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Social Justice The Nahdah (renaissance; rebirth), which began in the latter part of the nineteenth century; is a vast intellectual, cultural, religious, and political movement that sought to translate the main principles of Western progress into an Arab and Muslim environment, and as a result, it stood against the degeneration of Islam while attempting to rescue the achievements of classical Islamic civilization from centuries of decline and oblivion. The main representatives of the Nahdah movement in the Arab world, such as Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, Rifa`ah Rafi` al-Tahtawi, Muhammad Al-Saffar, Muhammad `Abduh, Qasim Amln, and others, discussed the need of their societies to overcome decadence and stagnation and find answers to the increasing Western challenge, in both its technical and intellectual aspects. One such challenge was the necessity of attaining a new Muslim social and political order that would put an end to poverty and helplessness in Muslim societies. In many ways, one must see the issue of social justice in nineteenth century Muslim thought as a product of two interchangeable factors: prevailing backward social and economic conditions that did not attract the serious attention of the traditional `ulama’ class, and Western domination that neglected to ameliorate the social conditions of the dominated people as a whole. Nahdah thinkers criticized these two factors. For instance, alAfghani’s critique of the Indian (Muslim) `ulama’ summarizes the position of the Nahdah thinkers on the social question in the Muslim world at the time: Why do you not raise your eyes from those defective books and why do you not cast your glance on this wide world? . . . Yet you spend no thought on this question of great importance, incumbent on every intelligent man, which is: What is the cause of poverty, indigence, helplessness, and distress of the Muslims, and is there a cure for this important phenomenon and great misfortune or not? (Nikki R. Keddie, An Islamic Response to Imperialism: Political and Religious Writings of Sayyid Jamal ad Din al Afghani, Berkeley, 1983, p. 64.) Social justice was closely bound with a host of religious, political, and educational issues and questions facing the Arab and Muslim world of the nineteenth century. Nevertheless, because of the existing political conditions, that is, the hegemony of colonialism, the Nahdah movement “did not manage to formulate a coherent and efficacious program of social transformations, as would have been necessary to resist the imperialist aggression” (Samir Amin, The Arab World: Nationalism and Class Struggle, London, 1983, p. 33). The failure of the Nahdah movement in attaining its immediate social and political goals, as a result of the formidable challenge of colonialism, placed the issue of social justice at the forefront of Muslim debate in the twentieth century. In twentieth-century Islamic thought, the issue of social justice became more sharply defined, especially with the influx of a large number of peasants from the countryside to the urban areas of the Muslim world. This migration created social and demographic tensions that, to a large extent, gave religion, that is, Islam, a definite ideological and political role in society (see Joel Beinin, “Islamic Response to the Capitalist Penetration of the Middle East,” in The Islamic Impulse, edited by Barbara F. Stowasser, Washington, D.C., 1987, pp. 87-105). The foundation by Hasan al-Band’ of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in 1928, and its spread to the rest of the Arab world soon after, was a reflection of an endemic social crisis in Egyptian and Arab societies. The Muslim Brotherhood has always thought of itself as an organizational and religious response to the plight of the poor and downtrodden in society. In order to analyze the position of Islamic resurgence on the issue of social justice, one must distinguish between three broad phases of resurgence: resurgence as a reaction to imperialism and colonialism; resurgence as a reaction to the emerging nation-state, especially in the 1950s and 1960s’ and resurgence as a reaction to the contemporary situation. This last phase is exemplified by the lack of political unity in the Arab world; the rise of the Persian Gulf states and petrodollar diplomacy as two major political and economic factors in the area; and increasing social gaps in a number of Arab countries, mainly in Egypt, Sudan, Lebanon, and Algeria (see John L. Esposito, The Islamic Threat. Myth or Reality, New York, 1992, especially chaps. 3, 4, and 5). In the first stage, Islamic resurgence reacted to issues of social justice in the context of imperialism. This warrants us to consider resurgence as a modern phenomenon that uses Islamic concepts and motifs in order to respond to a formidable modern situation. As “a psychosocial phenomenon taking form under European domination and in direct reaction to it” (Hisham Sharabi, Neopatriarchy: A Theory of Distorted Change in Arab Society, New York, 1988, p. 64), the Islamic resurgence produced a number of outstanding thinkers, such as Hasan al-Banna’, Muhammad al-Ghazali, `Abd alQadir `Awdah, and Sayyid Qutb, who carried the banner of social justice both in writings and through activism. Hasan al-Banna’ used the mosque as a medium to spread his social and economic message. His perception of the mosque as a dynamic domain for the propagation of Islam and the preparation of an active Muslim group developed in the social context of the early days of the Muslim Brotherhood. At the time, the Muslim Brotherhood attracted the poor and the uneducated, “The first Muslim Brethren were humble Egyptians: the lowliest workers, the poor peasants, impoverished students-the undernourished and the underprivileged of all classes” (Christina Harris, Nationalism and Revolution in Egypt. The Role of the Muslim Brotherhood, The Hague, 1964, p. 157). Therefore, the mosque, as a sacred place, and as a place that gives emotional comfort and security to the poor, was the ideal medium for the preaching and transmission of the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideas. AlBanna’, according to a contemporary theorist, was aware of the total dependency of the Third World in general, and the Muslim world in particular, on the West. He understood that “Islam, far from being a philosophical doctrine or cultural trend, was a social movement aiming at social improvement in all aspects of life. In other words, it was necessary [in al-Banna’s view] to formulate an Islamic ideology, i.e., a holistic Islamic theory capable of putting forth a cure for prevailing social conditions” (`Abd Allah al-Nafisi, Al-Ikhwdn alMuslimun, al-tajribah wa-al-khata’: Awraq ft al-naqd aldhati [The Muslim Brothers, Trial and Error: Readings in Self-Criticism], Cairo, 1989, p. 12). This phase of Muslim reaction also witnessed a major controversy around issues of religion and social justice between the Islamist camp, represented by Muhammad al-Ghazali, and the liberal camp, represented by Khalid Muhammad Khalid. This controversy, to be sure, was reminiscent of two previous cases in Egyptian intellectual life represented by two liberal thinkers, Taha Husayn and `Ali `Abd al-Raziq (see Leonard Binder, Islamic Liberalism: A Critique of Development Ideologies, Chicago, 1988). In From Here We Start, Khalid maintains that one major reason behind the deteriorating social and economic conditions in Egypt at the time (late 1940s), besides Western hegemony, was the existence of a Muslim priesthood “pregnant with pernicious doctrines and deadly principles” (translated by Isma`il R. al-Faruqi, Washington, D.C., 1953, p. 32). According to Khalid, the sole aim of this class has been to exploit people’s spirituality and devotion to religion, while maintaining its social prestige. It also: commingled its interests with religious doctrine itself, thereby completing the desecration of religion. . . . Later on, the priesthood, with consistency and with perseverance, went about envenoming everything with its deadly poison, consecrating economic and social reactionism and preaching eloquently the virtues and excellence of poverty, ignorance and disease (Ibid., p. 32). In Khalid’s view, then, the type of truth represented by the priestly class is “a form of mental and religious terrorism” (I borrow this statement from Pauline M. Rosenau, Post Modernism and the Social Sciences: Insights, Inroads, and Intrusions, Princeton, 1992, p. 78). As a liberal thinker who believes that social justice can be only achieved in the context of state-religion separation, Khalid also criticizes the Muslim Brotherhood’s doctrine of religion-society and religion-state compatibility. He notes that any “priestly class,” ancient or modern, `ulama’-oriented or Muslim Brotherhoodoriented, is the embodiment of social injustice and exploitation of the poor. This class, “the fastest runner after booty, wealth, and pride,” (Khalid, op. cit., p. 33) promotes superstitions instead of rationalism and poverty instead of wealth. Khalid draws the conclusion that any meddling of religion in the affairs of society is apt to “annihilate the personality of the nation, to drag the whole people down into an abyss of servility and subjection, and to breed an instinct of following” (Ibid., p. 36). [See the biography of Khalid.] Muhammad al-Ghazali, a leading Muslim Brotherhood thinker, also held the view that some of the `ulama’ he knew acted just like parasites sucking the blood of the poor (Muhammad al-Ghazali, Al-Islam almuftard `alayhi bayna al-Shuyu’iyin wa-al-ra’smdhyin, Cairo, 1952, p. 27). However, he bases his critique of these `ulama’ on different conceptual principles than does Khalid. He argues that a new generation of Muslims must come into being, mainly because: The men who now lead the defense of Islam are, without exception, bringing shame to themselves and their cause. . . . The service of God and Mammon cannot be combined; nor can the duty of jihad be compatible with the pursuit of pleasure and comfort. It requires a really deranged mind to bring these opposites together in any system of human life. Such must be the minds of those Azharites who grow fat while Islam grows thin, and repose in comfort while [Muslims] suffer in anguish. These deceivers have devised devilish means for escaping the genuine duties of Islam. They are more crafty and sly than those hashish smugglers who escape justice and the police. On one hand, we have a group of men satisfied merely with the performance of personal worship. When they are asked to take care of the public, or observe the social duties of Islam, they answer despondently, `politics is not our business.’ . . . On the other hand, we have a group that fights sectarianism and worship of the dead, yet its members profess to belong to Muhammad bin Abd al-Wahab. They silently worship the living and sheepishly submit to the tyrants and despots of their “Wahabi” [Saudia Arabia] land. . . . We have seen many leaders of al-Azhar who did not leave their office chairs until their pockets bulged with riches, though they claimed to be the “spiritual continuation” of the legacy of Muhammad `Abduh and Jamal al-Din. (Our Beginning in Wisdom, translated by Isma’il R. al-Faruqi, Washington, D.C., 1953, pp. 69-70.) Muhammad al-Ghazali paved the way in his 1940s writings, especially in Al-Islam wa-al-awda’ al-igtisadiyah (Islam and Our Economic Conditions, Cairo, 1942), AlIslam wa-al-istibdad al-siyasi (Islam and Political Dictatorship, Cairo, n.d.), and Al-isti’mar: Ahqad wa-atma’ (Imperialism: Hatred and Greed, Cairo, n.d.), to the emergence of Sayyid Qutb (19o6-1966), whose thought on social justice reflects the transitional phase in Egypt’s life from colonialism to national independence in the 1950s. [See the biography of Ghazali.] In 1948, Sayyid Qutb wrote a major work that has shaped the thought of many Islamists on social and economic issues (see Sayyid Qutb, Social justice in Islam, translated by John Hardie, Washington, D.C., 1953). One must view Qutb’s Social Justice in Islam as a critical comment on the social, economic, cultural, and educational conditions and policies of the Egpytian state in the interwar period. In this book, Qutb lays down the theoretical framework of proper conduct in social, legal, and political affairs. Nothwitstanding his normative analysis and his idealistic solutions, Qutb’s main goal is to dissect the socioeconomic and political problems in the fight of what he perceives as “genuine Islam.” In a sense, he takes it for granted that there is a widespread malaise in Egyptian society, and he offers the “true” Islamic solution to remedy this situation. Qutb’s arguments reflect the thoughts of a complex man in transition, as well as a complex situation in flux. Furthermore, Qutb’s arguments underlie the foundations of many theoretical arguments in the Muslim Brotherhood movement and its different offshoots in the 1960s and 1970s. No doubt it is a major work with a significant influence on a generation of Arab and Muslim intelligentsia in the post-World War II period. Qutb points out that the past independence of Islam as a socioreligious and political system stands in sharp contrast to its present manifestations. In other words, he argues that the current secular state’s monopoly over religion must be dismantled. One way of doing that is to attack the privileges of the religious hierarchy that, to his mind, was always linked with the state. Qutb contends that the `ulama’, as the established Muslim clergy, have robbed the poor of their social prestige and economic growth. Islamic history has known `ulama’, who have exploited religion for their worldly benefits and have kept the workers and lower classes drugged by means of religion (Ibid., p. 16). Qutb’s argument is that the Islamic notion of social justice is all embracing; it takes account of the material as well as the spiritual dimensions of man’s well-being. Qutb enumerates the following principles as the foundations of the Islamic theory of social justice: absolute freedom of conscience; complete equality of all men; and the permanent mutual responsibility of society. The individual is the supreme example of social justice. The individual, according to Qutb, has to place his trust in Divine and not human authority. To him, divine authority in indivisible. Therefore, man has nothing to fear is this life; he should not allow anxiety to run his life; neither should he be sacred of transient matters in life. Yet, in spite of all this encouragement, Qutb draws our attention to an important aspect in man’s life: the material need for food and shelter. He says that “the empty belly cannot appreciate high-sounding phrases. Or else he is compelled to ask for charity, and all his self-esteem leaves him lost, forever” (Ibid., p. 19). Therefore, the main conclusion Qutb reaches is that social justice cannot prevail in a society if the material foundations of society are not sound and if the minority exploits the majority. One way then of insuring the material well-being of the members of society is through mutual responsibility. The individual must care about the community, which should, in turn, be responsible for feeding the poor and destitute members. That is why, maintains Qutb, Islam has instituted the zakat as an individual as well as a social responsibility in order to combat poverty. Although Islam, according to Qutb, respects the individual’s property, justice is not always concerned to serve the interests of the individual. The individual is in a way a steward of property on behalf of society. And therefore, property in the widest sense is a right which can belong only to society, which in turn receives it as a trust from God who is the only true owner of anything. Thus, although the individual has the right to possess property, the community’s interest is supreme. Communal property is a distinguishing mark of Islam, and therefore communal wealth “cannot be restricted to individuals, a wealth of which the Messenger enumerated three aspects, water, herbage, and fire” (Ibid., p. 1o9). One honest way of gaining money is through work. Therefore, Islam, according to Qutb, is against monopoly, usury, corruption, wastefulness, and dishonest commercial practices. Above all Islam stands against luxury-loving people. Luxury is both an individual as well as a social disease. In his search for a historical foundation of what he calls “the true spirit of Islam,” Qutb finds that Abu Dharr, a companion of the Prophet, was the true embodiment of this spirit. Abu Dharr was unpopular with the corrupt rulers, and any person emulating his example at present will find the same treatment from “the present-day exponents of exploitation.” According to Qutb, Abu Dharr stood against the system of preferential treatment instituted by the third caliph, Uthman, and he was for a complete system of justice like the one instituted by ‘Ali. When Mu’awiyah came to power, he used public money for bribes and gifts, buying the allegiance of others. Also the Umayyad rulers, in his view, did not distinguish between their private funds and public money. In short, social and political corruption is an old story. Qutb traces it all the way down to the early Islamic state. The deviation from the Islamic ideal begins early on. Qutb, in a sense, considers present history to be the culmination of all that complexity beginning with early Islam. Present Muslim history is unfaithful to its origins. The pious have always been the steadfast few, from Abu Dharr in the first century of Islam to Qutb in the present century. Is most Muslim history, then, just a story of deviation from and betrayal of the ideal? What about the creative tension throughout Islamic history? Social Justice in Islam by Sayyid Qutb contains the theoretical principles and foundations of the Muslim Brotherhood’s social thought. Qutb’s line of analysis, although grounded in idealistic solutions, dispels the notion of social and human harmony in Egyptian society. It is a society torn apart between feudalists and exploiters, including the professional men of religion, on the one hand, and foreign imperialists, on the other. A radical criticism of this state of affairs, therefore, necessitates the criticism of two parallel, but equally hegemonic mentalities and forces, one indigenous and the other foreign. In the postindependence phase of the history of the Arab world, social justice was expressed in a variety of ways: Islam and socialism; Islam and nationalism; Islam and the emergence of the Persian Gulf states, and Islam and al-takdful al-ijtima’i (social solidarity) (see Sami A. Hanna, “Al-takaful al-Ijtima’i and Islamic Socialism,” The Muslim World 59.3-4. [July-October 1969]: 275286). For example, according to the Syrian Mustafa alSiba’i, writing in the late 1950s, Islam and socialism are compatible, and Islamic socialism as an actual movement after independence rests on five main principles: the right to live; the right to liberty; the right to knowledge; the right to dignity, and the right to property (alSiba’i, “Islamic Socialism,” in Political and Social Thought in the Contemporary Middle East, edited by Kemal Karpat, New York, 1968, pp. 123-24). On the other hand, Mahmud Shaltut, a former rector of alAzhar University under the rule of Nasser, believes social justice could be achieved in the context of the secular nation-state: “Whoever holds authority in the Muslim community and influences its interests must therefore take steps to see to it that the nation draws the greatest profit possible from agriculture, commerce, and industry by coordinating the three sectors of activity” (Shaltut, “Socialism and Islam,” in Ibid., p. 131). [See the biographies of Siba’i and Shaltut. ] Also, this phase witnessed the active participation of a number of Arab Shi’i thinkers in formulating social issues based on their vision of social justice. One must mention two important thinkers in this regard: Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr of Iraq and Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah of Lebanon. Al-Sadr wrote a major work entitled Iqtisadund (Our Economics) in which he proposes that the conceptual roots of both capitalism and socialism are incompatible with Islam and that Islam provides a unique economic system that, if applied correctly, could meet the demands of the modern age. Likewise, Fadlallah identifies with the downtrodden, especially in Lebanese society, and he, following in the footsteps of liberation theology, links the issue of social justice with the empowerment of the poor and the weak. In his AlIslam wa-mantiq al-quwah, Fadlallah argues that in order to achieve social justice in society, the poor must rise against their oppressive conditions. [See the biographies of Sadr and Fadlallah.] Social justice has proven to be a pivotal issue in modern Islamic thought, at least in the Arab world. Any increase in social and economic gaps in Arab society is not likely to push the issue to the side. [See also Modernism.] BIBLIOGRAPHY Abu-Rabi`, Ibrahim, ed. Islamic Resurgence: Challenges, Directions and Future Perspectives. Tampa, 1994. `Awdah, `Abd al-Qadir. Islam Between Ignorant Followers and Incapable Scholars. Riyadh, 1991. Aziz, T. M., “The Role of Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr in Shi’i Political Activism in Iraq from 1958 to 1980.” International Journal of Middle East Studies 25.2 (May 1993): 207-222. `Azm, Sadiq Jalal al-. Naqd al -fikr al-dini (Criticism of Religious Thinking). Beirut, 1969. Bennabi, Malek. Islam in History and Society. Islamabad, 1988. Carre, Olivier. Mystique et politique: lectur revolutionnaire du Coran par Sayyid Qutb, frere musulman radical. Paris, 1984. Donohue, John J., and John L. Esposito, eds., Islam in Transition: Muslim Perspectives. New York, 1982. Ennaifer, Hamida. “La pensee sociale dans les ecrits musulmans modernes” IBLA: Revue de L’Institut des Belles Lettres Arabes 50.2 (1987) 223-253. Fadlallah, Muhammad Husayn. Al-Islam wa mantiq al-quwah (Islam and the Logic of Power). Beirut, 1987. Freire, Paul. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York, 1988. Hanna, Sami A. “Islam, Socialism, and National Trials.” The Muslim World, 58.4 (October 1968): 284-294. Hanna, Sami A., and George M. Gardner, Arab Socialism: A Documentary Survey. Leiden, 1969. Hourani, Albert. Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, 1798-1939. Cambridge, 1983. Karpat, Kemal H. Political and Social Thought in the Contemporary Middle East. New York, 1968. Mallat, Chibli. The Renewal of Islamic Law: Muhammad Baqer AsSadr, Najaf and the Shi’i International. Cambridge, 1993 Saffar, Muhammad al-. Disorienting Encounters, Travels of a Moroccan Scholar in France in 1845-1846: The Voyage of Muhammad AsSaffar. Translated and edited by Susan Gilson Miller. Berkeley, 1992. Sharl’ati, `Alt. On the Sociology of Islam. Berkeley, 1979. Zebiri, Kate. Mahmud Shaltut and Islamic Modernism. Oxford, 1994 IBRAHIM M. ABU-RABI`

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Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/social-justice/

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