Equality and Fraternity in Islamic Teachings
By: Ayatullah Shaheed Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim
The third aspect of social relations is that they must have sound foundations based on reality and values on the one hand and be a constituent of the social structure on the other.
Islam views as the best social relations based on equality. People are originally equal and each one is the counterpart of the other; therefore, no one can excel another in origin. Hence, the Holy Qur'an declares: O Mankind! Surely, We have created you of a male and a female, and made you tribes and families that you may know each other. (49:13)
The Holy Prophet (S) has also declared: All of you belong to Adam (equally), and Adam was created of dust.24
However, differences and privileges arise due to extraordinary factors that ensue from the movement of man, both individually and socially. Some privileges are real—such as piety, knowledge, education, and practice of virtues like patience and charity—while others are false and unreal (having riches, many children, material wealth and influence). A third category of privileges arises from talents divinely bestowed on certain individuals or the divine selection of certain individuals.
The nature of social relationship must be Islam-based and faith-based, which automatically becomes a relationship of equality among the individuals of a society ruled by the doctrines of Islam.
As a result, Muslims are brothers of one another. They are equal and comparable in spiritual values. Their ties and relations are similar to those who have the same father and mother. Islam has placed social ties and relations among people of the same faith on the same level and of similar worth and significance as blood ties and relations.
According to many validly reported traditions, this concept is corroborated by marriages performed at the time of the Holy Prophet (S). For instance, Shaykh al-Kulayni, in his book, al-Kafi, has validly reported the story of the marriage of Juwaybir to the daughter of one of the chiefs of the Arab clans. Juwaybir—an ugly, short, dark skinned, needy man from al-Yamamah—who embraced Islam devoutly, was ordered by the Holy Prophet (S) to betroth the daughter of Ziyad, a chief of the clans of al-Madinah. He said: O Juwaybir, Almighty Allah, by means of Islam, has verily humbled men who were esteemed in the Era of Ignorance (jahiliyyah) and, also by means of Islam, has honored others who were lowly in that era. In addition, by means of Islam, Almighty Allah has imparted nobility to men who were humble in that era and, by means of Islam, He has eradicated the baseless zeal of that era when people used to take pride in their clans and their lineages. Today, all people; the white and the black, the Qurayshite, the Arab, and the non-Arab, belong to Adam, and Adam was created by Almighty Allah from clay. Verily, the dearest of people to Almighty Allah on the Day of Resurrection shall be the most obedient to Him and the most pious.
To Ziyad, the father of the betrothed woman, the Holy Prophet (S) said: O Ziyad, Juwaybir is a faithful believer, and every faithful male is the match of every faithful female and every Muslim male is the match of every Muslim female. So, give him your daughter in marriage.25
Respect of Man in General
Although Islam considers faith to be the basis of social relations among Muslims, it does not dispense with the human side of these relations; rather, it considers the human side in the totality of its theory. The meaning becomes clear in Imam ‘Ali’s following words to Malik al-Ashtar: Develop in your heart the feeling of love for your people and let it be the source of kindliness and blessing to them. Do not behave with them like a barbarian, and do not appropriate to yourself that which belongs to them. Remember that the citizens of the state are of two categories. They are either your brethren in faith or your brethren in kind.26
This trend can also be distinctly seen in the traditions that encourage courtesy in general with all people. Such traditions require preserving good social relations with people at the human level unless exceptional circumstances oblige one to disavow or rupture relations with certain people.
Suma’ah has reported Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) as saying: To behave courteously with people is one-third of wisdom.27
Abu-Basir has reported Imam al-Baqir (or Imam al-Sadiq) to have narrated that a Bedouin from the Banu-Tamim tribe came to the Holy Prophet (S) and asked for an advice.
Giving his advice, the Holy Prophet (S) said: Try to endear yourself to people and they will certainly love you.28
Another indication of this trend is the attitude of Islam towards unbelievers, as confirmed by the Holy Qur'an. It makes a distinction between the unbelievers and foes who adopted an aggressive political or military attitude against Muslims and unbelievers who did not adopt aggressive attitudes. As is mentioned in Surah al-Mumtahanah (Surah 60), the Holy Qur'an has warned against showing loyalty to and love for the former but it has permitted treating the latter with charity and fairness. Hence, it reads: Allah does not forbid you to show kindness and deal justly respecting those who have not made war against you on account of your religion and have not driven you forth from your homes. Surely, Allah loves the doers of justice. Allah only forbids you to make friends with those who made war upon you because of your religion, drove you forth from your homes and backed up others in your expulsion. Whoever makes friends with them, these are the unjust. (60:8-9)
A third indication of this trend can be deduced from traditions confirmed by the Ahl al-Bayt (‘a) on the significance of calling to the “way” of Almighty Allah by means of conversations characterized by rationality. They insisted on maintaining general social relations with the non-believers and non-Muslims as well as all categories of people without discriminating between Muslims and non-Muslims through wise and excellent communication skills.
A fourth indication can also be observed in the texts of the Holy Qur'an and the Holy Sunnah that warn against reviling unbelievers and aggravating them with unconstructive attitudes because they would naturally respond to such revilement with similar insults.
Islam has presented fraternity among Muslims as the content of social relations within the Muslim community. Islam has lined itself up with fraternity, which is a mixture of mutual loyalty, backing one another up, and social rights characterized by shared love, affection, humanitarian feelings and sentiments.
Levels of Social Relations
The fourth aspect of social relations is that Islam has not overlooked the tangible realities that exist—despite the fact that it has adopted the principle of equality for all human beings and the principle of fraternity for the Muslim community—in the various extremes of social relations.
Islam has defined two main levels arising from social realities and has based relations on the mental, spiritual, and intellectual conditions of the parties involved.
The first of these levels is the general relationship that is imposed by the nature of man’s existence in society wherein man connects with the individuals of his society and becomes part of it within the general frame of social relations.
Islam views the unity of the Muslim community as the common factor among all the extremes of this relationship.
Through this level of relationship, blood and property are saved from being shed or confiscated and covenants and pledges are fulfilled. In addition, public participation and contribution to social responsibilities is maintained, such as enjoining the right and forbidding the wrong, attending the common prayers and funeral ceremonies, visiting the sick, and trying not to miss social ceremonies like marriages and the like.
In an authentic narration, Shaykh al-Kulayni has reported Mu’awiyah ibn Wahab to have said that he once asked Imam al-Sadiq (‘a), “What should we do with respect to relations with our people and with others whom we come in contact with?”
The Imam (‘a) answered: You must safeguard the trusts that they deposit with you, bear witness for or against them, visit the sick among them, and attend their funeral ceremonies.29
The Ahl al-Bayt (‘a) rarely put conditions regarding maintaining this level of social relations, except for some general constraints, such as avoiding relationships that bring ill repute and associations with heretical people and those publicly known for corruption and deviation, as well as those who work in forbidden occupations. Details of these categories will be cited in the second part of this book.
Al-Faji’ al-’Aqili has reported that Imam ‘Ali the Commander of the Faithful (‘a) instructed his son, al-Hasan (‘a) saying: Beware of presenting yourself in situations that bring about ill reputation and sessions known for evil, for a wicked friend may seduce him who sits with him.30
‘Umar ibn Yazid has reported Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) as saying: Do not keep company with heretical people and do not participate in their sessions, lest you be equated with them in the eyes of people. The Messenger of Allah (S) has said, “Man follows the religion of his friend and companion.”31
Hammad ibn ‘Amr and Anas ibn Muhammad have reported on the authority of Anas’s father that Ja’far ibn Muhammad (al-Sadiq) (‘a), on the authority of his fathers, quoted that the Holy Prophet (S) instructed Imam ‘Ali (‘a) saying: O ‘Ali, it is worthless to keep the company of one whom you will not benefit either from his faith or his worldly affairs.32
A warning against associating with such categories of people means to avoid befriending or sitting with them. However, if we consider this warning general (i.e. to include all states of association), we can understand the reason behind it is that such social relationships might develop into friendships, even if at the minimal level, and it is better to avoid falling into any situation of suspicion that might tarnish one’s reputation.
The second level is that of private relationship, conventionally called friendship (i.e. making friends with some people).
This level shares the general results, consequences, and commitments of the first level of relations but differs from it in certain additional conditions, rights, and duties, such as some financial and cultural rights. Discussing, teaching, and learning about religious affairs as well as some political affairs, like discussing general situations of the community, especially when the issues are very controversial, are permitted only among real friends.
Khaythamah has reported that Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) told him: Convey my compliments to my loyalists and advise them to show reverence to Almighty Allah: the rich among them must help the poor, the powerful must help the weak, the living must attend the funeral ceremonies of the dead, and they must assemble at their homes and discuss issues of religion, for such meetings keep our work alive. May Allah have mercy upon a servant who keeps our work alive.33
Shaykh al-Kulayni, through a valid chain of authority, has reported Maysir as saying: Imam Abu-Ja’far (al-Baqir) (‘a) once asked me, “Do you (Shi’ite groups) often seclude yourselves in special meetings and exchange discourses and freely say what you have in mind?”
I answered, “Yes, I swear it by Allah. We often withdraw to exchange discourses and say freely that which is on our minds.”
The Imam (‘a) commented: By Allah I swear, I do wish I were with you on some of these occasions. By Allah I swear, I do love your fragrance and your souls. You are verily following the very religion of Allah and the religion of His angels. Follow (us) by means of piety and diligence.34
24. - ‘Allamah al-Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar 73:350, H. 13.
25. - Refer to this story in Shaykh al-Kulayni’s book al-Kafi 5:339-343. It actually holds wonderful lessons and wisdom. The same lessons can also be inferred from the story of the marriage of Habib. In the same chapter of this reference book, there are other issues confirming this concept; therefore, it is recommended to have a look at them.
26. - Nahj al-Balaghah, Letter No. 53.
27. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa'il al-Shi’ah 8:434, S. 30, H. 1.
28. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa'il al-Shi’ah 8:433, H. 1.
29. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa'il al-Shi’ah 12:5, H. 1.
30. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa'il al-Shi’ah 8:422, S. 19, H. 4.
31. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa'il al-Shi’ah 8:430, S. 27, H. 1.
32. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa'il al-Shi’ah 8:431, S. 28, H. 1.
33. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa'il al-Shi’ah 12:21, H. 6.
34. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa'il al-Shi’ah 11:567, H. 5.