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 who reflect.”

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 paths,

“By the soul, and Him who completely formed it, and inspired into it its faculty of distinguishing and power of choosing wickedness and piety.”

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 education.

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 further,

“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.

The Muslim
August 1975-September 1975