In the previous article we explored that while both behavior and belief are important the primary focus of a community is not the same as an individual. That a community needs to be more concerned regarding the behavior of its members, while an individual needs to be more concerned with their belief.
But what about a congregation? While a community can encompass an entire nation with people of all faiths and creeds, a congregation is more refined. Despite the Arabic uses the term أُمَّة (umma) for both meanings the verses show that there is a distinction between a community like a nation and a community like a congregation. One of the verses that best describes this distinction can be found in the following verse:
[5:48] Then we revealed to you this scripture, truthfully, confirming previous scriptures, and superseding them. You shall rule among them in accordance with GOD’s revelations, and do not follow their wishes if they differ from the truth that came to you. For each of you, we have decreed laws and different rites. Had GOD willed, He could have made you one congregation. But He thus puts you to the test through the revelations He has given each of you. You shall compete in righteousness. To GOD is your final destiny—all of you—then He will inform you of everything you had disputed.
وَأَنْزَلْنَا إِلَيْكَ الْكِتَابَ بِالْحَقِّ مُصَدِّقًا لِمَا بَيْنَ يَدَيْهِ مِنَ الْكِتَابِ وَمُهَيْمِنًا عَلَيْهِ فَاحْكُمْ بَيْنَهُمْ بِمَا أَنْزَلَ اللَّهُ وَلَا تَتَّبِعْ أَهْوَاءَهُمْ عَمَّا جَاءَكَ مِنَ الْحَقِّ لِكُلٍّ جَعَلْنَا مِنْكُمْ شِرْعَةً وَمِنْهَاجًا وَلَوْ شَاءَ اللَّهُ لَجَعَلَكُمْ أُمَّةً وَاحِدَةً وَلَٰكِنْ لِيَبْلُوَكُمْ فِي مَا آتَاكُمْ فَاسْتَبِقُوا الْخَيْرَاتِ إِلَى اللَّهِ مَرْجِعُكُمْ جَمِيعًا فَيُنَبِّئُكُمْ بِمَا كُنْتُمْ فِيهِ تَخْتَلِفُونَ
The above verse informs us that a congregation is defined by the laws and rites that the members follow. As the Quran does not advocate compulsion in religion this shows that in a societal level the laws must guarantee that each congregation should be able to worship freely without interference from the state. It is because of this that the closest political system according to the Quran on a federal level is that of libertarianism, where individuals are free to do what they want as long as they don’t infringe on the rights of others. Therefore, while our community can encompass people of all faiths and beliefs our congregation is determined by our religious laws and rites.
[22:67] For each congregation, we have decreed a set of rites that they must uphold. Therefore, they should not dispute with you. You shall continue to invite everyone to your Lord. Most assuredly, you are on the right path.
لِكُلِّ أُمَّةٍ جَعَلْنَا مَنْسَكًا هُمْ نَاسِكُوهُ فَلَا يُنَازِعُنَّكَ فِي الْأَمْرِ وَادْعُ إِلَىٰ رَبِّكَ إِنَّكَ لَعَلَىٰ هُدًى مُسْتَقِيمٍ
So in a congregation which should take priority, either belief or behavior? For the same reasons we saw in the previous article behavior will still take priority over belief with one key exception, that the members of the congregation have a basic consensual agreement to the rites of the religion.
If we think of a congregation as a cohesive team that are all working together for a commonly shared end goal, which in the case for a submitter is to make it to the Hereafter. Therefore, in order for this to work the members of the team should all agree on the basic ground rules. If on the other hand, each member chooses to perform their own rites or laws based on their own whims then it will lead to disunity.
To understand this consider a soccer team as a metaphor for a congregation. If the members of the team wanted to partake in a match, there would need to be a consensus among all of the members to the rules of the game and how it is to be played. If for instance one player wanted to apply the rules of basketball and another one wanted to apply the rules of baseball then there would be chaos.
For a submitter community the rules of the game are defined by the Quran and the rites of the religion have been passed down to us by Abraham. This is the criteria that should distinguish the people in our congregation from those outside our congregation. This is the minimum threshold for the members of a congregation.
[6:114] Shall I seek other than GOD as a source of law, when He has revealed to you this book fully detailed? Those who received the scripture recognize that it has been revealed from your Lord, truthfully. You shall not harbor any doubt.
أَفَغَيْرَ اللَّهِ أَبْتَغِي حَكَمًا وَهُوَ الَّذِي أَنْزَلَ إِلَيْكُمُ الْكِتَابَ مُفَصَّلًا وَالَّذِينَ آتَيْنَاهُمُ الْكِتَابَ يَعْلَمُونَ أَنَّهُ مُنَزَّلٌ مِنْ رَبِّكَ بِالْحَقِّ فَلَا تَكُونَنَّ مِنَ الْمُمْتَرِينَ
[16:123] Then we inspired you (Muhammad) to follow the religion of Abraham, the monotheist; he never was an idol worshiper.
ثُمَّ أَوْحَيْنَا إِلَيْكَ أَنِ اتَّبِعْ مِلَّةَ إِبْرَاهِيمَ حَنِيفًا وَمَا كَانَ مِنَ الْمُشْرِكِينَ
If as submitters we unanimously agree that the source of law is the Quran alone and the ritual practices are only what has been passed down to us by Abraham, then after this minimum criteria is met, the primary focus of the congregation should be more concerned with the behavior and actions of its members rather than their belief. A perfect example of this is in the following verses:
[4:88] Why should you divide yourselves into two groups regarding hypocrites (among you)? GOD is the one who condemned them because of their own behavior. Do you want to guide those who are sent astray by GOD? Whomever GOD sends astray, you can never find a way to guide them.
فَمَا لَكُمْ فِي الْمُنَافِقِينَ فِئَتَيْنِ وَاللَّهُ أَرْكَسَهُمْ بِمَا كَسَبُوا أَتُرِيدُونَ أَنْ تَهْدُوا مَنْ أَضَلَّ اللَّهُ وَمَنْ يُضْلِلِ اللَّهُ فَلَنْ تَجِدَ لَهُ سَبِيلًا
[4:89] They wish that you disbelieve as they have disbelieved, then you become equal. Do not consider them friends, unless they mobilize along with you in the cause of GOD. If they turn against you, you shall fight them, and you may kill them when you encounter them in war. You shall not accept them as friends, or allies.
وَدُّوا لَوْ تَكْفُرُونَ كَمَا كَفَرُوا فَتَكُونُونَ سَوَاءً فَلَا تَتَّخِذُوا مِنْهُمْ أَوْلِيَاءَ حَتَّىٰ يُهَاجِرُوا فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ فَإِنْ تَوَلَّوْا فَخُذُوهُمْ وَاقْتُلُوهُمْ حَيْثُ وَجَدْتُمُوهُمْ وَلَا تَتَّخِذُوا مِنْهُمْ وَلِيًّا وَلَا نَصِيرًا
Firstly, in these verses God is acknowledging that within believing congregation there are going to be hypocrites, but God is advising not to divide over these individuals. Secondly, God is informing us that if the known hypocrites mobilize with the believers in the cause of God that the believers can befriend them. This again reinforces that behavior and action are more important than belief when dealing with a congregation.
Another example regarding the importance of maintaining proper behavior in a believing congregation is in the following verse regarding infighting amongst believers.
[49:9] If two groups of believers fought with each other, you shall reconcile them. If one group aggresses against the other, you shall fight the aggressing group until they submit to GOD’s command. Once they submit, you shall reconcile the two groups equitably. You shall maintain justice; GOD loves those who are just.
وَإِنْ طَائِفَتَانِ مِنَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ اقْتَتَلُوا فَأَصْلِحُوا بَيْنَهُمَا فَإِنْ بَغَتْ إِحْدَاهُمَا عَلَى الْأُخْرَىٰ فَقَاتِلُوا الَّتِي تَبْغِي حَتَّىٰ تَفِيءَ إِلَىٰ أَمْرِ اللَّهِ فَإِنْ فَاءَتْ فَأَصْلِحُوا بَيْنَهُمَا بِالْعَدْلِ وَأَقْسِطُوا إِنَّ اللَّهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُقْسِطِينَ
Notice that for one, God is acknowledging that fighting within the believing communities is not outside the realm of possibilities. Furthermore, that God does not tell the believers to investigate which group is right, but instead says to first reconcile and if one group continues to aggress to fight the aggressing group. This again informs us that what God wants us to focus on in a believing congregation is primarily behavior as opposed to belief.
Believers are United
[3:103] You shall hold fast to the rope of GOD, all of you, and do not be divided. Recall GOD’s blessings upon you—you used to be enemies and He reconciled your hearts. By His grace, you became brethren. You were at the brink of a pit of fire, and He saved you therefrom. GOD thus explains His revelations for you, that you may be guided. [3:104] Let there be a community of you who invite to what is good, advocate righteousness, and forbid evil. These are the winners. [3:105] Do not be like those who became divided and disputed, despite the clear proofs that were given to them. For these have incurred a terrible retribution.
وَاعْتَصِمُوا بِحَبْلِ اللَّهِ جَمِيعًا وَلَا تَفَرَّقُوا وَاذْكُرُوا نِعْمَتَ اللَّهِ عَلَيْكُمْ إِذْ كُنْتُمْ أَعْدَاءً فَأَلَّفَ بَيْنَ قُلُوبِكُمْ فَأَصْبَحْتُمْ بِنِعْمَتِهِ إِخْوَانًا وَكُنْتُمْ عَلَىٰ شَفَا حُفْرَةٍ مِنَ النَّارِ فَأَنْقَذَكُمْ مِنْهَا كَذَٰلِكَ يُبَيِّنُ اللَّهُ لَكُمْ آيَاتِهِ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَهْتَدُونَ
وَلْتَكُنْ مِنْكُمْ أُمَّةٌ يَدْعُونَ إِلَى الْخَيْرِ وَيَأْمُرُونَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَيَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ الْمُنْكَرِ وَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْمُفْلِحُونَ
وَلَا تَكُونُوا كَالَّذِينَ تَفَرَّقُوا وَاخْتَلَفُوا مِنْ بَعْدِ مَا جَاءَهُمُ الْبَيِّنَاتُ وَأُولَٰئِكَ لَهُمْ عَذَابٌ عَظِيمٌ
The difference between a community and a congregation is that while a community or nation may encompass people of many faiths, beliefs, and rites a congregation shares a unifying factor of which its members all share the same rites. As long as the members have a consensus on the source of law and the rites of their religion and how to perform these rituals within their congregation then there should be no reason to dispute and divide. And if a congregation does then it is because they are misapplying the law that God decreed by not maintaining good behavior among themselves (5:8, 2:190, 2:193, 49:10). If we fail to do this and create sects and divisions then it shows that we are misapplying God’s laws and potentially falling into the only unforgivable sin, that of idol worship (4:48, 4:116).
[42:13] He decreed for you the same religion decreed for Noah, and what we inspired to you, and what we decreed for Abraham, Moses, and Jesus: “You shall uphold this one religion, and do not divide it.” The idol worshipers will greatly resent what you invite them to do. GOD redeems to Himself whomever He wills; He guides to Himself only those who totally submit.
شَرَعَ لَكُمْ مِنَ الدِّينِ مَا وَصَّىٰ بِهِ نُوحًا وَالَّذِي أَوْحَيْنَا إِلَيْكَ وَمَا وَصَّيْنَا بِهِ إِبْرَاهِيمَ وَمُوسَىٰ وَعِيسَىٰ أَنْ أَقِيمُوا الدِّينَ وَلَا تَتَفَرَّقُوا فِيهِ كَبُرَ عَلَى الْمُشْرِكِينَ مَا تَدْعُوهُمْ إِلَيْهِ اللَّهُ يَجْتَبِي إِلَيْهِ مَنْ يَشَاءُ وَيَهْدِي إِلَيْهِ مَنْ يُنِيبُ
[6:159] Those who divide themselves into sects do not belong with you. Their judgment rests with GOD, then He will inform them of everything they had done.
إِنَّ الَّذِينَ فَرَّقُوا دِينَهُمْ وَكَانُوا شِيَعًا لَسْتَ مِنْهُمْ فِي شَيْءٍ إِنَّمَا أَمْرُهُمْ إِلَى اللَّهِ ثُمَّ يُنَبِّئُهُمْ بِمَا كَانُوا يَفْعَلُونَ
[30:31] You shall submit to Him, reverence Him, observe the Contact Prayers (Salat), and—whatever you do—do not ever fall into idol worship. [30:32] like those who divide their religion into sects; each party rejoicing with what they have.
مُنِيبِينَ إِلَيْهِ وَاتَّقُوهُ وَأَقِيمُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَلَا تَكُونُوا مِنَ الْمُشْرِكِينَ
مِنَ الَّذِينَ فَرَّقُوا دِينَهُمْ وَكَانُوا شِيَعًا كُلُّ حِزْبٍ بِمَا لَدَيْهِمْ فَرِحُونَ