x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Is Muslim fraternity even possible?

Cesare Borgia, ruthless, cunning, treacherous, sometime muse of Niccolo Machiavelli. He knew exactly what he was after and the most direct path to get it.

Cesare Borgia, ruthless, cunning, treacherous, sometime muse of Niccolo Machiavelli. He knew exactly what he was after and the most direct path to get it. But while the realist scores quick wins in the moment, fate has seldom been kind to his style of operation. Borgia's political career was ultimately considered to be a failure, slain unexpectedly in ignominy and exile; the opportunist has never been remembered fondly by history.

Skip forward 493 years to the set of the CBS reality show, Survivor, where 16 contestants are divided into two competing tribes and stranded on a Pacific island. To win the ultimate prize as "sole survivor" they will outwit, undermine, cheat, lie and trick their tribemates. Using the most deceitful ruse to create ostensible friendships, they will deceive and subvert when the best opportunity presents itself. It's the name of the game and viewers are titillated by the intrigue.

Does the show mirror our daily life, or does it inform it? I recently saw a title in a bookstore, Everything I Know I Learned from TV: Philosophy Explained Through Our Favorite TV Shows. Here we are, ladies and gentlemen, the future, that promised utopia of the 1950s; ahhh, the smell of progress. Skip backwards one year to the release of Koushun Takami's novel, Battle Royale. Fifty junior high school students are placed on an isolated island with the requirement - under threat of immediate extermination by means of collars fixed around their necks - to fight one another to the death. The psychological torment, as each student struggles to come terms with reality, trusting and mistrusting their friends and classmates, hurtles them into a kill or be killed existence. Only the shrewdest and coldest will survive; could we call it synthetic Darwinism? It's the corporate "bottom-line" reified in social engineering.

We sleep in the bed that we collectively make for ourselves. In other words, we are given the social reality we deserve. But fraternity, a sense of affinity and bond of filial affiliation is grounded in eternal truth, prescribed by Divine writ. "Verily the believers are brothers, so make amends between your brothers," the Quran pronounces. The first half of the verse is a statement of ontological fact, the second half is an assignment of responsibility.

But in the tradition of Islamic legal hermeneutics it is a double "contrary" understanding, a "two-way street" if you will. The first, if there is discord between two people meant to be bound in fraternity, you are responsible to mend the rift. Second, in your organisation of society, you are responsible to prevent any factors that may induce schism between people. Willingly (or enthusiastically) creating scenarios that pit people at one another's throats - for fun and profit - is anathema to organic humanity.

The Prophet Mohammed famously said: "The Muslim is the brother to the Muslim; he does not oppress him, he does not forsake him, and he does not lie to him." These items are the cracks in the substructure of solidarity. He is further quoted as saying: "Whosoever forsakes a Muslim in a moment that his honour and dignity are violated, Allah will forsake him in a moment when he most wishes rescue. Whosoever comes to the aid of a Muslim in such a moment, Allah will come to his aid when he most needs it."

The bottom line has no use for "meaning" and no space for the sacrosanct. Streamlined of all unquantifiable dead weight, life becomes a survival of the shrewdest; winner loses all. Jihad Hasim Brown is director of research at the Tabah Foundation. He delivers the Friday sermon at the Maryam bint Sultan Mosque in Abu Dhabi