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Duties of brotherhood in Islam

[Summarized from the book of Ihya' `Ulum Ad-Din, written by Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali, (1058 - 1111 C.E.)]

The good relationship between people is a result of good manners that cause people to like and love each other and unite with each other. On the other hand, bad relationships and disunity are caused by bad manners. Good manners are very important in Islam.

Allah (s.w.t.) said about His Prophet (s.a.w.): And you have great manners [Al-Qur'an: Al-Qalam (68:4)].

Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) also said: I am sent to complete the good manners (Ahmad and Al-Muwatta').

Allah (s.w.t.) described the true believers as being brothers.

Allah (s.w.t.) said: The Believers are not else than brothers [Al-Qur'an: Al-Hujurat (49:10)].

Allah (s.w.t.) also said: And you became brothers because of His bounty [Al-Qur'an: Al `Imran (3:103)].

Muslims should be selective in choosing close brothers.

The Prophet (s.a.w.) said: The person is on his brother's faith; so, one should see whom he chooses as a brother. (At -Tirmizi).

The contract of brotherhood is a bond between you and your brother that confers upon your brother a certain right touching your property, your person, your tongue, and your heart - by way of forgiveness, prayer, sincerity, loyalty, relief, and consideration.

The first duty of brotherhood is material. The two brothers are of mutual assistance toward a single aim. This entails a common participation in good fortune and bad, a partnership in the future as in the present, and an abandonment of possessiveness and selfishness. In thus sharing one's property with one's brother there are three degrees.

Allah (s.w.t.) said: Or (from that) whereof you hold the keys, or (from the house) of a friend. No sin shall it be for you whether you eat together or apart. [Al-Qur'an: An-Noor (24:61)].

The lowest degree of sharing one's property with one's brother is when you place your brother on the same footing as your slave or your servant, attending to his needs from your surplus. That does not imply obliging him to ask. To oblige him to ask is the ultimate shortcoming in brotherly duty.

At the second degree, you place your brother on the same footing as yourself. Here, he is like a partner in your property.

At the highest degree, you prefer your brother to yourself and set his needs before your own. This is the final degree for those united in spiritual love.

The second duty of brotherhood is to render personal aid in the satisfaction of needs, attending to them without waiting to be asked, and giving them priority over your own personal needs.

Here too there are different degrees, as in the case of material support. The lowest degree consists in attending to the need when asked and when in plenty, though with joy and cheerfulness, showing pleasure and gratitude.

Allah (s.w.t.) said: (the believers are) merciful among themselves [Al-Qur'an: Al-Fath (48:29)].

The third duty of brotherhood concerns the tongue, which should sometimes be silent and at other times speak out. As for silence, the tongue should not mention a brother's faults in his absence or his presence. Rather should you feign ignorance. You should not contradict him when he talks, nor dispute nor argue with him. You should not pry and quiz him about his affairs. On seeing him in the street or about some business, you should not start a conversation about the object of your coming and going, nor ask him about his, for perhaps it will be troublesome to him to discuss it, or he may have to lie about it.

Allah (s.w.t.) said: O, you who believe! Avoid suspicion, for you, some suspicion is a crime. And spy not, neither backbite one another. Would one of you love to eat the flesh of his brother? You abhor that! And keep your duty (to Allah), for Allah is Merciful. [Al-Qur'an: Al-Hujurat (49:12)].

Anas said that Allah's Messenger (s.a.w.) never faced anyone with something displeasing to him, for the hurt comes immediately from the informant and only directly from the original speaker.

The fourth duty of brotherhood is to use the tongue for speaking out. Just as brotherhood calls for silence about unpleasant things, so it requires the utterance of favorable things. Indeed, this is more particularly a feature of brotherhood, because anyone satisfied with silence alone might as well seek the fellowship of the People of the Tombs.

You should use your tongue to express affection to your brother, provide him with your advice, thank him for what he does to you, communicate to him the praise of anyone who praises him, and more important, defend him and protect his honor in his absence.

The Prophet (s.a.w.) said: The Muslim is a brother to the Muslim. He does not do wrong to him, does not forsake him, and does not betray him. (Muslim).

The fifth duty of brotherhood is forgiveness of mistakes and failings. The failing of a friend must be one of two kinds - either in his religion, through the commission of an offense - or in his duty to you, through an omission in brotherhood. In the case of religion, where he commits an offense and persists in it, you must advise him kindly so as to supply his deficiency, put his affairs in order, and restore him to a correct and virtuous state.

The sixth duty of brotherhood is to pray for your brother, during his life and after his death that he may have all he might wish for himself, his family and his dependents. For in reality your prayer for him is a prayer for yourself.

The Prophet (s.a.w.) said: Whenever a Muslim prays for his brother in secret, the angels say: And to you the same!.

The seventh duty of brotherhood is loyalty and sincerity. The meaning of loyalty is steadfastness in love and maintaining it to the death with your brother, and after his death with his children and his fellows. For love is for the sake of the hereafter. So once a brother gets promoted to a high-ranking position, or after he becomes rich or famous, you must not depart from him.

It is related that the Prophet (s.a.w.), once gave a hearty welcome to an old woman who called upon him. When asked about it he said: She used to come to us in the days of Khadijah, and honoring true friendship is part of religion. (Al-Hakim).

The eighth duty of brotherhood is relief from discomfort and inconvenience. You should not discomfort your brother with things that are awkward for him. Rather should you ease his heart of its cares and needs, and spare him having to assume any of your burdens.

It is good to end this article with this Hadith:

The Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) said: A true muslim loves for his brother what he loves for himself (Al-Bukhari and Muslim).

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