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What is the Relationship Between an Individual and the State, According to the Teaching of Islam? What is the Place and Function of an Individual Within a State?

by Dr. Z. Saritoprak on . Posted in An Interview with Fethullah Gülen in The Muslim World

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The modern world and contemporary systems of thought claim that for the first time in history individuals have become the true, active subjects of their lives and their actions. According to these modern systems of thought, individuals have depended on the traditions that have come down from the past to the present day, imprisoning themselves within the limits of these traditions. Since the group attitude has become the norm, and as it is not possible to change the established standards of communal life, it has been the destiny of individuals to remain only passive, obedient members of the community. In the modern age, they have finally started to free themselves from this imprisonment, acquiring their individual personalities. Until the modern age, individuals were not free and were not independent. Although these thoughts on individualism are true for some cultures and some regions of the world, they are not true for every religion, for every thought, and for every community. From the perspective of Tawhid, which is the main principle of the unity of God in Islam, it is impossible to have unrestricted individualism. This is because humans are either both free with no acceptance of any moral values and rebellious with no moral criteria, or they are servants who are dependent on God and seriously obedient to His commands. Through being obedient servants of God, the individuals will not bow before any power and will not sacrifice an ounce of their freedom.

A servant of God cannot be enslaved by anything but God — neither by worldly belongings nor by the corrupted traditions that cause individual misery and paralyze the spirit; nor by communal relations that lay siege to human reason; nor by considerations of selfish interests; nor by greed for more and more material earnings, a desire which dynamites morality; nor by oppressive tendencies that give priority to power over logic and reason; nor by immorality, such as jealousy, hatred, and slavery to carnal impulses. A Muslim repeats at least 30 to 40 times a day, "O Lord, You alone do we worship and from You alone do we seek help" (Qur'an, 1:4). By saying this, individuals break the chains that bind their freedom and individuality and so take refuge in the infinite Power of God, which is sufficient. An individual who has not achieved this reliance on God and taken refuge in Him cannot be considered having fulfilled the task of being an ideal human.

Thus, Islam, while asking individuals to be free and independent from anything except for God, also accepts as a principle individuals as members of a family, society, nation, and indeed, of all humanity, based on their needs. A human being is a social, civilized being that needs to live together with other humans. In this sense, a society is like an organism; the parts are interrelated to and in need of one another.

It is very important to see such togetherness as a "greenhouse" that protects individuals against oppressive forces and helps them to meet their needs and assists in personal and social development, which is not easily achieved individually. This is the point where we differ from those who claim absolute freedom for the individual. Those supporters of absolute freedom leave the individual alone by themselves in the "desert" of existence, without any support against the forces that wait in ambush to capture them, under the pretext of freeing the individual from certain traditional ties. Such an individual, being under the tyranny of dictators or even social oppression, has paid for this individualism in a very painful way, by losing both freedom and honor in the name of individuality.

Here I should also point out that, unlike some other religions or religionlike systems, Islam does not restrict itself to metaphysical considerations only, such as spiritual perfection of the individual, religious rituals, prayer, devotions, and contemplation. In addition to the emphasis on metaphysical considerations, Islam also sets out rules that order human individual, social, political, economical, moral, and legal life; and it promises safety from lawlessness and eternal rewards in return for the observation of these rules. Restricting the Divine religion to only belief and individual religious rituals means compartmentalizing it and shaping it contrary to God's will and approval. At the same time, this will force individuals to hesitate about what they need to practice and live by and how and when to practice it. It would not be difficult to claim that such compartmentalization can even cause some sort of mental confusion. If individuals cannot live by the principles of their religion freely because of certain obstacles put before them, this means that they have been denied the freedom of belief and conscience.

According to the religion of Islam, the Messenger has been sent to provide principles for life in this world and the afterlife, with the promise of eternal bliss for its followers. In the message of the Prophet, this world and the world of eternity complement each other. Personal and social responsibilities are inter-related. Prayer, supplication and remembrance of God, the life of heart and spirit, and social and governmental issues are all facets of one unit. Besides all of this, every Muslim should be very sensitive and conscious about his or her own rights as well as respectful about the rights and freedoms of others. Moreover, as they defend their own rights at the same level, they are very willing to defend the rights of others.

The Muslim World, Special Issue, July 2005 - Vol. 95 Issue 3 Page 325-471