Copyright © By Dr. Adel Elsaie, Book Title: "History of Truth, The Truth about God and Religions"
8.5 Islam and Community
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The community (Ummah) in Islam is not founded on race, nationality, locality, occupation, kinship, or special interests. It does not take its name after the name of a leader or a founder or an event. It transcends national borders and political boundaries. The foundation of the community in Islam is the attitude that designates submission to the Will of Allah, obedience to His Law, and commitment to His Cause. In short, an Islamic community is present only when it is nourished and fostered by Islam. Its foundation is the family.
The Islamic community has a historic mission far beyond mere survival, sheer power, breeding, or physiological continuity. Such a mission is described in the Quran as follows:
Surah 3, Ayah 104 "Let there arise out of you a band of people inviting to all that is good, enjoining what is right, and forbidding what is wrong: They are the ones to attain felicity."
Surah 3, Ayah 110 "Ye are the best of peoples, evolved for mankind, enjoining what is right, forbidding what is wrong, and believing in Allah."
The historic role of the Islamic community is to be the embodiment of the virtuous, the wholesome, and the noble. A truly Islamic community is the alert guardian of virtue and the bitter enemy of evil. What is required from the community at large is likewise required from every individual member. This is because the whole community is an entity with every member accountable to Allah. The statement of the Prophet (Pbuh) best describes the role of the individual Muslim:
"Whoever of you sees something wrong must seek to rectify it by action or deed; if he cannot, let him try to change it by word; if he cannot, let his feelings of disapproval and condemnation intensify and this is the minimal degree of faith."
As we see, this description is very significant and comprehensive. In this age of revolutionary media, no one in his right mind can underestimate the power of corrected actions, or the power of communication by words, or the power of feelings.
The historic role of the Islamic community is further restated in the Quran:
Surah 2, Ayah 143 "Thus, have We made of you an Ummah justly balanced, that ye might be witnesses over the nations, and the Messenger a witness over yourselves."
Such a role of witnessing is both highly significant and extremely demanding. It means that the community of Islam must be exemplary. It must set the highest standard of morality and be the reference point of others. It must avoid excesses and extravagances and static rigidity. To strike a middle course of action, to be steadfast and consistent, to know what to accept and what to reject, to have morals and at the same time remain adaptable is probably the hardest test of human character and social viability. But this is the role of the Islamic community and the historic mission of Muslims. And it is the very criterion that qualifies the Muslim as the best human community ever to evolve.
With regard to the continuity of the Islamic community, certain points are noteworthy. It is the duty of Muslims to do everything within their means to ensure that continuity. The rules of marriage and inheritance, the duties of charity and pilgrimage, the human rights and obligation of kin, the individual conscientiousness and social belongings - all these are oriented towards the healthy continuity of the community in Islam. On the other hand, God has pledged to protect this community in several ways.
First, He pledges to preserve and protect the Quran that is the source of all wisdom. This also means that there shall always be a community to follow the Quran; the Quran shall not be without followers even though there are followers of other books.
Second, Islam itself is continuity. Whenever a nation deviated from the path of Allah, He restated His word, reaffirmed His Truth, and commissioned new reformers to carry on.
Thirdly, Allah has issued a strong warning to the effect that if Muslims turned away from the right path, they would be the losers, and Allah would replace them by righteous people, Surah 47, Ayah 38.
Again, the believers are warned that if they neglect their faith, soon God will produce people whom He will love and they will love Him, humble towards the believers and strong against the unbelievers, fighting in the way of God, and never afraid of reproaches, Surah 5, Ayah 54.
There have been many definitions and descriptions of the family. For our purpose, I shall adopt the following simplified definition. The family is a human social group whose members are bound together by the bond of blood ties and/or marital relationship. This family bond entails mutual expectations of rights and obligations that are prescribed by religion, enforced by law, and observed by the group members. Accordingly, the family members share certain mutual commitments. These relate to identity and provision, inheritance and council, affection for the young, security and respect for the elderly, and maximization of effort to protect the family.
Islam recognizes the religious virtue, the social necessity, and the moral advantage of marriage. The normal course of behavior for the Muslim individual is to be family oriented and to seek a family of his own. Marriage and the family are central in the Islamic system. There are many verses in the Quran and the statements by the Prophet which goes as far as to say that when a Muslim marries, he has thereby perfected half of his religion; so let him be God-minded and careful with the other half. Muslim scholars have interpreted the Quran to mean that a marriage is a religious duty, a moral safeguard, and a social commitment. As a religious duty, it must be fulfilled; but like all other duties in Islam, it is enjoined only upon those who are capable of meeting the responsibilities involved.
Marriage in Islam is regarded first and foremost as a righteous act. Sexual control is a moral triumph. The moral values and purposes of marriage would take on a special meaning and be reinforced if they are intertwined with the belief in God. And this is the focal point of marriage in Islam.
Surah 4, Ayah 1 "O mankind! reverence your Guardian-Lord, who created you from a single person, created, of like nature, His mate, and from them twain scattered (like seeds) countless men and women,"
Surah 7, Ayah 189 "It is He Who created you from a single person, and made his mate of like nature, in order that he might dwell with her (in love)."
Surah 30, Ayah 21 "And among His Signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that ye may dwell in tranquility with them, and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts): verily in that are Signs for those who reflect."
Even at the most trying times of married life, and in the midst of legal disputes and litigation, the Quran reminds the parties of Godís Law; it commands them to be kind to one another, truly charitable towards one another, and above all dutiful to God.
It is noteworthy that the Islamic provisions of marriage apply to men and women equally, "except that men are a degree higher" because they are charged with the household expenditure. Women are not required to contribute in the house finances, even if they are wealthy. Sexual fidelity is sternly demanded, and proven adultery is punishable in some Islamic countries. The Quran also advocates measures that were intended to improve the conditions of women. The infanticide of girls, formerly prevalent among certain Arabic tribes, is forbidden; daughters are given a share of inheritances, although only half of that allotted to boys. The Quran grants to wives the right of divorce in case of maltreatment. The Quran approves polygamy, allowing as many as four wives, but also states,
Surah 4, Ayah 3 "but if ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one,"
The polygamy is offered as an alternative for extra marital affairs and committing adultery. The abuse of polygamy has recently led to the enactment of reformed family laws in most Muslim countries.
Islamís general approach to parent-child relationships may be summarized in a few principles:
It is a divine command that no child may become the cause of harm to the parents, Surah 2, Ayah 233.
By implication, the parents should cause the child no harm either. The Quran recognizes very clearly that parents are not always immune from over protectiveness or negligence.
One of the most inalienable rights of the child in Islam is the right to life and equal chances, Surah 6, Ayah 151.
Islam is strongly sensitive to the crucial dependence of the child on the parents. Their decisive role in forming the childís personality is clearly recognized.
The Quran sums up the whole question of the parent-child relationship in the master concept of ihsan, which means what is right, good, and beautiful. It also means to strive for perfection in performing Islamic duties. The practical implications of this concept of ihsan for the parents entail active understanding and patience, gratitude and compassion, respect for them and prayers for their souls, mercy and honoring them.
Surah 17, Ayah 23-24 "Thy Lord hath decreed that ye worship none but Him, and that ye be kind (Ihsan) to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in thy life, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honor. And, out of kindness, lower to them the wing of humility, and say: My Lord! Bestow on them thy Mercy even as they cherished me in childhood."
Parents have the right to expect obedience from children if only in partial return for what the parents do for them. But if parents demand the wrong or ask the improper, such as forcing children to paganism, disobedience become not only justifiable, but also imperative.
Recognizing that the first priority of anyone is towards God, the second priority of children is towards their parents. This means that the children are responsible for the support and maintenance of parents. It is an absolute religious duty to provide for the parents in case of need and help them to make their lives as comfortable as possible, especially in their old ages.
In the above verse, there exists more than just simple gratitude to parents; it goes up into the highest spiritual level. Following Godís command to mankind to only worship him, children are commanded to treat their parent with the full meaning of ihsan. God ordains respect and mercy for parents. However, today, in the name of freedom, respect is replaced with rebellion, and mercy is hardly existent.