Spectrum of life

Q611 :I have two Muslim friends with widely different views on the extent of Islamic concerns. One says that Islam is a complete way of life, that we have to follow Islamic guidance in all matters including the economic and political affairs. The other says that in such worldly matters, a Muslim may follow any philosophy which he happens to believe in. In other words, a Muslim may have a Communist or a Capitalist line of thinking. Only in personal matters and beliefs, Islamic rules have to be observed. He further suggests that even if Islam has some say in political, economic and similar matters, these are now outdated. Please comment.

A611 : It is a classic argument by those who reject the divine faith to say that religion should only be concerned with personal and spiritual matters. Even at the time of the Prophet, the pagan Arabs were surprised that Islam wanted slaves to be treated kindly and not to be exploited. They said that would have adverse effects on productivity. To them, it was an economic matter which religion should not be concerned with. They were amazed that Islam tackled financial matters, laying down the system of Zakah and considering it a part of worship. To them, the detailed system of inheritance that Islam lays down was yet another example of religion going beyond its spiritual and personal concerns to enter a world which should be the exclusive reserve of human beings. That attitude is echoed today by those who say that the affairs of human life on earth are the concerns of man alone. Human beings can take care of their life through their institutions and the systems they choose to operate. If they have a democratic government, then parliament would issue their legislation, unrestricted by any religious value or consideration. If they have a dictatorial regime, then the dictator will impose his will, whether the people are happy with it or not. This line of thinking was not peculiar to the Arabs at the time of the Prophet just as it is not peculiar to our own time. It has been echoed in all generations by those who opposed the call of Islam. They felt that Islam would take away from them the authority to conduct their affairs the way they want. Islam certainly does not approve that human affairs should be conducted in isolation from divine guidance. It wants human beings to defer to the principles God has revealed and the Prophet has expounded, and to establish their systems within that framework. They would have a wide room of choice, but the guiding principles would always be Islamic. We need only to look at the history and learn about the situations that prevailed in different parts of the world to find out what different human systems have achieved. We note that every major social change that took place in Europe was achieved at a very high cost in human misery and human lives. This was the case when capitalism took over from feudalism, and it was also the case at the time of the Industrial Revolution. The privileges that workers enjoy in western countries today were not achieved through discussions between equals, meeting in a conference hall or a tea room. Every European country had to go through much strife before the welfare measures were put in place. You need only speak to any left-of-center politician in Europe to realize that these were the fruits of a very hard struggle fought over a long period of time. The same was the case when communism and socialism took over in certain countries, such as in the former Soviet Union. Indeed, there was a great deal of trouble in the last few years, when the edifice of communism crumbled down. All these changes were episodes in man's pursuit of a social system which ensures justice for all. That remains an elusive goal, which is always opposed by tyranny and dictatorship. That tyranny may take the form of the power of capital in the West or the dictatorship of the party of the individual in other countries, regardless of their level of development. There is simply no man-made system which has been able to eradicate social injustice. Even the welfare state that the Labor Party of Britain put in place after World War II experienced much abuse of privileges, giving rise to complaints on a wide scale and creating the need for change. When people prefer to live on social security benefits rather than work, then there is something basically wrong with the system. It is an aspect of injustice that a person is able to draw benefits though the system when he knows that he is not entitled to receive them. All this injustice is the result of people turning their backs on God's guidance. True justice can only be achieved through the system God has revealed, because He has tailored it for the benefit of man, and there is no one to know what suits man better than God, man's creator. We should ask ourselves: Why has God revealed a complete system, addressing all areas of human life, if it is true that man can manage his affairs well without any need for such guidance. Human history tells us that man has managed very poorly when he turned his back on God's guidance. He continues to achieve endless misery while resisting acknowledgment of the basic truth that he is in need of such guidance. The aim of divine guidance is to serve human interest, to help man build a happy life in a community characterized by justice. That justice must be achieved at all levels, within the family, the local community, the social hierarchy and the political system. God says in a sacred Hadith: "My servants, I have forbidden Myself injustice and made injustice forbidden to you. Therefore, do not act unjustly to one another." Moreover, history proves that whenever human beings established their system on the basis of divine guidance and applied God's law, their achievements were great indeed. Take the example of the Islamic law of inheritance. Whenever it is applied, a family lives happily and everyone receives his or her share without trouble. When people try to evade the system, there is no end to family divisions and long-lasting quarrels. God has made the law of inheritance a detailed one because there is a need for financial matters to be precise. If your argument is that in certain areas there may be a need for some modification in order to suit different communities, God's law is so flexible as to be able to suit every community at every level of civilization. Islam lays down certain principles which provide a framework within which human society can operate. Within that framework we can choose to produce a social system to suit us. That is a great characteristic of Islamic law which enables it to be applicable in all communities. There is, however, a main requirement for Islamic law to be properly applied. The society which chooses it must be one which believes in God and the message of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Islamic law can only be properly applied in a Muslim community. Those who claim that Islamic law is outmoded simply do not know what they are talking about. They take a very superficial view, saying that since these Islamic laws were revealed fourteen hundred years ago, then they could not be implemented now. They totally disregard the fact that this law was made by the creator of man, and it is specific only in those areas which are shared by all human beings in all communities and at all times. In every area where human life changes, Islamic law provides only guiding principles, allowing the community to choose its system. You say that your two friends are Muslims, but my question is: Would we consider a person who says that Islamic law is outmoded a Muslim? Such a person affronts God with a mouthful, claiming that God does not know what suits a certain level of human development. For anyone to suggest that is to sink into a rejection of the faith. Such a person does not acknowledge some of the main attributes of God such as His absolute knowledge, wisdom and, above all, His sovereignty.

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )