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Duties of Brotherhood in Islam - Part 1

by Sangharakshita

... heirs of Ali are called
Imams, though the Shi'as use the word Imam in a different sense from the Sunnis. In the Sunni tradition Imam means the prayer leader - the
leader of the congregational prayer, but in the Shi'a school Imam means a spiritual successor of the Prophet. Then there are Twelve-Imamas, that
is to say followers of Twelve-Imam Shi'a tradition, followers of Seven-Imam Shi'a tradition, and so on. Different schools have branched off
depending on the number of successors they recognise.

To the best of my knowledge there is only one offshoot, that is the Ismaili tradition, which recognises an Imam right down to the present day.
They of course recognise the Aga Khan as their Imam. Others regard the process as having ended various centuries ago: some as ending with the
Seventh Imam, others with the Twelfth Imam. But all those who regard the Imam (Maters?) ending on the material plane regard it as having
continued on the spiritual plane, so there is what they now call a hidden Imam who is not publicly known, who may not be even a historical
figure but who guides and directs the followers of that particular tradition from another plane altogether. We are some distance away from
orthodox Sunni Islam by this time - you can appreciate that already.

But the Shi'a tradition is the minority one, though still very substantial. Iran is the main Shi'a country, though there of course in modern times
the legalists have taken over. The Ayatollahs are not so much spiritual figures, they are canon lawyers, to use the Western term; they are
'canonists', stressing the letter of the law. But they hold spiritual allegiance to ( ) Hussein, Ali and Fatima. Anyway, that is all by the way.
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You should brush up on your Islamic studies, clearly!

But al-Ghazali, as I've said, was a Sunni, though I rather imagine that what he has to say on a subject of this sort, which is a very general subject,
would probably be acceptable to all Muslims.

Anyway, let's begin. I'm hoping that we can do one chapter a day. We've got nine days at our disposal and there are eight chapters. But if we
find we're not getting through the material in the course of the morning then we may well overflow into the afternoon for a short period, so that
we get through the whole text in the course of the nine days and cover it reasonably thoroughly.

AL-GHAZALI
On the Duties of Brotherhood
"Know that the contract of brotherhood is a bond
between two persons, like the contract of marriage
between two spouses. For just as marriage gives rise
to certain duties which must be fulfilled when it is
entered into, so does the contract of brotherhood
confer upon your brother a certain right touching
your property, your person, your tongue and your
heart - by way of forgiveness, prayer, sincerity,
loyalty, relief and considerateness.
In all this comprises eight duties."

S: So these eight duties are the subject matter of the eight ensuing chapters, one chapter to each duty. So we won't at this stage discuss
forgiveness, prayer, sincerity etc. because they are dealt with in the respective chapters. But there are some things which we need to dwell upon
here. To begin with, al-Ghazali says: "Know that the contract of brotherhood is a bond between two persons, like the contract of marriage
between two spouses." What do you think is the significance of this? Actually, we've touched upon that in a way before in a specifically
Buddhist context, but we'll come to that in a minute. What do you think is the significance of this "Know that the contract of brotherhood is a
bond between two persons, like the contract of marriage between two spouses."?

Subhuti: Something is formally entered into.

S: Something is formally entered into. But is that the case today in modern Western society? Is that the case today? Does one enter into a
contract of brotherhood, normally?
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Devaraja: I remember when I was young having blood brothers when you cut yourself .....

S: Well, that is the sort of thing one does after reading about the Red Indians. It isn't usually recognised by parents and elders, in fact they're not
usually told about it.

Nagabodhi: I remember when I was a child there would be this idea of contract. You would say to people: 'I'll be your best friend.' I
remember that was quite a strong feature in friendship. You actually articulated that you were someone's best friend. Or you wouldn't be their
friend any more. Whether that came from books we read or whether that's just some kind of residue from a ......

S: What do you think was the psychological significance of that - that you were professedly someone's best friend? Do you think there was a
definite psychological need behind that? If so, what?

Kulananda: It is like having someone on whose affection you can rely.

S: Well, what about mummy and daddy?

Kulananda: It was much more distant than that.

S: Yes.

Ratnavira: It is something you more consciously enter into. With your mother and father you just happen to have a mother and father.

S: It is more a question of conscious choice. I don't think that's the essence of the matter, though. There seems to be something more in it than
that. It's as though one needs to have a recognised, a mutually accepted channel of communication, of exchange. [Pause] I think it is not so
much having someone on whose affection you can rely, but someone who is always ready to listen to you, someone who is ready to talk with you
when you want to talk with someone or when you want someone to listen to you; someone to whose time and attention you have a sort of
recognised right.

But obviously we've touched on the point before: in modern Western society friendship has lost all its prerogatives, certainly lost all its rights
and in particular as against marriage. Marriage has persisted more or less as a contract, as an institution recognised by society; but not
friendship. Friendship is not recognised as having any rights at all against marriage. So much so that the general attitude is that when a man gets
married, he virtually says goodbye to his friends. They give him a farewell party, or he gives them a farewell party.

But this arose in a Buddhist context in connection with the Sigalovada Sutta, because we saw that there were, according to that sutta, six great
relationships, so to speak: the relationship between parents and children, the relationship between husband and wife, employer and employee,
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and so on, and including the relationship between friend and friend. So clearly here all these different relationships were given, in a sense, equal
status. Certainly the relationship between friends was given equal status to the relationship between husband and wife, which is again not the
case in modern society. So here we see the Islamic tradition to some extent really agreeing with the Buddhist tradition. Both agree that
brotherhood, in Islamic terms, is a contract. There can be a contract of brotherhood which is quite straightforwardly to be compared with the
contract of marriage between two spouses. So here it would seem that the Islamic tradition and Buddhist tradition agree as against modern
Western custom and practice, and even perhaps theory.

Prakasha: In marriage there is an actual contract, an actual ceremony which is quite explicit. Are we talking about, in terms of the contract,
something explicit, perhaps a ceremony?

S: I think so, yes.

Prakasha: What would that comprise?

S: Al-Ghazali doesn't give us any information about that, not in this particular chapter. It may be simply as in the case of childhood friendship,
the expression of "well you be my friend" is considered sufficient. Though there is this similarity between the contract of brotherhood and the
contract of marriage in the sense that both are contracts. There is a difference, because in the case of marriage there is the question of progeny, of
offspring, so it becomes more of a sort of social matter. In the case of friendship it is much more a private matter between two people. So it
doesn't need the recognition of society to the extent that marriage does, ...

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