Need for a New Hilf al-Fudul
Some two decades before the Prophet Muhammad was appointed as a prophet, a trader from Yemen sold some goods to a Meccan man called ‘Aas ibn Wa’il, but the latter did not pay him for them. In order to secure justice for the trader, a meeting was held at the house of Abdullah ibn Jud‘an, attended by several respected inhabitants of Mecca. They entered into a pact, according to which in incidents like this, collective efforts would be taken to ensure justice for those rights had been violated. This treaty is known as the Hilf al-Fudul, which is often translated as ‘League of the Virtuous’.
The Prophet was present on this occasion. At that time, he was around 20 years old. After he was appointed as a prophet, he expressed his contentment at having joined the association, saying that the oath of the Hilf al-Fudul was more pleasant than owning red-haired camels (This sort of camel was very rare and so was very expensive, being considered very precious). If he were summoned to it during the Islamic era, too, the Prophet said, he would accept it.
The Hilf al-Fudul and the Prophet’s response to it can form the basis for joint efforts by people irrespective of religion to work together for the preservation, protection and promotion of human values. This sort of unity can be envisaged at various levels—from the local to the regional to the national and even to the international level. True, some people who simply cannot tolerate the idea of Muslims and non-Muslims joining hands may balk at this idea, as might those who take a very narrow view of ‘Islamic’ causes. But the Hilf-e Fudul shows how such unity can bring people of different faiths and ideological persuasions to work together for the collective good of humankind.
Today, people across the world—from diverse countries, faith backgrounds and cultures—are closely inter-connected, perhaps as never before. Hitherto largely mono-religious countries are increasingly becoming multi-religious—and this is happening in both the Muslim and non-Muslim ‘worlds’. Both these ‘worlds’ are now being impacted upon by external religious, cultural and economic influences. This is leading to the walls that have stood for centuries around them beginning to crumble. No longer is it considered necessary for religious minorities to have to completely assimilate into majority populations and lose their faith and identity. In an atmosphere of increasing tolerance and respect, they can now maintain their faith and culture and at the same time work with people of other faiths for common purposes. True, there may be some exceptions in these regard, but these are temporary, and are definitely not the rule.
This coming closer together of various religious groups is in line with the Prophet’s saying that all creatures are [part of] God’s family. The Hilf al-Fudul underlies the need for us to unite this family of God by rising above religious and other ideological differences and working together for protecting and promoting common human values.
In today’s world, there are numerous problems that necessitate such joint cooperation and untied action by people of different faiths and ideologies—endemic poverty, global warming, the nuclear race, ecological devastation, rampant immorality, the crisis in the institution of the family, violence in the name of religion, racism, war, terrorism and so on. These problems are not specific to just one community or nation. Rather, they have become global phenomena. They simply cannot be effectively solved without the joint efforts of all communities and nations. In the absence of such unity, humanity’s race towards destruction cannot be halted. Some people might think that such unity is a foolish dream. But, then, the fact is that we simply have no choice but to dream this dream and try to work to make it a reality. All communities, Muslims included, need to enkindle the spirit of the Hilf al-Fudul. Muslims especially should pay attention to this task.