BY MUHAMMAD QU'TB
The social organisation of ]slam is founded on the unit of the family.
The family has been assigned an important place because Islam is the
religion suited to human nature- din ul-fitra. Human nature
is constituted in such a manner that it finds no peace, stability
or relaxation except within the family environment. The Qur'an says,
"And one of His signs is that He created mates for you
from yourselves that you may find peace of mind and He put between
you love and compassion; surely there are signs in this for people
This indicates the importance attached to family life in Islam.
Another reason why the family is highly regarded in Islam is that
it is the natural place where a child can be brought up. The family
is the nest where a child can grow between two loving parents and
from this atmosphere pick up a temperament of kindness and compassion.
According to the Qur'an, Man is capable of following either of two
"By the soul, and Him who completely formed it, and inspired
into it its faculty of distinguishing and power of choosing wickedness
In order for a person to choose the right path he must be guided
and educated. Kindness is part of human nature together with other
potential tendencies of hatred and hostility. Kindness can be made
to dominate over other natural feelings if it is developed by family
Like every other human group the family has to have a leader. The
father should take this responsibility. This should not be misunderstood
as underestimating the role of women. The basic equality of man and
woman is clearly stated in the Qur'an,
"So their Lord accepted their prayer, saying: I will not waste
the effort of a worker among you, whether male or female."
While the equality of the sexes is recognised, a responsible leadership
for the family is found necessary in Islam. It was the will of Allah
that the husband should take the responsibility.
The industrial revolution has from the very start been destructive
to the family system. This is not to say that industry is intrinsically
evil and a menace to mankind. On the contrary man is commanded by
Allah to make use of the resources of the earth,
"it is He who hath produced out of the earth and hath given
you a habitation therein."
The industrial revolution, in order to inhabit and exploit the earth
has followed a damaging path. One damage that has been caused was
the forcing of women to forsake the home and go to work. The family
system has been destroyed, leading to unhappiness for both men and
women. Just look at the divorce rates in the United States. Recently
the psychologists and criminologists have come to admit that the absence
of parental guidance contributes to increasing delinquency.
The second important feature of community life in Islam concerns the
relation between the individual and society. The two are not treated
as if they are in conflict. In both the communist East and the capitalist
West the individual is regarded as being opposed to the community.
While individuality is suppressed and crushed in a communist system,
society is fragmented by the capitalist system. The balance is achieved
in Islam because both the individual and society are founded on the
same base-worship or service of Allah. When this common base is not
found every individual is bound to become a separate island. Huxley
has described how every individual in Western society has become a
sort of island in a wide ocean. I still remember a report in an American
magazine of a killing in broad daylight in Boston. The victim screamed
so loudly that most people in the area looked out of their windows.
When an enquiry was made to find out why no one came to help the victim,
the answer was not that people did not want to risk their lives facing
an attacker, but that they did not wish to interrupt their TV programme.
The role of the individual in Islam is not limited to the five rituals.
The Muslim in an Islamic society has a greater responsibility than
is usually understood by the term ibada or worship. This term has
sometimes been wrongly used to define the rituals exclusively, and
another term was coined to cover social relations. Ibada is used in
the Qur'an to cover all aspects of life,
"I have not created jinn and men for any other end than that
they should serve me."
All life's activities are thus included as acts of worship. Nothing
is required from a Muslim beyond service to Allah, and nothing is
accepted from him which is not a service. The Qur'an explains this
"Say my prayer and my sacrifice and my life and my death are
all for Allah, the Lord of the worlds."
Every individual's responsibilities fall into two parts. First is
his responsibility to adhere to the teachings of Islam. This reforms
and refines his character. Second is to enjoin good and forbid evil-which
is social reform. If we consider the following verse,
"You are the best of nations raised up for the benefit of men:
you enjoin what is right and forbid the wrong and believe in Allah."
There is a reason why enjoining good and forbidding wrong comes
first, even before faith. It emphasises the Muslim's duty and implies
faith can only be realised by certain actions. There is a tradition
that exemplifies this relation between the individual and society:
"those people who are mindful of their duties to Allah and
those who are not are like two groups on board a ship. Those on
the lower deck decide to make a hole in the ship in order to draw
water. If they are not prevented by those above then all will perish.
However, if they are stopped then all will remain safe."
The third feature of community life in Islam is that there is
a detailed code of behaviour for the Muslims. Not only are the individual's
life, property and honour protected, but his dignity and privacy
is so sacred that back-biting, spying and slandering is prohibited.
These values ultimately lead to a peaceful and united society.There
is also respect for the elders and generosity to the neighbour.
People should greet each other with salaam-acquaintances and strangers
alike. There is a tradition that once Muslims complained to the
Prophet, peace be upon him, that they could not afford to give charity
every day. The Prophet, peace be upon him, explained that a smile
offered to another was also an act of charity.
Islam is both realistic and idealistic. Human nature is accepted with
all its weaknesses. Everybody is expected to achieve a minimum of
moral strength, but there is no limit to the moral heights that man
can climb. Man can reach the level of those described in the Qur'an,
"they prefer (others) before themselves, though poverty
may afflict them."
The first Muslim society was genuine and serious in adhering to
Islam, and so constituted the nation described in the Qur'an as
the best. The revival of Islam depends on putting its values into
practice. The adoration of our past is useful only when it inspires
us to try to emulate our predecessors.
August 1975-September 1975