Rafed English

Man as a Social Being

No one would deny that men are social beings who co-operate with each other to better meet their daily needs. We may wonder, however, whether men desire this co-operation from their natural feelings; are they naturally inclined to undertake an action with others and share an interest in something as a social project?

On one level, man's needs, feelings and desires cause him to act for his own benefit and without regard for the needs and wishes of others. Man uses every means to fulfil his own needs: he uses every kind of transport to reach his destination; he uses the leaves, stems and fruit of plants and trees; he lives upon the meat of animals and their products, and takes advantage of a multitude of other things to complement his own deficiencies in certain respects. Can man, whose state is such that he uses everything he finds to his own ends, be expected to respect another human being? Can he extend his hand to another in co-operation and turn a blind eye to his own desire for the sake of mutual benefit?

The answer in the first instance must be no. It is as a result of man's countless needs, which can never be fulfilled by himself alone, that he recognizes the possibility of fulfilling them through the help and co-operation of others. Similarly, he understands that his own strengths, desires and wishes are also shared by others, and just as he defends his own interests so others defend theirs.

Thus, out of necessity, he co-operates with the social nexus and gives a certain measure of his own efforts to fulfill the needs of others; in return he benefits from the efforts of others in order to full fill his own needs. In truth he has entered into a market-place of social wealth, always open to traders and offering all the benefits obtained by the collective work of the society. All these factors are placed together in this market- place of pooled human resources and each person, according to the importance society attaches to his work, has a share in these benefits.

Thus man's first nature incites him to pursue the fulfillment of his own needs using others in the process and taking advantage of their work for his own ends. It is only in cases of necessity and helplessness that he lends a hand to co-operate with society.

This matter is clear when we observe the nature of children: anything a child wants he demands in an extreme way; he emphasizes his demand by crying. As he grows older, however, and becomes a part of the social fabric, he gradually puts an end to his excessive demands. More evidence for the truth of this may be seen when a person accumulates power which exceeds that of others and he rejects the spirit of cooperation and its restrictions of society; such an individual uses people and the fruits of their labours for himself without giving anything back in return.

God refers to the necessary spirit of natural cooperation in society in chapter XLIII:32, "We have apportioned among them their livelihood in the life of the world, and raised some of them above others in rank that some of them take labour from others ... " This verse refers to the reality of the social situation in which each individual has a different capacity and different talents: those who are superior in one domain engage the cooperation or employ of others for their eventual mutual benefit.

Thus all members of society are linked together in the ways and wants of the fabric of one single social unit. Those who do not see the obvious necessity of mutual cooperation are condemned by God in chapter XIV:34, "Truly man is surely a wrong-doer, (a tyrant) " and, in chapter XXXII1:72, "Indeed he has proved a tyrant and a fool."

These verses refer to man's natural instinct which, unless checked, drives him to take advantage of his fellow-men and in doing so to overstep the rights of others.

Adapted from: "The Quran in Islam" by: "Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Tabataba'i"

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