Question: As Bediüzzaman lists the drawbacks against Muslims’ progress in his famous Damascus Sermon, he refers to “not knowing the spiritual bonds that attach believers to one another” as an important reason. Could you elucidate “the spiritual bonds between believers”?
Answer: When Bediüzzaman gave the Damascus sermon, Muslims were going through the most disastrous period in our history. People turned out to be so inefficacious over the long years that they went rusty in the end; they were grimly atrophied in every way and Bediüzzaman sought the ways of revivifying them with all of their spiritual and material, or outward and inward, faculties. Instead of dispiriting people with mournful elegies, he strived to be a source of hope for lifeless willpowers at a time when people could not see any hope for the future and roared with statements such as: “Be hopeful; the highest and strongest voice in the changing world of the future will be the voice of Islam.” I suppose expressing certain facts about hope as a new dawn breaks is not unwise, but it cannot be considered a great merit either. Real merit is being able to utter the words to invigorate people in a period without the slightest sign of dawn.
Bonds of Brotherhood as Many as the Divine Names
Nearly a century ago, Bediüzzaman gave a sermon in the Umayyad Mosque of Damascus. There, he firstly diagnosed the “diseases” that impede progress of Muslims, and then he presented the prescriptions needed for reviving the Islamic world. One of the most important diseases he diagnosed was the ignorance of the luminous spiritual bonds that attach the faithful. Accordingly, the solution he proposed was revivifying the understanding of unity and concord through a spirit of consultation. Actually, he briefly referred to this issue in The Damascus Sermon and expounded on it later in some letters1 and in the treatises he wrote On Sincerity and On Brotherhood. For example, in the treatise “On Brotherhood,” after stating that there are bonds of unity, agreement, and brotherhood between Muslims as many as the number of the Divine Names, he cited some of these shared bonds, such as having faith in God and the Prophet, the qiblah (direction of the Prayer), and the lands in which they live. By stating that the number of such bonds can be cited up to ten, a hundred, or a thousand, he drew attention to the significance of the issue.
In one hadith, the most noble Messenger of God, peace and blessings be upon him, stated that faith has more than sixty or seventy branches.2 It is possible to take this number as a round figure indicating a multitude. Every one of those branches is an unbreakable bond that attaches Muslims together. In the same way, each one of the truths stated by the Qur’an is a very powerful bond between Muslims.
On the other hand, when believers are taken as a community, it will be seen that they have so much in common. They are children of the same fate, same lands, same culture, and same moral upbringing. Within these common points, they underwent the same oppression, suffering, and condemnation. Thus, Bediüzzaman underlined how great a wrongdoing it is to present attitude and behaviors to cause disunity, hypocrisy, grudge, and enmity among believers in spite of having so many common points that necessitate unity, concord, love, and brotherhood.
Being Righteous Enough to Give up One’s Personal Conception of “Right”
Maintaining these spiritual bonds between believers without any harm depends on every individual’s being able to give up their personal conceptions, preferences, and judgments when needed; it depends on living in spite of oneself for the sake of finding common ground. If we put this from the perspective of Bediüzzaman again, if it is possible to agree on “good,” there is no point in raising disagreement for the sake of “better.” In other words, if seeking the better option will raise disagreement among Muslims, they should stop there and suffice with what is good, without generating any means of contradiction. We know that receiving Divine guidance and assistance depends on having unity and concord. Accordingly, the apparent “good” agreed upon by Muslims is better than the best in actual reality. For this reason, avoiding to make trivial matters into factors of disagreement bear utmost importance in terms of keeping up the spirit of brotherhood. Individuals should be able to give up their own priorities by taking others’ feelings into consideration and not let secondary matters result in disagreement.
For example, it is so important to observe the Prayer (salah) in compliance with its truth. As Imam Muhammed Lütfi Effendi of Alvar put it: “The Prayer is the main pillar and luminous light of the religion; the Prayer makes that ship carry on; the Prayer is the master of all the acts of worship…” The truth of Prayer is disregarding one’s selfhood and feeling one’s standing before the Divine presence, as if experiencing a journey of ascent to the Lord (miraj). In accordance with the scope of one’s horizons of spiritual knowledge (irfan), one must clear his or her heart from all considerations other than God while making the intention to pray. They must become oblivious of everything else and then they must establish the Prayer in a state of rapture, as if they were witnessing different manifestations in a different dimension. Most of us are unlettered ones, however. Therefore, the Prayer of such ordinary people is usually formalist and superficial. But it should never be forgotten that if somebody observes the Prayer in compliance with its conditions and requirements, they are considered to have fulfilled their duty with respect to its outward dimension, even if they did in a formalist fashion. At this point, it is decidedly wrong to adopt an accusing language and manner if a certain person does not observe the Prayer with its true meaning and essence. What needs to be done is to accept what happens as it is, even if it is formalist and superficial, and not create disagreement for the sake of targeting the most ideal. Otherwise, one can commit different kinds of ugly acts unintentionally while seeking the better or the best. And this means causing the Divine favor, support, and help to cease.
The same considerations are true for zakah (the prescribed alms). For example, for the sake of encouraging people to giving for the sake of God, you may see a zakah of one fortieth proportion as “penny-pincher’s alms” and tell people to give one twentieth, tenth, or fifth. Although this can be allowed in terms of encouraging more, if this attitude is to give way to disputes, you should suffice with the objective judgments of religion. In fact, when somebody from outside who wished to learn the religion came to the Messenger of God, he told the man to observe the Prayers and fasting, and give the prescribed alms. When the man said he would neither do less nor more, the Messenger of God stated that the man would be saved if he were telling the truth.3 This case is an example of the point we made. In this respect, if you take subjective standards of seeking the best and see it as the threshold of deliverance for all, you then distance other people with lower standards from you and deprive them certain good acts they possibly would have done. Perhaps, you might evoke a feeling of jealousy and envy towards yourself. You can compare other acts of worship and duties with what has been mentioned.
In conclusion, encouraging people to target high horizons is a different issue; narrowing down the matter only to a certain level is a completely different issue. If you really try to keep up within a certain horizon in terms of your heart and spirituality, then you should try calling others to it. But taking points of agreement as basis and knowing where to stop is more important. In this respect, we should always seek means of unity and agreement, and make every kind of sacrifice to maintain this spirit.
1. Apart from his book The Letters, Bediüzzaman’s correspondence with his students was compiled into separate volumes named after the places Kastamonu, Emirdağ, and Barla, where he spent many years in persecution, exile and imprisonment.
2. Sahih Muslim, Iman, 57
3. Sahih al-Bukhari, Ilm, 6
This text is the translation of “Nuranî Kardeşlik Bağları“