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Islam’s Social Vision: Braving the Steep Road

imageIslam’s vision of society, as has been so admirably stated by Tim Winter (a.k.a. Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad), ‘is rooted in immediate and sincere concern for human welfare under a compassionate God.’

One of the prophetic statements which best encapsulates this outlook is found in the following hadith: ‘O people! Spread [the greetings of] peace, feed the poor, keep ties of relations and pray at night whilst others sleep, you shall enter Paradise in peace (ya ayyuha’l-nas afshu’l-salam wasillu’l-arham wa at‘imu’l-ta‘am wa sallu bi’l-layi wa’l-nasu niyam tadkhulu’l-jannata bi salam).’ [Al-Tirmidhi, no.2485]

While at first glance the hadith seems only to be depicting personal virtues, skimming beneath the surface reveals its social content too.

Afshu’l-salam – “spread peace”: No doubt, it applies first and foremost to spreading the greetings of peace: al-salamu ‘alaykum (peace be unto you). The Qur’an says: When you enter houses, greet one another with a greeting of peace from God, blessed and good. [24:61] In another verse, it instructs: When you are greeted with a greeting, return it with a better greeting or [at least] its equal. [4:86] One hadith offers these tidings: ‘You will not enter Paradise until you believe, and you will not believe until you love one another. Shall I not lead you to something that will cause you to love each other: spread the greetings of peace among yourselves.’ [Muslim, no.54]

At a deeper lever, “spreading peace” calls on each of us to be reconcilers, rectifiers; or simply peace-makers. God mentioned in the Qur’an: If two parties of believers fall into a dispute, make peace between them. [49:9] Extending beyond believers is the verse: There is no good in much of their secret conferences except in him who enjoins charity, or kindness, or peace-making among the people. [4:114] Then there is the verse that teaches believers how to respond to taunts or provocations: And the servants of the All-Merciful are those who walk upon the earth modestly and who, when the ignorant address them, say [words of] peace. [25:63]

Wasillu’l-arham – “keeping ties of relations”: And those who join together what God has commanded to be joined … Theirs shall be the final abode, says the Qur’an. [13:21-22] In a hadith that gives us further insight into good character, sense and sensibility, we find the following instruction: ‘Whoever believes in God and the Afterlife, let him honour his guest; whosoever believes in God and the Afterlife, let him keep ties of the womb; and whoever believes in God and the Afterlife, let him speak well or remain quiet.’ [Al-Bukhari, no.6017; Muslim, no.47]

Again, at a more broader, social level, maintaining bonds between kith and kin helps define the pivotal role of the family as the bedrock of a healthy society; where children are lovingly raised and where social capital is invested in them as future social actors. Moreover, as the rights of family and relatives are honoured, it serves as an important impetus to honour the rights of others outside the family circle – particularly the poor and the vulnerable, and also the rights of the stranger. The Qur’an says: Worship God and ascribe nothing with Him. And show kindness to your parents, and to your relatives, and to orphans, the needy, close neighbours and distant neighbours, the fellow-traveller and the wayfarer. [4:36]

At‘imu’l-ta‘am – “feeding the poor”: Describing the righteous, the Qur’an declares: And they feed, for the love of God, the poor, the indigent and the captive. [76:8] Of course, when this verse was revealed in Mecca, there were no Muslim captives or prisoners of war; telling us that this, and other such verses, applies to helping to dignify vulnerable non-Muslims, as it does Muslims. In an unequivocal reminder of what opposes faith, God says: Have you observed him who denies the Religion? Such is he who repels the orphan, and who does not urge the feeding of the poor. [107:1-3] Thus Islam does not just require us to feed the poor, but requires of us to “urge others” to do so too.

The bigger picture in feeding the poor is for believers to develop a social conscience. For when true faith touches the heart to any degree, the individual’s view of man and society is transformed, motivating him to the benevolent service of his fellow human beings. But those whose focus is exclusively on theology (‘aqidah), tend to lose sight of Islam’s social vision. Instead, they become victims of a one-dimensional mindset that is virtually incapable of critical awareness and lacks meaningful social consciousness. Such people, therefore, have very little incentive to participate in society’s growth and well-being, or to look beyond their own little worlds. True faith, though, should make us selfless, not selfish; despite financial hardships or attendant economic hurdles: Yet he has not braved the steep road. And what will convey to you what the steep road is: [It is] the freeing of a slave; or the feeding, on a day of famine, of an orphaned relation; or a needy person in distress. Then shall one be of those who believe and enjoin one another to patience, and enjoin one another to mercy. [90:11-17]

Sallu bi’l-layl – “praying at night”: About it, God has urged: And some portion of the night, awake for prayer, as an extra merit for you. [17:79] And: Those who forsake their beds to call upon their Lord in fear and hope. [32:16] The Prophet, peace be upon him said: ‘The best prayer, after the obligatory ones, is the late-night prayer.’ [Muslim, no.1163] About this late-night (tahajjud) prayer, we also read: ‘Live as long as you wish, you shall soon die. Love whomever you wish, you shall soon taste separation. Do whatever you wish, you shall soon be recompensed. And know that the believer’s honour is in the night prayer and his glory is in being free of needing others.’ [Al-Quda‘i, Musnad, no.746] Hence to rise from sleep for the night-vigil, so as to express one’s love and gratitude to God, and to seek of His bounties – spiritual and temporal – is the believer’s crowning glory. For it entails defeat of the devil, subduing the nafs, and desire to seek divine intimacy. May God grant us all the enabling grace to seek such intimacy.

At the social level it reminds us of the need to cultivate a deeper connection with God, beyond the basic duties we owe to Him, and that ultimately it is God’s downpourings and blessings that are the true source of healing and well-being for society: And if only the people of the cities had believed and feared God, We would surely have opened for them blessings from the sky and from the earth. [7:96] For Muslims, matters of public morality and social justice are best given legitimacy by religion. But this is not an excuse to be armchair critics. Islam wants us to live the change we wish to see in society. Far too many of us Muslims are quick to criticise social ills or injustices, but are slow to brave the steep road that their healing requires. And that simply won’t do.

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11 thoughts on “Islam’s Social Vision: Braving the Steep Road

  1. عن أبي هريرة عن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم قال من كان يؤمن بالله واليوم الآخر فليقل خيرا أو ليصمت ومن كان يؤمن بالله واليوم الآخر فليكرم جاره ومن كان يؤمن بالله واليوم الآخر فليكرم ضيفه

    This hadeeth (Muslim 47) makes no mention of “let him keep ties of the womb”; it mentions speaking good or remaining silent, honoring your neighbor, and honoring your guest. It’s use in the section on maintaining the ties of kinship is flawed because of it. However, the meaning and import of maintaining ties is unarguable. I pray Allaah rewards you for your efforts. As always; Allaah knows best.

  2. Thank you very much for your correction, br Saeed.

    I took the wording from a critical edition of al-Nawawi’s Riyadh al-Salihin, al-Halabi (ed), Saudi Arabia: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 1421H, hadith no.319. I did find the wording slightly unusual (not the common wording found in al-Nawawi’s, Arba‘in, or elsewhere). Unfortunately, even though I wanted to double check, I had no access to my commentaries of Bukhari or Muslim at that time.

    Since then:

    (i) I have checked the references, and although both Bukhari and Muslim do give other wordings for the above hadith, NONE of them give the one cited in the blog.

    (ii) Both Ibn Hajr and Imam al-Nawawi make no mention, in their respective commentaries to Bukhari and Muslim, that the above wording is a variant reading found in other manuscripts.

    (iii) But I found the same wording of the hadith in other respected and critical editions of Riyadh al-Salihin – leading me to believe that it was not an error of citation or referencing on Imam al-Nawawi’s part (nor a copyist or printing error). And given the fact the the author was a superb hadith master and that the book is widely spread among the scholars, the wording must surely be correct.

    (iv) I then consulted a few commentaries to Imam al-Nawawi’s Arba’in or “Forty Hadith”, on the well-known version of the hadith (which you so kindly cited above in the Arabic), and found the following remark by Ibn Rajab in his Jami‘ al-‘Ulum wa’l-Hikam (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1998), 1:332:

    ‘The two of them [i.e. Bukhari and Muslim] related this hadith by multiple routes from Abu Hurayrah, and in one of its wordings is “must not harm his neighbour”, in another wording: “let him show excellent hospitality to his guest”, and in yet another wording: “let him keep ties of the womb”, in place of mentioning the neighbour.’

    Therefore, it seems that in certain manuscripts the wording is as Imam al-Nawawi cites in his Riyadh al-Salihin. And Allah knows best.

    Finally, I would like to make two observations. Firstly, I felt your remarks were offered with great propriety or adab. And secondly, I was pleased that you ended your comments with ‘As always; Allaah knows best.’ God willing, that is a mark of humility.

    Once again, thank you for your critical observations (and for keeping me on my toes!). Please do stay in touch.

  3. Abdur-rahman on said:

    Alhamdulillah Great read and very clear. I could praise you on and on but a wise man said a servants praise of another servant is not the goal. If the Master is happy, well then now we’re talking! May Allah swt be pleased with you. Ameen

    • Jazakallahu khayran br. Abdur-Rahman.

      I can only repeat the words said by our master (sayyiduna) Abu Bakr, may Allah be pleased with him, when he was once being praised (praise that he was most certainly deserving of, unlike this lowly faqir):

      اللهمَ اجْعَلْنِى خَيْرًا مِمَّا يَظُنُّونَ وَاغْفِرْ لِى مَا لَا يَعْلَمُونَ وَلَا تُؤَاخِذْنِى بِمَا يَقُولُون

      ‘O Allah, make me better than what they think, and forgive me for what they do not know, and take me not to task for what they say.’

  4. Br. Saeed: Jazakallahu khayran. I have corrected my typo/mistake from the word “them” to the word “me”, as you rightly pointed out. Mashallah, may Allah continue granting you a polite, critical eye.

  5. Thank you for this excellent piece. Please continue to spread light through your writings.

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