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The Concept of Islamic Society (K. Mahmud) The development of Islamic society is based upon the implementation of the social values of Islam. Allah states in the Holy Ouran (51:57) that He has not created mankind except to serve Him. The Arabic word for service here means “to subject oneself to a vigorous spiritual discipline, working with all one’s inherent powers and capacities to their fullest scope, in perfect harmony with and in obedience to Divine commandments, so as to receive God’s impress and thus to be able to assimilate and manifest in oneself His attributes.” Therefore, according to the Holy Ouran the purpose of man’s creation is that he might manifest the attributes and qualities of Allah (God) in his own person so that he may become god-like (within his human limitations) through following and obeying the Will of God. The Holy Ouran further emphasises that the Creation of the world is not purposeless and that to believe that it has no purpose is tantamount to unbelief. It says “And we have not created the heavens and the earth and all that is between them in vain. That is the view of those who disbelieve … ” (38:28). The Ouran teaches us that there is a Divine purpose and wisdom in the Creation (46:4). The Holy Ouran then points out the various natural divisions of mankind and shows how these are to be used for our benefit and for achieving the goals and aims of existence. It has been written, “All values affecting man are based upon the concept that each human being is capable of achieving the highest stage of moral and spiritual development and that his personality must be respected.” The Ouran takes note of diversities of race, colour, language, wealth, etc., which serve their own useful purposes in the social scheme, and describes them as signs of God for those who hear and possess knowledge: “And of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the diversity of your tongues and colours. In that, surely, are signs for those who possess knowledge.” (30:23). This verse confers no privilege nor imposes any disability. The Ouran says that God has divided mankind into tribes and nations for greater facility of 6 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS intercommunication. Neither membership in a tribe nor citizenship in a state confers any privilege, nor are they sources of honour. The true source of honour in the sight of God is a righteous conduct: “0 mankind, we have created you from a male and a female; and we have made you into tribes and sub-tribes that you may recognize one another. Verily, the most honourable among you, in the sight of Allah, is he who is most righteous among you. Surely Allah is All-knowing, All-aware.” (49:14). In his Farewell Address, the Prophet said: “You are all brothers and are all equal. None of you can claim any privilege or any superiority over any other. An Arab is not to be preferred to a non-Arab, nor is a non-Arab to be preferred to an Arab … ” It is only consciousness of the fact that all mankind are equally creatures and servants of God and that they must all constantly seek the pleasure of God, that can bring about the realisation of true brotherhood which can stand the test of all the contingencies to which life is subject. Islam teaches that in order to establish the proper social order in the world, God has been sending His Messengers as prophets into the world to teach mankind the natural laws of social organisation. These prophets are human beings who have been inspired by God to know the needs of the people of their time and the methods necessary for bringing about human advancement. This very teaching of Islam is an important aspect of its social values since it teaches the Muslims to have the highest regard for all the Prophets who have appeared in the world. This is stressed again and again in the Quran. “And for every people there is a Messenger.” (10:48). ” … And there is a Guide for every people.” (13:8). “And there is no people to whom a warner has not been sent.” (35:25). “And we did raise among every people a Messenger with the teaching: Worship Allah and shun the Evil One.” (16:37). Other quotations emphasising the fact that all the Messengers taught basically the same message, were all men and mortal human beings and were too many to be mentioned are found in 21:26; 25:25; 10:3; 12:110 and 40:79. THE CONCEPT OF ISLAMIC SOCIETY 7 It is therefore a principle of a Muslim’s belief that he should believe in the essential truth of all prophets and revere them and that he should also believe in and respect the revealed Books which preceded the Holy Ouran. This is a social value that causes Muslims to respect other religions and to have regard for them. The Holy Ouran states: “Say, we believe in Allah and in that which has been revealed to us, and that which was revealed to Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and the tribes, and in that which was given to Moses and Jesus and other Prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them and to Him we submit.” (3:85). In Islam, morals form the basis of society and it is upon moral principles that society is structured. The fundamental moral principle is the fear of God. The Holy Ouran itself states in its opening verses that it is a book and a guidance for the God-Fearing (2:3). The object is to create in the believer an eternal awareness of the existence and presence of God. This then acts as a deterrent against evil and an encouragement toward good deeds. This principle is further strengthened by the daily prayers which deter men from indecency and evil. As the Holy Ouran says: “. . . Surely, Prayer restrains one from indecency and manifest evil, and remembrance of Allah, indeed, is the greatest virtue. And Allah knows what you do.” (29:46). However, Islam bases itself on acceptance of life, not on rejection or withdrawal. Monasticism, therefore, is not permissible in Islam. According to its teaching the family is the basic unit of human society. The foundation of a family is laid through marriage. There is no room in Islamic society for a class of people who live apart neither marrying nor multiplying in the earth. The Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) has stated that marriage is one half of faith. He has also stated that: “Some people marry for the sake of beauty, others for family connections, others for wealth, but your choice should be determined by moral and spiritual considerations, as these are the sources of lasting happiness.” Moreover, Islam does not regard marriage as an indissoluble sacrament. This type of inflexibility has caused trouble and is still causing great problems to other religions. Islam regards marriage as a civil contract, imparting ml’tual duties and obligations. Marriage in Islam is, moreover, a relation between families as well as individuals. The Holy Ouran also allows for limited polygamy under prescribed conditions. This practice has proven to have given 8 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS far greater social benefits to mankind than the rigid and inflexible enforced monogamy prescribed but loosely practised in the West. It must be seen that Islamic society is an organic unit. One aspect of its teaching depends upon another. It is therefore for this reason that much emphasis is given to family organisation and the relation of the sexes. This factor is often greatly misunderstood. Islam stresses close family relations but beyond this emphasis is placed on propriety of relations. It is, therefore, recommended that for the good of society and for more healthy and higher moral relationships, the opposite sexes should not freely and indiscriminately intermingle, especially after puberty. In conformity with these values, Islamic society has always witnessed the development of female schools and colleges alongside similar institutions for males. There have always been women’s hospitals established alongside hospitals for men. Women doctors, writers, scientists and teachers have attained great heights in Islamic society while functioning in an intellectual community of their own sex. This has always been seen as a more natural type of social relationship geared to avoid giving rise to the various types of social ills which have been observed where there is an unrestrained and completely loose intermingling of the sexes. Moreover, when social conditions do warrant various types of intermingling, Islam has prescribed that men and women should restrain their eyes, dress modestly, while women should particularly restrain their charms (24:31-32). These types of precautions are meant for the good of society but are not meant as a denigration of the status of either sex. The Holy Quran in several places stresses the equal importance of both sexes: “Whoso acts righteously, whether male or female and is a believer, We will surely grant a pure life; and We will surely bestow on such their reward according to the best of their works. ” (16:90). This parallel relationship is considered so important that full emphasis has been given in another verse where it is stated: “Surely, men who submit themselves to God and women who submit themselves to Him, and believing men and believing women, and obedient men and obedient women, and truthful men and truthful women, and men steadfast in ti’teir faith and steadfast women, and men who are humble and women who are humble, and men who give alms and women who give alms, and men who fast and women who fast, and men who guard their chastity and women who guard their chastity, and men who remember Allah much and women who remember Him – Allah has prepared for all of them forgiveness and a great reward.” (33:36). THE CONCEPT OF ISLAMIC SOCIETY 9 This verse and others (3:195; 9:73; 67:12) leave no room for doubt that according to the teachings of Islam God has given equal importance to both sexes. Islam represents the culmination of the teaching of all the prophets. For this reason many matters are explained in the Holy Ouran and the Hadith (traditions) which were not touched upon in earlier historic periods. The Holy Ouran has indicated three major evil tendencies that individuals must strongly guard against in order to prevent social disorders. It is pointed out that upon the commissioning of the first prophet Adam, God commanded submission to him but Iblis refused. This refusal of Iblis was based upon pride and arrogance and his fall was due to these evil tendencies. Pride, greed and jealousy are deadly sins which can lead to self-destruction as well as social – disintegration. It is for this reason that Islam has taken steps to eliminate customs which can lead to such social evils. Amongst these are the Islamic prohibitions on drinking, gambling, the eating of swine and the taking of interest (usury). These prohibitions are not to be taken lightly. They are of great importance to social progress. The Holy Ouran has stated: “They ask thee concerning wine and games of chance. Say, in both there is a great sin and also some advantages for men; but their sin is greater than their advantage.” (2:220). “0 ye who believe! wine and games of chance … are only an abomination of Satan’s handwork. So shun each one of them that you may prosper. Satan seeks only to create enmity and hatred among you by means of wine and the game of chance, and to keep you back from the remembrance of Allah and from Prayer . . .” (5:91-92). The Ouran clearly indicates in these verses that while there may be some social advantages in these practices, their harm outweighs their good and in the end they create enmity and hatred among the people through greed, envy, jealousy, and pride. This is a most important point in social development. It is therefore very distressing to Muslims and others who know the truth of these teachings to see that some established governments throughout the world are re-introducing banned gambling practices which can only lead to the moral degeneration of their citizens. Also the world wide usurious practices of international monetary organisations are causing untold misery for millions of human beings. Islam has clearly pointed out the harmful effects of these practices and has therefore prohibited them. It is also to be deplored that authorities tend to overlook or sometimes even encourage the practice of drinking in institutions where young people are being educated. The Holy Prophet has stated: 10 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS “God has cursed wine, and the one who drinks it, and the one who serves it, and the one who sells it, and the one who purchases it, and the one who prepares it, and the one who asks for its preparation, and the one who carries it and the one to whom it is carried.” The question regarding the consumption of swine and its effects are much more subtle. However, suffice it to say that this animal which is a scavenger and remarkably different in its habits from other animals normally used as food, has been prohibited widely by many of the prophets. The full extent of its effects upon the brain, nervous systems, blood circulation and character of those who eat it is still to be investigated more deeply but its disease bearing aspects are well-known and widely documented. In contrast to these practices, Islam has encouraged voluntary prayer and fasting. Some advantages of fasting have been proven. (1) Bringing the passions under control. (2) Brightening the soul and spirit. (3) Adding taste to prayer. (4) Removing a false sense of pride and prestige. (5) Saving time and trouble. (6) Helping the economy. (7) Contributing to the preservation of health. (8) Teaching democracy. (9) Teaching moral discipline. (10) Keeping faith in God a living force. Islam has, in fact, continually laid great stress on moral principles as a basis for improving the society. The Holy Prophet has stated: “My Lord hath ordered me nine things: (1) to reverence Him both externally and internally; (2) to speak true and with propriety in prosperity and adversity; (3) to observe moderation in both affluence and poverty; (4) to benefit my relations and kindred who do not benefit me; (5) to give alms to him who refuseth me; (6) to forgive him who injureth me; (7) that my silence should be for attaining knowledge of Allah; (8) that when I speak, I should mention Him; (9) that when I look on Allah’s creatures it should be as an example for them; and Allah hath ordered me to direct in what is lawful.” There are many other aspects of Islamic society of which it is not possible to encompass in this short essay such as economics, relation of the citizen to the state, government, etc. The whole aspect of education and the emphasis placed upon it by the Prophet however requires some mentioning. Suffice it to say at this point that he stressed that the search for knowledge is incumbent upon every Muslim male and female, and that one should seek knowledge even if it be in China. Also that it is obligatory for a Muslim to strive for knowledge from the cradle to the grave and that knowledge is the lost camel of the Muslim and he should seize it wherever he finds it. THE CONCEPT OF ISLAMIC SOCIETY 11 If these principles are put into practice and everyone genuinely strives to improve his knowledge in all spheres while remembering that we are only infinitesimal creatures in the universe; and that our life on this planet is not the be-all and end-all of our existence but that we have a Creator who has sent us guidance through His inspired prophets – if we can do this and maintain the fear of God in all our actions, then there can be no doubt that the society of this world will improve – God willing. 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