There is a hadith (a saying) of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, that talks about the global Muslim community being like one body. According to one translation of the original Arabic, the hadith states that:
“The similitude of believers in regard to mutual love, affection, and fellow-feeling is that of one body: when any limb of it aches, the whole body aches, because of sleeplessness and fever.” (Source)
All Muslims are therefore akin to one living person. When there is pain in one part of the body of this person, the rest of the body is aware of it and feels it, to the point where it suffers from ‘sleeplessness and fever’. This philosophy, this way of thinking and being, looks beyond borders, languages, ethnicities, genders, classes, tribes, races, nations, and wealth, so much so that any one individual Muslim should see the problems of any other Muslim as their own.
I have blogged previously about living in such a compassionate and kind way, with regards to Rachel Joy Scott and Derren Brown. I have also over the years come across many different quotes that refer to this way of thinking:
- Have compassion for everyone you meet…you do not know what wars are going on down there, where the spirit meets the bone. – lyrics from the song ‘Compassion’ by Lucinda Williams
- Practice kindness all day to everybody and you will realize you’re already in heaven now. – Jack Kerouac
- Recently, in witnessing the astounding haste with which people were lashing out against one another, without so much as a moment of pause for understanding, without so much as a basic intention to reflect and respond rather than react, I lamented that the world would be much kinder if everyone believed that everyone else is doing their best, even if they fall short sometimes. – Maria Popova
- It is never the sinner that one should hate, but only the sin; for the essence of all humanity is a soul created in submission to its Creator. Whether that soul acknowledges this on a conscious level or not is a matter of grace, and this understanding enables us to look at others with compassion. – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf
- The things you do for yourself are gone when you are gone, but the things you do for others remain as your legacy. – Kalu Ndukwe Kalu
- No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted. – moral of the fable The Lion And The Mouse by Aesop
I recently came across an African concept that left my theological head spinning due to its simplicity and depth, a concept that reminded me of the hadith quoted above. That concept is Ubuntu. I first came across this concept when I saw the following quote somewhere on the internet:
An anthropologist proposed a game to children of an African tribe. He put a basket full of fruit near a tree and told them that whoever got there first would win all the fruit. When he told them to run they all took each other’s hands and walked together, then they all sat down together, equally enjoying the fruits. When the anthropologist asked them why they ran like that, all as one, when instead one of them could have had all the fruits for himself, they said: “Ubuntu…how can one of us be happy if all the others are sad?” Ubuntu in the Xhosa culture means: “I am because we are.” – Anon
Another hadith that comes to mind that reflects the above is:
“He is not a believer whose stomach is filled while the neighbor to his side goes hungry.” (Source)
Ubuntu is something that I think all Muslims and non-Muslims alike should know of, strive for, and practice with abundance in their everyday lives. For Muslims, Ubuntu is the living manifestation of the vision heralded in the hadith above. Ubuntu is not only an indelible African philosophy (you can even get t-shirts with a corresponding logo), but it’s also something that fits in perfectly with an Islamic way of life. Here are some more definitions of Ubuntu that helped me further understand this positive attitude to living:
- Ubuntu…speaks of the very essence of being human. We say…”Hey, so-and-so has Ubuntu.” Then you are generous, you are hospitable, you are friendly and caring and compassionate. You share what you have. It is to say, “My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours.” We belong in a bundle of life. We say, “A person is a person through other persons.”…A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed, or treated as if they were less than who they are. – Archbishop Desmond Tutu
- Ubuntu is a concept that we have in our Bantu languages at home. Ubuntu is the essence of being a person. It means that we are people through other people. We can’t be fully human alone. We are made for interdependence, we are made for family. Indeed, my humanity is caught up in your humanity, and when your humanity is enhanced mine is enhanced as well. Likewise, when you are dehumanized, inexorably, I am dehumanized as well. As an individual, when you have Ubuntu, you embrace others. You are generous, compassionate. If the world had more Ubuntu, we would not have war. We would not have this huge gap between the rich and the poor. You are rich so that you can make up what is lacking for others. You are powerful so that you can help the weak, just as a mother or father helps their children. This is God’s dream. – Archbishop Desmond Tutu
- [I first became aware of Ubuntu] In 1981 and 1982, when I worked in Kwandbele. In those days during apartheid, Kwandbele was a “homeland” where the government forced blacks of the Kwandbele tribe to live. I was working as a Physician there and when I went driving into the rural areas to get to the various clinics. Even though I was a white man they didn’t know, I was never seen as a symbol of white oppression in spite of the suffering these people were undergoing because of the apartheid system. Wherever we would stop along the way, people would invite me into their homes for a meal even if they had hardly anything. Whatever they had, they would offer to share with me. – Dr Frank Lipman
- I think we all tend to get caught up with our own “dramas” which keeps us in our heads and takes up a lot of energy. When we stop focusing on ourselves and when we are sharing or being compassionate to others, we let go of a lot of unnecessary anxiety about our own dilemmas. So we often actually receive more than we give. It is a selfish thing, but if you want to feel better, helping others will probably help you as much if not more than whoever you are helping. Giving without receiving or expecting anything in return is extremely uplifting. I believe what it does physiologically to you is the opposite of the stress response, it stimulates the parasympathetic system. But also when one sees how others are living and they are happy even when they have nothing or very little materially, it often shifts one’s perspective on life and what’s important and how you feel. And often when people learn to give or start volunteering and caring for others, they in turn learn then to care for themselves as well. For many giving to others is easier than giving love to themselves, so it can help people learn self love. – Dr Frank Lipman
- In the earliest days of the United States, this need to respect, help, and protect each other was lived out by Native Americans, as well as by many of the settlers on the frontier. Interconnectedness was essential for survival. In today’s industrialized society, however, the bonds of community have frayed. Rugged individualism rules, and people are at risk to rise or fall on their own. In such a hyper-competitive, alienated world, it is difficult for us to see the myriad ways in which we are bound together—to imagine that there could be a common good. Some of us believe that the spiritual searching of modern times stems as much from this loss of community as it does from the desire to find God. For it is often true that the path to finding God is through finding community—just as the path to finding community is through finding God. This sense of community and obligation to others has significance not only within our national borders, but beyond, for it encompasses the global human family. By acknowledging our inherent connectedness to those around the world, we take a crucial step in pursuing the global common good. – Rev Dr Bernice Powell Jackson
In other words:
If I am in pain then it is because we are in pain.
If I am happy then it is because we are happy.
I am because we are.