Commanding good and forbidding evil. This phrase, repeated constantly in the Quran, is the foundation for the moral society that the Quran says humans are destined to create. What are the characteristics of such a society? According to Fazlur Rahman, a society that commands good and forbids evil has many key characteristics, including: justice, a legal framework, and the promotion of active goodness.
A Just Society
For a society to be moral, it must also be just. One of the most basic ways to do this is create a society where people have equal rights and opportunities.
In the Quran, economic and social inequalities are sharply condemned. Wealth, although not a bad thing in itself, shouldn’t be hoarded by the rich – in fact, the Quran says that the poor and the needy actually have a right in the money of the rich. In order to protect society from economic inequality, usury was forbidden and zakat (a 2% tax meant to redistribute money to the state and the poor) was established. In addition, unjust social practices, like female infanticide and slavery, were either outlawed or began to be restricted in the Prophet’s time.
In reading the Quran, Islamic scholars and jurists stated that there were four rights that had to be protected in a society that commanded good and forbid evil: life, religion, property, and dignity. However, these rights also came with responsibilities – claiming rights without fulfilling responsibilities would lead to social decay and eventual corruption.
A Legal Society
In order for a society to function, it needs laws. The Quran’s views on creating laws is focused on principles. Whenever the Quran set down a law, it also explained (whether directly or indirectly) the reasoning behind that law, describing the principle that law was supposed to achieve. The principle is what matters, and the law set down by the Quran only stands as long as it establishes that principle. If at a later point in time the law set in the Quran no longer establishes the principle it was revealed to establish, then the law must be changed.
I love this concept because it shows how dynamic Islamic law is. It isn’t stuck in the past – in reality, it should always be changing to accommodate the new problems and issues society is facing. Of course, there are certain aspects of Islamic law relating to purely religious issues that don’t change. But the majority of Islamic law deals with societal issues – and the laws governing these issues should be always open towards revision.
It’s sad to see that many traditional Muslim scholars didn’t stick to the principles of the Quran’s laws, and instead stuck to the laws themselves. This made Islamic laws static, and unable to respond to the new needs of society. I hope we can see that changing in the future.
An Actively Good Society
According to the Quran, societies rise and fall according to morality. A society rises when it’s people are driven to doing good, and falls when people become corrupted by wealth and power.
How to prevent the fall of a society, and keep it just, moral, and prosperous? By taking the concept of taqwa (consciousness of God and our actions) to the social level. People in society shouldn’t just be good within themselves. They have to spread good and actively work to “prevent the rot” of society. There is little separation between the individual and society in the Quran, as neither can survive without the other. So when a person is good, they should spread that goodness in society. If that person doesn’t do so, and watches evil influence society without intervening in some way, that person is not considered “good.” According to the Quran, being good means spreading goodness to others.
That’s all for this post. More coming soon!