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THE STATUS OF THE INDIVIDUAL IN ISLAM Author(s): FAZLUR RAHMAN Source: Islamic Studies, Vol. 5,

THE STATUS OF THE INDIVIDUAL IN ISLAM Author(s): FAZLUR RAHMAN Source: Islamic Studies, Vol. 5, No. 4 (DECEMBER 1966), pp. 319-330

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THE STATUSOF THE INDIVIDUAL IN ISLAM

[This

paper

was

read

University

FAZLUR

RAHMAN

at the East-West

Philosophy

of Hawaii,

Summer,

1964.]

Conference,

Islam is generally believed to be?both bymany of itsmodern

believing

exponents

and a large number

of non-Muslim

writers?a

religion emphasizing society rather than the individual.1 It is

pointed

out

that

are the primary constituents

in this

connection

statecraft

law,

social

of Islam,

demonstrated

in the earliest

segments ofMuslim

institutions,

and

because

history, which

this fact

is

the

Muslims

devoted

rather

regard

as an

to legislation

ideal.

and guidance

A

good deal of the Qur'?n

itself is also

of the affairs of the Community,

than

the

individual.

Further,

the Qur'?n

speaks

of

the

Muslim Community as "The Middle Community" charged with the

task of executing God's

the Holy

collective

and

that

will on earth.

It is then concluded

importance

that,

if

Book

of

Islam

gives so much

to society and

of

the

existence

and if the actual

performance

bears

in history

out,

this

Prophet

of his immediate

is primarily

a

followers

this

With

it follows

primary

Islam

"social

religion".

emphasis of the Community,

the individual.

on collective

existence

one begins

and

the

to wonder

fundamental

what

can

be

importance

the status

of

In the following

an attempt will be made to bring out the

statusof the individual in Islam as a religion. Having brought out

that

status, we

shall then attempt

to put the individual

in relation

to society in its right perspective in the religious teachings of

Islam.

given

It will

above

social

existence

seen

be

seen

at

the

the

end

importance

that, although

of

correct,

the statements

or finally

It will

and

the

at

also

emphasize

so much

per se% as

regarding in Islam are

therefrom,

the Community

nevertheless,

essentially

drawn

society

that, when

society in his interpretation

be

conclusion

that Islam aims primarily

is unwarranted.

tends

to

rather than at the

individual,

the modernist

of

Muslim

Islam, he

is, in fact, not

aiming at a pure and objective

statement

of Islamic values

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320

FAZLUR

RAHMAN

aiming indirectly at reformofMuslim society which ishis present

day business.

Now,

there is no doubt

in Islam

is the individual.

of Judgement)

created

as We

Us

alone

you have

you

that the primary

The Qur'an

come

to Us

as

no

soul

Again,

locus of responsibility

"He

(on

the Day

(Jurada),

shall

come

just

to

tells us,

"Every

the

burden

(This

of

last

says, "Today

individuals

in the first place".2

Again,

itself, and

(as an individual)".3

for

the Qur'an

shall

bear

soul earns but

another,

and even

thus shall you return

to your Lord".4

statementis repeated inVI : 165, XVII

:

15, XXXV

: 18, XXXIX

:7

and LIII

: 38).

It is on these grounds thatMuslim theologians

reject

the development

third centuries,

the possibility

of redemption,

even

though

late

ofMuslim

the doctrine

theology,

of intercession

in the

was

at a

later stage

of

second

and

introduced.

early

These

verses make it abundantly

divine trust is the individual

clear

that the ultimate

person.

But

such

a

repository

statement

of

the

is not

enough,

unless

and the real

it is made

clear

as to what

are the ultimate

objective

purpose behind the creation of the individual. Only

when

we understand

the philosophy

of Islam

on this point

shall we

be able to appreciate the position of the individualand his relation

to society.

In this connection,

the

story of the creation

of man

in the

Qur'an

willed

create

seems very revealing,

indeed.

to create man,

on earth

the angels

raised

a being who

will work

We

are told5 that, when God

You

a protest,

saying, "Will

corruption

and

shed blood,

while we

does

says

sing Your

praises

and

glorify You"

know

God,

errors and make mistakes,

?

in His

Qur'?n

not deny

simply,

that man will commit

"I

know

what

you

not".

The

reply,

but

then

proceeds

things,

the

statement

"We

tains,

man

to

i.e.,

tell

us

that God

over

taught

Adam

the names"

and this constitutes

One further fundamental

"all

(of

viz.,

their properties

of man

and

attributes),6

remains

superiority

angels.

of the Qur'?n

refused

it".7

These

certain

only

this point to the heavens

on

to accept

to

and the earth

be

noted, and the moun

offered the Trust

but

they

accepted

are

it and were

taken

frightened of it, but

that

be

entire

and

statements,

together,

show

can

there

realized

of created

development,

potentialities

among

alone

and

all

is capable

possibilities

In

which

by man

man

creation.

is

the

range

the

being,

and,

of real

achievement

charged

with

further,

he

squarely

responsibility for the

realization of these potentialities. The

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THE STATUS OF THE INDIVIDUAL IN ISLAM

321

proper discharge of this "Trust" is "service toGod" Cib?dah),

which,

ia Islam,

does not mean

the devotional

side of religious

life

exclusively

law.

Traditions

man

but

the

sum

total of output

recurring

of man

under

the moral

in

The most

frequently

of the P r o p h e t

of the Prophet

to discharge

term in the Qur'an

this attitude, which

and do

This

and

the

a

his

to describe

attunes

to

been

his responsibilities

is the Arabic

properly

term "taqw&\

justice

term has

innate capacities,

variously

understood

Muslims

as "piety",

Taqw?

is

an

and

translated

both

by Muslims

"fear of God",

and "guarding

oneself".

attribute of the individual and

and non

not

of

society,

makes

more

and,

a man

and

closely.

as

we

have

just

said,

this

as the highest true sense.

it

is

principle

creation

which

of God

perform his functions

become

man

in

the

properly

any further, we must

Terms

But, before we

go

and understand

it

although

an

try to clarify this concept

like "piety"

and

"fear of God",

integral part of the concept

of taqwa,

do not

really

convey

its

full

meaning

is applied

as they are commonly

at various

and attitudes

;

Not

a

only

sense

to

always

I

am

levels

understood.

regard

the term "fear"

to different types of re

one

Even

with

actions

fears a wolf,

the police

at school.

there

cable

is

in reference

or a person

to different

suspected

objects. of a crime

Thus,

may

a criminal,

a

fear

child may

all these

fear his parents,

or his teacher,

or a bully but

is appli

the

it.

as

senses are identical with one

another,

in which

toward

I regard

which

the human

is different from all of these, and

being.

This

is

and must

the

sense

tend

for instance,

relative

What

falls short of the absolute

saying

now

in

this

paper,

representing

and

truth.

the truth on the subject which

am

at

the moment

is being examined

here

the

I may

picture

the

some

not

to all

; no

there

of the

in,

I

trying my best to find and speak

ability

a still better

therefore, with

truth.

saying may

case

action

In

but

to act,

appreciation

But, despite my sincerity, effort, and whatever

there is no certainty

that a

cannot

be drawn.

still truer and

I am charged,

of ever trying to tend toward higher

am

I must

always

be afraid that what

I

true.

Just

This

as with

applies

not

cognition,

only

to one

so with

moral

righteously we may

scope

and, what

try and even presume ismore

important,

to transcend

a certain

is a necessary

the actual.

fearful

condition

This

have,

of the subject

responsibility

real sense

be

cases.

human

adequately

how

the

matter

is always

hangs

and moral

inadequacy

there eternally

is cognitive

the responsibility

dynamism, and

of the actual

of this dynamism,

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322

FAZL?& RAHMAN

This

is exactly

the meaning

of

taqw?.

positive

cannot

and dynamic

be adequately

concept,

discharged,

and without

according

Taqw?,

it the

therefore,

is

"Trust"

of man

to the Qur'?n.

a

This

judgement,

It iswell

dynamism

of taqw? presupposes

an absolute

point of reference,

a transcendent

norm

of

which

is God

Himself.

known that the functionofGod in Islam is thatof a judge

?indeed, one might say that the central teaching of Islamabout God

is that He is the sole generator of norms of judgement.

these norms within

conform to them ; he cannot make or unmake these norms.

an individual's

attempt to discover

Man

must

to

Now,

are

not

there

his soul

and

endeavour

must

perception

may

but for the whole

err in locating norms which

of humanity.

He

made

for him alone

fore rely on the collective wisdom of mankind. This is thefirst

limitation on the individual,

viz.,

that his

personal

discoveries

are

not laws ofGod simpliciter. But it is true that the individual is the

proper

and

primary bearer

of this burden

of taqw?.

It

is the

indi

vidual who is responsible in thefinal analysis. The application of

taqw?

way,

to societies,

necessary,

as we

according

shall presently

to Islam,

but

see,

is genuine

and,

it is in its secondary

in

inten

a

tion. That is why, according to Islam, it is the individualwho will

be

answerable

and

not

societies

or nations.

Certain

traditions

attributed

to the Prophet

speak of the resurrection or

groups

is highly

come

of individuals

but

But

the

even

transcendent

be made

according

to

their

authenticity

of these

the traditions

do not

being

of

society

religious

will

communities,

questionable.8

a

soul

and

traditions

speak of a collective

or

into existence

which

answerable

on the Day

of Judgement.

But, although

the individual,

in the final analysis,

is the primary

reality which

there

collective

the Qur'an

doubt

is little

functioning

and the teaching

of the Prophet

recognize,

that

Islam

of human

emphasizes

beings

as

the co-operative

a

society.

It

is

and

not

merely

society

of which,

the case

that Islam religiously

requires

the organization

of

and

the

in the West,

state

and directly

are looked

seeks to generate as

purely

the law, both

institu

upon

secular

tions, but even the specifically religious duties enjoined upon a

Muslim

have

social

overtones.

There

Muslim,

first of

are five well-known

which

are

commonly

obligatory

duties

called

the "Pillars

devolving

of Islam".

upon

The

a

these is the act of belief itself, but even the act of belief

does not become

valid,

at least

so far as society

is concerned,

unless

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THE STATUS OF TH? INDIVIDUAL IN ISLAM

323

it is formally and openly avowed. The second fundamental is the

five prayers.

first, that they are collective

vidually

refers to

The

interesting

need,

and

point

prayers

to note about

and may

second,

these prayers

be

said

is,

not

indi

except

the

in great

individual,

Community,

devotional

and,

part has

part of their content

to

the

Besides

Besides

e n c o u r a g e d

encouraged

general

these

and

third fundamental
third fundamental

third fundamental

with

its

reference

essential.

are

The

Muslim

and both are equally

individual

five

emphasized

practice

prayers,

prayers

but are not considered

obligatory.

of Islam, namely

the obligatory

fast of Ramadan,

regulations,

is patently

and deliberately

intended

to produce

both

individualand social consequences. The fourth pillar of theFaith is the zakat tax (obligatory religious charity), which is nothing more

or less than the establishment

socio-economic

to Mecca

of a welfare

state

: it is a measure

of

justice

through and through.

collective

Lastly,

the pilgrimage

unity

has

its obvious

functions of promoting

and solidarity

among

But

even

more

Islam

is

the

fact

Movement

its elan,

in seventh

we

besides

cannot

the

short,

aspects

the early,

Qur'?n,

at

One

which,

end,

we

its

is the unity

the Muslim

important

Community. than the fundamental

look

endeavour

practices

to

of

that,

if we

at the genesis

and

its collective

aspects.

explosive

the

If

of the Islamic

discern

century Mecca

to locate

fail

spiritual

socio-economic

one

s?rahs

studies

of

the

appear

there.

tribal

and moral

and

two

over

themes

against

forceful,

in the standard

indeed,

arrangement

of the Qur'?n,

find

of God,

only

insistently preached

sectional

and

godlings of the Arabs,

along with its obvious

justice.

present-day

Islam

channels.9

is

and the other

is an essential

consequences

of socio-economic

is this second

H.

aspect

A. R.

egalitarianism,

and spiritual

Indeed,

so strong

that a pre-eminent

Gibb,

has

into

said that

religious

a positive

link

scholar

essentially

There

of Islam, Professor

a

also

social

movement

seems to exist, on reflection,

pressed

between

and

the moral-spiritual

ideal of monotheism,

and

of a

if there

just

the idea of egalitarianism

seems

Qur'?n

society,

The

to say that,

is one God,

on

the one

on

the

hand,

other.

then essentially

there must

ing the moral

idea of a priesthood

individual.

be one humanity.

equality

of man

as

an

It is on similar assumptions that Muslims

formally

intermediary

between

God

underly

resist

and

the

the

But fromthis very idea of equality, on the one hand, and

social

responsibility,

on

the

other,

also

arises

the inner tension

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324

FA2LUR

RAHMAN

within Islamwhich affectedits religious historyduring subsequent

developments?the

and those of the collective

tension

between

institutions,

the claims

notably

of the individual

the

state

and

its

laws.

enable

A

us

brief outline

to appreciate

of the history of these tensions will,

better

the nature

reformers

and the magnitude of Muslim

of Islam beyond of a vast

empire,

formulation

of

in turn,

of the

problem which

facing.

Due

Peninsula

and

of

the modernist

society

are

to the early rapid expansion

the

establishment

required

the

the Arabian

the exigencies

Islamic

law.

administration

Roughly,

the

during

Prophet,

and

the first century

most

and

a

half

after

had

of Islamic

the death

come

into

law had

of

existence,

been

and

the

the necessary

of

legal materials

of

the morphology

The

created

rapid

for

this

since

the

even

much

nebulously

formulated.

of

law

Now,

political

regulates

developments

framework

and

of

regulating

the external

formulation

an external

framework

law

instruments

to Islam.

life according

behaviour

of

almost

this

of man

brilliant

in a

but

exclusively

social

context,

one

one-sided

movement

the

social

content

necessary

had been

of

Islam.

consequence

to emphasize

A

class

of

men

grew up known

as the 'Ulama

or the Fuqaha

who

expressed

expert opinion

This

not.

or less inherent

certain

ter, purity

are

about what

was

Islamically

lawful

and what

reaction

individual

These

was

that ismore

among

movement

together with

the opportunism

a strong

in political

spirits, who

spirit, and

social

life, produced

began

the "life

sensitive

of the

askance

and

emphasizing

of

the

of

expressive

charac

men

There

heart".

Islam,

the

forerunners

at

the

of the famous S?f? movement

developments

in Islam. They

particularly

looked

political

legal, as being

adequately

of Islam.

is

said

emphasis,

little doubt

earlier,

on

that

their contention

lays great

quality

was

genuine

and,

enough,

and,

as

Islam

the

emphasis,

in fact,

the

final

of

of the individual

and the inculcation

the spirit of taqw?.

But,

unfortunately,

occurred

in Muslim

what

society

happened

this

at

was

that

a

dichotomy

juncture of its development

which was absent both in the lifeof the Prophet and in the beha

viour

of

trained.

one

functioning

people

This

immediately

organism

separate

around

the Prophet

upset.

into

whom

he had

though

cells, each

as

organic

a

unity of life was

had

blown

organism.

It was

several

scope

unicellular

as

up

There

is no

here

to

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THE STATUS OF THE INDIVIDUAL IN ISLAM

325

portray it to say that henceforth

'Ulama

and

the ??f?s,

very fabric of the Islamic

the

entire

historical

career of the S?f? movement

tension

seemed

; suffice

the

the

we find a permanent

a

tension

community.

which

What

between

to threaten

further

aggravated

the situation

state

the

in various

eyes 4

of

was

that the 'Ulama

capacities,

notably

Sufi,

this made

the

worldly11 and as instruments

of

the

were

as

%

also

qadts

functionaries

and muftis.

Ulama

often

appear

despotic

even

Sultans

of the

In the

more

and

Amirs.

From

religion

the

twelfth

century

onward,

the individualist

when

S?fism

became

universal

less

the

in

of the masses,

trend became

of a

more

not only

orthodoxy

or

individual

Islam and manifests

nomianism

of

all

rebellion

against

numerous

cases,

itself in a phenomenon

shades.

the

There

social

of

anti

is in evidence, of official

of

strictly

a general

but,

morality,

in

ethos

an assertion

often degenerating into moral nihilism. This type of phenomenon

has been studied ably and sympathetically

Orien

and, indeed,

interpreted

with

fervent conviction

by a notable

contemporary

French

tialist, Henri

Corbin,

whose writings

on what he calls "Social Religion"

constitute

a vigorous

attack

in defence of the value of

personal

tenaciously little for the value

But

experience to the bare

, against

until,

in religion.10

external,

The

Ulama

, for their part, held

of Islam

cared