In memory of Dr. Kimat Khatak (2021), past President (2008) of the Islamic Council of New England, who dedicated his life in the
service of his community and in promoting social and moral
values for a just and peaceful society.
Social Imperative for a Just Society
M Riaz Khan, PhD
“…It is Allah alone Who guides to the truth. Then, who is more worthy to be followed…?” [Qur’an, 10: 35]
The superiority of man over other creations is because of his intellectual capability and his freedom to channel this capability in any direction he chooses by using the means placed at his disposal. It is important to recognize that there are more variations in human thinking than observed in the physical world. Not only individuals think differently, each individual’s thinking is a complex function of countless cognitive factors that constantly change and interact. Whereas a dynamic thinking process, a lifeline for intellectual growth, is strength of humans’ ever evolving conceptualization and adaptability, it is also an evidence of its limitations and persisting imperfection in shaping events and envisioning their consequences.
Self-discipline is extremely important for goal achievement and our basic goal must be the delivery of our obligations. These obligations fall in three broad categories: toward the Creator, toward one self, and toward humanity. All these areas have to be taken care of and reconciled in a balanced way. The most challenging aspect of human life is to strike this delicate balance and sustain it. In fact, the life itself is about bringing these complementary yet competing demands into equilibrium. A contribution to the establishment of a just and balanced society, in whatever meaningful way possible, is the ultimate goal of a Muslim’s life: “…We appointed you to be the community of the middle way, so that you might be witnesses before all mankind…” [Q, 2: 143]
This requires that we live in this physical world with moral excellence and strive to reach the highest level of perfection possible. Our dealings and transactions with other human beings must be just and fair. This is possible only if we have a sound moral structure and a sense of accountability. These imperatives are basic to our performance in all functions of life and constitute the very foundation of the social justice we all aspire to experience. Without this foundation, we cannot exist as a functioning human society. In a larger context, without accountability, life has absolutely no meaning, which is absurd in the least: “Then do you think that We have created you without any purpose and you will not be returned to us?” [Q, 23: 115]
Our belief is that man has an exalted purpose of life and it is this very purpose that distinguishes him from other species and within his own. His intellectual superiority over other creations facilitates the accomplishment of his mission and elevates him to his moral superiority. In this context, using the analogy of an input-output model, the purpose of life is man’s transition from his intellectual superiority to moral superiority by willingly and responsibly channeling his total energies and capabilities to acquire moral excellence in all worldly encounters. A distinction must be made between intellectual and moral superiorities, however. The former is inherited over other species whereas the latter is acquired through distinguished conduct. Further, this life will continue beyond the existing one, where success and failure will be determined by our conduct in the present setting. Therefore, it is critically important for us to understand our status in this world and the role we can play in reshaping the social order beneficial to all.
The real position of man in the world is that he is here for a predetermined span of time to pass a test by utilizing his capabilities and the resources granted to him. To pass any test or complete any project, however, one needs a number of inputs, foremost being the opportunity of time. Gratefully, we have been granted that resource to target our goal: “(He) Who has created death and life that He may test which of you is best in conduct…” [Q, 67: 2] The interval between birth and death of a person is the time window to complete the test as best as possible. This again confirms that the life is not aimless. Since it is the examiner who sets the test standards, it is then becomes incumbent upon the examinee to find out what those expectations are to pass the test.
Additionally, physical some resources are needed too to carry out the project. They have been provided in abundance as well: “Surely, We have made all that on the earth an embellishment for it in order to test people as to who of them is best in conduct.” [Q, 18: 7] The riches and pomp and grandeur of the world are means to conduct life on earth purposefully and are meant to test human beings. The purpose of the test is to distinguish those who immerse themselves in the pleasure of life from those who remain conscious of their duty to serve their Lord and follow the right way.
Finally, with the window of time and availability of physical resources, one also needs the most critical component of ‘know-how’ to conduct the project and reach the end point. This involves the means of acquiring knowledge and guidance how to proceed. Here too, we have not been left unprepared: “Verily We created man…..to test him; so We gave him the hearing and sight. We showed him the way (guidance): whether he be grateful or ungrateful (rests on his will).” [Q, 76: 2-3] This is indeed the status of man in this universe and how this universe relates to him. Using his time, resources and capabilities, his transactions, relationships, interactions with others, and how he conducts himself in each and every situation are various phases of his test.
Specifically, the test of man is how he consciously exercises his freedom of choice and action during this life span. The countless scenarios that he encounters in the pursuit of his endeavors in every arena over this period are his challenges. The success or failure will depend on whether he considered himself accountable to his Creator during his life on earth or not. If he seeks the path of righteousness he will be, in fact, grateful to his Creator. On the contrary, if he lives arrogantly a life of defiance to his Creator, he will be condemned for betraying the trust of freedom.
Allah swt has provided all necessary means and provisions for our physical survival on earth: “…He creates many things (for you) that you do not even know about.” [Q, 16: 8] To know the
correct way that would ensure both sound intellectual orientation and right behavior is, however, man’s greatest need. It is not conceivable that the Creator, who cares so much for man’s material needs, would have ignored the most fundamental need of his humanity. Not only He has fulfilled this responsibility, but also claims that no other source exists to show the right way: “Verily this Qur’an guides to the way that is the straight-most…” [Q, 17: 9]
Indeed, Allah’s highest favor to man is the moral guidance He has given him for shaping his conduct on earth and for redirecting the course of the society. His contribution toward establishing an ideal society under the Sovereignty of Allah swt will ultimately determine the prospects of his life that is to follow. Islam, whose specifics are contained in the Qur’an and exemplified in the life of the Prophet Muhammad saw, is expressly for the direction of mankind: “We have sent down the Book to you that makes everything clear and serves as a guidance…” [Q, 16: 89]
This guidance, however, is not limited to refining a personal life, as man’s necessities in this world are not merely confined to his subsistence, shelter and the like. His direst need is to know how to live in this world, use his potentialities and the resources placed under his control, and to relate to innumerable human beings and to the order of the universe as a whole within which he has to operate. This revealed knowledge will ensure his overall success without having him waste his energies in misdirected “trial & error” exercises that only deepen human obliviousness and frustrations. This right way is the truth; and no man-made-system can possibly direct mankind to this truth. This domain belongs to the Creator alone and His is the only path worthy to be followed.
Among the major categories of leaders that the masses follow either faithfully or involuntarily is that elite class of people in power that lays down the laws for others to obey. Unfortunately, they all suffer from the same array of human weakness as those they aspire to lead. None of them possesses the breadth of vision necessary for taking into account the whole gamut of issues relating to human life. Such concerns inevitably lead to the conclusion that this need of the true guidance can be fulfilled by the one who is free from these shortcomings and has sufficient knowledge, power and panoramic view of the entire humanity, generations after generations. That entity can be none other than the Creator Himself.
In addition, man also stands in need of a guide who might teach by example the principles of righteous conduct derived from the revealed guidance. Here again, Allah swt alone can meet this need of man by appointing a person of His choice to be a role model others must emulate. In this context, Allah swt has sent a series of prophets basically with the same core message to guide people as role models, the last of the series being the Prophet Muhammad saw. Today, the Qur’an and the teachings of the Prophet saw are available for anyone seeking a path of self-fulfillment. This guidance is complete and perfect: “…I have perfected for you your religion, and have bestowed upon you My favor in full measure…” [Q, 5: 3] It is in public domain and none has monopoly. Also, it is a self-sufficient system of belief and conduct, and an order of social life. Thus, in no circumstances a person would be compelled to look to extraneous source for direction.
Those who postulate their own philosophies through abstractions, and devise rules to govern other human lives, do not have any definite knowledge of the truth or possess legitimacy nor are they worthy of being role models. Most of them rely on their conjectures and hypotheses which are self contradictory and mutually in conflict. They constantly undergo changes at the expense of captive
followers and society’s wellbeing. The masses put trust in their leaders under gratuitous presumptions about their truthfulness and sincerity – only to be proven false later. This outcome is inescapable simply because: “Most of them only follow conjectures; and surely conjectures can be no substitute for truth…” [Q, 10: 35]
The fundamental problem is that these conjectures do not conform to the system of this universe, which is internally coherent and operationally integrated with no room for outside interference. Here there is no possibility that whatever a person conceives in his mind or whatever philosophy he fabricates out of his personal whim would fit in with the system. In his capacity as a subject and vicegerent of Allah swt on earth, man is required to follow the way of life prescribed for him by his Creator: “…Say: Allah’s guidance is the only true guidance, and we have been commanded to submit to the Lord of the entire Universe” [Q, 2: 71]
There are only two means to access the divine guidance: either by direct revelation from Allah swt or by following the one to whom the guidance has been revealed. Resorting to any other means is not only fundamentally mistaken but is an outright betray of the trust: “… He has also revealed the Criterion (to distinguish truth from the falsehood). A severe chastisement lies in store for those who reject the ordains of Allah…” [Q, 3: 4] The prohibition of resorting to other sources for guidance is to protect man from falling prey to a total bewilderment and perplexity of innumerable paths that often crisscross and clash with one another; hence, drifting him away from a steady advance toward his destination. All courses of life charted by man are winding and crooked, and continuously move in the wrong direction: “It rests with Allah alone to show you the right path, even when there are many crooked paths…” [Q, 16: 9]
This danger expounds on the inherent limitations of man. He is incapable of viewing in one sweep and in a balanced way the entire span of his existence and beyond. Therefore, he is in no position to prescribe for his own kind a judicious way of life which best serves the interests of the society within the framework of equity, justice and righteousness. When he becomes his own law-maker, and as he gets overwhelmed with a myriad of problems of one kind or another, he is bound to lose sight of all other aspects of human life and inadvertently adopt an unjust attitude toward them. Consequently, human life is denied judicious and balanced progress. Among these false ways lies just one straight way exactly in the middle that does serve justice to all of man’s aspects of life. Man’s very nature, his thirst for the truth, and the succession of revolts against false systems that has blemished the entire human history, is merely a display of his constant quest for the just path.
The cornerstone of the Islamic system of life is the obedience to Allah swt, His Messenger and those leaders who are loyal to both of them: “Believers! Obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those from among you who are invested with authority…” [Q, 4: 59] In this order, Allah alone is the focus of loyalty and obedience. All other claims of loyalties are acceptable insofar as they remain secondary and subservient to Allah swt. Since the prophets are the only authentic means by which Allah communicates His injunctions to men, obedience to them is the only practical way of obeying Allah swt. Muslims are further required to obey the leadership that subordinates itself to Allah swt and His Messenger. In such a system, the injunctions of Allah swt and the way of life of the Prophet saw constitute the basic Islamic law and the absolute authority in all matters of life. This common point of reference is the central characteristic of an Islamic system that differentiates its moral structure from the rest as a social imperative for a just society: “This is My way – which is
straight: follow it then…” [Qur’an, 6: 153] Such a society is an inevitable outcome of man’s transition, under this structure, from his intellectual superiority to moral superiority. We are what we do. His struggle to get through this remarkable journey secures him the Majestic Recognition: “You have inherited this Paradise for what you did in worldly life.” [Q, 43: 72]
Dr. Khan is Professor of Operations Research at the University of Massachusetts Lowell