HUMAN societies are different in many ways. However, on the moral plane, there are two types of society: healthy and sick. If the majority members of any society are morally good, their society would be healthy. If the majority is depraved, their society would be sick.
In this way, societies are either sick or healthy around the world. A sick society usually lacks strict adherence to its value system and resorts to unethical means to get its work done, while a healthy society adheres to its value system.
Islam provides basic guidelines to make a society healthy. Islam says that all of humanity is created from a single soul (4:1). They are descendants of Adam, and, therefore, spiritually one. However, at the physical and social levels, humanity lives in tribes, nations and societies.
All individuals in a society are interlinked.
Like all organs in a human body are interlinked, if a single organ is upset, the entire body suffers. Similarly, all individuals in a society are integrally interlinked. If someone’s character is depraved, the entire society suffers. All humans are woven into the larger social network and their actions have implications all over society. In other words, actions impact each other. This has been described beautifully by the Holy Prophet (PBUH) through a parable. He is believed to have said that a group of people boarded a ship and set upon the sea tearing apart the waves. Every one of them had a seat reserved for himself. But one of the travellers started making a hole under his seat with a sharp tool. Unless all the travellers immediately held his hand and stopped him from doing so, they would risk drowning and also fail to save the poor wretch from being drowned.
Islam emphasises that individuals are to be responsible and supportive for the mutual good. It encourages enterprise, but warns that enterprise, without social conscience, is not acceptable. It directs us not to eat up one another’s property unjustly (2:188).
This way Islam enjoins us to be mindful of each other’s welfare. We also find such positive examples early in the Muslim era. Ibne Shirin, an agriculturalist, once cultivated grapes in his field. The crop yielded high produce and its demand was also great. However, on inquiry Ibne Shirin found out that some unscrupulous elements in society were buying these grapes to make wine, thus destroying the health of many people. He immediately withdrew his produce from the market.
This mindfulness is the need of the hour as a healthy society is a society concerned for all. Its members are watchful and stop anti-social activities. Members of a healthy society are caring and above all show mutual consideration for one another.
In modern parlance, such behaviour is called civic sense — a requirement for the good of society. This means showing consideration for others, especially for the elderly, women, children and disabled, not disturbing others with our actions. For example, everyone should be mindful while parking his or her vehicle at a designated place, throwing garbage in dustbins, avoiding smoking, spitting and shouting in public places and above all, we should feel a deep sense of responsibility for every action.
In his farewell sermon, the Holy Prophet, addressing the thousands of pilgrims at the foot of the Mount of Mercy, said: “Allah had made inviolable for you each other’s blood and each other’s property until you meet your Lord.” He was reminding them of the Quranic decree that to destroy the life of one individual amounts to destroying the entire humanity (5:32).
Societies are constantly in a state of flux. They change as time goes by. People’s knowledge, thinking and work patterns, requirements, priorities and sources of income change over time. The Pakistani society of several decades ago is different from our present society. There are aspects which change, but there are aspects which should not change; for example, building peace among people, which enables societies to live in an honourable manner that lets the weaker sections to turn for help and obtain succour, should be the goals of society. These are the principles of Islam and should remain valid and practical at all times.
The present age is described as an age of technology and humanity is blessed as through technological discoveries it has conquered space and eliminated crippling diseases. But through all these developments, hand in hand with it, the spirit
of Islam must remain a source of motivation. A society without such a spiritual source is like a kite — its string cut — wandering aimlessly in the air with no particular destination and on the way to destruction.
The writer is an educationist with an interest in religion.
Published in Dawn, December 16th, 2016