Reflections of an American Muslim

(Shahid Athar , M. D.)

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God says in the Quran, "O you who believe, observe your duty to God with right observance, and die not except in a state of submission (to Him). And hold fast, all of you together, to the rope of God, and do not separate, and remember God's favor unto you: how you were enemies and He put love between your hearts so that you became as brothers by His grace: and how you were upon the brink of a fire and He saved you from it. Thus God makes clear His revelations unto you so that you may be guided" (3:102-103).

In the above verses belief, piety, Islam (submission to God) are tied together and there is an order to hold on to them. If we do so, then God grants us love and brotherhood and saves us from the fire. It is the same love which God has mentioned in Surah al-Infal. "And as for the believers, God has joined their hearts with love for you spent all that is in the earth, you could not have done it, but God has done it. He is Mighty and Wise" (8:63).

The Islamic ties of brotherhood has been mentioned in several places in Quran, but to quote one in Surah al-Hujurat, "The believers are nothing else other than brothers, Thus make peace between your brethren and observe your duty to God that you may haply receive His mercy" (49: 1 0).
Love and brotherhood among Muslims has often been emphasized by the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in many places:

1. "None of you will enter paradise until you have faith, and you will not complete your faith until you love one another" (Bukhari).

2. "On the day of Judgment, when there will be no shade except the shade of God, one of the six categories of Muslims who will be under the shade are the ones who loved other Muslims just for the pleasure of God" (Muslim).

3. Some Companions came to the Prophet (PBUH) and asked, "O Prophet (PBUH), we do all the rituals, but we do not feel the sweetness of faith in our hearts. Tell us some remedy." The Prophet (PBUH) said, "There are three things you can do to increase the sweetness of faith in your heart: a) love other Muslims just for the sake of God; b) love God and His Messenger more than anything else; and c) hate to go back to rejection of faith" (Bukhari and Muslim).

However, in spite of such clear injunctions to us about love, unity and brotherhood, we see ourselves being disunited, disliking, and even fighting on all levels, individually, sectarian, tribal, and even one country against another, why?

The main reasons for disunity are:
1) False pride in our ethnic and linguistic origin. The creation of mankind into tribes and speaking different languages was in the design of God. "O mankind, We created you from a single pair of a male and a female and made you unto nations and tribes, SO THAT YOU MAY KNOW EACH OTHER (not that you may despise each other). The most honored of you in the light of God is the most righteous of you, and God has full knowledge and He is Aware" (49:13). "And among His signs are the creation of the heaven and earth, and the variation in your language and your colors; verily in that are signs for those who know" (30:22).

Thus it should be clear that our natural differences (race, color, language) are from God, and do not justify hating each other. Piety is the only criterion for superiority. In the same context, it is not necessary to mix all tribes into one. Let them enjoy their ethnic food, dress, and lan- guage as long as Islamic principles are not broken. Nationalism is when one puts his love before the orders of God and His Messenger. In other words, in his love of his nation is he willing to disobey God?

2) The second reason for our disunity is the lack of consultation and miscommunication. The concept of consultation has been emphasized in the Quran in family life. For example, "If they (the parents) both decide on weaning by mutual consultation" (2:233), in disputes and "consult them" (3:157).

Thus we see that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) always consulted with his companions at the time of war and in the affairs of Madinah. In fact, during the battle of Badr, he changed the position of the troops on the advice of an ordinary soldier. The four guided caliphs (Abu Baker, Umar, Uthman, and Ali, may God be pleased with them) during their rule always consulted with each other in complicated matters.

However, in present-day organizations as well as Muslim governments the process of consultation is forgotten. One person decides what he is doing is best for the organization or country. This generates a lack of trust and cooperation from the masses.

3) The third reason is a lack of love. The virtues of love as mentioned in the Quran and Traditions are cited at the beginning of this article. We forget, however, that hate and animosity is a work of Satan. "Satan seeks only to cast among you enmity and hate"(5:91). Satan does so by making us backbite, spy on one another, defame, call offensive nicknames, gossip, ridicule, etc., all of which we are told to avoid in the Quran (Surah al- Hujurat).

Differences of opinion are justified, and are not a valid reason for permanent animosity. For example soon after Abu Bakr became caliph, a new group of converts refused to pay zakat, saying that it was due only when the Prophet (PBUH) was alive. Umar initially sided with them, citing a Tradition that belief in God and the Messenger was enough for salvation. The caliph Abu Bakr disagreed, saying that prescribed prayer and prescribed poor-due are tied together in the Quran and are a part of faith. Umar then realized his mistake.

In another example, at the siege of Jerusalem by Abu Ubayda, the Christians refused to surrender until they met the caliph. The message went to Madinah and consultation was held. Uthman disagreed, saying the city was under siege and that it was only a matter of time. Ali agreed that the caliph Umar should go and meet them and Umar took Ali's advice.


1. Know your duty toward your fellow Muslim. "A Muslim is a Muslim's brother. He does not wrong him. If anyone cares for his brother's needs, God will care for his needs. If anyone will remove his brother's anxiety, God will remove his anxiety on the Day of Judgment and if any conceals a Muslim's secret, God will conceal his secrets on the Day of Judgment" (Bukhari).
In our personal dealings, we should remember God's order as mentioned in Surah al-Hujurat.

2. Be gentle in criticism with Muslims and tough with unbelievers. "They are hard on disbelievers but merciful to each other" (Quran). Presently, however, we see the opposite. We seem to love non-Muslims more than fellow Muslims.

3. Protect each other. "Believers, men and women, are protectors Of one another" (9:71). During the reign of caliph Umar, he received the news that one Jewish tailor sewed a dress for a Muslim woman that he designed intentionally to fall apart in the bazaar so as to humiliate her and disgrace the Muslim community. This was enough for the caliph to threaten war on the entire tribe. He did not ask whether the woman was a good Muslim or a bad one, whether she prayed five times a day and paid the poor-due, etc. But these days we find a reason not to support a Muslim in his difficult days by putting all kinds of labels on his faith and practices. Finally, whatever we do, we should do it with the belief that we are doing it for the sake of God. "Say: My prayer, my sacrifice, my life and my death are for God, the Lord of the Worlds" (6:16).