Social Action: A Muslim View

Posted by on Apr 4th, 2008 and filed under Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry


I HAVE tried to illustrate in previous columns that liberal democracies must be re-examined and re-fashioned in light of its failure to assign no transcendent solutions to complex socio-economic and racial issues. Its citizenry assumes, as an ironclad principle, a private-public distinction. This private-public distinction characteristic of individuals residing within and adjusting to democratic societies creates an intense psychological need for a private “comfort zone” that severs any intimate relationship between individual conduct and social action and limits any implementation of transcendent social values based on faith. Sadly, the Muslim community here in the United States cannot translate faith into social action because we have unconsciously embraced this public-private distinction.

According to the spirit of Allah’s (SWT) Holy Qur’an and the prophet’s (p.b.u.h.) Sunnah, no distinction exists, as far as individual Muslims are concerned, between the private and the public sphere. I want to suggest here that we, as Muslims, are slowly losing sight of living as an “Ideal Muslim”.

An Ideal Muslim is one who tacitly recognizes any political institution that holds sway but at the same time retain her or his struggle for mastery of the passions (jihad al-Akbar or the “major jihad”) and embrace the lesser struggle to eliminate any manifestation of personal corruption within society (jihad al-asghar). The Ideal Muslim does not deny the materialist interpretation of history in which human agency alter economic and social contradictions and that serve as sources of exploitation and injustice. The Ideal Muslim does not seek to undermine such realities through senseless violence; this course of action cannot produce transcendent social values. Ideal Muslim considers the materialist interpretation of history as narrow since “…he cannot envision the whole historical process, only God can”.

The Ideal Muslim knows two interpretations of history that corresponds simultaneously – the metaphysical and materialist interpretation. The materialist historical process expresses itself through cause and effect, where human decisions and its consequences can be recognized and demarcated by specific historical developments. The European Enlightenment stage of history witnessed a distrust of religious authority through divine right of kings, shattered feudalism’s yoke on its society and produced the bourgeois class who protect their economic interests at the expense of alienating others indefinitely. Karl Marx reasoned that the contradictions present among social systems (e.g. the bourgeois versus the proletariat) and the alienation it fosters have an economic base; in other words, these social contradictions originate within an economic environment. But these economic and social contradictions justified revolutions in order to eliminate the material conditions of social inequality completely. Rousseau, unlike Marx, saw that social relationships are influenced by private property arrangements. Once upon a time humans lived harmoniously in a “state of nature” where nature was exploited in a cooperative way. There was no need to be aggressive towards others in this state or to be calculating any personal advantage vis-à-vis other human beings. It is the evolution of private property that triggers negative sentiments against others; prior to the evolution of private property humans retained empathic feelings for others. Rousseau thought that by eliminating private property, a unique factor in historical development, human beings could elevate themselves above unhealthy social relationships with others and achieve social harmony once again.

Both methods, however, are shortsighted since it leads eventually into social ownership, which smothers individual initiative. The materialist interpretation of history neglects the assumption that any social and economic structure developed by man himself is a product of his deeds.  Consequently, man’s deeds have deepened the social and economic malaise characteristic of modern societies because man himself is not guided by the actions of the prophets of Allah (SWT).

The primary factor behind the social and economic contradictions within modern societies is the contradiction within man himself. It is man who has decided to deviate from Allah’s (SWT) Guidance and, since no control over his behavior remained, social and economic corruption began to flourish. The purpose of prophet hood was not to eliminate any social or economic contradiction but to solve man’s inner contradictions, to help him overcome the psychological tendency to create undue oppression and to implement transcendent social values.

The writer is a recent revert to Islam and can be contacted at:   

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