Civil Work in Islam
The definition of “civil society”
From the different concepts and definitions we have for the term “civil society” we will able to see that they tackle various issues, concepts, and various political, intellectual, moral, economic and social mechanisms. All together they try to form a picture of the society but each will see it according to their vision, their conception and their theory.
One of the definitions is: It is the society which is based on political, economic, social and cultural institutions operating in different fields, while being relatively independent from the authority of the State, to achieve multiple purposes.”
The civil society in the European capitalist thought is based on basic dimensions:
1. In the economic field it is based on free markets.
2. In the political field it is based on deriving power from the will of the people.
3. The concept of citizenship is determined by the law which is laid by the society.
Others see the civil society as the society in which the role of the authority fades to the level where the society supersedes the authority. Another team goes further into considering the authority just as an opposing presence that stands against the state so its roles must be shrunk to give way for the role of the society.
Those who tackled the term “civil society” seem to be focused on the third presence which is between the individual and the state; between the philosophy of the individual that opens an unlimited scope for the individual and between the theory of state-control with its limitless authorities and activities.
It is also defined as, “A group of voluntary-work organizations that fill the public domain between the family and the state to achieve the interests of its members while being committed to the values and standards of respect, conciliation, tolerance and the sound management of creative diversity.”
It is also defined as, “A field or space that is made up from the effectiveness of the people who enjoy the freedom of election and exercise this freedom within the framework of the law and the general rules; fully independent from the will and the decision of the political power or ruler.” John Locke reiterates that a political or civil society can only come into existence when men consent to give up their natural liberty and accept majority rule. Others have defined it as, “The sum of all the institutions that allow the individuals to make use of the public goods and utilities without any interference or intercession from the government.” It is also defined as, “The advanced political theme that allows for the process of institutionalizing the monitoring of political participation.”
Of the plausible fundamentals for any human being, no matter what his creed or his political or social ideologies, is his belief in freedom, security, justice, peace, equal opportunities, cooperation and coexistence. If left to his innate nature all of these concepts would be unquestionable temperaments and the rational people would automatically agree on the rulings of the sound mind even if this mind was industrialized by the processes of education, learning and good or bad experiences.
The Muslim scholars, philosophers, fundamentalists and jurists inspected the issue of the mind and its rulings with both its sides; the practical mind and the theoretical mind. The compendium of what was reached by the Imamah Shia doctrine (followers of the family of the Prophet; Ali and his sons) is their belief that the mind rules using the very same tools that are used by the Sharia and the other way round. So by power of its nature (and separately for Shara) the mind encompasses justice, security, truthfulness, love, cooperation and freedom. On the other hand it abhors injustice, chaos, aggression and oppression… etc.
Hence, the overall concepts for political, social and economic lives whether described as being good or bad; are realized by the human mind regardless of any doctrines or principles. This realization conforms to the provisions of the Shara! From this we can realize that many of the overall concepts that are required for forming the society (defined by some as the civil society) are but the perceptions of the mind and hence they conform to the rulings of Sharia. When the acquired (or industrialized) mind which was formed by the sum of theoretical knowledge gained from education, gets into the formula to diagnose some of the concepts the conflicts begin such as; the conviction of annulling the role of the state or requesting secularism as a condition and many others.
History provides us with many examples in the field of the realizations of the human mind for what is good or bad and how well these realizations conform to the Sharia. The Fudul League which was formed before Islam to support the ones oppressed by the ruling authority in the society and to restore the stolen rights is but a social institution that was formed to stand by what is right in the face of injustice, to defend human rights and restore security. Hence the Prophet (SAWS) did not hesitate to participate in forming it and he even commended it after the revelation and considered it a great achievement.
From this brief overview we can realize that building a social society on a foundation of mental common-grounds is but a rational perception as well as a provision of the Sharia. Islam with its legal texts and its invitation to use the provisions of the sound and normal mind is actually an invitation for building a society dominated by justice, law and equal opportunities; a society that preserves human rights and freedoms, and a society whose citizens and institutions work in full harmony.
Islamic law inherently separates the declaration of principles and the mechanisms of implementation. In another sense it calls for the freedom of man, the rule of law, cooperation, promoting virtue and preventing vice; all of which accentuates the role of the state as a social and political power beside the role of the state. But it does not set a particular method and it does not impose a special mechanism for implementation apart from using the best possible means available for the addressee. Consequently, man found out that the best means for implementing these principles and concepts is the mechanism of the constitutional, political, economic and reforming institution for protecting and preserving the freedoms of man against the tyranny of the authority or its infringement on such principles, rights or values. The social, cultural, professional, political institutions whether constitutional, legal, related to human rights or political parties and associations… etc. in the Islamic Sharia all hinge on two main principles according to the Qur’an:
• First: Cooperation.
• Second: Promoting virtue and preventing vice.
The Qur’an commands promoting virtue and preventing vice in many of its verses as much as it calls for cooperation on righteousness and fearing God; both being considered among the deeds that bring us closer to Allah.
Civil society in view of Islam:
Recent studies, scientific researches, field observations and emotional feelings all tell us that the social status is an instinct embedded deep inside us. So long as we feel our independent ‘ego’, so long as our social instinct drags us into forming communities and having social lives.
We were born to live in communities and groups because reproducing individuals can never live within the frame of a unified social system. We are driven to this by instinct just as we are driven by our need to be in groups and exchange benefits.
The civil, cultural, ideological life of man got formed within the context of the group because everything man possesses of civilization, assets, science and human technology is a byproduct of integrated efforts, capacities, and experiences of human minds that have united throughout history.
So they are the byproduct of two main principles as explained by the Qur’an:
When it comes to cooperation the feeling of social awareness stands out just the same way the moral element stands out in its social field where the individual can give without taking, or can give and take alike. The essence of cooperation is not the amount of personal gain acquired; the essence is to be able to build something beneficial and effective through cooperation. Some of us can sustain loss but this loss is always compensated.
Believing in Judgment day and in the punishment of the afterlife form the biggest motives in the lives of believers; they spend from their money, they sacrifice their lives and comfort for the sake of pleasing Allah. This way they are compensated indirectly by the society not in a direct way but through just through having a role in the social life!
Society takes with one hand and gives with the other; it gives us security, education, care and services in which we did not exert any direct effort. We were born in a fully functional society that has roads, bridges, dams, schools, markets, trees, animals, factories, hospitals, banks, transportation, science and knowledge. All of these are the sum of all our efforts combined even though we might not have contributed in each and even though all these things were already there before we were born. This conforms to the wisdom that say, “They planted and we ate, so let us plant so they too can eat!” A wise poet also once said,People whether desert or city dwellers,Are but servants to each other without knowing it.
So the social edifice in reality is but a matrix of relations and exchanged benefits; some could be embodied in projects or social institutions like families, markets, dams, schools, courts, hospitals, parliaments, political parties, authority, law, association, company or factory.
For this reason we find the Qur’an saying, “And cooperate in righteousness and piety, but do not cooperate in sin and aggression…” (TMQ, 5:2), and “…and raise some of them above others in rank, so that they may take one another into service…” (TMQ, 43:32). All of this to provide civil and social awareness for man, so he would understand that social life is integrative whereas the tendencies and efforts are diverse. So integration is achieved through our interaction.
Social life and the civilized civil form of the society is an integrated unit of efforts and behavioral attitudes. Man chooses the mechanisms that befit the circumstances, the place, the phase and the level of social life he’s living.
Mechanisms and principles:
We should make it clear that the approach of building the individual, the family, the society and the state hinges on two main elements:
1) Values and principles: Formed by the Qur’anic doctrine, the law, the practical manners and behavioral impacts of worship in the world of mankind like the impact of praying on rectifying the human behavior as commanded by the Qur’anic rule “Surely prayer restrains one from indecency and evil”, like the impact of fasting on social education and refinement of human emotions.
2) Mechanisms for implementing the laws and behaviorism: According to the commandments of the creed, the morals and the acts of worship. It is clear that the mechanisms and methods used by man to implement the required behaviorism in all fields whether legal, judicial, political, security, cultural, intellectual, economic or services, are sophisticated and renewed according to his scientific and technological level, and according to his cultural awareness.
Islam seeks to achieve principles but the mechanisms and approaches are left for us to choose under condition that we never resort to the principle of “the ends justify the means” because the means will always be an action or a human behavior that falls under the jurisdiction of values and laws. For this reason we see the society that Islam is attempting to build as a society that fixes the values and principles and sets the mechanisms and approaches free.
An example for the principles and values set by Islam:
Let us give some examples below:
Islam calls for consultation and respecting the opinion of the nation. It commanded promoting virtue and preventing vice but it did not set the method for implementing or achieving this but left it for the citizen himself. The society can hence choose the required institutions for the consultation through which the nation will participate in respecting opinions, promoting virtue and preventing vice. So it establishes parliaments to be the political institutions that have the authority of proposing opinions, criticizing and participating in drawing the general policy of the state and the accountability of the principles of consultation, promoting virtue and preventing vice, as well as the responsibility of general solidarity as commanded by the Qur’an in, “who conduct their affairs by mutual consultation…”, and “The believers, both men and women, are friends to each other; they enjoin what is good and forbid evil…”
It is narrated that the Prophet (SAWS) said, “The best jihad is saying a truthful word in the face of an unjust ruler”, and he said, “Each of you is a shepherd, and each one is responsible for his flock.”
Of the basic principles in Islamic law is to give the nation a broad role in the implementation of the principles of social and economic reform without specifying the mechanisms of achievement. So the Muslims chose for this the doctrine of Hisba (verification) which in a broader sense refers to the practice of supervision of commercial, guild, and other secular affairs related to the markets and cleanliness. This doctrine originated from the principle of promoting virtue and preventing vice and after the developments that occurred on this principle by time. So it was manifested in this Islamic institution which practiced one of the major duties of the state and took charge of implementing this principle.
Civil work: An Islamic perspective
First: The motives beyond the propagation of the ‘civil society’ concept in the contemporary Arabic political discourse.
The term ‘civil society’ seems to have spread like a fad these days. No philosophical, historical or political research, no essay, review or statement goes without reviewing the concept of ‘civil society’ proposing various perspectives and functions. Surely the concept has earned much circulation within the Arabic cultural and political context. The concept was promoted into being a ‘term’ and then the term was promoted into being a ‘motto’ and finally the motto got promoted into a ((referential value)) the same way terms like democracy and human rights got mainly associated with developing the shape of the Western culture. All of these terms, and others, have turned in our Arab reality into an integrated system used by some to have specific connotations, meanings and implications to represent, in many cases, a vision that has the same connotations, meanings and implications. They turned them into some standards used for determining the position of the political and social powers in the public field whether accepting or rejecting them. Finally, they convert those who juggled with the term from just thinkers and researchers, or even politicians into guards at the gate of the civil society letting those whom they like in and preventing those whom they don’t like from entering. This vogue turned into a craze as expressed by some in this saying; ‘we’re afraid to be confronted with the term civil society not just when we open a book or a magazine but when we open a door or a window!’
Academic motives: Part of the academic motives is connected to the developments that occurred on the Middle Eastern studies in the American universities primarily. The other part is connected to the vision of the Arab academics and their research priorities. It is noted, in this respect, that the Orientalist studies were focused on the cultural dimensions of the Arab society and then the trend tended more in the Middle Eastern studies towards giving special attention to the Arabic reality. This emphasized the possible role of the civil initiative in the political process.
As for the Arabic academics they saw that the issue of the civil society is a chance to study the new issues and topics after they shifted the focus of their full attention from the field of political sciences to the field of studies related to the state and its political systems. This orientation was endorsed by the relatively big amount of funds allocated for such studies.
Second: The philosophical foundations of the concept of civil society in its Western experience We can never isolate the concept ‘civil society’ from the historical context it originated from. By historical context we mean the origination of the concept within the Western cultural formation considering the fact that the concept with its enunciation and connotation and its defining context has originated and evolved within this formation with its reality and its ideological and social struggles. This history can tell us first about the historical circumstances that surrounded its formation till it ended up what it is today as a ruling referential value, that should govern the movement of global developments in the relationship of the society and the state and in achieving the democratic system.
Realizing this history can also tell us the philosophical implications behind the concept and that are intertwined with it. This realization can help us, as Arabs and Muslims, in defining a more complex and deep stance when looking at the term ‘civil society’ or when interacting with it. Finally, realizing the historical circumstances can help us crystallize and identify the implications that we must be aware of when moving this term which originated within a particular cultural formation to another culture with is values, philosophies and the way it sees the universe, life and man.
The term ‘civil society’ in its historical roots originated in the framework of the struggle between the old and the new in Europe of the 19th and 18th centuries! In other words the term originated within the framework of expelling the “Medieval Crisis”, within declaring full defection from the old system altogether, and within embracing a new system based on totally different set of rules. This conflict was associated with many ideological battles and it got connected to a rising social power along with a collapsing one. All of these battles left their marks on the philosophical foundations upon which the term got based and took as a launching pad.
The conflict here was not just limited to the conflict between society and the state, as some proponents of civil society like to portray. It was also a conflict between individuals and formations within the society with the purpose of achieving their own interests. The civil society is defined as a group of voluntary-work organizations that fill the public domain between the family and the state to achieve the interests of its members.
So if the term originated within the frame of a struggle between the members who wanted to achieve their own interests, it also must’ve originated due to the struggle between the state and the civil society in Europe. It also originated under the developments that occurred on the relation between them when the state formed its own will to dominate and contain. This gave the society a tendency towards more independence and demarcation from the state along with a call to reduce the impact of its presence.
The evolution of the “nation-state” in Europe had important significance in understanding the circumstances surrounding the emergence of the concept of civil society. The state was a basic means and an effective tool in helping to get rid of the medieval ages and in moving on to the modern era. The “nation-state” was a tool for unifying the disparate and divided nationalities that started in Europe. It was also the means to the “one market” which was a requirement for transitioning from feudalism to capitalism; because the one market was the only means for exchanging goods and services freely along with all the ensuing high production to accommodate for such exchange.
Within this context and to be able to achieve this purpose the nation-state expanded in Europe and its grip on the society got tighter. It got assigned with many tasks and roles for the benefit of certain emerging social groups particularly the capitalists. This expansion in the role of the state was confirmed by the colonization when the state turned into a political tool for the Western colonization.
All of these developments tipped the balance for the favor of the state over the society. In another development the society needed to restore the balance with the state and here we need to make an observation worthy of our attention. Some of the ‘civil society’ advocates in our countries like to promote the myth of separation between the state and the society, or the constant conflict between both. They all seem to forget that this ‘separation’ is not how things are in the west neither was it ever that way in the past. The state and the society have originated in full cooperation to achieve the ‘modernity project’ within the framework of shifting from the old. This does not mean that there is no conflict between them but this conflict comes within the limitations of the role and space of each; not the intention beyond the role or the purpose from it.
The imagined conflict between the state and the society in our Arabic Islamic reality, as propagated by some civil society advocates, can end up weakening both for the benefit of the outsiders. This is the danger that arises from copying a foreign cultural experience from one reality to the other without realizing the particularities and functions in the new reality. It should be noted in this regard that the experience of the relationship between the society and the state in the West led to finding an ‘interdependence’ between them for the purpose of achieving the interests and goals of the Western civilization and its high objectives.
This is one of the intellectual tenets upon which the entirety of the western cultural edifice was erected. Contractualism governs the relations between the individuals and it draws the path of interactions between the individuals and the institutions. It is the basis of the relation between the western human beings and each other. The concept claims that individuals are fully capable of comprehending all the temporary and future laws they cross by in their lives; or the status quo in which they accept to get into a contractual agreement. It claims also that if I can shut down the other party or take him over then I have to since the contract allows me to do it and as long as I can do it.
The concept goes back with its philosophical roots to the “Social Contract” which was launched by the European philosophers by the end of the 17th century. During the 18th century this theory was one of the most significant philosophical and ideological roots for the concept of the civil society. It is based on an assumption that individuals are capable of living in full freedom in what is known as the ‘state of nature’ where each one can live separately without being connected to any other, or without a social connection. These people gave up part of their will in return for living in a society that can achieve this social connection called ‘civil society’. So the ‘modern’ civil society is the byproduct of a contract between the individuals. Hence all the social systems are actually human systems (man-made) and hence the society is not a byproduct of God’s will or any other supernatural power.
The theory of the social contract came to destroy the natural foundation of the feudal system and replace it with a new system based on two complementary foundations that form the tenets of the Western civilization itself:
First – Individualism: The social system is founded on a contract between the free and equal individuals giving way to the right of the individual to change the existing social system with another one that they can sign amongst themselves. The social contract highlights the free will of the individuals as regards to their activities and personal interests. Each individual stands out as an independent entity away from all others.
Second – Secularism: This means forming a social system based on individuals who abandon any other external power apart from their ((free)) will. The external power meant here is the power of the church in the Middle Ages or any associated patterns of values and moral. The modern western thinking and practice is the result of positive thought and the product of its stepping stone which, in essence, is a permanent and continuous break out of all the restrictions, ethical standards and governing rules that are not referenced to human beings. This break creates a state of absolute relativity which dictates having no standard or measure for distinguishing between good and evil, injustice and justice, so interest can be the only consideration or law left to rule and under which all other affairs can be treated.
The term ‘civil’ within the concept of civil society is surrounded by much mystery! Sometimes it stands as a contrast to military when we talk about civil relations and military relations. Some other times it stands as a contrast to the term rural, and the most important is when it is contrasted to the term religious. This obscurity involving the term civil allows many civil society advocates to use the term and mold it according to their own agendas.
The fact is that the term civil means the modern society that was founded during the Renaissance in Europe and came on the rubbles of all the traditional social formations inherited from the old regime. So the term civil usually excludes the inherited formations such as (family, tribe… etc.) and is limited to the free voluntary formations which the individual can join with his free will and choice.
In this context the definition excludes many social formations which are still effective in our Arab reality till this day and are experiencing an exponential growth most probably due to the fact that the modern tools and institutions (including the state) are not carrying on their assigned functions and most important of which is to achieve a degree of loyalty to its general citizens who can’t, in many cases, feel any kind of belonging to it but sometimes they even feel alienated from it.
Elements of the concept:
If the concepts of the conflict, contractualism and civil were the philosophical basis upon which the term civil society was based in its western experience, then the concept is also based on a number of key components most important of which are:
The idea of voluntary work: being one of the basics of the composition of some institutional and social formations.
Or rather the moderate institutions which were formed to fill the gap between the state, the political authority and the family and to be in charge of several functions! The third element is about the independence of these institutes from the political authority and trying to evade the control of the state and its dominance over the society.
Finally the concept is connected to several other values that are correlated to it. The most important of which are; citizenship, human rights, political and public participation, and managing differences and diversity… etc.
The distinction between the philosophical foundations underlying the concept of civil society and between the components that form the defining indicators for the context of the term; this distinction can help us in building a more sophisticated and complex stand when looking at the concept and dealing with it. So the Muslim, when dealing with this concept, can refuse to accept the philosophical foundations from which this term originates – since he has a perception of the universe, life and man that is totally contradictory to it and since he can accept or rejects any of its components –. The cultural experience of our nation allows for a totally different model that can represents a real contribution in the formulation of reality and the desired global horizon.
The Islamic basics for civil work:
Civil work is an effort exerted by the nation with all its respective sectors and institutions with the purpose of achieving the five objectives of Islamic law (preserving faith, preserving sanity, preserving the human type, preserving the soul and preserving the honor). In other words the essence of civil work, from the Islamic perspective, achieves the objective of “settling” on earth as in the verse, “…It was He who brought you into being from the earth and settled you upon it…” (TMQ, 11:61).
From this perspective civil work is founded on a group of focal concepts most important of which is:
The collective duty of the nation (fard kifaya):
The collective duty of the nation is depicted in the Qur’anic discourse that conveys the commandments of Allah to the nation which is addressed as, “O you mankind!”, “O you who believe!”, “Establish prayer!”, “Do good..!” Addressing the nation includes the individual duties as well as the collective duties. Islam does not only address the individual, it also addresses the community in its entirety. There are obligations for each particular Muslim and there are obligations for the whole community and these obligations stand out in clear comparison from the individual duties. In Islam they are called “fard kifaya” and they include social duties that participate in the coherence of the nation’s social fabric and give it a sense of solidarity. The purpose is to get the nation to the point of self-sufficiency on all levels and in all fields. With this characteristic the “fard kifaya” becomes a sufficiency on only some of the members of the Muslim community so the others do not have to perform it anymore; so in this sense it becomes a “fard ayn” or an individual duty on those who are capable of doing it efficiently to the point of social competence. This does not mean doing the obligations only (as most people think); the whole point is to achieve the duty, expel the harm and acquire the purpose. So the standards of interest, purpose and objective control the number of those who are assigned with the “fard Kifaya” to the point where it becomes for some a “fard ayn”.
From here comes the social responsibility (solidarity) in performing these duties or part of them since they will fall under the collective punishment of the nations or communities. Just as individuals have a limited life to live so do communities and nations. Allah says, “For all people a term has been set: and when [the end of] their term approaches, they can neither delay it by a single moment, nor can they advance it.” (TMQ, 7:34), and, “You will see every people on their knees, every people shall be summoned to its Record [and a voice will say], 'Today you will be requited for your deeds.’” (TMQ, 45:28). Hence abstaining for disciplining the system will bring down the wrath of Allah on the whole nation, “And beware of an affliction that will not smite exclusively those among you who have done wrong. Know that Allah is severe in exacting retribution.” (TMQ, 8:25). The collective duties express how far the nation abides by the rulings and laws of Islam. If the ruling authority does not abide by these laws then the objectives of religion can be achieved through the nation, according to Ibn Taymeyyah, not through the ruling authority or the Imam.
The individual duty:
According to the Islamic perspective the human being is charged with some duties and is responsible for his actions whether good or evil. He performs his duties according to his responsibilities, “each one of them shall come to Him one by one on the Day of Judgment.” (TMQ, 19:95). There is something I need to iterate here about the topic of “waqf” where Islamic law stated as one of its conditions that the individual can express his will in the form of a number of terms that determine how to manage the endowed estates, divide its revenue, and provide it to the agreed entities.
It is noted here that the scholars and jurists, have added to the terms a hint of sanctity that cannot be violated unless with exceptions. They upgraded it to the level of the legal texts, as regards to obligation.
The collective and individual duties altogether and the intricate balance between them in the Islamic perspective brings to our attention the two tenets upon which civil work is built in Islam; the individual and the nation.
The individual will is accentuated when the individual becomes the jurist, not through practicing ijtihad which requires specific conditions, but through practicing social and civil duties; same thing as in waqf. Once the ruling authority, the state and the institution are in action and control, the role of the individual dissolves because he can never been seen as effective except if he is working within the framework of an institute; despite the fact that it is he who established the institutes and give them their effectiveness.
The concept of the nation in civil work:
Of the fundamental concepts in the issue of civil work there is the concept of ‘the nation’ which, from the Islamic perspective, is a ‘law giving nation’ which means that it has a legislative role. This legislative role finds its grounds in many of the Prophet’s narrations tackling the nation and its role in Islam, “What the nation deems good is good in the eyes of Allah!”, and, “My nation will never agree on a transgression!” This legislative role can be seen in two aspects:
First: Social acceptance for the rulings of the scholars, jurists and muftis which transformed their rulings from just opinions and deductions into a form of legal obligation.
Second: The adoption of the scholars and fundamentalists to the ‘customary’ as being legitimate evidence. The custom “urf” is what people got used to in running the affairs of their lives and their dealings; utterances, deeds, dos and don’ts… etc.; as long as they do not contradict a legal evidence and as long as they do not invalidate a duty. The customary habit rules according to the fundamentalists.
Restoring the glory to the word ‘nation’ carries within it a social deterrent that makes any attempt to deviate from the rulings of Islam and its laws an extremely difficult mission. One of the most important products of the Islamic vision is that it grants the nation an intellectual and legal unity along with a unified awareness for anything related to Islam. This fortifies its edifice, connects its people through solidarity, and safeguards it from the dangers of political and intellectual dismantling; making any attempt to escape this legitimacy worthy of a social punishment imposed by the Muslim community on those who have violated their legitimacy and sanctity particularly if this is associated with promoting virtue and preventing vice (this collective duty that is an obligation on the scholar and ruler equally along with being a collective duty on the nation at large). This duty has to be carried out by each Muslim as befits his power and we all know that “virtue” is what should be said and done according to the Islamic texts and “vice” is what must never be said or done.
Promoting virtue and preventing vice creates a state of a collective consciousness for the idealism of Islam which confirms the collective duty of Muslims and unifies the Muslim community in one whole integral body. Just as we must preserve our body organs, one by one, and heal ourselves from inside out; the Muslim community must be capable of producing self-protection methods that can renew it. If promoting virtue and preventing vice is a legal duty then it is the duty of the Muslim to preserve his person. The religious duty of promoting virtue and preventing vice is connected to his social duties particularly because dodging this duty will result in legal violations of the social behavior and this can end in dismantling the society once its building blocks are assimilated.
Promoting virtue and preventing vice turns participation in public work into a religious duty and a right that must be performed otherwise the Muslim will be punished; as long as he can do it.
The “hisbah” institute embodied this duty perfectly from the pretext that it is a duty that falls on all the Muslims not just a group of them, and since it does not require any particular assignment from the Imam or ruler; whenever there is a virtue that is left out or a vice that is done the duty of the Muslim (as an obligation) is to fix this situation and this duty never falls even if everybody else did it.
The relation between civil work and the state from the cultural experience of our nation:
The western discourse for the concept ‘civil work’ includes among other things a conflict, as explained above, between the state and the society. The major part of this conflict is the resultant of the western cultural experience in building the national state that was based on the theory of “the social contract” which, in essence, is based on an assumption that the individual gives up part of his authority to the state for the sake of everyone’s interest. This theory is totally different from the Islamic theory for the emergence of the state. In the Islamic perspective the nation is the one that gave way to the institution called ‘the state’ and beside that it gave way to many other institutes through which it can achieve its identity and singularity. So in the beginning it was “the nation”.
The nation was able to present a concept for civil work totally different from the western experience. This experience, in essence, is the ability of the state (the ruling authority) and the nation to create a common ground between them along with having separate grounds for each. The nation must revive itself, establish its effectiveness, its motion, its participation not in a way that substitutes the state or cramp it but in a way that balances it and integrates with it.
The doer is the source of both the state’s and the nation’s power alike. He is a source of power through what he can provide of institutes that enjoy administrative and financial independence. The institutes can also provide him with various services covering all the walks of life.
He is also a source of power for the state in being able to alleviate its burdens in providing these services, in managing these institutes, and monitoring them. The Islamic perspective in this respect is that the state must never step in on a duty that the Muslims (individuals or community) can accomplish.
From this respect we can see that civil work is one of the mechanisms of regulating the relation between the nation and the state within a cooperative and non-conflicting framework that does not allow the state to enlarge at the expense of the nation or to force its control with the pretext of providing public services while monopolizing the social initiatives and confiscating the voluntary efforts. On the other hand the grip of the state must never become weak; it must always be evident within the context of its functions without overstepping or interfering in the civil affairs.
In other words civil work can be a common ground between the ruling authority and the nation rather than being a conflicting ground as proposed by the ‘civil society’. This alleged conflict can weaken both of them as we see now in the Arab world. This is the danger that arises from copying a foreign cultural experience from one reality to the other without realizing the particularities and functions in the new reality.
This conflict, we must admit, surrounded the concept also in the western experience but both the state and the society were able to come out with a ‘partnership’ with the purpose of achieving the objectives of the western civilization. The ongoing perspective these days is that the strong civil society and the civil work can only be found in a strong state; so there is a direct relation between the power of the civil society and its effectiveness on one side and the effectiveness of the state on the other. It is not true that there is a reverse relation between the civil sector and the efficiency of the state. When the state is strong it will trust all the other sectors and this trust can never come except from a strong state that reached a level of confidence arising from its stable laws and institutions.
This healthy interaction, this correlation between the three sectors; governmental, private and civil sectors within a single homeland creates common institutions on the sides of all three sectors acting as the glue that holds them tightly to each other through the common interests and objectives.
Features of the civil society as depicted by the Qur’an… Yathrib as a model!
The civil society is a state that was established by Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) and later on it was called “Al-Madinah”. In this city the Qur’an was revealed as a constitution for the civil society, and then the civil society dissolved with the advent of the Caliphate in which they documented the heritage that paved the way for the theocratic religious state. We will mention here the features of the civil society as depicted by the Qur’an and how these features got lost in the heritage of the Muslims that followed later on:
The authority of the ruler: is it from the people or from Allah?
1. One of the features is that the ruler derives his political authority from the nation or the people. As for the religious state the ruler claims that he derives his authority from Allah or from the Heavens. This was a notion that prevailed over the Medieval Ages in Europe and was called “the divine right of kings”, as well as during the age of the Rightly Guided Caliphs and was called “Al-Hakimiyyah - the true rule of Allah”. We must ask ourselves here: what is the position of Islam and Muslims from this issue?
2. The Prophet (SAWS) was persecuted by his people in Makkah and one of the tricks they used with him was that they offered to let him be their ruler but he refused. They kept pushing him till he had to flee from Makkah with the rest of the Muslims and there they established a new community in Madinah. The nucleolus of this new city was the Muslims who supported the Prophet and boosted him after they were all treated in Makkah as outlaws living under the constant threat of death or assassination. So the Madinah was founded at the hands of the new Muslims, their unity around the Prophet, their belief in him and their love for him. If we imagined that they disbanded from around him and deserted him there would have been no state or rule, and the persecution and chasing he was suffering from while amidst his enemies in Quraysh would all be back again. Hence, logically, we can say that he derived his political power from those who gathered around him to support him! They could have, if they wanted to, deserted him and hence his state would have instantly collapsed. Hence, also logically, he had to be merciful and cordial with those who gathered around him, he had to treat them lovingly and he had to share with them his responsibilities since they are the source of these responsibilities. This is the only rational thing to say!
3. The Qur’an also agrees with this and urges us to use our mind and our rationale. Allah says, “We have sent down the Quran in Arabic, so that you may understand.” (TMQ, 12:2), and, “We have made it an Arabic Quran so that you may understand.” (TMQ, 43:3). This tells us that anything our conscious mind tells us will be compatible with the Qur’an. The Prophet’s manners were outstanding, he was merciful to the Muslims and this was how the Qur’an described him, “For you are truly of a sublime character." (TMQ, 68:4), and, “There has come to you a Messenger of your own. Your suffering distresses him: he is deeply concerned for your welfare and full of kindness and mercy towards the believers.” (TMQ, 9:128), and, “…he believes in Allah and puts his trust in the faithful, and is a mercy to those of you who believe…” (TMQ, 9:61). This great character and this magnanimous temperament were bestowed by Allah upon the Prophet (SAWS) who was merciful to his companions, so easy and so humble. Allah says, “It is by Allah’s grace that you were gentle with them-for if you had been harsh and hard-hearted, they would surely have deserted you…”(TMQ, 3:159), so he got this character through the grace of Allah! This verse is very clear and does not need any interpretation but it needs a lot of thinking and contemplation. We’ve been reading this verse a lot for more than 1400 years without attempting to stop at the real meaning beyond it! The apparent meaning is that if the Prophet was harsh and hard-hearted his friends would have deserted him and if they desert him he will surely have no rule, no sovereignty, no political power and no state. So the verse explicitly tells us that the Prophet (SAWS) is deriving his authority from them, from their unity around him, from their love for him and from their belief in him. For that reason Allah made him gentle with them because he if was not gentle they would just disband from around him and the whole state would have collapsed. What we see clearly is the Prophet, being the ruler, was deriving his political power from the nation because the nation is the source of his authority. This was what the human beings came to realize and implement centuries after the Qur’an got revealed. Even though Muhammad was not just any ruler but a ruling Prophet and even though his revelation came directly from Allah still none of this was an excuse for him to just claim that he was ruling by the power of God. On the contrary the very words of Allah confirm and command the Prophet (SAWS) to be gentle with his friends or else they will just desert him and his rule will be lost. The Qur’an is also commanding him to forgive them and pardon them if they erred. It commands him to consult them in his affairs and that once he is decided he can take action right away and rely fully on Allah, “It is by Allah’s grace that you were gentle with them-for if you had been harsh and hard-hearted, they would surely have deserted you-so bear with them and pray for forgiveness for them. Take counsel with them in the conduct of affairs; then, when you have decided upon a course of action, place your trust in Allah: for Allah loves those who place their trust in Him.” (TMQ, 3:159).
4. Consultation or “shura” in the Prophet’s state was the basic tenet in deriving the political power from the people.
The civil society in the western and Islamic civilizations: the cognitive differences We cannot present a single definition for the term ‘civil society’ because this term was used since the seventies of the past century particularly after the events of Poland when the Unions played an important role in triggering the political life in the face of the one-party system. Then it got spread in the Arab region only the past two decades particularly with the fall of the Soviet Union and the 2nd Gulf war. The Arab intellects started talking about this term and the role of the civil society in the democratic transformation of the Arab region. The relative delay that the term took in reaching the international and Arab regions and the start of its wide usage as a central point in many conferences and seminars about democracy, human rights, women rights, child rights, environment and poverty does not mean that the term was new for the Arab and international intellects, philosophers and sociologists.
Evolution of the concept “civil” in the modern west:
The term ‘civil’ or ‘civilité” occupied a prominent position in the political and social writings ever since the Greek and Latin origins going by the European Renaissance in the 18th century, the national and democratic uprisings in the 19th century and ending by the later writings which were produced in the 20thcentury and which were profuse of two focal themes; first, confronting the Nazi, Fascist and Totalitarian trends that dominated the state in Europe. Second, developing the Western democracy to overcome the crisis of the Western society through “Critiquing Modernity” to resolve the crises of the latter and to expand democracy and its implications!
This term, its idiomatic etymology and using it as an adjective for policy, the society, authority, programs and activities was different from one stage to the other and from one thinker to the other. In all cases, however, it reflected interim needs connected to the development of the society at a given time and was linked to the formulation of a suitable concept for this development in this moment in history. At the beginning of the emergence of the modern Western thought and taking John Locke as an example for this emergence we see that he used this term widely in his writings and particularly his renowned work “On Toleration” were he used this term to describe the ruler, the government, the boons but not the society.
This conceptual use was important at that time (in 1689) to differentiate between two entangled powers whose intertwining led to many religious and intolerance waves witnessed by the European communities; the civil authority and the religious authority. John Locke tells us in his book “On Toleration” in 1689 that the state seems to be formed of a group of people united with one sole purpose which is to preserve their civil benefits and develop them. Civil benefits here means; life, freedom, sound bodies, protection against pain, owning wealth (lands, money and possessions). The main duty of the civil ruler is to protect the people (each and every one of them) using the laws that are imposed on everyone alike to preserve their selves and their lives.
We can summarize the main points as follows:
- The distinction between the task of the civil government and the task of religious authority.
- Caring for the soul of every human being is his duty alone and cannot be entrusted to any civil or religious authority.
- Recourse of the clergy to civil authority in matters of religion reveals their ambitions to practice control.
- Everyone has a supreme and absolute authority to rule for himself in matters of religion.
- Freedom of conscience is a natural right of every human being.
Based on this Locke regarded the church and the religious group (or even any civilian group) as a voluntary group. He goes on saying that if each group, no matter what, is free and no matter what the purpose beyond its formation; a scientific group, a philosophical group, a group of traders, a group of people gathered to grain more knowledge. It is necessary that every group has its laws which govern the meeting times of its members, the locations, the terms of membership, how the members meet and organize their work… etc. If this group is a voluntary one, as explained above, then this group has the right to put its own laws.
He speaks here about the independence of the local church and its right to put its own internal laws to differentiate it from the central Papal authority. This right includes all voluntary groups in the society and it is their civil right. Locke did not talk here about the civil society using the concept which was known at the late 20th century especially in one of its central institutions (the NGOs) but his thoughts established the terms that formed this concept in the European history.
The first of these terms was separating the civil from the religious authorities so accentuating the ‘civil’ character meant, from the historical context in which it was written, the following meanings and stands:
- The call to end the state of political bullying through religion and ending the bullying of the clergy through the political ruler. This separation gives more space for civil life.
- This space will ensure a state of ‘tolerance’ between the individuals and the groups so they can live peacefully in one community.
This was the starting point for establishing an idea and a reality that will develop later in Europe and in the west generally.
The age of enlightenment arrived, particularly through its French thinkers, to produce rich waves of thoughts that boosted the civilian character of the civil rule and how it was practiced based on the principle of ‘rule of the people’, the principle of ‘representation through voting’, the principle of ‘separation of powers’, and the principle of ‘the social contract between the state and the society’. These thoughts spread in depth and breadth over a number of great thinkers like Voltaire, Rousseau and Manistique; then they finally combined and crystallized two basic principles as expressed in the Declaration of American Independence signed in 1776 and the declaration of human rights issued in 1789. These two principles were combined under one title: citizenship and democracy.
I do not have the space here to expand these ideas but I can say that the idea of civil society as a cultural, social, economic and even political mechanism was crystallized in the context of achieving these twin conditions :freedom of the citizen and his right to have a democratic state caring for his rights and duties according to a constitution and laws derived from the will of the people who form the political society.
In these circumstances of plural ideas and their struggle the idea of the civil society flourished in contrast with the state and its institutions. Still there was no clear definition given but its terms were rather used sometimes to indicate the political society, its activities, the public opinion of the society, or a group of associations and unions, or a certain dynamic latent within the society, or the general will as represented in a set of individual wills searching for the general good. Some of those who researched this topic see that what Alexi De Tocqueville wrote after his visit to the USA and after experiencing the American society so closely, as one of the very early contributions that help in identifying the “goodness” represented by the civil society in its vitality and in the behavior of the American citizen. Tocqueville describes in his book “Democracy in America” the American citizens as they unite to do something useful away from any governmental, parliamentary, or political interference. He sees this as a remarkable phenomenon he never witnessed in any other European democracy particularly the French society. In case of the French society the role of the state and its institutions and personalities dominates whereas in case of the USA they have various types of associations he never knew existed. He expresses his utter admiration for this infinite art that aided the American citizens to set a common goal that can combine the biggest number of efforts around it and that can achieve its purpose and success so easily that way. Tocqueville counts thousands of projects that are implemented by these free and independent associations: schools, hospitals, organization, feasts and holidays… etc. He calls this form of art a new science namely: Building Associations. He also calls the European democracies particularly the French to learn the rules of this science because this is how all the other sciences can advance themselves, practice real democracy and achieve the civility of the people.
After that it seems that the American phenomenon that got the attention of Tocqueville in the 19th century subsided and got subdued by a type of thinking that was pulled between two conflicting forces: the state on the one side and the private sector on the other. These conflicting forces are profuse of many opposites; the individual versus the state, the public sector versus the private sector, the administrative bureaucracy versus the free markets’ movement.
Advocates and supporters of the civil society find in these opposites a whole new dimension for the societies, even the democratic societies. These societies must restore the third dimension of democracy; the civil dimension. This dimension falls between the governmental field and the private sector field. Under this dimension we neither vote nor trade! We only meet to discuss ideas and find the best means for achieving our cultural, social and charitable project for our neighborhood, our school and for the needy. We do all this through voluntary efforts that are not after any profit, any political exclusivity or gaining any kind of legitimacy.
There is still a controversy about the idea of civil society and the size of the space occupied by the activities of the Arab citizens and societies, and how far this controversy converges with the political and economic worlds and the scope of the state and its roles on one side, as well as the scope of the associations which we call NGOs on the other. The question that will always be a big problem is: Can we use the concept of the ‘society’ with this meaning in the field of Islamic associations and their history? Can we see any independence for the Muslim society at the era of the Sultanate justice? If so then in what way did this independence express itself?
Events of the Islamic city: handicrafts, markets and alleys
With the emergence of the Islamic state and its expansion through the conquests, the building of its structure and bodies throughout the first 3 centuries, and within the expansions of trade and exchange relations through the conventional channels and between the circles of the Islamic world with heritages oriented to the ancient civilizations; Greek-Byzantine, Eastern-Arabic, Persian-Indian, the Islamic city got established basically as a trade station with patterns of construction and population, patterns of organization and exchange relations in the markets and alleys. The city sprawled in circles and unit lines of production, trade, handicrafts, and domiciles around the mosques. The mosque was always a focal point through which the diverging alleys connected with each other.
This type of organization is still evident till the present day as we can see the features of the ancient forms of cities in the old markets of some Arab and Islamic cities like Cairo, Fes and Baghdad. It carried a social dynamic that expressed itself in the balance between the governmental interference (the Sultan) as represented by the governor, the judge, the market inspector and the head of police, and between the social and civil needs as expressed through inventing forms of organizations and institutions that are work in parallel to the institutions of the state. The civil activity that got basically focused in the trade and handicraft productions was clearly evident in the “types” which took the form of solid social hierarchies. Each form expressed a craft and it is noted that the “type” called by some the “class” used a Sufi hierarchy starting with the novice ‘murid’, to the manufacturer, the teacher, the craft-leader, to the market leader… etc. Between each class and the other we find customs, rituals, ethics and techniques that reflect the disparity between each class and the other according to the secrets of each profession; almost giving it a halo of spiritual sanctity.
This helped in producing cohesion within the organization, which helped with the coherence in dealing with the outside world. This cohesive hierarchy preserved the techniques of the trade and the quality of the good. Through this organization the prices were regulated, the independent shops were opened and the crafts were preserved against any interference from other crafts or even from the state itself. Historians studying the Abbasid era noted that each trade settled its own customs and rules and these customs were accepted by the judges and the market supervisors when settling any vocational disputes.
Once we move on to the Ottoman era we will find a continuity of the same craft organizations in the Arab and Islamic cities. We will find a documented historical context that gives us a historical reading for the role of these organizations in the society and the state.
Through studying the craft and trade communities of Huma in the 16th century, through the registers of the legal court, we will be able to deduce that the market leader (Sheikh) of Huma was a craft-professional in all the trades; or the leader of the traders. He would be appointed by the consensus of the traders; he must have good manners and must be religious. He must also be up to this role and all the traders must choose him and agree on him. The judge and the Sultan must also approve the choice. His job description included; supervising all the classes of the trades and their professionals. He must act as the link between the governor and the judge on one side and between all the classes of trades on the other. No change can be implemented except with his approval. All the craft-professionals must be appointed in his presence and he must recommend and approve them.
The authority of the Sheikh would include managing the affairs of the craftsmen, caring for their problems, supervising their agreements, registering those agreements with the judge. He was also responsible for filing complaints of one craft over the other directly to the judge who would communicate with them also through him.
These intermediary tasks were never devoid of the authority exercised by the Sheikh using his strict organizational relations with the craftsmen. These relations worked on many levels; technical, religious and family-wise. On the technical and organizational level he would subject the study of the craft to an extremely meticulous hierarchy as we said earlier; the novice, the manufacturer, the teacher… etc. He was also entitled to attract “shad” the crafty novices so they would become professionals or teachers. The promotional shad event (the party) which is attended by the craft professionals, the Chief and the Police as well as the craftsmen summarizes the scene of this hierarchy and its significance as described by one of those who attended this event by the end of the 19th century in one of his researches. The religious feature can be clearly seen in how they stress reading the first chapter of the Qur’an “Al-Fatiha”, on the religions songs, on the whole atmosphere of piety and devoutness of the one to whom the party is held and the attendants. All of these features accentuate things like; the vow, the covenant, the brotherhood and the oath which is taken by the novice in front of his teachers while the chief reads “Al-Fatiha” over their heads in a very spiritual scene that includes (according to the known customs) a constitution or a charter that the novice must abide by including; conformity, no cheating, fair prices, solidarity with the other craftsmen… etc. From here the term “constitution – dustur” evolved and it caught the attention of the Orientalist Louis Massignon when he was analyzing the term “dustur” in the year 1908 after the Ottoman constitutional coup at that time. He said that when the people were shouting the word “dustur” they were actually invoking the term “charter” which is based on a religious vow.
Whatever it might be, the only thing we care to iterate her is this socio-political aspect as seen in the hierarchy presented above; in theory and as practiced in the domain of the civil authority in the Arab history. We can see here how the Sufi ways converged with the craftsmanship in a social movement that occurs far from the ruling authority; even when this latter authority coordinates with it, regulates it and even tries to infiltrate it at instances. The specialized study of history also tells us that craftsmen embarked on the public social movements partially ever since movements like Al-Ayyarin, Al-Shuttar, and Futtua started in the Abbasid era. This gave way to the “bouncers” which were found in every alley and persisted till not so far from our present days. We need to point out that this social movement, whether it coordinated with the authorities or whether it objected on some or all of the public movements; in all cases they presented totally independent social entities. The two Orientalists Gibb and Boone say that the association used to serve several purposes. It provided means that enabled the lesser citizens to express their social instincts and be assured of their status in the social system. It provided a space for them to practice their citizenship; even though they were rarely called to play a role in the foreign political life, but still they were safe from the interferences of the political rulers in their private lives. They all respected the independence of the associations and their customary ways.
Endowment and the social and scientific services:
Going through the various and diverse legal texts in Islamic economy and the solidarity-oriented society we will find an enormous amount of interpretive judgments, recommendations and rulings about the issue of “charity” and the various channels for spending it in good deeds and for the benefit of the society. The first among these channels is zakat and waqf.
Undoubtedly there’s a big difference between the text (or the theory) and the historical reality but the experience we get from Islamic history proves that the irregularities committed by the people of the state or their beneficiaries were only done to accommodate other aspects of the society. The amount of variance between the text and the reality differed according to the stages, the rulers, the youthfulness of the state and the society or their flabbiness. In all cases some constants remained intact since the founding of the nucleus “the state” at Madinah and up until the Ottoman era. This proves that the Arab society is able, under the unity of Islam, to produce institutions for the general benefit and social services such as; medical care, education, caring for the orphans and handicapped, hospitals, public houses and restaurants… etc. All of these services were based on initiative and abidance to the obligation of charity through the state and the rich taxpayers alike. Waqf was one of the resources of these services and an institutional framework in it. Jurists see waqf as a permanent non-obligatory charity that can be achieved through entailing an estate and endowing its benefit for public benefit. The source upon which waqf is based is driven from the Prophet’s narration, “When the son of Adam dies his deeds are ceased except for three: an ongoing charity, beneficial knowledge, or a good son who calls Allah for him.” The ongoing charity was interpreted by some scholars as the waqf.
It includes many aspects of goodness and charity for the society because it includes the mosques, the shops, the lands, the schools, the hospitals, the cemeteries, the loans, the endowment of houses for the poor, the public restaurants where the poor people can eat for free (like the Teqia of Sultan Selim and the Teqia of Sheikh Muhei El-Din in Damascus). Also endowing the water wells for watering the travelers, the plants and the cattle, endowing the buildings and agricultural lands for spending on the soldiers, or (in case the state is unable to) fixing the bridges and water utilities. Many of the endowments were dedicated to the foundlings, the orphans, the incapacitated, the blind and the lepers. It also included facilitating marriages for the poor couples who are unable to provide the costs of their marriages or dowries. It included providing milk and sugar to the point that Salah Al-Din provided a spout for pouring milk from one of the gates of the castle in Damascus and another one for water with dissolved sugar. The mothers used to come every week to get their children’s requirement of sugar and milk.
We can easily say that most of the schools that were founded in the 4th century of Hijra (the period which Adam Metz describes as the Islamic Renaissance), as well as the hospitals and schools which were founded in the Seljuk Era and during the Zangi era and the Ayyubid era were all established on the endowments of the waqf system.
Also, hundreds of social and religious institutions like the mosques, schools and hospitals in the Levant, even before the Ottoman era, were established and continued through the support provided by the waqf institutions.