The Qur’an on Community, Friendship, and Forgiveness
The Qur’an, despite being a religious text, holds the basis for many laws within Islamic states. In fact, the very nature of law and justice seems deeply intrenched in the moral code put forth by the Qur’an. The 5 pillars of Islam actively engage in this communal setting. Here, the Qur’an builds upon the society with which it was created for, encouraging forgiveness and friendship within the scope of Justice. For while one may negotiate with God, matters between men are ultimately unnegotiable, and we’d do best to make friendship and peace a priority accordingly.[i]
The Five pillars of Islam are methods with which community is built around. Take Hajj, a communal gathering of approximately 2 million pilgrims.[ii] Professor Jafar Malhallati writes that Hajj exists partly in order to “promote friendly ties and gregariousness among community members”.[iii] Such a large communal gathering is paramount for properly experiencing Hajj, for one is able to blend into the whole, relinquishing the ego in turn for the pleasures of companionship. Hajj requires the individual to wear only the plainest white cloths, devoid of buttons and jewelry. “No one,” Gai Eaton writes, “can tell whether he is a king or servant”.[iv] Such a notion is meant to equalize all men during the pilgrimage. One can think of this as an act of justice—for to wear only the plainest clothes one is equalized as they are before God. Only through Hajj can man see one another in this totally equalized, balanced state. Such a metaphor is especially fitting considering one of the goals of Hajj is to prepare and rehearse for the day of judgement.[v] On the day of judgement, all are given their share of justice in front of God, and so Hajj serves as a reminder to men. The Qur’an further supports this notion by highlighting the inherent end to all human life: “Once having known, he comes to know nothing”.[vi] If all humans return to dust (before the day of judgement) then the reminder of death, too, acts as an equalizing force. It’s as if to say, ‘we’re all going to die anyway, so what is the point of all this war?’ It would be more fruitful to forgive one-another than hang onto the burdens, to make peace instead of war. In this way, Hajj is a great reminder to make peace and friendship, similarly, justice is implied through the equalizing tasks and garments sent forth for all pilgrims to follow. And of course, Hajj exists for Muslims of all races, suggesting the necessity of justice between cultures as Muslims across the world enact the pilgrimage together.
The Pillars of Salah and Zakat are especially apt in ascribing a sense of community and friendship. Rahman notes, “the bond of the community is strewn over all the pagers of the Qur’an, especially in the Madinan suras…. They give priority to needy Muslims over themselves”.[vii] To help the needy is one of the fundamental teachings within Qur’anic text, and Zakat, or almsgiving, is a purely community-based venture. While not specifically rooted in friendship, the act of supporting one-another through charity is best appreciated through the concepts of friendship and love. While one can give silently and still fulfill Zakat, it is those with the intentions to help others that are truly upheld by God. For what is as fulfilling to the creator as man acting in God’s image? “Merciful to all, Compassionate to each!” begins each sura of the Qur’an.[viii] Zakat out of requirement rather than compassion is to miss the very lesson God was teaching. It is the motives underlying friendship which support such statements. Similarly, Salah is most powerful in group prayer, where God multiplies one’s prayer by the amount of Muslims present.[ix] This is the Qur’an supporting friendship as the goalposts, to spend time with others will greatly increase one’s favor for God. And to give charity or pray in groups, one must be intimately acquainted with forgiveness. To pray in the company of someone you haven’t forgiven would surely be seen as disingenuous to God. To give charity to those one hasn’t forgiven would too parallel this notion. These rituals are built to ensure community, and in doing so one must potentially confront those who they have quarreled with. To please God, forgiveness of one-another is greatly encouraged, just as God is all forgiving, so to should man strive, especially within these rituals, to come together, make peace, and establish friendship.
“In order to earn divine forgiveness, humans must act responsibly to one another,” Abdulaziz Sachedina sums up the Qur’anic verses.[x] In communities where forgiveness and friendship fail, the Qur’an seems to suggest a collapse—the inevitable demise of communities by God’s divine justice. For what makes a city fall apart but the lack of community, of friendship, forgiveness, and shared wealth? “How many a town We destroyed for its wrongdoings!” The Qur’an states emphatically. “It is not their eyes that are blind; rather, the hearts in their breasts”.[xi] God brings justice to those who’s hearts have gone blind. This can be read as those who have lost the love for one another. Love is predicated on friendship and forgiveness, here the two words are deeply interconnected—a friend may be understood as one who freely forgives. While justice is seen as a punishment, it works conversely in a healthy society. Where the heart is not lead astray, one may expect their town to flourish, only in corruption from love will God destroy one’s city. A realization of this in law is The Qur’anic view on peace, where even polytheists are to be fulfilled with their compacts, peace treaties included.[xii] To follow polytheism is among the greatest sins in the Qur’an, yet God still heralds peace over unjust war. To fight without sufficient cause is among the most unjust, unrighteous acts a society can commit. Of course, one may say that absolute peace should be directly stated within the Qur’an, but incremental social reform seems to characterize the Qur’an, for society could not be expected to make such a leap in morality overnight.[xiii]
All laws are rooted in morality, and the morality set forth in the Qur’an is clear: friendship and forgiveness are deeply important to God. Justice too, seems for now to be an important venture, but one could imagine a utopian future where justice is not necessary, where laws are predicated on friendship and forgiveness, and so individuals would not need justice to keep balance in their society. It would already be within themselves—there would be no reason to be unjust. Until then, as suggested incrementally by the Qur’an, forgiveness and friendship should be something to strive for, with the implementation of peace and justice a necessity.
I have adhered to the Honor code on this assignment: Sam Agnoli
Khālidī, Ṭarīf Al-. The Qur’an. New York: Viking, 2008.
Eaton, Gai. Pilgrimage. New York: Society for the Study of Myth and Tradition, 1984.
Malhatti, M. Jafar. Beyond Cold Peace: A Theory for Applied Friendship in Society and Politics. Unpublished, 2018.
Malhatti, M. Jafar. Powerpoint Week 3B, and 4 A. 2018.
Rahman, Fazlur. Major themes of the Qur-an. Minneapolis, MN: Bibliotheca Islamica, 1999.
Sachedina, Abdulaziz Abdulhussein. The Islamic Roots of Democratic Pluralism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.
[i] Powerpoint, Week 10 A.
[ii] Powerpoint, Week 10 A.
[iii] Jafar Malhalatti, Beyond Cold Peace: A Theory for Applied Friendship in Society and Politics. Unpublished, 2018. Page 5.
[iv] Gai Eaton, Pilgrimage (New York: Society for the Study of Myth and Tradition, 1984). Page 13
[v] Powerpoint, Week 10 A.
[vi] The Qur’an Sura 22:4.
[vii] Fazlur Rahman, Major themes of the Qur-an. (Minneapolis, MN: Bibliotheca Islamica, 1999). Page 28.
[viii] The Qur’an.
[ix] The Qur’an, Sura 6:160.
[x] Abdulaziz Abdulhussein Sachedina, The Islamic Roots of Democratic Pluralism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007). Page 106.
[xi] The Qur’an, Sura 22:45-46.
[xii] The Qur’an, Sura 9:4.
[xiii] Powerpoint, Week 9 B.