Book Review: The Duties of Brotherhood in Islam

Duties of Brotherhood Ghazali

Title: The Duties of Brotherhood in Islam (Translated from the Ihya of Imam Ghazali)
Author: Imam Ghazali
Translator: Muhtar Holland
Publisher: The Islamic Foundation (UK), first published in 1975, reprinted in 1980, 1983, 1988, 1992, 1997, 2000 & 2002

This short book, yet weighty book, is 95 pages, translated by Muhtar Holland, who has translated other texts by Imam Ghazali. In the forward, one of the considerations that Muhtar Holland mentions he had before his conversion, was the Quranic ideal of brotherhood of believers ‘in the way of God’. He had been moved to tears by accounts of the fraternal acts of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) and his Companions (May Allah be please with them).

Imam Ghazali mentions 8 duties of brotherhood (and of course sisterhood), in which each duty comprises a chapter in this book. Namely, material assistance, personal aid, holding ones’ tongue, speaking out, forgiveness, prayer, loyalty and sincerity, and lastly, informality. Imam Ghazali, narrates hadith, stories from the companions, and then stories from the pious Muslims of earlier generations. I will attempt to highlight a few passages in each duty, perhaps providing good reason to read and reread the book in its entirety, InshaAllah.

Material Assistance:

On page 22, Imam Ghazali, mentions degrees of fulfillment of this duty:

The lowest degree is where you place your brother on the same footing as your slave or your servant, attending to his need from your surplus. Some need befalls him when you have more than you require to satisfy your own, so you give spontaneously, not 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. You are content to have him as a partner in your property and to treat him like yourself, to the point of letting him share it equally.

The third degree, the highest of all, you prefer your brother to yourself and set his need before your own. This is the degree of siddiq, and the final stage for those united in spiritual love.

On page 26, Imam Ghazali narrates an incident:

Tradition tells us that Masruq owed a heavy debt. His brother Khaythama was also in debt, so Masruq went and paid off Khaythama’s debt without his knowledge and Khaythama went and paid off Masruq’s debt without his knowledge.

Personal Aid

On page 31, Imam Ghazali mentions the practices of early Muslims:

A Muslim in the early days would see to the maintenance of his brother’s wife and children for forty years after the brother’s death, attending to their needs, visiting them daily, and providing for them from his wealth so that they missed only the father’s person; indeed they were treated as not even by their father in his lifetime. It was known for a man to go regularly to the door of his brother’s household and enquire – ‘Have you oil? Have you salt? Is there anything you need?’ – If anything was needed he would attend to it unbeknown to his brother.

Holding Ones’ Tongue

On page 37, Imam Ghazali mentions the mannerisms of not mentioning our brothers’ faults:

A noble believer always keeps present in himself the good qualities of his brother, so that his heart may be the source of honour, affection and respect. As for the hypocrite of low character, he is always noticing misdeeds and faults.

Ibn al-Mubarak said: The believer tries to find excuses for others, while a hypocrite looks out for mistakes.
Al-Fudayl said: Manliness is pardoning the slips of one’s brothers.

On page 39, Imam Ghazali writes:

Concealing faults, feigning ignorance of them and overlooking them – this is the mark of religious people.

Speaking Out

On pages 49-56, Imam Ghazali writes:

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: If one of you loves his brother, let him know it!

Furthermore, you should thank him for what he does on your behalf, indeed for his very intention even if he does not succeed completely. Ali ( May Allah be pleased with him) said: He who does not praise his brother for his good intention will not praise him for his good deed.

Al-Shafi said: To admonish your brother in private is to advise him and improve him. But to admonish him in public is to disgrace him and shame him.

Someone who draws your attention to a blameworthy action you are addicted to, or a blameworthy feature of your character, so that you can cleanse yourself of it, is like one who warns you of a snake or scorpion under your robe – he has shown concern lest you perish, and if you disapprove of that how great is your folly.

Forgiveness of Mistakes and Failings

On page 63, Imam Ghazali writes how a brother who has befallen into mistakes or failings should be treated:

I mean that brotherhood is a contract on the same footing as kinship; once it is contracted the duty is confirmed, and that which the contract entails must be fulfilled. Fulfillment includes not neglecting the days of his need and poverty – and poverty in religion is more acute than material poverty. He has been afflicted by calamity and harmed by adversity, in consequence of which he is impoverished in his religion. Therefore he must be watched and cared for, not neglected. No, he needs constant kindness to be helped to salvation from disaster which has befallen him. Brotherhood is provision for the vicissitudes and accidents of time, and this is the hardest of misfortunes. Further, if the man of bad morals enjoys the fellowship of the God-fearing, and observes his fear constancy, he will soon come back to righteousness and be ashamed to persist. Indeed a lazy man in fellowship with an industrious one will be shamed by him into industry.

On page 67, he mentions how we should find 70 excuses for our brothers:

It has been said that you should seek seventy excuses for your brother’s misdeed, and if your heart will accept none of them you should turn the blame upon yourself, saying to your heart: – How hard you are! Your brother pleads seventy excuses, yet you will not accept him. You are the one at fault, not your brother!

Prayer

On page 70, Imam Ghazali writes:

The sixth duty is to pray for your brother, during his life and after his death, that he may have all that he wished 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. For in reality your prayer for him is a prayer for yourself. The Prophet (Peace be upon him) said: – Whenever a man prays for his brother in secret, the angel says, ‘And to you the same’

Loyalty and Sincerity

On Page 72, Imam Ghazali writes:

Thus it is related that the Prophet (Peace be upon him) 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 Khadija (May Allah be pleased with her) and honouring true friendship is part of religion.

Informality

On page 78, Imam Ghazali writes:

The eighth duty is relief from discomfort and inconvenience. You should not discomfort your brother with things that are awkward for him. Rather you should ease his heart of its cares and needs, and spare him from having to assume any of your burdens. You should not ask him for help with money or influence. You should not discomfort him with having to be polite, to go into your situation and attend to your rights.

Someone said: He who demands of his brothers what they do not demand, wrongs them. He who demands of them the same as they demand, wearies them. He who makes no demands is their benefactor.

Dr. Umar Abdullah lectures on this topic, ‘The Importance of Brotherhood’, and can be found here.

I also noted this book is available at the iTunes bookstore.

May Allah give us the propensity to put this into practice, becoming better brothers and sisters to those around us. Ameen.

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