The human being, by his nature, is a social creature. This nature drives him to live as a member of society, in which he interacts with others to satisfy his needs and instincts. No person can manage to satisfy his needs on his own; rather, he requires specific relationships with other human beings in order to satisfy them. The nature of these relationships is determined by the system which is implemented in the society. However, every system, in order to produce a progressive society, has to balance between the needs of the individual and the needs of the society. If the individual’s needs are ignored, then he will live in misery. Also, if the society’s needs are ignored, then the society will not function properly as the environment in which the individual’s strive to satisfy their needs.
Islam is the only ideology that provides a system with the true balance between the individual and the community. Islam did not view the society as simply a grouping of individuals, with no relationship or dependence between them; nor did it view the society as a monolith in which the individual would be crushed, having no value. Rather, Islam considered the society as a unit composed of individuals living within a specific social order, linked to each other through specific thoughts and ideas, emotions and sentiments. These thoughts and ideas will shape the culture, the values, and the behavior of the people, and from them will be derived the order that the society is bound by.
The responsibility of the individual extends towards himself and his family as well as towards the nation as a whole. Similarly, the responsibility of the entire nation as a unit extends to each individual in the society and to humanity at large. The Prophet (saws) said, “Each one of you is a caretaker and is responsible for those who are under his (or her) trust.” This hadith establishes the individual’s responsibility towards himself and his dependents. As for the responsibility of the individual towards maintaining the order of the society, the Prophet (saws) said, “The example of those who maintain Allah’s limits and those who violate them is like the example of those who share a boat. Some occupy the lower deck while others occupy the upper deck. To have an access to the water, those from the lower deck would have to go to the upper deck. So as not to be an inconvenience to their shipmates, (the people in the lower deck) thought to get the water by drilling a hole in their compartment. If those on the upper deck allowed this to happen, all of them will sink. If they prevented them from doing so, all would be saved.” This hadith instills in every member of the society the obligation of looking after the well being of the society without overlooking his own well being. If this did not happen, the society will either tend towards chaos or will have some individuals whose needs would be left unsatisfied. Had the people of the upper deck decided to withhold the water from the others under the pretext of maintaining their private property, then the others will be deprived of their needs, or they will sink the entire boat by adopting another means to get it. This outlook to the relationship between the individual and the community leads to a mutual effort by the individuals to provide for themselves and each other, rather than the fierce strife which results from looking only to one’s needs even if it is at the expense of the others.
Other ideologies also addressed the role of the individual in the society, however, the ailed to provide the progressive view which Islam established. Communism completely abolished any value which the individual may have had and replaced it with the idea of the communal good. This idea contradicts man’s nature because one of the reasons man engages himself in the societal function is to satisfy his individual needs. If these are denied to him, then he will not be productive in providing for himself or for the others. This is one of the reasons for the clear failure of Communism which the world has witnessed.
Capitalism looked to the individual as the most important element in the society. It established individualism as the ideal, neglecting the impact that the individual by himself will have on the society as a whole. Thus, each citizen in the society looks to the things which will bring him or her benefit. The value of any idea is established based on the impact of that idea on the individual himself, irrespective of the impact on others. This view to the individual has made the capitalist societies the breeding grounds for selfishness, greed, and an unparalleled animosity among the people. The concepts of sacrifice and sharing are rare, appearing mostly when there is a tax break or a publicity opportunity to be found therein. The ideology with such an outlook cannot be taken as the basis for building a human society.