Longing for Brotherhood, Chapter 30, The Search for Beauty in Islam: A Conference of the Books

The wonder of brotherhood cannot be invented by genes or constructed by law. It is a magnificent state which is equal in worth to an escape from Hellfire or a gift of Heaven, for those who were on the brink of Hellfire were saved by brotherhood (3:103), and those who attained Heaven were anointed with brotherhood (15:47). It is equal in status to the wonder of beauty, the nobility of dignity, and the magnificence of decency. But brotherhood is a state, and not a status. As a blessing, it flows, bonding souls and hearts, but it cannot be legislated, quantified, or institutionalized.


Neither theology nor law replaces the need for a fundamental and intuitive sense of decency or beauty. All the institutional structures of the world cannot impart to the obstinate the fundamental sense of decency and beauty that is at the core of brotherhood. And, all the effective mechanisms of activism and intellectualism cannot conceal the ugliness when brotherly love is absent. The Qur’an speaks of those who will come to God on the Final Day with a pure and healthy heart (26:89). But what law or what institutional command can cleanse a tainted soul or mend a fractured heart? What law or command can create the sweet moments that build that majestic bond? What law or command can instill an unwavering fidelity to a beautiful memory? Laws and commands exhort and punish, but if the heart is corrupted, no command or order can replace the intimacy and truthfulness of a lively conscience, beautiful soul, and loving heart.


We sat long hours conversing on an abstract and indefinable concept called “the movement.” We dreamt of partners and mates, and of an altered future. There was this vague sense of a destiny, and the desire to invent the exceptional. God’s Will was searched at potlucks, in camps, on hikes, through lectures, in debates, and in sleep. God’s Will was searched in the midst of midnight coffees, scribbles on notepads, and greasy meals. God’s Will was embraced by wishful thoughts and meddling dreams.


There was a feeling of a tie or an exceptional bond which united the participants in this fantastic dream. We imagined the coming of an Islamic movement. We imagined that there would be a diligent and unwavering brotherhood interlocking our emotions and thoughts around the bond of God. There was a pious and silly sense of confidence about the difference between the demonstrative individual legacies that we could see all around us, and what we believed we were going to be. If earlier generations had become distracted by life, well, we were going to be different. We would remain faithful to the ideal.


After years of reflection and distance, I come back to the same place. I visit all the old locations, the houses, the cafes, the streets, and the campuses. The remnants are there, but the effect is gone. Years later, there are marriages and divorces, there are children and schools, there are homes and jobs, but the bond between us and the brotherhood is gone. I do not lament the memories, for the memories are history, and history is a lesson. It is not that we are inactive, because most of us remained as active as one could hope. But the brotherhood that makes the activism of one a way of loving the other, is now lost. The Prophet is reported to have said, “You do not become a believer until you love for your brother what you would love for yourself. ”Such brotherhood is a state by which you love, worry, and crave for your brother. Brotherhood is a state which permits a group to move from the realm of a cooperative effort to the imperative of a shared destiny. It is a standard by which the success of a group is measured by the success of its individuals, and by which the strength of a group is measured by the strength of the bond that unites its members. The success of a group does not depend on its ability to unite over a cause or by its ability to work towards achieving a cause. Rather, the success of a group depends on its ability to transform its own members into a cause.


I do not blame the partners of my youth, for I realize that we were a fiction created by the polemics of the moment. I, like my partners, forgot that brotherhood, like decency or beauty, is a state and not a status. Without diligence and effort, decency degenerates into indifference, beauty degenerates into blandness, and brotherhood degenerates into a habit. The blessing of brotherhood is given by God to those whose piety is channeled into an unwavering sense of fidelity to all that is decent and beautiful. Ultimately, brotherhood is the just reward for those who are truly decent and truly beautiful.