Justice for Friend and Foe

“Do not let your hatred of people who would debar you from the Sacred Mosque lead you into aggression; but rather help one another in furthering righteousness and piety, and do not help one another in furthering evil and aggression. Have fear of God, for God is severe in retribution.) (Al-Ma’idah 5:2)

In this part of the verses, God calls on those who believe in Him to fulfill their contracts with Him and to rise to the level that enables them to assume the leadership of humankind that has been assigned to them. To fulfill this role, they must not allow themselves to be influenced by personal feelings, emotions, or temporary circumstances. God calls on them not to transgress even against those who debarred them from entering the Sacred Mosque when they sought to visit it in the year known as “the year of Al-Hudaibiyah” and earlier. The actions of those people left deep scars in the Muslims’ hearts, which were bound to arouse emotions of hatred. But all this notwithstanding, the actions of the Muslim community must not be guided by such feelings. Its duty fits its great role:


“Do not let your hatred of people who would debar you from the Sacred Mosque lead you into aggression; but rather help one another in furthering righteousness and piety, and do not help one another in furthering evil and aggression. Have fear of God, for God is severe in retribution.” (Al-Ma’idah 5:2)

This is the ultimate standard of self-control and compassion. But it is this very ultimate standard that must be attained by the community entrusted by its Lord with the task of being the guide of humanity. Here it is called upon to attain a sublime horizon. This is part of the responsibility of leadership. It means that believers must overlook what happens to them personally and what they may have to endure of harm caused by others, in order to give to humankind a great model of righteous behavior that can be achieved only by following Islam. In this way, they give a positive testimony for Islam that is certain to make it appealing to the rest of humankind.

The task outlined here is a great one, but as it is put in this surah, it does not represent a great burden that will weigh heavily on a person. There is a recognition that a human being may be angry and may harbor feelings of hatred. But Muslims are not entitled, as a result of fury or hatred, to transgress and be unjust to others. Moreover, cooperation within the ranks of the community of believers must further righteousness and piety, not evil or aggression. The believers are commanded to have fear of God and are reminded that His punishment may be very severe. Such a reminder, together with the commandment to fear God, helps the Muslim community to control its hatred and to rise above the desire to exact revenge, because it is a community always seeking God’s pleasure.

HOW ISLAM WORKS ?

How Islam works on people is best illustrated by the spectacular results it achieved in molding the Arabs so that this noble behavior became characteristic of them and, hence, they abided by its requirements. Prior to Islam, they were far removed from such lofty standards. Their unchallenged motto was: “Support your brother, whether he is the victim or the perpetrator of injustice.”

Tribal loyalty was of paramount importance. To cooperate in furthering evil and aggression was more natural to them than cooperation in furthering piety and righteousness. They forged alliances, but their purpose was more to support evil than to support right. Rare were the pacts made in pre-Islamic days that supported what was and is right. This was only natural in an environment where traditions, customs and morals were not derived from God’s constitution. Perhaps the best expression of this principle was the motto we have just quoted.

A pre-Islamic poet has also put it in a nutshell when he said, “I am only a man of the tribe of Ghuzayyah: I go with my tribe, whether it follows the right way or the wrong one.”
Then the Islamic constitution was revealed to establish new values and to remold people’s way of thinking. Thus, a new bond linking hearts to God was established. Values and morals were given a new divine standard. The Arabs, and humankind as a whole, were led out of blind fanaticism and the control of personal and tribal feelings in determining who is a friend and who is a foe. People were reborn in the Arabian Peninsula.

The new people derived their moral standards from God. This heralded the rebirth of people throughout the world. Prior to this, there was nothing in Arabia but blind loyalties that say, “Support your brother, whether he is the victim or the perpetrator of injustice.” The same blind loyalties were known throughout the world.

It is a great divide that separates a community governed by such blind loyalty and fanaticism, and a community governed by a constitution stating:
“Do not let your hatred of people who would debar you from the Sacred Mosque lead you into aggression; but rather help one another in furthering righteousness and piety, and do not help one another in furthering evil and aggression. Have fear of God, for God is severe in retribution.” (Al-Ma’idah 5:2)

That great divide was removed by the only force that could remove it, namely, Islam.

(Written by Sayed Qutb Shaheed (1906-1966), who was a prominent and influential Muslim intellectual and writer. He wrote many books about Islam and its distinctive features as a comprehensive way of life. Among his most important works is his exegesis of the Qur’an “In the Shade of the Qur’an”, which was widely welcomed among Muslims and established itself as one of the best references in Qur’an exegesis).

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