In a previous conveners post, Listen to the Dead Man Sing, the authors explained how “in Chinese culture, there is the idea of doing good (积福）to pay back your sin, so you will have a good afterlife [and how] these themes and ideas are also shown throughout the novel.” The authors highlighted how in Chinese society “the collectivity of a community comes before each individual”. They built on this explaining both the positive and negative implications of this belief. While reading this I was reminded of a Hadith I was taught in middle school which says:
عن النعمان بن بشير رضي الله عنهما قال: قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم ” مثل المؤمنين في تواده وتراحمهم وتعاطفهم، مثل الجسد إذا اشتكى منه عضو تداعى له سائر الجسد بالسهر والحمى”
This translates from Arabic to: “Nu’man bin Bashir (May Allah bepleased with them) reported: Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: “The believers in their mutual kindness, compassion and sympathy are just like one body. When one of its limbs suffers, the whole body responds to it with wakefulness and fever”.
We were taught this Hadith in Islamic studies to highlight the impact every single individual has on the society and community at large. The Hadith highlights both the positive and negative implications of this collectivity. The benefits and risks so to speak. I find the use of the body as a metaphor for society to be particularly interesting. As well as the metaphor of the disease. When one part of the body aches and suffers, the entire body becomes feverish and ill.
“In society we are seen as one”, wrote the conveners. And in that Hadith, the metaphor suggests that we are quite literally like one body. If one tiny part of the body gets a virus, it’s not just a single part that becomes hot, and lays awake at night. The entire body heats up, becomes feverish and weak in response. The whole body slows down. The insomnia and struggle to fall asleep isn’t something experienced by a singular part. Our elbows, arms, or ears don’t stay awake fighting an infection on their own. The whole body -in its entirety- suffers from insomnia and struggles to rest and sleep.
What I find particularly interesting in the Prophet’s Hadith is the contrast between the first and latter part. The first highlights noble and positive values like kindness, compassion and empathy. Whereas the latter focuses on suffering and disease. It seems to warn that the lack of the values listed first (in a few individuals) will cause the latter; and affect the whole body, as in all of society. We see exactly how this played out tragically in the Dream of Ding Village. It was the greed of a few individuals (the officials in Henan provinces) … their lack of empathy, kindness and compassion; combined with some of the villagers’ poverty and blinding desperation for wealth that brought about the entire village’s doom. People who never sold their blood were at risk of dying and getting infected. The many masses were harmed and hurt by the actions of the few. One limb suffered from greed and made the whole body ill and feverish.
I really appreciate the duality of the metaphor in the Hadith. Yes, the believers, (the community), are like one body which gets to enjoy the rewards of reciporical kindness, love, compassion, and empathy. But that same body is vulnerable to every limb in it and can be easily affected by it. It’s an appreciation of our collectivity as a community as well as a warning.