We all belong to many communities. In our school and work communities we encounter others who have common goals, mission, and purpose. In our neighborhoods, a community is formed through the physical spaces we share and the encounters that take place within them, from parks, libraries, health clubs, coffee houses to sidewalks, places of worship and community centers. Our digital communities are made up of friends and colleagues who participate in our lives by commenting on our activities and ideas.
Each community provides nourishment in different ways. Our school community gives us knowledge and cultivates new friendships. Our work community gives us purpose and stimulation. Our neighborhood provides us with safety and comfort. In our online communities, we yearn for connection and value.
In Islam, the idea of community is also expressed in the notion of the ummah. To be part of the ummah is to be part of a global brotherhood that extends beyond our citizenship or our city of residence, beyond the color of our skin or the languages we speak, regardless of our political and social affiliations. What links us together in this ummah is not our physical attributes, but rather our convictions and beliefs.
The word ummah is derived from amma yaumma, which means ‘to intend’. According to experts, the word ummah is rooted from the Aramaic word ‘umma’tha’ which means tribe, nation, or community. It occurs 62 times in the Qur’an including 15 times as a plural (umam).
In certain verses of the Qur’an the term ummah is used to mean all of humanity. The Muslim ummah brings together nearly 1.8 billion people scattered throughout the world who share a common belief in Allah and His final Prophet (pbuh). At its heart, an ummah is a moral community, a sister- and brotherhood of individuals who are spiritually linked to one another because of their relationship to their Creator and through a religion which shapes the way they see and act within this world. Allah reminds us of these two intertwined ideas in the Holy Qur’an as under:
“O Humanity! Be dutiful to your Lord who created you from a single soul (Adam) and out of it created its mate [Hawwa (Eve)] and from them both He created many men and women…” (4:1).
Many of us who are familiar with this verse may not have questioned what it means to be “from a single soul”. If we are connected to each other in such an intimate and spiritual way, what then should be our relationship with and responsibility towards our fellow human beings?
At their heart, these words from our Creator remind us that we have a connection to everyone else – in places of worship, in our city, in our country and in our world. While we might have a special connection with members of our community because of common allegiance to God Almighty, we also have a responsibility towards those we share our planet with. Sometimes it is easy to forget that we all come from the same soul in the material world and we understand each person as separate from each other because our physical bodies are separate. And therefore, each of us experiences the world differently. But it is this very idea of community that brings us together again in a different way.
Sa’adi, the 13th century Persian Poet says:
Human beings are members of a whole,
In creation of one essence and soul.
If one member is afflicted with pain,
Other members uneasy will remain.
If you’ve no sympathy for human pain,The name of human you cannot retain!
When we see the world as it truly is, through the eyes of the spirit, we realize how truly connected each of our lives are. By treating others with kindness and respect, we are also respecting ourselves and honoring our common origin. Just as we have responsibilities towards our families, we should also feel a responsibility towards our common humanity. For this is also our community.
Since the inception of Islam, the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), and our Imams have emphasized the significance of unity and brotherhood as an expression of faith.
Indeed, the concept of brotherhood in Islam is seen through various examples from the life of Prophet Muhammad. One such example is when the Meccan believers were forced to migrate to Medina because of persecution by the Quraysh. Many arrived in Medina with few possessions, having left almost everything behind in Mecca. According to tradition, Prophet Muhammad asked each Medinan helper to adopt one Meccan emigrant as his brother. According to Ibn Is’haq, the Prophet took Imam Ali (a.s.) by the hand and said, “This is my brother.” Following this example, the Meccans and Medinans did the same; each clasped the hand of another and took him as his brother. The Helpers shared their wealth and property with the Emigrants to help them settle in Medina. Verses in the Qur’an mention both the Emigrants and the Helpers and praise them for their actions. In Surah At-Tawbah the Holy Qur’an says:
“God is pleased with the first Emigrants (Muhajirun) and Helpers (Ansaar), and those who followed them in good deeds, and they are well pleased with Him…” (9:100)
As we see in the example of the Prophet’s life, where the helpers (Ansaars) supported the emigrants (Muhajirun) and helped them where help was needed. They were most kind and generous towards these emigrants based on their needs. We too have people around us who may need proper direction, a helping hand, emotional support, or even a simple warm smile.
For example: When a new neighbor comes from out of town, how do we welcome them to feel part of our local community? How do we welcome and engage with our new neighbor to establish a relationship of support and comfort?
A reality of this is evident in the community centers and places of worship where new faces from different geographic and cultural backgrounds come together to learn about their faith and common interests. We are fortunate that our children have an opportunity to learn alongside emigrants from diverse backgrounds, which allows them to have a broader understanding and appreciation of the global human community.
While we learn about the concept of brotherhood, let us reflect on what ‘brotherhood’ truly means, and try to embody it in our daily lives with our fellow brothers and sisters, our neighbors, and communities in which we live. How do we support and care for each other? How do we ensure that others feel welcomed and accepted by us? How do we better understand the lives of others so we can better support their needs?
Let us sincerely reflect upon Qur’anic Verses (mentioned above) Surat an-Nisa: (4:1) and enlarge our efforts to strengthen relationships with each other within humanity at large, so that no one feels isolated, alone, or feels lost.