Islam and Social Responsibility

Islam and Social Responsibility
As Muslims we often overlook how embedded social connotations are in our lives. For example, daily acts of worship like prayer are strongly recommended in congregation, even if there was only but two people.

Men of faith define the present times in precarious terms. Beneath the glamour of technological progress, any deeper assessment of the general human condition presents a far more sombre reality.

‘What is to blame for our current perils?’ one may ask. In essence, we are living the after-effects of the key intellectual battles of the twentieth century that pitched individual against society. Although seemingly abstract, the implications of this battle have permeated into virtually every sphere of our lives.

The dominant themes and trends of the present era have not escaped these influences. Frictions in society, intolerance, incessant war-mongering and de-humanization are mere manifestations of this slide. They are not arbitrary negatives that can be surgically isolated from a wider context.

As individuals and communities, we must continuously strive to develop a clear-sight of the world reality that surrounds us. Indeed, it is critical to engender a collective vision that unifies hearts and minds. But in order for the afore-mentioned to arise, we must first strengthen the bonds that hold together a community. 

In truth, the idea of a ‘community’ can be found at the heart of all faiths. Within the Abrahamic faiths, the history of religion often traces back to and draws inspiration from a resounding illustration of some form of collective ethos. In the Old Testament, the Exodus is arguably one of the most vividly retold stories. Central to its memory is that of a community unified by its suffering, followed thereafter by its march towards a new destiny.

In the Islamic tradition, the Hijra or migration similarly represents a defining moment. Amongst the most striking aspects of early Medinite society are its social hallmarks of fraternity, generosity and compassion. In addition to being a safe haven for the early Muslims, Medinite society is pictured as an emphatic contrast to the avaricious, materialistic and inward looking society of pre-Islamic Makkah.

For outside observers of Islam, one of the most intriguing aspects is the religion’s constant emphasis on society. So pronounced is this aspect that some western scholars regard the ‘just society’ as the primary raison d’être or telos (ultimate goal) of the Islamic message. In her book Islam: A Short History (2002), Karen Armstrong asserts that the creation of a just society is the “chief duty” for Muslims, adding that “the experience of building such a society and living in it would give them intimations of the divine, because they would be living in accordance with God’s will”.

Why then is so much emphasis placed on society? As Muslims we often overlook how embedded social connotations are in our lives. For example, daily acts of worship like prayer are strongly recommended in congregation, even if there was only but two people. If such is not possible, then Islam prescribes that we ought to congregate at least for the weekly Friday Prayer, which simultaneously conveys a common vision to the community. 

In his book ‘Society and History’, Shaheed Murtadha Mutahhari outlines the Islamic view regarding society. He begins by stating that human beings are “inherently” social creatures according to the Holy Quran. In parentheses, there’s an intriguing question to be asked: what form of society does Allah (swt) desire for us to live within? Even more importantly perhaps, how do our individual beliefs and actions measure against the convictions of this ideal society? Such questions are inescapable for those who wish to witness the promised rule of the final proof, Imam Al-Mahdi (atf). 

According to the Quranic perspective, the beliefs, conduct and destiny of any given society can be attributable to its members. Hence, by nurturing a healthy social existence we are in fact improving our individual selves too. Perhaps it is for this reason that the books of narration are replete with sayings that detail numerous social duties whose fulfilment counts as a sign of true faith: rights of kin, rights of parents, rights of teachers, rights of neighbours, rights of the poor and oppressed, and so on.

The practical life of the Holy Prophet (s) was an embodiment of these teachings. During the night, he was immersed in worship and prayer; and in the day, he served humanity with everything he had and all he could offer.

The Prophetic way that has been laid out for us invariably centres on these two elements. In order to gain divine proximity and realise our true potentials, we must strengthen our inner faculties through sincere and continuous worship. At the same time, this inner revolution must be in harmony with a conscious, outward fulfilment of social responsibilities. We must not neglect or belittle ‘simple’ social duties such as regular visitation of our fellow Muslims, because this will inevitably lead us right into the vortex of the countless contradictions and hazards of contemporary society. In the end, we would do well to contemplate deeply about the following tradition by the Holy Prophet (s): “A believer, for another believer, is like a single body. If one of the organs is in pain all other parts of that body are also troubled.”


Source: AIM Islam. Article authored by Ali Jawad.

Ali Jawad is a member of the AhlulBayt Islamic Mission (AIM).

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7 comments

  1. Angus meiklejohn

    Such beautiful thoughts. may Allah bless you

  2. Compiled & copy : Syed Mohsin Raza (for propogation of Islamic awareness)
    In this article I will deal with some personal responsibilities of the individual throughout his life. Fulfilling these responsibilities can lead to the formation of a well-established individual, family, and eventually a society where peace, and tranquility prevail and where the utmost purpose (the pleasure of Allah) is obtained.

    The Holy Qur’an, in many verses, addresses man as an individual and makes it clear that everyone will be responsible for his own deeds and will be blamed or credited for what he did. The codes of Shari’ah (Islamic Law) give the Muslim essential character traits in order that he may obtain a general, correct notion of himself and everything around him, and a proper conduct and behavior.

    The process of establishing an upright society begins with the individual. Once the individual attains the quality of righteousness, the family will undoubtedly follow suit, which eventually affects the society as a whole. Everyone is responsible for his role in this unifying effort. And each person must act in accordance to his position.

    Shari’ah covers every aspect of life: moral, physical, psychiatric, economic, etc. – nothing is left out. It covers every detail concerning the existence of man, from the time when he is in his mother’s womb until after his death.

    The Muslim has several responsibilities and duties to fulfill in his life. These responsibilities are directed towards The Creator, one’s own self, people in general, nature and other creatures.

    **1. Responsibilities towards Allah, All-Mighty:***

    Allah is the Creator of all that exists, the Sustainer of everything, the Giver of every favor, the Only True God, Worthy of worship and praise, the Unique. He has no equal or partner, Is Free from any fault, He begets not, nor was He begotten, He Has no beginning nor ending and He Is All-Powerful. His mercy is immense, and likewise His torment is extreme.

    We, as His creatures, are obligated to worship and believe in Him based on the teachings of Islam; otherwise it (our belief or worship) will be not accepted and will be of no avail.

    It’s forbidden to try to imagine God (i.e. to give him a specific appearance), He is like no one, and nothing resembles Him. We know Him by contemplating in His signs and creatures, and by information revealed in the Qur’an and the Sunnah [sayings of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)]. Our understanding of Allah is to be derived from no other sources beyond these two (i.e. The Qur’an and Sunnah).

    Allah, All-Mighty says in the Holy Qur’an, #”Say: He is Allah, the One and Only! Allah, the eternal, Absolute! He begetteth not nor is He begotten, and there is none like unto Him.”## (Holy Qur’an, 112)

    We believe in Him and whatever He commanded us to believe in: His Names and Attributes, His angels, His books revealed to prophets, His prophets and messengers, the Day of Resurrection and everything concerning it, and faith in Qada and Qadar (decree and predestination by Allah). This is the least that could be said concerning this issue.

    **2. Responsibilities towards Oneself:***

    Man is created in his mother’s womb without knowledge, not free to choose his own shape and attributes. He is born without knowledge about himself or the world that surrounds him, and (during first years of his life) is raised wholly unable to do anything. It is the Creator Who decides, man has no say in this matter – whatever he possesses is from the favors of Allah. Had it been from his ability, the blind would choose to see, the deaf to hear and so on. Man didn’t create himself, nor was he able to do. So, man is the property of Allah, thus he should accept his self as it is, honor it, recognize it as a great and esteemed creation of Allah, take care of it, give it its rights in full (in every aspect) and make a vigorous effort to protect himself against the Fire prepared for disbelievers in the Hereafter. Allah, All-Mighty, says #”…enguard yourselves against the fire prepared for disbelievers, whose fuel is of men and stones.”## (Holy Qur’an, 2:24)

    Allah has forbidden whatever is harmful to man. The intentional killing or harming of oneself is strictly forbidden in Islam, as Allah says: #”…and be not cast by your own hands to ruin…”## (Holy Qur’an, 2:195) Surely, man will give account to The Creator regarding himself.

    **3. Responsibilities towards Other People:***

    Man has social character. Life is based on interaction and communication between people; they share many things, and together they form the family and society. Man is born alone to live with others in harmony. Allah, All-Mighty, says in Qur’an: #”O mankind! Lo! We have created you from a male and a female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another. Lo! The noblest of you, in the sight of Allah, is the best in conduct. Lo! Allah is Knower, Aware.”## (49:13)

    To live in harmony and to work together, Allah, All-Mighty, established rules and laws (in every aspect of life) to facilitate people in their relations with each other. These rules precisely determine the rights of the individual according to his position, status and totality of his traits. In Islam, the individual is honored with special rights as a child, parent, brother, sister, young, old, relative, neighbor, etc. All people are equal in the sight of Allah; the most honored one is the best one in behavior (i.e. his conduct in pleasing Allah). Thus, there’s no discrimination between people in general. The only distinction is based on belief and righteous deeds. In Islam, man is esteemed and respected just because he is a human being.

    Human rights have a very high status in Islam. Violating those rights means showing unwillingness to accept the laws and rules of Allah, being unjust to people (this sin is not erased unless forgiven by the person who was subject to injustice), and lack of harmony and peace. The true Muslim is distinguished by loving his friends and brothers for the sake of Allah, a love that is unpolluted by any worldly interests or motives. Allah, All-Mighty, said in a Hadith Qudsi (a saying of Allah not revealed in the Qur’an): “My love is due to those who love one another in My cause, who spend in My cause and those who visit each other in My cause.” (Imam Malik)

    **4. Responsibilities towards Other Creations:***

    Allah, The Glorified, says in Qur’an, #”There is not a moving (living) creature on earth, nor a bird that flies with its two wings, but are communities like you. We have neglected nothing in the Book, then unto their Lord they (all) shall be gathered.”## (Holy Qur’an, 6:38)

    This includes every living creation besides human beings such as animals, birds, etc. They are creations of Allah brought under the control of man. They have a great status in Islam. Most of them are considered respectable creatures. Islam recognizes their rights and has set up a specified etiquette regarding them. We have to show mercy to them and should not torture them such as by burning, beating, grieving, distressing, loading on them more than they can bear, etc. When they are hungry or thirsty we have to feed and give them water.

    The Prophet (PBUH) said: “A woman entered the Hell-fire because of a cat that she tied down. She neither fed it nor let it free to eat the insects of the earth until it died.” (Al-Bukhari). Also, the Prophet (PBUH) cursed the one who uses a live animal for target. There are many other hadiths with respect to animals.

    **5. Responsibilities towards nature and environment: ***

    We mean by nature, the features of the world surrounding us. It’s the place where man lives. Everything we see around us has been designed for a purpose by the Designer, Allah. Everything in the universe is remarkably homogenous and balanced. Since man is given power and control in some spheres to some extent, he should manage them fairly and justly. Islam fights environment degradation, pollution, destruction, clearing of trees and plants, misusage, depletion of resources, and every kind of corruption on earth.

    Allah, The Exalted, says: #”The only reward of those who make war upon Allah and His messenger and strive after corruption in the land will be that they will be killed or crucified, or have their hands and feet on alternate sides cut off, or will be expelled out of the land. Such will be their degradation in the world, and in the Hereafter theirs will be an awful doom.”## (Holy Qur’an, 5: 33)

    Allah also says: #”He it is Who sendeth down water from the sky, whence ye have drink, and whence are trees on which ye send your beasts to pasture. Therewith He causeth crops to grow for you, and the olive and the date palm and grapes and all kinds of fruit. Lo! Herein is indeed a portent for people who reflect.”## (Holy Qur’an, 16: 11,12)

    The proper use of natural resources and everything around us is of great importance concerning our well-being, benefits & prosperity.

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