The common goal of doing good works

Friday Khutba by Dr Zahid Aziz, for Lahore Ahmadiyya UK, 4 November 2022

“And everyone has a goal to which he turns (himself), so vie with one another in good works. Wherever you are, Allah will bring you all together. Surely Allah is Powerful over all things. And from whatsoever place you come forth, turn your face towards the Sacred Mosque …” — ch. 2: Al-Baqarah, v. 148, 149

وَ لِکُلٍّ وِّجۡہَۃٌ ہُوَ مُوَلِّیۡہَا فَاسۡتَبِقُوا الۡخَیۡرٰتِ ؕ؃ اَیۡنَ مَا تَکُوۡنُوۡا یَاۡتِ بِکُمُ اللّٰہُ جَمِیۡعًا ؕ اِنَّ اللّٰہَ عَلٰی کُلِّ شَیۡءٍ قَدِیۡرٌ ﴿۱۴۸  وَ مِنۡ حَیۡثُ خَرَجۡتَ فَوَلِّ وَجۡہَکَ شَطۡرَ الۡمَسۡجِدِ الۡحَرَامِ ؕ

“For everyone of you We appointed a law and a way. And if Allah had pleased He would have made you a single religious community (umma), but that He might try you in what He gave you. So vie with one another in good works. To Allah you will all return, so He will inform you of that in which you differed.” — ch. 5, Al-Ma’idah, v. 48

 لِکُلٍّ جَعَلۡنَا مِنۡکُمۡ شِرۡعَۃً وَّ مِنۡہَاجًا ؕ وَ لَوۡ شَآءَ اللّٰہُ لَجَعَلَکُمۡ اُمَّۃً وَّاحِدَۃً وَّ لٰکِنۡ لِّیَبۡلُوَکُمۡ فِیۡ مَاۤ اٰتٰىکُمۡ فَاسۡتَبِقُوا الۡخَیۡرٰتِ ؕ اِلَی اللّٰہِ مَرۡجِعُکُمۡ جَمِیۡعًا فَیُنَبِّئُکُمۡ بِمَا کُنۡتُمۡ فِیۡہِ تَخۡتَلِفُوۡنَ ﴿ۙ۴۸

The first verse occurs in the Holy Quran where the subject being discussed is the change of the direc­tion that Muslims face in prayer (qibla) from Jerusalem to the Ka‘bah at Makkah. Before Hijra at Makkah Muslims prayed in the direction of Jeru­salem, as did the Jews. The Holy Prophet simply followed their direction of prayer. The Christians also considered the temple at Jerusalem as their central temple. Shortly after the Hijra to Madinah the Holy Prophet was commanded by Allah to pray in the direction of the Ka‘bah. From Madinah, Jerusalem and Makkah are in opposite directions, Jerusalem being to the north and Makkah to the south. The main reason for this change was that Jerusalem had been the centre only of the Israelite prophets. The Ka‘bah at Makkah, on the other hand, was associated with the much earlier great prophet Abraham, whose name means “father of the nations”. As Islam came for all nations of the world, it would have been unjust to have as its Qiblah a place connected with only one particular nation and its prophets, and require all nations to bow towards it. Makkah was a place where no religion had been based before Islam. So to select the Ka‘bah at Makkah as the central point of Islam would be fair and just towards all nations, and not showing any favouritism towards one nation.

The first verse begins by mentioning a goal or a direction, and this has been interpreted as meaning that “everyone”, that is to say, people of various religions, turn to face some direction or other in prayer, and that Muslims now turn to face the Ka‘bah. But what is the connection with the words which follow: “so vie with one another in good works”? The connection could be that the “direction” or “goal” of prayer is of two kinds. One is the external direction that a Muslim adopts physically by facing the Ka‘bah. The other is the internal direction, the direction within himself, and that goal or direction is the way in which you go in order to excel everyone else in the doing of good and charitable works. The words in Arabic here for this excelling are: فَاسۡتَبِقُوا الۡخَیۡرٰتِ . The mention of doing good works, in fact, of trying to excel others in the doing of good, occurs in the same verses which require Muslims to face the Ka‘bah in prayer. This shows that merely the act of facing it during prayer cannot benefit a Muslim unless it is accompanied by making efforts to do more and more good works.

Then the verse says: “Wherever you are, Allah will bring you all together”. This means that even if Muslims are scattered separately all over the world, they will be united in facing the Ka‘bah in prayer. When this verse was revealed it was the early days at Madinah, even before the battle of Badr. There were very few Muslims and they were in just a few places like Makkah and Madinah. No one could possibly know that Islam would even spread in Arabia, let alone everywhere. So these words con­tained a great prophecy about the spread of Islam far and wide.

I would also point out that as the act of facing the Ka‘bah in prayer is the means of unifying the Muslims, the Holy Prophet also instructed them: لا تکفر اہل قبلتک  — “Do not call the people who follow your Qiblah as kafir”. Similarly, there is a hadith in Bukhari in which he said: “Whoever says prayers as we pray, and faces our Qiblah, and eats the meat as slaughtered by us, that is a Muslim who has the security of Allah and the security of the Messenger of Allah . So do not be unfaithful to Allah as regards the security granted by Him” (hadith 391). Maulana Muhammad Ali comments on this hadith as follows:

“That is to say, no detailed investigation should be set up in determining if a person is a Muslim. It should be a broad measure as laid down here. If someone is seen to be praying as Muslims are required to do, facing the Qiblah they face, and to eat meat as slaughtered by Muslims, he is entitled to all the rights and privileges of the brotherhood of Islam. It is unknown on what basis Muslim clerics have adopted the practice of declaring Muslims as kafir (unbelievers) and outside the fold of Islam on all kinds of issues. To do so is to be ‘unfaithful to Allah as regards the security granted by Him’. A disregard of this broad principle and the malicious habit of declaring Muslims as heretic on minor differences of belief and practice has brought about disintegration in the Muslim fraternity. The words of this hadith are a standing prohibition against the issuing of fatwas of unbelief against fellow Muslims.”

The verse says: “Wherever you are, Allah will bring you all together”. Muslims, while living scattered all over the world, will be brought together by means of having the same direction of prayer. But what Muslim religious leaders have done is the opposite. Even where Muslims are living together in the same locality, society or country, they have split them up by expelling each other from Islam.

Before going further, I will digress here to relate an incident which shows an example of how Muslims could, if they wanted to, excel each other in doing good works. Once, at the annual gathering or Jalsa of the Lahore Ahmadiyya Anjuman during the life of Maulana Muhammad Ali, a leaflet written by a prominent anti-Ahmadiyya Muslim leader, Maulana Sanaullah of Amritsar, was being distributed by his followers. He was challenging Maulana Muhammad Ali to a public debate in front of Lahore Ahmadis and the disciples of Maulana Sanaullah. The audience were keenly waiting for Maulana Muhammad Ali’s reply. He replied to this challenge in his speech as follows:

“Regarding the debate proposed by him, I appoint Maulvi Sanaullah himself as the judge: let him select for himself any area which is a stronghold of non-Muslims, and let him allocate any such area to us. The two of us can either work in our respective areas for the propagation of Islam or send missionaries to do this work. Then after one year has passed, we should put forward to the public, at the present venue, reports of our achievements there. This will benefit both sides, even if just one person embraces Islam due to someone’s efforts. The advantage will be that even the loser would not have lost anything, while the other one would be the winner. However, no one is going to gain anything by tit-for-tat replies in a debate. Supporters of each side are going to claim that its leader prevailed in the debate. Let Maulvi Sanaullah come and give his decision as the judge. He must formulate some principle that he works according to. Either he should make Muslims into unbelievers or he should convert unbelievers to Islam. Without some principle it is difficult to achieve success.”

Going back to the verse of ch. 2, Al-Baqarah, which I have been discussing, it is generally con­sidered as applying to Muslims when it mentions the need to “vie with one another in good works” and promises that Allah will bring you all together wherever you are. The second verse, which I recited, is in ch. 5, Al-Ma’idah. It has similarities with the verse of ch. 2 and has a more general meaning. Just as the ch. 2 verse begins with: “And everyone (kull-in) has a goal to which he turns (himself)”, the verse in ch. 5 starts with the words: “For everyone (kull-in) of you We appointed a law and a way. And if Allah had pleased He would have made you a single religious community (umma)”. Obviously, this is talking about the different religions into which humanity is divided. It then gives the purpose of this division: “…that He might try you in what He gave you. So vie with one another in good works” (again the words in Arabic are فَاسۡتَبِقُوا الۡخَیۡرٰتِ). This means that the existence of different religions is a matter of trial for the followers of each religion. To succeed in that trial they must all try to do good works and excel the others in doing them because the goal set by every religion for its followers is the doing of good. But they will fail in that trial if they ignore the doing of good works because they believe that they are the “saved” ones or God’s favourites because of belonging to their particular faith, regardless of whether they do good deeds or not.

May Allah turn the minds of Muslims towards vying with one another in good works, and the minds of the various sections of humanity also towards vying with one another in good works. — ameen.