As Muslims, we understand the importance of the concept of Ummah. The idea of a transnational, Islamic identity is reiterated in the Quran and Sunnah, relevant on a spiritual, social and political level. From Ramadhan and Eid, to war-torn conflicts and natural disasters, we feel the happiness and pain of our brothers and sisters in faith, abroad and try to make our support and love for them known.
An extension of this understanding but less spoken of, is the principle of “Al Walaa wal Baraa”. Particularly relevant for the times we are living in, where the Ummah is disjointed and disunited across the world, what does this actually mean?
Al-Walaa literally means loyalty, to support, to follow. Thus in the context of Islam al-Walaa becomes loyalty to Allah (swt) and whatever He is pleased with, as well as friendship and closeness with fellow believers. It is to totally agree with the sayings, deeds and beliefs that please Allah (swt) and the persons whom He (swt) likes.
After loving Allah (swt) and His Messenger (saws), Allah obligates us to love those who love Him and His Messenger (saws) and the Islamic Aqeedah (creed) obligates every Muslim to love the people of Tawheed (unified faith). This manifests in kindness towards the believers, giving them the benefit of the doubt, supporting them in Allah’s cause as described in the Quran:
“And the believing men and the believing women are friends and allies to each other” [9:71]
Al Baraa on the other hand linguistically refers to the opposite – to desert, to detach ourselves, to keep innocent of, and so contextually means to disagree with everything that Allah (swt) dislikes and condemns. It is to free ourselves from whatever is displeasing to our Lord, being innocent of all that Allah (swt) tells us to avoid, out of our own desire to reach the level of closeness to Him
There are four issues to which this principle of walaa and baraa applies; namely sayings, deeds, beliefs and individual persons. Speech that is disliked by Allah, namely swearing, crude speech and loose talk cannot be then appreciated by us, even if we are not engaging in it. Actions such as zina (fornication), and taking interest cannot be endorsed by us, even if we are not going to do those actions ourselves. Similarly we cannot rejoice in the disbelief of others. Although we know there is no compulsion in religion and must respect those of other faiths, we must always wish for someone to enter into the pure worship of Allah (swt). And finally, individual persons which make their livelihoods out of disgracing Islam and Muhammad (saws), or oppressing Muslims, many of whom we see today, cannot be respected by us, even if their personal achievement are prolific.
This understanding is epitomised in many ayaat, most notably in Surah Maida verse 54, where Allah (swt) says:
“O you who have believed, whoever of you should revert from his religion – Allah will bring forth [in place of them] a people He will love and who will love Him who are humble toward the believers, steadfast against the disbelievers; they strive in the cause of Allah and do not fear the blame of a critic. That is the favor of Allah ; He bestows it upon whom He wills. And Allah is all-Encompassing and Knowing.”
Ibn Abbas (ra) also said: “Whoever loves for Allah’s sake and hates for Allah’s sake; has al-walaa’ for Allah’s sake and ‘adaa (distances oneself) for Allah’s sake will receive, because of this, Allah’s allegiance and closeness (wilaayah). A person will not experience the taste of faith – even if he prays and fasts in abundance – until he is like this. Today the people in general base their alliegances upon worldly affairs, but this will not benefit them at all [in the Hereafter]”
To give allegiance to Allah and His Messenger, and to the Ummah of our Prophet, means that the bond of Islam comes before any other relations a person may have, however close or far. It also means an allegiance to Islam at the expense of any other way of life or Deen, and to uphold the laws of Allah at the expense of any other laws from any source other than the Islamic sources. A believer’s own love and hate is moulded and directed by Islam, as our beloved Prophet (saws) said: “Whoever loves for the sake of Allah, and hates for the sake of Allah, and gives for the sake of Allah, and prevents for the sake of Allah, has completed their Iman” (Abu Dawud)
This applies in countless areas of our lives today; from an individual level when we don’t give our brothers and sister the benefit of the doubt in small interactions, on a community level where its become a trend to bash ourselves as Muslims, or those of other communities, broad brushing them with certain stereotypes, to a global level where we see Muslims support political or military campaigns (or those behind them) that will oppress Muslims at home or abroad. We must reconsider our actions in light of the allegiance we must have to what Allah (swt) has revealed, and we are acting on this understanding of tawheed in all aspects of our lives.
Al-Barra’ bin A’aazeb (ra) narrates that the Prophet (saws) said: “The strongest bond of Iman is the love for Allah’s sake and the hatred for Allah’s sake”. We must remember that this is central to our Islamic understanding of unity and will always be greater than any nationalistic or ethnic bond that we think we may possess with people