Duties of Brotherhood


Public domain image of clasped hands taken from http://pixabay.com/en/clasped-hands-comfort-hands-people-541849/
Ya'qub Bell

"And hold fast, all together, by the rope which Allah (stretches out for you), and be not divided among yourselves; and remember with gratitude Allah’s favour on you; for you were enemies and He joined your hearts in love, so that by His Grace, you became brothers; and you were on the brink of the pit of Fire, and He saved you from it. Thus Allah make His Signs clear to you: That you may be guided." (Qur'an, 3:103)

Brotherhood and Friendship

I have had many friends during my life: people I've grown up with, people I shared experiences with, people I've fallen out with, people I've helped and people who've helped me. People tend to become friends with each other when they have something in common - and the friendship rarely lasts once this changes.

For example, some of my school friends were really close to me, but since leaving we barely see each other and, even when we do, we just talk about the 'good old days' of football and fire extinguisher battles. I have friends from before I was a Muslim with who I used to meet up all the time just to cotch and smoke weed; we knew almost everything about each other.

But once I stopped smoking, all of a sudden we didn't have the same connection with each other, and we grew apart. It's the same with old work colleagues: I practically spent half my waking life with these people, and we got on really well, but since moving jobs all that's left is an occasional email.

But there is a type of friendship that exists which is based on something bigger, something more important. A friendship based on something that will never die, or fall apart. This is a friendship based on a shared belief, a shared purpose of life. What could be more important than joining someone in love and devotion to Allah (swt)? Once you have this in common with someone, everything else becomes unimportant.

In fact, the word 'friendship' does not do justice to the bond that two Muslims share, so the word 'brotherhood' is used instead. It is important to note that this is not 'brotherhood' in terms of sharing the same blood or ancestry; in fact the bond of Islam is stronger and more important than any family ties.

Brotherhood… and Sisterhood?

The word ‘brotherhood’ is not limited just to guys, either. It applies to the bond between Muslim sisters in exactly the same way. So why aren’t women referred to in the Qur’an and Ahadith? This is only an issue of translation, and the differences between the Arabic and English languages. Faraz Rabbani says:

"[The Qur'an and Ahadith use of masculine language] isn't a reference to men. Rather, in nearly all human languages, there is a challenge on how to address both men and women in the generic, general sense. The third person singular, generic expression has usually referred to "man" and "him" - in Arabic just like in English. This wasn't sexist, and these general addresses were understood to include women unless otherwise specified or clear.

The Prophet (pbuh) himself said, "Women are the partners of men," referring to them sharing in all addresses and rulings unless otherwise established."

Brotherhood: Then and Now

The importance of brotherhood is highlighted by what the Prophet (pbuh) did when he first arrived in Madina. He paired the Meccan Emigrants (Muhajireen) with Muslims who already lived in Madina, known as the Helpers (Ansar).

This was not just a temporary measure for when the Emigrants first arrived, it was a permanent feature of the new social order that the Prophet (pbuh) introduced. It represented a deliberate step away from individualism and competitiveness (which have also become common in modern day Britain) in favour of a collective, co-operative spirit (which has become common in modern day... err...).

The Prophet (pbuh) has described the unity of Muslims to the human body: "You find the Muslims in their mutual love and compassion, like one body. Should any organ of it fall ill, the rest of the body will share in the fever and sleeplessness that ensues," (Bukhari).

So how do we implement this brotherhood into our day-to-day lives? The world we live in can seem very different to the primitive Arabian society of the early Muslims (there are fewer camels, for example). But we find that our duties and responsibilities to each other can be broken down so that we may find guidelines that we can live by, which are as relevant and helpful today as they have always been.

The Duties The first duty:To give support and help to our brothers in times of need.

We should always be ready to offer assistance, whether it’s donating/lending money, carrying heavy luggage, helping someone move house or anything else. We should also never wait for someone to ask us for help, because they might be shy or find it embarrassing.

The Prophet (pbuh) said that someone who helps a Muslim will be protected by Allah (swt) from any suffering in the Hereafter, and that Allah (swt) will help us as long as we help others. (narrated by Muslim and Abu-Daud).

The lowest level of this is to give out of what we have left over. An example of this would be if I had a bag of chips, ate most of them and then offered you the leftovers. It is still quite kind of me to offer you some chips, but no one would say I was being generous or anything.

The second level of this is to treat your brother the same way you treat yourself, to split everything 50-50. So if I had a bag of chips and offered you half of it before I even started eating, I would be doing this. This certainly would be nice of me, especially if I didn't wait for you to say whether you were hungry or not.

But even this is not the best thing for me to do. If I offered you the whole bag of chips, and then only ate what you left over, then I would be fulfilling my brotherly duty to you completely.

Of course this is easier said than done, most of us probably fall somewhere between two of these three stages, but it is important to try to aim as high as possible. Chips might not seem very important, but imagine the reward if it were something more valuable (like potato wedges or something).

The Prophet (pbuh) said, “Do not think little of any good deed, even if it is just greeting your brother with a cheerful countenance,” (Muslim).

The second duty: The tongue.

We should always use mouthwash. That’s just good manners. Also, we should guard our tongue from highlighting our brothers' or sisters’ faults behind their backs. We should never spread lies about them and we shouldn't backbite (even if it is 'fact-biting'). Allah (swt) says in the Qur'an:

"O, you who believe! Avoid suspicion. Indeed, some suspicion is a crime. And spy not, neither backbite one another. Would one of you love to eat the flesh of his brother? You would hate that! And keep your duty, for Allah is Relenting, Merciful." (Qur'an, 49:12)

What this is referring to is the punishment in the Hellfire for those who spread rumors about others: They will be made to eat human flesh. So it seems your mum wasn’t lying when she said, “If you can’t say nothing nice, then don’t say nothing.”

As well as knowing when to stay quiet, we have to know when it is best to speak out. We should tell our brother/sister they look cool, give them advice when they’re going through problems and let them know when someone else has said they look cool.

Most importantly we should protect his/her honour in their absence. That means if you hear someone else backbiting about them, you absolutely must defend them, make excuses for them and always give him/her the benefit of the doubt. You would want someone else to do the same for you, right?

The third duty: To forgive your brothers’/sisters’ mistakes, overlook their failings and help them to overcome their shortcomings.

The first part of this happens if he/she wrongs you, personally. The best thing to do is to be patient with them, forgive them and then don't mention it again or remind him/her of it. Of course this isn't always done easily, but it helps if you always try to remember Allah (swt), and the fact that we want Him to forgive us.

Abu Huraira narrated that the Prophet (pbuh) said,

"One who covers up the failings of somebody in this world will have his shortcomings covered by Allah on the Day of Judgment."

The second part of this duty is when we see our brother/sister doing wrong to someone else, or failing in his/her duty to Allah (swt). We still have to help them. Anas ibn Malik relates:

‘The Prophet (pbuh) said, "Help your brother whether he is an oppressor or an oppressed person.

A companion asked: "Messenger of Allah, I will help him if he is an oppressed person, but please tell me how I am to help if he happens to be an oppressor".

The Prophet answered: "Check him from doing injustice, because preventing him from committing aggression is a help to him".’

We have to kindly, and without being judgmental, advise our brother/sister how to improve him-/herself. This is different from simply frowning at them and saying "Brother, don’t you know that is haram?" or acting in any way ‘holy-moly’ or superior to them. How could you have done a good deed if you have left your brother/sister feeling ashamed of him-/herself or disheartened? This can also make you to become arrogant yourself, and even George Lucas knows pride leads to the dark side.

So, with or without our best Chewbacca impression, we have to show people the benefit of changing their behaviour, we have to support and encourage them and we must do this by giving practical, achievable solutions. In short, we should be a good friend rather than a Sith Lord.

The fourth duty: To pray for our brother/sister.

This is my favourite because it takes the least amount of energy to do, and it offers us a great payback. We should ask him/her to be given all the best things in this life and in the Hereafter. The Prophet (pbuh) said:

"The supplication of a Muslim for his brother without his knowledge is an accepted supplication and will be rewarded by the presence of an angel at his side. Every time he Supplicates for his brother the angel will say: Amen and the same for you too," (Muslim).

So, you want a pay rise? Easy! Just ask Allah (swt) for your brother/sister to get a pay rise. You want Allah (swt) to forgive your sins? Just ask Allah (swt) to forgive your brother's/sister’s sins. If you're sincere in your supplication then insha'Allah it will be answered.

The fifth duty: Loyalty and sincerity.

We should stick together through thick and thin, calm seas and stormy waters - inspired metaphor and well-worn cliché. The Prophet (pbuh) said,

"Do not end a friendship, do not turn your back, do not hate each other and don't envy each other. As a servant of Allah, maintain brotherhood. Two Muslims may not remain on non-speaking terms with each other for more than three days" (narrated by Malik).

This includes the duty of reconciling two brothers/sisters who have fallen out over something. This is so important that one of only three situations that the Prophet (pbuh) has made it permissible for a Muslim to tell a lie is so that two arguing brothers may make peace with each other (in a hadith narrated by Bukhari). One of the great Companions of the Prophet (pbuh), Abu Darda (ra) said:

“Shall I not tell you about something that is better for you than charity and fasting? Reconcile between your brothers, because hatred diminishes reward,” (Bukhari).

The sixth duty: Specific obligations.

These are the legal rights that we have over one another as brothers and sisters in Islam. These are even more important than the duties I have mentioned previously in the article, and should not be read merely as general guidelines or suggestions, but absolute obligations. The Prophet (pbuh) listed them in a hadith narrated by Muslim. They are:

  1. To greet every Muslim with “Assalamu ‘alaikum”.
  2. To accept an invitation from another Muslim.
  3. To reply to any advice from another Muslim with advice in return.
  4. To reply with “Yarhamukallah” when another Muslim sneezes and says “Alhamdulillah”.
  5. To visit another Muslim when they are sick.
  6. To accompany a Muslims’ dead body to the cemetery.

The Importance of Love

So there you have it: six simple duties. That can't be too hard now, can it? Well, that's the problem; it’s all well and good to know what the duties are, but can we really stick to them? Even when our brother/sister is being a pain in the backside? Even when we're tired and stressed out? Can we still fulfill our duties even when our brothers/sisters aren't fulfilling their duties to us? It can be hard.

I'm not trying to pretend I have mastered this myself, just because I've written and article about it.

This is where we have to realise the importance of love in fulfilling the Duties of Brotherhood. Do you think that a mother would ever hesitate about looking after her baby's every need, even if the baby were keeping her up all night by crying? Would a mother ever think twice about leaving her baby to cry its eyes out, just because she herself is tired or stressed out? Of course she wouldn't.

This is because Allah (swt) has placed love and mercy into the heart of the mother. And Allah (swt) places this same love and mercy into the hearts of all of us, so that we will treat each other with kindness and generosity. If we don't feel this love somewhere inside, then either we're not looking hard enough or there is something wrong with us.

The Prophet (pbuh) said that we won’t enter Paradise until we have faith, and we won’t have faith until we love one another. He then went on to tell us a way to increase the love between ourselves, and this is the practice of saying ‘salaam’ to one another (Muslim). Saying 'salaam' is extremely important, and not just to people whom we know. We should say salaam to anyone we think may be a Muslim, and not worry whether they return it or not.

Love For the Sake of Allah (swt)

We shouldn't be scared of loving one another for the sake of Allah (swt). It's not the kind of love that means we share candlelight dinners or weekends in Paris together. We should love other Muslims simply because they are Muslim.

What greater reason is there than that? Abu Hurayra (ra) reported that the Prophet (pbuh) said:

"Allah Almighty will say on the Day of Rising, "Where are those who loved one another for the sake of My Majesty? Today, on the day when there is no shade but My shade, I will shade them,"" (Muslim).

So, we now realise we should (at least try our best to) love our brothers/sisters. If we love them, then maybe we'll find it easier to fulfill our duties to them. Even if they are being a pain in the backside or not fulfilling their duties to us.

If we love them, we begin not to expect (or even want) any sort of acknowledgement from them, because we can happily wait for the reward that will come in the Hereafter. The Prophet (pbuh) said:

"Allah (swt) says, "Those who love one another for My majesty will have minbars of lights. The Prophets and martyrs will envy them,"" (at-Tirmidhi).

Telling Our Brother/Sister We Love Them

We should tell our brothers/sisters that we love them, too. I know, I know, it's not exactly 'British' is it? It doesn't really come naturally to us. We're more comfortable giving each other a playful shoulder-charge or a pat on the back. But the Prophet (pbuh) said:

"If a man loves his brother, he should tell him that he loves him," (Abu Dawud and at-Tirmidhi).

And if it’s good enough for the Prophet (pbuh), then we shouldn't have to be told twice. Try it, it's really not as difficult as it seems. If you feel weird saying it to someone's face, try writing it in a text message.

You can put 'for the sake of Allah (swt)' after it just to make sure no one thinks your 'batting for the other side'. Why don't you go through your phonebook now, and choose a number of someone who you haven't seen for a while? Just make double sure it's not a member of the opposite sex or you could get an angry knock on your door sometime soon. Write something like 'we shd meet up sn, tke care. I love you FSA! LOL.'It can't exactly hurt now, can it?

The Prophet (pbuh) said:

"None of you will truly believe until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself," (Bukhari and Muslim).