Rules and Foundations of Social Relations
By: Ayatullah Shaheed Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim
The second area of discussion appertains to rules that identify the progress and direction of social relations and the foundations on which they are established.
These rules and foundations steer the progress of social relations towards self-perfection in the behavior of individuals and towards social perfection in the activities of the virtuous community.
At the same time, they outline the ethical background and social behavior of the individual by highlighting the role that ethics plays in achieving social perfection in an individual.
Without these ethical restraints, social relations turn into a mere formal mechanism, similar to customs and traditions, disintegrating as soon as the social structure suffers the least change. This has actually taken place under certain conditions like emigration from one society to another, cultural and social intrusions imposed on a society, or overthrow of political regimes. In Western societies, ethics has turned into barren laws and traditions lacking any significant connection to ethics, moral fiber, spirit, or sentiment.
The Ahl al-Bayt (‘a) summed up these rules in the following points:
1. Commitment to religious duties and conventional responsibilities
2. Controlling and directing one’s emotions
3. Deeming justice and fairness as the only level of comparison between others and oneself. Deeming justice and fairness as the only level of comparison between others and oneself
4. Nobility of character and dealing with people in terms of forbearance and compassion
5. Charity and leading in charitable behavior
6. Distinguished behavior, acting as good example in general social conditions
These regulations are congruous with the Islamic aspects of social relations in trend, goals, form, and content. However, it is necessary to deal with each of these regulations in detail to shed light on the claimed congruity and connection.
Religious and Conventional Laws
Commitment to the religious laws, reason-based pledges and covenants, as well as common conventional manners approved by the Holy Legislator, is in reality an ethical commitment towards Almighty Allah, the One and Only Lord and Creator Who has bestowed uncountable graces upon humankind. Almighty Allah had taken a pledge and a covenant from humankind that they would profess His Oneness in godhead and lordship, and obey and comply with His commandments and prohibitions in this world. Referring to this covenant, the Holy Qur'an says: When your Lord brought forth the children of Adam and, from their backs, their descendants, and made them bear witness against their own souls, “Am I not your Lord?” They answered, “Yes! We bear witness.” Lest you should say on the Day of Resurrection, “Surely, we were heedless of this.” Or, lest you should say, “Only our fathers associated others with Allah before, and we were an offspring after them: Will You then destroy us for what the vain doers did?” (7:172-173)
This commitment, therefore, is in reality the fulfillment of the pledge and covenant mentioned in the Holy Qur'an and the acknowledgement of the religion and system of Islam, which Almighty Allah revealed to Muhammad, His servant and messenger, peace be upon him and his Household. This religion came to guide humankind, organize their affairs, and build a virtuous human community so that the believers of this divine message who fulfill this covenant form the best nation.
These religious laws and regulations, including all commands and prohibitions, are based on actual advantage and disadvantage in both the individual and social movements of humanity. Obeying these religious laws is in truth achieving advantages and evading disadvantages. The second aspect of the Islamic concept of social relations, reinforcing the social structure, cannot be put into practice except by means of gaining advantages and warding off disadvantages.
Further, common conventional manners are just another expression of legitimate social commitments that people of a society agree to use as customs; therefore, conformity with these manners means conformity with people themselves and with society. This is in accord with the first aspect of social relations—openness and sociability.
Obligatory and Forbidden Commitments
Positive and negative implementation of such regulation is found in the details about the superstructure of social relations.
As for the positive aspect, this regulation can be found in fulfillment of promises and covenants, restoration of securities to their owners, participation in funeral ceremonies, presence in congregational prayers and social gatherings, visiting the sick, and like matters that will be discussed in further detail in the second part of this book.
Regarding the negative aspect, application of regulation can be found in threatening others, causing them damage, violating their sanctities, scrutinizing their weaknesses, or spreading corruptive influences among them, which will also be discussed in the second part of this book.