Community as Essential to Islam

By Evan Corey

In Islam, a Muslim’s relationship with God is inherently tied to their relationship with other Muslims.  The Qur’an clearly states throughout the importance of acting peaceably and with friendship and forgiveness towards other Muslims, especially in the context of a larger Muslim community.  Morally, to do kind acts and extend forgiveness to those who do harm is the utmost goodness.  The Qur’an additionally sets out a social code which emphasizes the primacy of the community.  Moreover, within the five pillars of Islam, two of the pillars explicitly require contributing to one’s community: the zakat tax and the Hajj pilgrimage both center around interacting kindly with one’s community.  Thus, community is institutionalized in the Qur’an through moral code, social order, and ritual obligation.

In the moral code of the Qur’an, goodness is defined within the boundaries of community and friendship.  This moral code accepts but also pushes back at the idea of retribution-based judgement.  While the Book recognizes that “harm is requited by similar harm,”[1] it also challenges Muslims to be better and more forgiving.  The Qur’an suggests that the more morally advanced communities that move past retribution can enjoy peace and friendship, both on Earth and in the Afterlife, for “whoso forgives and makes peace, his reward in shall be with God.”[2]    As if framing friendship as a divine reward, the Qur’an states: “repay injury with conduct more becoming and, behold, the person with whom you are at enmity becomes like an intimate friend,”[3] and indeed that “God will create affection between you and those among them whom you were at enmity,”[4] for he is merciful and loves peace.  Even the greatest prophets are not identified as powerful or wise but as good friends; Abraham is called al-Khalil, meaning “the Friend” and Muhammed is called Habib Allah, meaning “the Beloved of God,”[5] and these are the men all Muslims are called to emulate.  Thus, to do good under the Qur’anic moral code requires an open heart towards friendship and togetherness

In the same ways, ritual institutions of the Qur’an require community and friendship.  The pilgrimage, Hajj, which is one of the five pillars of Islam, requires a great deal of friendship and community.  The consecration process at the beginning of the pilgrimage centers the entire trip on being peaceful; one enters a state in which any form of harm, even the smallest injury to a plant or a fly, is prohibited.[6]  Arguing and lying, sexual actions, or any injury to self even so small as cutting a lock of hair are also prohibited during the Hajj.[7]  As one engages in the rituals within Hajj – circling Ka’ba, running between the two hills, throwing stones at the columns representing Satan – one becomes a small part of a large crowd of pilgrims.  Each pilgrim wears the same, simple white clothing[8] and eats together with people who they probably have never met before.[9]  Muslims from all over the world engage in community building with each other on their journey to and through Mecca, as dictated by the Qur’an.  The primacy of this ritual reveals the essential nature of community in ritual.  The Qur’an states that even when two people come together, God’s presence is felt.[10]  In Islam, being together with others is holy.

The Qur’an also heavily comments on social order in a way that displays the importance of community and friendship.  Social justice is central to Islam; one pillar of Islam is the zakat, a required almsgiving to support the poor of the community.[11]  To own much wealth is considered evil within the Qur’an, as those who are wealthy are those who have not given as much as they could to the needy and have thus failed to do good to their greatest capacity.[12]  Several times in the Qur’an, God indicates that all Muslims must face each other as equals and not look down upon each other.[13]  According to the Qur’an, Muslims must not instigate conflict,[14] even if they must lie or conceal the truth in order to maintain peace.[15]  A huge part of friendship and community in the social order set out by the Qur’an is the primacy of the family unit.  The act of adultery is one of the worst sins a person can commit, as adultery is an abandonment of the family unit, the base unit of the community.[16]  Equality, justice, and togetherness form the base of Muslim society, according to the Qur’an.

Muslim friendship, forgiveness, community, and peace form the core of the Qur’anic system.  On one hand, the Qur’an calls humanity to emulate the traits of the prophets and especially Abraham and Mohammed who are described as just, friendly, community-driven people.  On the other, the Qur’an expresses the essential nature of certain laws in conduct from Muslims, most of which center on being open-hearted and merciful that friendship may grow instead of enmity.  Amid these, Islam makes essential the giving of money, support, and love to one’s community and the journeying to Mecca to be with one’s Muslim community.  All these important aspects of Islam center friendship and community as ways to become closer to and more beloved by God.  According to these, a Muslim must pay attention not only to their vertical relationship with God but also their horizontal relationships with fellow Muslims.

Notes

[1] Khalidi, Tarif. The Qur’an: A New Translation. New York, N.Y.: Viking, 2008. 42:20.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 41:34.

[4] Ibid., 60:7.

[5] Mahallati, Jafar. “Beyond Cold Peace.” Unpublished.

[6] Eaton, Gai. “The Hajj.” Parabola. Volume 9.  Issue 3. 1984. 13.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Mahallati, Jafar. “April 17 Lecture.” Oberlin, O.H.: 2018.

[10] Rahman, Fazlur, and Ebrahim Moosa. Major Themes of the Qur’an. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2009. 37.

[11] Khalidi, 107:1-7.

Rahman, 39-40.

[12] Khalidi, 90.

[13] Khalidi, 49.

Rahman, 38, 45.

[14] Sachedina 108

Khalidi, 2:190.

[15] Khalidid, 49,

Rahman 38, 45.

[16] Burton, John. The Collection of the Qur’an. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. 1979. 269-278.

Rahman, 42.

 

Bibliography

Eaton, Gai. “The Hajj.” Parabola. Volume 9. Issue 3 (1984). 10-18.

Khalidi, Tarif. The Qur’an: A New Translation. American ed. New York, N.Y.: Viking, 2008.

Mahallati, Jafar. “April 17 Lecture.” Introduction to the Qur’an, Oberlin, 2018.

Mahallati, Jafar. “Beyond Cold Peace.” Unpublished.

Rahman, Fazlur and Ebrahim Moosa. Major Themes of the Qur’An. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2009.

Sachedina, Abdulaziz Abdulhussein. The Islamic Roots of Democratic Pluralism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. 102-131.