Walaa & Baraa: Loyalty in Islam

As Muslims, we understand the importance of the concept of ummah. The idea of a transnational Islamic identity is reiterated in the Qur’an and Sunnah, and it is relevant on a spiritual, social, and political level. From Ramadan and Eid, to war-torn conflicts and natural disasters, we feel the happiness and pain of our brothers and sisters in faith and make our support and love for them known.

An extension of this understanding are the twin principles of al-Walaa wal-Baraa. In relation to the time in which we live, when the ummah is disjointed and disunited across the world, what does this actually mean?

Al-Walaa literally means loyalty, to support, and to follow. In the context of Islam, al-Walaa becomes loyalty to Allah ﷻ and whatever He is pleased with, as well as friendship and closeness with fellow believers. It is to totally agree with the sayings, deeds, and beliefs that please Allah ﷻ and the people He ﷻ is pleased with.

After loving Allah ﷻ and His Messenger , Allah obligates us to love those who love Him and His Messenger and the Islamic aqeedah (creed) obligates every Muslim to love the people of tawhid (faith in One God). This manifests in kindness towards the believers, giving them the benefit of the doubt, and supporting them in Allah’s cause as described in the Qur’an:

And the believing men and the believing women are friends and allies to each other. [9:71]

AlBaraa, on the other hand, linguistically refers to the opposite: to desert, to detach ourselves, to keep innocent of, and thus contextually means to disagree with everything that Allah ﷻ dislikes and condemns. It is to free ourselves from whatever is displeasing to our Lord, being innocent of all that Allah ﷻ tells us to avoid, out of our own desire to reach a level of closeness to Him.

There are four issues to which the principles of walaa and baraa apply, namely: sayings, deeds, beliefs, and individuals. Speech that is disliked by Allah, including swearing, crude speech, and loose talk, cannot be then appreciated by us, even if we are not engaging in it. Actions such as zina (fornication) and taking interest cannot be endorsed by us, even if we are not going to partake in those actions ourselves. Similarly, we cannot rejoice in the disbelief of others. Although we believe there is no compulsion in religion and respect those of other faiths, we must always wish for someone to enter into the pure worship of Allah ﷻ. And finally, individual persons which make their livelihoods out of disgracing Islam and the Prophet Muhammad or oppressing Muslims, many of whom we see today, cannot be respected by us, even if their personal achievements are prolific.

This understanding is epitomised in many verses of the Qur’an, most notably in Surah Ma’idah verse 54, where Allah ﷻ says:

O you who have believed, whoever of you should revert from his religion – Allah will bring forth [in place of them] a people He will love and who will love Him who are humble toward the believers, steadfast against the disbelievers; they strive in the cause of Allah and do not fear the blame of a critic. That is the favor of Allah; He bestows it upon whom He wills. And Allah is all-Encompassing and Knowing.

Ibn ‘Abbas (ra) also said: “Whoever loves for Allah’s sake and hates for Allah’s sake, has al-walaa’ for Allah’s sake, and ‘adaa (distances oneself) for Allah’s sake will receive, because of this, Allah’s allegiance and closeness (wilaayah). A person will not experience the taste of faith – even if he prays and fasts in abundance – until he is like this. Today the people in general base their alliegances upon worldly affairs, but this will not benefit them at all [in the Hereafter].”

To give allegiance to Allah and His Messenger , and to the ummah of our Prophet, means that the bond of Islam comes before any other relations a person may have, however close or far. It also means an allegiance to Islam at the expense of any other way of life or deen, and to uphold the laws of Allah at the expense of any other laws from any source other than the Islamic sources. A believer’s own love and hate is moulded and directed by Islam, as our beloved Prophet said: “Whoever loves for the sake of Allah, and hates for the sake of Allah, and gives for the sake of Allah, and prevents for the sake of Allah has completed their iman.” (Abu Dawud)

This applies in countless areas of our lives today; from an individual level when we don’t give our brothers and sisters the benefit of the doubt in small interactions, to a community level where it has become a trend to bash ourselves as Muslims or other communities, broad brushing them with certain stereotypes, to a global level where we see Muslims support political or military campaigns (or those behind them) that oppress Muslims at home or abroad. We must reconsider our actions in light of the allegiance we must have to what Allah ﷻ has revealed, and we act on this understanding of tawhid in all aspects of our lives.

Al-Barra’ bin A’azeb (ra) narrates that the Prophet said: “The strongest bond of iman is the love for Allah’s sake and the hatred for Allah’s sake.” We must remember that this is central to our Islamic understanding of unity and will always be greater than any nationalistic or ethnic bond that we may possess with people.

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