Faith and Brotherhood
In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
Believers! Fear Allah as you rightly should, and do not allow death to overtake you before you have surrendered yourselves truly to Him. Hold fast, all of you together, to the bond with Allah and do not be disunited. And remember the blessings Allah has bestowed on you: how, when you were enemies (to one another) He united your hearts and, by His grace, you have become brothers; and how, when you were on the brink of an abyss of fire. He saved you from it. Thus Allah makes clear His revelations to you, so that you may be rightly guided. (The House of Imran, "Al Imran": 3: 102-3)
Commentary by Sayyid Qutb
Translation: A. A. Salahi and S. A. Shamsi
Structure of Muslim Community
Our commentary over the last two issues was devoted to the two verses preceding the present passage. These included a stern warning to the believers not to listen to the people of earlier revelation or accept any guidance from them in matters of faith. The warning ran as follows: Believers! If you pay heed to some of those who have been given revelation, they will cause you to renounce the truth after you have accepted the faith. But how can you sink into disbelief when Allah’s revelations are being recited to you and His messenger is in your midst? He who holds fast to Allah has already been guided along a straight path. Allah follows this warning with an address to the Muslim community, directing it to the fact that it cannot hope to implement the Islamic way of life or to fulfil the great trust. Allah has placed on it and made its fulfilment the goal of its existence, unless it acquires the two basic qualities of faith and brotherhood the Muslim community acquires its strength and becomes able to play its role in human life and history, namely, the role of enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong. In other words, it promotes every good thing in human life and purges it from every evil.
These are the two pillars upon which the structure of the Muslim community is built. If either of them collapses, the very existence of the community is undermined, and its great role comes to nothing.
The first pillar is that of faith and fear of Allah. It is only through such fear that man can fulfil his duties towards Allah because it makes man always alert. He does not lose sight of his duty for a moment of day or night.
Fear of Allah
Believers! Fear Allah as you rightly should.
This command is given in such general terms in order to heighten its effect. It thus makes the believer keen to achieve this goal for fearing Allah as He should rightly be feared, according to man’s understanding and ability. This is a road which attracts man more and more as he walks further and further. The nearer he draws to Allah through fearing Him, the higher the goal he sets for himself. He will continuously try to achieve a greater position, so as to make his heart always alert, never asleep.
Surrender to Allah
Do not allow death to overtake you before you have surrendered yourselves truly to Him.
Death is beyond the reach of our knowledge. No man can be certain when death will overtake him. Hence, if anyone wants to die a Muslim, in the full sense of the word, he must surrender himself to Allah right here and now. He must also abide by the requirements of this surrender all the time. The fact that Islam is mentioned after the command to have fear of Allah points to its wider sense and implications: total submission to Allah, complete obedience and implementation of His method and making His Book the final arbiter in all affairs. This is the meaning which pervades the whole Surah and all its verses.
This is the first pillar of Iman (Faith). Without it, no human grouping can be described as Islamic. No divine method of life can come into operation in any community. There will be only ignorant methods and ignorant leadership of man. In such a situation the rightly-guided Islamic leadership does not come into existence.
Bond of Brotherhood
The other pillar is the bond of brotherhood, based on the love of Allah and the implementation of His method: Hold fast, all of you together, to the bond with Allah and do not be disunited. And remember the blessings Allah has bestowed on you; how, when you were enemies (to one another) He united your hearts and, by His grace, you have become brothers. It’s brotherhood which has its roots in the fear of Allah and surrendering to Him. In other words, it is derived from the first pillar. Its cornerstone is to hold fast to the bond with Allah, that is, the fulfilment of His commands and the implementation of His law. It cannot have any other basis, concept, goal or bond.
Hold fast, all of you together, to the bond with Allah and do not be disunited. This brotherhood which holds fast to a strong bond with Allah is a blessing with which Allah has favoured the first Muslim community. It is a blessing which Allah always grants to those of His servants whom He loves. He reminds the first Muslim community here of this blessing, recalling first how enmity was rife among them in their pre-Islamic days. No enmity was fiercer than that which existed between the Aws and the Khazraj, the two Arab tribes in Yathrib, the city which came to be called Madinah. Alongside them lived the Jews who were always trying to perpetuate this hostility in order to weaken both tribes and destroy all ties between them. It is in such an atmosphere of hatred that the Jews work and flourish. Allah, however, united the hearts of both Arab tribes with the tie of Islam. It is only through Islam that such mutually hostile hearts could be united. It was only through the bond of Allah to which all can hold fast that they could become, by Allah’s grace, brothers. Historical grudges, killings of vengeance, personal ambitions and racial ties would be reduced into significance when compared to the bond of brotherhood which unites all under the banner of Allah, the Almighty: And remember the blessings Allah has bestowed on you: how, when you were enemies (to one another) He united your hearts and, by His grace, you have become brothers.
He also reminds them of His grace in the form of saving them from fire after they were about to fall in it. He has saved them when he guided them to hold fast to the bond of Allah, i.e. the first pillar, and when he united their hearts so that they became brothers, i.e. the second pillar: When you were on the brink of an abyss of fire. He saved you from it. We note here that the Qur’an refers to man’s heart which is the centre of feelings and bonds. It does not say: “He united you.” It refers to their deeply-seated feelings: He united your hearts. Their hearts are thus described as a solid group, united by Allah on the basis of His convenant. We also have here a vivid description of their hearts: You were on the brink of an abyss of fire. At the very moment when the fall into the abyss is expected, those hearts feel Allah’s hand as it reaches and saves them. They feel Allah’s bond stretched to them in order to protect them. We find them saved after being exposed to a great danger. It is a very vivid, heart-touching scene which is raised before our eyes despite the lapse of many centuries.
Allah has simply made His revelations clear to them. The final comment on the second of our present two verses applies to them fully: Thus Allah makes clear His revelations to you, so that you may be rightly guided.