Care and the Community: The Ummah (Ethics 2.1)

Introduction:

samdesktopAs we sit here, we don’t have to worry about clean drinking water because we have bottled water and safe tap water, but millions around the world do not. Some people in less well-off countries get their water from a stream or lake that is shared with animals, they themselves have to bathe in it and wash their clothes and dishes in the same place. The water colour, taste and odour is often affected by the manner with which it is used. But the people quite often are poor and have no alternatives. It is in conditions such as this that people are likely to pick up diseases such as cholera (the main symptoms are watery diarrhoea and vomiting – the severity of the diarrhoea and vomiting can lead to rapid dehydration, and death in some cases) and dysentery (inflammation of the intestine causing diarrhoea with blood). These are carried in dirty water. So why should billions of people take the risk? Additionally, in many parts of the world where water is scarce, people are likely to struggle to grow enough food to provide for themselves and their families. As a result of diseases and lack of food, the “life expectancy” in those countries is much lower than in Britain.

Islamic Teachings On Caring And The Community:

The basic unit in Islam is the family – this makes up the local community, which in turn makes up the global community of Muslims (the Ummah). It is the responsibility of more wealthy members of the community to help the less well off. So if the family cannot survive, then the local community helps. If the local community cannot survive, then the global community must help. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) commanded Mu’ādh Ibn Jabal when he sent him to the people of Yemen: “Inform them that Allāh has obligated upon them the Zakāh (obligatory charity). To be taken from their wealthy and distributed amongst their poor.” (Hadīth) So this is the obligation of a community helping each other. The term “charity begins at home” is actually in line with Islam, because Muslims are commended to help those closest to them. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) once said: “The one who gives charity to a relative gets two rewards: one for giving charity and one for maintaining family ties.” (Hadīth) He also said: “He who eats and drinks while his brother goes hungry is not from us.

A brother in Islam is any Muslim anywhere in the world, they are like one family – this is what is referred to as the Ummah. So they take care of each other and maintain each other. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “The likeness of the believers in their love for each other, and their mercy for each other and their affection for each other is like one body – if one limb is afflicted with pain then the rest of the body is afflicted with sleeplessness and fever.” (Hadīth). This establishes a great feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood in faith. If Muslims are struggling in their faith, practice or life, they know they are not alone – they have others who will help them. Acts of worship such as Hajj, Fasting in Ramadan and Prayer are made easier by knowing that hundreds and millions of Muslims are in the same  situation. The concept of Ummah is reinforced in the Qur’an: “Let not the believers take for friends or helpers unbelievers rather than believers. If any do that, there will be for them no help from Allah…” (3:28)

This does not prevent Muslims from having association with the non-Muslims at all – in fact millions of Muslims have non-Muslim relatives they care about. Islam encourages good treatment of all members of society: Muslim and non-Muslim. However, Islam advises that in matters of faith and ethics, help and advice should come from their community of fellow Muslims (i.e. Ummah).

Questions:

  1. “He who eats and drinks while his brother goes hungry.” What does this mean?
  2. How does the feeling of Ummah and its existence help the Muslims?

NOTE:

I initially compiled these worksheets for my students at the Redstone Academy (aged between 13 and 16 years), Moseley Road, Birmingham, UK who are working towards their General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE). I felt that others who do not attend the school can also benefit from these topics since they are presented in simple bitesize chapters. I have relied upon GCSE text books and adapted them for my classes.

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