وَتَعاوَنوا عَلَى البِرِّ وَالتَّقوىٰ ۖ وَلا تَعاوَنوا عَلَى الإِثمِ وَالعُدوٰن
Translation: And cooperate in righteousness and piety, and do not cooperate in sinfulness and transgression
06 Shawwal, 1430:
Ramadaan ends. Qur’an – its recitation, its wisdom, and the learning from it – continues. I had begun the “Quran in Ramadaan” series with the ambitious intent of sharing my inspirations from my reading of the Qur’an on a daily note basis. My high-flying dreams soon crashed back flat on earth what with the realities of PC problems, connection failures, and the intensely on-edge schedule of Ramadaan. Ultimately, I was able to manage barely 5 posts instead of my orignally imagined 29!
However, with the grace of God, the sane idea has entered my head that Qur’an is not really meant to be restricted to Ramadaan; nor is Ramadaan really meant as a once-in-a-year occasion for serious thinking and behaving. Our salat, our strivings, our zikhr, our practices of sunna, our recitation of the Qur’an everything continues beyond Ramadaan so why not this practice of sharing observations inspired by the Book.
I sincerely pray that Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala guides me well and helps me increase my own understandings and insights foremost through this exercise. I also depend on my readers’ feedback. I intend it as a cooperative learning venture.
Today’s ayah is a segment from ayah no. 2 of Sura Al-Maida. It is in the context of warning Madina’s Muslims against unfair dealings with Mecca’s polytheists (mushrikeen) after the latter had stopped these Muslims from performing the Hajj of Ka’aba.
Our Creator lays down an overarching rule of cooperation, not just with non-Muslims; the rule is general and can be applied to any case of group interaction. The translation for bir is righteousness and is applicable to any form of good deeds. The word taqwa is a multi-faceted word and in different translations and tafaseer it is elaborated as “God-consciousness”, “protecting oneself from doing wrong” or “fear of incurring God’s wrath or punishment” The word “icm” refers to all forms of wrong and immoral acts and the word “udwaan” implies criminal violation of the rights of another individual, group or institution.
Very simply, our Creator here asks us to cooperate in good things, and not in bad things.
Co-operating with the non-believers
This is one of the verses that clarifies the nature of permissible relations with the non-believers. There is a common myth that has been wrongfully popularized in the name of Islam by Muslims and non-Muslims alike that Islam encourages hatred, prejudice and violence towards non-believers. But that is not true as evidenced by this, and indeed, many other verses in the Qur’an.
Qur’an clearly distinguishes those non-believers who have actually transgressed against the believers, who plot and conspire against them and act out their conspiracies, in particular those who are directly responsible for wrongful group actions taken against muslims (re: a’immat-al-kufr, the archetypes of faithlessness, Sura Tauba 12) with those peaceful ones who are simply leading their lives according to their belief systems. These distinctions have been most plainly clarified in Sura Al-Mumtahina 8 & 9:
As for such [of the unbelievers] as do not fight against you on account of [your] faith, and neither drive you forth from your homelands, God does not forbid you to show them kindness and to behave towards them with full equity: for verily, God loves those who act equitably. (8). God only forbids you to turn in friendship towards such as fight against you because of [your] faith, and drive you forth from your homelands, or aid [others] in driving you forth: and as for those [from among you] who turn towards them in friendship, it is they, they who are truly wrongdoers! (9).
Forms of Cooperation
When it comes to actual cooperation, Qur’an only distinguishes in terms of the areas of cooperation. For here, we clearly see that this injunction is in direct reference to those Mushrikeen (polytheists) who fall on the criteria of antagonism laid out in the verse referenced above. They drove Muslims out of their homes, they had a history of plotting war and breaking pacts with Muslims, and they had stopped Muslims from performing an act of worship which was annualy performed by millions of pilgrims from all over Arabia.
So even with these enemy-minded people, Qur’an distinguishes and permits cooperation where it leads to the general good of mankind.
Cooperation with non-Muslims indeed exists at many levels in today’s world. But an obvious question enters our mind, that is: is the kind of cooperating taking place really the Qur’anic kind? More often than not, sadly, the answer is not. We do not just cooperate in the really goodly things. We cooperate primarily in wasteful, and mostly sinful activities in the name of culture. We cooperate in mass capitalism that makes it more and more difficult for the ordinary citizen to eke out an honest living. We cooperate through political alliances (and dalliances!) that ultimately serve against our own brethren. And, speaking of lifestyles, values, attitudes, and aims of life, we actually do not cooperate. We IMITATE. Let us differentiate between cooperation and imitation.
Cooperation refers to making a joint effort to accomplish common goals beneficial to oneself and to all parties concerned. In contrast with imitation learning, any cooperative learning effort involves a positive-minded interdependence, face-to-face promotive interaction, individual and group accountability, use of interpersonal and group skills, and group processing such as monitoring one’s own progress towards the goals, and maintaining effective working relationships.
Both experimental and correlational research on use of cooperative learning strategies (as reviewed by Johnson & Johnson, 1989) has shown that, in contrast to traditionally competitive and individualistic learning or work efforts, cooperative learning leads to i) higher achievement and greater productivity, ii) care, support and commitment in relationships, iii) and greater levels of psychological health, social competence, and self-esteem.
These effects can, of course, only be achieved if the true spirit of cooperative learning has been applied: equal effort by all parties involved, and the sole regard of communal benefit.
Imitation learning is a form of observational learning whereby an individual observes and retaisn the behavior of a model, and is motivated enough to reproduce it in one’s own life.
This concept was originally researched by Albert Bandura. His work reveals three principles involved in imitation learning (click here for cross-reference of the following):
1. The highest level of observational learning is achieved by first organizing and rehearsing the modeled behavior symbolically and then enacting it overtly. Coding modeled behavior into words, labels or images results in better retention than simply observing.
2. Individuals are more likely to adopt a modeled behavior if it results in outcomes they value.
3. Individuals are more likely to adopt a modeled behavior if the model is similar to the observer and has admired status and the behavior has functional value.
Bandura also identified three basic models of observational learning (cross-reference of the following):
- A live model, which involves an actual individual demonstrating or acting out a behavior.
- A verbal instructional model, which involves descriptions and explanations of a behavior.
- A symbolic model, which involves real or fictional characters displaying behaviors in books, films, television programs, or online media.
The prevalent Muslim trend
An analysis of these points reveals what has happenned in Muslim nations which has ended in the mass cultural invasion that now continues. The majority of the blame lies on our own shoulders. Had we maintained or promoted the highly functional Muslim guidelines for societies in our respective families, neighborhoods and governments, we could have been adequate role models for our subsequent generations.
Through categorical, incomplete, and distorted application of Islamic guidelines, over the years a number of Muslim societies associated negative outcomes (torture, undue restrictions, superstitiousness, and impracticality) with otherwise universal and highly constructive principles. “Valued outcomes” seem to come more often from Western cultures in form of intellectual stimulation, skill development, technological advancement and comfortable lifestyles. On the other hand, history has witnessed these same outcomes as the hallmark of Muslim, rather than non-Muslim, societies.
Two things have further reinforced Western role-modelling in our generations’ conscious and subconscious mind: Our education system and entertainment channells. The structure of the education system prevalent all over the globe is now Western. But that is not the main issue. The main issue is that we are mostly teaching Western content at all levels. This does not apply only to Cambridge or Oxford exam systems in our countries. All university level teaching relies on textbooks from the Western worlds. The same is now happenning in many of the private schools of Pakistan (Of relevance here is the infamous matter of Dawood public school in my city, Karachi).
The primary reason, of course, is the lack of genuine research and quality textbook writing on OUR part. However, even while teaching, it is possible to tailor concepts and research findings in the context of our values which teacher typically do not do. More criminal: few educationists (teachers and mangers) actually encourage the kind of sincere, purposeful, and truly scientific effort-making needed to replace the easy models with more indegenous ones. That is why our generations do not seem to adopt the more functional values apparent in Western societies; rather, in the name of progressiveness, we readily focus and copy only the very material, short-sighted and mostly sinful styles and values.
These effects are multiplied many times by the entertainment industry. Being open-minded is being equated with physicality in illegitimate relationships and blind acceptance of everything offered in the name of science and technology. Being achieving is equated with self-centered individualism that cuts the flow of positive human sentiment in society leading to more and more alienation, selfishness, disregard of others’ right and benefit, dishonesty and lack of quality in one’s own duties, and single-minded pursuit of concrete comforts stripped of the glow of interpersonal satisfaction.
It is clear that we cannot derive the intended benefits of cooperative learning unless the demands of this form of learning are fulfilled.
It is certain that we can NEVER obtain (neither deserve) the fruits of our Creator’s wisdom unless we are prepared and ready to study and incorporate our rich Islamic heritage and to transfer it to our developing generation.
May Allah guide us. Ameen