Concept of Equality and Fraternity
By: Ayatullah Shaheed Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim
These features can be clearly found in the various details of the system of social relations. All these details indicate the fact that equality and fraternity are genuine components for the establishment of social relations with others.
Other details, including the following have been mentioned so far:
• reinforcing the social structure by holding meetings, exchanging visits, and dealing with others sympathetically
• rules of commitment to social duties, forbearance, and courtesy in particular
• fulfillment of trusts, testifying for or against others, presence in funeral ceremonies, and visiting sick people
• forbidding killing of Muslims, seizure of their property, violation of their chastity and family, entering homes or looking in them before obtaining permission, safeguarding the chastity and dignity of all Muslims
• prohibition of defamation of character, insulting, backbiting, divulging secrets, imputing dishonor, wronging, disappointing, ambushing, accusing, frightening, making charges, offending, cursing, and scrutinizing the flaws of Muslims
• exchanging greetings and trying to be the first to greet, using kind words, respecting, honoring, meeting others with a smile and good mien, shaking hands, hugging, and kissing others as a sign of friendliness
Besides the above, Islam has also deemed it forbidden to greet the poor in a way different from greeting the rich. In this regard, Imam al-Ridha (‘a) is reported to have said: Whoever meets a poor Muslim and greets him in a way different from greeting a rich one, will find Almighty Allah angry with him when he will meet Him on the Day of Resurrection.¯70¯
The prohibition against belittling faithful believers because they are poor or humble is another indication of the significance of social fraternity and equality. In this connection, Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) reported the Holy Prophet (S) to have said: He who belittles a poor Muslim has in fact belittled Almighty Allah; therefore, Almighty Allah will belittle him on the Day of Resurrection unless he repents.¯71¯
Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) is also reported to have said: Whoever humiliates and demeans a believer because of his meagerness and poverty, Almighty Allah shall expose him on the Day of Resurrection before all creatures.¯72¯
Imam al-Ridha (‘a) reported on the authority of his fathers that the Holy Prophet (S) said: I will never abandon the following five as long as I am alive: eating with the servants on the ground, riding beasts of burden unsaddled, milking goats with my own hands, wearing woolen clothes, and offering salutations to children.73¯
As has been already mentioned, Islam has deemed all Muslims equal to each other, especially in the question of marriage. This is another indication of the importance of equality and fraternity in Muslim society.
Levels of Social Relations
Although the Islamic concept of social relations believes in equality in the content of social relations, there are certain substantive social reasons imposing different levels in social relations. These levels are as follows:
Relations of General Courtesy
Openness in relations, friendliness, forbearance, good association with others, control over personal sentiments and emotions, charitable behavior and taking the lead in goodness demonstrate a courteous relationship with all individuals of society.
Relations of General Association
Relations of necessity, or general association, mean the state of association and companionship in various fields of life, such as earning ones livelihood, traveling, dwelling, being neighbors, studying, following a profession, etc. In such relations, man understands the natural limits of relations so that he can benefit from the vital and material advantages of life. Referring to this fact, the Holy Imam (‘a) says: Regarding the friends of necessity, you gain from them only your need; therefore, you should not deprive them of their need. Do not ask them for any other thing.
In relations, it is required to exchange benefits and pleasures: Offer them a pleasant countenance and good words as long as they offer you a pleasant countenance and good words.¯74¯
The details concerning this level of relations (relations of necessity) can be found in laws regarding companionship on journeys and manners with companions,¯75¯ relations between employees and employers, the etiquettes of teaching and learning, the etiquettes of attending meetings, delivering speeches, and talking with others. In this area, Islam instructs its followers to give seating to the newcomers, and to stand up, show respect, and address others with their favorite names and titles.
In this respect, Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) reported the Holy Prophet (S) to have said: Three things will prove your friendship to your Muslim brother: Welcoming him warmly, making room for him in meetings when he arrives, and calling him by his dearest names.¯76¯
Reported by Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) too, the Holy Prophet (S) said: If one of you loves his Muslim brother, he must ask him his name, his father’s name, and his tribe’s name, because this is one of the duties towards one’s brother-in-faith and one of the features of true fraternity. If you do not do this, your acquaintance will be foolish.¯77¯
Islam has also set forth laws about private chatter in public sessions. In this respect, Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) is reported to have said: If there are three persons sitting together, two of them must not talk to one another and leave out the third because this act saddens and injures him.¯78¯
Relations of Special Association
The highest level of relations is the level of reliance, which represents the relations of true friendship and gives rise to certain duties and rights.
This level of relations specifies the characteristics of true friends, which include: good sense, piety, trustworthiness, keeping a confidence, supportiveness, generosity, honesty, observance of duties in general and prayers in particular, and sincerity in fraternal terms aimed at winning Almighty Allah’s pleasure. The following traditions further amplify this level of association: Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) has quoted Imam ‘Ali (‘a) as saying: It is not wrong on your part to accompany wise people even if you are deprived of their generosity; in fact, you may benefit from their wisdom, but beware of their ill manners. Do not forsake association with the generous even if deprived of their good sense. You can use your good sense to benefit from their generosity. Break away from idiots and despicable people.¯79¯
Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) is reported to have said: Stand by old friends whom you have put to the test, and do not associate with inexperienced persons who observe neither their promises, nor trusts, nor covenants, nor pledges.¯80¯
We will restrict the following discussion to introducing a few examples of special relations mentioned in the sections on the laws of association, and other examples mentioned in the sections on the rules and principles of social relations. These are comparatively limited, yet explain the hypothetical concept of this topic.
70. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa’il al-Shi’ah 8:442, S. 36, H. 1.
71. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa’il al-Shi’ah 8:588, S. 146, H. 4.
72. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa’il al-Shi’ah 8:591, S. 147, H. 4.
73. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa’il al-Shi’ah 8:441, S. 35, H. 1.
74. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa’il al-Shi’ah 8:404, S. 3, H. 1.
75. - Generally, these laws can be found in sections 30-34 of the etiquettes of travel in al-Hurr al-’Amili’s book of Wasa’il al-Shi’ah.
76. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa’il al-Shi’ah 8:409, S. 30, H. 2.
77. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa’il al-Shi’ah 8:501, S. 1, H. 3.
78. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa’il al-Shi’ah 8:472, S. 72, H. 1.
79. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa’il al-Shi’ah 8:409, S. 8, H. 1.
80. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa’il al-Shi’ah 8:412, S. 11, H. 3.