Summary of 7.5 “Social Relations and Choice of Friends”

The topic last week was an extension of our topic on brotherhood with a focus on selection of friends.’ We indicated that selection of friends is part of Islamic teachings because it has a far reaching impact on the character and way of thinking of an individual.’ We indicated that Islam encourages righteous social interactions and that the Prophet (PBUH) described the believer as a person who is gentle, friendly and easily gets along with other people.’ The exception to this rule is in areas or situations where there is lots of corruption and it may be hard for the person to be in the midst of this corruption in which case keeping away is better.

Finally, we said that in order for this friendship to be strong and grow it must be based on sincerity and belief in God and the love of God.’ We also mentioned the saying of the Prophet (PBUH) that loving one’s brother for the sake of God is one of the signs of faith and that those people who love each other for the sake of God will have light on their faces on the Day of Judgment and that they would be under the protection and Grace of God.

In order to protect friendship one should do and avoid certain things.’ We discussed some of the Prophetic teachings that say that people should visit each other and help each other and so on.’ Some of the things to be avoided to prevent any harm to friendship is mockery, usage of improper names or titles, spying, being snobbish and other similar types of acts.

7.6′ Social Responsibility I

Host:’ How can you relate social responsibility to religion, as many believe that religion is mainly for regulating their relationship with God?

Jamal Badawi:

Islam does care about regulating a person’s relationship with God; without regulation a person would feel lost as there would be no sense of objective and no sense of direction.’ The foundation of Islam teachings is to establish and nourish one’s personal relationship with God.’ This relationship provides the total orientation of the individual and effects his attitude towards all other issues.’ It is also important to emphasis that Islam is not an individualistic type of religion or a religion that exclusively focuses on the man to God relationship.’ Islam’s focus is not only on the man to God relationships but also on the man to man relationships.’ It is true that the beginning point is a person’s relationship with God which is like the foundation of a house, but the foundation alone is not enough to make a house.’ This is a necessary condition but not a sufficient condition to complete the total integrity of the faith.’ Social involvement in Islam is part and partial of the total picture.

Host:’ Can you give us proof that the focus in Islam is not exclusively on the individual but also on communal responsibility?

Jamal Badawi:

When going through the Quran we find that when certain commands, teachings, injunctions are made they are in most cases in the plural.’ This is true even in matters of belief even though belief is done at an individual level; the Quran addresses ‘O believers’ or ‘O you who believe’ in the plural.’ Even in pure acts of devotional worship (a person’s entire life could be constant acts of worship) we find that the Quran also addresses the plural.’ Akimo alsalah, establish prayer (in the plural), ato alzakah, pay the poor due (in the plural) and the same thing goes for the pilgrimage.’ All of these acts are addressed to the Muslim community (Ummah) in the plural.

The same kind of address is used in the Quran in other areas of life as well such as social and political organizations.’ For example when it says that matters are to be solved by basic consultation among them.’ In economic teachings when it talks about the prohibition of usury it addresses the plural.’ Most people say that moral teachings are basically individual but even then the plural is used.’ This gives a clear indication that the society at large must cooperate in order to fulfill the duty of their trusteeship on earth as servants of God.’ In that sense a Muslim can comfortably say that social development and active involvement is part and partial of their religious duties (not just a social duty).

Host:’ Are there any specific mechanisms that have been established to help achieve this necessary development?

Jamal Badawi:

In order to achieve this level of involvement there all kinds of mechanisms that can be classified in a simple way.’ There are mechanisms that relate to education and motivation which is essential in order for people to understand their role as good citizens of the world.’ This may include building institutions (family, social and economic institutions) in such a way that they cooperate together in achieving the overall objective of the community.’ This includes a mechanism which is very important in Islam known as ‘Amr bilmaaroof wa nahi anilmunkar’ which means to ordain the good and forbid the evil.

Host:’ Can you elaborate on the concept of ordaining the good and forbidding the evil?

Jamal Badawi:

The essential basis for this particular concept, is a relationship between believers where they always cooperation between each other to promote things that please God and help each other achieve their functions here on earth.’ One of the most interesting verses in the Quran that deals with this area is in (9:71) ‘The Believers, men and women, are protectors one of another: they enjoin what is just, and forbid what is evil: they observe regular prayers, practice regular charity, and obey Allah and His Messenger.’ On them will Allah pour His mercy: for Allah is Exalted in power, Wise.’

The Quran provides the quality of enjoining the good and forbidding the evil as one of the basic characteristics of a community being better than another community (not better under false pretences but in goodness).’ There is a verse in the Quran that addresses true believers in (3:110) ‘Ye are the best of peoples, evolved from mankind, enjoining what is right, forbidding what is wrong, and believing in Allah.” Again it doesn’t say that this is the case because one believes in a particular faith, belongs to a particular race, belong to a particular geographic area or belong to a particular generation but it says that this is the case because you enjoin what is right, forbid what is wrong and you believe in God.’ The Quran makes it an obligation in any true community of believers to carry out their duty of ordaining the good and forbidding the evil.’ It comes as a command in the Quran in (3:104) ‘Let there arise out of you a band of people inviting to all that is good, enjoining what is right, and forbidding what is wrong: They are the ones to attain felicity.” It does not stop at that as it makes a warning that should the community of believers neglect to perform that duty they may be punished as other people before them were punished.’ We read in the Quran how God cursed those disbelieved, then it gives a description of these disbelievers (5:79) ‘Nor did they (usually) forbid one another the iniquities which they committed: evil indeed were the deeds which they did.” The Prophet’s (PBUH) explanation is that someone would do something wrong and his friend would feel that this is not right, then he will sit with him as he does the wrong and then he will get used to it which will eventually lead to immolating the evil and being part of it.’ A true Muslim or believer tries to take a positive step rather than to agree with what everyone does but rather takes an affirmative step to try and change a bad situation into a better one.’ In that sense it is quite obvious that the Quran very closely ties social welfare and development with ordaining the good and forbidding evil.

Host:’ What are some specific measures that can be taken in order to ordain the good and forbid the evil?

Jamal Badawi:

The Prophet (PBUH) said ‘Whoever of you sees something wrong then he must try to change it with concretive action (literal translation is by the hand but it does not portray the meaning: the meaning is concretive affirmative action) if he is not able to do so, then he should use his tongue (advice etc) and if he is not able to do so then at least he should change it in his heart (disagreeing or despise it).’ Then he goes on to say that the last one is the least of faith.

Host:’ Could you comment on the hierarchy used by Prophet Mohammad in the three stages of changing evil?

Jamal Badawi:

It is clear that the first one, positive affirmative action, is preferable to using ones tongue.’ This does not mean that one should disregard all circumstances and conditions and mechanically apply the saying of the Prophet (PBUH).’ The idea here is to achieve the most effective results.

Suppose one walks down the street and finds a bunch of kids tying a rope around the neck of a cat (or any animal) and pulling it and the cat is about to suffocate.’ If one starts preaching the cat will be dead by the time anything is done.’ In this case one needs to intervene and rush to the rescue of the cat.’ Another situation could be that a friend is an alcoholic or on drugs, it may not be helpful to the situation to take the alcohol or drugs away but kind discussion and reasoning might have more effective results than the use of the hand.’ One needs to decide what method is most effective under different conditions.’ What is intended by action before words is that one should not just stop at words and many times the evil in society are not fought by words.’ People can write books or preach from pulpits (this is needed) but our human experience that this is insufficient as major reforms can not take place unless the community joins together in consorted action to enjoin the good and forbid the evil.

Host:’ Is it expectable for people to not want to be involved in social development?

Jamal Badawi:

As far as I know this is not an acceptable attitude for a Muslim.’ One of the sayings of the Prophet is that anyone who does not care about the affairs of the believers is not one of them.’ He doesn’t say it is wrong but rather that he is not one of them.’ The main reason why people are reluctant to correct the wrong seems to fall within various categories.

One, is the fear of criticizing others, some say the easiest way to loose a friend is to criticize them which is not an Islamic attitude because it over emphases a person’s ego.’ We should look at the great humility and humbleness of a great person like Omar the second Caliph after Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) when he said ‘May God have mercy on any person who gives me my fault as a gift.” To take criticism as a gift and not as an injury is the kind of attitude that one should adopt.’ If the community at large accepts constructive courteous criticism then there would not be such a fear attached to correcting the wrong.

Second, people hesitate to take part in social development because they don’t want to be the crusader from among millions.’ This again is wrong if everybody thinks that their actions will not make a difference than who is going to act?’ One should have the attitude of trying to help no matter how little, regardless of the results as one is doing it to please God (not one’s self or anyone else).’ This may also encourage others to do good.’ The main problem with people not wanting to get involved is apathy.’ People think that if they are good individually as Islam is not an individualistic religion in the sense that one achieves their own individual piety and salvation and that religion is a personal relationship between man and God is accurate but misleading because it overlooks the need to be involved.’ I realize that in some instances it may be difficult to stop evil (for example if there is an armed robber and one is unarmed etc.).’ In many cases the criminal is a coward and unless he feels that the people acquiesce to oppression he can be restrained.’ An example is a true story that took place a few years back in New York.’ One night someone was mugging a young lady who started screaming.’ When people heard the woman screaming they turned on their lights and were looking to see what was going on.’ The mere fact that people were paying attention scared the criminal into leaving her.’ Then people turned of their lights and went back to bed so he started attacking her again and she started to scream again and so people heard her and turned their lights on.’ This was repeated again for the third time, and it shows how those people were good for nothing as they just watched.’ The following morning she was found murdered in the street.’ If some people helped her it would have sufficed, but even the least action of calling the police or leaving the lights on were not done.’ When we ask ‘Why?’ its because nobody wanted to get involved.’ It is appalling how many people have apathy and how people see others getting attacked in the street or stealing and no one does anything about it.’ When we talk about involvement we are not only talking about individual acts of heroism (some people arrest criminal on their own) which are not enough unless it becomes a general attitude among the population that is proactive in stopping crime and oppression will anything change.

The Quran warrens us against this attitude in (8:25) ‘And fear tumult or oppression, which affecteth not in particular (only) those of you who do wrong: and know that Allah is strict in punishment.” Evil is not isolated and the evil that effects others could effect us tomorrow and if we help someone today someone else will help us tomorrow.’ An interesting similitude was given by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) about apathy when he said ‘If people do not try to stop evil they are just like a group of people who are on a ship with some people on the upper deck and others are on the lower deck.’ So a person from the lower deck said that instead of going up and down in order to get water and other things why not make a whole in the ship so that we can draw the water directly?’ Unless, everyone on the ship stop him, he would drown and he will take everyone else with him.” Society is drowning, but no body is doing anything about it because they don’t want to intervene.’ This is what is causing problems in society, and this is why social involvement is a special concept that has lots of important implications.