As Muslims, we need to focus on many social problems facing the believers: substance abuse, feeding the poor, looking after the homeless, helping single mothers and fathers raise their children – who are, in actuality, OUR children, finding spouses for the unwed, taking care of and visiting the sick and elderly, and many other areas.With Muslims having taken a firm foothold in North America, there can be no denying the fact that we are here to stay – there is no “going back home”. For the vast majority of us, North America is home, and just like any other citizen, we have every right to be here, and we have every right to want to preserve our unique identity while at the same time being a part of the overall fabric of society.
After settling in and establishing ourselves, the next logical step was/is to establish “religious institutions” to further our goals and objectives, and one of the buzzwords which frequently comes up in this context is “community”. We refer to ourselves in relation to our faith as a “Muslim community”; many groups go a step further and refer to their ethnic background and employ terms such as “Iraqi community”, “Pakistani community”, “Khoja community”, etc. However, what does it mean to be a part of a “community” – specifically a Muslim community?
The dictionary defines the word community as “a social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists.”
Yes, as Muslims and followers of the Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them) from a plethora of countries around the world, we are distinct (from other Muslims), and we are also distinct in terms of the greater society in which we exist. However, from the Islamic world outlook, is an aggregate of people who merely inhabit a particular neighborhood or frequent a specific religious center and happen to share the same “belief” system what makes a community?
To answer this question, let us look at two key verses of the Noble Qur’an.
An “Islamic community” is one which not only “believes” but, as the Qur’an mentions time and time again, one that helps one another out: “You (Muslims) are the best nation raised up for mankind; you enjoin one another to what is good, and you prevent others from what is bad, and you have firm belief in Allah.” This and other similar verses give us a glimpse into an “Islamic community” and direct the believers to enact two rights: material and spiritual rights if they wish to be considered as a community.
Let us first focus our attention on material rights, as these are perhaps the hardest to enact.
As Muslims, we need to focus on many social problems facing the believers: substance abuse, feeding the poor, looking after the homeless, helping single mothers and fathers raise their children – who are, in actuality, OUR children, finding spouses for the unwed, taking care of and visiting the sick and elderly, and many other areas.
The life of the Muslims in Medina after the Migration clearly shows us how to forge a Muslim community, and God found this concept so important that He offers us a beautiful example in the Noble Qur’an of the ideal Muslim community: “[They are as well] for those who were settled in the land and [abided] in faith before them, who love those who migrate toward them, and do not find in their hearts any need for that which is given to them, but prefer [the Immigrants] to themselves, though poverty be their own lot. And those who are saved from their own greed — it is they who are the felicitous.” (Qur’an, 59:9)
The responsibilities which we have as Muslims in North America in designing an “Islamic community” can be summarized into three words based on the themes contained in the above passage: LOVE, VISION, and SACRIFICE.
At the first level, Allah brings up the cherished trait of LOVE and shows us how the indigenous people of Medina had love for those who had migrated towards them. Their love was not superficial. Rather, they embodied the devotion for their fellow believers by not discriminating against those who came for help – the only criteria they employed was that of faith. Thus, the first ingredient we need to add to our equation of an “Islamic community” is love for one another based on nothing but our core belief system.
The second level, which was somewhat harder to realize, was that they had a VISION for a better future for everyone. It is this vision which pushed them forward and gave them the strength to bear difficulties. They visualized “united we stand, and divided we fall”, and that there would be a glorious future for all of them if they maintained the vision of the community progressing together for the betterment of one and all. This becomes the second ingredient in forging a “Muslim community” – we need goals and targets to aspire towards.
However, it is the third and final level which, although was relatively easy for the people of Medina, has proven to be the most difficult in our era, and that is of SACRIFICE. The inhabitants of Medina felt no guilt, remorse, or jealousy when they gave to the needy. They knew what it meant to have a spiritually expansive heart and realized it was more important to take care of others before themselves (as the Qur’an clearly attests to).
It is of minimal importance as to what street we live on, if all our houses are within an ear-shot of the Adhan emanating from the mosque, or if we all live in a residential complex owned and operated by the local Islamic institution. We may have such housing projects; however, if we are not concerned for one another, if we are lacking love for each other, if we are only thinking of today and have no vision for the future and where we want to be, and if we are not ready to sacrifice what we have – then merely living in one geographic region or attending the same mosque will have no impact on us. We will merely be Muslims who frequent the same building – we will not have earned the honor of being an “Islamic community”.
As for spiritual rights, we tend to forget these all too often. We must realize that a community is not only built with physical bricks – it requires spiritual bonding to hold the bricks together. We can have a multimillion dollar mosque (as many which are popping up in North America), but if there is no spiritual cohesion present, that building will figuratively and literally crumble to the ground.
What is the mortar used to bind the community? One of the sources at our disposal is Risalat al-Huquq (Charter of Rights) of Imam Zainul Abideen (peace be upon him).
This treatise (available online) presents us with the adhesive needed to cement the community. Let us reflect on just three rights which, if enacted, will help strengthen the foundations of love, vision, and sacrifice within all of us.
- The right of him who does a kindly act (dhul ma’ruf) toward you is that you thank him and mention his kindness; you reward him with beautiful words, and you supplicate for him sincerely in that which is between you and God. If you do that, you have thanked him secretly and openly. Then, if you are able to repay him one day, you repay him.
- The right of the people of your creed (milla) is harboring safety for them, compassion toward them, kindness toward their evildoer, treating them with friendliness, seeking their well-being, thanking their good-doer, and keeping harm away from them. You should love for them what you love for yourself, and dislike for them what you dislike for yourself. Their old men stand in the place of your father, their youths in the place of your brothers, their old women in the place of your mother, and their young ones in the place of your children.
- The right of your imam in your ritual prayer is that you know that he has taken on the role of mediator between you and your Lord. He speaks for you, but you do not speak for him; he supplicates for you, but you do not supplicate for him. He has spared you the terror of standing before God. If he performs the prayer imperfectly, that belongs to him and not to you; but if he performs it perfectly, you are his partner, and he has no excellence over you. So protect yourself through him, protect your prayer through his prayer, and thank him in that measure.
A community is not just a building made of bricks and glass. A community is a vision and ideal of where we want to be as we progress towards the advent of Imam al-Mahdi (may Allah hasten his reappearance). Buildings come and go; however, foundations which are cemented with LOVE, VISION and SACRIFICE will endure through all times and tribulations.
In addition to working full-time for Canada’s largest manufacturer of smartphones, Shaikh Saleem Bhimji has also written and translated numerous works on Islam and Shi’ism. These can be read and purchased at http://www.al-haqq.com and http://www.iph.ca.