Chapter 1: Introduction

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.

What is Society?

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.