Features of the Islamic Concept of Social Relations
By: Ayatullah Shaheed Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim
The Islamic concept of social relations—as taught by the Ahl al-Bayt (‘a)—highlights openness or social accessibility and expansion in building social relations and associations as opposed to seclusion, aloofness, and monasticism. It focuses on the naivety of human nature and directs it towards perfection in this important aspect. Human nature pushes man in the direction of associating with others, establishing strong ties with them, seeking their help in needs, and getting to know them more closely.
This natural inclination can be inferred from the Holy Qur'an in its discussion regarding the creation of spouses: One of His signs is that He created mates for you from yourselves that you may find rest in them, and He put between you love and compassion. Most surely, there are signs in this for a people who reflect. (30:21)
More evidently, the Holy Qur'an has stated that the purpose behind driving people into kinships and tribes was to create familiarity among people and to establish social relations: O humankind! We have surely created you of a male and a female and made you tribes and families that you may know each other. Surely, the most honorable among you with Allah is the one who is most careful of his duty. Surely, Allah is Knowing, Aware. (49:13)
Furthermore, there are many Qur'anic texts confirming the naďve nature of human beings.
As for the Ahl al-Bayt (‘a), reported instructions of the inclination towards social relations has been confirmed by them through their precepts and directives to their followers. For instance, according to a validly reported tradition, Murazim has reported Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) as saying: Always offer prayers in the mosques (of the non-Shi’ah Muslims) and show good neighborliness to people. Testify for rightful parties and attend their funeral ceremonies. Verily, you can never manage without other people. No one can manage without others throughout life, since people are in an indispensable need of each other.1
The Holy Imams of the Ahl al-Bayt (‘a), underscoring this trend in social relations, directed their followers towards making as many friendships and associations as possible.
In this respect, Imam al-Ridha (‘a) is reported to have said: Whoever makes another their brother-in-faith has in fact won a house in Paradise.2
Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) is also reported to have said: Make friends with as many people as possible in this world, for they shall benefit in this world and in the Hereafter. In this world, they may set right your worldly needs. In the Hereafter, the inhabitants of Hellfire shall say, “So now we have neither intercessors nor a true friend. (26:100-101)”3
Confirming this instruction, Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) is also reported to have said: Make brothers-in-faith with as many people as possible, for each faithful believer has answered prayers.
Make brothers-in-faith with as many people as possible, for each faithful believer will be granted [the] right to intercede.
Make brothers-in-faith with as many faithful people as possible, for they will have some privilege with Almighty Allah by which He shall reward them on the Day of Resurrection.4
Imam ‘Ali, the Commander of the Faithful (‘a), is reported to have composed the following poetic lines: Try to win pure-hearted brothers, for they become Your trust and support when you seek their aid A thousand associates and friends are not many, But a single enemy is much too many!
Warning against aloofness and hostility
With respect to the trend of building good social relations with people, the Holy Imams (‘a) warned their followers against aloofness, incurring the hostility of others, and disputing and arguing, as such things damage social relations.
One of the Infallible Imams (‘a) is reported to have said: Detachment from people provokes hostility.5
Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) is reported to have quoted Imam ‘Ali (‘a) as saying: Beware of engaging yourselves in contention and dispute because these two matters poison your hearts towards your friends and act as a fertile source of hypocrisy.6
Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) is also reported to have quoted the Holy Prophet (S) as saying: Every time (Archangel) Gabriel visited me, he would say to me, “O Muhammad, beware of the hostility and animosity of others.”7
Another indication of the trend of the Holy Imams towards building good relations with others is that they instructed their followers to gratify others by treating them leniently in matters of humor and disposition. According to an authentic tradition, Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) is reported to have quoted the Holy Prophet (S) as saying: My Lord ordered me to accommodate people with the same fortitude that He ordered me to have in obligatory (religious) duties.8
Isolation and Monasticism
On the other hand, there are some traditions that can be taken to mean that secluding oneself and steering clear of social activities and associations with people could be the most preferred course one might adopt.
In his book of Rawdhat al-Kafi, Shaykh al-Kulayni has reported through a valid chain of authority on the authority of Hafs ibn Ghiyath that Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) delivered the following instruction: If possible, you should never leave your house, because if you leave your house, then you must stop backbiting, telling lies, envying others, showing off, boasting, and sycophancy… How excellent a hermitage is a Muslim’s house wherein he casts his sight down and controls his tongue, his self, and his private parts…9
In the famous book of tafsir (i.e. exegesis of the Holy Qur'an) that is ascribed to ‘Ali ibn Ibrahim, Imam ‘Ali, the Commander of the Faithful (‘a), is reported to have said: Blessed is he who confines himself to his house, eats the least food possible, weeps for his sins, tires himself, and others are free of his annoyance.10
Following the course of the author of Wasa'il al-Shi’ah who commented on such traditions, we can interpretively say that these instructions are restricted to exceptional situations when one finds oneself too weak to resist the surrounding pressures and seductions; one can adopt seclusion cautiously when it becomes too difficult to avoid the disadvantages of association with others. As another interpretation, we may also say that these instructions stand to educate and warn people about the necessity to behave correctly when associating with others in society.
Almighty Allah has created man to attain perfection by undertaking responsibility and preferring right over wrong and good over evil within his circumstances in the universe and the progress of society. Thus, fleeing this divine trial and test—by fleeing from social life and obligations—will never achieve such perfection.
Considering these two interpretations of the seemingly contradictory traditions, it is unfeasible to adopt the second group (of traditions mentioned) because the traditions of the first type (i.e. emphasizing good social relations with others and playing active roles in social life) are congruous with the instructions of the Holy Qur'an and the Holy Sunnah. In addition, these traditions are considerably more in number than the traditions of the second type, more reliable in chains of authority, more familiar with the scholars of the virtuous community, and more applicable to the deeds and manners of scholars and righteous people.
Commenting on this point, ‘Allamah al-Tabrisi, in his famous (book of) tafsir entitled Majma’ al-Bayan says: “Traditions warn against seclusion, detachment from people and communities, monasticism, and aloofness.”11
Confirming this fact, the Holy Qur'an says: The Monasticism, which they invented for themselves, We did not prescribe for them. We prescribed only the seeking of the pleasure of Allah, but that they did not foster, as they should have done. (57:27)
Monasticism—in the sense of fearing Almighty Allah and worshipping Him in private—was prescribed only to save those mentioned in the verse from being killed or from being forced to abandon the religion of Almighty Allah, but they did not promote monasticism as it was meant to be. Instead, they turned it into detachment from society, abstinence from legitimate matrimonial union, forsaking obligations and responsibilities, making it a profession in the end.12
Reinforcing the Social Structure
The second purpose behind social relations is to reinforce the foundations of Muslim society and strengthen the social structure to maintain continuous progress towards social perfection. Correct social relations also help gain access to platforms of power, justice, welfare, and reconciliation, and help Muslim society face and solve various problems arising from social, political and economic practices. Social relations also aid in spirituality and self-perfection within the movement of humankind towards Almighty Allah.
Reinforcing the social structure depended on a number of essential principles mentioned below.
1. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa'il al-Shi’ah 8:399, S.1, H. 5.
2. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa'il al-Shi’ah 8:407, H.1.
3. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa'il al-Shi’ah 8:407, H.5.
4. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa'il al-Shi’ah 8:408, H.1 & 567, H. 2. Similar reports of can be found in Sections: 135 and 136 of the same reference book.
5. - Ibn Abi’l-Hadid, Sharh Nahj al-Balaghah 10:52. The author reports this tradition from Imam ‘Ali the Commander of the Faithful (‘a).
6. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa’il al-Shi’ah 8:567, S. 135, H. 1.
The tradition following this one in this reference book reads that the Holy Prophet (s) said: Whoever meets Almighty Allah enjoying the following three traits will enter Paradise from any gate he chooses: (1) good manners, (2) fear of God in public and private, and (3) forsaking contention even when he is right.
7. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa'il al-Shi’ah 8:408, H. 6, S. 7.
8. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa'il al-Shi’ah 8:540, H. 1, S. 121.
9. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa'il al-Shi’ah 11:283, H. 1. (The completion of the tradition is found in the margin of this reference book.)
10. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa'il al-Shi’ah 11:284, H. 5. (Traditions of the same meaning can be found in the same chapter of this reference book.)
11. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa'il al-Shi’ah 11:285, H. 7, S. 51.
12. - Refer to the exegesis of this holy verse in Majma’ al-Bayan by ‘Allamah al-Tabrisi where he cites the tradition of Ibn Mas’ud quoting the Holy Prophet (s) as saying, “The monasticism of my nation is emigration (i.e. hijrah), jihad, prayer, fasting, Hajj, and ‘Umrah.