By Imam Murtadha Gusau
In the name of Allah, the Most Merciful, the Bestower of Mercy
And all praise is for Allah, Lord of all creation, who guided us to Islam and the Sunnah. May the peace, blessings and salutations of Allah be upon our noble Messenger, Muhammad, and upon his family, his Companions and his true and sincere followers.
Dear brothers and sisters! What does unity within the Muslim community mean, and who bears responsibility for achieving unification?
Respected servants of Allah! Know that, as Muslims, our power and strength is in our numbers. How we live our lives and how we engage with the wider Muslim community is paramount to achieving this strength.
My beloved people! Our religion (Islam) is a communal faith. Without a high level of cooperation, unity, discipline, and hierarchy, its obligations cannot be fulfilled. The Salatul-Jama’ah (Congregational prayer) is performed in congregation behind an Imam who is to be strictly followed. Any attempt to precede the Imam nullifies the prayer. The collection and distribution of Zakah (Charity) is supposed to be centralised in order to prioritise the categories of recipients and to prevent the misuse of funds. The fasting of Ramadan is supposed to begin and end with the approval of a central authority, or we end up experiencing the chaos of some people still fasting while others are celebrating Eid on the same day in the same area. Hajj cannot possibly be managed without a central authority that manages the movement of peoples and certifies the days of Hajj.
In fact, the Prophet (Peace be upon him) placed so much importance on unity and hierarchy, that even in the mundane worldly matter of travelling, there is an obligation to select a leader. The Prophet (Peace be upon him) said:
“When three persons set out on a journey, they should appoint one of them as their leader.” [Abu Dawud]
Consider how the care of the Prophet (Peace be upon him) for this Ummah extends to ensuring three Muslims on a journey remain united and maintain discipline and cooperation. So, what about major matters of religion and the well-being of the Ummah on a global scale?
The Qur’an places a great emphasis on the unity of Allah (Tawhid) and the unity of those who believe in the unity of Allah. It is one of the greatest obligations and the only way to actualise the Tawhid of Allah on a societal level. Allah Almighty says:
“And hold firmly to the rope of Allah and do not be divided. Remember Allah’s favour upon you when you were enemies, then He united your hearts, so you—by His grace—became brothers. And you were at the brink of a fiery pit and He saved you from it. This is how Allah makes His revelations clear to you, so that you may be rightly guided.” [Ali-Imran: 103]
And He Most High says:
“The believers are but one brotherhood, so make peace between your brothers. And be mindful of Allah, so you may be shown mercy.” [Al-Hujurat: 10]
Unity attracts the Mercy of Allah in the Ummah and disunity brings suffering among them. This is something we know and understand through the divine texts and through bitter experience, but our actions and behaviours reveal a desire to maintain the status quo of factions, enmity, chaos, and disorder.
Dear brothers and sisters! Unity is often relegated in Muslim discourse to a warm fuzzy feeling where Muslims generally respect each other and avoid conflict. As a result, we fail to establish structures within our community to actualise unity and we neglect the mechanisms that are needed to maintain order and exercise discipline in decision making. One after another, we face crises and important decisions in a chaotic manner with fractured responses that often disintegrate into internal strife.
Consider for a moment, the greatest crisis that has ever faced the Ummah and the importance placed by the Companions on unity. When the Prophet (Peace be upon him) took his last breath and the Companions faced a trauma the likes of which they had never faced before, it was Abu Bakr (RA) who kissed the forehead of the Prophet (Peace be upon him) and said:
“You are as beautiful in death as you were in life.”
He suffered a deeper grief than any of the Companions, but he immediately set about unifying the Companions and returning order and discipline to their decision making. He gave his famous speech declaring that:
“Whoever worshipped Allah, then Allah is Ever-living and does not die.”
And in doing so, he warded off the threats that Umar (RA) had made to anybody who claimed the Prophet (Peace be upon him) had passed away. He then took Abu Ubaidah Ibn al-Jarrah (RA) and went to the orchard of Saqifah Banu Sa’idah, where the Ansar had gathered to select a leader. When Sa’ad Ibn Ubadah proposed that the Successor to the Prophet (Peace be upon him) should be from the Ansar, he reminded him of the Hadith of the Prophet (Peace be upon him) that Imarah (leadership) of the Ummah remains amongst the Quraish. And when Sa’ad proposed a compromise of a leader from Quraish and a leader from Ansar, he rejected this proposal to maintain unity, discipline and hierarchy within the Ummah. Unity of the Ummah was a priority that took precedence over grieving for the Prophet (Peace be upon him), offering condolences to the family of the Prophet (Peace be upon him), and even preparing the janazah of the Prophet (Peace be upon him) and yet for us today it has become an afterthought. We need to realise that until we have communal structures for decision-making, and a sense of discipline and hierarchy, we will be trapped in a cycle of chaotic decision-making, argumentation, blame, and self-interest.
Take a closer look at the incident of Saqifah Banu Sa’idah and it is clear that Abubakar (RA) was not motivated by self-interest or a love of leadership. His initial proposal was for either Umar (RA) or Abu Ubaidah (RA) to be appointed as successor. The priority for Abubakar (RA) was the welfare of the Ummah and the need for unity in the face of existential threats from the hypocrites, the Bedouins, the Byzantines, and the Persians. Abubakar’s grief over the loss of the Prophet (Peace be upon him) was so great that he remained in this world little more than two years after the passing of the Prophet (Peace be upon him). In that short time, he steered the Ummah successfully through one crisis after the other, from the apostasy wars (Riddah) that engulfed the entire Arabian Peninsula to the preservation of the Qur’an in a single manuscript. He laid the foundations upon which expansion took place in the khilafah of Umar and Uthman (RA). And his legacy is primarily one of achieving unity in the face of extraordinary challenges.
The default mechanism of decision-making for the Ummah is through Shurah (consultation). Allah ordered the Prophet (Peace be upon him) to consult with the Companions, even though he was protected from error by divine revelation (Wahy) and he is the best of human beings. At the battle of Uhud, the Prophet (Peace be upon him) consulted with the Companions to the extent that he gave preference to the views of the younger Companions to meet the Quraish in battle outside Madinah, rather than his own view to fortify Madinah. The consequences of this decision were devastating. The Prophet’s (Peace be upon him) uncle was martyred and mutilated, seventy Companions were martyred and the Prophet (Peace be upon him) came closest to losing his own life, but at no point was there any censure for this decision because when Muslims follow a process of Shurah and make a collective decision and put their trust in Allah, then there will always be good from that decision. In fact, Allah revealed numerous verses in the last third of Surah Ali-Imran expounding on the great lessons from the Battle of Uhud and the only censure is that the archers disobeyed the Prophet (Peace be upon him), seeking material gain while disuniting the collective resolve of the army. Allah Almighty says:
“Indeed, Allah fulfilled His promise to you when you initially swept them away by His Will, then your courage weakened and you disputed about the command and disobeyed, after Allah had brought victory within your reach. Some of you were after worldly gain while others desired a heavenly reward. He denied you victory over them as a test, yet He has pardoned you. And Allah is gracious to the believers.” [Ali-Imran: 152]
Often times the call to unity is seen through the prism of the need for a single global leader to represent the interests of Muslims. We are a considerable way from achieving this, but we first need to look at our localised structures for decision-making within our community. This starts with our scholars and Imams. Allah states in the Qur’an:
“O believers! Obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you. Should you disagree on anything, then refer it to Allah and His Messenger, if you truly believe in Allah and the Last Day. This is the best and fairest resolution.” [An-Nisa: 59]
The scholars of Tafsir state that ‘those in authority among you’ are the scholars and the leaders. As a community, we need to look to our scholars and Imams for real decision-making in matters of public welfare, instead of turning to them occasionally to conduct religious rituals and offer blessings at weddings and funerals. The scholars and Imams in turn need to demonstrate unity through their discourse and avoid the drama and entertainment of polemics. They need to ensure their decision-making undergoes the rigour of Shurah and proper scrutiny. Unfortunately, social media has propelled the scholar or student with a messiah complex who believes that they alone have the integrity, knowledge, and charisma to guide the Ummah to the truth. Scholars and Imams need to represent themselves through fiqh councils, scholarly boards, and committees where their discourse will undergo the scrutiny of peers and the excesses of their views will be carefully filtered out before public consumption.
We respect our scholars and Imams as people of truth, motivated by truth and seeking the truth, but they must realise that the truth in a specific matter is not always worthy of being pursued to the extent that it undermines the unity and discipline of the Muslims. They must carefully consider before publicly criticising fellow scholars, especially when the effect of this will only be to undermine their fellow scholars amongst their own congregation and breed resentment and hatred. Consider for a moment the discourse in some Shafi’i books of fiqh. Their jurists will often discuss a matter where there is no clear unequivocal text and state their preferred opinion, but then recommend their students follow an alternative opinion, i.e. ‘khurujun minal-khilaf’ (the safer opinion that will maintain unity). They beautifully illustrate a principle of seeking the greater good that invariably lies with maintaining unity.
Muslim organisations need to have a collective consciousness where they evaluate the impact of their decisions on the interests of the collective body and not just look through the narrow lens of self-interest. There have been countless examples of Muslim schools, mosques, charities, and politicians taking unilateral decisions that they have perceived will benefit them in the short term or achieve an objective, only to lead to a detrimental impact on the community at large. It is the responsibility of the congregation to hold their organisations and community leaders to account when they act in their own self-interest and undermine unity.
We need to realise that virtually all the challenges we face as a community can only be faced as a collective, through disciplined and strategic thinking that requires hierarchy. We are in the midst of a major cost-of-living crisis that will adversely affect the Muslim community. Muslims suffer disproportionately from socio-economic deprivation yet we seem completely unprepared. Masjid Al-Aqsa faces an existential threat with extreme Zionists making no secret of their ambition to demolish the Masjid. We all witnessed the horrific scenes of the Masjid set on fire in Ramadan while the arsonists celebrated outside. The Uyghur people are having their identity and existence erased by an economic and military superpower that has used concentration camps, organ harvesting and rape as a weapon. None of these challenges and those like them can be faced without unity.
Above all, our religion is a religion of unity and obligates unity as the greatest obligation that underpins all other obligations. Agreement on every aspect of religion is not a prerequisite for unity. This did not exist, even in the time of the Companions of the Prophet (Peace be upon him), but there needs to be a shared consciousness that what we unanimously agree on in matters of creed is far greater than what we disagree on. There needs to be a shared consciousness that even in terms of fiqh (jurisprudence) what we perceive as multiple differences ultimately return back to fundamental over-arching principles (qawa’idul fiqh) that have a high degree of agreement. There needs to be a shared awareness of the seriousness of the challenges we face, and an understanding that religious, political, financial and social structures need to exist within our community that incorporate all its stakeholders. And that these stakeholders will need to give priority to the collective benefit over personal autonomy.
O Allah, guide us with those whom You have guided, grant us well-being among those You have granted well-being, be an ally to us along with those whom You are an ally to, and bless what You have bestowed upon us, and save us from the evil of what You have decreed. For verily You decree and none can decree over You. He whom You support can never be humiliated. Glory is to You, our Lord, You are Blessed and Exalted.
O Allah, We ask You for all that is good, in this world and in the Hereafter, what we know and what we do not know.
O Allah, we seek refuge with You from all evil, in this world and in the Hereafter, what we know and what we do not know.
O Allah, we ask You for the good that Your servant and Prophet has asked You for, and we seek refuge with You from the evil from which Your servant and Prophet sought refuge.
O Allah, we ask You for Paradise and for that which brings one closer to it, in word and deed, and we seek refuge in You from Hell and from that which brings one closer to it, in word and deed. And we ask You to make every decree that You decree concerning us good.
All praises and thanks are due to Allah alone, Lord of the worlds. May the peace, blessings and salutations of Allah be upon our noble Messenger, Muhammad, and upon his family, his Companions and his true and sincere followers.
Murtadha Muhammad Gusau is the Chief Imam of Nagazi-Uvete Jumu’ah and the late Alhaji Abdur-Rahman Okene’s Mosques, Okene, Kogi State, Nigeria. He can be reached through: email@example.com or +2348038289761.
This Jumu’ah Khutbah (Friday sermon) was prepared for delivery today Friday, Rabi’ul Awwal 11, 1444 AH (October 07, 2022).
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