Islam, July - Sept 2002

Brotherhood: Reviving an Ancient Tradition

By Mustafa Shaheed Davis

Think of true brotherhood as an ancient marvel, a remnant of the past, that exists in few places in the world today. Its an ostensibly lost tradition in “The age of the Self.” The “Survival of the fittest” mentality has spread like a virus to the farthest corners of the earth, thus undermining the natural human inclination towards brotherhood and harmony.

To realize the beauty of true brotherhood, one must first remove this impurity (exaltation of the self) completely from the heart. The eradication of the ‘lower’ self is a process that takes strenuous endeavor, patience, and time, especially if we are striving towards this goal together. Hearts are delicate and can be easily injured, so we need to be aware of our brothers’ feelings in every situation.

Once we understand that dealing with our brothers is a delicate matter we will be better equipped to restrain the proclivity of the lower self when it commands us to evil.

In our attempts at creating bonds that reach far beyond the temporal existence of this world, we need to exhibit a genuine concern for our brothers and their progression as human beings who are trying to reach higher states of existence. This includes being concerned about what concerns them. It is said that when a heart speaks, it is hearts that listen and when the lower self speaks, it is the lower selves that listen. When one is genuine in his intention, his speech will naturally emanate from the heart.

Having a genuine concern for your brother entails that you seek to serve him in his presence, and you protect him in his absence. We should become aware of our brothers’ states, both physical and emotional. We should notice if someone is feeling ‘down’ and exhaust our every effort to help bring him up. If a brother does something considered illaudable (an action contrary to the good character befitting of a Muslim), we do not reprimand him in front of others. We wait for the right time and tell him in a way that he is able to digest while at the same time keeping his dignity.

We will not be perfect, and this is important to understand because we will make many mistakes. In fact, we need to; if we are to become wise men. We should look at our errors, and those of our brothers around us as learning experiences. And a seeker of truth should never turn down the opportunity to increase himself in understanding.

The question may arise as to what one does when he endeavors to demonstrate good character and concern for his brother and he is met with hostility and opposition. Unfortunately this is not an uncommon experience for many. It is not befitting of a seeker to return evil with evil; not if one is trying to purify himself from the inclinations of the lower self. In these circumstances (however difficult they may be) the best thing to do is show humilty, and ask Allah to rectify between you. After all, it is ultimately for the sake of Allah that we are interacting with one another.

Habib Umar bin Hafiz, when speaking about brotherhood asked, “Is not the fact that your brother says ‘La illaha illallah’ enough for you?” In the age of spiritual deprivation we need to search for the commonalities that unite us and bring us together. At times we may forget that we are all striving for the same goal… reaching Allah.

It is only natural, do to our various backgrounds, that we would have different methods of achieving this. If somone were to ask us the best way to travel to Egypt from Yemen, our answers would differ. Some may prefer Egypt Air, others Yemenia, and some Gulf Air depending on their own past experiences. However, if one were to take any one of the aforementioned airlines, he would still end up at the desired destination. Understanding this example helps us realize that there must obviously be many ways to reach Allah, and each person (depending on his personal experience) will choose the path he feels is best for himself. Our diversity is our strength, but only if we see it as such.

We may sometimes forget that the heart is made of soft tissue. This means that it is very sensitive. Harsh words are like swords and they can easily pierce this soft heart causing damage that takes some a lifetime to cure. It is said that physical abuse is less damaging than verbal abuse. Physical wounds heal in time, but the wounds from the tongue sometimes never heal. We should be aware of how we communicate with each other, the words we use, the tone we speak in, and when we speak. Intemperate speech is oftentimes a type of oppression (depending on the circumstance) and we know that the oppressors will come on the Day of Judgment “as grain strewn underfoot that people will walk on,” and we seek refuge in Allah from this.

Brotherhood is something that taps into the good traits of people and helps them to manifest their potential in ways they could not achieve on their own. To be a true brother also means that we need to help ourselves and the best way to help yourself is by serving others. If we work diligently on purifying ourselves and being patient; assist each other in this and carry a genuine concern for our brothers, then we may have a good start towards reviving an ancient tradition and reaching the station of true brotherhood that few in our age have attained”and Allah knows best.