Thursday, December 27, 2007

On the Duties of Brotherhood

My heart is open to all forms
it is a pasturage for gazelles
and a monastery for Christian monks
a temple for idols
and the kaabah of the pilgrims
the tables of the Torah
and the book of the Koran
mine is the religion of love
wherever his caravans turn
the religion of love shall be my religion
and my faith

- A passage from Tarjuman al-Ashwaq by Abu Bakr Muhyiddin ibn Arabi (1165-1240)

A good friend sent this via sms a few days ago. I'm reproducing this because it speaks volume for the openness with which the quote represents. I'm quite sure that in our society, much of what is contained in the verses can be put to use, if not already practised in varying degrees.

As we strive towards trying to fulfill our lives, we, or a good many of us, tend to compromise some of our values along the way. The quest for material wealth, position, fame and power can sometimes be overpowering. Often, it is at the expense of friendship and brotherhood, honour nd dignity.

The narrow-minded among us would probably take on a fanatical perspective, clouding their hearts and minds with self-righteousness and a false sense of magnanimity. How easy for us to fall prey of our selfishness and greed.

That text message set me on a small search through some reference material collected over the years. I came across Al-Ghazali - on the duties of Brotherhood in which he said: "Know that the contract of brotherhood is a bond between two persons, like the contract of marriage between two spouses.

"For just as marriage gives rise to certain duties which must be fulfilled when it is entered into, so does the contract of brotherhood confer 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 considerateness."

Al-Ghazali was born in Tus in what is now Iran in 1058AD. The records show that he studied law and theology and had also taught at Baghdad University. It is also said that his work became an invaluable stimulus to western thinkers and had a strong influence on the rebirth of Western civilisation in the Middle Ages.

Al-Ghazali listed eight items or rules as key elements governing the duties of brotherhood: material assistance, personal aid, holding one's tongue, speaking out, forgiveness, prayer, loyalty and sincerity and informality.

I suppose it may not be altogether possible to subscribe to all of Al-Ghazali's principles. He has elaborated on each of them, and many of us may be guilty of selective adherance. For instance, in his first rule, he said this entails a common participation in good fortune and bad, a partnership in the future as in the present moment, an abandonment of possessiveness and selfishness. Even here, Al Ghazali spells out the various stages in trying to fulfill the first duty.

The second duty appears easier to follow: "..render personal aid in the satisfaction of needs, attending to them without waiting to be asked, and giving them priority over private needs." In dispensing such personal aid, one should do so with "joy and cheerfulness, showing pleasure and gratitude."

The third duty concerns the tongue, which should sometimes be silent and at other times speak out. I think most of us may find this easier said than done.

It is the same for the fourth duty, which also concerns the tongue, which he specifically said is to be used for speaking out. Here, Al Ghazali cautioned against silence, saying: "..anyone satisfied with silence alone might as well seek the fellowship of the people of the tombs."

Some may say that the fifth duty is quite straight-forward where he says one must forgive mistakes and failings. Al-Ghazali devoted a long chapter to this duty and quoted: "..you cannot run with a brother and fail to catch him in some disarray. What man is immaculate?"

In the sixth duty, Al Ghazali said: "..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. You should pray for him as you pray for yourself, making no distinction at all between you and him." This is the shortest chapter, suggesting that this is perhaps the easiest among the lot.

As for the seventh duty which deals with loyalty and sincerity, Al Ghazali says: "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."

In the last duty, Al-Ghazali merely said: "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."

Al-Ghazali's wisdom presented in the book was translated by a Muhtar Holland, who was born in Durham, England in 1935 and embraced Islam in 1969. He has been a lecturer in Arabic, Turkish and Near Eastern History at the University of Toronto and in Islamic Law at the University of London. I'm not sure of his present status but he was working with the Islamic Foundation in Leicester, England.

The lines above sums up my Selamat Hari Raya Haji and Christmas Greetings. Let us gather our thoughts and prepare for a new year in 2008. A friend suggested that we should plan and hope for the best, but to always prepare for the worst. Salams!

1 comment:

beingmacbeth said...

Expect the worse, but hope for the best.

Happy New Year Datuk!