Birr, Five Favours, Islamic Call
Issue 789 » May 9, 2014 - Rajab 10, 1435
Al-Baqara (The Cow) Chapter 2: Verse 177
"The birr does not consist in your turning your faces towards the East or the West, but true birr is this, that one believes in God, and the Last Day, and the angels, and the Scripture, and the Prophets; that one gives one's own wealth howsoever cherished it may be, to kinsfolk, orphans, the needy, the wayfarer, and beggars, and also for the sake of slaves; that one performs the ritual prayer, pays the alms. And those who keep their covenant when they have once covenanted and who are patient in distress and hardship: there are they who are sincere; these are they who are Godfearing."
The word Birr is perhaps among the most elusive of the Quranic moral terms. In any case, the usage of the word in Quran indicates that a very prominent place is given to factors relating to justice and love in human relations, so much so that - to take two representative elements - the act of rendering religious service to God and that of feeding the poor are made to stand almost on the same footing. This should not surprise us, for the Quran as a whole gives an outstanding emphasis to justice and love in social life. Piety, in other words, cannot be piety unless it manifests itself in various works motivated by the will to practice justice and love towards others.
The word birr seems to lend further confirmation to this view. The above verse furnishes a contextual definition of the word. A glance at the elements here enumerated as constituting true birr would make us understand at once that there is practically nothing to distinguish it from true iman. We see at the same time why this term has been so variously translated in English. It may very well be rendered as 'piety'; it may no less justifiably be rendered as 'righteousness' or 'kindness'. But any of these translations taken alone, cannot possibly do justice to the original word which includes all these and perhaps still others in its complex meaning.
"Ethico Religious Concepts in the Quran" - Toshihiko Izutsu, pp. 207, 208
God is kind and gives favours to everyone. Whatever people have is from God. Nevertheless, He bestowed special favours on each Prophet (peace be upon them) and community according to the dictates of the time. For example, Adam was favoured with the knowledge of the names (the keys to all branches of knowledge). Noah was endowed with steadfastness and perseverance; Abraham was honoured with God's intimate friendship and being the father of numerous Prophets; Moses was given the ability to administer, and was exalted by being addressed by God directly; and Jesus was distinguished with patience, tolerance, and compassion. All Prophets have some share in these praiseworthy qualities, but each surpasses, on account of his mission, the others in one or more of these qualities.
Prophet Muhammad has all of the qualities mentioned above, except for being the father of Prophets. Moreover, because of the universal nature of his mission, he is further distinguished in the following five ways. As related by Bukhari, he says:
"I have been given five things not given to anyone before me: God helps me by implanting fear in the heart of my enemies at a distance of one month's walk; the Earth has been made a place of worship and means of cleansing for me, so whenever it is time to pray my followers can pray wherever they are; the spoils of war are lawful for me, although they were not lawful for anyone before me; I have the right to intercede (with God on behalf of believers); and, while every Prophet (before me) was sent to his people exclusively, I was sent to humanity."
"The Messenger of God: Muhammad" - Fethullah Gulen, p. 119
The propagation of Islam was the mission of all the prophets and messengers of Allah. There was never a prophet who was not a preacher and teacher. All of them preached the same message: 'Worship Allah, you have no other god but Him.' They all called to their people saying: 'I do not seek any reward from you for this work.'
There are five premises to the Islamic call, it has five approaches, and its results are also five.
The five premises
First: sincerity and truthfulness with Allah, and to seek His favour. Allah says: 'And, they were not enjoined aught but that they should worship God, sincere in their faith to Him alone.' (98:5)
The Prophet (peace be upon him) foretold that the first with whom the fire of hell will be lit are three; among them a scholar who acquired knowledge so that people would say he is learned.
Second: to practice what one preaches. Actually it is a scandal and disgrace that a person's actions contradict his words. Allah derides such people in His Quran: 'Do you bid other people to be pious, the while you forget your own selves - and yet you recite the divine writ? Will you not, then, use your reason?' (Qur'an 2:44)
Third: gentleness in presenting the message. Allah advised Musa and Haroon (peace be upon them both) to adopt this measure with Pharaoh, the greatest tyrant of his time: 'But speak unto him in a mild manner, so that he might bethink himself or [at least] be filled with apprehension.' (Qur'an 20:44)
And to Prophet Muhammad, He also cautioned: 'And it was by God's grace that thou [O Prophet] didst deal gently with thy followers; for if thou hadst been harsh and hard of heart, they would indeed have broken away from thee' (Qur'an 3:159).
Hence it was on this basis the Prophet, declared: 'Make matters easy and do not make them difficult. Give glad tidings and do not drive people away.'
Fourth: adopt a gradual approach to propagation. Do as Prophet Muhammad did in his mission by beginning with the most important matters; then follow them up in order of priority. This was clearly demonstrated in the advice he gave to Muadh (may Allah be pleased with him) before he sent him to Yemen. "You will come upon a People of the Book (Jews and Christians), the first thing you should invite them to is to bear witness that there is no God save Allah and that I am the Messenger of Allah. If they respond positively to this, then inform them that Allah had ordained for them five prayers each day and night.'
Fifth: address every people with what is suited for them and their needs. There is a special approach to the people of the cities and another approach to the villagers. Similarly, there is a special approach to the Bedouin. The intellectual has his position and the ignorant has his position. So too, there is a style for the argumentative and an entirely different one for the submissive. 'And whoever is granted wisdom has indeed been granted wealth abundant.'
[to be continued]
"Thirty Lessons For Those Who Fast" - A'id Abdullah al-Qarnee