The definition of Brotherhood varies between dictionaries, ranging from blood relationships to associations based on common interests and activities such as unions and professional associations.
Islam redefined brotherhood in a new and profound manner by changing the relationship from one based on personal interest or mutual activity to a permanent bond based on belief and acceptance of Islam. Allah (swt) revealed:
إِنَّمَا الْمُؤْمِنُونَ إِخْوَةٌ فَأَصْلِحُوا بَيْنَ أَخَوَيْكُمْ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُرْحَمُونَ
“The believers are nothing else than brothers. So make reconciliation between your brothers, and fear Allah, that you may receive mercy.”[TMQ 49:10]
The Prophet (saw) also said about brotherhood:
“None of you truly believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.”[Bukhari & Muslim]
Upon completion of the Hijrah and building the masjid in Madinah, the Prophet (saw) proceeded to establish one of the main pillars of an Islamic community - brotherhood. He paired up the Muhajireen and Ansar, who were virtual strangers to each other prior to this. The two groups understood and accepted the responsibilities that came with this pairing, leading to unique acts, such as sharing wealth and other brotherly deeds, which helped ease the difficulties facing the Muhajireen who left everything behind in Makkah.
This action had brought about a profound transformation in perception of what brotherhood means between members of the Muslim community. It redefined the concept of brotherhood beyond the typical understanding of blood or tribal relationships. This was clearly demonstrated by Mus’ab Ibn Umayr when he found his blood brother Abu ‘Azeez – who was among those captured during the battle of Badr. Upon reaching Madinah, Abu 'Azeez was lodged with Abu Yusr Alansari, and Mus'ab ibn 'Umayr said to Abu Yusr: "Treat him harshly, for his mother is a wealthy woman." Abu 'Azeez said: "Brother is it for you to give this counsel?" "You are not my brother," replied Mu’sab, "my brother is the one who is tying up your hands." [Ibn Hisham]
The brotherhood established after Hijrah came with explicit and implicit responsibilities between Muslims, as individuals and as members of the Islamic State. It was the responsibility of the strong to help the weak, of the rich to help the poor, and of the knowledgeable to help those seeking knowledge. Furthermore, it was a responsibility of brotherhood to enjoin the good and forbid the evil.
We should always keep these actions of the Sahabah at the forefront of our minds, since they are the practical interpretation of brotherhood as defined by Islam.
Brotherhood is an obligation, not a choice
The evidences (Adilla) regarding the obligation of brotherhood in the Qur’an, the Sunnah and the life of the Sahabah are strikingly clear. We must be extremely vigilant in correctly upholding this concept to prevent transforming the relationship into a shallow bond, lacking the true essence of Islamic brotherhood.
Sadly, one of the issues facing Muslims in the West is “life in the fast lane,” and due to this lifestyle, we tend to rush our dealings with one another. We should, for example, try to take a few minutes after Jum’ah prayers and greet our brothers next to us with Salaam, and introduce ourselves to them. We should neither be shy nor be afraid of a cold response, keeping in mind that we are only seeking the pleasure of Allah (swt) and following the Sunnah of the Prophet (saw). The Prophet (saw) said:
“You will not enter paradise until you believe, and you will not believe until you love one another. Shall I not guide you to something which if you carry out you will love one another? Spread salaam amongst yourselves.”[Muslim]
It is necessary to let our brothers know that we care for their well-being, that we sincerely love them as we do our own blood brothers, and that we are ready to help them in any way we are able to. It has been narrated by Al-Bukhari in Al-Adaabul-Mufrad that the Prophet (saw) said:
“If one of you loves his brother for Allah’s sake, then let him know, since it causes familiarity to endure and firmly establishes love.”
Muslims have the responsibility to give sincere advice to their fellow brothers and sisters to abstain from haram and stay on the course of halal in every aspect of life, following the basic rule of verifying every action with Hukum Shar’iee – whether in our ibadah (worship) or muamulat (social transactions). The Prophet (saw) said:
“Each of you is the mirror of his brother, so if he sees a fault in him he should wipe it away from him.”[Tirmidhi]
Brotherhood in Islam imposes a great responsibility on us to protect our brothers and sisters from harm, even from their own selves. We should ensure that we do not allow ourselves or others around us to engage in activities that could affect the unity of the Muslim Ummah. One such activity is backbiting; we must refrain from initiating or participating in it. Allah (swt) revealed:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آَمَنُوا اجْتَنِبُوا كَثِيرًا مِنَ الظَّنِّ إِنَّ بَعْضَ الظَّنِّ إِثْمٌ وَلَا تَجَسَّسُوا وَلَا يَغْتَبْ بَعْضُكُمْ بَعْضًا أَيُحِبُّ أَحَدُكُمْ أَنْ يَأْكُلَ لَحْمَ أَخِيهِ مَيْتًا فَكَرِهْتُمُوهُ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ إِنَّ اللَّهَ تَوَّابٌ رَحِيمٌ
“O you who believe! Avoid much suspicion, indeed some suspicions are sins. And spy not, neither backbite one another. Would one of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? You would hate it. And fear Allah. Verily, Allah is the One Who forgives and accepts repentance, Most Merciful.”[TMQ 49:12]
Envy and jealousy are also forbidden, which are the common causes of problems amongst brothers and sisters. The Prophet (saw) said:
“Do not have malice against a Muslim; do not be envious of other Muslims; do not go against a Muslim and forsake him. O the slave of Allah! Be like brothers with each other. It is not allowed for a Muslim to desert his brother for over three days.”[Muslim & Tirmidhi]
We should also be aware that a brother or sister in Islam has five rights over us, as the Prophet (saw) said:
“Every Muslim has five rights over another Muslim: to return the greetings, to visit the sick, to accompany funeral processions, to accept an invitation, and to respond to the one that sneezes.”[Bukhari & Muslim]
It is clear from the above examples that, in Islam, brotherhood is not merely a word we mention to each other when we meet casually or when we engage in business transactions. Rather, it is an obligation, and a deep sense of responsibility and caring for the well-being of our brothers and sisters, not only in our local communities but around the world as well.
Muslims are like one body
One of the most fatal ideas to the concept of brotherhood that has been promoted is the concept of “Ummah fragmentation.” This concept suggests that issues of Muslims in one country should not be of concern to Muslims in other countries. The fragmentation of the Ummah is like a fatal virus that, when adopted intentionally or unintentionally by the Muslims, leads to a clear violation to the aforementioned evidences in the Qur’an and Sunnah, and consequently causes a complete decay in the obligation of brotherhood.
The Prophet (saw) described the Ummah as one body; if one member becomes sick then the other members of this one body will take care of the sick one:
“The Believers, in their mutual love, mercy and compassion, are like one body: if one organ complained, the rest of the body develops a fever.”[Bukhari & Muslim]
The media outlets and internet have no shortage of news revealing the turmoil that Muslims are living in around the world: from occupation of Muslim lands to the dire poverty of our brothers and sisters. This is where a sense of brotherhood becomes the vital connection between Muslims around the globe. It is our obligation to be politically and intellectually aware of all affairs impacting Muslims everywhere. Allah (swt) has described the believer as a brother to another believer, and therefore it should pain us – just as it would if it were our own blood brother – when we read about the plight of our fellow Muslims.
Sustaining the sense of brotherhood
The enormity of events facing Muslims, coupled with the visible impotence and corruption of the ruling regimes in Muslim lands, are creating frustration and an artificial sense of helplessness among Muslims. This sense of frustration and helplessness is also further fueled by the daily pressures of life facing Muslims. All these factors lead to a gradual decline in reacting to the turmoil facing Muslims outside of their immediate circle of friends and blood relatives – causing a fatal departure from the very foundations and ties of the Ummah.
Muslims should always gravitate toward the concept of brotherhood and the obligation of helping and sympathizing with our brothers and sisters in Islam regardless of where they are or what their condition is.
Although helping our brothers and sisters may not be physically possible in all circumstances, it is imperative to always care and be concerned for their affairs, regardless of geography or language, and do whatever is possible within the circumstances. It is imperative to care, or even train ourselves to care for Muslims in nearby or remote parts of the world by reminding ourselves that our bond with all Muslims is that of brothers and sisters.
Preserving our Muslim identity is both an obligation and a challenge at the same time. It is paramount for Muslims anywhere and at anytime to remain aware of the concept of brotherhood as a most critical tool in striving to keep our distinct identity, especially in the West. Therefore, it is an obligation to follow the lead of the Prophet (saw) and his Companions in this manner and do whatever is necessary to maintain it.
May Allah (swt) bless us with the same brotherhood the Sahabah had under the shade of Khilafah Rashidah. Ameen.
وَاعْتَصِمُوا بِحَبْلِ اللَّهِ جَمِيعًا وَلَا تَفَرَّقُوا وَاذْكُرُوا نِعْمَةَ اللَّهِ عَلَيْكُمْ إِذْ كُنْتُمْ أَعْدَاءً فَأَلَّفَ بَيْنَ قُلُوبِكُمْ فَأَصْبَحْتُمْ بِنِعْمَتِهِ إِخْوَانًا وَكُنْتُمْ عَلَى شَفَا حُفْرَةٍ مِنَ النَّارِ فَأَنْقَذَكُمْ مِنْهَا كَذَلِكَ يُبَيِّنُ اللَّهُ لَكُمْ آَيَاتِهِ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَهْتَدُونَ
“And hold fast, all of you together, to the Rope of Allah and be not divided among yourselves, and remember Allah's Favour on you, for you were enemies one to another but He joined your hearts together, so that, by His Grace, you became brethren, and you were on the brink of a pit of Fire, and He saved you from it. Thus Allah makes His Ayat clear to you, that you may be guided.” [TMQ 3:103]