Islamic Sociology – Introduction
Khurshid Ahmad delivers an interesting view of Islamic sociology, “Humanity is one single family of God and there can be no sanction for . . . barriers. Men are one—and not bourgeois or proletarian, white or black, Aryan or non-Aryan, Westerner or Easterner. Islam gives a revolutionary concept of the unity of mankind.”1
The structures and features of society are central to the Islamic worldview. Much is said about the relationship of the individual to the society as well as the relationships of men and women, husbands and wives, and so forth. Like Christianity, the family, worship of God, and the state are central to Islamic teachings, yet there are substantial differences between the two worldviews in each area. Thus the Muslim view of sociology is summarized as revolving around the polygamous family, the mosque, and the state.
Islamic Sociology – Individual and Society
A core principle of Islamic sociology is that Islam provides a perfect harmony between the individual and society, holding both in concert with each other. “Another unique feature of Islam is that it establishes a balance between individualism and collectivism. It believes in the individual personality of man and holds everyone personally accountable to God. It guarantees the fundamental rights of the individual and does not permit any one to tamper with them. It makes the proper development of the personality of man one of the prime objectives of its educational policy. It does not subscribe to the view that man must lose his individuality in society or in the state. . . . On the other hand, it also awakens a sense of social responsibility in man, organizes human beings in a society and a state and enjoins the individual to subscribe to the social good.”2
Islamic Sociology – Men and Women
The Qur’an affirms that the human race originated from Adam: “O mankind! Reverence your Guardian-Lord, Who created you from a single Person, created, of like nature, his mate, and from them twain scattered (like seeds) countless men and women...”
The Qur’an also declares that men and women are spiritual equals before God (33:35): “For Muslim men and women, for believing men and women, for devout men and women, for true men and women, for men and women who are patient and constant, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and women who give in charity, for men and women who fast (and deny themselves), for men and women who guard their chastity, and for men and women who engage much in God’s praise, for them has God prepared forgiveness and great reward.”
Further, the Qur’an states the differences between men and women: “Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in (the husband’s) absence what God would have them guard” (4:34).
Muslim apologists explain these passages as indicating that men are to care for women, not that women are essentially inferior. But other statements in the Qur’an seem to challenge that notion. For example, one passage says, “And get two witnesses, out of your own men, and if there are not two men, then a man and two women, such as ye choose, for witnesses” (2:282), indicating that the testimony of a woman is worth half of the testimony of a man.
Additionally, a tradition in the Sunnah describes women as having less intelligence than men: “Narrated Abu Said Al-Khudri: Once Allah’s Apostle went out to the Musalla (to offer the prayer) to ‘Id-al-Adha or Al-Fitr prayer. Then he passed by the women and said, ‘O women! Give alms, as I have seen that the majority of the dwellers of Hell-fire were you (women).’ They asked, ‘Why is it so, O Allah’s Apostle?’ He replied, ‘You curse frequently and are ungrateful to your husbands. I have not seen anyone more deficient in intelligence and religion than you. A cautious sensible man could be led astray by some of you.’ The women asked, ‘O Allah’s Apostle! What is deficient in our intelligence and religion?’ He said, ‘Is not the evidence of two women equal to the witness of one man?’ They replied in the affirmative. He said, ‘This is the deficiency in her intelligence. Isn’t it true that a woman can neither pray nor fast during her menses?’ The women replied in the affirmative. He said, ‘This is the deficiency in her religion.’”3
Again, while the Qur’an seems to set men and women on equal spiritual footing before Allah, some of the teaching in the Sunnah contradicts it. Muhammad said he had the opportunity to view the people in hell and recorded that the majority of its inhabitants were women! “Narrated `Imran bin Husain: The Prophet said, ‘I looked at Paradise and found poor people forming the majority of its inhabitants; and I looked at Hell and saw that the majority of its inhabitants were women.’”4
Islamic Sociology – Marriage
The Muslim view of marriage is well developed, though diverse. Some modern Muslims are quite uncomfortable with some of Islam’s teachings and practices regarding marriage. But all Muslims agree that a marriage is a contract that may be broken through divorce (though most believe that divorce may only be initiated by men). Some features of marriage noted in the Qur’an and Islamic tradition include the following:
A Muslim man may marry up to four wives, granted that he treat them equally and provide for each of them (4:3).
A Muslim man may have an unlimited number of concubines (including slaves) with whom he has sexual relations, though such women do not have the same rights as wives.
A Muslim man may marry a woman temporarily, a marriage lasting a relatively short time (4:24).
Muslim men may marry Jewish or Christian wives (5:5)—though not women from other religions (2:221), and, yet, Muslim women may never marry non-Muslims (2:221).5
Unsubmissive women may be beaten (some say “lightly”) (4:34).
“Your wives are as a tithe unto you; so approach your tithe when or how ye will . . .” (2:223), meaning men may have sexual access to their wives whenever they please, except when the wife is menstruating (2:222).
Adultery is severely punished (4:15–18; 17:32; 24:20), but in common practice the application of punishment often falls much harder on women than men, since the value of a woman’s testimony is discounted.
Men may divorce their wives (60:1–2; 65:1–2; 226:242), though reconciliation is to be sought (4:35). The Qur’an makes no allowance for a woman to divorce her husband, although some Muslim countries have permitted it.
Islamic Sociology – Patriarchalism
Muslim societies tend to be patriarchal—that is, they tend to be dominated by men. Women are expected to have children, and those who do not have children face constant fear that the husband will seek another wife. The expectation that women must bear male children further aggravates the situation. Regarding “the great fear of Muslim parents that they will not have enough sons,” Vivienne Stacey paints a troubling picture: “How often a wife is in distress because she has not produced a child! The wife who produces only girls will also seek religious help as well as perhaps medical help. If she has a son she will want more sons in case the child dies, as it may easily do. So a woman’s importance in society in general is estimated by her ability to produce sons. This is an inequality between the sexes which the laws of a country and the efforts of family planning associations can do little about.”6
Muslims educated in Western universities often realize that these traditions conflict with genetics and other physical concerns. Nevertheless, male expectations for their wives to bear male children, and female fears of failing to fulfill these expectations, persist widely throughout Muslim countries.
Islamic Sociology – Conclusion
When viewing the concept of Islamic sociology, it’s important to realize that Islam does not distinguish between social institutions and the state. Rather, Islam is a comprehensive reality—the state is to be as much Islamic as is the local mosque. Islam is a religion; but Islam is also a government. The Muslim world today is divided between those who favor nation-states (with laws, constitutions, and boundaries distinct from other nations) and those who favor pan-Islam (the vision that the Muslim community should be united, with diminished or non-existent national boundaries). Those who favor nation-states sometimes produce Muslim nations where the population is predominantly Muslim but where the law of the land is either not Shari’ah or not purely so.7 For example, Turkey is a Muslim nation whose constitution is not based on Shari’ah law. Although most of its population is Muslim, Turkey itself is a secular nation.
Muslims who favor a pan-Islamic community are troubled by this and tend to respond with various expressions of disapproval. Sometimes this disapproval takes the form of verbal denouncement of the nation. Sometimes it takes the form of individuals within the government seeking to reform it. The media, however, most often focuses on those who engage in armed protest and terrorist activities, such as often happens in Turkey and Egypt.
Rendered with permission from the book, Understanding the Times: The Collision of Today’s Competing Worldviews (Rev. 2nd ed), David Noebel, Summit Press, 2006. Compliments of John Stonestreet, David Noebel, and the Christian Worldview Ministry at Summit Ministries. All rights reserved in the original.
1 Khurshid Ahmad, Islam: Its Meaning and Message, 3rd ed. (Leicester, UK: The Islamic Foundation, 1999), 30.
2 Ibid., 38–39.
3 Al-Bukhari, Vol. 1, Book 6, Number 301. See http://www.islamonline.com/cgi-bin/news_service/profile_story.asp?service_id=838
4 Al-Bukhari 4:4264.
5 The foolishness of some non-Muslim women who marry Muslim men is tragically portrayed in the movie Not Without My Daughter (1991, MGM). This true-to-life story portrays a Muslim man living in the United States who is caught up the fervor of the Iranian revolution led by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979. He returns to Iran, ostensibly for “a visit,” taking his American wife and daughter with him. When he refuses to return, his wife battles Islamic law and tradition in her fight to escape back to the U.S. with her daughter.
6 Viviene Stacey, The Life of Muslim Women (Fellowship of Faith for Muslims, 1980), 34–35.
7 Shari’ah is the designation for Islamic law, which we discuss in the following article on Law.
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