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Question of the Day: Individualism 17 January 2007

Posted by SA'ILA in Culture, SA'ILA.

Individualism – which primarily stresses the importance of individual self-reliance, choice, liberty and identity (amongst other things) – is a concept appreciated by many in the West (and many outside of it as well). Further, many would say it is a definitive marking point of society in the West. And while it is appreciated in some circles, individualism, by virtue of what it represents, is also blamed for the downfall of society as it promotes individual values over societal values.

Do individuals in a society have more meaning or value than society as a whole? And noting that we, as individuals, are ultimately only accountable to Allah (swt), how would you suggest incorporating individualism while promoting collectivism?



1. Irving - 18 January 2007

Individualism and collectivism are incompatible. As a one time student of the philosophy of Any Rand, Objectivism, I have to agree with her on this one point. Collectivism always, always, always leads to tyranny, by the state, as in fascism, or by the “people” as in communism. Either way, it is naked tyranny. Without individual rights, there are no rights, and a society like that is one I would not want to live in. That includes the right to worship as one pleases, even so far as surrendering to Allah.

Ya Haqq!

2. talib - 19 January 2007

‘tyranny of the majority’ anyone?
pure individualism can be no less tyrannical than the forms of collectivism you mention. for example, who determines what are the ‘rights’ that need to be upheld and what are the ‘rights’ that can be ignored?

in Islam, we are ‘ultimately only accountable to Allah’ on the individual level. but we also have responsibilities toward others that we will be held accountable to as well. our immediate family, our relatives, our local community, the global community. even the people of the future as Mozaffar discusses in his post on passive exploitation. without having thought out all the implications, my feeling is that the middle path between individualism and collectivism is most likely where the solution is to be found as several muslim thinkers in the mid-20th century have noted and attributed to the shari’a.

3. Irving - 22 January 2007

I agree. Complete individualism is only anarchy. In a civil society, laws are necessary to insure equality and justice for all, theoretically if not always in practice. Religion and worship are private matters, and theocracy is as bad as fascism and communism, as was proven by the Taliban.

Ya Haqq!

4. talib - 23 January 2007

we can agree that complete individualism is not ideal. but i am not convinced that ‘religion and worship are private matters’. such a notion is too contingent on what you define as ‘religion’. for example, what is the difference between imposing zakat and imposing the income tax? is imposing zakat invalid because it is based in ‘religion’ as you define it? ultimately what is the basis of income tax? and, more importantly, how is that basis ‘not religion’, according to your definition of ‘religion’?

in the west, ‘religion’ is narrowly defined as ‘christianity’. and when i say ‘narrow’, i don’t mean that including Islam, buddhism, and judaism will broaden that definition. even that is too narrow of a notion of ‘religion’. the Qur’an defines ‘religion’ in much broader terms.

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