Reflection No. 53 on Q 5:2 – Supporting in Virtue and Piety
O You who believe . . . help one another in piety and goodness and do not help one another in sin and aggression, and be careful of your duty to Allah, surely Allah is severe in requiting.
– (Surah al-Ma’idah 5:2)
In the days of Jahiliyya (i.e. pre-Islamic time in Arabia), people rushed to support and co-operate with those who were from among their close friends and family, without identifying the principle behind the action. If someone from a particular tribe attacked a person, the whole tribe would be behind him, even if the action was completely unjustified. Such biased co-operation can be seen in the modern world too, where countries will whole heartedly support the action of their allies, even if the allies violates international laws and breach moral ethics.
This verse emphasizes the necessity of cooperating and supporting in virtue and piety. Ayatullah Nasir Makarim Shirazi points out in Tafsir-e Naumne that the use of these two words Birr and Taqwa is interesting. Birr or virtue is positive good actions, and Taqwa refers to staying away from evil actions. Thus the verse urges co-operation of a positive type – in doing good and refraining from evil, and then discourages co-operation of the negative type – in evil actions and aggression.
For a society to progress on the path towards God it must work together, and aid one another in the journey. Co-operating with others in goodness is one of the basic rules for a Muslim society. Islam encourages its followers to work together for the common good, and to refrain from working together in matters that are inappropriate and unseemly. When believers work together there is motivation, enthusiasm and a rise in spirit. Along with that there is Divine help and blessing in the deed. Each believer feels encouraged by the response of the other, and in this way a spark of goodness can become a great light. The light then engulfs society, its beams reflecting on various aspects of the members’ lives. What can be achieved through such unity of action cannot be achieved by the individual alone.
Points to Ponder
1. Co-operation must be for Allah only. Often people become very disillusioned with others and are reluctant to work together and help one another. They feel that the others do not deserve their help, and are not worthy of it. However when you do good work for the sake of Allah, you are always motivated. Allah deserves the best we can do, at all times. Sincerity of intention is essential in the co-operation of people in an Islamic society.
2. Co-operating in good actions will increase goodness and virtue in society. The only way to discourage evil from spreading in society is when people do not work together for it- when they do not support it; refuse to help one another in it and through that show their disapproval of the action. This will in turn diminish the rise of such evils in society.
A hadith of the Holy Prophet (s) says: On the Day of Judgment a caller will call out; where is the oppressor, and the helpers of the oppressor and those who made themselves like the oppressors? . . . until even those will be called who prepared a pen for the oppressor, or who filled the inkpot for them. Then they will all be placed in a coffin made of iron and thrown into the Hellfire.
When Nabi Musa went to Mt. Sinai to talk with Allah, the Bani Israel strayed. They decided to build a golden calf which they would worship. This golden calf was built with gold that was taken from the members of their community and melted. People went around asking for gold, and many members of the community gave up their gold. The community co-operated together in the evil act of creating a god/deity out of gold, even after knowing that there was only one God who could be worshipped.
Safwan Jamal, a companion of Imam Musa al-Kazim (a), narrates the following incident with the Imam; I came into the presence of the Imam once and the Imam said to me; all your actions are very good except for one. I said: May I be sacrificed for you, please tell me which one. He replied: You rent your horses to Harun al-Rashid. I told the Imam that Harun did not use the horses for any wrong purpose. He only used them to travel to Makkah. Imam explained to me that even thought the horses were not used for an evil purpose, because I rent them to him and was waiting for him to pay me, I was actually waiting for Harun to come back from Makkah (safely). In a subtle way I was hoping for the safe return of an oppressor.
These and other similar incidents show the harms of co-operating with others when wrong is being done. Is thus that evil and immorality proliferate in society.