The Arabic word for selflessness is ithar. It means to give without ego. Sacrifice, tadhiya, means to give up something for a greater cause. These are two key elements in building a community. This is the focus of Imam Mendes’s talk.
The importance of this ethic, of these two concepts of selflessness and sacrifice, is that they transcend mere identity politics. They make it clear that the idea of an Umma is not one of belonging to a group, but one of family. The Umma is family.
Allah Most High says:
إِنَّمَا الْمُؤْمِنُونَ إِخْوَةٌ فَأَصْلِحُوا بَيْنَ أَخَوَيْكُمْ ۚ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّـهَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُرْحَمُونَ
The believers are but brothers, so make settlement between your brothers. And fear Allah that you may receive mercy. (49:10)
The key to a true brotherhood, Imam Mendes says, begins with the Qur’an. It begins with a relationship to the Qur’an. The word Qur’an, he says, means recitation, but it also means joining, gathering, uniting, and as such it is the Book that binds our Umma, our community, together.
It is not an occasional text, but an intimate friend, guide and companion throughout life. Immersion in the ocean that is the Qur’an shows that it is no thing to sacrifice for another since we are all one. Allah Most High Says:
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ اتَّقُوا رَبَّكُمُ الَّذِي خَلَقَكُم مِّن نَّفْسٍ وَاحِدَةٍ وَخَلَقَ مِنْهَا زَوْجَهَا وَبَثَّ مِنْهُمَا رِجَالًا كَثِيرًا وَنِسَاءً ۚ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّـهَ الَّذِي تَسَاءَلُونَ بِهِ وَالْأَرْحَامَ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ كَانَ عَلَيْكُمْ رَقِيبًا
O mankind, fear your Lord, who created you from one soul and created from it its mate and dispersed from both of them many men and women. And fear Allah, through whom you ask one another, and the wombs. Indeed Allah is ever, over you, an Observer. (4:1)
Oneness precedes our diversity. We are called to come to know one another and to build community. That is from our first nature (fitra). This is the basis of the ethic that Imam Mendes outlines and looks into.
Bio of Imam Mendes
Muhammad Adeyinka Mendes serves as Founding Director of The Society for Sacred Service, a peacemaking training organization. He also serves as a community Imam and instructor of Arabic and the Islamic Sciences based in the Metro Atlanta area.
After embracing Islam, the Way of Love and Religion of the Prophets, following a life changing trip to Jerusalem at the age of 17, he specialized in Arabic at the university level. He has been trained for over two decades in the classical Islamic Sciences by notable scholars and spiritual masters from around the world.
Imam Mendes teaches a radically non-sectarian, non-misogynistic, nonviolent, and environmentally conscious methodology of Islam. His teaching rooted in its classical and mystical traditions. It is positively engaged with society and appreciative of human diversity. It seeks interfaith and inter-spiritual conversation and collaboration, and is empowering to women and youth.
Resources for Seekers:
Some of the Proper Manners of Service to One’s Teachers and in All Religious Activism
Sunnas for a Healthy Community
Service – A powerful khutbah from Imam Zaid Shakir
Muslim Communal Obligation: Stories That Will Have You In Tears