Looking at Unity in action in the History of Islam

One of the most significant events to occur during the period of the Prophet (SAW), indeed, the seminal event that divides the Muslim conception of time, with events marked as either occurring before it or after it, was the hijrah.

But the hijrah’s value is certainly not limited to the Islamic calendar. At this epic moment, at the birth of the first Islamic society, the Prophet (SAW) laid down an example for the ages. At this critical time in the history of Islam, earthly knowledge would not give away the reality that the Prophet’s (SAW) Islamic nation would rise and rise for centuries after his passing, becoming a beacon of light amidst a global civilizational darkness.

Followers of the Prophet’s (SAW) message would become trailblazers and masters of both the material sciences and spiritual sciences. While it might be tempting to paint a rosy picture of the empires that rose directly from the message of Islam, the reality is somewhat different. Scratch the surface a little, and it becomes clear that the cracks of disunity began appearing quite literally during the moments after the Prophet (SAW) drew his last earthly breath.

While the companions of that time were faithful and disciplined enough to overcome these cracks effectively, by the time of the passing of Uthman (RA), even the companions could not stop the breakdown of unity amongst the faithful.

What followed is a checkered history of rises and falls, successes and failures, gains and losses, but a relatively consistent theme throughout this 1,350 years is disunity; companions fighting with companions, familial infighting, ethnic divisions, revolts and mutinies. The successes of the ummah during these 1,350 years happened in spite of the disunity; imagine how the Muslim world might look today, and how much greater Muslim contributions to science and arts, justice and peace, might look today if we had been unified throughout this time.

What knowledge was forever lost by the sacking of Baghdad and the burning of her many libraries? What more might the Muslim university of Cordoba have given the world had it not been destroyed? What might the modern Middle East look like had billions of pounds, millions of lives, and priceless time and energy not been lost in nationalistic wars?

Coming back to the critical moment of the hijrah, we find the Prophet (SAW) laying down a prophetic ideal of how to bring about unity and build a community during a time of strife. An ideal as straightforward and uncompromising as it has proven to be elusive for generations that followed; truly treating you brother and sister as yourself, embodying the hadith that says “None of you [truly] believes until he loves for his brother that which he loves for himself” (Nawawi)

In the foundational act of siblinghood at the birth of the first Islamic society, the Prophet (SAW) instructed the Muslim residents of Medina to share half of what they had with their emigrant counterparts; so simple an act, yet one which forged an alliance of brotherhood that allowed this very same population to rise to something great.

If applied today, this Prophetic ideal would be a catalyst for unity once more. How might it look today? That is open to interpretation, but to me, it might have many levels. On the simplest of these, it would see a generousity in which 50% of one’s resources were shared with a sibling in need. Extending the analogy a little, it would see patience in the face of shortcomings of another. It would see extra restraint when one feels provoked by a brother. It would be ensuring that every effort is made to find an excuse for a sister rather than going straight to judgement. When donating food, it might look like donating food that is the very same as you eat yourself, if not better. When volunteering your time to a cause, it might see you give that cause the same level of dedication that you would give a personal cause of your own.

And these are some of the beautiful manifestations of the Prophetic ideal that I’ve seen at Charity Week. I’ve seen those with little donating to those with even less. I’ve seen personal goals being set aside for days and weeks, while collective goals are given priority. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing different groups coming together and working as one, groups within universities, between universities, and across countries. On our best days, we get a taste of the Islamic ideal of unity.

Truly loving for the other what we love for ourselves, working for the other as we would ourselves, and respecting the other as we would ourselves, are alive in the midst of Charity Week.

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