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Individual vs. Collective Behaviour in Islam


A Muslim’s ultimate objective is to earn Allaah’s pleasure by living a life of total submission and unconditional obedience to Him in every aspect of life. This Islamic way of life has two equally important and critical dimensions: Personal and Collective.  

From the personal perspective, Islam wants Muslims to excel in their spiritual, moral and social behaviour so as to be the best a human can be. It wants Muslims to develop a very close and personal relationship with Allaah through frequent devotional acts.  For fellow human beings, it wants them to be exceedingly generous, kind, forgiving, caring and humble. Many places in the Qur-aan are specially tuned to promote this excellence. One such place is Verses 61 to 76 of Soorah Al-Furqaan (25) where Allaah SWT mentions the habits of the true salves of Allaah. One of their habits is that: They walk on the earth humbly and when the ignorant address them, they say ‘salaam’.  In other words, they are humble in dealing with people -- not arrogant, egotistic or argumentative. If and when they realize that the other party is not willing to listen but is determined to argue ignorantly, they peacefully and politely withdraw from such a situation. The examples of ignorant behaviour are: making fun, evading questions, calling names, obfuscating issues, going on a tangent, going in circles, etc. In response to this kind of behaviour, a Muslim is supposed to withdraw elegantly instead of engaging in useless arguments and wastage of time. Another example of places in the Holy Qur-aan where individual excellence is emphasized is Verses 134 and 135 of Soorah Aali Imraan. These verses mention the qualities of the people with Taqwa and include qualities such as restraining anger, forgiving people, and being magnanimous.

Collectively, Islam wants Muslims to establish and maintain a global Islamic state that is united, well-organized and led by a dynamic leadership that makes Islam the dominant way of life in the world. Such an Islamic state is required to be the leader in establishing justice, equity and fairness, and restoring human dignity and equality throughout the world. It has a duty to establish the Islamic way of life, protect the weak and underprivileged from exploitation or neglect, promote goodness, suppress evil, maintain law and order, defend against the assault of anti-Islamic forces, declare Qitaal (war) and, within its jurisdictions, disallow the activities that may cause discontent by playing with the emotions of people, disturbing of peace, disrespecting Islamic icons, attacking the honour of Islam and Muslims or creating Fitnah. These subjects are covered at various places in the Qur-aan. However, they are more concentrated in Soorah Al-Anfaal and At-Towbah.  

The life of our Prophet was an ideal example of fulfilling and balancing both of these dimensions. On the one hand, he was the most forgiving person even to the worst of his enemies who would maliciously abuse him and even plot to kill him. On the other hand, as a head of the Islamic state, he would not tolerate any leniency in applying the law, maintaining order or fighting against the enemies in a declared war. In fact, we see this clear distinction between the personal matters and community matters as well as a balance between the two in actions of all the prophets of Allaah. Jesus taught people to present their other cheek in personal situations. At the same time, as the head of the Islamic movement, he exhorted his disciples to sell their clothes and buy swords, forcedly entered Jerusalem and whipped and threw the moneychangers out of its vicinity.

Not understanding the nature, importance and difference between these two dimensions of obedience (worship) to Allaah creates many confusions and argument among the religious communities. Often, Qur-aanic injunctions meant for the Ummah as a whole (Islamic society) are applied to individuals and vice versa. Or they are confused with each other.

The same also happened with the people before us. For example, Jesus’ advice for presenting the other cheek is wrongfully applied to all situations. (In reality, Christians have never practised this philosophy of presenting the other cheek themselves. Rather, they have the ‘honour’ of killing the most people in the world, waging the biggest wars in the history and inventing and stockpiling the weapons of mass destruction. They just use this phrase to attack Islam and our Prophet).  One of my colleagues who was a rank higher than me among the management of the company I was employed by, was a devout Christian. I used to give my colleagues in the office Islamic articles to read. Once, after reading one of my articles, he commented: Ayub, what you say makes sense, but I cannot come to grips with the fact the Muhammad promoted violence. I smiled, closed the office door, and asked him to sit down. Then, I very quickly went over the ‘violent’ episodes in the life of Jesus, making him agree with every reference I provided from the New Testament. After I had shown him that Jesus did not put forth his other cheek in many situations and he was as violent as, if not more than, Muhammad, I explained him the job of a messenger of Allaah. And then I explained to him the difference between reacting to a personal situation vs. reacting to a religious / community situation as heads of Islamic community.

Muslims need to understand the same difference. When it is not understood, some overzealous people take the law in their own hands, and try to do things individually what is the responsibility of Islamic state.  Others (who want to show to the world that they are broadminded) become apologetic even for the things we should be standing up for.  

One may ask: since there is no Islamic state, what do the people do in the meantime? Who should take care of the affairs of the Ummah that would have been looked after by the state? For those of us who are living as a minority in a non-Muslim society, they should, just like the Muslims in Makkah, endure what comes their way patiently and steadfastly without responding in kind while dedicating themselves to the spread of Islam and educating the world about the truth of Islam.  For those of you who are living in Pakistan, you must work hard to establish an Islamic state, instead of spreading chaos by taking the law into your hands. The question to be asked is: What is your excuse for not converting Pakistan into an Islamic state? Think of it now, because tomorrow you will have to answer the same to Allaah!

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