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Social Responsibility in Islam

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said,

“The faithful, in their love for one another and in their having mercy for one another and in their kindness toward one another, are like one body; when a member of it ails, all (the parts of) the body call one another (to share the pain) through sleeplessness and fever.” (Muslim)

The difference between Islam and most other religions is that it did not content itself with merely establishing acts of worship and abandon the needs of society to a Caesar or any form of temporal governing body.

Rather, Islam established ways of conduct, relationships, and rights and obligations for the individual vis-à-vis members of his family and the nation and for the nation vis-à-vis other nations.

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The reform of society was the main target of Islam. Even acts of worship contribute to the achieving of this reform. Within the framework of human society, the Islamic nation is a compact union having recourse to itself, possessing an inner sense of responsibility for its own members, and resisting decay, both individually and collectively.

This social solidarity (takaful) is apparent in all aspects of Prophet Muhammad’s Message. The history of mankind shows that few societies have developed as strong a sense of solidarity or have cooperated as closely or acted as mercifully as have Islamic societies.

Individual and Community: Mutual Responsibility

The individual’s responsibility for the community in Islamic societies and conversely the community’s responsibility for the individual are of primary magnitude, constituting a trust of life and the highest of its responsibilities.

It is for that reason that Islam introduced community worship. Islam also enjoins the group not to neglect the individual, obligating it to safeguard his various interests, to respect his rights and freedom, and to harmonize different interests.

In Islam, praying in groups is preferred many times over to praying individually. The individual is thus an integral element of the Islamic society; he perfects it and is perfected by it, he gives to it and receives from it and he protects it, and is protected by it.

Developing this two-way responsibility is Islam’s principal way of achieving reform and social solidarity. Islam has impressed the meaning of these two types of responsibility on the individual and collective conscience in order to guarantee for Muslims the life of a unified, sound, happy, and productive body in a classless community.

What Quran and Hadith Say

According to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him):

“Every one of you is a shepherd, and every one of you will be questioned about those under his rule: the ruler is a shepherd, and he will be questioned about his subjects; the man is a shepherd in his family, and he will be questioned about those under his care; and the woman is a shepherd in the house of her husband, and she will be questioned about those under her care… Thus, every one of you is a shepherd and is responsible for those under his care. ” (Al-Bukhari)

In the words of the Glorious Qur’an:

{Hast thou observed him who belieth religion? That is he who repelleth the orphan, and urgeth not the feeding of the needy.} (Al-Ma`un 107:1-3)

{Those who entered the faith… prefer [the fugitives] above themselves though poverty become their lot.} (Al-Hashr 59: 9)

Islam has the individual say in his invocations:

{Place not in our hearts any rancor toward those who believe.} (Al-Hashr 59:10)

When this precept is practiced to the full, the heart of the individual is dedicated to society and to his complete submergence in it.

To the group, Islam declares that believers are naught else than brothers.

{Therefore make peace between your brethren.} (Al-Hashr 49:10)

The blood of the Muslims shall be answered for; for the least worthy among them is entitled to their protection, and their hand is lifted against those who are against them as the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said:

“Help your brother whether he is the doer of wrong or wrong is done to him.”

The Companions asked, “O Messenger of Allah! I can help him if he is a victim of wrongdoing, but how could I help him when he is the doer of wrong?” The Prophet replied, “Hold him back from doing wrong.” (Al-Bukhari)

The Community Ship

An outstanding illustration of the decree that society be responsible for the individual’s behavior can be found in this parable by the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him):

The example of the person abiding by Allah’s order and restrictions in comparison to those who violate them is like the example of those persons who drew lots for their seats in a boat. Some of them got seats in the upper part, and the others in the lower. When the latter needed water, they had to go up to bring water (and that troubled the others), so they said,

‘Let us make a hole in our share of the ship (and get water) saving those who are above us from troubling them.’

So, if the people in the upper part left the others do what they had suggested, all the people of the ship would be destroyed, but if they prevented them, both parties would be safe. (Al-Bukhari)

This understanding between individual and society of common responsibility for common interests is the basis for resisting social ills, and every method for achieving reform would remain fruitless unless preceded by such an understanding.

More elaboration on this dimension in the second article of this series.