Chapter 2: Social Classification

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.