In Islamic thought, “unity” has a high status as part of the universal mission of the Prophet of Islam and the Infallible Imams. Prophet Mohammad (blessings of God upon him and his progeny) was sent by God to gather all mankind on the platform of Towheed or monotheism. Those who accepted his mission were called Muslims, which means those who submit wholeheartedly to God Almighty’s Will and lead the healthy life of peace and moral virtues, committed to unity, fraternity and brotherhood in society, which is far removed from violence, terrorism, and sins.
Thus, a thorough research of the conduct and speech of the Prophet’s cousin, son-in-law and divinely-designated vicegerent, Imam Ali ibn Abi Taleb (PuH), who was the herald of unity, shows the status of solidarity and its various dimensions in true Islam.
Imam Ali (PuH) viewed unity as the fruit of the mission of the Prophet of Islam, among whose results is burying mutual rancour and developing brotherhood and affection among Muslims. He mentions that division leads to destruction of dignity and honour while unity leads to the descent of divine blessings. To establish unity, during his four-and-a-half year rule of the vast Islamic realm, he urged people toward unity in every context and asked the governors to refrain from carrying out any alteration and preserve good traditions in society in order to promote unity of Islamic society. He knew unity and establishing justice as developing each other and expected the government to fulfill them. He reinforced the judicial system, selected special people to judge and exercised intensive supervision over his executive officers.
In the viewpoint of Imam Ali (PuH), paying attention to people’s legitimate demands and true emotions were among material and social causes of creating unity among people. He considered the Prophet, the Righteous Leader, the Qur’an and the Law among the spiritual elements which facilitate unity, and in this regard, would emphasize the role of the Just Leader. He also regarded disbelief, deviation from truth, worldliness, lawbreaking and arrogance as some of the major elements which cause divisions. Prior to studying Islamic unity, we must have a clear definition of “religion” in general, as well as in terms of true root of Islamic community, for the whole Islamic community has a single religious identity.
Religion, which in its general meaning embraces all divine beliefs, is bound by a collection of ideological and moral teachings, as well as a set of laws and rules. However, religion in its specific meaning, according to scholars, is to believe in the One and Only God, the All-Knowing, the All-Powerful, Who possesses all attributes of perfection; the One Who has created the whole universe based on wisdom and justice and has called human beings to move towards achieving perfection until they meet with Allah, with the help of two proofs of revelation and reasoning capability. This is the movement that starts from the Divine Court and ends in the Divine Court, as mentioned in ayah 156 of Surah al-Baqarah: “Indeed, to Allah we belong and to Him we shall return.”
The leaders of the movement are the reason and conscience which are internal proofs as well as the Prophets and their successors who have been appointed by God to guide people. And by “Islamic community” we mean those who have accepted Islam as the religion that can secure their happiness in both material and spiritual lives. Islam is a religion which encompasses all individual, social, material, cultural, political, martial and economic aspects of life and it has not ignored even a single point which would play a role in the material and spiritual progress of both individuals and society.
Islam is a religion which brings happiness to believers in this world and in afterlife when they properly observe Islamic rules. Islam is against oppression, plundering and corruption and enables a human being to get closer to perfection. However, one cannot observe Islamic rules properly unless one knows Islamic teachings and clings steadfastly to the practical conduct of the Prophet and his true successors. Accordingly, the life of the Commander of the Faithful, Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib (PuH) is of special interest after Prophet Mohammad (blessings of God upon him and his progeny).
The name of “Ali” is associated with attributes such as bravery and patience, devotion to God and justice, truthfulness and loyalty, knowledge and piety and other human virtues. The life of Imam Ali (PuH) had different stages, among which the stage of his caliphate is of a special significance. This stage has various aspects such as his rising to political power, complicated political conditions, civil wars, the approaches and his strategies and manner in dealing with the antagonists, as well as the cultural, economic and political problems of the society and finally his approach in dealing with thought-provoking problems.
On the other hand, the short period of the Imam’s caliphate is truly an excellent model of Islamic government provided for humanity; a government which would quench human’s thirst for justice and equity. The unity of the Islamic community has a special status and its importance for Imam Ali (PuH) is no secret to anyone based on his attempts in preserving Muslims’ unity. He can certainly be called the great herald of unity in the Prophet's ummah in both his words and conduct. He did not hold back any efforts to achieve and preserve unity.
In this feature, the Imam’s words in the famous bookd “Nahj al-Balaghah” have been selected in order to prove the fact that he has been the greatest herald of unity of Islamic community and he constantly made efforts to achieve and preserve it. Firstly, we will study the theoretical view of Imam Ali (PuH) on unity and its fruits and then we will refer to the factors which create unity in Islamic community.
During the history of Islam, disunity of Islamic schools of jurisprudence and ethnicities has caused irreparable material and spiritual damage to the body of Islamic community. This wound on the beautiful face of Islamic community has not been hidden from the reformers of ummah, and it has worried them. Thus, some of them planned to create unity among Muslims and to somehow heal the excruciating pain of the heart of Islamic community.
Imam Ali (PuH) is the foremost of the distinguished reformers who sought unity, and after the Prophet, he is truly the greatest herald of unity of the Islamic community. He knew the consequences of disunity and knew that political, economic, social, cultural and martial disunity within an Islamic community would bring about many negative effects, the removal of which if not impossible, would be very difficult.
Unity had a wide scope in his point of view and it embraced all human beings in the world as well as Muslims and the underprivileged ones in Islamic community. His goal in seeking unity was to pursue Islamic causes and to establish social justice. The call for unity can be heard from most of his sermons, maxims and letters. In a letter addressing Muslims, Imam Ali (PuH) has stated that:
“Steer clear through the waves of mischief by boats of deliverance, turn away from the path of dissension and put off the crowns of pride. If I speak out they would call me greedy towards power but if I keep quiet they would say I was afraid of death. By Allah, the son of Abu Talib is more familiar with death than an infant with the breast of its mother. I have hidden knowledge, if I disclose it you will start trembling like ropes in deep wells.”
The knowledge which Imam Ali (PuH) talks about is awareness of the terrible consequences of disunity and conflicts. He knew that disunity and civil war would cost Muslims their religion and a return to the beliefs of the Age of Ignorance.
According to Imam Ali (PuH), unity is the fruit of the mission of Prophet Mohammad (blessings of God upon him and his progeny). The Imam knew unity as the blessing bestowed by God to humanity. He described people's condition before Islam and the great influences and blessings of Islam and the mission of the Prophet of the Islam in a sermon in which he stated:
“The people of the earth at this time were divided in different parties, their aims were separate and ways were diverse. They either likened Allah with His creation or twisted His Names or turned to else than Him. Through Mohammad (SAWA) Allah guided them out of wrong and with his efforts took them out of ignorance.”
Imam Ali (PuH) knew burying mutual rancour and developing brotherhood affection among Muslims as the fruits of the mission of the holy Prophet (S), as he stated in a sermon:
“Through him Allah buried mutual rancour and put off the flames of revolt. Through him He gave them affection like brothers and separated those who were together (through unbelief).”
In another sermon regarding the same issue, the Imam has stated:
“Allah repaired through him the cracks, joined through him the slits and created (through him) affection among kin although they bore intense enmity in (their) chests and deep-seated rancour in (their) hearts.”
The Imam knew the Prophet’s mission as a great blessing which brought tranquility to all Muslims through uniting the Islamic community. Regarding the high status and importance of unity, he has said:
“Certainly, it is a great blessing of Allah, the Glorified that He has engendered among them unity through the cord of affection in whose shade they walk and take shelter. This is a blessing whose value no one in the whole world realizes, because it is more valuable than any price and higher than any wealth.”
It can be understood from the words of Imam Ali (PuH) that the Islamic community gained a strong rope of unity through the holy Prophet’s (S) mission. Today, the same strong rope can create unity among the Muslims. He viewed the unity of Islamic community as a cause for descending the blessings of God. He saw the divine blessings and grace during all periods of Islam by himself and knew with all his heart and soul that these blessings were bestowed because of the unity of the Islamic community, so he has warned people of disunity:
“Certainly, Allah the Glorified has not given any person, whether among the dead or among those who survive, any good from separation.”
In another sermon, referring to the consequences of disputes, the Imam points to the dispersed people of his time, and states:
“How strange! How strange! By Allah, my heart sinks to see the unity of these people on their wrong and your dispersion from your right.
The Imam considers large number of people as insignificant when they are disunited and states:
“There is no benefit in the majority of your numbers because of the lack of unity of your hearts.”
He warned that a group of people who are united may gain victory, even though they may be in error. He reproached the people of Kufa and stated:
“By Allah, I have begun thinking about these people that they would shortly snatch away the whole country through their unity on their wrong and your disunity (from your own right) and separation.”
That was the first part of our two-part special feature titled Imam Ali (AS), the Epitome of Unity. Don’t forget to tune in tomorrow for the second and concluding part. Goodbye and God bless you.