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Last Updated: 2010/04/08
Summary of question
What are the most important characteristics of a citizen in Islamic society?
What are the most important characteristics of a citizen in Islamic society? Does Islam have any opinion on these issues? Please clarify the position of Islam in this regards.
Concise answer

As the last divine religion, the enlightening school of Islam is the most complete and inclusive religion of all. Therefore, in Islam social rules and regulations have been considered just like as personal rules. Islam believes there are principles and rules a Muslim should observe in his social life and interactions in a society and the same in the liabilities s/he has against others and society in which s/he lives.

Some of the most important liabilities of a citizen in Islamic society are as follows:

1-             Not trampling peoples’ rights (Hagh Al Naas) and respecting other citizens’ rights.

The emphasis of Islam on respecting the right of neighbors and passengers in the street can be considered as some examples of this.

2-             Caring for other people and helping them when they are in need at the time of disasters (natural or non – natural)

As Islam instructs a citizen of Islamic society should try to solve political, cultural, economical and … problems in his society and should not be indifferent to natural disasters like unexpected happenings and moral calamities and social disorders.

3-             Respecting Islamic moralities in social interactions such as: being nice and good tempered, being humble, patient and tolerating people.

Detailed Answer

The following preliminaries can help us reach the answers that we seek:

1-             The human being is a social creature. In more precise terms we can say that he is “Social by Nature”[1]. By studying history we also come to realize that human beings have lived socially and in groups from time immemorial.

2-             As the final divine religion, Islam is the most complete and inclusive of all religions. Islam has rules and moral regulations for every aspect of human life. This can be divided into two sections. The first is that some rules and regulations instruct people on how to connect with God. The second set of regulations relate to how people are to behave and act with the people of their individual societies.

3-             What is meant by Islam being comprehensive and inclusive is that general principles can be derived from its sources that lead us to the philosophy, framework and system of Islam[2], and allow us to come up with our own means and methods of carrying out its commands.[3]

4-             We believe that in the past, such as during the early days of Islam, there was no such concept of modern life that exists today. Naturally there were no modern day issues that exist in today’s world such as traffic jams, air pollution, and etc.. In order to have a viable model of a Muslim citizen, Islam has set rules and principles for those small cities and small groups of people who lived the traditional lifestyle. These rules are universal and should be observed in today’s social life and developed societies as well. In fact through these rules we achieve the characteristics of a true Muslim citizen.

Some of the most important characteristics and features of a Muslim citizen are:

1-             Not trampling other peoples’ rights and respecting them.

From Islam’s point of view, the basis of social life is respecting people’s social rights. Here are some examples:

As for the neighbors, The Holy Prophet (s) said:

“The scent of paradise will be Haram (here used to mean unattainable) for the one who bothers his neighbor.”[4] Or “The one who disrespects his neighbor’s rights is not of us.”[5]  One of the problems that exists today is blocking public throughways, an issue which has been acknowledged, explained,  and forbidden to the followers of Islam 1400 years ago. The Holy Prophet (s) said in this regard: “Do not sit in the pathways”[6]  or “Remove your possessions and belongings from the pathways and do not make it difficult for Muslims who wish to pass.”[7]

Imam Ali (a) said: “Do not sit in the pathways”[8]

Imam Sadiq (a) said: “The owner of any type of possession which blocks the pathway for Muslims and harms them is responsible for their loss and damage”[9]

By using traditions, Imam Khomeini writes in his book of “Tahrirul Wasilah”: “If a person stands in a narrow passage or alleyway and there is no way to pass and a passing person collides with him, slips and then dies, the one who stands in the middle of the way should pay the blood money.”[10].

Therefore, according to religious rulings, a Muslim citizen should not disregard other peoples’ right and should respect these rights.

2 – A Sense of Responsibility and Commitment

The main feature of Islamic society can be seen in social responsibility, which is shared by every individual in that society. This common responsibility starts from the basic family unit and extends to neighbors, city, country, etc… According to Islamic rulings, a citizen in an Islamic society should try as far as he can to solve the problems of his society whether they are cultural, economical, or political in nature. This extends to natural disasters and other unexpected occurrences which take hold of society from time to time..

Here we refer to some examples of such responsibilities:

A – Helping Others

The Holy Quran considers helping others as a duty for each and every Muslim and says: “Verily those who believed, and emigrated and strove hard and fought with their property and their lives in the cause of Allah as well as those who gave them asylum and help, - these are all allies to one another. And as to those who believed but did not emigrate (O Muhammad), you owe no duty of protection to them until they emigrate; but if they seek your help in religion, it is your duty to help them except against a people with whom you have a treaty of mutual alliance; and Allah is All – Seeing of what you do ”[11] and “The believers are nothing else than brothers (in religion). So make reconciliation between your brothers, and fear Allah, that you may receive mercy.”[12]

Muslims are responsible for the problems and various other issues that happen to each other and if any given individual does not take this responsibility, according to various traditions, they will not be considered as a Muslim.

“Whosoever wakes up while not caring about the issues of other Muslims, is not a Muslim.”[13]

Imam Ali (a) considers each one of the citizens of an Islamic society responsible for the people of that society whether they are considered men of knowledge, men of wealth, etc. This means that in whatever way they are capable of they are duty bound to help their fellow man.

He says: “Before obliging the uneducated to learn, God has obliged the educated to teach.”[14]  God has put the sustenance of the poor in the hands of the rich … and he will question the rich for this.”[15]

Also helping the neighbors is of paramount importance.

Imam Ali (a) has said: "The Holy Prophet (s) emphasized the role of a neighbor so much that we thought neighbors would inherit the property of their fellow neighbors.”[16]

In this regard we have the following quotation in Imam Sajjad’s treatise on rights (رسالة الحقوق): “A neighbor who is oppressed should be helped and treated kindly.”[17]

B- The Promotion of Good and the Prevention of Evil[18]

Since the individual Muslim citizen is part of the masses which pushes the ship of society forward, he can’t be indifferent to social disorders. Not only can they not be indifferent but they must actively think about them and attempt to solve them. The example that can be given here is that society is akin to a group of people living on a ship. If one individual claims an area of the ship for himself and wishes to make a hole in it claiming that it is his right to do whatever he wishes in “his area” then the whole ship will sink with all the individuals. It is the duty of the rest of the passengers to stop him from harming both himself and the rest of the ship’s passengers.

Promotion of good and prevention of evil in Islam is also pushed forward in this manner..

Promotion of good and prevention of evil in Islam is among other religious obligations such as prayers and charity. It is considered a kind of Jihad and is one factor in reaching perfection, restoring values and purifying the society from social disorders and evils.

God says in his book The Holy Quran: “And as for the believing men and the believing women, they are guardians of each other. They enjoin good and forbid evil….”[19]

In another verse we have: “You are the best nation [ever] brought forth for mankind: you bid what is right and forbid what is wrong.”[20]

Imam Ali (a) was a perfect example of a Muslim. He said: “Promotion of good and prevention of evil are two divine characteristics”[21]. He considers promotion of good and prevention of evil superior to all the prayers even Jihad in the cause of God.

“While there is another group who stopped promoting good and preventing evil, these are walking dead people for whom there is no benefit in life, because all the good deeds – even Jihad in the cause of God – is nothing in comparison to promotion of good and prevention of evil…”[22]

3 – Respecting Islamic morality in social interactions

Having good morality and behaving well with people are among the most important factors of making progress and success in a society, it also helps to administer justice throughout society.

Here we refer to some Islamic points on social morality in society:

A – Being good tempered, behaving kindly and being cheerful

The Holy Quran addresses the Holy Prophet (s): “And verily, you (O Muhammad) are on an exalted (standard of character).”[23]  “And by the mercy of Allah, you dealt with them gently. And had you been severe and hard hearted, they would have broken away from about you; so pass over (their faults), and ask (Allah's) forgiveness for them; and consult them in the affairs. Then when you have taken a decision, put your trust in Allah, certainly, Allah loves those who put their trust (in Him)”[24]

Therefore The Quran considers the good temper of the Holy Prophet as the main factor for the attraction of people towards Islam.

There are many traditions from the Infallibles (a) on this subject. Here are some examples:

The Holy Prophet (s) said: “Someone who is good tempered fulfils half of his religious duties”[25]

Imam Sadiq (a) quotes from the Prophet (s) where he said: “Belief is the same as being good tempered”[26]

Imam Ali (a) has said about being well behaved and cheerful: “The most perfect people are the ones who are good tempered”[27]

Imam Sadiq (a) said: “Doing good for the people and being good tempered cultivates the lands and advances society.”[28]

It can be said that behaving well and having the correct attitude towards citizens in all levels and classes of society, especially with guests, strengthens the social ties and solves many social illnesses. In many cases it also prevents problems such as nervous and mental disorders. For these reasons being good tempered is highly recommended in Islam.

B – Humility:

Humility means being humble, modest and well behaved towards people and the avoidance of being arrogant and selfish. Humility is one of the characteristics within human beings that can be seen in their actions.

Certainly humility towards people makes the one with this characteristic admired in the society and also brings about God’s pleasure in the afterlife. This is a matter stressed on by the ‘Awliya Allah’ to the people.

Imam Ali (a) said: “Showing humility and modesty while being at a high rank and status is the same as forgiving someone when you are in power.”[29]  “Modesty completes the blessings.”[30]  “Certainly humbleness takes human beings to a high rank, thus be humble and God may bless you.”[31]

In the Holy Quran humility and modesty are indicated as features of the righteous servants of God: “And the (faithful) servants of the Most Gracious (Allah) are those who walk on the earth in humility, and when the ignorant address them (with bad words) they say: “Peace”[32]

C – Friendship and Tolerance

Friendship and tolerance means treating people mildly.

Since human beings live socially, they are always connected to others. In some ways their rights overlap with the rights of other people. Therefore, tolerance is one of the issues Islam has taken into consideration.

Imam Sadiq (a) has quoted the Holy Prophet (s) as saying: “As God has ordered me to fulfill my religious obligations He also ordered me to be tolerant towards people.”[33]  He also said: “Someone who acts tolerantly with people has achieved half of his faith and making friendship with people is half of life.”[34] Islam recommends treating people, even enemies, mildly. In this regard, we have the Quran’s recommendation to Moses and Harun: “When you go to Pharaoh, talk to him gently so that he may fear and be guided.”[35]

Imam Ali (a) described the characteristics of a believer in a part of his speech saying that: "A believer is calm and flexible, stronger than a stone and at the same time as humble as a slave.[36]


D – Patience

Patience means to stand firm against the problems of life. Social life means living with other people and knowing different attitudes and tastes, various ways of thinking and ideologies. Thus, being patient is one of the first requirements of social life. This is the characteristic of all of the Prophets of God (a) at the times when they encountered the difficulties and troubles caused by the idolaters.

Imam Ali (a) considers patience as one of the Godly characteristics saying: "Praise belongs to the Lord whose patience is so much that He forgives our sins."[37]

Imam Ali (a) also said: "One, who is patient, avoids negligence and is appreciated by people."[38] "The very first gift a patient person receives is the people's support against the negligent."[39]

A citizen of an Islamic society is patient with the difficulties of life. He always gets help from his religious training and these words from Imam Ali (a) which said: "The pious spend their days having patience for the shortcomings and difficulties of life."[40]

A citizen in an Islamic society needs to have these characteristics as well.

We can conclude by saying that the purpose of canonizing the social rules is to strengthen social life, to respect people’s rights and to prevent society from destroying itself. To establish a moral system in a society, moral issues must be taken into consideration. Everyone in society should try, through continuous training and struggle, to make a realization of moral values as a culture viable. We should try to establish and become accustomed to these features and moral characteristics of life and society in order to have a purified society.

Having everyone take part in the dissemination of this strain of social morality will lead to a purified and humanitarian society.

[1] For more information refer to the translation of Al Mizan, Volume 2 Page 177

[2] For getting familiar with these concepts refer to the economic school and system of Islam, Hadavi Tehrani, Mehdi page 19 – 51

[3] It should be noted that understanding the elements of the world and reaching the philosophical school and system of Islam is done through a jurisprudential method and this is the Jurisprudents job. However, in planning for this social scientists play an important role. Planning, describing the facts, proposing possible suggestions and putting all these into action in the physical world are among the duties of social scientists. Interpretation of religious texts for studying the elements of the outside world is the responsibility of the Jurisprudents. Also management, creating synthesis between elements of the universality of the Islamic System and modern times is the responsibility of the Jurisprudent. The Economic school and System of Islam, Hadavi Tehrani Page 44

[4] Majlesi, Mohammad Baqir, Bihar Al Anwar, Vol. 72, “Men Azi Jareh Haram Allah Alayhe Rabhe Janat.”

[5] Ibid. Volume 71 Page 150 “…. Men Zaye hagh jare falaysa mena.”

[6] ایاکم و الجلوس علی الطرقات ” Naraghi, Mohammad Mehdi, Jaame al Sadat, Volume 2 Page 238.

[7] اعزل الاذی عن طریق المسلمین” hendi, Aladdin Ali, Konzo al emal, Volume 15, Page 781

[8] Moadikhah, Abd al Majid, The Everlasting Sun (Translation of Nahjul Balagah) Page 380, Letter 69. “Iyaka va Moghaed al savagh”

[9] Hor Ameli, Mohaamd bin Hassan, Vasayel Alsh

[10] Khomeini, Seyed Ruhollah, Tahrir al Wasilah, Volume 2, Page 562

[11] Surah Anfal, Verse 72

[12] انما المومنون اخوة …" Hejrat, 10

[13] Kulaini, Usulal Kafi, Volume 2. Page 131. "من اصبح و لا یهتم بامور المسلمین، فلیس بمسلم."

[14] Moadikhah, Abd al majid, The everlasting sun (Translation of Nahjul Balagah), Page 522, "ما اخذ الله علی اهل الجهل ان یتعلموا حتی اخذ علی اهل العلم ان یعلموا"

[15] "ان الله سبحانه فرض فی اموال الاغنیاء اقوات الفقراء..." Ibid, Page 479

[16] Al Kafi Volume. 7 Page 51 Bihar al Anwar Volume. 42, Page 248.

[17] Ibid, Volume 71 page 7 "... و نصرته اذا کان مظلوماً...و تعاشره معاشرة کریمة".

[18] Promotion of the good and the prevention of Evil.

[19] المومنون و المومنات بعضهم اولیاء بعض، یأمرون بالمعروف و ینهون عن المنکر" Surah Tawbeh, Verse 71

[20] Surah Ale-Imran, Verse 110, کنتم خیر امة اخرجت للناس تأمرون بالمعروف و تنهون عن المنکر

[21] Moadikhah, Abdulmajid, everlasting sun (translation of Nahjul Balagah) Page 177, 178, "... و ان المر بالمعروف و النهی عن المنکر لخلقان من خلق الله سبحانه"

[22] Ibid, Page 494

[23] "انک لعلی خلق عظیم" Surah Qalam, Verse 4

[24] Surah Aale Imran, Verse 159 فبما رحمة من الله لنت لهم و لو کنت فظاً غلیظ القلب لانقضوا من حولک..."الخلق الحسن نصف الدین", Majlesi Mohammad Bagher, Biharal anwar Volume 68 Page 385[25]

[26]اللیمان حسن الخلق..."…" Ibid, Page 392

[27] Ibid

[28] Hor Aameli, Mohammad bin Hassan, Wasayel Al Shia, Volume 5, Page 504. "البر و حسن الملق یعمرن الدیار...…"

[29] التواضع مع الرفعة کالعفو مع القدرة, Ghurarul-Hikam, page 405

[30] و بالتواضع تعم النعمة " Moadikhah, Abd almajid, The Everlasting Sun (Translation of Nahjul Balagah) Page 448,

[31] Naraghi, Mohammad Mehdi, Jame al Saadat, Volume 1 Page 363

[32] "و عباد الرحمن الذین یمشون علی الارض هوناً" Surah Furqaan,Verse 63

[33] Hor Aameli, Mohammad bin Hassan, Wasailal Shia, Volume 8, Page 540

[34] Ibid

[35]Surah Taha, Verse 44, an important point in this verse is that in many cases, oleration guides even the harshest of enemies through allowing them to seeing the beauty of Islamic morals and ethics.

[36] Moadikhah, Abd al Majid, The Everlasting Sun (Translation of Nahjul Balagah) Page 481

[37] الحمد لله...الذی عظم حلمه فعفا..." …" ibid, Page 275, Line 233

[38] Ibid, Page 395

[39] Ibid, Page 444

[40] "و اما النهار، فحلماء علماء...…" Ibid Page 221, Line 184

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