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On Cooperation

There is a famous fable of an old man who called his children to break a bunch of sticks. Each one of them tried his turn to break the bunch but failed. Then the father unbundled the bunch and gave one stick to each of his children. This each of them was able to break his stick easily.  The father drew a moral from this. He told them that if they remained separate, their might will be limited but if they remained united and acted in cooperation nobody could break them. An example of cooperation is found in Hadrat Ibrahim and his son Ismail.  When Hadrat Ibrahim was commanded by God Almighty to build Ka’bah he associated his son Ismail in this task and together they built the Ka’bah. Their endeavour has been described in Quran in these words:

وَإِذْ يَرْفَعُ إِبْرَاهِيمُ الْقَوَاعِدَ مِنْ الْبَيْتِ وَإِسْمَاعِيلُ رَبَّنَا تَقَبَّلْ مِنَّا إِنَّكَ أَنْتَ السَّمِيعُ الْعَلِيمُ
(البقرة: 127)

Translation of Meaning: “And remember when Ibrahim and Ismail were raising the foundations of [God’s] House; [Ibrahim prayed] Our Lord! Accept [this service] from us. Lo! Thou art the Great Hearer, the Great Knower” (Al-Baqarah: 127).

Likewise, when Hadrat Musa (AS) was appointed by God to carry the message of monotheism to Pharaoh, he prayed to God to make his brother Harun his collaborator. Allah granted his request. Quran declares:

وَاجْعَلْ لِي وَزِيراً مِنْ أَهْلِي (29) هَارُونَ أَخِي (30) اشْدُدْ بِهِ أَزْرِي (31) وَأَشْرِكْهُ فِي أَمْرِي (32) (طه : 29-32)

Translation of Meaning: “Appoint for me a counsel from my household, Harun my brother.  Confirm my strength with him. And let him share my task” (Ta Ha: 29-32).

In pre-historical times there existed a mighty and just ruler named Zul Qarnain. Once during his journey he passed through a place whose inhabitants were tyrannized by Gog and Magog living in the neighbouring village.  They pleaded Zul Qarnain to build a barrier between them and the marauding tyrants to prevent them from overwhelming their village. Zul Qarnain told them to provide iron so that he could build the barrier.  Accordingly they cooperated among themselves to provide a big quantity of iron.  Zul Qarnain melted the iron and built a barrier on the way through which Gog and Magog used to invade them.  This episode has been mentioned in the Quran in these words:

قَالُوا يَا ذَا الْقَرْنَيْنِ إِنَّ يَأْجُوجَ وَمَأْجُوجَ مُفْسِدُونَ فِي الأَرْضِ فَهَلْ نَجْعَلُ لَكَ خَرْجاً عَلَى أَنْ تَجْعَلَ بَيْنَنَا وَبَيْنَهُمْ سَدّاً (94)  قَالَ مَا مَكَّنَنِي فِيهِ رَبِّي خَيْرٌ فَأَعِينُونِي بِقُوَّةٍ أَجْعَلْ بَيْنَكُمْ وَبَيْنَهُمْ رَدْماً (95) (الكهف : 94-95)

Translation of Meaning: “They said: O Zul Qarnain! Lo! Gog and Magog are spoiling the land. So may we pay thee tribute on condition that thou set a barrier between us and them? He said: That wherein my Lord hath established me is better [than your tribute]. Do but help me with strength [of men], I will set between you and them a bar.  Give me pieces of iron –till, when he had levelled up [the gap] between the cliffs, he said: Blow!–till, when he had made it a fire, he said: Bring me molten copper to pour thereon.  And [Gog and Magog] were not able to surmount, nor could they pierce [it].” (Al-Kahf:  94-95).

After migrating from Mecca, the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) set to build his masjid in Madinah. The construction was done by the cooperation of his companions.

Another instance of the fruit of cooperation is the occasion when all the pagan clans in collusion with Jews of Madinah and pagans of Mecca marched to invade Madinah. At this juncture Hadrat Salman Farsi advised that a trench be dug around Madinah for its defence.  The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) approved this plan which was executed by the companions in complete coordination. This way Madinah was saved from the rampage of the invading infidels.

In all the above-mentioned episodes the common element is that of unity and cooperation. The divine commandment is:

وَتَعَاوَنُوا عَلَى الْبِرِّ وَالتَّقْوَى (المائدة: 2)

Translation of Meaning: “. . . Cooperate among yourselves unto righteousness and piety.  Help not each other unto sin and transgression, but keep your duty to Allah.  Lo! Allah is severe in punishment.” (Al-Maedah: 2).

The virtue of cooperation:  Cooperation is an inevitable fact and indispensable necessity of life in society.  Interdependence is the very foundation of society and, therefore, no one can live alone nor fulfil his needs solitarily. The Messenger of Allah exhorted that if one has a spare means of transportation he should give it to one who is without transport. Similarly if one has excess consumables of journey he should share it with the have nots [Muslim; Abu Daud].  The Messenger of Allah was a humanist and kind-hearted being.  He has forbidden that servants and labourers should not be loaded with excessive work which is beyond their capacity.  If they are facing difficulty in their work, join them to lessen their burden and share their labour [unanimous].

The best and super most co-operator of a believer is God Almighty.  He should seek succour from him when in straits.  In every salat he affirms:

إِيَّاكَ نَعْبُدُ وَإِيَّاكَ نَسْتَعِينُ (الفاتحة: 5)

Translation of Meaning: “Thee we worship and from thee we seek assistance” (Al-Fatiha: 5).

The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) has assimilated the unity and solidarity of the community of believers to a living body.

Translation : “If one part is afflicted with pain all other parts feel it.” [Muslim].

It is in another tradition that, Translation : “The hand of Allah is over the head of Jama’at” [community].  The prophet also declared that Translation: “Believers are like different parts of a building.  Each part reinforces the other parts” [unanimous].  He also pronounced that, Translation of Meaning:  “It is a sadaqah [charity] to help the weak and deprived with your strength and power.” [Ahmad].

Along with exhortation to believers to cooperate among themselves for right causes our faith forbids us from cooperating in sinful acts and transgression, as ordained in ayat 2 of Surah Al-Maedah.

وَلا تَعَاوَنُوا عَلَى الإِثْمِ وَالْعُدْوَانِ (المائدة:2)

Translation of Meaning: “but do not help one another in sin and transgression.” (Al-Maeda: 2)

If a Muslim sees another Muslim doing something wrong it would not be proper to deal with him harshly or violently.  If treated like this he is likely to become an accomplice of Satan.  It is advisable to dissuade him gently and explain to him the impropriety of his action.