Man's Duty towards the Society
By: Allamah Syed Muhammad Husain Tabataba'i
As we know, human beings work with joint effort. They take advantage of each others' endeavors to eliminate the needs of their life. The society established by these individuals is similar to a "great man" and each individual is like an organ of this great man's body.
Each organ of the body performs its own specific function and makes up for its own weaknesses by benefiting from the functions of other organs; that is, in its sphere of activity, each organ provides its interests while providing the interests of other organs and continues its life in the light of the life of other organs.
If some organs acted selfishly and were of no use to other organs; for example, if while the hands or feet were functioning, the eyes did not cooperate with them or if the mouth only contented itself with chewing and enjoying the food without swallowing it to satisfy the needs of the stomach, man would die and, as a result, the same self-centered and self-seeking organ would also die.
The duty of the members of a society is exactly like the duty of the organs of a body, i.e., man must look for his interests within the framework of the interests of the society. He must consider what benefits the society would derive from his efforts so that by his efforts all are benefited and he also gets benefited. He must defend the rights of others so that his own rights would not be violated.
This is a fact which we realize with our Allah-given nature. The holy religion of Islam, which is established on the basis of nature and creation, does not have the commandments and views other than these on this matter.
The Holy Prophet (S) states: "A Muslim is one from whose hand and tongue Muslims are safe."
He further states: "Muslims are brothers and are like a single-hand, single-heart, and single-direction against aliens."
He also states: "Whoever does not care about the affairs of the Muslims is not a Muslim."
For the Battle of Tabuk when the Holy Prophet (S) set out with the army of Islam for the frontier of Rome, three Muslims did not participate in the battle. After the return of the army of Islam, when these three persons welcomed and greeted the Holy Prophet (S), the Prophet (S) turned his face and did not answer their greetings. In the like manner, the Muslims also turned their faces from these three men. No one, in Madinah, not even their wives, talked to them. Consequently, they became helpless and sought refuge in the mountains of Madinah and engaged themselves in repentance and contrition until Allah accepted their repentance after several days and then they returned to the city.
In the Qur'an and the ahadith of the religious leaders, justice is of two kinds: individual and social. Both are highly regarded by the holy religion of Islam.
The individual justice means that the man should abstain from falsehood, backbiting, and other major sins. He should not insist on committing other sins. He who is endowed with this quality is called 'Adil (just). According to the Islamic regulations, if such a man has educational ability as well, he can take charge of judicial and governmental positions, or he can become a religious authority or maintain other social positions. But the one who is deprived of this religious personality cannot enjoy these privileges even though he may be a scholar.
Social justice means that man should not trespass upon the rights of others. He should consider all the people equal by the divine laws. He should not exceed justice in implementing religious laws. He must not be influenced by feelings and sentiments. He must not deviate from the right path. The Almighty Allah states: "Surely Allah enjoins the doing of justice...(16:90)."
Again He states: "...And that when you judge between people you judge with justice...(4:58)."
Orders have been issued in many Qur'anic verses and ahadith to consider justice in words and deeds. In several cases, the Almighty Allah has explicitly cursed the oppressors.
Tyranny and Oppression
The Almighty Allah has repeatedly mentioned about tyranny in His Divine Book and has reproached this indecent quality which is a characteristic of the beasts (in two-thirds of the number of Surahs of the Holy Qur'an, which are 114, there is a discussion on tyranny).
There is no one who has not felt the badness and unfairness of tyranny by his own nature or who more or less does not know what painful calamities have come upon human society, what bloodsheds have taken place, and what a large number of houses have been demolished due to tyranny and oppression.
It has been proven by experience that the palace of tyranny will not last long no matter how strong it may be and sooner or later, it will collapse on the heads of the oppressors. The Almighty Allah states: "...Surely Allah does not guide the unjust people (6:144)."
Religious authorities have also stated: "Monarchy and kingdom will last with blasphemy, but these will not stabilize with tyranny and oppression."
Being bound to live in a society, man has no escape from the company of people. Undoubtedly, man associates with other people to protect his own social status, to further h is material and spiritual advancement day by day, and to solve the difficulties of his life better and with greater ease.
Thus he must behave with other people in such a way so as to attain endearment, to augment his social honor day by day, and to add to the number of his friends. If people see unfriendliness or bitterness in the behavior of others, their hearts will be filled with abomination and anguish.
Finally, a day will come when everyone will escape from the company of such a person and he will be hated and disfavored by others. He must then live all alone and as a stranger in his native land. This is one of the most bitter and most unpleasant examples of man's misfortune.
This is what the holy religion of Islam has enjoined its followers to have good social behavior and has prescribed the best etiquettes and instructions in this respect. For example, Islam has ordered Muslims to greet when they meet one another and has considered the person who greets first to be superior to the other.
The Holy Prophet (S) took the lead in greeting others. He even greeted women and children. If someone greeted the Holy Prophet (S), he would in turn greet him better.
The Almighty Allah states: "And when you are greeted with a greeting, greet with a better (greeting) than it or return it...(4:86)."
Allah has also stated that man should show humbleness and modesty in his association with people and should respect others commensurate with their social status.
The Almighty Allah states: "And the servants of the Beneficent Allah are they who walk on the earth in humbleness...(25:63)."
The point that should be mentioned is that humbleness and modesty do not mean that man should degrade himself before the people and thus hurt his personality, rather these mean that man should not show off his superiorities and honors to the people and should not associate with himself other extraordinary privileges. One must not consider the people degraded and insignificant.
Similarly, respect to the people does not mean that one should respect others to an extent bordering on flattery and buttering, rather it means that one must value everyone according to his religious and social status. One should respect the dignitaries commensurate with their rank and status. One must also respect the others according to their observation of human qualities.
Again paying respect to people does not mean that m an should keep mum and overlook the indecent acts of people. Neither it means that man should associate with the people in a gathering in which all act against human prestige or carry out an action against religious principles.
It doesn't mean that man should go with the stream for the fear of defamation either, for the people should, in fact, be respected on the basis of their human dignity and their religious and moral values, not because of their physique and stature. If a man loses his human dignity and religious value, there will be no reason for his being respected by the others.
The Holy Prophet (S) stated: "One should not commit a sin before Allah for the sake of obeying others."
Teasing People and Mischievousness
These two attributes are closely linked together, for teasing people means annoying them and inflicting pain on them either by means of the tongue, such as cursing and using words which annoy others, or by means of the hands, such as performing an action to make the people unhappy. Mischievousness means doing things to cause evil for the people. At any rate, these two attributes are at the opposite pole of the dreams of comfort of life and peace of mind, for the sake of which, man has established the society.
Therefore, the religion of Islam, which gives the top priority to the interests of the society, has forbidden the people to tease others and to make mischief, as the Almighty Allah states: "And those who speak evil things of the believing men and the believing women without their having earned (it), they are guilty indeed of a false accusation and a manifest sin (33:58)."
The Holy Prophet (S) states: "Whoever bothers a Muslim, has bothered me and bothering me is bothering Allah. Such a person has been cursed in the Tawrat, the Injil, and the Qur'an." He also states: "One, who casts an angry glance on a Muslim and frightens him, will be frightened by Allah on the Day of Judgment."
Association with the Good People
Although man associates with a large number of people, he is obliged to associate with some people more than others due to the exigency of his life. These are the people who are called "friends."
Surely, the main cause for this friendship and relationship is a kind of similarity in ethics, manners, profession, and the like which exist between the two persons or among a group of individuals.
Since companionship gradually transfers the habits and character of one of the two companions to the other, a man must choose the company of good people, for in this case, the decent ethics of his friends will be transferred to him and he will benefit from their taintless and benevolent friendship and cooperation.
He will also be enthusiastic in the continuation of their friendship. Furthermore, he will improve his own social value and dignity among the people.
Amir al-Mu'minin 'Ali (as) states: "Your best friend is the one who leads you to do good deeds."
He also states: "Man is evaluated on the basis of the friends he chooses."
First let me know with whom you have associated, so that I can describe your identity. It is the value of your acquaintances that determines the value and worth of your life.
Companionship with the Bad People
Companionship with the bad people and the evil-doers is the source of all sorts of wretchedness and misfortune. To clarify this matter, it suffices to say that if we ask the criminals and the evil-doers such as thieves and bandits the cause of their aberration and deviation, they will undoubtedly reply that the companionship and association with bad people have put them in such a situation. From among a thousand wicked and defiled people, not even one can be found who has chosen an indecent course of action deliberately.
Amir al-Mu'minin 'Ali (as), states: "Shun the companionship of bad people, for a bad friend makes you similar to himself. Unless he succeeds in this respect, he will not accept you as a friend."
'Ali (as) also states: "Avoid the friendship of an evildoer, for he will sell you for a trivial thing."
Associate less with bad people, for you will be distressed; since human nature is apt to acquire habits,
The relationship of human beings with one another, which is the basis of human society, is established through speaking. Thus true words that reveal a concealed reality to man are one of the essential bases of the society. Great advantages, which are always necessary for a society, are acquired by means of telling the truth.
The advantages of truthfulness can be summarized in a few sentences as follows:
(1) A truthful person is trusted by his fellow-men and relieves them of determining the truthfulness of his remarks.
(2) A veracious person is honored by his conscience and is relieved of the pain of falsehood.
(3) A truthful person keeps his promise. He will not be disloyal to what he is entrusted with, for truthfulness in action is not different from truthfulness in words.
(4) Many differences of opinion and disputes will be eliminated as a result of truthfulness, for the main reason for most quarrels is the denial of truth and reality by either or both parties.
(5) As a result of truthfulness, a large part of moral imperfections and violations of laws and provisions is eliminated automatically, because most people lie in a bid to cover these kinds of deeds and actions.
Amir al-Mu'minin 'Ali (as) states: "A true Muslim is one who prefers truthfulness, although it may be to his detriment, over falsehood from which he may benefit; and gets internal satisfaction as a result of this preference."
The Disadvantages of Falsehood
From the aforementioned statements, the disadvantages of falsehood also become clear. A liar is the wicked enemy of human society. He endeavors to ruin the society by his falsehood which is a big crime.
This is because falsehood resembles narcotics which kill the intelligence and commonsense of the society and hide the reality. Falsehood is also similar to alcoholic beverages which intoxicate the people and render them unable to distinguish between good and bad.
Therefore, Islam considers falsehood as one of the mortal sins and does not believe in any religious stature of a liar.
The Holy Prophet (S) has stated: "Three groups of people are munafiqin even if they recite salat and observe sawm. They are the liars, those who do not keep their promise, and those who are disloyal to what they are entrusted with." Amir al-Mu'minin 'Ali (as) also states: "Man derives pleasure from his faith when he gives up falsehood; even he should give up his lying which may be for fun sake."
Falsehood has not only been introduced as a sin and an indecent deed in Islam, but its indecency and unfairness is also clearly perceived by commonsense. The prevalence of this indecent deed in the society will soon shatter the confidence of the people towards one another which is the only basis in their social relationship. By the disruption of such a relationship, the people will, in effect, live in isolation because of having utmost anxiety from one another although they may apparently seem to be living in a knitted society.
Man always deals with external matters in his life. He keeps himself alive through his activities and by bringing about changes in matters and thus fulfils his desires. This creature who works by commonsense and will power has based his vast and extensive life on knowledge. His work is directly related to the knowledge available to him. He constantly adjusts his learnings and performs his external activities accordingly.
Therefore, receiving true information is essential for man and is of prime importance. If the correct outside news are not revealed to man, for instance, if he sees the ditch as a road and the road as a ditch, or if he sees the distant as the nearby and the nearby as the distant, or if he receives the news in an untrue way, he will not be able to continue his living. Thus it becomes clear that falsehood is a serious threat to social life and a liar is a person without any personality and dignity. He is the enemy of the society and his remarks are considered invalid and unreliable by the people. He himself is cursed by Allah.
Backbiting and Libel
Slandering others and backbiting them, if true, are called backbiting, and if wrong, are called libel and sometimes calumny.
Surely, the Almighty Allah has not created man (except the prophets and the Imams) free from sins. As a result of his shortcomings, man is fallible and all people live behind the curtain with which the Almighty Allah has covered their deeds by His Divine Wisdom.
If this divine covering is lifted from over the defects and shortcomings of the people, they will be repugnant from one another and will avoid the company of each other, thus leading to the destruction of the foundation of their society.
Therefore, the Almighty Allah has declared backbiting as haram, so that everyone may live in peace from backbiting by one another and the outwardly appearance of the environment of their lives would seem adorned until gradually the same outward beauty corrects the internal obscenity.
The Almighty Allah states: "...Nor let some of you backbite others. Does one of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother?....(49:12)."
The sin and obscenity of libel is definitely greater than backbiting and the wise are thoroughly aware of its obscenity. In His words, the Almighty Allah has made the badness and obscenity of libel quite clear and states: "Only they forge the lie who do not believe...(16:105)."
Damaging the Prestige of People
Damaging one's chastity is a mortal sin in Islam and, in different cases, severe punishments such as whipping, killing, and stoning to death have been laid down for it.
Allowing the commitment of this indecent deed, although it may have been agreed upon by both the parties, will shake the foundation of families which is of prime importance in Islam and will cease the proceeding of the precepts of inheritance and the like. Finally, it makes parent-child affection and relationship invalid and leads to the disappearance of the true guarantee of society which is the natural result of reproduction.
Self-Respect and Honesty
The world of creation, that has created man sociable and in need of cooperation, has prepared him in such a way as to be able to manage his own affairs in the society with his own capability and to handle his living from what he gains in his life.
With consideration of what has already been discussed above, there remains no doubt that the attribute of self-respect means that man should take advantage of Allah-given powers in his life and should utilize them for attaining his goals. He must not rely upon the powers of others and this, indeed, is one of the natural and praiseworthy qualities of man.
Self-respect is like a barrier which protects man from an inferior life and from many unjust acts and indecent deeds. Whoever is not endowed with self-respect and fixes his eyes on others, would easily sell his will power and personality to others and would offer whatever he is asked for, even if it may be his natural freedom, prestige, honor, and dignity.
Most crimes such as murder, banditry, theft, pick pocketing, the crime of lying, flattery, disloyalty to one's country, reliance on foreigners, and the like are the evil consequences of greed and reliance upon others.
But whoever wears the crown of honour of self-respect, does not submit himself to any splendor but the splendor of the Almighty Allah, does not yield to any authority and pomp, and always defends what he considers to be true. Self-respect is the best means by which one can acquire the attribute of honesty and safeguard it.
Benevolence and Helping the Needy
It is certain that in any society, the poor and the helpless deserve help. It is the duty of the rich to help the poor and not to trample upon this certain right. The holy religion of Islam has also set out strict rules concerning the observation of this right. It holds the rich responsible to help the weak and the poor.
In the Holy Qur'an, the Almighty Allah has introduced Himself as Benevolent, Beneficent, and Merciful. Allah has encouraged His servants to attain these praiseworthy attributes to the extent that He states: "Allah is with benefactors;" and He also states: "Whatever you spend in the way of Allah is to your own advantage." Elsewhere, He states: "Whatever you spend in the way of Allah will be returned unto you and you will not sustain a loss."
Study and investigation into the social conditions and also in the advantages of benevolence clarify the context of these verses, for, indeed, all forces of the society work for every individual.
In a society where a group of helpless people fail to make efforts due to insolvency, the acquisition of income diminishes proportionately and its evil consequences embrace all people. In such a society, a time will come when the rich become the poorest of all. But if the rich help the poor with their benevolence and generosity, they will gain the following outstanding results:
(1) By this action, they gain the affection of others and captivate the hearts of a group of people.
(2) They gain a great deal of respect with an insignificant amount of money.
(3) They attain people's support, because people take sides with the benefactors.
(4) They are safe from the danger of the accumulation of the vengeance and anger of the poor which harm the good and the bad together.
(5) The trivial money that they spend in the way of Allah will increase in amount and return unto them as a result of proper running of the economy.
There are innumerable Qur'anic verses and ahadith regarding the attribute of spending in the way of Allah and also in regard to the encouragement and persuasion for this noble deed.
Benevolence and beneficence, mentioned earlier, are one of the various branches of cooperation which forms the basis of human society, for the society exists when all individuals help one another by means of which all may enjoy good and sound living conditions and will meet their requirements of life.
It should not be imagined that the holy religion of Islam has demanded benevolence only in financial matters, rather it is one of the aims of Islam and also one of the demands of man's conscience to offer all kinds of help to every helpless, although he may not be in need of money.
To teach an illiterate, to help a blind, to guide a misled, to assist an oppressed person, and... are all the true acts of benevolence and beneficence and a part of the cooperation whose credibility we have approved and confirmed on the very first day of the establishment of the society.
It is self-evident that if man fails to perform a part of minor tasks, he will not perform principal tasks and if he disregards the insignificant minor duties, he will refuse to undertake general and important obligations.
Arranging Charities and Reliefs
Benevolence is praiseworthy when it renders good results. Of course, the more general and lasting the results, the more praiseworthy and better would be the benevolence. The treatment of a patient is an act of benevolence and beneficence, but construction and management of a hospital which treats hundreds of patients daily cannot be compared with this act.
Teaching a student is praiseworthy, but it can never reach the value of setting up an institution which turns out hundreds of graduating scholars annually. This is why general donations, public charities and reliefs are the acts of highest benevolence and beneficence.
In Islamic terminology, this public charity is interpreted as "standing charity". The Holy Prophet (S) states: "Two things provide man with honor: a righteous child and standing charity." According to the Holy Book and the ahadith, as long as the standing charity exists the Almighty Allah considers its benefactions for the one who has established this charity.
There is no doubt that, in the human conscience, the genuine life and honest living are of equal importance. A life without honor and devoid of man's prosperity is not a life indeed, rather it is a death much bitter and more unpleasant than natural death. A man who maintains value for his honor and prosperity should escape from such a mean life resembling death.
In whatever environment a man lives and to whatever policies he may be inclined, he will understand with his Allah-given nature that death for the cause of sanctification is prosperity itself although this matter is clearer in the logic of religion than in any other logic and is far away from supposition and superstition.
This is because whoever defends his religious society and gives his life for this cause, is aware that he has not deprived himself of any privileges and that he will get a sweeter, more valuable, and everlasting life in return for giving his sweet and short-span life for the cause of Allah. Truly, his prosperity is immortal.
The Almighty Allah states in His words: "And reckon not those who are killed in Allah's way as dead,. nay, they are alive (and) are provided sustenance from their Lord (3:169)."
But in non-religious societies which consider human life confined to the short-span life of this world only, it can never be said that man will be again alive in the Hereafter or will attain happiness and prosperity, except that it is inculcated upon the people, through suppositions and superstitions, that if a man is, for example, killed for the cause of his country or for national sanctities, his name will be entered in the list of the devoted and self-sacrificing persons of the nation and will be inscribed in gold in the history book and thus he will remain alive forever.
The praise and sanctification for martyrdom and getting killed in the way of Allah have not been made in Islam so much for any other good deed.
The Holy Prophet (S) states: "There is always a good deed surpassing other good deeds. But no good deed can surpass martyrdom." Muslims of the early period of Islam asked forgiveness from the Holy Prophet (S) and, as a result of the prayers of the Holy Prophet (S), they attained the elevated rank of martyrdom. They never used to cry for those who were martyred, knowing that the martyrs were alive and not dead.
Generosity and Donation of Money
The role that wealth plays in regulation of life needs no explanation. Many people consider life the same as wealth and do not believe in any virtue and honor for man except property and wealth. They direct all their activities towards accumulating and saving money. As a result of this fascination and greed, they get entangled in stinginess.
Such people deprive others and sometimes degrade themselves further and submit to meanness and miserliness, thus depriving themselves of enjoying their own wealth as well. Neither they enjoy themselves nor do they give money to others. They only enjoy accumulating money.
Those who are entangled with the indecent attribute of miserliness (certainly, those who are involved in stinginess are even meaner than them) lose their human nature and become destitute in their lives because:
(1) They only look for their own happiness, prosperity, and comfort and believe in individual life, although human nature advocates social life for us and the individual life, led in any manner, is doomed to destruction.
(2) By showing off their authority to others, they attract towards themselves the poor and the needy due to their humility. Although they d o not relieve the sufferings of the afflicted, they try to make the needy pay respect to them. They take the poor as slaves and foster the spirit of idol-worshipping. Consequently, human courage, bravery, magnanimity, and pride will be eradicated from the society.
(3) Trampling upon the pure feelings of affection, friendship, philanthropy, compassion, and benevolence, they promote all kinds of felony, crime, meanness, and wickedness in the society. This is because the most powerful natural factor of crime and offence such as backbiting, incontinence, theft, banditry, murder, and poverty cannot be found among the needy.
These factors are the anger, rancor, and feeling of revenge which are implanted in the hearts of the afflicted and distressed by the wealthy people and which are aggravated by the stingy rich people. That is why a stingy person in a society is, in fact, the first enemy of that society and is always affected by the anger and severe punishment of Allah and the hatred of the inhabitants of the world.
There are many verses in the Holy Qur'an reproaching and blaming the mean quality of stinginess and greed on the one hand, and on praising the attribute of generosity, spending in the way of Allah, and helping the poor and needy on the other.
In His words, the Almighty Allah promises that He will return the property that is donated ten times and, in some instances, seventy and up to seven hundred times and more to the donor.
It has also been proved through experience that the wealth of those who are generous, who help the poor generously, and who cater for the shortcomings of the human society is increased day by day.
Those who resolve the difficulties of others will not face difficulties themselves. No one has ever seen any knot in the comb.
If they occasionally face difficulties, all people will sympathize with them. Whatever help they have extended to others will collectively return unto them.
Furthermore, like honorable men, they have set their conscience at peace by doing good deeds and have responded to the Divine call concerning the wajib and mustahabb obligations. They have used the pure feelings of humanity through kindness, compassion, philanthropy, and benevolence and have acquired popularity and an immaculate respect from the people. Finally, they have gained the satisfaction of the Almighty Allah and the everlasting prosperity at the lowest cost.