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The Ties That Bind Us

Shaikh Saleem BhimjiAs 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.Shaikh Saleem BhimjiWith 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

About Shaikh Saleem Bhimji

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  • otowi

    asalaam alaaykum wr wb

    This strikes me as a very very important and well-done article. I think we miss even the first level, as subconscious and sometimes active racism/classism/culturism is still a very real issue in our communities.

  • Brother

    Salaam, thank you Sheikh Bhimji for this article, may Allah (swt) reward you for your effort. One quick question, in Risaalat al Huqooq, what is meant in the right of the people of your creed where it says, “kindness toward their evildoer?” Thanks again.

  • otowi

    I have the same question as “Brother”.

  • Saleem Bhimji

    Salaam Alaikum,
    The entire passage which I want to comment on reads:
    “…kindness toward their evildoer, treating them with friendliness, seeking their well-being…” In this right, we are ordered to treat those who follow our creed (Muslims) with:

    A. Kindness towards the wrong-doers (evil doers)
    B. Behave with MUSLIMS with friendliness (the wrong-doers )
    C. Seeking the well-being of Muslims (the wrong-doers )

    In order to understand what the Imam wants us to appreciate from this part we need to keep the following points in mind:

    1. Islam is a faith of the society – meaning that it is concerned about the state of health of the entire society – not just individuals.

    2. However since the society is made up of individuals, the social development and progress of each and every person is very important.

    3. In many verses the Qur’an talks about the believers uniting together and to remember that at one time, we were ‘enemies’ of one another, however through His favour, we became brothers (see 3:103). In another verse, we are again told not to be divided and to fall into argument amongst one another (3:105) and that if we do so and remain disunited, we risk losing our spiritual powers and abilities (8:46).

    Now when it comes to people living in a family or in a society, definitely we will have disputes, disagreements and quarrels, but how do we solve them? If two blood brothers disagree – they can either fight and physically hurt one another to “prove” who is right, or they can “talk it out” and sort out the situation like human beings.

    The same is the case with people who follow the same faith – Muslims in our case. We can either treat the wrong-doers in our faith as rebels and utterly destroy them and push them out of the circle of faith, or we can win them over through love and compassion, logic and reason. I think that we would achieve more if we treat the wrong-doers in our community (to an extent) with love and compassion rather than anger and violence…

    Many times people commit wrongs or acts of “evil” due to ignorance – not out of contempt for the law … if we realize that we too are prone to err and that we would want someone to guide us to what is correct in a proper manner, then it stands to reason that when we deal with others, we need to employ this same tactic.

    …I pray that this helps us to understand the point of the Imam.

    5.

  • relationship-enforcer

    I appreciate that this great article has been written keeping the ties of a community in mind. However, I just wanted to ask the editorial team if it would be possible for someone to one day write something on family ties—-and maybe on what one should do, if ties with our alleged “love ones” become beyond irreparable. What should one do when our loved ones become intolerable or so diffcult that it makes it hard for us to be around them? Please advise on our faith’s stance on this issue. I know for a fact that it is highly recommended to try and mend relations. However, at times, it is not humanely possible to just accept them for who they are and make an effort. Please advise on what one should do about this…….

  • otowi

    I think articles can only address general issues in most cases and thus their applicability to your individual situation is likely to be limited. Perhaps you should address your situation in detail to a scholar for some advice that would apply to you directly.

  • Mustafa

    Well I agree with the general concept of the article.

    However i disagree with one thing. That we are here to stay. No your not actually! Because we are living in the Age of Appaerance and on of the signs of Imam Mahdi (A.S) is that the muslims/arabs will be kicked out of Roman Lands. This does not mean Italy, but the neo Roman American Empire. Which may include Canada and Europe. And things are beginning to look terrible for Muslims living here.

    And never forget ur roots! Never forget your East African, or Pakistani, or Arab, Iranian or Indian. Your roots and culture are ur identity and you can live in a foreign nation and intermingle in society while maintaining identity and culture!