Notwithstanding the failings, against which Muslim reformers have been striving to the best of their ability, Islamic society is still conspicuous for fellowship, large heartedness and compassion. Thanks to the precepts of Islam the spirit of mutual help, sympathy and kindliness has penetrated into the inner depths of its consciousness. Muslims are comparatively free from the evils of crude materialism and worship of the stomach. In Muslim society there has never been a dearth of men to raise the banner of revolt against excessive attachment to worldly things. The intensity and extent of competition, selfishness and greed is definitely less in it than in other societies which believe in no other life beyond this worldly existence and aspire only for material ease and comfort.
In Muslim society there is a greater scope for the promotion of social justice and other laudable ideals because of the instinctive respect it has for the Islamic way of life, to whatever degree it may be, and the existence of a spiritual tie which has invested its diverse elements with a sense of identity and brotherliness.
Fellowship and Equality?
An attribute common to the different social and economic movements popular in the modern world is lack of Faith in humanity. The leaders of these movements and their theoreticians have a special liking for a regimented and restricted sort of equality over instinctive fellow-feeling and kindliness. They over look the fact that man does not live by earning and spending alone nor can mere partnership of equality in material possessions fill the vacuum in his life. There is a greater need for genuine human sympathy in life than equality of income or community of means of production. Sometimes a tear springing from the bottom of a bleeding hearts proves to be more efficacious than piles of gold and silver.
All men are dependent on one another. No one is above the operation of the law of inter-dependence. What, however, is needed for sharing each other’s grief is a genuine warmth of feeling and mildness of temperament. If this is kept in mind, the teachings of the Prophet will seem to include all the different aspects of sympathy and fellowship. Speaking of the various kinds of charity and good-doing, the Prophet once said:
“Your doing justice between two persons is charity; your helping a man to mount a horse (or carriage) is charity; your lifting up his luggage and putting it (on the mount or vehicle) is charity; your saying a good thing is charity; your taking a step towards salat is charity, and your removing an obstacle from the road is charity.”
It is related that the Prophet once said: “The distress should help the needy.” On being asked what one should do if one is not in a position to help the needy, the Prophet replied: “Enjoin what is good.” The Companions again asked: “And if it, too, may not be possible”? The Prophet remarked: “Abstain from evil. This is charity.”
It is related that the Prophet once remarked: “Your lending a helping hand to anyone engaged in a work or enabling a clumsy worker to do his job properly is also charity.” On being enquired what a person should do if he was too weak to render such a service, the Prophet replied: “Let people remain safe from your mischief. That will be charity on your ego.”
Yet another tradition of the Prophet reads:
“Your smiling in your brother’s face is charity; your bidding what is good is charity; your forbidding what is wrong is charity; your putting a man who has lost his way on the right path is charity; your assisting a man who has a defect in the eye is charity for you; your removing a stone, thorn or bone from the road is charity for you; and your emptying the bucket into the bucket of your brother is charity for you.”
The preference accorded to enforced equality over natural kindliness and fellow-feeling has resulted in the establishment, in most countries, of a society that has given a decidedly commercial orientation to human personality. It is a narrow, selfish and mechanical society in which no one’s life or honour is secure. Cut-throat completion goes on all the time, with people plotting to bring down one another through deceit, forgery or spying.
The sense of responsibility and keenness to perform one’s duty to the best of one’s ability has disappeared. People behave like stray cattle whose sole object in life is to roam about and feed upon whatever falls within their reach. Every kind of responsibility has been thrown upon the state. One conducts oneself in relation to society like a witness child. With the State doing everything for everybody the noble ideals of human sympathy, generosity and self-denial have lost their meaning.
By contrast compassion and benevolence, arising out of the inmost recesses of the heart, and peace, serenity, contentment, trustfulness and self-assurance were seen in their most glorious light in the original Islamic society and their influence was felt in every walk of life. But this radical transformation of human disposition was not peculiar to that age alone. It can be brought about at any time. Any society which adopts for its deal spontaneous feelings of sympathy and kind-heartedness, in contrast with enforced equality, will be blessed with a true bond of love and affection. Its members will become well-wishers of each other, acknowledging each-other’s rights with an open heart and deposing against each-other with truth. Each generation will bear witness to the virtue and excellence of the preceding generation and pray to God for its salvation. It is of such men that the Qur’an has said:
And those who come after them and say: Our Lord! Forgive us and our brethren who were before us in the faith, and place not in our hearts and rancour towards those who believe. Our Lord Thou art Full of pity, Merciful. (Al-Hashr:10)
This, in brief, is the picture of a true Islamic society in which everyone behaves as the mirror of his brother, wishing to see him free from blemish and preferring for him what he prefers for himself:
Why did not the believers, men and women, when ye heard it (the slander) think good of their own folk, and say: It is a manifest untruth? (Al-Nur:12)
The Holy Prophet has alluded to the enviable state in these few words: “In kindliness and affection the Muslims are like a single body. If any part of it is stricken with disease, the whole body develops fever and restlessness.”
In such a society honesty and gentlemanliness, truth and trustworthiness become the order of the day and everybody acts as if he was brother’s custodian. The Prophet said: “Every Muslim is a Muslim’s brother. He neither harms him himself nor leaves him alone (when he is in need of help). He neither tells a lie to him, nor bears a grudge against him nor puts him to shame. The life, honour and property of a Muslim are sacred for one another.”
Life in many countries has on the contrary, become a veritable curse, a specimen of Hell in misery and wickedness:
Every time a nation entereth (the Hell), it will curse its sister nation (Al-A’raf: 38)
In modern totalitarian States, for instance, when a new dictator comes into power, he considers it a duty to denounce his predecessor and charge him with treason, dishonesty and other grave malpractices. Even if such a person becomes ruler for just a day, he leaves no stone unturned to wreak a terrible vengeance on his critics and adversaries:
And when he turneth away from thee his efforts in the land is to make mischief therein and to destroy the crops and the cattle, though Allah loveth not mischief. (Al-Baqara: 205)
For him who stays with the path of folly and wretchedness the pronouncement of the Qur’an is tract:
Would ye exchange that which is higher for that which is lover? Go down to any country and there ye shall find it. (Al-Baqara:61)