Community, Charity, Forgiveness, & Justice: A Look at Ummah and the Role of Communities in the Muslim World View

Abrahamic religions provide the individual many things, including but not limited to answers about one’s creation and destruction, purpose in life, and possible most importantly, community. With Islam specifically, the community that is created highlights specific social virtues, most importantly justice and forgiveness. There are several factors that lead to the emphasizing of these concepts but most importantly it is the focus that is placed on the holiness and significance of a community, and the power that it provides to the individual. The concepts of Ummah, Waqf, and Hajj reflect the pivotal role that the concept of communities plays in Islam, and it’s importance in institutionalizing justice and forgiveness.

Umma, the concept of a human tribe and natural community, reflects the inherent role that communities play in Islam, and it’s influence on Muslim traditions reflect the importance of togetherness to the Islamic worldview. Umma, similar to the Muslim world for mother, is drawn from the Hebrew word for tribe. It describes a natural group or community. Ummah represents the concept that in Islam, communities occur naturally. It makes the assumption that humanity natural draws itself together, and makes connection natural. The Quran describes Ummah as “Humanity was a single community (ummah), and Allah sent Messengers with glad tidings and warnings…”1 This passage posits communities as the basis for mankind existence, with God’s prophets building off that base state. The significance of this distinction is that if a community is the base state of mankind, then so is coexistence and mutual love and compassion. Furthermore, the Qur’an describes the world’s communities as “You have been the best of communities brought forth for humankind: commanding good, forbidding evil, and believing in Allah.”2. With this quote, the concept of Ummah, or communities, are posited as the tool of the good. There is a reason that the world mother is similar to the word for community in Arabic, as it reflects a sense that in the Islamic perspective communities protect and grow the individual, just like a mother. If the community is the base state of mankind, and the place where man can be most good, then a concept like justice and forgiveness must be prioritized, as a community cannot function without those two concepts.

The Islamic concept of waqf reflects the implementation and institutionalization of justice and forgiveness within a community through its protection of the poor and suffering and reinforces the importance of those concepts to the Muslim worldview. A waqf is a Muslim institution, constructed to benefit the poor. It reflects a dedication to the third pillar of Islam, the requirement of almsgiving. The third pillar, or zakat, reflects the Islamic commitment to helping those that are suffering. A waqf is an institutionalization of that commitment. In her text Islam and Civil Society: The Waqf, Claire Morgan describes the Waqf as “The real purpose of making a waqf is to acquire merit in the eyes of the Lord; all other purposes are subsidiary. Therefore every purpose considered by Muhammadan law as religious, pious, or charitable would be considered valid.”3. The waqf associates kindness and goodness with holiness and godliness, and the importance of that association cannot be understated. If charity and kindness are associated with the most good, then it implies each individual to be good. The Qur’an describes this charity as ““They ask you about giving: say, “The charity you give shall go to the parents, the relatives, the orphans, the poor, and the traveling alien.” Any good you do, God is fully aware thereof.”(2:215)4 The waqf implants this concept of charity within the community, and by institutionalizing it in something as fundamental as a community, concepts like forgiveness, goodness, and justice are all cemented within society.

The physical and momentous manifestation of the role of community in the Islamic perspective is the hajj, a moment where the Muslim world becomes a true, international community. Hajj is the fifth pillar of Islam and represents the requirement each Muslim has to make a pilgrimage to Mecca. The event represents a solidarity of the Muslim people, and the connection to their God. Hajj means to intend a journey, and this meaning is two-fold, as it is both an inward and an outward act. Internally it represents the keeping of a promise to God, while at the same time externally it represents a physical journey that the individual goes on. Hajj represents a cementation of the concept of ummah, a moment where the worldwide community of Islam manifests and unifies. This manifestation of the international community of Islam is described in the Quran as “And proclaim that the people shall observe Hajj pilgrimage. They will come to you walking or riding on various exhausted (means of transportation). They will come from the farthest locations.”5. Hajj takes the principles instilled by the institutionalization of community in Islam and implants them into a ritual. This implementation makes concepts like kindness, forgiveness, and charity and makes them part of people’s lives. In the same manner that the production of waqf and the third pillar of Islam manifest charity in a Muslim individuals life, hajj makes feelings of community a required aspect of the Muslim experience.

Bibliography

  1. Sūrah al-Baqarah: 213
  2. Sūrah Āl `Imrān: 110

  3. Islam and Civil Society: The Waqf, Claire Morgan
  4. Quran 2:215
  5. Quran 22:27
  6. Montogomery Watt, The Islamic State Under Muhammad