What is an Islamic Society?

The God sought out by one believer is that very same God sought out by other believers. Just as one believer's life is governed by what he imagines his fate will be in the Hereafter, so are the lives of other believers lived out ac¬cording to the same principles. This being so, how is it at all possible for one believer to come into conflict with another? It is an unfortunate fact that good has been pitted against evil in the world – and every believer knows this full well ¬– for the companions of Satan are free to act in whatever manner they choose. It is essential then, that when the forces of evil have to be contended with, all Muslims should remain united. In so doing, they will increase their strength many times over, thus enabling themselves the more suc¬cessfully to fight the forces of evil that bar their progress towards their Lord.

One of the most important aspects of living together in a society is the quality of the relationships which develop between its different members. Love, tenderness, care, affection, friendliness and consideration should mark every relationship - be it that of relative, neighbour, friend, ven¬dor, customer, businessman, client, landlord or tenant – to state the position very broadly. But, all too often, bonds once formed in love and friendship' are marred, or even broken, by hate, callousness, hostility, indifference, cun-ning, greed, envy, if not downright criminality. In living side by side with one another, and in serving each others needs, society's members are constantly obliged to have dealings with one another, and it is in the matter of these everyday transactions that all kinds of issues arise which can call forth a negative human reaction. But this is only in the na¬ture of things, for unlike stones, lying unmoved and unmov¬ing, all together in a heap, human beings rub shoulders with each other, and that is when the sparks fly! That is when a streak comes to the surface which pushes them fur¬ther and further into contentiousness, whereas what is needed is self-restraint and refusal to enter into conflict. Greed, opportunism and the desire to dominate are to blame for much of the friction in society, while on the other side of the coin; there is over-sensitivity, inertia and ig¬norance. In the face of such human frailty, how can social relationships be expected to retain their positive qualities? How are they to withstand disagreement, strife and fric¬tion? Will they not be constantly impaired, if not actually destroyed, by such negative human activity?

As far as Muslims are concerned, they are not left in any doubt as to how they should conduct themselves in their social living, for they are given clear injunctions on this subject in the chapter in the Quran entitled, The Chambers. This enjoins believers to live together as brothers, and to be as quick to settle any quarrels which may break out between them as they would be to put out a fire which had broken out in their own hearth and home. Great stress, in fact, is laid on the avoidance of all such evils as are likely to mar human relationships. One such evil is the heaping of scorn on those who seem sadly lacking in some respects. It is advised never to do this, because those who strike us as being deficient in so many ways may be the very people who are highest in the esteem of their Creator. Who are we to ridicule and sit in judgement? The only true judge of men is God Almighty Himself. It is likewise strictly against the rules laid down in the Quran to misrepresent another and then destroy his reputation. So is pronouncing someone guilty on the basis of suspicion or hearsay, without sufficient evidence to prove his guilt. Delving into the secrets of others is also disallowed, for this can be ex¬tremely embarrassing if not downright injurious. Imagine how we ourselves would feel if all our secrets were exposed. Should we not, therefore, wish the same for others as we wish for ourselves? Then the making of damaging remarks about another, when he is not there to defend himself, is deemed a cowardly act of injustice, and, as such, to be es¬chewed at all costs.

The only way in which these social ills may be eradi¬cated is for people to live in fear of God. It is only if they are ever conscious that God is watching, over them, and will call them to account for all their actions in the Hereafter, that they will acquire the qualities that make for a good, healthy society. Their state of awareness will act as a rein on any excesses they may feel inclined to commit, and will restrain them from doing any injustice to their fellow men.

Here are a few sayings of the Prophet which throw some light on the teachings of Islam on particular aspects of social living:

"One is not a true believer until one wishes for one's brother what one wishes for oneself."

"There are three things belonging to a Muslim, which for all Muslims should remain inviolate: his blood, his property and his honour."

"A Muslim is one from whose tongue and hand other Muslims are safe."

"The believers, in their warmth consideration and com¬passion for one another, should be like a single body. When there is a complaint in one limb of the body, then the whole body is aroused, and the fever felt throughout it."

"A Muslim is a brother to another Muslim: he neither oppresses his brother, nor does he leave him in the lurch. Whoever helps his brother can count on the help of God, and whoever removes some hardship for a Muslim, will be relieved by God of some hardship on the Day of Resurrec¬tion, while one who keeps a Muslim's secrets will have his secrets kept by God on that Day."

"Almighty God has told me to be humble: one person should not commit excesses against another, nor should one look down on anyone."

"A Muslim is to another Muslim as one part of a build¬ing is to another part: each part strengthens the other parts." Here the Prophet interlaced his fingers to illustrate this.

The picture of Islamic Society which emerges from these sayings of the Prophet shows how a believer should live amongst his fellows: he should look upon them not as strangers, but as if they were a part of himself. When the conduct of others makes him happy, he should realize from this what will make others happy, and act accordingly. Con¬versely, when he feels distressed by the behaviour of others, he should realize how troubled others would be if he served them in like manner. He is, therefore, careful not to treat anyone in this way. The feeling for one another in any Muslim community should be so great that the whole social framework becomes like one single body. That is, when pain is felt in one part of the body, the rest of the body should immediately register it. In this way, the distress of one single Muslim would quickly extend to other Muslims who would not then be at peace with themselves until they had relieved their brother of his pain.

The nature of Islamic society must be such that day-¬to-day dealings are marked with mutual kindness, esteem and consideration. People should be as ready to assist each other in times of need as they would be to take action in the case of their own need. For example, when one sees another homeless and destitute, one should feel as if it were oneself, and not another, who lacked a home and the basic necessities of life; with this feeling in one's heart, one could not then just leave one's brother in the lurch. Then, as to the manner in which one embarks on a suitable course of action, all one's deeds should be carried out in a spirit of humility, and with the idea of doing justice to all. There could be no question then of behaving with arrogance, at¬tempting to assert one's superiority, or even of feeling jealous of anyone who excelled in some particular way. Everyone should wish his fellows well, and be like a close companion to them all the days of his life.

If this could be the general attitude, no one would ever think it permissible to shed so much as a drop of another Muslim's blood, no matter how great the wrong he had suf-fered at his hands. As for laying hands on another Muslim's property, this would be sedulously avoided. In this way Muslim honour would remain inviolate, for each would guard the honour of his neighbour as if it were his very own.

A society in which everyone is just in his behaviour towards others, and unfailingly wishes others well, is bound to be one of exceptional unity. The more pervasive the at-mosphere of mutual goodwill, the higher the degree of unification. If we think of the members of a Muslim society as being the bricks which make up a massive building, we see how each separate brick, being inextricably linked to the other bricks, gives strength to those others and to the entire building. Each brick may be a separate entity, but the connection between it and the others – always close and never in conflict – is one of interdependence and har¬mony. It is the function of the brick, not to destabilize the edifice, but to consolidate it. It does not seek to fashion the building after its own style, but rather moulds itself to whatever shape will produce a strong and durable structure.

What is required for such an Islamic society to come into being? The answer is simply that people should fear God. The secret of all good in this world is the fear of God, while the absence of this fear is the root of all evil. The companions of the Prophet used to observe that "your greatest well-wisher is one who fears God with regard to you." Indeed, it is the truly God-fearing man who is predisposed to treat others well.

There can be no better rein upon an individual's ac¬tions than the thought that God will one day call him to ac¬count for his deeds. When one is on the point of being over-whelmed by some animal instinct, or one feels tempted to assert oneself at the expense of others in some matter of honour, prestige or vested interests, there is only one thing which can keep such urges in check so that one does not deviate from the path of justice, and that is the clear realisation that all matters will be judged by God and that no one will ever escape punishment for his misdeeds. One might conceivably escape being punished in this world, but there is absolutely no way that one will be able to escape God's punishment in the world beyond the grave.

A Muslim society should be one of mutual benevolence and justice for all, but this can only be so if all its members have the fear of God in their hearts. When one Muslim has dealings with another, he should not feel that he has to do with a mere human being, but that it is God Himself – God with every strength at His command – with whom he has to deal. Every human being should strike him as a creature sustained by his Maker, and he should never forget that every thing he does in life will finally be judged by God, who has full knowledge of both his inner thoughts and his out¬ward deeds. A Muslim should bear it ever in mind that one day he will die, and shall have to give an account of himself to God. He keeps praying to God to be kind and comp¬assionate towards him on the Day of Judgement. This very prostration of himself before God will make him kindhe¬arted and compassionate towards his fellowmen. He will forgive others for the excesses they commit against him, hoping that in this way he will earn God's forgiveness for his own excesses. He will be generous to others in the hope that God will be generous to him. He will give to others more than he receives from them, for he hopes that, in return for even the most paltry of his good deeds, great rewards will be bestowed upon him by God.

In an Islamic society, the individual should be more conscious of his responsibilities than of his rights; when there is cause for disagreement, or he has a grudge against someone, he should be ready to acknowledge his own errors whenever he himself is in the wrong. Abu Hurayrah tells of how one of the Prophet's creditors, a Bedouin, deman¬ded repayment of his debt in the most uncouth manner. The Prophet's companions, who happened to be present at the time, took offence at the way the man had expressed himself and made to strike him. But the Prophet restrained them, saying, “Leave him alone, for one who is in the right can say whatever he pleases” Thus, taking the blame for the Bedouin's behaviour upon his own shoulder, he set the correct example: that one who is in the right should be allowed to demand his dues. Were this fine example to be followed, all kinds of evils would be eradicated from society.

A definite characteristic of a truly Islamic society is the extreme degree of consideration which its members show for one another. The Prophet's wife Aishah tells of how the Prophet said: "God is gentle: He favours gentleness in all matters." Another tradition related by Abu Hurayrah describes how a desert Arab came to Medina one day and proceeded to relieve himself in the Prophet's mosque. Members of the congregation ran to seize him and give him a sound thrashing, but, when the Prophet saw what was happening, he called them back and told them to leave him alone. "Throw a vessel of water over the place where he has urinated. You have been sent to make things easy for people, and not to make things more difficult."

It is true that an Islamic society is one of very strict principles, but it is one which is also marked by people's kindness and consideration towards others, one sign of a true believer being his strictness with himself, and his tolerance towards others.

To bear out the principles of Islam, the emphasis should be more on actions than on words. Anas, a com¬panion of the Prophet, tells of a Muslim who died waging a holy war. Someone commented that he could rejoice in the knowledge that he would go to Paradise. But the Prophet disagreed: "How can you tell? It may be that this man en¬gaged in futile talk, and indulged in unworthy miserliness." On another, similar occasion, the Prophet said: "God does not look at how you appear, but at your actual deeds." An Is-lamic society should, therefore, be a serious-minded society, in which its members should refrain from idle chatter and apply themselves diligently to the more important of life's tasks.

Another characteristic of a truly Islamic society is that its members work for their living. They do not make demands, but earn whatever they receive. They never think of snatching things away from others, but use their God- given faculties to provide themselves with the necessities of life. Abu Abd al-Rahman Auf ibn Malik recounts how one day when there were about nine of the Prophet's com¬panions with him, he had a conversation with them which set their feet on the right course of hard work and inde-pendence: "Are you not going to swear allegiance to the Prophet of God?" Since they had already sworn their al¬legiance not so very long beforehand, they replied: "We have just sworn allegiance, O Messenger of God." But the Prophet said to them again, "Are you not going to swear al¬legiance to the Prophet of God?” So they all extended their hands and said: "We swear allegiance at your hand, O Mes¬senger of God. What is that oath that we must swear?" the Prophet replied, "That you will worship God, not associating any partner with him: that you will pray five times a day and follow God's commandments," then the Prophet added: "And do not ask anything of men." Struck by the earnest¬ness of these words, some of those present on this occasion became so scrupulous in following the Prophet's advice, that they would take the trouble to dismount from the horses to pick up a whip which they had let fall to the ground, rather than ask anyone to pick it up for them. This simply means that in an Islamic society the prevailing at¬mosphere is not one in which people beg and make demands on one another. It is one in which there is em¬phasis on working for a living and not looking to others for the fulfillment of one's needs.

Abu Qatadah, one of the Prophet's Companions, tells of how the Prophet stood up in their midst and said: "Struggle for God's cause and faith in Him are the most excellent of actions." One of his listeners stood up and asked: "0 Mes¬senger of God! If I am slain in God's path, will my sins be forgiven?" The Prophet assured him that they would, if he was slain in the path of God, provided that he had remained steadfast and fought solely for the sake of God, and that he had been pressing forward and not retreating. After some time, the Prophet asked the questioner to repeat his ques¬tion. When he had done so, the Prophet gave him the same answer, but added that if he were in debt to anyone, this debt would not be forgiven, “for this is what the angel Gabriel has told me.”

This shows how careful everyone in an Islamic society must be, neither to appropriate anything which is due to another, nor to trample on another's rights. A Muslim should bear in mind that however great his sacrifices in the path of God have been, these will have value in the eyes of God only if he can go to meet his Lord without having denied others their rights, or refused their legitimate demands, for, even if he gives his very life in God's cause, this will not save him in the life after death, if he has been deficient in these respects.

When the Prophet once exhorted people, to give alms, one of his listeners asked: "What if one has nothing to give?" To this the Prophet replied: "Then speak to people kindly, for that is also a form of charity." "And what if one has no kind words to offer?" the man asked. The Prophet then said: "Then avoid inflicting evil on others. "What this im¬plies is that the best person in an Islamic society is the one who does most good to others. He is one who gives to others from that which he has been given by God. He benefits others in both word and action. The least that one can do in this respect is to avoid inflicting harm on others. If one is not able to give, at least one should not take away. If one cannot help another; one should at least not make things more difficult for him. Should one have no gentle words to offer, one should avoid hurting others with words of bitterness and wrath.

In his Muwatta, Imam Malik writes that a man once came to the Prophet and asked him to give him some words of guidance on which he could base his life. The Prophet told him quite simply to avoid becoming angry. A truly Is¬lamic society consists of people who are fully conscious of the negative effects of anger, and who, therefore, sedulously suppress all such feelings. In this way, they are able to keep themselves in such a positive frame of mind that they can face provocation without stooping to anger, hate, vengeance, envy or scorn. They are able, on the con¬trary to follow the path of love, justice, benevolence, for-giveness, and magnanimity.

Whenever any issue arises which could be the cause of friction, one should think about it coolly and decide upon that course of action which is most in accord with the will of God. Impulsive action should be avoided and there should be no question of revenge. On the contrary, one should never lose sight of the fact that one is going to have to answer to the Almighty for one's actions. It does not befit a Muslim to nurse sentiments of anger, hate and vengeance; his life should rather be governed by an attitude of tolerance and forgiveness. He should make a point of never succumbing to anger and should give no place in his life to feelings of vengeance and hatred.

In an Islamic society, when one person does justice to another and gives another his rightful due, this is more than a purely moral or humanitarian act on his part. It is a kind of investment for the life after death, for it is upon his conduct in situations where ethics are all-important that his eternal fate depends: only one who treats others well can expect good treatment for himself at the hands of God. One who fails to treat his fellow human beings in a decent fashion will have no share of God's everlasting blessings in the world to come.

It is in one's treatment of others that man is being tested in this world, and this is of special importance in the case of weak and helpless souls, for when one treats such people in a decent manner, it is for the sake of God, there being no other incentive in this case. But when one treats a powerful person well, it is partly in the hopes that one will receive something in return. Similarly if one takes a humanitarian stance when popular passions have been aroused, one's motivation is determined to a great extent by the anticipation of the fame and prestige which will ensue.

The case is very different when a human being -- alone and powerless – stands before one and appeals for help. Here there is no inducement to be helpful, and if one bears some grudge against this powerless supplicant, the urge to help is considerably diminished. Anyone who comes to the aid of such a person, therefore, shows himself to be a selfless and forgiving human being. He is acting thus solely for the sake of God, for in this instance, apart from the Almighty's pleasure, there is nothing further to be gained.

It is one who shows kindness to others, purely for the sake of God, who is the dearest of all God's servants. When he soothes the pain of one of God’s servants-doing so only for the sake of God – at that very moment he finds God Himself.