Role of Muslim Community
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. Let there become of you a nation who invite to all that is good, enjoin the doing of what is right and forbid what is wrong. Such are they who shall prosper. (The House of Imran, "Aal Imran": 3;102-4)
Commentary by Sayyid Qutb
Translation: A. A. Salahi and S. A. Shamsi
Genuine Brotherly Love
WE have commented in the last issue on the first two verses of this passage. We have spoken on the two main qualities of the Muslim community, namely, fearing Allah as He should rightly be feared and Islamic brotherhood. We have discussed how Allah replaced the hostility and division in the Arabian society before Islam with mutual love and unity under its banner. We have also spoken on how this is expressed in the fine Qur’anic style. We also pointed out that the first Muslim community in Madinah were keenly aware of the change that had taken place in their community as a result of believing in Islam.
In his biography of the Prophet (Pbuh), Muhammad ibn Isshaq, and others, report that the second verse in our present passage was revealed on the occasion of a sudden friction flaring up between the two Arabian tribes in Madinah, the Aws and the Khazraj. A Jew passed by a group of both tribes and noted with sadness the fact that their past hostility has been replaced by genuine love and brotherhood. He was determined to spoil that healthy atmosphere. He sent a man with instructions to sit with those people and remind them of their past hostilities, and the battles that took place between them, particularly the battle of Bu’ath, a fierce one in which both tribes suffered heavy casualties. The man was successful in his mission and soon tempers were boiling among that group. In their anger, some of them repeated the old slogans. Someone called for his sword. Others repeated the same call. Someone suggested that they should meet the following day for battle outside Madinah. When the Prophet received intelligence of what took place between them, he went to them hurriedly and succeeded in cooling their tempers. He said to them: “Do you resort to your ignorant ways when I am living in your midst?” He recited to them the Qura’nic verse: 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. They soon regained their senses and repented for what had happened. Peace prevailed anew among them and they hugged each other in genuine brotherly love. They have been rightly guided when Allah’s revelation was made clear to them. Hence, the concluding comment in that Quranic verse is an apt description of their case: Thus Allah makes clear His revelations to you, so that you may be rightly guided.
This is one example of the efforts the Jews exert in order to sever the bond which unites those who love Allah and follow the divine method in order to provide leadership for the rest of mankind. Every time a true Muslim community comes into existence, holding fast to the bond of Allah and implementing His constitution, the Jews start their scheming to create division among them. When that group of early Muslims heeded what they were bid by people of earlier revelation, they were about to sink back into disbelief and meet each other in the battlefield. Their bond with Allah which unites them in a genuine brotherhood was about to be severed.
The verse has a much wider significance than this particular incident. Taken with what comes before and after it, the verse suggests that the Jews in Madinah were engaged in a continuous effort to create divisions and disunity among the Muslims by every possible means. The repeated Quranic warnings to the Muslims against paying heed to the people of earlier revelation and falling victim to their scheming, suggest that the Muslim community was undergoing great trouble as a result of the plots of the Jews in Madinah. Those tactics the Jews employed all the time against Muslims everywhere in the world.
The task required of the Muslim community which has those two essential qualities is the one which is absolutely necessary for the implementation of the divine method in human society, and to help the truth triumph over falsehood and goodness over evil. The task for the fulfilment of which the Muslim community has been established by Allah’s will and through His care, is stated in the following verse: Let there become of you a nation who invite to all that is good, enjoin the doing of what is right and forbid what is wrong. Such are they who shall prosper.
Invitation to Good with Authority
It is a must that a community should come into existence in order to invite to all that is good, enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong. The import of this Qur’anic statement points out that this must be done through a real authority which can invite, enjoin and forbid. Anyone may be able to invite to what is good, but no one can enjoin and forbid unless he is equipped with real authority.
This is the proper Islamic view of the matter. It is essential that there should be an authority to undertake the task of advocating what is good and fighting evil. The units which constitute this authority must combine together by holding fast to their bond with Allah and translating their brotherhood into a reality. This authority would have the two essential qualities of faith and brotherhood in order to implement the divine method in human life. This method cannot be put into practice without “inviting” others to very good thing so that people would realize the true nature of this divine method. It also requires an active authority to “enjoin” what is right and “forbid” what is wrong. Such an authority must be obeyed. Allah says: We have sent every messenger in order to be obeyed with Allah’s leave. Hence, Allah’s method is not merely preaching and verbal explanation. This is only one part of it. The other part is an active and sustained effort to promote every right thing in human life and reduce to a minimum every wrong. In this way the traditions of the good Muslim community will be protected against the whims of any selfish person who has the power to impose his own interests on the community. It also protects these traditions against any personal abuse which tries to force them off course.
The task of enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong is not an easy one, when we consider that it inevitably comes into conflict with people’s desires, interests and pride. There are in this world of ours tyrants who impose their authority by force, people who are interested only in carnal desires and do not like to be serious, the unfair who hate justice, the deviant who do not contemplate for a moment a straightforward attitude, as well as those who think wrong of every right thing and consider every wrong thing to be right. No nation, let alone humanity as a whole, can prosper unless goodness prevails, right is upheld and wrong is thrown out. Hence, the need for an authority to promote goodness and right and combat evil. What is more, this authority must be obeyed.
Faith and Brotherhood
This leads us back to the point where we started: a community must be built on the two essential qualities of faith and brotherhood. It is only such a community that can undertake this difficult task, equipped with the power of faith and the seriousness it derives from fearing Allah as well as the strength of love and brotherhood. Only through the fulfilment of this role that this community can prosper. Hence, Allah describes those who fulfil it as prosperous: Such are they who shall prosper.
The existence of such community is essential for the divine method itself. It is indeed the environment in which it can breathe and become a practical reality. It is a good, healthy environment where people cooperate to promote goodness. In such a community, right is synonymous with goodness, virtue and justice. To do good in such a community is easier than doing evil, virtue is simpler than vice, right stronger than wrong, justice more common and beneficial than injustice. A person who wants to do good will find help while the one who wants to do evil will meet resistance. It is this fact that gives this community its greatest value. It provides the environment where goodness and right can prosper without the need for any great effort, because everything in this environment lends them support. Wrong and evil can only grow with difficulty because of the all-round resistance.