وَتَعَاوَنُوا عَلَى الْبِرِّ وَالتَّقْوَىٰ ۖ وَلَا تَعَاوَنُوا عَلَى الْإِثْمِ وَالْعُدْوَانِ ۚ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ ۖ إِنَّ اللَّهَ شَدِيدُ الْعِقَابِ
Wa-ta‘āwanū ‘alal-birri wat-taqwā, wa-lā ta‘āwanū ‘alal-ithmi wal-‘udwāni. Wat-taqqullāha, innallāha shadīdul-‘iqāb
And help one another in goodness and piety, and do not help one another in sin and aggression; and be careful of (your duty to) Allah; surely Allah is severe in punishment.
(Sūratul Mā’idah, No. 5, Āyat 2)
For a society to progress on the path towards God it must work together and assist one another in the journey. Islam encourages its followers to work together for the common good, and to refrain from working together in matters that are inappropriate and unseemly. 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.
The verse above emphasizes the necessity of cooperating and supporting in virtue and piety. Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī points out in Tafsīr-e Namūneh that the use of these two words birr and taqwā 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.
The Messenger of Allah (s) in one of his testaments to Amīrul Mu’minīn Imam Ali (a) said: The most commendable are three deeds:First is being just to the people even against yourself. Second is cooperation and material help to (Muslim) brothers. And the third is remembrance of Allah in all circumstances.
Imam Ja‘far al-Sādiq (a) explains this Hadith: Surely the most difficult of the things which Allah has obliged his servants to do, are three things:
– First, doing justice between himself and others; it means that he should do to others as he wants done to himself.
– Second, he should help his Muslim brethren by assisting them with his wealth.
– Third, he should always remember Allah. And when I say, ‘should remember Allah,’ I do not mean that he should always recite subhHānallāh (Glory be to Allah) and al-Hamdu lillāh (Praise belongs to Allah). But I mean that if he intends to do an unlawful deed, he must remember Allah and refrain from that sin.
Cooperating with other believers in goodness has been highly emphasized in Islam. 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.
Sources: Āytaullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (ed), Tafsīr-e Namūneh;
Fraternity and Cooperation in Islam, WOFIS.