Asabiyah in Islam

Developing Just Leadership

Muhammad H. al-'Asi

Rajab 14, 1434 2013-05-24

Bismillah Ar-Rahmaan Ar-Raheem. Alhumdulillah. Peace and blessings on Muhammad (sallalahu alaihi wa alihi wa sallam), his Noble Companions and Family. Dear Committed brothers, dear committed sisters,

Remember the khutbah on Friday pertains to the real world. This is not a fairytale presentation, it is not some abstract ideas, it comes to you from the real world with the guidance of Allah and His Prophet. You and we know that sectarianism has gained murderous proportions in different areas of the world and much of this, (without going into the particular details of the specific countries or people)- there is a historical depth to all of this and we shall attempt to cling to some ayaat and to some ahadith that disclose to us the nature of this problem. We want to get to this problem at its roots. We don’t want to react to this issue superficially or in a shallow manner. We know that this call from Allah came to real people just like you and me- they have their thinking abilities, they have their feelings and emotions. So when this message came it declared the solidarity of individuals and peoples who were committed to Allah and His Prophet. The word Ummah which is a Qur’anic and a Prophetic word

إِنَّ هَٰذِهِ أُمَّتُكُمْ أُمَّةً وَاحِدَةً

And indeed this Ummah of yours is but one Ummah… (Surah Al Ambiya’ verse 92)

وَكَذَٰلِكَ جَعَلْنَاكُمْ أُمَّةً وَسَطًا لِّتَكُونُوا شُهَدَاءَ عَلَى النَّاسِ

And in such manner we have rendered you into a central Ummah so that you can become witnesses vis-a-vis other peoples… (Surah Al Baqarah verse 143)

OK- so here we have in our own Qur’anic reference the concept of unity. Now we’re going to walk you through this as carefully as we can.

When the Prophet of Allah presented this message of inclusiveness and unity, (this is elementary knowledge), the first individuals to accept Allah and His Prophet was Khadija (radi Allahu anha), his wife who was the very first one; that was followed by Ali (radi Allahu anhu) his cousin; he was followed by Zayd ibn Haarithah his mawla (or) the person who was living with him and the fourth was Abu Bakr (radi Allahu anhu). This nucleus could have become a body of special exclusive people in Islam, but you read your history books and you find out that wasn’t the case. They did not constitute a asabiyah. You see, you have to familiarise yourselves with this word. Asabiyah is the clannish coming together of individuals or societies not on the basis of an Ummah but on the basis of a particular preference or a particular superiority or a particular exclusivism that they attribute to themselves- that’s al asabiyah. Al asabiyah is erosive of an Ummah- please understand this. So if we take a look at those first individuals to cling by heart and by soul to Allah and His Prophet, they didn’t form an asabiyah.

There’s another aspect to this Islam of ourselves that gives itself to people forming their asabiyah and that is the Qur’an itself is revealed in the Arabic language. During the time of Allah’s Prophet the Qur’an was revealed in the Arabic language. During those twenty three years of Islamic hard word of an Islamic jihad on all levels we didn’t sense that there was this type of Arabian or Arabic or Arab asabiyah. It wasn’t there in the practical sense of the word. There are ayaat in the Qur’an that speak about

إِنَّا أَنزَلْنَاهُ قُرْآنًا عَرَبِيًّا لَّعَلَّكُمْ تَعْقِلُونَ

Verily We have made accessible or brought down to your attention and to your thinking zone an Arabic. Qur’an. (Surah Yusuf verse 2)

So the Ummah concept weathered in the tendencies within certain people because in this mix of people there were people who considered themselves non-Arabians, whether they were from Africa or from Persia or from whatever they may have been- Bilal, Suhaib, Salman (radi Allahu anhum). We never get the sense that they felt excluded because this Qur’an came to them and to the rest of humanity in its Arabic language. So there was not this functional asabiyah during this time. They all understood this ayah

وَمَا أَرْسَلْنَاكَ إِلَّا كَافَّةً لِّلنَّاسِ بَشِيرًا وَنَذِيرًا

… We have but sent you to all peoples- whatever their language whatever their peculiarities- bearing good news and bearing news of doom… (Surah Saba’ verse 28)

An ayah in the Qur’an

إِنَّمَا الْمُؤْمِنُونَ إِخْوَةٌ

But committed Muslims are brethren of each other… (Surah Al Hujurat verse 10)

The Prophet of Allah in one hadith gives a definition to asabiyah (i.e.) this erosive element that strikes at the foundations of Islamic equality and Islamic togetherness, he said in a hadith count asabiyah as a person’s assistance to his own people for purposes of injustices or oppression. As we said at the beginning, these people who are receiving these ayaat and listening to this Prophet had the feelings that you and I have (and that) you and I belong to- a certain type of people, that’s up to every individual to try and define his own self, i.e. who’s his crowd of people? So were they idealists to the extent that “oh no- they didn’t harbor these types of feelings?” Well, let us see.

In a hadith that the Prophet said on the day when Makkah was liberated he said oh people (or) oh folks of Quraysh, Allah has now, (with the liberation of Makkah), rid you of the pulse of jahiliyyah and its glorification of ancestry and forbearers. People are descendants of Adam and Adam is from soil… And see, here’s where the hadith and they ayah perfectly resonate with each other- remember, we spoke about being critical when you hear hadiths? Well we just heard a hadith and now listen to the ayah in which one is an echo of the other. The thirteenth ayah of Surah Al Hujurat that all of you are familiar with, needs no translation

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُم مِّن ذَكَرٍ وَأُنثَىٰ وَجَعَلْنَاكُمْ شُعُوبًا وَقَبَائِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوا ۚ إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِندَ اللَّهِ أَتْقَاكُمْ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلِيمٌ خَبِيرٌ

Oh people, We have created you from male and female and rendered you as (shu’uban) derivatives of each other and (Qaba’il) correspondence to each other so that you may mutually come to know one another; the most honorable of you as far as Allah is concerned is the one who is most conscious of Allah’s power presence/immediacy. (Surah Al Hujurat verse 13)

In khutbah al wada’, (remember these are people just like you and me, we have to keep repeating this many times because people sometimes may just want to skim the meaning but they don’t want to place that meaning in their ocean of emotion), the Prophet of Allah says another hadith (that) we think needs no translation (as) all of us are familiar with it- all of you are the descendants of Adam and Adam is made from dirt- soil and clay. There is no privilege of an Arab over a non-Arab nor for a non-Arab over an Arab; there is no privilege of a white over a black nor for a black over a white except if it be for a conscious guard against the wrath and anger of Allah and doing (or) the implementation of doing what is right, virtuous and correct. Another hadith, all people are equal- just like the way you look at the teeth of a comb they’re all cut equal, that’s how we all are. We all know this now and they knew it then. What we have among us though is this asabiyah. Did they have an asabiyah among them at that time? Before the Prophet (and) before the Qur’an the Arabian Peninsula was a peninsula known for its tribal asabiyah but now in this knew fresh start of life people in Arabia began to see (that) this person Muhammad seems like he’s on an equal par with Bilal- Bilal who was an African a black and other derogatory words that you are familiar with. Here we see in practice with our own eyes these two people look like they are the same. We can’t differentiate them via their behavior, via their interaction, via their camaraderie- we can’t differentiate them. This was true. Zayd ibn Haarithah, the mawla of the Prophet, the person who Khadijah sort of, (in a sense), bequeath him to the Prophet to be his helper, to be his maid, (whatever you want to say), called mawla; once again the Prophet- he’s a Prophet- equalizes himself with the rest.

Some other things were taking place. The issue of personal or tribal revenge was a major feature of the Arabian societies or communities. Here we have Islam moving in, in this twenty three year time period, and that aspect of revenge was gradually receding.

With this society of asabiyaat (or) clannish, tribal, family solidarities the Prophet of Allah was protected. This is a portion of the seerah history that, sort of, is overlooked. When Makkah turned against him, the Prophet of Allah was protected by the asabiyah of Bani Abdul Muttalib and Bani Hashim. Now he could have said “I need no protection of asabiyah.” Think brothers and sisters- this is what distinguishes us from the crowd over there- we are here to think. The ayaat and the hadiths that you just listened to are very clear, they don’t recognize asabiyah but here we have a particular asabiyah, the asabiyah of Bani Hashim protecting the Prophet himself; if is wasn’t for this protection all of the other asabiyaat in Makkah and in Al Hejaz would have finished the Prophet off without Allah’s protection. He’d be finished. All of this was like an introduction. So this is the first we encounter- why didn’t the Prophet himself say “I refuse this asabiyah of Bani Hashim. I don’t want you Bani Hashim, my relatives, my ancestors to protect me.” He didn’t say that. He, (in a sense), used that protection until it could no longer protect him. When they finally made up their minds we’re all going to come together and spill his blood among us all. At that point he left, but before that he didn’t say “I’m not going to accept this asabiyah protection.” It didn’t occur.

There are some who look at an asabiyah rivalry between Makkah and Yathrib and because there was this asabiyah rivalry the Prophet of Allah had a door open for him in that the people of Yathrib came to him and said we will offer you our protection. It’s like saying in today’s world we will offer you our citizenship. We’ll cross across all of the asabiyah lines and you’ll come and be part of us. What did he say? Did he say “no, I’m not going to accept that? I won’t.” In a sense, (it can be worded in other ways), he didn’t say I’m not going to take advantage of the historical rivalry between Makkah and Yathrib. He did.

Then, when we come to Al Madinah, there’s an established order in Al Madinah and the Prophet is the leader, the Imam, the ultimate decision maker in this new Madinah. We have something called Al Muhajirin and Al Ansar. Al Muhajirin are those who are forced out of Makkah and found refuge in Al Madinah and Al Ansar were those who bore the responsibilities and the burden of moving this Islam forwards. When the Prophet arrived in Yathrib, to become Al Madinah, he wrote the document of Al Madinah. Anyone who looks very closely at this document will find in it a recognition of the tribal structure in Al Madinah, in Al Hejaz and in Arabia. There’s nothing in this document that wrote off the asabiyaat in the Arabian Peninsula. Each chief of a particular clan or tribe was recognized. Even the Yahudi presence in Al Madinah was recognized. These are potential pockets of asabiyah. Do you think when the Prophet of Allah was transacting this agreement he didn’t know these were potential explosive concessions to these very well established historical (and) tribal set-up? Of course he knew that but what’s the other option? What do you do? You take it on by force and create an internal hemorrhage when there’s no need for it? It wasn’t done. So some of these tribes, according to the document of Al Madinah, bore certain responsibilities if one of them were to fall prisoner of war, they would have to share in a very way in releasing him from detention financially. The diyah was primarily upon the tribal construct that that particular person came from.

Then we have what is called al asharah al mubashirin bi al jannah, the ten individuals who were foretold of entry into paradise. All of them were from Makkah, none of them were from Al Madinah. Don’t you think this would be ammunition for asabiyah material here? Why wouldn’t the people of Al Madinah say “wait a minute- aren’t we all equal here? This type of good news only comes to a particular type of people?! Are we excluded?” What’s going on here? But this asabiyah wasn’t instigated, it wasn’t something that they made an issue out of.

Then we find in these developing years- all of this is developing, this is not the final product- that the Muhajirin and the Ansar, (i.e. the crème la crème of the society at that time), had relations with the small number of Mushrikin in Makkah. There were social relations there. There were relations with Yahud of Al Madinah and everyone knows who they are. There were relations with the Munafiqin.

وَمِنَ النَّاسِ مَن يَقُولُ آمَنَّا بِاللَّهِ وَبِالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ وَمَا هُم بِمُؤْمِنِينَ

There was a certain contingent of people in Al Madinah who say “we are committed to Allah” but in fact they are not. (Surah Al Baqarah verse 8)

We have to remind you that we’re not trying to speak to you some issues pertaining to history because these issues extend into today’s world. This is the material out of which Muslims turn against Muslims today because they don’t understand their own history! We don’t understand our own history. When the Prophet came to Yathrib and it became his Madinah, he brought together Al Muhajirin and Al Ansar in a fraternity which is called al mu’aakhaat. He brought them together. Why would anyone do something like this if there wasn’t this beneath the surface tendency to look at the Muslim who is not one of them as an other? The Prophet did not want that to happen so to pre-empt something like that from happening he said a certain Muhajir is a brother of a certain Ansari to try to exclude this asabiyah from bursting out.

Before the battle of Badr- we all know the Battle of Badr was the first major military encounter between the Muslims and the Mushriks- there were six or seven saraya or military expeditions. All of these saraya involved Al Muhajirin, none of them involved Al Ansar- they didn’t participate in any of them. In today’s world some people would immediately begin to think “this is a type of exclusion, the Prophet is excluding us.” The Prophet wasn’t excluding anyone. This has to be understood in context. The displaced people from Makkah i.e. Al Muhajirin were dispossessed. They had lands, they had possessions, they had wealth, they had assets in Makkah and when they were forced to leave they couldn’t claim their assets (and) what belonged to them so it became legitimate for them to try to claim what is theirs. So if there were some caravans or some commercial activity going out of or going into Makkah they would try to claim that to compensate for their losses. Al Ansar didn’t lose anything so therefore we can say they could be exempted from this; but even understanding these details there still will remain some people who will say “no, but the egalitarianism or the equality or the brotherhood of the Muslims forces me to partake in that.” We know that this type of subterranean thought may have existed but they never played out in a divisive way. This is very important to understand because later on (and) let us take you to only fifty and sixty years after that. Muslims began to present- that is not ancient history, this is that generation and the following generation- the differences that defined me or you, I or the other as one of conflict between Umar and Ali (radi Allahu anhuma). These types of details don’t factor in. Whether you’re a Sunni or a Shi’i, you don’t factor in these types of details which just proves that you are not aware of your historical self- that’s all that says. Prior to Badr, Al Ansar never participated in any military expedition or duty or responsibility. Then the Prophet, knowing human nature and knowing the social forces at work, in preparation for Badr, (this was the major encounter), said oh people- advise me. Let’s get the significant meaning here when it comes to a leader getting people involved in the decision making process, but let us go down to the specific issue and the specific issue up until then was that Al Ansar were not involved in any military assignment- none. So when he said oh people- advise me and what used to happen in those days- this is gone, this is something Muslims used to have (that) we have no more- when there is going to be (or) when there was a very significant decision to be made like a military decision or a political decision there used to be an adhaan from the Masjid; not the adhaan that we have today that is for as salah, there was another adhaan for let’s say the convening of the decision makers and they used to come and the Prophet would say oh people- advise me. So Al Ansar were there, they were present and they understood that he meant them. So there was this little back and forth between the Prophet and Sa’d ibn Muadh (radi Allahu anhu) and Sa’d tells the Prophet if you mean to solicit our opinion you know that we have committed ourselves to you, we have given our solemn pledge to you therefore proceed and decide what has to be done and we are with you all of the way. Now this is an obviously American type of wording of what took place there and then in a nutshell. We know what happened after that.Al Ansar went on and they participated in Badr and now Al Muhajirin and Ansar were together from now on until the Prophet passes away and all of the military responsibilities that comes there way. In one of the battles, the Battle of Hunayn, when the time came to distribute the spoils of war all of the distribution of the spoils of war went to Al Muhajirin, nothing went to Al Ansar. You would think something like this is a big issue. These people were giving their lives- some of them actually gave their lives- and they don’t get anything?! It’s at moments like this that people begin to feel discrimination, they begin to feel excluded, they begin to harbour a grudge, they develop all of these negative feelings- that didn’t happen. If we transpose whatever happened then into today’s world you can bet whatever you have that many people are going to stand up, run and be the first ones to complain, “this is not fair.” This is what they say, “this is not fair” and they’ll make out of that a divisive issue and then comes crumbling down what is supposed to be a consolidated Ummah. We know this from experience and we humbly say this; we spoke about how we have to scrutinise the hadiths and this is one of the hadiths that has to be scrutinised. We’re not saying that it’s totally false or that it’s totally correct. A statement in the sahih of Bukhari, what does it say? As the wealth of Hawazin who had lost the battle with the Muslims was being distributed after the clash some of the Ansar said may Allah forgive Rasulullah. He’s giving Quraysh- remember Quraysh has been at war with them all of these years and they just came over to becoming Muslims and we carried this burden with our tears, with our sweat and with our blood up until now- and now that this major battle is over he leaves us without anything and our swords are still dripping with the blood of the enemies. You would think, looking at these developments that there should be some type of political party coming out of Al Ansar. There was no political party that came out of Al Ansar. The Prophet of Allah knew this. He wasn’t absent from the way they felt and the way they interpreted these. He said to them something like you’ve now sensed inside of yourselves an inclination to some of the vestiges of the world. When you distribute this, what are we talking about? Let’s be practical here- the war is over, there’s a sword there, there’s a body armour here, there’s maybe some food there. We’re not talking about millions of dollars in today’s amounts, but whatever it was, it wasn’t a matter of how much it was. It was just a matter of “we are going to be equal with the others.” Of course, the Prophet considered them equal, and probably more equal, but he said to them and this is an Islamic concept, it’s in the Qur’an, there is something that has to be done to win over those who have just become Muslims; so give them something to encourage them to be with us- that’s all we’re doing. We are not excluding you, we are trying to win them over and with your altruism (and) with your selflessness we will be able to do that. Sorry brothers and sisters- we want to go on because there are some other demonstrations of al asabiyah; this asabiyah that never had its day when the Prophet was alive but then it comes back to haunt us. Al Ansar never had the asabiyah of Ansar and Al Muhajirin never had the asabiyah of Muhajirin. It appeared on certain occasions and these were the occasions we were getting to but it never materialised. Today we have Sunnis and we have Shi’is and each one of them have their asabiyah! If they could only mature enough and act like the Muhajirin and the Ansar! No one is saying you can’t be a Sunni or you can’t be a Shi’i or you can’t be a Muhajir or you can’t be an Ansari- no one is saying that. All that we are saying is be to your hearts content the full Shi’i and be the full Sunni that you want to be but don’t let that become divisive. It wasn’t divisive in the time of Allah’s Prophet and it shouldn’t be divisive today. This is another take on the meanings of

وَاعْتَصِمُوا بِحَبْلِ اللَّهِ جَمِيعًا وَلَا تَفَرَّقُوا

And hold firm to Allah's binding matter all of you- no exceptions- and be not divided…Surah Aal Imran verse 103)

Dear brothers and dear sisters, dear committed Muslims…

If we make the transition (and) if we just move our minds from this reference that we have, (i.e. Allah’s scripture and Allah’s Messenger), and if we move ourselves from the wealth of experience and the preponderance of lessons and evidence that come from there in to our present condition today; look at ourselves- does any one of us have the denial of self that these people who we are looking at through different books, through different channels, through different interpretations but at the end of the day they weren’t fighting each other. Can anyone of you go back to any reference that you have and tell us that Muslims were fighting themselves during the time of Allah’s Prophet? It didn’t exist! With all the latent feelings, (and we just touched on some of them and there are others which we didn’t have time to), but it never broke out that I am the best Muslim and whoever disagrees with me is condemned to hell like the attitude that is among us today. Some of us express it. Some Muslims actually say that and they attribute it to hadith of the Prophet- the hadith that we spoke about some weeks ago and said there’s no such hadith. This is a fabrication and we went in length explaining that. So some Muslims come and they say it. They quote the hadith and as if they are parading their ego, “I belong to al firqah an naaji’ah, I belong to the saved or the redeemed contingent of Muslims.” What is this?! That’s an ego speaking! The Prophet didn’t have an ego. Some of us don’t say it but we behave it and both of them are equally wrong and therefore you see what is happening. Take a look at what’s happening among us. What’s happening among us is that those who are not Muslims (and) who have nothing to do with us- actually they are our enemies- covered this territory and they thought about it. “Look at the Muslims- where is there a gap? Where is there tension? Where’s their misunderstanding?” And when they find these areas they light the match and we burn! And here we have (Masajid)- look at all these Masajid around- watch, observe (and) pay attention to these people who go into these Masajid. They are driven by tradition (and) by habit and they are satisfied with going to a Masjid that doesn’t speak to the most precious thing in them, (i.e.) their brains! They go in brainless and they come out brainless! This is hard to say because at the end of the day they are part of us however way you look at it. It’s a heart ache to look at who we are today, what we are doing to ourselves and what is being done to us. It pains a person to say the truth about this matter but we have to say it because innocent people are dying, innocent people have been killed and innocent people will continue to be exposed to wars. Have you ever looked at a baby? Have you ever taken a very close look at the eyes of a son or daughter who is still a toddler (or) that’s still an infant and what that person means to their father and mother? May Allah protect us, we hope that this type of tragedy doesn’t come our way- but there is a real world out there and families are being torn apart, some of them are being dislocated by life and death, some of them are dislocated by distances of thousands of miles, some of them are dislocated and they don’t know they are in this dislocation. This is real and it’s real because of our ignorance of our own selves. We hope that some of information on this day of taqwa has taken its range in your mind, first and foremost, and in your heart so that we can pull out of the tragedy that we are living.

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