The unification of the existential reality of man in a psychological system in consonance with his human and evolutionary tendencies and similarly the unification of human society in a harmonious and evolutionary social system, are the questions which have always engaged the attention of mankind. As opposed to unification is the polarization of individual personality and its split into discordant segments, and the division of society into conflicting groups and classes. The question is: what is to be done to ensure the harmonious development of human personality both from psychological and social points of view? In this respect there are three theories: materialistic theory, idealistic theory and realistic theory.
The upholders of this theory think of matter only and give no importance to soul. They claim that what splits an individual psychologically and a society socially and causes discord and incongruity is the existence of the system of private property. Man by nature is a social being. In the beginning of history he led a collective life, and was not conscious of his individual existence. At that time he had a collective spirit and a collective feeling.
His life depended on hunting and every body could obtain his means of living from the river and the forest according to his requirements. There was no question of surplus production till man discovered the art of cultivation. With it the possibility of surplus production and the possibility of some peoples' doing work and some other's simply eating without doing any work appeared. That was the development which led to the practice of ownership.
The private ownership of the sources of production like water and land and the production tools like plough, did away with the collective spirit and split the society which was so far living as one unit, into 'haves' and 'have nots'. The society which lived as 'We' took the shape of 'I'. As a result of the appearance of ownership man became unconscious of his own reality as a social being. Previously he felt that he was just a man like others. Now he regarded himself as an owner instead of a man. Thus he became unconscious of himself and began to deteriorate.
Only by abolishing the system of private ownership man can once more regain his moral and social unity and his mental and social health. The compulsory movement of history is already taking place in this direction. Private properties, which have turned human unity into plurality, and collectivity into dispersal, are like the turrets mentioned by the Persian mystic poet, Mowlavi in a beautiful simile. He says that the turrets and pinnacles divide one single and extensive sunshine into compartments by introducing shadow pieces in between. Of course Mowlavi visualizes a gnostic truth, that is the emergence of plurality from unity and its ultimate return to unity. But with a little twist, this simile can also be used to illustrate the Marxist theory of socialism.
This theory gives importance to man's spirit and his relation to his inner self only. According to this theory, it is true that the relation between man and the material things does away with unity, causes plurality and dismembers collectivity.
It leads the individual to psychological split and divides society into classes. But it is also to be remembered that in the case of the attachment of one thing to another, it is the latter that causes the split and dismemberment of the former. Hence the attachment of such things as property, wife and position to man is not the cause of his psychological split and the dismemberment of society. In contrast, it is the heart-felt inner attachment of man to the material things that causes this split and dismemberment. Ownership has not alienated man from himself and society. It is his 'being owned' that has alienated him. What dismembers his individuality from moral and social point of view is not 'my property', 'my wife' and 'my position'. It is 'my being property', 'my being wife' and 'my being a position' which dismembers his individuality.
To change 'I' into 'we' it is not necessary to sever the relation of the things with man. It is the relation of man with the things that should be severed. Release man from the bondage of the things, so that he may return back to his human reality. Give man his moral and spiritual freedom. To release things from his ownership will serve no useful purpose. The moral and social unification of man is a matter of spiritual education and training. It is not an economic question. What is required is inner development of man, not his outer curtailment. Man is first an animal and then a human being. He is an animal by nature and a human being by acquisition. Man can regain his latent humanity by correct education. So long as he does not gain it, he remains an animal by nature and there is no question of the unity of his spirit and life.
It is unhumanistic to consider material things to be the cause of the split and coalescence of man and to think that with their division man is divided and with their unification he is united, and that his moral and social personality is subservient to economic and production situation. Such notions are the result of not knowing man and not believing in his humanity and his faculties of understanding and will.
Furthermore, it is impossible to sever man's private relation with other things totally. Even if his relation with wealth and property is severed, it is not possible to do so in the case of wife, children and family. Is it possible to introduce socialism in this field also, and to establish sexual communism? If this is possible, then why are the countries, which abolished private property long ago, still sticking to private family system? Suppose the natural family system is also socialized, what will be done about jobs, positions, prestige and honour? Is it possible to distribute these things also equally? What will be done about the physical and mental abilities of the individuals? These relationships are an integral part of the existence of every individual and are not separable from him.
According to this theory, what splits and divides man from individual and social point of view is neither man's relation with the things nor the relation of the things with man. Man's bondage neither originates from his ownership nor from his being owned. This theory gives first importance to such factors as education, training, revolution, thinking, ideology and spiritual freedom. It believes that man is neither a purely material being nor a purely spiritual being. This worldly life and the next worldly life are closely interconnected with each other. The body and the soul interact.
A struggle should be made against the factors causing psychological split with the help of faith and unity in worship, and a war should be waged against discrimination, injustice, deprivation, oppression, suffocation, and false gods.
This is the Islamic way of thinking. As soon as Islam appeared, it started a movement and began to bring about a revolution. But it never said that if discrimination and injustice were removed or private property was abolished, everything would be all right. Nor did it say if you reformed yourself from within, had nothing to do with the external world, and improved your moral qualities, society would automatically be reformed. Besides other things Islam raised the slogan of internal monotheism to be secured through jihad and a struggle against social inequities. The following verse which shines on the firmament of human unity and which was incorporated by the Holy Prophet in his letters addressed to the heads of various countries, manifests the all-round realism of Islam:
"Let us come to an agreement between us and you: that we will worship none but Allah, that we will associate none with Him." (Surah Ale Imran, 3:64)
Up to this point this verse deals with the unity of man through faith, a common ideal and attaining spiritual freedom. Thereafter it says:
"None of us shall take others as Lords besides Allah"
Should we act according to this teaching of Islam we will not be divided into masters and slaves, and will be able to forestall wrong social relationships that lead to discrimination.
Following the chaos and agitation during the caliphate of Uthman leading to his murder, people rushed to pledge their allegiance to Imam Ali, who was forced to accept the responsibilities of caliphate against his personal liking. It was his legal duty which compelled him to accept the caliphate. He describes his personal dislike and his legal duty in the following words:
"Had not the people gathered round me, had not the presence of the helper left me no choice and had not Allah taken a promise from the learned not to agree to a situation in which people were divided into the oppressors having too much and the oppressed having too little, I would not have cared who becomes a caliph and my attitude would have remained the same as it had been throughout". (See: Peak of Eloquence, Sermon - 7)
We all know that Imam Ali after taking over his assignment gave the foremost importance to two things. One was the spiritual and moral reform of the people and the dissemination of Divine knowledge, the examples of which we find in Nahjul Balaghah, and the other was his struggle against social discrimination. He was neither contented with inner reform nor regarded the mere social reform as adequate. Islam had in one hand the programme of educating the people and of preaching faith in Allah in order to secure individual and social unity of mankind, and in other it had a sword in order to sever the unbalanced human relationships, to break up class distinctions and to knock down the false gods.
The classless Islamic society means a just society in which there is no discrimination, no deprivation, no tyranny and no false gods.
It does not mean a society in which there is no disparity, for the absence of disparity is in itself a form of injustice. There is a difference between discrimination and disparity. In the creational system there exists disparity, which gives it variety and beauty, but there exists no discrimination in it. The perfect Islamic society is a society that is against discrimination, but is not opposed to disparity. Islamic society is a society of equality and brotherhood. But its equality is positive and not negative. It takes into consideration the natural differences of the individuals and does not deprive anyone of his acquired distinctions. It establishes positive equality by providing equal opportunities to all and by abolishing unjust eminence and imaginary superiority.
The negative equality is similar to the equality narrated in a legendary tale. A tyrant used to live in the hills. He received the passers-by as his guests. When the guest retired for the night, he was required to sleep on a particular bed. If by chance the body of the guest was equal to the size of the bed, it was all right. But woe to the poor guest if his body was not equal to it! If it was taller, the servants of the tyrant chopped off a part of it from either side and if it was shorter, they pulled it from both sides to make it fit in the bed. The result in both the cases can easily be imagined.
The positive equality is like the equal treatment meted out by an affectionate teacher to all his pupils. If in a test the answers of all of them are correct, he awards them equal marks. If their answers vary, he awards each of them as many marks as he deserves.
The Islamic society is a natural society. It is neither discriminative nor a society of negative equality. The Islamic principle is 'work according to one's ability, entitlement according to one's work'.
In a discriminative society relations of people are based on subjugation and forcible exploitation. But in a natural society there is no exploitation and nobody is allowed to live at the cost of others. The relations of people are based on reciprocal service. All work freely according to their ability and within the scope of their potentiality. All serve each other. In other words bilateral use of services is the rule. The more a man is capable and the more forceful personality he has, the more he attracts other forces to himself. For example, the more knowledge a man has, the more seekers of knowledge he attracts to himself and uses their services. The more technical know-how a man the more people have to work in accordance with his instructions. That is why the Holy Qur'an which opposes the existence of the lords and the domineered in society, acknowledges the existence of natural disparity and different grades of capabilities created by Allah. It also supports the relationship of "bilateral" use of services. The Holy Qur'an says:
"Is it they who apportion their Lord's Mercy? We have apportioned among them their livelihood in the life of the world, and raised some of them above some others in rank so that some of them may take labour from some others; and the Mercy of your Lord is better than the wealth they amass" (Surah az-Zukhruf, 43:32)
A very fine point which can be inferred from this verse is that the disparity in endowments is not unilateral. The people not divided into two classes, viz. one of these having natural endowments and the other of those bereft of them. Had it been so, Allah would have said: "We have raised some of them in rank so that they may take labour from others". But He has not said so. He has said that He has raised some of them in rank above some others, so that some of them use the services of some of others. That means that all have some or other endowments and all utilize the services of each other. In other words, both the endowments and services are bilateral
Another point is that the word 'Sukhriyya' used in this verse begins with the vowel point of U(su) and means employment and utilization. The same word has been used at two other places in the Holy Qur'an with the vowel point of 'I' (si) and there, as the most of the commentators point out, means mockery.
This verse describes the natural and inborn relation of men in their social life, and says that their relationship is such that they all use the services of each other. It may be said that this is the most important verse from the viewpoint of the exposition of the social philosophy of Islam.
Bayzawi in his well-known commentary on the Holy Qur'an and following his example, Allam Fayz in his book As-Safi, explaining the verse says: "The verse, 'so that some of them may take labour from some others', means that all men utilize the services of each other to meet their needs. This relationship is a means of creating in men a spirit of good will and affection towards each other so that the affairs of the world may go on smoothly"
There is a hadith (tradition) also which says that this verse means that Allah has created men in such a way that they all are in need of each other.
Though men depend on each other to satisfy their natural needs, there is still an adequate scope of free competition in society. In contrast, the life of the gregarious animals is based on a compulsory relationship. Therefore man's sociality is different from that of the bees or the termites. Their life is governed by inexorable laws, and provides no field for competition. They have no possibility of going up or coming down. Man, besides being social, is endowed with a sort of freedom.
Human society is a field of competitive progress and development. Any restrictions placed on the individual freedom in this respect prevent the blooming of human faculties.
The model man of the materialistic school, though has few external restrictions, is unable to attain inner freedom. He is like a bird which has no feathers though not confined within a cage, and as such is unable to fly. The model man of the idealistic school has inner freedom but is tied externally. He is like a bird having feathers, but the feet of which are tied firmly. But the man of the realistic school is like a bird which has feathers, the feet of which are free and which can fly without any difficulty.
It is clear from the above that practical monotheism, whether it is individual or social, means to be unitarian in the worship of Allah and to reject every other kind of heartfelt adoration such as the adoration of one's base desires, adoration of money, adoration of honour and privileges etc. In the case of society it also means to be unitarian in the observance of fair play and justice and the rejection of all false values, discrimination and unfairness. So long as the individual and society are not unitarian, they cannot attain happiness and prosperity, and they cannot be unitarian unless they are righteous. The Holy Qur'an describes the division of man's personality and his bewilderment under the polytheistic system and his attainment of unity and purpose under the monotheistic system in the following words:
"Allah coins a similitude of a man who is owned by several part-owners, quarrelling, and another man belonging wholly to one man. Are these two alike?" (Surah az-Zumar, 39:29)
Under the polytheistic system man is like a straw being tossed every moment by the waves of a sea in a different direction. Under the monotheistic system he is like a boat fully equipped with guiding apparatus, moving in a regular manner under the command of a well-intentioned captain.