Monday, July 23, 2007

Can a Muslim treat a Non-Muslim like Brother?

I first came across the sentiment I want to talk about in a video of a lecture by Zaid Shakir or someone, in which a young person asks him, after his lecture, if he heard him right when he said that it is our duty, as Muslims, to be kind and just (I forget the exact words) in our dealings with people. The young man's question was whether it was a duty to deal well with Muslims or all of humanity.

And now there's a quite a discussion going on at the Muslim Bloggers Alliance blog (and a cross-post at the author's own blog) about a very similar issue.

The question, in this instance, is whether a hadith (a report of something The Prophet said or did) that says "No one truly believes until he wants for his brother what he wants for himself." applies only to fellow Muslims or to any human being.

While that hadith in itself, since it refers to a "brother", and is easily interpreted to mean a brother in faith, the question is important.

It is very exasperating for people like me to hear things like "we Muslims have far too long advocated an exclusivist philosophy".

Funny thing is, most young American Muslims often dismiss the way Islam was traditionally interpreted and practised (Hanafi, Shafi'i, Maliki, Hanbali, and the two Shi'a schools) as either "medieval" or "bid'a-ridden". I am not a scholar so I can't speak of whole schools, but I am a person brought up by traditional Hanafi parents (South Asians--who make up a good 30-50% of the Ummah) and who had my early education in government schools in (then traditionally Maliki) Northern Nigeria. And I have always understood "brother" in the hadith in question to mean "the next man". Man. Not Muslim.

And the curriculum in Northern Nigeria, my parents' upbringing--all of that was not put in place because "political considerations have come into play". It was what a *lot* of very traditional Muslims held to be their faith.

I know WHY he did it, but it is very vexing that my brother Naeem has to say things like "...this otherwise excellent posting..." and "Before somebody accuses me of reinterpreting this hadith for my own purposes, they should know that this is the understanding of the scholars from centuries back."

I say that in a lot of these matters, we only need look back half a century to what the conventional wisdom was in the Muslim world. And I am not defending the misogyny, illiteracy, and corruption that a lot of Muslim cultures were ridden with. I am an activist who grew up in Northern Nigeria and Pakistan and have worked in the field of human rights on the ground in Pakistan. I follow affairs in India very closely and have friends and relatives there.

But American and Western Muslim friends have often asked me in the last few years, as I got involved in organizations and efforts that carried the "progressive Muslim" label, "..but, but Islam is progressive in its nature; why do you need to say 'progressive Muslim'?" This kind of issue is exactly why.

I have often had to say to people: Islam told us to be nice to our neighbours. Not to our *Muslim neighbours*. The Prophet and Awliya and Ulema down the centuries have set an example of good conduct and actively looking out for the welfare of even their Jewish neighbours. A story is told of one aalim, of how he had a neighbour, who just happened to be Jewish, who would intentionally disturb him, especially during worship. Then, for a few days, the disturbance stopped. The aalim took it upon himself to find out and discovered that the man was ill or something--I forget the exact details--and took it upon himself to help. THAT was the Islam I was brought up in. And I am thirty-six. My upbringing was not changed because of events in 2001 or since. Today, do most of us even know the names of our non-Muslim next door neighbours?

Islam is by definition progressive and humanistic; but how we often understand it, especially how we have come to understand it in the last 2 or 3 decades, and how Muslims have come to practise it, is not at all humanistic, humane or compassionate. Looking out for your own tribe is not compassion. It is not Ihsan. It is parochialism. Being just only to members of your own tribe is not adl. It is discrimination.

Wa Allah Aalam, but in my very "naqis" opinion, one thing should be pretty obvious to anyone who reads the Qur'an--and most of the folks on that site seem much more formally educated in what we called "Islamic Religious Knowledge" in in the Nigerian educational system. Where the Qur'an wants to refer or address Muslims, it says "Ya Ayyuhal Momineen", or "Ya Ayyuhal Muslimeen". But in other places, it refers very clearly to "Rabbin Nas, Malikin Nas". Do go back and read the verses on compassion. For example:
Surah 60, Verse 8: 8. Allah forbids you not, with regard to those who fight you not for (your) Faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them: for Allah loveth those who are just.
Tell me He is not telling you that he will love you for being kind to non-Muslims--who are not belligerent towards you.

In my late 30s, and having lived under more than half a dozen military dictators, all forms of corruption in the Third World, and at the receiving end of the American Media, there is little that surprises me. But I have to admit that it amazes me no end that whether a Muslim should be kind and humane towards non-Muslims is even a question.

Wa Allahu Aalam, indeed!

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