An ayat (4:36) in Surah An-Nisa reminds us, worship Allah and do not associate partners with Allah. There are profound implications that follow. The ethical transformation that takes place in the soul of a human being that worships Allah without partners has very concrete results, as the Quran reminds us.
It begins with your parents. A barometer of the health of the society is the relationship between parents and children, and whether the children honor, love, or take care of their parents. As seen in many societies throughout history, if there is a form of alienation between child and parent, or if children become emotionally and morally detached from their parents, that is a sure sign that a society is in the process of degradation.
Honor your parents. After parents, family members. After family members, orphans. After orphans, the impoverished and destitute. After the needy, then the neighbor who is of kin, and then neighbors who are not kin, and then “friends at your side,” which is what in our contemporary language would be considered acquaintances or familiars—people who you have sufficient consciousness of their affairs or well-being such that you would know if they are suffering or in need, but you do not otherwise have a steady relationship with. After your acquaintances, then the traveler—those who pass through your life, the wayfarer. After the traveler, “those whom your right hands possess.” Historically and linguistically, “right hands possess” is not limited to slaves, but in fact, refers to anyone who falls under your governorship or whom you have authority over such that you can materially affect the trajectory or fate of their life. So, if you are an owner of a business with people working for you; or if you have people working in your home, technically, because you directly affect or influence their fate, you have a responsibility, and a legal and moral duty towards them.
Then comes the beautiful summing up that Allah does not love the proud. Allah chose to close this ethical reminder about the parents, the neighbor, the wayfarer, and those whom you owe a duty towards, with God’s dislike of those who are so obliviously arrogant that they start imagining that what they give or extend to others is somehow an act of generosity that attests to their own goodness, as if what they own, or possess in terms of their fate, and their affairs in life belong to them. This is a moral failure. It is a powerful reminder that all belongs to Allah. What will make people mistreat others or fail to deliver on ethical obligations is arrogance and the ego, which always accompanies acts of unkindness.
Allah says in Surah An-Nisa (4:37) that those who are miserly, enjoy miserliness on people, and conceal the bounty that God has bestowed on them, We have prepared for unbelievers a humiliating chastisement. And (4:38), those who spend their wealth to be seen by people, nor do they believe in God and the Last Day, and whoever has Satan for a companion, an evil companion indeed is Satan.
It is a powerful reminder that it is our relationship to the material world and material things that will often corrupt, decay and eat away at our ethical, structural integrity. Every ideological or philosophical doctrine that teaches people a vulgar form of private ownership and individualism is teaching miserliness. The ideology of the neo-cons, which comes from the philosophy of someone like Ayn Rand in her books, argues that individualism is not just a virtue, but that taking the responsibility to care for or help others is a moral failure.
Many Muslims these days, when you start talking about giving and taking care of others, you get a reaction as if this is an inappropriate topic for conversation in public discourses. It is a sensitive topic that we do not want to broach. This is part of concealing the blessings of Allah. Concealing the blessings of Allah is when society itself prohibits or censors conversations about whether the needy, the wayfarer, the disempowered, the displaced, or the dispossessed are taken care of or not. If you live in a society which does not want to air out that dirty laundry, that is concealing the blessings of Allah from preventing a conversation about truth, the truth that all the material wealth that belongs in society is Allah’s, and from Allah to be shared according to Allah’s views, not according to our own private views.
Allah reminds us of something, and we witness the consequences in breach. Sometimes the biggest affirmation of an ethical lesson is in observing and studying the violations of the ethical lesson, not in the actual execution of the ethical lesson.
Some spend simply to showoff, for example, wealthy people will spend in situations where they reap the benefit in respect and augmentation, ie. they donate to the Islamic Center and expect in return to be on the Board of Directors or admired; it is not simply saying “look what I spent,” but is the subtle social dynamics by which we elevate the rich into a position that is not well-deserved because, again, wealth belongs to Allah.
The final point is that in all of the specific relationships and situations mentioned in this one verse, if not handled morally and correctly, one creates a situation where effectively, Satan becomes your companion.
We see the indifference to civilian suffering by the Egyptian government. We see the absolute obliviousness of Emirati officials about the rights and moral worth of Yemen’s people. We see the remarkable lack of moral empathy to the suffering of Muslims worldwide. We ignore the suffering because of economic interests. All this evil cannot be committed unless Shaytan has become an integral part of our moral existence. When you stop caring about the suffering of others, that is the satanic influence. This is not an issue for overseas or about foreign events; it begins with us individually. Cleanse your life of the companionship of Satan, because Satan flows in an intimate relationship to us in our veins. Cleaning your life of the companionship of Satan begins with giving people their due. We must look in the mirror and ask the very difficult question, is there a Shaytan that is my companion?
More Muslim countries are being added to Trump’s Muslim ban, and more Muslims are going to suffer. The Prophet (SAW) tells us a Muslim does not surrender, a Muslim feels for a Muslim as if the parts of a single body, and then we find Muslims in the United States who condone Muslim suffering.
If one reaches the level of alienation, and lack of moral empathy and care required to care about fellow Muslims suffering, then the Shaytan is their companion. If you mistreat your parents, a demon sticks to you like glue, and the same applies if you mistreat employees, or people under you.
Many Muslims quote ayats and hadiths verbatim, but do not make the intellectual effort to translate these doctrinal sources into practical categories in our lived life. Muslims must take a deep ethical look at ourselves, or risk satanic influences growing into an uncontrollable force in our lives.