The Individual and Society in Islam
Prof. Abdelwahab Bouhdiba
M. Ma ruf al-Dawalibi
The set of six volumes in the series about
the various aspects of Islamic culture, of which this is the first to appear, aims to give
a reasoned, objective picture of the various aspects of Islamic civilization. This
involves summarizing our knowledge, assessing the stage our various Islamic cultures have
reached, and showing both their richness, exuberance and variety of expression and also
aiming to spread its net as widely as possible, by no means excludes
concrete approaches. Our goal is not to produce an apologia. We
consider that Islam does not need one, and that it is enough to
show it as it is for the secrets of its emergence and the reasons
for its expansion, durability and extraordinary vitality to appear
at once. Threatened continuously from its birth to the present day,
Islam continuously asserts itself. It is not even a matter of a
phoenix rising from the ashes. Islam is not in danger and there
is no need to defend it.
Nor is it our aim to write a learned work.
There are hundreds of books of all kinds, ancient and modern, by genuine great scholars on
the inside and equally great and equally profound observers on the outside. These books,
in every language, written with differing sensitivities and from a wide variety of
approaches, have built up an extraordinary rich knowledge of Islam. This contribution by
Islamic studies fortunately still continues today. It would be absurd to duplicate it or
claim to compete with it. Our idea is simply to put forward, on problems of major
interest, an approach that is both objective and committed and that above all captures the
spirit that in various ways and with varying success has animated Muslim societies.
We know that accumulated misunderstandings
often caricature Islam and give a thoroughly inaccurate and unfair picture of it. We know,
too, that some of the answers from the inside are at best clumsy and
unnecessarily impassioned, not to say plain wrong, and tend (to the delight of our
detractors) to exaggerate this caricature still further.
We are equally well aware that societies
with their backs to the wall readily set off in search of illusory refuges, and think that
they can find true safety in extremisms of all sorts. We are also all too well aware that
it is these extremisms that attract the most attention. They can only please all those
who, for political, ideological or economic reasons, have a vested interest in prolonging
the misunderstandings that have done so much harm.
But we believe that the time for sterile
polemics is past. In any case it must be ended. It is as deeply believing modern citizens
aware of our own difficulties and as adults responsible for our fate that we set out to
raise our problems here. There is no denying that Muslims societies today are nearly all
developing societies; technically they are backward; and they are spared neither by
poverty, hunger, ignorance or wickedness. Evil, like a cancer, is eating them away and
undermining them from within. For some two centuries external threats and innumerable
challenges have unceasingly blocked their continuing efforts freely and independently to
overcome their intolerable decadence, which is damaging and protracted. So there is a
great temptation to impute to Islam this serious backwardness and structural inadequacy,
not to mention the crimes committed here and there, sometimes even in its name! The
younger generation in Muslim countries can no longer make do with noble declarations of
intent and vague question-begging. They urgently need to understand in order to believe,
to analyse in order to belong, and to acquire convictions so as to embark on their future
clearsightedly and even with joy and happiness.
We wish to be receptive to these urgent
questionings and crises of conscience. We wish to do our best to shed light. We wish to
give real answers to legitimate questions. So we must evade nothing, for there is really
no need to be ashamed of our heritage, or even of our present or of our efforts to find a
solution to real questions the only ones ever worth asking.
There could be no better framework for our
enterprise than UNESCO. Islams universalist spirit and that Organizations
vocation to be receptive to mankind link up perfectly. It is to mankind, Muslim and
non-Muslim, that we address ourselves to develop the message of Islam. We wish to give our
book the widest possible scope. In it a Muslim élite carries out a genuine self-analysis.
In so doing it bears penetrating, demanding and lucid testimony to the efforts of past and
present Muslim cultures to take their place and assert themselves as the heirs to the
message of the Qurª n.
Hence while scholarship underpins our work,
it is not its end. We certainly mean to take advantage of the contributions of modern
science. Historiography, archaeology, linguistics, sociology, economics and political
science are all pressed into service; and we have made the most of them. We have checked
all the facts and used to our advantage all the specialist knowledge that is the pride of
our time, yet without overlooking the considerable works of our predecessors and our
contemporaries among Muslim scholars. But despite all the concerns of our time, our common
still in preparation, will set out the Foundations of Islam. It will elucidate the
Revelation and give as accurate an idea as possible of Islamic dogmas, beliefs and
Volume 3 will
show both the diversity and the universality of Islam. Its subject will be the way Islam
has apprehended the world. The expansion, building and dismemberment of an
empire and the internal and external tensions are all part of a historical process that
had and still has its moments of glory and of tragic uncertainty.
Volume 1 will
deal fully with theology and dogmatics. Volume 3 will draw
widely on history and geography. The present volume seeks to show how Islam conceived and
implemented mans place in the community. Drawing on fiqh (jurisprudence) and
modern sociological analysis it seeks to follow the intellectual progress of Islam, which
sets out to create a new man, eternal and ever worthy of the trust God placed in him.
Without duplicating the subject-matter of
the later volumes we hope, by combining the historical development of ideas with an
account of the doctrine and the concrete approach, to show the enormous historic task
performed by Islam to regulate life in a community and make the sacred precepts dominant
in society. Islam on the march, always on the march, is an incarnation perpetually in
search of itself to fulfil the word of God through the law, the family, the state and
morals. It has never really stopped developing its own dynamism: we would even speak of
We have not evaded the real difficulties
Islam has met in translating its eternal principles into practice. The Revelation is a
fact in history. Essentially timeless and absolute, it corresponds to a moment in human
time. But his time is not itself enclosed within historical boundaries. The
beginning and end of Prophecy mark the limits of the jª hiliyya (pre-Islamic
times) and absence of checks. But the Revelation is in a sense a continuing fact. The jª
hiliyya is not necessarily behind us. It can also be in us; around us; in front of us.
The Islamic conception of man runs up against social constraints and psychological
limitations. Little of the drama experienced by the Muslim conscience will be understood
without first realizing that permanence implies precariousness, that strictness implies
tolerance, and that the eternal principles would be no use to Islam or Muslims had it not
been a matter of first creating Muslim actions. In Islam as elsewhere the creation of
values is continuous, for values need to be carried and supported by a conscience that
believes in them and a will that carries them out. To be a Muslim is to face a continuing
challenge. The modern worlds challenges to Islam are modern only in their
formulation and the context that surrounds them. It needs to be realized that this
challenge has been one of the most lasting constants in our history: the preaching in
Mecca, the building of an Islamic state in Medina, the epic of the early caliphates, three
of which ended tragically, the ShÌ ite crisis, Umayyad and Abbasid expansion, the
Crusades, decline, colonization and decolonization are all to some extent lasting crises
marking our past, burdening the present and confusing the paths of the future. Fourteen
centuries during which the Revelation, initially perfect, nevertheless reigned; dynamic
but eternally in search of its own translation into action. Fourteen centuries of problems
solved, but also of answers challenged as soon as uttered, like phoenixes rising from the
This means that a priori Islam never lacks
resources. Its flexibility and the way it allows for inevitable constraints and the weight
of circumstances have enabled it to win through where so many other cultures have
perished. It was up to us to identify these resources, take note of them and evaluate them
by the yardstick of the present; and also to see how Muslim societies of today seek to put
them into practice.
The Qurª nic Revelation was a real
rediscovery of the human person. In that sense it reinstates the evangelical message and
restores to human reason the status denied to it both at that time and in the modern
world. If Islamic civilization was a window on the universal, this is by virtue of its
conception of the very nature of creation. To use ones reason is to apprehend
oneself as a universal being. So people must open their eyes those of the body,
those of the heart and those of reason. For anonymous individual to human person, from
mechanically unified tribal society to the umma as an open community, from
traditional society to universal society, a kingdom of rational ends such is the
progress to which the Qurª n calls us. It defines men as equals. Thus equity (i.e.
justice), brotherhood and equality are basic values.
Thus have We made of you / An Ummat
(II.143).This balancing, or mediating, function of the Muslim
community constitutes a true transcendental investiture. It informs it with islamicity. It
makes it take responsibility for the values of equity, freedom and justice. The just are
the authentic ones, and they are the living signs of piety. Be just: that is Next to
This exemplariness leads to an essential
dignity, identifies ways of thinking, defines modes of action and delineates a lifestyle.
There is continuity between the flowering of values and their translation into action.
This was precisely the most significant
contribution of fiqh, which for many centuries was and still is the continuing
formulation of the lax (sharÌ a). The role of fiqh has been to
derive from the precepts of the Qurª n clear, precise rules, case by case, as to
what everyones behaviour should be in daily life. Deduction (instinbª ð )
has been raised to the rank of an art having no connection with mechanical casuistry.
Starting from absolute principles but taking account of the requirements of the times, how
should people act? Fiqh lays down a real art of how to behave. It means bringing
morals down to earth and principles down from their pedestal, so that the law may truly
Thus the behaviour of Muslims could be as
Islamic as possible and strive towards the ideal. Islam is a twofold tension, upwards and
downwards: attuned to the ideal model, and transfiguring ordinary people. The vertical
deduction of the law the object of fiqh is complemented by an
upward-looking quest for the ideal action. God possesses the archetypal Book (umm
al-kitª b) (IV. 7-33; XLIII.4). He gives it to man by an act of His divine grace. It
is for man, from moment to moment as his life unfolds, to write in the mark of that
archetype. Existential experience is a dynamic guided by an agonizing anxiety to obtain
Gods satisfaction by behaving in a Qurª nic way. Piety in life is not formal
adoration, but searching for the divine absolute through all my ways of feeling, thinking
It is not righteousness / That ye turn your
faces / Towards East or West; /But it is righteousness - /To believe in God/ And the Last
Day, / And the Angels, /And the Book, /And the Messengers; / To spend of your substance, /
Out of love for Him, / For your kin, /For orphans,/ For the needy, /For the wayfarer,/For
those who ask, /And for the ransom of slaves; /To be steadfast in Prayer,/And practise
regular charity; To fulfil the contracts/ Which ye have made; /And to be firm and patient,
/In pain (or suffering)/ And adversity/And throughout / All periods of panic/ Such are the
People/ Of truth, the God-fearing (II.177).
The programme of my existence is thus
completely mapped out. It is a matter of fulfilling it, and furnishing our lives with
actions conforming to the divine precepts: which will be by no means an easy task.
The Qurª n is thus the matrix on the
basis of which legal rulings, collective attitudes and individual behaviour are
determined. From the divine being to the human person the road is admittedly long. The
object of this volume is precisely to bring out this progress and show how the
socialization of man and the individualization of the law are both parallel and
Fiqh, which gives this volume its
rich and splendid subject-matter, has taken on at least five functions in Islamic culture:
it has channelled, acculturated, regulated, integrated and reassured.
Fiqh is not merely a reading of the
Qurª n and the sunna. It has (in the strongest sense of the word) channelled
the Revelation by designating just actions and drawing all the immediate and remote
implications from the distinction between Ê alª l and Ê arª m, licit and
illicit. The thousands of treatises on fiqh also acted as powerful relay stations
for the Revelation. The principles are thus brought within reach of all: of all societies,
and within them of all consciences in all circumstances. Fiqh, both the part
concerned with observance ( ibª dª t) and that concerned with
intercourse with others (mu ª malª t), has thus continuously
conveyed the Islamic sharÌ a. It has popularized, publicized and socialized it.
Thanks to it, ethics and the creed have been translated into institutions and become
realities, embodied in attitudes and behaviour corresponding as closely as possible to the
demands of the Qurª n.
As a result an enormous
process of acculturation, perhaps unique of its kind, has been carried
out: this volume can give but a slight idea of it. Every society
that embraces Islam comes into it with its own structures, organization,
customs and culture. Fiqh has not been a steamroller, stifling
all spontaneity in them. It has not substituted an Arab mode of
organization for all others. It has taken account of indigenous
traditions so long as they did not infringe the provisions of the
law, pruning here, correcting there, repressing when necessary.
The profusion of schools, rites and trends bears witness to this
desire to islamize societies without reducing them to uniformity.
The ideal from the outset was pluralism. God created men in diversity:
and diversity is wealth. So that divergence between faqÌ hs
(jurisconsuls) appears as a mercy from God (wa-ft
ikhtilª fihm raÊ ma). All of that is, as it must be, subject
to the distinction between the licit and the illicit. Provided that
the precepts of the Qurª n were observed, people could organize
themselves as they wished. The various political, cultural, educational,
economic and social institutions were accordingly remodelled if
necessary, but always in an organic way: and also so as to allow
scope for the creative genius of groups. This was one of the secrets
of the extraordinary profusion of Islamic culture, which shared
out Islam and accepted in return the happiness of Andalusia, the
naturalness of Africa, the Greek genius of Byzantium, the dolce
vita of India and Polynesia. Let there be no compulsion
/ In religion. (II.256) This is not a slogan; there is no
compulsion in cultural creativity either. Whenever possible, Islam
teaches that social control is far preferable to the compulsion
it must replace. We would like the reader to consider how essential
this approach to acculturation is. It is of course beyond the scope
of the present volume: we hope that the others will cover it.
Fiqh has not acted
merely as a powerful regulator. Though it very often looks like
real casuistry, it is because it has been on the lookout for every
situation, in order to produce, if not always a final answer to
it, at least a reasoned and justifiable one. The codification of
fiqh into commonplace general principles, specialized headings and
case-studies (fatª wª ) has given it application to the general
as well as to the particular. It is mental gymnastics which in the
last analysis is only wisdom, realism and rigour. Make things
easy, do not make them inaccessible (yassirñ wa-lª tu
assirñ ) sets out no other attitude. Fiqh has thus dialecticized
the Qurª n and made its scope historic. By so doing it has
been the vector of the law and regulator of the behaviour of Muslims.
Whence the integrative dimension of fiqh.
Muslim societies could not, in view of what we have just said, be closed societies. By
definition, they were open and dynamic. And yet the Islamic reference so systematically
built up was structured in such a way that every action and every thought, whilst being
free and independent, bore its imprint. If the freeing of the conscience did not develop a
characteristic pathology, it was because the individual remained powerfully integrated
into society. He belonged to the group. Better, he was the group. He was not merely
part of the Islamic community: he was the Islamic community.
Whence, lastly, the reassuring function of
fiqh. Socialization was a process of adaptation. Facing a new situation, the individual
was not flung into the unknown. Guided by the standard-setting attitudes produced by
education and conveyed by so many economic and social institutions, no one was abandoned
to his passions alone. To the extent that Islam has been sufficiently internalized, man
reacts in full confidence and maturity. The huge standard-setting and cognitive structure
of fiqh treats believers as adults and takes them all seriously. Better still, it
takes seriously everything about them their reason, needs, desires, dreams and
aspirations. Social constraint acts from outside in the form of prohibitions. Social
control acts from within in the form of guidelines and references which make it possible
every time to analyse the situation and invent the behaviour best calculated to meet it.
Fiqh conveys an extremely socialized vision of man. Whence the protection of the
individual, and the security (tumanÌ na) that produces inner peace and
fulfils the divine promise: O (thou) soul, /In (complete) rest / And
satisfaction! /Come back thou/ To thy Lord, /Well pleased (thyself) / And well-pleasing /
Unto Him! / Enter thou, then, / Among my Devotees! / Yea, enter thou/ My Heaven!
First fiqh, and
then the various institutions, acted in such a way as to stimulate
and also limit. The aim is to bring individual initiatives, the
resources of the community, collective constraints, the interests
of all parties, and moral obligations as closely as possible into
conformity with the precepts of the Qurª n. Of course a social
mechanism is never absolute or faultless; it could not be total
in so far as (perfection not being of this world) it is mans
nature only to strive towards it. Moreover Islams control
over Muslims has never been total, and the converse is hardly less
true: Muslims control over Islam has never been total either.
So on the one hand there is extreme socialization and on the other
extreme determination, both limiting or reinforcing each other as
the case may be. Whence so many difficulties and vicissitudes, which
with the lapse of time and in the light of the difficulties encountered
today stand out in striking relief. If today the machine"
seems to be racing, it is because the processes of traditional social
control have become quite inadequate. We are required to rethink
our modes of integration and techniques of Islamization. The various
Islamic cultures have given education a special place in the socialization
of individuals and the individuation of its principles. They have
made education the main motive of social control. But what we forget
is that education is not purely and simply training. It only succeeds
if it first takes care of the independence of the individual.
Education in Islam aims to ensure the
independence of the individual, but does not exclude the learning process. It rests on
every persons ability immediately to recognize value, rationally to distinguish good
from evil, to find his bearings in collective activities, and lastly to engage in plans
for existence which he draws up from scratch and in which he sees himself as the driving
force of his own community and as responsible for his own destiny, and discovers Islam as
an indispensable requirement for his own fulfilment.
Thus compulsion no longer has much meaning,
and violence plays a minimal role. No compulsion in religion puts independence
first and relegates violence to last. Islam has realized that violence, though diminished
and even purely symbolic, has no lasting effectiveness. Repression carries within itself
its own limits. Penalties are in the end no more than limits: fiqh itself speaks of
Ê udñ d (statutory punishment).
Relationships between members of the
community are essentially relationships of equality, or better of strict brotherhood. No
group, class or person is entitled to draw systematic advantage for itself or individual
benefit from the precepts of the Qurª n. The effectiveness of Islamic law flows
from the definition of laws as mutual, universal, imprescriptible obligations. The
chapters on economic and political thought will amply demonstrate this.
Better still, this brotherhood goes beyond
the strictly Islamic dimension and runs into the human one. Mutual help and the sense of
value apply to all my brothers, whether People of the Book or not. The senses of
intra-communal and inter-communal solidarity extend and reinforce each other. MuÊ
ammads community must maintain peaceful and mutually respectful relations with all
other communities. Reprehensible activities by one or the other can at worst only give
rise to conflicts which can in any event be only temporary and transient.
Such are the broad outlines of the
Qurª nic revolution which gave the Islamic faith its full, complete and absolute
meaning. It is this faith that animates fiqh, and that enabled it to undertake all
the functions we have analysed. True faith, in Islam as elsewhere, is essentially active.
Its very nature requires this, since it is prayer and communion with God. A Muslim is not
merely a being who has faith, he is faith. A Muslim is a subject, not an object. Much
more, beyond the object and beyond the subject the Islamic faith is a project. Hence it
must be continually faced with the ever-shifting, ever-new data of history, society and
culture. It is through my commitment to the world that my faith is fulfilled and that
through it my life finds a meaning. Divine in its essence, nevertheless faith is in trust
in the Muslims conscience and life. It is no doubt by virtue of it that God can
reveal Himself as nearer to him / Than (his) jugular vein (L.16).
A few words about the organization
of the present volume. In view of the diversity and importance of
the issues addressed, several approaches would have been possible.
At meetings of the editorial committee, we tackled the topics selected
by starting with the most theoretical and ending with the most practical,
moving in this way from the abstract to the concrete. We endeavoured
to single out the underlying principles in order to identify the
processes leading to their application. Our first chapter thus treats
of basic norms and values. The second takes a look at rights and
responsibilities generally. The following (Chapters 3-9) are concerned
with the ways and means whereby they are translated into reality
and seek to analyse the crucial issue of socialization. The object
is to see how the moral and social thinking of Islam has taken shape
and how it has found expression through the major institutions of
the family and education. Special attention was paid to the specific
status of women, children, young people and those outside the mainstream
of society. Chapters 10, 11 and 12 discuss specifically Islamic
approaches to the economy, political power and the workings of the
law. Chapters 13, 14 and 15 are concerned with all the particular
situations that have given rise to numerous misunderstandings and
misinterpretations, namely: the status of minorities, inter-community
relations and human rights. Lastly, Chapter 16 offers us a vivid
picture of everyday life in the Islamic city and is, so to speak,
the culmination of the whole edifice. The hope at least is that
we shall thereby show the reader how, at several levels of social
and historical reality, Qurª nic institutions have been actually
implemented, with all that this entails in the way of risks, theoretical
and practical difficulties, theological, philosophical and legal
inquiry and the development of institutions explicitly responsible
for the implementation of basic principles.
Shortly after the completion of this work,
we learned of the death of Dr Abd al-AzÌ z Kª mil, who had allowed us to
benefit from his immense learning, his great perspicacity and his matchless generosity. In
him we have lost a distinguished colleague and a dear friend. Without his masterly
contribution, our book would have been incomplete.
We have also been informed that our
distinguished colleague Dr MuÊ ammad Abd al-Hª dÌ RÌ da has recently died. His
fine contribution to the present work will count as a swan song on which he lavished much
care. While we have lost a dear friend and a scholar of great vision, we are sure that the
whole of his work will long continue to spread its light.
Note to the Reader
All Qurª nic quotations and verse numbers are
given here according to the Arabic text with facing English translation provided by A.
Yusuf Ali, The Holy Qur'ª n. Text, Translation and Commentary, Lahore, 1938, many