First Topic: It emphasizes the importance of brotherhood and love among Muslims. It explains with a persuasive style how damaging rancor and enmity are from the point of view of both Islam and social, individual and spiritual life.
In the Name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate.
Verily the believers are brethren; so reconcile then your brothers.1 * Repel evil with what is better than it; then the one between whom and yourself enmity prevails will become like your friend and intimate.2 * Those who suppress their anger and forgive people-verily Allah loves those who do good.3
Dispute and discord among the believers, and partisanship, obstinacy and envy, leading to rancour and enmity among them, are repugnant and vile, are harmful and sinful, by the combined testimony of wisdom and the supreme humanity that is Islam, for personal, social, and spiritual life. They are in short, poison for the life of man. We will set forth six of the extremely numerous aspects of this truth.
They are sinful in the view of truth.
O unjust man nurturing rancour and enmity against a believer! Let us suppose that you were on a ship, or in a house, with nine innocent people and one criminal. If someone were to try to make the ship sink, or to set the house on fire, because of that criminal, you know how great a sinner he would be. You would cry out to the heavens against his sinfulness. Even if there were one innocent man and nine criminals aboard the ship, it would be against all rules of justice to sink it.
So too, if there are in the person of a believer, who may be compared to a dominical dwelling, a Divine ship, not nine, but as many as twenty innocent attributes such as belief, Islam, and neighbourliness; and if you then nurture rancour and enmity against him on account of one criminal attribute that harms and displeases you, attempting or desiring the sinking of his being, the burning of his house, then you too will be a criminal guilty of a great atrocity.
They are also sinful in the view of wisdom, for it is obvious that enmity and love are opposites, just like light and darkness; while maintaining their respective essences, they cannot be combined.
If love is truly found in a heart, by virtue of the predomination of the causes that produce it, then enmity in that heart can only be metaphorical, and takes on the form of compassion. The believer loves and should love his brother, and is pained by any evil he sees in him. He attempts to reform him not with harshness but gently. It is for this reason that the Hadith of the Prophet says, “No believer should be angered with another and cease speaking to him for more than three days.”4
If the causes that produce enmity predominate, and true enmity takes up its seat in a heart, then the love in that heart will become metaphorical, and take on the form of artifice and flattery.
O unjust man! See now what a great sin is rancour and enmity toward a brother believer! If you were to say that ordinary small stones are more valuable than the Ka‘ba and greater than Mount Uhud, it would be an ugly absurdity. So too, belief which has the value of the Ka‘ba, and Islam which has the splendour of Mount Uhud, as well as other Islamic attributes, demand love and concord; but if you prefer to belief and Islam certain shortcomings which arouse hostility, but in reality are like the small stones you too will be engaging in great injustice, foolishness, and sin!
The unity of belief necessitates also the unity of hearts, and the oneness of our creed demands the oneness of our society. You cannot deny that if you find yourself in the same regiment as someone, you will form a friendly attachment to him; a brotherly relation will come into being as a result of your both being submitted to the orders of a single commander. You will similarly experience a fraternal relation through living in the same town with someone. Now there are ties of unity, bonds of union, and relations of fraternity as numeous as the Divine Names that are shown and demonstrated to you by the light and consciousness of belief.
Your Creator, Owner, Object of Worship, and Provider is one and the same for both of you; thousands of things are and the same for you. Your Prophet, your religion, your qibla are one and the same; hundreds of things are one and the same for you. Then too your village is one, your state is one, your country is one; tens of things are one and the same for you. All of these things held in common dictate oneness and unity, union and concord, love and brotherhood, and indeed the cosmos and the planets are similarly interlinked by unseen chains. If, despite all this, you prefer things worthless and transient as a spider’s web that give rise to dispute and discord, to rancour and enmity, and engage in true enmity towards a believer, then you will understand -unless your heart is dead and your intelligence extinguished- how great is your disrespect for that bond of unity, your slight to that relation of love, your transgression against that tie of brotherhood!
In accordance with the meaning of the verse:
No bearer of burdens can bear the burden of another,5
which expresses pure justice, to nurture rancour and enmity towards a believer is like condemning all the innocent attributes found in him on account of one criminal attribute, and is hence an act of great injustice. If you go further and include in your enmity all the relatives of a believer on account of a single evil attribute of his, then, in accordance with the following verse in which the active participle is in the intensive form,
Verily man is much given to wrongdoing,6
you will have committed a still greater sin and transgression, against which truth, the Shari‘a and the wisdom of Islam combine to warn you. How then can you imagine yourself to be right, and say: “I am in the right”?
In the view of truth, the cause for enmity and all forms of evil is in itself evil and is dense like clay: it cannot infect or pass on to others. If someone learns from it and commits evil, that is another question. Good qualities that arouse love are luminous like love; it is part of their function to be transmitted and produce effects. It is for this reason that the proverb has come into being, “The friend of a friend is a friend,” and also that it is said, “Many eyes are beloved on account of one eye.”
So O unjust man! If such be the view of truth, you will understand now, if you have the capacity for seeing the truth, how great an offence it is to cherish enmity for the likeable and innocent brothers and relatives of a man you dislike.
It is a sin from the point of view of personal life. Listen to the following four Principles which are the base of this Fourth Aspect.
F i r s t P r i n c i p l e : When you know your way and opinions to be true, you have the right to say, “My way is right and the best.” But you do not have the right to say, “Only my way is right.” According to the sense of “The eye of contentment is too dim to perceive faults; it is the eye of anger that exhibits all vice;”7 your unjust view and distorted opinion cannot be the all-decisive judge and cannot condemn the belief of another as invalid.
S e c o n d P r i n c i p l e : It is your right that all that you say should be true, but not that you should say all that is true. For one of insincere intention may sometimes take unkindly to advice, and react against it unfavourably.
T h i r d P r i n c i p l e : If you wish to nourish enmity, then direct it against the enmity in your heart, and attempt to rid yourself of it. Be an enemy to your evil-commanding soul and its caprice and attempt to reform it, for it inflicts more harm on you than all else. Do not engage in enmity against other believers on account of that injurious soul. Again, if you wish to cherish enmity, there are unbelievers and atheists in great abundance; be hostile to them. In the same way that the attribute of love is fit to receive love as its response, so too enmity will receive enmity as its own fitting response. If you wish to defeat your enemy, then respond to his evil with good. For if you respond with evil, enmity will increase, and even though he will be outwardly defeated, he will nurture hatred in his heart, and hostility will persist. But if you respond to him with good, he will repent and become your friend. The meaning of the lines: If you treat the noble nobly, he will be yours, and if you treat the vile nobly, he will revolt,8 is that it is the mark of the believer to be noble, and he will become submitted to you by noble treatment. And even if someone is apparently ignoble, he is noble with respect to his belief. It often happens that if you tell an evil man, “You are good, you are good,” he will become good; and if you tell a good man, “You are bad, you are bad,” he will become bad. Hearken, therefore, to these sacred principles of the Qur’an, for happiness and safety are to be found in them:
If they pass by futility, they pass by it in honourable disdain.9 * If you forgive, pardon, and relent, verily Allah is All-Relenting, Merciful.10
F o u r t h P r i n c i p l e : Those who cherish rancour and enmity transgress against their own souls, their brother believer, and Divine mercy. For such a person condemns his soul to painful torment with his rancour and enmity. He imposes torment on his soul whenever his enemy receives some bounty, and pain from fear of him. If his enmity arises from envy, then it is the most severe form of torment. For envy in the first place consumes and destroys the envier, and its harm for the one envied is either slight or nonexistent.
The cure for envy: Let the envious reflect on the ultimate fate of those things that arouse his enmity. Then he will understand that the beauty, strength, rank, and wealth possessed by his rival are transient and temporary. Their benefit is slight, and the anxiety they cause is great. If it is a question of personal qualities that will gain him reward in the hereafter, they cannot be an object of envy. But if one does envy another on account of them, then he is either himself a hypocrite, wishing to destroy the goods of the hereafter while yet in this world, or he imagines the one whom he envies to be a hypocrite, thus being unjust towards him.
If he rejoices at the misfortunes he suffers and is grieved by the bounties he receives, it is as if he is offended by the kindness shown towards him by Divine Determining and Divine Mercy, as if he were criticizing and objecting to them. Whoever criticizes Divine Determining is striking his head against an anvil on which it will break, and whoever objects to Divine Mercy will himself be deprived of it.
How might justice and sound conscience accept that the response to something worth not even a day’s hostility should be a year’s rancour and hostility? You cannot condemn a brother believer for some evil you experience at his hand for the following reasons:
Firstly, Divine Determining has a certain share of responsibility. It is necessary to deduct that share from the total and respond to it with contentment and satisfaction.
Secondly, the share of the soul and Satan should also be deducted, and one should pity the man for having been overcome by his soul and await his repentance instead of becoming his enemy.
Thirdly, look at the defect in your own soul that you do not see or do not wish to see; deduct a share for that too. As for the small share which then remains, if you respond with forgiveness, pardon, and magnanimity, in such a way as to conquer your enemy swiftly and safely, then you will have escaped all sin and harm. But if, like some drunken and crazed person who buys up fragments of glass and ice as if they were diamonds, you respond to worthless, transient, temporary, and insignificant happenings of this world with violent enmity, permanent rancour, and perpetual hostility, as if you were going to remain in the world with your enemy for all eternity, it would be extreme transgression, sinfulness, drunkenness, and lunacy.
If then you love yourself, do not permit this harmful hostility and desire for revenge to enter your heart. If it has entered your heart, do not listen to what it says. Hear what truth-seeing Hafiz of Shiraz says: “The world is not a commodity worth arguing over.” It is worthless since it is transient and passing. If this is true of the world, then it is clear how worthless and insignficant are the petty affairs of the world! Hafiz also said: “The tranquillity of both worlds lies in the understanding of these two words: generosity towards friends, forbearance towards enemies.”
I f y o u s a y : “I have no choice, there is enmity within my disposition. I cannot overlook those who antagonize me.”
T h e A n s w e r : If evil character and bad disposition do not exhibit any trace, and you do not act with ill intention, there is no harm. If you have no choice in the matter, then you are unable to abandon your enmity. If you recognize your defect and understand that you are wrong to have that attribute, it will be a form of repentance and seeking of forgiveness for you, thus delivering you from its evil effects. In fact, we have written this Topic of the Letter in order to make possible such a seeking of forgiveness, to distinguish right from wrong, and to prevent enmity from being displayed as rightful.
A case worthy of notice: I once saw, as a result of biased partisanship, a pious scholar of religion going so far in his condemnation of another scholar with whose political opinions he disagreed as to imply that he was an unbeliever. He also praised with respect a dissembler who shared his own opinions. I was appalled at these evil results of political involvement. I said: “I take refuge with Allah from Satan and politics,” and from that time on withdrew from politics.
Obstinacy and partisanship are extremely harmful in social life.
I f i t i s s a i d : “There is a Hadith which says: ‘Difference among my people is an instance of Divine Mercy,’11 and difference requires partisanship.
The sickness of partisanship also delivers the oppressed common people from the oppressor elite, for if the elite of a town or village join together, they will destroy the oppressed common people. If there is partisanship, the oppressed may seek refuge with one of the parties and thus save himself.
It is also from the confrontation of opinions and the contradiction of views that truth becomes apparent in its full measure.”
T h e A n s w e r :
To the first part of the question, we say: The difference intended in the Hadith is a positive difference. That is, each party strives to promote and diffuse its own belief; it does not seek to tear down and destroy that of the other, but rather to improve and reform it. Negative difference is rejected by the Hadith, for it aims in partisan and hostile fashion at mutual destruction, and those who are at each other’s throats cannot act positively.
To the second part of the question, we say: If partisanship is in the name of truth, it can become a refuge for those seeking their rights. But as for the partisanship obtaining now, biased and self-centred, it can only be a refuge for the unjust and a point of support for them. For if a devil comes to a man engaged in biased partisanship, encourages him in his ideas and takes his side, that man will call down Allah’s blessings on the Devil. But if the opposing side is joined by a man of angelic nature, then he will -may Allah protect us!- go so far as to invoke curses upon him.
To the third part of the question, we say: If the confrontation of views takes place in the name of justice and for the sake of truth, then the difference concerns only means; there is unity with respect to aim and basic purpose. Such a difference makes manifest every aspect of the truth and serves justice and truth. But what emerges from a confrontation of views that is partisan and biased, and takes place for the sake of a tyrannical, evil-commanding soul, that is based on egotism and fame-seeking -what emerges from this is not the ‘flash of truth,’ but the fire of dissension. Unity of aim is necessary, but opposing views of this kind can never find a point of convergence anywhere on earth. Since they do not differ for the sake of the truth, they multiply ad infinitum, and give rise to divergences that can never be reconciled.
I n S h o r t : If one does not make of the exalted rules, “Love for the sake of Allah, dislike for the sake of Allah, judgement for the sake of Allah”12 the guiding principles of one’s conduct, dispute and discord will result. If one does not say, “dislike for the sake of Allah, judgement for the sake of Allah” and take due account of those principles, one’s attempts to do justice will result in injustice.
An event with an important lesson: Imam ‘Ali (May Allah be pleased with him) once threw an unbeliever to the ground. As he drew his sword to kill him, the unbeliever spat in his face. He released him without killing him. The unbeliever said: “Why did you not kill me?” He replied: “I was going to kill you for the sake of Allah. But when you spat at me, I became angered and the purity of my intention was clouded by the inclinations of my soul. It is for this reason that I did not kill you.” The unbeliever replied: “If your religion is so pure and disinterested, it must be the truth.”
An occurrence worthy of note: When once a judge showed signs of anger while cutting off the hand of a thief, the just ruler who chanced to observe him dismissed him from his post. For if he had cut the hand in the name of the Shari‘a, his soul would have felt pity for the victim; he would have cut it off in a manner devoid of both anger and mercy. Since the inclinations of his soul had had some share in his deed, he did not perform the act with justice.
A regrettable social condition and an awesome disease affecting the life of society, fit to be wept over by the heart of Islam: to forget and abandon internal enmities when foreign enemies appear and attack is a demand of social welfare recognized and enacted even by the most primitive peoples. What then ails those who claim to be serving the Islamic community that at a time when numberless enemies are taking up positions to attack, one after the other, they fail to forget their petty enmities, and instead prepare the ground for the enemies’ attacks? It is disgraceful savagery, and treason committed against the social life of Islam.
A story to be pondered over: There were two groups of the Hasanan, a tribe of nomads, hostile to each other. Although more than maybe fifty people had been killed on each side, when another tribe such as the Sibgan or Haydaran came out against them, those two hostile groups would forget their enmity and fight together, shoulder to shoulder, until the opposing tribe had been repelled, without ever once recalling their internal dissensions.
O Believers! Do you know how many tribes of enemies have taken up position to attack the tribe of the people of belief? There are more than a hundred of them, like a series of concentric circles. The believers are obliged to take up defensive positions, each supporting the other and giving him a helping hand. Is it then at all fitting for the people of belief that with their biased partisanship and hostile rancour they should facilitate the attack of the enemy and fling open the doors for him to penetrate the fold of Islam? There are maybe seventy circles of enemies, including the misguided, the atheist, and the unbeliever, each of them as harmful to you as all the terrors and afflictions of this world, and each of them regarding you with greed, anger and hatred. Your firm weapon, shield and citadel against all of them is none other than the brotherhood of Islam. So realize just how contrary to conscience and to the interests of Islam it is to shake the citadel of Islam on account of petty hostilities and other pretexts! Know this, and come to your senses!
According to a noble Hadith of the Prophet (PBUH), noxious and awesome persons like Sufyan and the Dajjal will come to rule over the godless at the end of time, and exploiting the greed, discord and hatred amongst the Muslims and mankind, they will need only a small force to reduce humanity to anarchy and the vast world of Islam to slavery.
O people of faith! If you do not wish to enter a humiliating condition of slavery, come to your senses and enter and take refuge in the citadel of:
Indeed the believers are brothers,13
to defend yourselves against those oppressors who would exploit your differences! Otherwise you will be able neither to protect your lives nor to defend your rights. It is evident that if two champions are wrestling with each other, even a child can beat them. If two mountains are balanced in the scales, even a small stone can disturb their equilibrium and cause one to rise and the other to fall. So O people of belief! Your strength is reduced to nothing as a result of your passions and biased partisanships, and you can be defeated by the slightest forces. If you have any interest in your social solidarity, then make of the exalted principle of “The believers are together like a well-founded building, one part of which supports the other”14 your guiding principle in life! Then you will be delivered from humiliation in this world and wretchedness in the hereafter.
Spiritual life and correctness of worship will suffer as a result of enmity and rancour, since the purity of intention that is the means of salvation will be damaged. For a biased person will desire superiority over his enemy in the good deeds that he performs and will be unable to act purely for the sake of Allah. He will also prefer, in his judgement and dealings, the one who takes his side; he will be unable to be just. Thus the purity of intention and the justice that are the bases of all good acts and deeds will be lost on account of enmity and hostility.
The Sixth Aspect is extremely complex, but we will cut it short here since this is not the place to enlarge on it.
1. Qur’an, 49:10.
2. Qur’an, 41:34.
3. Qur’an, 3:134.
NOTE: The present translation of the Twenty-Second Letter was carried out by Hamid Algar, Prof. of Near Eastern Studies in Univ. of California, Berkeley, U.S.A., and first published in 1976. It has been slightly amended to fit the present work.
4. Bukhari, Adab 57, 62; Isti’dhan 9; Muslim, Birr 23, 25, 26; Abu Da’ud, Adab 47; Tirmidhi, Birr 21, 24; Ibn Maja, Muqaddima 7; Musnad i, 176, 183; iii, 110, 165, 199, 209, 225; iv, 20, 327, 328; v, 416, 421, 422.
5. Qur’an, 6:164.
6. Qur’an, 14:34.
7. ‘Ali Mawardi, Adab al-Dunya wa’l-Din 10; Diwan al-Shafi’i 91.
8. Mutanabi. See, al-‘Urf al-Tayyib fi Sharh Diwan al-Tayyib 387.
9. Qur’an, 25:72.
10. Qur’an, 64:14.
11. al-‘Ajlu\ni, Kashf al-Khafa’ i, 64; al-Manawi, Fayd al-Qadir i, 210-12.
12. Bukhari, Iman 1; Abu Da’ud, Sunna 2; Musnad v, 146.
13. Qur’an, 49:10.
14. Bukhari, Salat 88; Adab 36; Mazalim 5; Muslim, Birr 65; Tirmidhi, Birr 18; Nasa’i, Zakat 67; Musnad vi, 104, 405, 409.