Tuesday, March 20th, 2018 marks the birth anniversary of Imam Ali al-Hadi (p), 2nd Rajab,…
The Many Realms of Servitude
The purpose of divine teachings is to guide humans towards accomplishing perfection by ascending to the highest ranks of servitude to God. Amongst the responsibilities of the believer is to recognize God and, in turn, their responsibilities to the Creator. This calls for an in-depth understanding of servitude and how it manifests in the various settings and stages of life. Upon “knowing God,” we most importantly understand servitude through the performance of rituals, such as the offering of daily prayers, fasting, attending pilgrimage, and other acts of personal worship. Yet, reaching the peak of servitude requires that we step beyond ourselves and consider our obligation towards others, such as the commitment to positive social behavior, and the building of a holistic community grounded in values. In this article we will highlight some of the social aspects of servitude to God and what Islam considers as a form of worship within this scope.
Servitude through Social Behavior
The Holy Prophet Mohammed (pbuh&hp) is reported to have said, “Looking at [the face of] a scholar is worship, looking at [the face of] a just leader (Imam) is worship, looking at one’s parents with kindness and mercy is worship, and looking at the face of a brother whom you love for the sake of Allah is worship.”1 These are some examples of positive social sentiments that reflect a person’s servitude to God Almighty and point to each believer’s broader responsibility for action. These social aspects of servitude are highly stressed in the teachings of Islam. As such, there are many reported traditions by the Prophet and his purified progeny (pbut) that stress the importance of embodying servitude through kindness towards others and striving to fulfill their needs. It is reported that the Commander of the Faithful Imam Ali (p) said, “A good supply [of deeds] for the hereafter is kindness towards people.”2 In addition, the Holy Prophet (pbuh&hp) is reported to have said, “Whoever seeks to fulfill the need of his believing brother, [will be rewarded] as if he worshipped God for nine-thousand years—fasting during the day and standing [for worship] during the night.”3 By observing these traditions, we see the universality of Islamic teachings as a way to benefit all humanity, not just one’s family or even other Muslims.
Preserving Social Morality
Another example of positive social behavior is fostering and spreading moral principles through al-amr bi al-maruf wa al-nahi al-munkar or enjoining everything that is good and forbidding everything that is evil. Almighty God says in the Holy Quran, “Let there be a group among you who will invite others to do good deeds, command them to obey the Law, and prohibit them from committing sins. These people will have eternal happiness.”4 This honorable practice, which constitutes a form of worship, does not entail any form of compulsion towards anyone. Rather it is a form of advice and positive feedback. In addition, there are a set of rulings that govern the practice of enjoining the good and forbidding the evil, which must be learned and understood beforehand.5 Communally, these practices create a wholesome environment that contributes to the collective spiritual development of any society.
Enjoining the Good and Forbidding the Evil
Not all people choose Islam as their religion and way of life; therefore, a Muslim must select the correct and most suitable approach when urging and supporting others to do good and admonishing against evil. For example, when approaching someone who adheres to a different set of beliefs or an alternative way of living, it would not be appropriate to prod them to adhere to practices specific to Islam, such as the five daily prayers. Rather one can remind others of the universal rules of morality such as telling the truth, respecting others, and showing fairness when deciding about issues. Accordingly, when dealing with a Muslim who does not practice Islam due to their ignorance of its rulings, a believer must inform them of the appropriate requirement prior to advising them to its adherence and implementation.
However, enjoining what is good and forbidding evil is not always well-received and can sometimes lead to social disharmony. This can be due to the starkly differing opinions that people hold and when confronted may lead to strife. Secular societies like the ones we live in are often comprised of numerous and varying thoughts, philosophies, and opinions. Therefore, one of Islam’s teachings, which reflects the importance it places on a peaceful and cooperative society, is to not only live in harmony with those people with whom you share beliefs, but also with those who have vastly different views than yours.
In an important and oft-quoted tradition, Imam Ali (p) has said, “They [People] are of two types: Either they are your brother in religion or your equal in humanity.”6 In addition, the desire to promote goodness and push back against evil does not justify any form of spying on others, for God says, “O you who have faith! Avoid much suspicion; indeed, some suspicions are sins. And do not spy on. . .one another.”7 Thus, a believer will never actively look for the faults of others, particularly for the purposes of belittling or denigrating someone. Moreover, Islam stresses the importance of giving people the benefit of the doubt when the appropriateness or morality behind what the other is doing is unclear or not known. Traditions tell us that Imam Ali (p) has said, “Assume the best [probable explanation] for your brother’s [obscure] matter.”8
Another important value that Islam asserts is observing confidentiality when bidding a person to do good or forbidding them from committing evil. Imam Hasan al-Askari (p) is reported to have said, “Whoever criticizes his brother [or sister] in private has adorned them, and who criticizes them in public has disgraced them”9 Again, the idea is to create a community that harnesses the potential of its members and uses their positivity as a prompt or catalyst to promote mutual proximity to the Creator.
In conclusion, we must not confine servitude towards God to spiritual acts of worship even though they constitute a central aspect of that state. Positive social behavior is another form of servitude that we should be mindful of on the path to personal spiritual perfection. This is the goal of truly manifesting an all-encompassing servitude to God. The intention to cultivate this sense of community, coupled with the knowledge and recognition of its social nuances is a crucial aspect in our development as both Muslims and servants of our Creator, as well as citizens who contribute positively to the society in which we live. More importantly, we still have a responsibility to engage respectfully with fellow members of society who do not accept our view and perspective.
1. Al-Tusi, Al-amali, p. 454.
2. Al-Amudi, Ghurar al-hikam, wisdom 9912
3. Al-Majlisi, Bihar al-anwar, vol. 71, p. 315.
4. Quran 3:104, Muhammad Sarwar translation.
5. Ayatullah Sistani, Islamic Laws, ch. 7. A copy of the book can be obtained at https://www.imam-us.org/book/islamic-laws/.
6. Al-Radi, Nahj al-Balagha, letter 53.
7. The Quran 49:12, Ali Quli Qarai translation.
8. Al-Kulayni, Al-kafi, vol. 2, p. 362.
9. Al-Harrani, Tuhaf al-uqul, p. 489.
١. روي عن النبي (ص): “لنَّظَرُ إلَى العالِمِ عِبادَةٌ، والنَّظَرُ إلَى الإمامِ المُقسِطِ عِبادَةٌ، وَالنَّظَرُ إلَى الوالِدَينِ بِرَأفَةٍ وَرحمَةٍ عِبادَةٌ، وَالنَّظَرُ إلى أخٍ تَوَدُّهُ في اللَّهِ عَزَّوجلَّ عِبادَةٌ”
٢. روي عن الإمام علي (ع): “نِعْمَ زادُ المَعادِ الإحْسانُ إلَى العِبادِ”
٣. روي عن النبي (ص): “من سعى في حاجة أخيه المؤمن فكأنما عبد الله تسعة آلاف سنة، صائما نهاره، قائما ليله”
٤. قال الله تعالى: ((وَلْتَكُن مِّنكُمْ أُمَّةٌ يَدْعُونَ إِلَى الْخَيْرِ وَيَأْمُرُونَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَيَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ الْمُنكَرِ ۚ وأولئك هُمُ الْمُفْلِحُونَ))
٦. روي عن الإمام علي (ع): “فَإِنَّهُمْ صِنْفَانِ: إِمَّا أَخٌ لَكَ فِي الدِّينِ، وَإمّا نَظِيرٌ لَكَ فِي الْخَلْقِ”
٧. قال الله تعالى: ((يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اجْتَنِبُوا كَثِيرًا مِّنَ الظَّنِّ إِنَّ بَعْضَ الظَّنِّ إِثْمٌ ۖ وَلَا تَجَسَّسُوا))
٨. روي عن الإمام علي (ع): “ضع أمر أخيك على أحسنه”
٩. روي عن الإمام العسكري (ع): “من وعظ أخاه سرا فقد زانه. ومن وعظه علانية فقد شانه”
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