Donald Trump is having a hard time putting his inauguration together. From entertainers to clergy, many Americans have flatly refused to participate. The one thing he hasn’t had a hard time with is finding a Muslim voice, principally because, by all evidence, he hasn’t approached any Islamic clergy to offer any kind of invocation. Though what if he had?
When the Prophet Muhammad made his exodus from an increasingly murderous Mecca to a safe haven in Medina, his community grew immeasurably, but found itself beset by new challenges. The Muslims of Medina vowed to support Muhammad, but they were themselves riven; the tribes of Aws and Khazraj were now Muslim. But they had been feuding generationally.
You could say there was a red Medina and a blue Medina.
From time to time, the old tensions flared, and the old world way of doing things resurfaced; on one occasion, a dispute between the two tribes threatened to turn violent, and horrified Muhammad. He counseled his flock that they belonged now to a new community, and their loyalty was not to their ethnicity, their culture, or even their creed, but to right and wrong.
And so he gave them this astonishing advice.
Once two young men, one from the Meccans and one from Medina, fell into dispute, and the man from Mecca and the man from Medina each called their kin for help. The Prophet was dismayed.
He had said, “Support your brother whether he’s an oppressor or is oppressed.”
Someone said, “O Messenger of God, we understand how to help the one oppressed. But how do we help an oppressor?”
The Prophet said, “By seizing his hand.”
Which is to say, he meant, “by restraining him or preventing him from committing injustice, for that is how you support him.” (The Collection of Muslim (Sahih Muslim), No. 2584. (The Book of Virtue, Enjoining Good Manners and The Ties of Kinship.) Narrated by Jabir ibn Abd Allah.)
Whether your brother does right or wrong, he is still your brother – and you still have a moral duty to him. If he is wronged, then you must help him. But if he is wronging others, then you must still help him – even as Muhammad’s companions were incredulous. A tyrant is our brother? And he should be helped? Yes, Muhammad insisted. Those who do wrong are still your brothers. And are still owed a moral duty.
Where President-elect Trump is in the right, we should support him. Where he is wrong, then we should also support him. But the way we support him is by holding him morally accountable and politically in check. Because we are all, even our ideological opponents, human beings; each of us has a moral responsibility to the other, and none of us is exempt from right and wrong, concern and empathy. Because right and wrong transcends red and blue, color and creed.
Sometimes you hold someone up by holding him back. Checks and balances aren’t just the keys to democracy. They’re the stuff spiritual salvation is made of.
Haroon Moghul is a senior fellow at the Center for Global Policy. He is president of Avenue Meem, a new media company. This article was originally posted on Haaretz on January 19, 2017.