a man prays for his brother in secret, the angels says “And to you the same!”’
We should prayer for our brothers when they are alive and when they have passed, prayer made for the dead by the living are of great importance, as they are one of the few things which can improve the state of the deceased.
7. Loyalty and sincerity.
‘The meaning of loyalty is steadfastness in love and maintaining it to the death with your brother, and after his death with his children and fellow. For love is for the sake of the other life’ (Ghazali)
Therefore we should be consistent in our love and kindness towards our brother and anyone whom they hold near and dear. Our loyalty should not waiver if that person’s status in the world neither declines nor should our brothers loyalty towards us waiver if his status increases.
The final duty which Ghazali outlines is probably the hardest to pinpoint. In sum, the duty is to make your brother feel completely at ease in your company, and to ensure that he feels no discomfort as a result of being with you. There should not be a feeling of coldness, uncomfortable formality, awkwardness and tension when brothers meet, but a feeling of genuine warmth, affection and belonging.
As brothers to one another we must remove any discomfort and be ready to remove the burdens of formality:
‘If you drop kulfa(formality) your ulfa (friendship) will last, and that if your burden is light you will have lasting affection’ (Al-Ghazali)
Ghazali concludes by writing:
‘When union is complete the carpet of formality is rolled up entirely, and you can behave with your brothers as with yourself. For these manners of the outer are only the title pages of the inner and of purity of heart. When hearts are purified there is no need of formality to display their content.’
I hope the above has been beneficial and my apologies for any shortcoming in these very brief tarbiyas. May Allah increase the love and unity between our hearts and may He place us in the company of the people He loves.
*please note that unreferenced hadith have been taken directly from ‘The Duties of Brotherhood in Islam’, unfortunately the text does not name the narrators/collection of hadith.