Social conscience in Islam

Muhammad Ali

WHILE Islam stresses on strengthening the connectivity with the Creator through worship, it also provides valuable ethical ideals to bond humanity.

A large portion of the Holy Quran and teachings of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) engage with social issues and human responsibilities. The ethical dimension of Islam portrays an individual, who is socially active and morally responsible, striving for the betterment of society.

Islam has given high value to human dignity by terming the human being as Ashraf-ul Mukhluqat — the noblest of creatures. It also highlights the factors that affect human dignity negatively such as ignorance, deprivation and disease. Hence, it stresses on eliminating such conditions to maintain human dignity.

Today, our society is facing daunting challenges such as poverty, ignorance, injustice etc. To respond to such challenges there is a dire need to reflect on the place of the social conscience in Islam in order to seek guidance.

The Holy Quran extends comprehensible guidelines for success in individual as well as social life. It clearly says “there is not for man except that [good] for which he strives” (53:39). Similarly, a nation’s transformation depends on its social awareness and struggle for improvement, as the Quran says, “…God does not change the condition of [a] people until they change what is in themselves….” (13:11).

The Holy Quran lucidly teaches that it is the moral responsibility of the capable to help the less capable and less privileged. There are many examples in the Quran which underline the responsibilities towards a vast range of people. The following verse beautifully depicts the multiple social responsibilities of a person: “…And do good to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, those in need, neighbours who are near, neighbours who are strangers, the companion by your side, the wayfarer (ye meet), and what your right hands possess. For Allah loveth not the arrogant, the vainglorious” (4:36).

The above examples indicate that where social consciousness is imperative for the success of individuals and society, the same fulfilment of social responsibility is equally important for the development of humanity.

The life of the Prophet is the best example of how to be sensitive towards social and moral responsibilities. This social conscience on part of the Prophet was not on specific occasions or specific days, but he conducted himself in such a way throughout his life.

There are numerous hadiths pertaining to the Prophet which stress on ethical values related to social responsibilities. For example, he has said “the best people are those who benefit others”.

The Prophet devoted his life to reflecting on and seeking solutions to the issues and challenges of the society he lived in. He actively participated in social life particularly by helping and advocating on behalf of the weak, the needy and less capable.

The Quran and teachings of the Prophet provide us valuable principles to reflect on and seek solutions to the challenges of the society in which we live. Today, our society is facing many challenges in terms of the economy, education and healthcare. Hence, society needs the active participation of people for a collective response to the daunting challenges rather than waiting for the government and others.

It is evident that developed nations did not progress only because of the role of government. Rather, the citizens played an active part in the development of their societies. The role of civil society cannot be overlooked in the progress and development of any society in the contemporary world. It is civil society which provides opportunities for the common people to have a role in the development of society.

Looking at the magnitude of our problems it is obvious that the government cannot respond to them alone. Therefore, the problem demands the active engagement of the people. Our faith provides us precious social/moral principles as well as practical examples to respond to the prevailing challenges of society. In order to make such ideals and principles part of our individual and social lives, serious steps need to be taken at multiple levels. Education and the media can be influential in this regard.

Education can play a vital role in imparting the ethical dimension of Islam, particularly focusing on social responsibilities. Religion should not be taught in isolation debating only the theological aspects. Rather, the ethical aspects of Islam need to be discussed by relating them with the learner’s life. The teachings of Islam related to humanism should be reflected in the curriculum and teaching-learning process.

Today, the media is considered a powerful tool to educate citizens of a society. Therefore, it can be an effective source to educate people about the social dimension of our faith. In our society, there are examples of some civil society organisations which are actively engaged in responding to critical issues. Such examples should be highlighted to motivate people to play their role in society by being part of such organisations. The spirit of service and volunteerism also needs to be promoted in the youth in order to take part in solving issues.

In sum, Islam has given a high place to the social conscience by forwarding valuable ideals and examples of how to fulfil social responsibilities. It is, therefore, important to go beyond mere rhetoric and take serious steps at multiple levels to make such values part of our individual as well as social lives in order to respond to the emerging challenges of our society.

The writer is an educator at a community-based educational institution. muhammad.ali075@yahoo.com

Originally published DAWN

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