Society and History
- :Sheikh Murtada Mutaharri
Society and History
Author : Sheikh Murtada Mutaharri
The outlook of a school of thought on society and history and the opinion that it forms about these two, plays a decisive role in the ideology of that school. Hence it is essential to find out how Islam looks at society and history in the perspective of its conception of the world. It is evident that Islam is neither a school of sociology nor a philosophy of history. In its revealed Book no social or historical problem has been dealt with in the language of these two sciences.
The Holy Qur'an also has not used the usual terminology of the relevant sciences while dwelling on any moral, juristic or philosophical subject. None the less, Islamic view on a large number of questions pertaining to these sciences can be derived and deduced from the verses of the Holy Qur'an.
Islamic thinking in respect of society and history, being of special importance, it deserves an elaborate study and investigation. Like many other teachings of Islam, its views on these subjects are also a sign of the depth and profoundness, of its precepts and doctrines. For the sake of brevity we propose to deal with Islamic thinking about society and about history together in one chapter and confine our discussion to only those questions which in our opinion are essential for the identification of Islamic ideology.
We shall begin with society and then take up history. In this respect the relevant questions are as under:
i. What is society?
ii. Is man a social being by nature?
iii. Is the individual that is basic and society only a drawn idea, or the other way round? Or is there a third alternative?
iv. What is the relationship between society and tradition?
v. Has the individual a free choice of action in the face of society and social environment?
vi. What are the basic divisions of society?
vii. Are all human societies on the whole of one and the same nature and essence, the dissimilarities existing between them being like those existing between the individuals belonging to one species? Or have they divergent natures varying according to their rational differences, temporal and spatial conditions and cultural levels? If so, naturally the various societies shall have various sociologies and in that case each of them can have its own peculiar ideology.
We know that all human beings in spite of their regional, racial and historical differences from physical point of view belong to one species, and that is why the same medical and physiological laws apply to all of them. Now the question is whether they form one species from social point of view also and consequently are governed by one moral and social system? Can one ideology be applicable to all mankind or should each society have a special ideology conforming to its special regional, cultural, historical and sociological conditions?
viii. Are human societies which have been from the dawn of history to the present time scattered, independent of each other and subject to multiplicity and divergence of at least individual nature, advancing towards unity and uniformity? Is the future of humanity unity of society, uniformity of culture and the disappearance of contradictions and conflicts? Or is humanity doomed to remain culturally and ideologically diverse and divergent?
These are some of the questions about which, from our point of view, it is necessary that the Islamic point of view should be made clear. We propose to discuss these questions one by one briefly.
A group of human beings linked together by certain common systems, traditions, conventions and laws and leading a collective life, forms a society. A collective life does not mean that a group of men should necessarily be living side by side in a particular region and should be utilizing the same climate and consuming the same kind of foodstuffs. The trees of a garden live side by side, utilize the same climate and consume the same type of nourishment. Similarly the herd of deer grazes together and moves together. But neither the deer of one herd nor the trees lead a collective life nor do they, form a society.
Human life is social in the sense that it has a 'social nature'. Human needs, achievements, enjoyments and activities all have a social nature, for they all are closely linked with certain customs, usages and systems of division of work, division of gains and division of the fulfillment of needs.
There are certain dominating thoughts, ideas and habits which keep a particular group of people united. In other words a society is a collection of people who are compelled by certain pressing needs and influenced by certain beliefs, ideas and ambitions, to be amalgamated together and lead a common life.
Common social needs and the special relations of human life so unite people that they become like passengers travelling together in one automobile, in one aeroplane or aboard one boat heading towards a particular destination where either they all reach or none of them reaches. On their way if they face any danger they face it together and have a common destiny.
The Holy Prophet while describing the philosophy behind exhortation to what is good and restraining from what is evil has used a beautiful similitude. He has said:
"A group of people embarked a boat which sailed and cleaved the bosom of the sea. Every passenger was sitting in his own place. One of the passengers on the plea that the place where he was sitting exclusively belonged to him, began to make a hole at his place. If other passengers immediately caught hold of his hand and restrained him from making a hole, they would not only save themselves but would save him also." Is Man Social By Nature?
The question, what fact ors have made man social, has been under discussion from ancient times. Has man been created social from the very beginning? In other words, has he been created as a part of a whole, and is instinctively inclined, to join its whole? Or is it that he has not been created social, but social life has been imposed on him by external f actors? In other words, is it that man in accordance with his inborn nature tends to be free and is not willing to accept the restriction of collective life, but having learnt by experience that he is unable to lead a lonely life, has perforce acquiesced in the limitations of a collective life? Another theory is that although man is not social by nature, it is not a factor of compulsion which has induced him to become social.
But man through his intellect and reason has discovered that by means of cooperation and collective life he can enjoy the bounties of nature in a better way. According to this theory man has agreed to cooperate with his fellow beings by his own choice. Thus man is social either by nature, or by compulsion or by choice.
According to the first theory the social life of man can be compared to the domestic life of husband and wife. Each of the two spouses is a part of a whole and has a natural tendency to join its whole.
According to the second theory, social life is comparable to the alliance and cooperation between the two countries which feel that they are unable to face the common enemy singly, and hence are compelled to conclude a treaty of alliance and cooperation in their mutual interest. According to the third theory, social life is comparable to the partnership of two capitalists who voluntarily agree to set up a commercial, agricultural or industrial concern in order to earn better and higher profits.
In accordance with the first theory the main factor that has made man social is his inner nature; according to the second, it is some external force; and according to the third, it is his rational and calculation faculty.
According to the first theory to be social is a general goal which human nature instinctively aspires to attain; according to the second, it is something accidental and non-essential or in the terminology of the philosophers, a secondary objective; and according to the third theory it is one of the intellectual objectives and not one of the natural goals.
Some verses of the Holy Qur'an indicate that sociality of man is a part of his creation. The Holy Qur'an says:
"0 mankind! We have created you of a mate and a female, and have made you nations and tribes so that you may know one another. Surely the noblest of you in the sight of Allah is the most pious of you."(Surah al-Hujurat, 49:13).
In this verse in the course of a moral teaching the social philosophy of the creation of man has been enunciated. The verse says that man has been created in such a way that various nations and tribes have been formed. People are identified by means of a reference to the nations and the tribes to which they belong. Thus the verse resolves a social problem, for it is an essential condition of social life that people should be able to know and distinguish each other.
Had there been no national, tribal' and similar other affinities, which are a uniting as well as a distinguishing feature, identification of people would have been impossible and consequently there would have been no possibility of the existence of a social life based on the mutual relations of men.
National and tribal affiliations and such other distinctions as those of shape, colour and size fix the identity of each individual. Had all individuals been of the same shape, the same colour and the same features and there had existed no difference of affiliations among them, all individuals would have been identical like the machine-made goods produced by a factory and would have been indistinguishable from one another.
Consequently their identification would have been impossible and as a final result no social life could be established on the basis of mutual relations and the exchange of ideas, goods and services. Therefore man's affiliation to different tribes and communities has a goal and a purpose. This kind of distinction is an essential condition of social life.
Anyhow, affiliation to a particular race or family is not a matter of pride or the basis of claiming any superiority. In fact the basis of superiority is nothing but human nobility and individual's piety. The Holy Qur'an says:
"And He it is Who has created man from water and has appointed for him kindred by blood and kindred by marriage." (Surah al-Furqan, 25:54) This verse describes the blood and marriage relationships which bind the individuals to one another and form the basis of their identification, as a creational scheme designed for a sound and wise purpose. At another place the Holy Qur'an says:
"Is it they who apportion the mercy of your Lord? We have apportioned among them their livelihood in the life of the world and raised some of them above others in rank so that some of them may take labour from others; and the mercy of your Lord is better than what they amass." (Surah az-Zukhruf , 43:32)
In the course of our discussion on monotheism (Monotheistic conception of the world) we have already explained the meaning of this verse. Briefly it may be said that the verse indicates that men have not been created alike in regard to their potentialities and talents. Had they been created alike, everybody would have had what the others had and would have lacked what the others lacked.
In, that case naturally there would have been no question of reciprocal need of each other and reciprocal service to each other Allah has created men dissimilar to each other in regard to their talents and their physical, spiritual, intellectual and emotional potentialities.
He has made some of them superior to some others in certain respects, while those others are often superior to these in some other respects. In this way all depend on each other and are naturally desirous to join hands with each other. Thus Allah has paved the way for social life of men. The above verse shows that social life is something natural. It has neither been forced upon man, nor has it been adopted by him of his own choice.
Society is composed of individuals. Had there been no individuals, no society could exist. Now let us see what the nature of the composition society is and what kind of relation there exists between society and man. In this respect the following theories have been put forward:
I. Composition of society is only fictitious and not real. In other words, no actual compounding has taken place. Actual compounding occurs only when as a result of the action and reaction of two or more things a new phenomenon emerges with its own characteristics as we see in the case of chemical compounds. For example, as a result of the action and reaction of the two gases, classed oxygen and hydrogen, a new phenomenon called water emerges with its own properties and characteristics.
It is essential that after their combination and amalgamation the original components should lose their individual properties and effects and be totally dissolved into a new compound. In their social life men are never amalgamated in this way, and they are not dissolved into society. Therefore society has not real and substantial existence. Its existence is only fictitious and imaginary. It is individual alone that has a real existence. Therefore, in spite of the fact that human life in society has a social form, the individuals do not make a real compound by the name of society.
II. The second theory is that although society is not a real compound like natural compounds, yet is a synthetic compound. A synthetic compound is also a kind of a real compound, though not a natural one. A synthetic compound is an interconnected whole like a machine, the parts of which are assembled and put together. In a natural compound its component parts lose their identity and their independent effect, and are dissolved in the whole; but in a synthetic compound, the components lose their independent effect but not their identity.
They combine in a particular manner and consequently their effects are also combined. They assume the form of some new effects which are not exactly the total of the independent effects of the components in question. For example an automobile transports goods or persons from one place to another, but this effect neither relates to any part of it, nor to the total of the effects of all the parts in the unassembled state. In a motor vehicle all parts of it are compulsorily interconnected with each other and they all work together. But there is no question of the loss of their identity in the whole.
In fact in this case the whole has no existence independent of the parts. The whole vehicle is actually equivalent to the sum-total of its parts plus the special connection existing between them.
The same position is held by society. Society consists of primary and secondary systems and arrangements. The systems and the individuals, to whom they are related, are interconnected. Any change in any one of these systems - cultural, religious, economic, legal or educational - brings about changes in other systems also. Thus, social life is the final product of the entire social process. But in this process the individuals do not lose their identity, neither in society as a whole nor in any system of it.
III. The third theory is that society is a real compound like any other natural compound. But it is a combination of minds, thoughts, emotions, desires, wills and lastly of cultures, and not that of physical. Just as the material elements as a result of their mutual action and reaction pave the way for the emergence of a new phenomenon, or as the philosophers say, able to assume a new form, and thus give birth to a new compound, similarly individual human beings with their individual inborn and acquired attainments enter the social life, are spiritually amalgamated and acquire a new spiritual identity known as 'collective spirit'.
This compound is natural but of a unique kind. It is natural and actual in the sense that its component parts mutually act, react, cause a change and become the parts of a new identity. Yet it differs from other natural compounds, because in this case the 'whole' or the compound does not exist as a 'real unit'. In the case of other compounds the combination is real, because their component parts mutually act and react in a real manner and in such a way that the identity of the parts is changed, and the resulting compound appears in the form of a real unit, for the plurality of the parts is changed into the unit of the whole.
But in the case of the combination of individuals into society, though this combination is again real because as the result of their actual action and reaction, the individuals acquire a new identity, yet their plurality is in no way transformed into a unity. Any 'overall man' incorporating all individuals does not exist as a unit. Only the aggregate total of individuals can be called the overall man. But his existence is only imaginary. IV. According to the fourth theory, society is a real compound and, for that matter, a compound par excellence.
In the case of all natural compounds their component parts before being combined have their own identity. Apart from their social existence, men are mere animals having only potential humanity or the feeling of human ego. Human thinking and human feelings such as human emotions and desires appear only in the wake of the emergence of collective spirit.
It is this spirit which fills a vacuum and gives man his personality. Collective spirit has at all times been with man and its manifestations have always been visible in ethics, religion, science, philosophy and art. Men influence each other spiritually and culturally and are influenced through and in the wake of this collective spirit, not at any stage prior to it.
In fact the sociology of man precedes his psychology, contrary to the previous theory which maintains that psychology of man precedes his sociology. This theory holds that if man had not acquired social existence and sociology, he would not have reached the stage of acquiring human psyche and individual psychology.
The first theory is purely of the fundamentality of individual only. According to it, society has neither a real existence, nor any law, norm nor destiny. It is only individuals who have actual existence and can be identified. The destiny of every individual is independent of the destiny of other individuals.
According to the second theory also what is basic is the individual. The proponents of this theory do not believe that society as a whole and as a combination of individuals has an actual existence. Anyhow, they maintain that the bond existing between the individuals is real and similar to a physical bond.
According to this theory though society has no existence independent of the individuals and it is only the individuals who have an actual existence, yet in view of the fact that the individuals in a society are linked with each other like the various component parts of a factory and all their actions are intertwined in a mechanical chain of causes and effects, these individuals have a common destiny, and society being composed of interconnected components, has also identity independent of that of its component parts, that is the individuals.
As for the third theory, it holds that both the individual and society are basic. It maintains that as the existence of its component parts (individuals) is not dissolved into that of society, and the component parts do not cease to exist, as is the case with the chemical compounds, the individual is basic. But society is also basic for the combination of the individuals from spiritual, intellectual and emotional point of view is similar to a chemical combination.
The individuals in society acquire a new identity that is of society, though they retain their own identity as well. According to this theory, as a result of the mutual action and reaction of its component parts, a new and living reality emerges in the form of society. In addition to the individual conscience, will, desire and thinking, a new conscience, a new will, a new desire and a new thinking appear which predominate the individual conscience and consciousness.
According to the fourth theory only society is basic. All that exists is collective spirit, collective conscience, collective consciousness, collective will and desire and collective psychic. Individual conscience and consciousness are only a manifestation of collective conscience and consciousness.
As for the Qur'anic verses, they support the third theory. As we pointed out earlier, the Holy Qur'an does not deal with human questions in the same way as a book of science or philosophy would. It deals with these questions differently. Anyhow, it mentions the questions concerning society and individual in a way that substantiates the third theory. The Holy Qur'an maintains that the peoples (societies) have a common destiny, a common deed-sheet, and an understanding and consciousness. They obey and disobey.
It is evident that if a people were to have no actual existence, there would have been no question of their destiny, understanding, consciousness, obedience and disobedience. This proves that the Holy Quran believes in some sort of collective and social life. Collective life is not a mere allegory. It is as much a reality, as collective death. The Holy Qur'an says: "Every nation has a term; when it comes, they cannot put it back a single hour, nor can they put it forward." (Surah al-A'raf, 7:34) The Holy Qur'an says:
"Every nation shall be summoned to its record." (Surah al-Jathiyah, 45:28)
This shows that each nation has a record of its deeds, and as a living, conscious and responsible being, shall be summoned to render an account of what it did.
The Holy Qur'an says:
"To every nation We have made their deeds seem fair." (Surah al-An'am, 6: 109)
This verse indicates that every nation acquires a special outlook, a special way of thinking and some special standards. Each nation has a special way of looking at things and understanding them. The judgements of each nation are based on the special standards adopted by it. Each nation has its own taste. The acts which seem fair to one nation appear to be unfair to another. It is the social atmosphere of a nation which determines the taste of its individual members. The Holy Quran says:
"Every nation tried to seize their Prophet and argued falsely with a view to refute the truth. Then I seized them, and how awful was My punishment." (Surah al-Mu'min, 40:5)
This verse refers to a shameful collective decision with a view to fight the truth. In it, there is also a mention of a general punishment for this collective offence.
In the Holy Qur'an there are instances in which the act of one individual in society has been attributed to the whole society or the act of one generation has been attributed to the subsequent generations. 1 This is possible only in the cases in which a particular people may be of one collective way of thinking and may be having, so to say, one collective spirit. For example, in the story of the tribe of Thamud, the action of one man who hamstrung the she-camel of Prophet Salih, has been attributed to the whole tribe. The Qur'an says: "They hamstrung her".
Thus the whole tribe has been regarded as culpable and deserving punishment. "So your Lord destroyed them".
Explaining this point in one of his sermons Imam Ali says:
"Men! The only thing which unites people and provides them with a common destiny is happiness and resentment". When people collectively feel pleased or displeased with something which might have been done by one single person, they are to be regarded as one man and they have a common destiny. The she-camel of Thamud was hamstrung by one individual, but Allah punished the whole tribe, because they all were pleased with his action. Allah has said:
"They hamstrung her and so they had to regret." (Surah ash-Shu'ara', 26:167)
Allah punished them all because they all approved the decision taken by that one man. Hence, when that decision was put into practice it was actually the collective decision of them all. Though hamstringing was the action of one man, Allah has ascribed it to them generally. He said that they hamstrung the she-camel, and not that one of them hamstrung her.
Here there is another point worth-remembering. To be merely pleased with a sin without practically committing it, is not regarded as a sin. If a person feels happy on knowing that some other person has committed or is about to commit a sin, that person himself will not regarded as guilty. Even if a person decides to commit a sin himself, but does not commit it actually, he is not to blame.
The approval of a sin committed by another individual is considered to be a sin only when this approval amounts to some sort of participation in the decision about that sin or in the commitment of it. That is the nature of all collective sins. First the social atmosphere and the collective spirit of people approve the commitment of a particular sin and pave the way for it.
Then one member of society whose decision is a part of the decision of other members and whose approval is a part of the approval of others perpetrates that sin actually. In this case the sin of that individual is the sin of all members of that society. What has been stated by Imam Ali visualizes this kind of situation and inter alia explains the meaning of the above quoted verse. Otherwise mere happiness or resentment not involving participation in the decision and the action of the actual perpetrator is not regarded as a sin.
In the Holy Quran occasionally the deeds of one generation also have been attributed to the subsequent generations. For example the past deeds of the Israelites have been attributed to the Jews contemporary to the Holy Prophet. The Holy Qur'an says that these people deserve humiliation and ignominy because they used to kill the Prophets.
That was said because from the viewpoint of the Holy Qur'an the Israelites of the time of the Holy Prophet were a continuation and an extension of their predecessors who used to kill the Prophets. Not only that, but from the point of view of collective thinking they were exactly those people of the past who still continued to exist. The French philosopher, Auguste Comte says: "Human society consists more of the dead than of the living".
In other words, in all periods of history the people of the past influence mankind more than the living people. The statement that "the dead more than ever continue to rule over the living", means the same thing. (Vide: Raymond Aron's Main Currents in Sociological Thought, Vol. I, p. 91) Al-Mizan, the celebrated commentary on the Holy Qur'an,
discussing the question that a society having one spirit and one collective thinking assumes the position of just one human being and all its members become as if they are the organs of one person, says that all the members of society become so absorbed into the personality of society that their joys and grief's become the joys and grief's of society and their prosperity and misery become its prosperity and misery. Al-Mizan continues to say:
"The Holy Qur'an has expressed this view regarding the nations and societies having a collective thinking as a result of their religious or national bias, by declaring the subsequent generations accountable for the deeds of the preceding generations. The Holy Qur'an blames the present people for the deeds of their fore-fathers. Obviously this is the only correct way of passing judgement on the people having a collective thinking and a collective spirit". (al-Mizan, vol. IV, p. 112)
Should society have a real existence, it must also have its own laws and conventions. But if we accept the first theory about the nature of society as mentioned above, and deny its actual existence, we have to admit that society has no laws or conventions. In case we accept the second theory and hold that the combination of society is synthetic and mechanical, society will certainly be having laws and conventions, but only those which relate to the causative system of its component parts and their mutual mechanical effects. It will not be having any signs or characteristics of life.
In case we accept the third theory, society should be having its laws and conventions independent of the laws and conventions of its component parts (individuals), for in this case society enjoys a sort of independent collective life, although not removed from the life of the individuals, but scattered in it.
On getting organized into society, the individual human beings lose the independence of their identity only comparatively. Otherwise they retain it to a very large extent. The individual life and individual endowments and acquirements are not totally dissolved in the collective life. In fact according to this theory man lives with two lives, two spirits and two egos,
- one being his human life, human spirit and human ego born of his basic nature and the other his collective life, collective spirit and collective ego born of his collective life and absorbed into his individual ego. That is why man is governed both by psychological and sociological laws. According to the fourth theory, the only laws and conventions that govern man as such are the social conventions.
The first person among the Muslim scholars, who mentioned the laws and conventions governing society and distinguished from the laws and conventions of the individuals, and consequently maintained that society had a personality, a nature and a reality, was Abdur Rahman Ibn Khaldun of Tunis. He in his celebrated Introduction to History has discussed this question in detail. Among the modern scholars the first person who discovered the conventions governing the communities, was the French philosopher of the 18th century, Montesquieu. About him Raymond Aron says:
"His purpose was to make history intelligible. He sought to understand historical truth. But historical truth appeared to him in the form of an almost limitless diversity of morals, customs, ideas, laws, and institutions His inquiry's point of departure was precisely this seemingly incoherent diversity. The goal of the inquiry should have been the replacement of this incoherent diversity by a conceptual order.
One might say that Montesquieu, exactly like Max Weber, wanted to proceed from the meaningless fact to an intelligible order. This attitude is precisely the one peculiar to the sociologist". (Raymond Aron, Main Currents in Sociological Thought, vol. 1, p. 14)
The gist of this statement is that behind the so many forms of social phenomena apparently inconsistent with each other, a sociologist discovers such a unity that all the varying phenomena are recognized to be the manifestations of that unity.
In the same way, all the similar social events and phenomena have their origin in a similar sequence of analogous causes. Here is a passage from the observations on the causes of the rise and fall of the Romans:
"It is not fortune that rules the world. We can ask the Romans, who had a constant series of success when they followed a certain plan, and an uninterrupted sequence of disasters when they followed another. There are general causes, whether moral or physical which operate in every monarchy, to bring about its rise, its duration and its fall. All accidents are subject to these causes, and if the outcome of a single battle, i.e. a particular cause, was the ruin of a state, there was a general cause which decreed that that state was destined to perish through a single battle. In short, the main impulse carries all the particular accidents along with it".
(Raymond Aron, Main Currents in Sociological Thought, vol. I, p. 4) The Holy Qur'an declares specifically that the nations and societies as such have laws and norms according to which they progress or decline. When it is said that a nation or a community has a common destiny, that amounts to saying that society has its law. In respect of the Israelites the Holy Qur'an says:
"In the scriptures We decreed for the Children of Isra'il: Twice you shall create disorder in the land and you shall become great tyrants. When the time of the punishment of your first transgression came, We sent against you, Our slaves of great might who ravaged your country. Thus the prophecy was fulfilled. Then We granted you victory over them. We heaped you with wealth and sons and made you a greater host. (We said to you): If you do good, it shall be to your own advantage; but if you do evil, you yourselves shall suffer.
So when the time of the punishment of your second transgression came, (We sent against you other slaves of Ours) to ravage you and enter the Masjid in the same way as had the former army entered it, utterly destroying all that they laid their hand on. (And We said): It may be that your Lord will have mercy on you, but if you repeat (the crime), We shall also repeat (the punishment). We have Hell, a prison for the disbelievers." (Surah Bani Isra'il, 17:4 - 8)
The sentence: "If you repeat (the crime), We shall also repeat the punishment", has been addressed to a community and not to any individual. Hence it clearly shows that the laws governing societies are universal.
Compulsion or Volition
One of the basic questions which have been under discussion among the scholars, especially during the last century, is the question of the compulsion or volition of individual spirit vis-a-vis collective spirit. If we accept the first theory concerning the composition of society, regard its composition as merely imaginary and hold that it is only individual who is basic, then there can be no question of collective compulsion, for in that case there would be existing no collective force or power.
Hence if there were any compulsion, that would be on the part of an individual or individuals only. No individual would be compelled by society in that sense in which the supporters of the theory of collective compulsion talk of it. But if we accept the fourth theory, look at the individual only as raw material and an empty receptacle from the viewpoint of human personality, think in the terms of exclusive basis of society and regard the entire human personality,
human intellect and human will, which from the basis of the volition of an individual, as a manifestation of the collective will and intellect and as a guise which the collective spirit has assumed to promote its ends, there will be left no room for a conception of free will of the individual in social matters.
The French sociologist, Emile Durkheim, who believes that society is basic and of prime importance says:
"Unlike such things as eating and sleeping which have animal aspect, all social and, in fact human matters are the product of society, and not that of individual thinking or will. These matters have three characteristics: they are external; they are compulsive and they are general. They are external because they are imposed on an individual by society from outside.
They actually existed in society even prior to an individual's being born. The individual accepts them under the influence of society. That is how an individual accepts moral and social customs, religious precepts and the like. The social matters are compulsive in the sense that they impose themselves on the individual and give their own colour to his conscience, judgement, feeling, thinking and sentiments. As these matters are compulsive, they are automatically general and universal also."
However, if we accept the third theory and hold that both the individual and the society are basic, that would in no way mean that the individuals are helpless in human and social matters even if it is conceded that the force of society predominates the force of the individuals. Durkheim believed in compulsion because he ignored the importance of human nature, the development of which is due to basic and substantial human evolution. This human nature gives man a sort of freedom which enables him to resist the impositions of society. That is how a sort of balance exists in the relations between society and the individual.
The Holy Qur'an maintains that society has a nature, a personality and an actuality. It holds that society lives and dies. It has conscience and the power of obeying and disobeying. At the same time the Qur'an also maintains that the individual has enough power to ignore the dictates of society, if he so desires, and bases its doctrine on what it calls (human) 'nature framed by Allah'.
There were some people in Makkah who described themselves as weak and put forward their weakness as an excuse to shirk their responsibility. In fact they said that they were helpless and could not defy society. The Holy Qur'an says that their excuse was not acceptable because at least they could migrate from that social atmosphere:
"Was not Allah's earth spacious so that you could have migrated therein." (Surah an-Nisa, 4:97) At another place the Holy Qur'an says:
"Believers, look after your own souls because he who goes astray cannot harm you if you have the right guidance." (Surah al-Mai'dah, 5:105) In the famous Qur'anic verse there is a reference to a trait of human nature. In that verse of the Holy Qur'an after declaring that He has put the covenant of monotheism in the nature of man, Allah has added:
"So that you may not say that our forefathers were pagans and we, being their posterity, had to follow them." (Surah al-A'raf, 7:172 - 173) Therefore, with this kind of human nature, there can be no question of any compulsion.
The teachings of the Holy Quran are based absolutely on, a sense of responsibility - responsibility towards oneself and towards society. Exhortation to what is good and restraint from what is evil are a manifestation of the individual's revolt against the corruption and weaknesses of society. The stories related by the Holy Qur'an mostly represent this element of individual's revolt against the atmosphere of social corruption. The stories of Prophet Nuh, Ibrahim, Musa, 'Isa, the Holy Prophet, the People of the Cave, the Believer of the tribe of Fir'awn, all contain this element. .
The root cause of the misconception about the helplessness of individuals in relation to society and social atmosphere is that it has been wrongly presumed that in the case of a real compound its components are fully dissolved and with the emergence of a new reality their plurality is assimilated to the unity of the whole. It is said that there are only two alternatives: either the existence of the personality, freedom and independence of the individuals be admitted and consequently it should be denied that society is an actuality and it is a real compound; or alternatively it should be admitted that society is a real compound.
In the case of the first alternative the position will be in conformity with the first and the second theories, and in the case of the second alternative it will have to be denied that individuals have any personality, freedom or independence. That is what the proposition of Durkheim states. Anyway, it is not possible to combine both these alternative theories. As all indications and sociological arguments support the actuality of society, the counter-theory must be regarded as invalid.
As a matter of fact all real compounds are not alike from philosophical point of view. In the lower grades of nature that is in the case of inorganic matter and lifeless beings, according to the philosophers each existing thing is governed by one absolutely simple force, and nature has dealt with all of them in a like manner.
In their case the component parts are assimilated fully and the existence of the parts is dissolved absolutely into the existence of the whole. That is what we see in the case of water which is a compound of oxygen and hydrogen. But the more the level of a compound goes up the more its components acquire relative independence of the whole, with the result that a sort of plurality in the unity and a unity in the plurality is established. We find that man in spite of his unity enjoys a wonderful plurality.
Not only his faculties and subordinate forces retain their plurality to a great extent, but there also exists a sort of permanent conflict and struggle between his inner forces. Society is the most real being in nature, and its component parts relatively enjoy a great deal of independence.
The component parts of society are human beings, who are equipped with their innate intellect and will. Their individual and natural existence precedes their social existence. In addition, as we said earlier the components of the high grade compounds retain their relative independence. In view of all these facts the individual spirit of man is not helpless against the collective spirit of society.
'This is from Allah, in order to make some paltry gain. Woe to them for what their hands have written and woe to them for what they earn thereby!'" (Surah al-Baqarah, 2:79)
"Ignominy shall attend them wherever they are found, except in cases in which they came to terms with Allah and people. They have incurred the wrath of Allah and humiliation has been stamped on them. That is because they used to disbelieve the revelations of Allah and kill the Prophets wrongfully. That is because they disobeyed and used to transgress." (Surah Ale Imran, 3:112)
Although society enjoys a sort of unity, from within it is divided into various groups and classes, which are sometimes incongruous. At least some societies are so. As society possibly has different and sometimes conflicting polarities, it may be said that it has both unity and plurality. According to the terminology of the Muslim philosophers, societies are governed by a specific sort of 'unity in plurality and plurality in unity'.
In the previous chapters we discussed the nature of the unity of society. Now we propose to take up the nature of its plurality.
In this connection there exist two well-known theories. The first one is based on historical materialism and dialectic contradiction. According to this theory, which we will elaborate later, the question of the unity and the plurality of society hinges on the principle of ownership. The societies in which private property does not exist, such as the primitive social society or the social societies that are likely to come into existence in future are basically unipolar. But the societies, in which private property holds sway, are bipolar. As such society is either unipolar or bipolar, there being no third alternative.
In a bipolar society all men are divided into two groups or classes, the exploiters and the exploited or the rulers and the ruled, there being no group or camp other than these two groups or camps. This division becomes applicable to all affairs of society, such as philosophy, ethics, religion and art. In other words, in a bipolar society there are two kinds of philosophy, two kinds of ethics, two kinds of religion and so on, each kind having a particular economic character.
If in any case there prevails only one philosophy, one religion or one set of moral rules, that philosophy, religion or morality is always tinted with the colour of that class which has succeeded in imposing its colour on the other class as sometimes happens. There can exist no philosophy, art, religion or morality transcending the economic classes and having no class colour.
According to the other theory the unipolarity or multipolarity of society is not subject to the principle of private ownership. The cultural, social, racial and ideological factors also can make society multipolar. Especially cultural and ideological factors may play a basic role in dividing society into conflicting camps or making it unipolar even without the abolition of private property.
Now let us see what view is held by the Holy Qur'an in regard to the plurality of society.
Does it or does it not accept its existence? If it does, does it hold that society is bipolar because of the existence of private property and exploitation or does it forward some other view?
It appears that the best way or at least a good way of ascertaining the Qur'anic point of view in this respect is to pick out the words having social connotation used in the Holy Qur'an and to see what they signify.
The words with social significance used in the Holy Qur'an are of two catagories: Some of them are related to only one social phenomenon. These words are such as Millah (community), Shari'ah (Divine law), Shir'an (law) Minhaj (way of life), Sunnah (traditions) etc. These words are outside the scope of our present discussion.
There are other words which serve as a social designation of all or several groups of men. It is by means of these words that we can determine the viewpoint of the Holy Qur'an. Such words are: Qawm (people), Ummah (community), Nads (men), Shu'ub (nations) Qaba'il (tribes), Rasul (messenger of Allah), Nabi (Prophet), Imam (leader), Wali (guardian), Mu'min (believer), Kafir (unbeliever), Munafiq (hypocrite), Mushrik (polytheist), Muzabzab (wavering), Muhajir (emigrant), Mujahid (warrior), Siddiq (truthful, righteous), Shahid (witness), Muttaqi (pious, God-fearing),
Salih (virtuous), Muslih (reformer), Mufsid (corrupter), Amr bil maruf (exhorting to do good), Nahi 'anil munkar (restraining from evil), Alim (scholar, learned), Nasih (admonisher), Zalim (tyrant), Khalifah (deputy), Rabbani (Divine), Rabbi (rabbi), Kahin (sooth-sayer), Ruhban (monks), Ahbar (Jewish scribes), Jabbar (mighty, despot), Ali (lofty, sublime, strong), Musta'li (superior, master), Mustakbir (haughty), Mustaz'af (suppressed), Musrif (extravagant lavish prodigal), Mutraf (affluent, living in luxury), Taghut (oppressor, idols), Mala (notables, chieftains) Ghani (rich), Faqir (pauper, poor, needy), Mamluk (the ruled), Malik (owner, master), Hurr (freeman, librated), Abd (slave, bondman), Rabb (lord, master) etc.
There are certain other words which apparently resemble the above words. They are such as: Musalli (worshipper), Mukhlis (sincere, devoted), Siddiq (truthful, loyal), Munfiq (charitable), Mustaghfir (seeker of Allah's forgiveness), Ta'ib (repentant) 'Abid (adorer), Hami'd (extoller) and the like. The difference is that these words have been used in connection with the description of certain acts, not to denote any groups of people. As such there is no possibility that these words should signify any social divisions.
It is necessary that the verses mentioning the first set of words especially the verses related to social orientation should be studied carefully so that it may be ascertained whether they cover two or more than two groups of men. Suppose they all can be accommodated to cover two groups, what are the distinguishing features of these groups?
For example, is it possible that all of them be accommodated to cover the two groups of the believers and the unbelievers, on the basis of their religious orientation, or the two groups of the rich and the poor, on the basis of their economic position? In other words, it is to be seen whether or not all divisions and classifications in the final analysis turn to one main division, and all other divisions being merely its ramifications? If they finally turn to one division, then what is the basis of it? Some assert that according to the view of the Holy Quran, society is bipolar.
Primarily it is divided into two main groups:
1. The rulers and the exploiters;
2. The ruled, the exploited and the subjugated.
The group of the rulers is that which has been described by the Holy Qur'an as the 'haughty' and the group of the ruled is that which has been described as the 'oppressed'.
Other classifications such as those of the believers and the unbelievers, the monotheists and the polytheists or the virtuous and the corrupt are of subsidiary character. In other words, it is haughtiness and exploitation which lead to disbelief, polytheism, hypocrisy and the like, whereas it is the state of being oppressed that leads to faith, migration, jihad, virtuousness, reformation etc.
In other words the root of all those things which have been denounced by the Holy Qur'an as dogmatic, moral or practical deviation lies in a particular state of economic relationship known as exploitation. Similarly the root of all the things advocated and supported by the Holy Qur'an from dogmatic, moral or practical point of view, lies in the state of being exploited. The conscience of man is by nature subject to the state of his material life. There is no possibility of a change in man's spiritual, psychological and moral state unless the condition of his material life is changed.
On this basis the Holy Qur'an holds that the basic and proper form of the social struggle is the class struggle. In other words, the Holy Quran gives more importance to social struggle than to economic or moral struggle; and it maintains that the' infidels, the hypocrites, the polytheists, the corrupt, the wicked and the tyrants are the offshoots of those groups which it terms voluptuous, extravagant, elite, imperial, haughty and the like.
The infidels and the wicked cannot emerge from the class opposite to these groups. The Prophets, the Imams, the saints, the martyrs, the emigrants and the faithful all come out of the oppressed class. There is no possibility of their coming out of the opposite class. It is the state of being the oppressor or being the oppressed that frames social conscience and gives a direction to it. All other qualities are mere manifestations of these two states.
The Holy Qur'an considers all the above mentioned groups to be the various manifestations and ramifications of the two diametrically opposite classes: (i) The haughty, and (ii) The oppressed. It has mentioned a number of good qualities, such as truthfulness, chastity, sincerity, worship, insight, kindness, mercy, manliness, submissiveness, generosity, sacrifice, Allah-fearing, and humility, and a number of bad qualities such as, telling lies, treachery, lewdness, ostentation, licentiousness, obstinacy, hard-heartedness, miserliness, arrogance etc. The Holy Qur'an regards the first set of qualities as belonging to the oppressed and the second set of qualities as belonging to the oppressors.
Therefore the state of being the oppressors and the oppressed is not only a characteristic of the two different and opposite classes, but also gives rise to two sets of contradictory qualities. Being the oppressors and the oppressed is the basis of all orientations, leanings and the choices, and is the root of all cultural and civic phenomena.
The ethics, philosophy, art, literature and religion emerging from the oppressor class, depict the orientation of that class, serve to justify the status quo and cause stagnation and fossilization. In contrast the ethics, philosophy, literature, art or religions emerging from the oppressed class are always informative, inspiring, dynamic and revolutionary.
The haughty people by virtue of being oppressors and because they possess social distinctions are not broad-minded. They are the obscurantist's, conservative and peace-loving. In contrast the oppressed are tradition-breakers, enthusiastic enterprisers and revolutionaries.
In short, according to the proponents of this theory, the Holy Qur'an supports the view that it is economic condition which makes man, determines as to what class he belongs to, gives him direction and determines his intellectual, moral, religious and ideological foundation. A study of the verses of the Holy Qur'an as a whole indicates that this view is the basis of the Qur'anic teachings.
As such the criterion of everything is the class to which a man belongs. We can judge all claims by this standard. On this basis we can accept or deny the claim of anyone asserting that he is a believer, a reformer or a leader. This criterion can be applied even to the claim of a Prophet or an Imam.
Actually this theory is based on a material conception of man and society. There is no doubt that the Holy Qur'an attaches great importance to the social condition of the individuals. But does it mean that the Holy Qur'an considers it to be the basis of all divisions and classifications of man? In our opinion this conception of society is not in conformity with the Islamic outlook on man, the world and society, and is the outcome of a superficial study of the Holy Qur'an. As we propose to study this question in detail under the heading, Is History Materialistic in Nature? We withhold our further comments at this stage.
Singleness or Multiplicity of Societies
As we pointed out earlier, for every school this question is important, for on it depends whether all human societies can follow one single ideology or each nation, community and cultural unit must have its separate ideology. We know that an ideology means a scheme that leads a society to prosperity and perfection. We also know that each species in this world has its own characteristics and capabilities, and hence the conception of prosperity and perfection which awaits each other is different. The prosperity and perfection of the horse are not exactly the same as the prosperity and perfection of the sheep or man.
Therefore, if on the basis of the actuality of societies, we presume that all of them have one nature and essence, and their variations are only within the range of individualistic variations of a species, we can safely say that they may have one single living ideology having enough flexibility to be applicable to all individualistic variations. But if the various societies have different natures and essences, naturally they should have multifarious schemes for their well-being and one ideology cannot be applicable to all of them.
There arises exactly the same question in respect of the changes that overtake societies with the passage of time. Does the essence of societies change in the course of these changes? Are these changes of the nature of a change in species or merely of the nature of a change in some members of it while the nature of the species itself remains essentially unaltered, despite all changes.
The first of the above two questions relates to society and the second to history. We now take up the first question and leave the second one till we come to the discussion of history.
A study of sociology can throw a light on the question whether the various societies primarily and fundamentally have some common characteristics, their variations being only superficial and not basic; or they are basically and by nature different from each other, even though they appear to be similar outwardly. This is a philosophical way of ascertaining the singularity and multiplicity of the things in the case of ambiguity.
Here there is a shorter way also, and that is the way of the study of man himself. It is an admitted fact that all men belong to one species. From biological point of view man has not undergone any biological change since he has appeared. Some scientists say that nature after evolving living beings to the level of man has changed its course. It has shifted the process of evolution from biological and physical changes to social and spiritual development.
Earlier while discussing the sociality of man, we came to the conclusion that as men belong to one species not many, they are social by nature. In other words, man's sociality and his collective spirit are his inborn and essential characteristics. In order to be able to attain due perfection befitting his capabilities, man has a social tendency which paves the way for the emergence of a collective spirit, which in its turn is a means of leading him to his ultimate perfection. The fact that he belongs to a particular species, determines the course of man's collective spirit. In other words, man's collective spirit is in the service of his human nature. So long as his human nature lasts, it will continue to perform its function. Hence it may be said that his collective spirit is a by-product of man's individual spirit, and, in other words it is a part of his nature. As all men belong to one species, all human societies also have a single nature.
Just as an individual sometimes deviates from the normal course of his nature, the same is true of society also. The diversity of societies is similar to the moral variety of the individuals, which in no case falls outside the human framework. Thus all societies, cultures and the collective spirits dominating societies, in spite of all the difference in their forms, always have a human colour and their nature cannot be other than human.
Of course, if we accept the fourth theory of the composition of society, regard the individuals as merely receptive matter like empty receptacles and deny the principle of true human nature, only then we can consider the hypothesis of the fundamental diversity of societies. But this theory as propounded by Durkheim is not acceptable by any means for the most important question which remains unanswered by this theory is:
If collective spirit does not primarily spring from the individual spirit of man and is not a by-product of inborn human nature, then from where has it come? Has it come into existence out of absolute non-existence? To answer this question, is it enough to say that since man has existed, society also has existed.
Moreover, Durkheim himself maintains that social matters such as religion, moral principles, art etc. have existed and will always be existing in all societies. In his own words, they have temporal permanence and spatial diffusion. This in itself proves that man's collective spirit is of one single type and has one single nature.
According to Islamic teachings there is only one religion. The differences of canonical laws are merely subsidiary, not substantial. We also know that religion is nothing but a scheme of individual and collective evolution. This shows that Islamic teachings are based on the conception of the singleness of the type of societies. Had societies been of many types, their evolutionary goals and the ways to attain them would certainly have differed, and there would have been plurality of religions basically different from each other. But the Holy Quran insists that there has been only one religion, not more, in all regions and societies and in all ages and times. From the viewpoint of the Holy Qur'an religions (in plural form) have never existed. What has existed is the religion (in singular form). All Prophets have preached and taught one religion, one way of life and one goal. The Holy Qur'an says:
"He has ordained for you that religion which He commanded to Nuh, and which We revealed to you and which We commanded to Ibrahim, Musa and 'Isa, saying.- Establish the religion and be not divided in it." (Surah al-Shura, 42:13)
Several verses of the Holy Qur'an indicate that during all times and in all places the true Prophets sent by Allah preached the same religion. The idea that fundamentally religion is not more than one is based on the conception that all men belong to one species, not to more than one. Similarly human society as an actuality is basically of one type not of several types.
We may not admit that modern societies and cultures are basically divergent and dissimilar as far as their nature is concerned, yet it cannot be denied that in regard to their form and quality they widely vary. Now the question is: What is the future of human societies? Will these cultures and civilizations and these societies and nationalities for ever continue to retain their existing position? Or will humanity move towards a single culture, a single civilization and a single society and will all societies one day coalesce and assume a genuine human form? This question hinges on the question of the nature of society and the relation between individual and collective spirits.
It is evident that if we believe in the theory of the fundamentality of human nature and hold that the collective existence of man, his collective life and the collective spirit of society are the means which human nature has chosen to attain its ultimate perfection, it may be said that all societies, cultures and civilizations are marching towards their unification and final amalgamation into each other. The future of human societies is one fully developed world society in which all possible human values will be realized and man will attain true perfection, real well-being and finally genuine humanity.
From the viewpoint of the Holy Qur'an it is an indisputable fact that ultimately truth shall prevail and falsehood shall be totally vanquished and obliterated. Ultimately piety and the pious are bound to succeed.
Allama Tabatabai in al-Mi'zan says:
"A deep investigation into the conditions of the world reveals that in future man also as a part of the world will attain his perfection. The Holy Qur'an says that the establishment of Islam in the world is inevitable. That is another way of saying that man will reach his complete perfection. When the Holy Qur'an says: "Believers, whosoever of you becomes a renegade from his religion, (in his stead) Allah will bring a people whom He loves and who love Him"(Surah al-Ma'idah, 5:54) it actually wants to underline what for creation is necessary and to describe man's final destiny". (Al-Mizan, vol. IV, p. 106)
The Holy Qur'an says:
"Allah has promised such of you as believe and do good works that He will surely make them to succeed in the earth as He caused those who were before them to succeed (others) and that He will surely establish for them their religion which He has approved for them, and will give them safety after fear. They worship Me. They ascribe nothing as partner with Me." (Surah an-Nur, 24:55)
At another place the Holy Qur'an says:
"Surely My righteous slaves will inherit the earth." (Surah al-Anbiya, 21:105)
The author of al-Mizan under the heading: Belief in the Frontiers of the Islamic World, not its Geographical or Contractual Boundary, says:
"Islam has repealed the principle that national divisions have an effective role in forming society. There are two main factors which have caused these divisions. One of them is the primitive tribal life based on racial affinity and the other is the difference of geographical regions. These are the main causes of the division of mankind into nationalities and tribes. They are also the source of the linguistic and colour differences. These two factors at a later stage were the reason why each nation acquired the exclusive control of some region, called it its homeland and undertook its defense.
Though this is a natural process, yet it involves something which is against human nature that requires entire mankind to live as one whole and one unit. The law of Nature is also based on assembling what is scattered and unifying what is separate. It is through this process that Nature attains its goals. The working of this law can be observed if we study natural phenomena and see how primary matter assumes the shape of elements and then of plants, then of animals and finally of man. Though national and tribal divisions unite the people belonging to one country or one tribe, they at the same time place these people i
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