My Quest to Find the Meaning of Fitna

ASAK. I admit that I had never even heard the word fitna until several months ago, when it was being used to describe my actions. When I asked several people what it meant, I was told that it means to cause disunity or trouble in the community.

Cause trouble? What I was trying to do is make sure that the community understood the financial and other ramifications of the expansion plan.  I also wanted to make sure that the Administration understood what a huge financial undertaking this was so that they would handle the community’s money carefully. I also hoped they would seek the community’s input before embarking on such a major expansion plan. That’s causing trouble? I thought I was looking out for the community, not causing trouble or disunity.

If I was committing fitna, how did movements like the Arab Spring happen? Wasn’t that a huge example of fitna? The concept of fitna was not making sense for me.

So I did what I always do when I don’t understand something and started searching on the Internet for discussions about the topic. You would be amazed at how little information there is about fitna. Most of the links were about the movie Fitna, a 17 minute commentary by Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders with an anti-Islamic bias. That wasn’t what I was looking for, so I kept searching.

I could find no scholarly articles on the subject. There were a few examples, nothing at a community level, most something like this:

“For example a mischievous woman wants to cause problems between a husband and his wife. She goes to his house with some excuse, chats with his wife and leaves a pack of cigarettes on the side tables deliberately without the wife noticing it. Her husband comes home from work in evening and sees the pack of cigarettes and asks his wife, who came to see you. She gives the name of the woman. He asks does she smoke?. Wife says no she doesn’t smoke. Then who left this cigarette pack here. Now he thinks some man is visiting my wife in my absence and she is lying to me about the man. He insists to tell him the name of the man visiting you. Woman deliberately caused suspicion in the mind of this woman’s husband. The woman caused a fitna to make life of a married couple unhappy.”

This was not helping me understand why people were saying I was committing fitna, so I decided to take a different approach. I started looking for information about when it was appropriate to invoke the hadith of the Prophet (SWT) (Narrated by Abu Sa’d al Khudri (Sahih Muslim, Hadith 79): “He who amongst you sees something abominable should modify it with the help of his hand; and if he has not strength enough to do that, then he should do it with his tongue; and if he has not strength enough to do even that, then he should (at least abhor it) from his heart; and that is the least of faith.”

I found an interesting discussion of the topic, which you can read in its entirety at http://www.islamicperspectives.com/CommandingGood.htm. Since the article is fairly long, I will give a brief summary of some of its major points (portions of the article, to distinguish them from my viewpoints, are highlighted in green).

“It is generally held that commanding of what is right and forbidding of what is wrong is to be done only or primarily by government officials and the imams in the mosques. But the work of commanding the proper and forbidding the improper is not to be thought of as limited only to this group. Every believer is to do his work according to his or her capacity. In one of the verses quoted above (9:71), commanding the proper and forbidding the wrong is mentioned along with performing salat and paying zakat, etc., which means that all believers, men and women, are expected to command the proper and forbid the improper just as they are expected to pray and give zakat. Verses 9:112, 31:17 and the well-known Hadith quoted earlier also point in the same direction. This Hadith addresses the entire Ummah and says: “If any of you sees a wrong, let him change it…” The Hadith does not say: “If any government official or any imam of the mosque…” Also, this Hadith and verses 9:71, 9:112, 31:17 link commanding what is right and forbidding what is wrong with iman (faith and conviction) in an unconditional way, making it nothing short of a necessary consequence of iman.

“The words “commanding” and “forbidding” which imply authority may also suggest to some that amr bi al-ma’ruf wa nahi ‘an al-munkar (commanding the good and forbidding the evil) is to be done by those in some kind of authoritative position, either in a government or a religious establishment. But the authority that is needed for amr bi al-ma’ruf nahi ‘an al-munkar is possessed by every believer. It is the moral authority that a believer has as a vicegerent of God.

“Actions or behavior of public institutions or of individuals in a public capacity as a result of which the society as a whole suffers, may be publicly criticized by anyone, since in such a case every individual in the society is wronged. Of course, if such public criticism is the only peaceful way to correct the harmful action or behavior then it becomes not only permissible but obligatory.

“Muslims generally have a negative view of public criticism even in public matters but the question is that if commanding the right and forbidding the wrong can be done by hand, as the Qur’an (49:9) and Hadith make clear, then why can’t it be done by public criticism, if private persuasion does not work? Is not the use of hand or physical force more serious than non-violent public criticism?

“There seems to exist an impression that commanding good and forbidding evil is not helpful for Muslim unity. For example, it is said by some that Iran is creating conflict and division in the Ummah by continuing the war against the rulers of Iraq who started the aggression, who are allied with the powers of kufr and who themselves follow the secularist ideology of kufr. It is also said of AL-UMMAH and other publications that their criticisms do not help Muslim unity. But the Qur’an sees no contradiction between unity and commanding good and forbidding wrong. In 9:71, the Qur’an first says:

“Believing men and believing women are friends and protectors of one another.”

And then says:

“They command what is right and forbid what is wrong.”

“The Qur’an contains criticism of almost every segment of the Arabian society in the days of the Prophet and still succeeded in uniting the Arabs as they were never united before or after. The truth is that true unity is prevented by some established wrongs and cannot be achieved unless those wrongs are corrected and to do that we need the principle of commanding good and forbidding evil. Thus this principle not only does not harm true unity but is rather required by it.

“Today we are divided not because some Muslims are commanding good and forbidding evil by hand, tongue or pen, but rather because not enough of us are carrying out this religious obligation.”

No matter whether you agree or disagree with my position on the expansion plan, can you honestly say that you are commanding what is right and forbidding what is wrong?

Ann O’Brien Ahmad

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4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by yas on July 26, 2012 at 4:54 pm

    Anytime there is a questioning of the status quo, even if sincere (as I have no doubt that is your intent), it is easy to criticize that by using terms as Fitna, etc. Vigorous debate was encouraged even at the time of the Prophet (saw). The least people in authority can do is to be open, transparent and give a forum so all people with legitimate concerns can fell comfortable and included in the process, rather than marginalizing them and labeling them with a term that is offensive at best. May A…h (swt) guide us all. Ameen.

    Reply

  2. Posted by Anonymous on July 27, 2012 at 12:08 am

    This was very well stated and summarized. To label and slander is also unacceptable in Islam. To accuse a fellow Muslim of “fitna” for voicing a legitimate concern is deplorable. Post 9-11 anyone who disagreed with the administration’s foreign policies was blacklisted with the label “un-patriotic”.  We need to choose our words wisely- that is to say WITH CAREFUL DELIBERATION & careful examination over one’s own motives. This is a beautiful community that has raised a generation. Let us work together and refrain from misguided accusations. Check your own heart & make dua that we learn from one another and serve the community with humility.

    Reply

  3. Posted by M. Abuelroos on July 30, 2012 at 7:03 am

    ASAW, IT IS A VERY DISTURBING THAT BROTHER MANSOOR IS BEING ACCUSED OF CREATING FITNA, THIS ACCUSATION IS A FITNA BY DEFINITION, AND INS, WE ALL ARE PROTECTED AGAINST SUCH RHETORIC. I READ WHAT SISTER HAVE DONE, AND AS A MEMBER OF THIS COMMUNITY , ITS INCUMBENT THAT SHE IS HEARD, SINCE SUCCESSFUL ORGANIZATION IS DEPENDENT ON STRUCTURAL INTEGRITY AND TRUTHFULNESS, I.E, AN ORGANIZATION THAT IS ABLE TO COMMUNICATE AND COMMUNICATED TO-IN A CLEAR UN PREJUDICE ATTITUDE. SO, IF SOMEONE HAS AN IDEA TO CONTRIBUTE , WHY NOT . ( WA AMRUKUM SHURA BY NAKUM) ITS THE ISLAMIC WAY, AND AWAY FROM PERSONALIZING ISSUES. MAY ALLAH ACCEPT FROM ALL US.

    Reply

  4. Posted by Anonymous on July 30, 2012 at 7:19 pm

    ASAW, What is more disturbing is that we are discussing this topic in two different places. I am neither a scholar nor a leader, it makes me sad that we muslim brothers and sisters cannot resolve masjid related matters in masjid. I pray to Allah that this doesnot spill out on to streets for whatever reasons. We are seeing how muslims are fighting with muslims in many different ways, in many different countries, as if non-muslims were not enough blame our beloved Islam. Sorry if I am thinking too much.

    Ramadhan kareem.

    Reply

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