The sight is always amazing.
Pilgrims standing shoulder to shoulder, of all shades and races, dressed in simple white, stripped of all kinds of worldly barriers, be they of wealth, profession, geography, class, education or other.
This enduring image of Hajj has become a hallmark of this Ummah's unity in its diversity.
But as we head towards the journey of a lifetime or watch loved ones leave for it in these next few days, the challenge remains: how do we retain this culture of unity that marks Hajj?
How do we keep the bonds of Islamic brother/sisterhood intact to fulfill our goals as an Ummah, especially in North America, where our diversity is even more marked than in other parts of the world?
Here are ten practical ways you and your community can build unity:
1. Understand that Muslim unity is not an option
It's become cliché to say that Muslims have reduced Islam to rituals and forgotten other important tenets. While it is crucial to practice the five pillars of Islam, for instance, we cannot ignore other basic aspects of the faith that emphasize brother and sisterhood.
Muslim unity is a Fard (obligatory duty) according to the Quran and Traditions of the Prophet Mohamed (peace and blessings be upon him). Consider the following references below:
From the Quran (49:10): The Believers are but a single Brotherhood: So make peace and reconciliation between your two (contending) brothers; and fear God, that ye may receive Mercy.
Also from the Quran (3:103): And hold fast, all together, by the rope which God (stretches out for you), and be not divided among yourselves; and remember with gratitude God's favour on you; for ye were enemies and He joined your hearts in love, so that by His Grace, ye became brethren; and ye were on the brink of the pit of Fire, and He saved you from it. Thus doth God make His Signs clear to you: That ye may be guided.
From the Hadith:
In their love, kindness and compassion for each other, the believers are like a human body: when one part of it is hurt, the rests sympathizes with it in wakefulness and fever (Bukhari, Muslim).
2. Reflect on Hajj as a time for Muslim unity
Use this time on a personal basis, as well as within your family and community to remind Muslims of how the Hajj is a unifying factor for Muslims. Hold a family meeting about this topic. Organize a seminar at your mosque about how Hajj is a beautiful symbol of Muslim unity. Make sure your speakers are those who have performed Hajj and can attest to this fact. Also brainstorm practical ways the lessons of unity from Hajj can be implemented in your community throughout the year and come up with an action plan in your community.
While you're planning, make Dua for unity throughout this period (the first 10 days of Zul Hijjah, which is a blessed time).
Say the Masnoon Takbirat and add Talbiyah to it which is "Labbayk Allahumma Labbayk, Labbayk la sharika laka Labbayk, Innal hamda wanni'mata laka walmulk La sharika lak". The translation of the Talbiyah is: O my Lord, Here I am at Your service, Here I am. There is no partner with You. Here I am. Truly, the praise and the provisions are Yours, and so is the dominion and sovereignty. There is no partner with you."
Say it with your children and family and think about its meaning, remembering that you are at Allah's service and we cannot serve unless we are united.
3. Learn tolerance towards other points of view
Isn't it interesting that we can attend classes at college or speak with colleagues from work and discuss issues while being willing to disagree with them? But the minute some of us step into a mosque or Muslim community function, all that tolerance seems to go out the window.
Islam is very broad and wide, contrary to popular belief, and you can find a range of scholarly views on issues as diverse as how to place our hands during prayer to whether or not Muslims should participate in the American political process. If our scholars from the past and present have shown such tolerance towards differing views on various issues, who are we, the average Muslim, who do not have that level of knowledge, to express intolerance for another point of view?
To understand this point thoroughly read the book Islamic Awakening Between Rejection and Extremism by Dr. Yusuf Al-Qaradawi.
4. Learn to criticize without hurting
The way some Muslims criticize each other, you'd think they were talking to an Islam-basher instead of a fellow brother or sister. This type of ignorant behavior is a sure way to create anger, hurt and dissension. It is no route towards unity.
We must learn the Adab (etiquette) of criticism, whether it is towards individual Muslims or our leaders. Knowing and implementing this will not only help solve problems in a practical manner, but it will also lead to a greater sense of brother and sisterhood in the community.
If you feel that your criticism of someone in the past was rude or hurtful, please go back and apologize to them. Before you do that, pray for that brother or sister, since the Prophet has said that Dua increases love between people.
5. Avoid taking a strong position on smaller points
There is what's called a "Fiqh of priorities" and this essentially means that there are some aspects of Islam that are more important than others. For instance, it's more important to emphasize that Muslims establish prayer than whether or not there should be a curtain between men and women in mosques.
Knowing what our priorities are will help us avoid making secondary issues of the faith factors of division in our communities. Muslim leaders, especially, must not only understand this, but implement it in their communities across North America so that small differences do not kill Muslim unity.
6. Do not call anyone a Kafir
This horrible phenomena of calling fellow believers Kafirs must end if we want to create a climate that is conducive to unity. Kafir-calling is a sure way to isolate individuals from the Muslim community. We must remember that Muslims in North America come from all cultures and socio-economic backgrounds, whether they were born and raised in the faith or reverted to it. If a person is expressing ideas that are not in line with Islamic values, s/he must be gently corrected. Kafir-calling will only fuel their ignorance, anger and stubborness, not to mention humiliate and embarrass them.
The Prophet warned that if one person calls another Kafir and the person called that is not one, the individual who made the accusation is a Kafir, Given this warning, isn't it sad that there is an organization in Egypt which calls itself the Party of Declaring Others Kafirs (Jamat Takfeer wa Hijra)?
7. Reaching out across ethnic boundaries
The ignorant practice of maintaining "ethnic mosques" is, Alhamdu lillah, slowly but surely disappearing in North America. But there is still a long way to go. All of our institutions, functions and communities in general must become more ethnically diverse and open to the needs and concerns of Muslims of all backgrounds. Muslim leaders and individuals have a duty to ensure that no Muslim, regardless of their ethno-cultural background, feels shut out of the community, ignored or neglected.
This can only be done by Muslim leaders and individuals taking the first step and reaching out to Muslims who may have been traditionally isolated because of ethnicity in mosques and other institutions. It is not enough to just open the door to all. A direct effort has to be made to solicit feedback, advice and support from all Muslims so that they feel a part of the community.
Another, more personal way of reaching out is to invite Muslims of diverse backgrounds to your home for food. Extend this invitation to non-Muslims as well to break barriers and share Islam.
8. Heed the advice found in Surah Hujurat
This 49th chapter of the Quran provides excellent guidance on the kind of behavior that Muslims should avoid to establish Muslim unity. For instance, Allah, advises us to avoid mockery, defamation and suspicion. These are all things which serve to divide us and create hatred, hurt and dissension.
Discuss the themes of Surah Hujurat relating to Muslim behavior in family meetings, study circles and classes for young and old Muslims, Khutbas, talks, etc. in your community to share this Divine wisdom with all.
Whenever you recall that you have done Gheebah (backbitten someone) against a Muslim or non-Muslim, you should remember that you need to seek that person's forgiveness. Doing this is a prerequisite to washing off that sin.
9. Share these tips with a wider audience
Share the above-mentioned tips with fellow Muslims in your community. This can be by suggesting the Khateeb during Friday and Eid prayers use this article as a topic for his sermon. Or you can print this out and hand it out to worshippers or publish it in your local or mosque newsletter. It's also important to discuss it in various Muslim settings to start the thinking and reflecting process amongst Muslims.
10. Make Dua for unity
Ask your Imam to emphasize unity as an Islamic duty in his Khutbahs and suggest practical ways it can be achieved in your country or Islamic organizations.
Also, suggest to Muslims going for Hajj to make special Dua for Muslim unity. When the Hajis return from the pilgrimage, the Prophet has encouraged us to go forward to receive them and when we receive them, to request them for Dua as well.This is another opportunity to seek Duas for Muslim unity.
Finally, make sure that you as an individual are not only working for unity but making Dua for it as well, since results are all in Allah's Hands.
Photo Attribution: Jorge Royan http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:India_-_Delhi_wedding_-_5339.jpg