Illustrations of Islamic Practice
Sayyid Mujtaba Musavi Lari
When we weigh the conduct of the pioneers of Islam against the behaviour and system of the socialist countries and of those of the “free” world, we see a difference as great as chalk from cheese. Islam is against all class distinction and renounces the conceptions of “boss” and “underling”. A report was brought to the Imam Ali that a banquet had been held in Basra in honour of the governor, Ali’s representative, Uthman bin Hunaif He was wrathful that his governor should allow himself to be drawn into a special relationship with Basra’s “nobility”, and be made the mark of particular distinctions by the powerful class. He therefore sent a stern letter to Uthman rebuking him, which letter is contained in the Nahj-ul-Balaghe.
After World War II all governments have had to occupy themselves with the clamour for freedom and equality. They produced the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” to enshrine those ideas. Practice has been slower than precept. Developed countries find it hard to admit that differences of colour and race are not criteria for excellence but that only character counts. Islam has recognised this fact from the start. The Prophet’s first Mu’azzen was an Ethiopian: and he gave his girl-cousin in marriage to Zaid bin Harethe, who was a slave.
One day the Prophet said to Juwaiber, a poor Negro of great piety. “How good it would be if you could take a wife to share your life with you and be a help in this world and the next!”
Juwaiber replied: “May my mother and father be your sacrifice! What woman would be ready to become my wife? I have no health or wealth, no books or looks.”
The Prophet replied: “Our God annulled any rights of one man to be owner of another as they were in the days of ignorance; and gave nobility to those who had been the underprivileged and downtrodden before the coming of Islam. Those who in the dark days of the night of ignorance were despised are shown in Islam to be precious to Him. Pride of place, face, race and grace ruled in the days of ignorance. Islam changed all that, and made everyone, white or black, Qureish, Arab or non-Arab, equal, as children of Adam, the man whom God made from dust. In God’s thoughts, most beloved is the most obedient and chaste. O Juwaiber, we know no person superior to you, save anyone, if such there be, whose chastity and obedience excel yours. Go at once to Zeeyad bin Lubeid, most noble of the Bani Biyahde, and say. “God’s Apostle sent me to you to ask your daughter’s hand in marriage’.”
Juwaiber went, and found Zeeyad sitting in his home with a group of his fellow-tribesmen. He asked for an interview saying: “I am come from the Prophet to confirm a principle, bearing a message. Should I pronounce it in private or in public?”
Zeeyad replied: “Why not right here? A message from the Prophet is an honour.”
“Very well”, said Juwaiber, .”His Eminence the Prophet sent me to bid you wed your daughter to me.”
Zeeyad responded: “We Ansaris (i.e. the Prophet’s helpers in his first days) only wed our daughters to our peers. Go! carry my excuses to His Blessedness.”
While Juwaiber was returning, Zeeyad repented, and sent a man who caught up with Juwaiber and brought him back. Zeeyad said with the greatest courtesy: “Please be seated and wait here until I return.” He then went off to see the Prophet, to whom he said: “ay my father and mother be thy sacrifice! Juwaiber came from thee with a message to me to which Iwished to bring the reply in person. It is this. We Ansaris only wed our daughters to our peers.”
Islam’s pioneer replied: “O Zeeyad! Juwaiber is a man of faith and is thus the peer of a woman of faith; for a Muslim man is the peer of a Muslim woman. Therefore wed thy daughter to him, and think it no disgrace to have him as thy son-in-law”
Zeeyad went home and told his daughter what had befallen. She said: “Dear papa! what has seemed good to the Prophet, and his command that you make Juwaiber your son-in-law, is beyond price!” Zeeyad left his daughter’s room, took Juwaiber’s hand and led him to stand in the midst of the men of the tribe where he acknowledged him as his son-in-law and gave him his daughter in marriage. He himself provided his daughter’s dowry and trousseau, and had a house made for them with all the furnishings and equipments required. It was thus that Zeeyad’s daughter became the mother of one of the greatest of the Qureish tribe, and the black-skinned Juwaiber father of the same, a man whose hands in this world were empty but who was rich towards God and who has earned eternal fame for the beauty of his soul.
It is told that once upon a time three Muslims of three different racial stocks, to wit Salman the Irani, Saheeb the Byzantine and Balal the Ethiopian. were sitting together when an Arab called Qais joined them. This Arab, observing the precious sight of three Muslims of pure hearts and humble souls, said: “Aus and Khazraj were Arabs who stood by the Prophet in service and sacrifice. What have these three aliens to say? Who asked them to be amongst the Prophet’s aides?” Qais’ words reached the Prophet’s ears. He rose and called his people to assemble in the mosque where he said to them in wrath : “God is one. Adam. common father of all, one. Your faith, one. Then Arabism, however proud you may be of it, comes neither from your father nor your mother-merely your tongue.” The Prophet strove to crush racialism and promulgated a decree making equality the law and condemning any contrary reaction.
One day a Muslim whose father was a Negro was received by the Prophet. One Abu-Zar Ghaffari, who was nourishing a long-standing
grudge against him, said to him in the Prophet’s presence: “O! son of a nigger!” Immediately the Prophet, hearing this objurgation, took him to task, saying: “Why is his mother’s black skin a reason for despising him?” Abu-Zar fell on his knees, kissed the Prophet’s feet and hands, repented in all humility and poured dust over his head until he received the Prophet’s absolution.
The institution of the Hajj, or annual pilgrimage to Mecca, incumbent on all Muslims everywhere at least once in a lifetime, has also been a profound influence for unification and equality above colour and class. In the words of the Lebanese professor Philip Hitti in his book on “The History of the Arabs”. “At the Ka’aba, to which the Lord of all men calls them to assembly, Ethiopian, Berber, Chinese, Irani, Indian, Syrian, and Arab, rich and poor, high and low, give each other the hand of brotherhood and together pronounce the double creed that, ‘there is no God but God: Muhammad is His Prophet.’ Thus for Islam the only distinction that
exists between people is that between belief and unbelief. And the Hajj has done the greatest service in making equality and brotherhood the rule of life for millions in every clime.”
It is sad to have to admit that slogans of class or race-ideologies have in recent years penetrated certain Islamic states, with the tragic result of producing similar racial and class divisions to those in less privileged lands. Our task is to restore the sound ideology of Islam and make it worldwide within one generation.