In this extract from ‘A Quest for Unity’ Imam Achmad Cassiem discusses the basis of unity from Islamic sources. As Hajj approaches, his words give pause for reflection for the ummah.
The foundation of Islamic unity is Islam itself. We needn’t look for any justification, outside the realm of Islam, in order to unite Muslims.
‘And your Lord is one Allah: there is no deity but He, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.‘
Those who believe in the unity of Allah are required to submit totally to His Commands. In order to safeguard the security, the unity and solidarity of Muslims, they are not allowed to have any discretion in this regard. This prevents internecine strife and futile conflicts.
‘And for those who divide their religion and break up into sects, thou has no part in them in the least; their affair is with Allah: He will in the end tell them the Truth of all that they did.’
Every obligation in Islam is therefore a building block in the quest for unity. Being ignorant or unaware of certain obligations weakens the struggle for unity; neglecting certain obligations does exactly the same; being lethargic and unenthusiastic about any of our obligations retards the process of unity.
‘If Muslims abandon commanding what is good and prohibiting what is bad, evil-doers will dominate over them.’
‘Let there arise out of you a band of people inviting to all that is good, enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong: they are the ones to attain felicity. Do not be like those who are divided amongst themselves and fall into disputations after receiving clear signs: for them is a dreadful penalty…‘
These injunctions make it an obligation upon Muslims to purge the community, the social order and the world community of everything that is non-beneficial and detrimental to it.
THE UNITY OF ISLAM
‘O ye who believe! fear Allah as He should be feared and die not except in a state of Islam. And hold fast altogether, by the rope which Allah (stretches out for you), and do not be divided among yourselves.‘
The mosques are centres dedicated to dhikrullah, to the remembrance of Allah, and hence they are centres of tauheed (unity). They definitely are not centres of division, dissension and chaos. Not only should there be no rivalry and dissension within a particular mosque, there should be no rivalry and dissension between various mosques. All mosques (masajid) are propagating one message – the Message of Islam, the Message of Qur’an.
All Muslims start with the same Kalimah (testimony), the same Qur’an, the same principles. In other words with the same ideas, values and ideals.
Because the Qur’an is essentially a Book of instructions we cannot therefore be theoretically obedient to the commands of Allah. Obedience describes a practical performance; to be obedient means to do what needs to be done.
The crucial importance of the following ayah cannot therefore be overemphasised:
‘O ye who believe! Obey Allah, and obey the Rasul, and those charged with authority among you. If ye differ in anything among yourselves, refer it to Allah and his Rasul, if ye believe in Allah and the Last Day; That is best and most suitable for final determination.‘
Without unity there is no Ummah; without unity there is no discipline; without unity there is no sincerity; without unity we are powerless; without unity there is no Islam in us; and without unity there is no Islam in the community.
To unite means to know what to unite; to know what not to unite; to know the purpose of uniting; to know the principles around which we unite.
To know this and to commit ourselves to implementing it means we have to attain ideological unity.
UNITY OF PURPOSE
It follows, therefore, that if we have ideological unity, then we also have unity of purpose. Sincere Muslims cannot, do not, and will not work against each other. Unity of purpose can only be achieved through knowledge and understanding.
An invitation to Islam is an invitation to unity; a call on the people to gather, to congregate, to consolidate under the banner of Islam. A Muslim, no matter where he resides, should promote understanding, discipline and compassion among other Muslims.
‘Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah; And those who are with him are strong against the Unbelievers, (But) Compassionate amongst each other.’
It is quite obvious that any human being will support an effort if it benefits them, and if it has an excellent chance of succeeding.
We want our efforts to benefit all the oppressed people and we have a guarantee that we will succeed.
Allah has promised, to those among you who believe and work righteous deeds, that He will, of surety, grant them in the land, inheritance (of power), as He granted to those before them; that He will establish in authority their Deen (religion) – the one which He has chosen for them; and that He will change (their state), after the fear (in which they lived) to one of security and peace: They will worship Me (alone) and not associate aught with Me. If any do reject Faith after this, they are rebellious and wicked.’
UNITY OF EXPRESSION
Unity of expression does not necessarily imply expression in unison; we can also have expression in harmony. We need not all say the same thing in the same words; we can say the same thing in different words or from a different perspective.
Harmony necessitates consultation and co-operation. Disharmony and disunity in expression cannot be encouraged, condoned and even tolerated in Islam. Urgent steps must be taken when this does occur.
‘If two parties among the Believers fall unto a quarrel, make ye peace between them: but if one of them transgresses beyond bounds against the other, then fight ye (all) against the one that transgresses until it complies with the command of Allah; but if it complies, then make Peace between them with Justice, and be fair: for Allah loves those who are fair (and just). The Believers are but a single brotherhood: so make peace and reconciliation between your two contending brothers; and fear Allah, that ye may receive mercy.’
‘As for those who divide their religion and break up into sects, thou hast no part in them in the least; their affair is with Allah: He will in the end tell them the truth of all that they did.’
UNITY IN ACTION
Unity of expression is but a form of unity in action. We may speak about unity of expression and also declare our unity of purpose, but unity in action is not something that we just speak about, but something which we must demonstrate in our daily lives and particularly in our struggle against oppression, exploitation and injustice.
The Ummah (this global community of Tauheed) must in all places, at all times, and under all circumstances, whether in adversity or prosperity, be vigilant about our unity, and especially about our unity in action.
‘0 ye who believe! Why say ye that which ye do not? Grievously odious is it in the sight of Allah that ye say that which ye do not. Truly Allah loves those who fight in His cause in battle array as if they were a solid cemented structure.’
‘O ye who believe! When ye meet a force, be firm, and call Allah in remembrance much (and often); that ye may prosper; and obey Allah and His Rasul; and fall into no disputes, lest ye lose heart and your power depart; and be patient and persevering; for Allah is with those who patiently persevere:..’
If Muslims act in accordance with these principles, then they will never rise against one another and their energies, prestige and power will not be squandered.
To ignore these commands is to court disaster; and if Muslims actively fan and incite disputes, then they are guilty of a grave crime against the Ummah. This is tantamount to an act of treachery against the Ummah.
CAUSES OF DISUNITY
‘Be not like those who are divided amongst themselves and fall into disputations after receiving clear signs: for them is a dreadful Penalty,…’
One of the causes of disunity is, of course, ignorance about our obligation to strive for unity and to maintain unity. But as the above ayah clarifies, some believers cause disputes, dissension and therefore disunity after they have been informed of their duties.
Other major causes of disunity are: advocating and adhering to nationalism, propagating and practising racism and racialism; love of material goods; desiring praises and promotions from the oppressors; greed and selfishness; egoism and egotism; and inattentiveness to the basic law of cause and effect.
Hypocrisy is another major cause of dissension and disunity.
CONSEQUENCES OF DISUNITY
It is self-evident that the consequences of disunity are all detrimental to the Ummah in general and to each Muslim in particular.
The Ummah becomes weak; suffers from low morale; wastes time and energy addressing minor problems, personality conflicts arise, factual problems are ignored and more attention is paid to attitudinal problems; and while all this is happening, the enemies of Islam are rejoicing.
We need to address the problem of disunity with great urgency but also with great care because it is going to be the basis of our entire argument in support of unity.
‘O ye who believe! Fear Allah as He should be feared, and die not except in a state of Islam. And hold fast, all together, by the rope which Allah (stretches out to you), and be not divided among yourselves; and remember with gratitude Allah’s favour on you; for ye were enemies and He joined your hearts in love, so that by His Grace ye became brothers; and ye were on the brink of the Pit of Fire; and He saved you from it; Thus does Allah make his signs clear to you; that ye may be guided.
‘Let there arise out of you a band of people inviting to all that is good, enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong: they are the ones to attain success.’
It is abundantly clear that ‘a band of people inviting to all that is good’ can only emerge from an Ummah that is united; they cannot emerge from a disunited Ummah. And this argument is sealed with the ayah which reads:
‘And be not like those who are divided amongst themselves and fall into disputations after receiving Clear Signs: for them is a dreadful Penalty,…”
Now this is exactly what we are doing at the moment! Because of this we cannot qualify as:
‘Ye are the best of Peoples, evolved for mankind, enjoining what is right, forbidding what is wrong, and believing in Allah.’
For to sow seeds of dissension; to cause splits; to cause division; and to encourage disunity is definitely not forbidding what is wrong!
CONSEQUENCES OF ISLAMIC UNITY
As Muslims move closer to unite, the less chance the superpowers have of dominating, oppressing, and exploiting us. Our morale will be high; liberation of the Muslims and the oppressed of the world will be attainable; victory over the superpowers will be possible; a new world social order can be propagated with confidence; and justice, peace and security will not merely be passed as resolutions but will become a reality, Insha’Allah!
THE GLOBAL COMMUNITY
THE GLOBAL COMMUNITY OF KNOWLEDGE
Islam begins with knowledge; Islam thrives on knowledge and knowledge thrives on Islam. Islamic governance is the governance of knowledge.
“Say: Are those equal, those who know and those who do not know?”
“The learned must not hide his knowledge nor the ignorant his ignorance.”
Islam sets us the objective of a 100% literate community. Literate not only in the sense of being able to read, write and spell, but also being conceptually literate. Once a person is conceptually literate, behavioural changes can take place more efficiently. Within an Islamic community such a person will be functionally literate.
Many of our problems stem from conceptual and functional illiteracy. Illiteracy and ignorance in general, is a factual problem as well as an attitudinal problem.
The causes of dissension in the Ummah can be divided into these two distinct categories:
1) Factual problems
2) Attitudinal problems
Factual problems are resolved by putting the facts on the table; but attitudinal problems are not necessarily resolved by putting the facts on the table. Attitudinal problems are only resolved by changing attitudes.
THE GLOBAL COMMUNITY OF COMPASSION
‘Muhammad is the Rasul of Allah; and those who are with him are strong against the Unbelievers (but) compassionate amongst each other.’
Because of the behaviour of some Muslims towards others one would think that they are supposed to be harsh and uncompromising with each other and compassionate and compromising with their enemies!
‘A Muslim is he whose tongue and hands are not annoying to other Muslims.’
‘And those who annoy believing men and women undeservedly, bear (on themselves) a calumny and a glaring sin.’
Is it so difficult to establish cordial relations between Muslims?
THE GLOBAL COMMUNITY OF SHARING
‘And they feed for the love of Allah, the indigent, the orphan and the captive, (saying), we feed you for the sake of Allah alone; no reward do we desire from you, nor thanks.’
‘By no means shall ye attain righteousness unless ye give (freely) of that which ye love, and whatever ye give, of a Truth Allah knoweth it well.’
In Islam, knowledge, skills, food, wealth and even our joys and sorrows are shared. And of course, the best example is that of the Muhajirun and the Ansar. In this country we have so much that we can share with the less fortunate, the oppressed, the exploited and the downtrodden. And all of this can be more effectively done if we are united and administer our resources from a central administration.
THE GLOBAL COMMUNITY OF SELF-DISCIPLINE
Self-discipline implies accountability and responsibility. Our self-discipline is evident in our adherence to dietary laws, ablutions, salaah, zakaah, fasting and hajj. This self-discipline must also extend into our mutual relationships; as well as our communal and national relationships.
‘Verily Allah will never change the condition of people unless they change it themselves (with their own souls)’.
We can achieve this, but:
We must be able to distinguish between right and wrong, good and bad; We must be able to fulfil our responsibilities;
We must be willing to fulfil our responsibilities;
Human integrity (and obviously Islamic integrity) cannot be achieved if duties and obligations are avoided;
One’s own wishes and personal interests must not take preference over duties.
THE GLOBAL COMMUNITY OF SACRIFICE
‘Let those fight in the Cause of Allah who sell the life of this world for the Hereafter, to him who fights in the Cause of Allah, whether he is slain or gets victory, soon shall We give him a reward of great value.’
‘Truly my prayer and service of sacrifice, my life and my death are (all) for Allah, the Cherisher of the worlds.’ [Qur’an 6:162]
Now surely those who are prepared to sacrifice their properties and their lives in the cause of Allah will not hesitate to sacrifice their privileges, prejudices and positions. And why should these things not be sacrificed in order to achieve the unity of the Ummah? There is no legitimate excuse for evading this question, just as there is no justification for perpetuating our disunity.
Why should Muslims take instructions from those who are only thinking in their own interests? And who are prepared to compromise the position of Muslims simply to attain to positions of power?
THE GLOBAL COMMUNITY OF ACTION
‘O ye who believe! Why say ye that which ye do not. Grievously odious is it in the sight of Allah that ye say that which ye do not. Truly Allah loves those who fight in His Cause in battle, as if they were a solid cemented structure.’
‘Actions are judged according to intentions.’
Good intentions are not good enough. Once we have made an intention, we must acquire the necessary skills to execute that intention, to bring that intention to fruition.
An intention to unite the Muslims must be followed up by acquiring the requisite skills, and preparing the groundwork for that unity.
‘Man shall have nothing but what he strives for.’
Islam has no place for fellow-travellers or fairweather patriots.
Being Muslim means never being too busy, never too tired, and never disinterested to serve the cause of Islam. To serve the cause of Unity is to serve the cause of Islam.
THE GLOBAL COMMUNITY OF JUSTICE
‘O ye who believe! Stand out firmly for justice as witnesses to Allah even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be against the rich or poor. For Allah can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest ye swerve and if ye distort (justice) or decline to do justice, verily Allah is well-acquainted with all that ye do.’
Causing disunity and perpetuating disunity amongst Muslims is an act of injustice against the Muslims. It is also an act of injustice against the 40 million oppressed people in this country because the oppressed masses are looking towards the Muslims as exemplars in the quest for unity.
THE GLOBAL COMMUNITY OF EXCELLENCE
‘Thus have We made of you an Ummah justly balanced, that ye might be witnesses over the nations, and the Rasul a witness over yourselves;’
‘Ye are the best of peoples (nations) evolved for mankind, enjoining what is right, forbidding what is wrong, and believing in Allah.’
In order to achieve excellence of performance one needs to:
1) be fit to perform;
2) establish correctness of performance.
Those who are the cause of disunity, dissension, bickering, religious wrangling and division in the Muslim community are obviously not fit to perform. Especially not fit to execute the task of uniting the Muslims.
Correctness of performance can only be evaluated against the criteria of the Qur’an. It Is the same for excellence of performance.
THE CREATOR IS ONE
‘Say: He is Allah, the One and Only; Allah, the Eternal, Absolute: He begetteth not, nor is He begotten; And there Is none like unto Him.’
‘Allah! There is no God but He, – the Living, the Self-subsisting, Eternal. No slumber can seize Him nor sleep. His are all things in the heavens and on earth. Who is there that can intercede in His presence except as He permitteth? He knoweth what (appeareth to His creatures as) Before or After or Behind them. Nor shall they compass aught of His knowledge except as He willeth. His Throne doth extend over the heavens and the earth, and He feeleth no fatigue in guarding and preserving them for He is the Most High, the Supreme (in glory).’ [Qur’an 2:255]
‘Allah is He, than Whom there is no other God; – Who knows (all things) both secret and open; He, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
‘Allah is He, than Whom there is no other God; – the Sovereign, the Holy One, the Source of Peace (and Perfection), the Guardian of Faith, the Preserver of Safety, the Exalted in Might, the Irresistible, the Supreme: Glory to Allah! (High is He) above the partners they attribute to Him.
‘He is Allah, the Creator, the Evolver, the Bestower of Forms (or Colours). To Him belong the Most Beautiful Names.
‘Whatever is in the heavens and the earth, doth declare His praises and He is the Exalted in Might, the Wise.’
THEREFORE HIS CREATION IS ONE:
‘Blessed is He Who sent down the Criterion to His Servant, that it may be an admonition to all creatures; – He to Whom belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth: No son has He begotten, nor has He a partner in His dominion: It is He who created all things and ordered them in due proportions.’
MANKIND IS PART OF CREATION, THEREFORE MANKIND IS ONE:
‘Mankind was one single nation, and Allah sent Messengers with glad tidings and warnings; and with them He sent the Book of Truth, to judge between people in matters wherein they differed;…
BECAUSE MANKIND IS ONE, THE UNIVERSAL FORM OF GUIDANCE FOR MANKIND IS ONE:
‘Say: O People of the Book! Come to common terms as between us and you; that ye worship none but Allah; that we associate no partners with Him; that we erect not from among ourselves lords and patrons other than Allah. If then they turn back, say ye: “Bear witness that we (at least) are Muslims (bowing to Allah’s Will)’
‘O Mankind! The Rasul has come to you in Truth from Allah: Believe in him; it is best for you. But if ye reject Faith, to Allah belong all things in the heavens and on earth; and Allah is All- Knowing, All-Wise.’
‘O Mankind! Verily there hath come to you a convincing proof from your Lord: for we have sent unto you a light (that is) manifest.’
’… the Command is for none but Allah; He hath commanded that ye worship none but Him; That is the right religion, but most men understand not…’
‘So set thy face steadily, and truly to the Faith: (Establish) Allah’s handiwork according to the pattern on which He has made mankind: no change (let there be) in the work (wrought) by Allah: that is the Standard Religion: but most among mankind understand not.
‘Turn ye back in repentance to Him, and fear Him, establish regular prayers, and be ye not among those who join Gods with Allah, – those who split up their Religion, and become (mere) sects, – each party rejoicing in what is with itself!’
‘The same religion has He established for you as that which He enjoined on Noah – that which We have sent by inspiration to thee -and that which We enjoined upon Abraham, Moses and Jesus: namely, that ye should remain steadfast in religion, and make no division therein….’
‘The Rasul believeth in what hath been revealed to him from his Lord, as do the men of Faith. Each one (of them) believeth in Allah, His Angels, His Books and His Apostles. “We make no distinction (they say) between one and another of His Apostles”. And they say: “We hear, and we obey: (We seek) Thy forgiveness, Our Lord, and to Thee is the end of all journeys.”’
It is clear then that Allah is the Creator of everything in the Heavens and the Earth. Allah is the Creator of Mankind – and the Qur’an states in Surah Nisaa (i.e. Qur’an 4:1) that Allah created Man from ‘a single soul’. Mankind therefore has a single Creator and also common ancestry.
Mankind also has a common human nature – even if only in the sense of potentiality. Mankind was created as Khalifatullah (Qur’an 2:30-38). Guidance from Allah is therefore addressed to the whole of mankind. The charges therefore, of sectarianism and sectionalism are absurd to say the least.
UNITY OF BELIEVERS
The unity of the Believers is based on a set of eternal principles which cannot be deviated from in any manner whatsoever. These are:
Tauheed – Allah is One, His entire creation is one, and a universal set of laws governs the entire creation;
Nubuwwat (Prophethood) – individuals sent to mankind to teach them the set of universal laws governing the voluntary actions of mankind;
Ma’ad (Resurrection and Accountability on the Day of Resurrection) – if Allah created man in the first instance, then the same Creator will re-create man; and because man has personal responsibility, each individual is held accountable for his conscious, voluntary actions;
Adl (Justice) – the specific mission of All Prophets was to establish just social orders based on Revelation. Justice of man to himself (i.e. to be true to his own human nature); Justice to his fellow human beings; Justice to the rest of creation. This principle is pivotal to the existence of the social order of the Believers.
Imamate (Leadership) – this leadership is based on meritocracy as specifically mentioned in Qur’an 2:124 and Qur’an 4:58-59.
If these principles are violated, then the unity of the Believers is not only endangered, but harmed, damaged and destroyed.
The Qur’an states with absolute clarity:
‘Mankind was one single nation, and Allah sent Messengers with glad tidings and warnings; and with them He sent the Book of Truth, to judge between people in matters wherein they differed; but the People of the Book, after the clear signs came to them, did not differ among themselves, except through selfish contumacy. Allah, by His Grace, guided the believers to the truth, concerning that wherein they differed. For Allah guides whom He will to a path that is straight.’
‘The religion before Allah is Islam (submission to His Will); nor did the People of the Book dissent therefrom except through envy of each other, after knowledge had come to them. But if any deny the Signs of Allah, Allah is swift in calling to account. So if they dispute with thee, Say: “I have submitted my whole self to Allah and so have those who follow me.”
‘And say to the People of the Book and those who are unlearned: “Do ye (also) submit yourselves?” If they do, they are in right guidance, but if they turn back, thy duty is to convey the message; and in Allah’s sight are (all) His servants.’
‘Say: O People of the Book! Come to common terms as between us and you: that ye worship none but Allah; that we associate no partners with Him; that we erect not from among ourselves lords and patrons other than Allah.
‘If they turn back, say ye: “Bear witness that we (at least) are Muslims (bowing to Allah’s Will).”‘
‘O Mankind! The Rasul has come to you in truth from Allah: Believe in him, it is best for you. But if ye reject Faith, to Allah belong all things in the heavens and earth: and Allah is All- Knowing, All-Wise.’
‘O Mankind! Verily there hath come to you a convincing proof from your Lord: For We have sent unto you a light (that is) manifest: then those who believe in Allah, and hold fast to Him, – soon will He admit them to Mercy and Grace from Himself and guide them to Himself by a Straight Way.’
‘Follow (O Men!) the Revelation given unto you from your Lord, and follow not, as friends and protectors, other than Him. Little is it ye remember of admonition.’
‘…. the command is for none but Allah: He hath commanded that ye worship none but Him: That is the right religion, but most men understand not….’
‘And we sent down to thee the book for the express purpose, that thou should make clear to them those things in which they differ, and that it should be a guide and a mercy to those who believe.’
‘O Mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise each other).. ‘Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well-acquainted (with all things)’
THE CHARACTERISTICS OF THOSE WHO ENTER INTO THIS UNITY
‘O ye who believe! Fear Allah as He should be feared, and die not except in a state of Islam. And hold fast, all together by the rope which Allah (stretches out for you) and be not divided amongst yourselves; and remember with gratitude Allah’s favour on you; for ye were enemies and He joined your hearts with love, so that by His Grace, ye became brethren; and ye were on the brink of the pit of Fire, and He saved you from it. Thus doth Allah make His Signs clear to you; that ye may be guided.
‘Let there arise out of you a band of people inviting to all that is good, enjoining what is right, and forbidding what is wrong: They are the ones to attain felicity.
‘Be not like those who are divided amongst themselves and fall into disputations after receiving signs: for them is a dreadful Penalty.’
‘Ye are the best of Peoples, evolved for mankind, enjoining what is right, forbidding what is wrong, and believing in Allah …’
‘O ye who believe! Persevere in patience and constancy; vie in such perseverance; strengthen each other; and fear Allah; that ye may prosper.’
‘Whoever recommends and helps a good cause becomes a partner therein: and whoever recommends and helps an evil cause shares in its burden: and Allah hath power over all things.’
‘As for those who divide their religion and break up into sects, thou hast no part in them in the least: their affair is with Allah: He will in the end tell them the truth of all that they did.’
‘O ye who believe! Take not for protectors your fathers and your brothers if they love infidelity above faith: if any of you do so, they do wrong.
Say: ‘If it be that your fathers, your sons, your brothers, your mates or your kindred; the wealth that ye have gained; The Commerce in which ye fear a decline; or the dwellings in which ye delight -are dearer to you than Allah and His Rasul, or the Striving for His Cause; then wait until Allah brings about His Decision; and Allah guides not the rebellious.’[Qur’an 9:23-24]
‘Fulfil the Covenant of Allah when ye have entered into it, and break not your oaths after ye have confirmed them; indeed ye have made Allah your surety, for Allah knoweth all that ye do.
‘And be not like a woman who breaks into untwisted strands the yarn which she has spun, after it has become strong. Nor take your oaths to practice deception between yourselves, lest one party should be more numerous than another; for Allah will test you by this; and on the Day of Judgement He will certainly make clear to you (the truth of) that wherein ye disagree.’
Imam Achmad Cassiem is a founder member of the anti-apartheid group Qibla, a member of the PAC, former Robben Island political prisoner and advisor to the Islamic Human Rights Commission. The full text of this essay and the rest of the essays in ‘Quest for Unity’ has been made free to download here. You can buy a print copy here.