• Date: 2010 Jun 29

Singleness or Multiplicity of Societies

As we pointed out earlier, for every school this question is important, for on it depends
whether all human societies can follow one single ideology or each nation, community and cultural unit must have its separate ideology. We know that an ideology means a scheme that leads a society to prosperity and perfection. We also know that each species in this world has its own characteristics and capabilities, and hence the conception of prosperity and perfection which awaits each other is different. The prosperity and perfection of the horse are not exactly the same as the prosperity and perfection of the sheep or man.
Therefore, if on the basis of the actuality of societies, we presume that all of them have one nature and essence, and their variations are only within the range of individualistic variations of a species, we can safely say that they may have one single living ideology having enough flexibility to be applicable to all individualistic variations. But if the various societies have different natures and essences, naturally they should have multifarious schemes for their well-being and one ideology cannot be applicable to all of them.
There arises exactly the same question in respect of the changes that overtake societies with the passage of time. Does the essence of societies change in the course of these changes? Are these changes of the nature of a change in species or merely of the nature of a change in some members of it while the nature of the species itself remains essentially unaltered, despite all changes.

The first of the above two questions relates to society and the second to history. We now take up the first question and leave the second one till we come to the discussion of history.
A study of sociology can throw a light on the question whether the various societies primarily and fundamentally have some common characteristics, their variations being only superficial and not basic; or they are basically and by nature different from each other, even though they appear to be similar outwardly. This is a philosophical way of ascertaining the singularity and multiplicity of the things in the case of ambiguity.
Here there is a shorter way also, and that is the way of the study of man himself. It is an admitted fact that all men belong to one species. From biological point of view man has not undergone any biological change since he has appeared. Some scientists say that nature after evolving living beings to the level of man has changed its course. It has shifted the process of evolution from biological and physical changes to social and spiritual development.
Earlier while discussing the sociality of man, we came to the conclusion that as men belong to one species not many, they are social by nature. In other words, man's sociality and his collective spirit are his inborn and essential characteristics.
In order to be able to attain due perfection befitting his capabilities, man has a social tendency which paves the way for the emergence of a collective spirit, which in its turn is a means of leading him to his ultimate perfection. The fact that he belongs to a particular species, determines the course of man's collective spirit. In other words, man's collective spirit is in the service of his human nature. So long as his human nature lasts, it will continue to perform its function. Hence it may be said that his collective spirit is a by-product of man's individual spirit, and, in other words it is a part of his nature. As all men belong to one species, all human societies also have a single nature.
Just as an individual sometimes deviates from the normal course of his nature, the same is true of society also. The diversity of societies is similar to the moral variety of the individuals, which in no case falls outside the human framework. Thus all societies, cultures and the collective spirits dominating societies, in spite of all the difference in their forms, always have a human colour and their nature cannot be other than human.
Of course, if we accept the fourth theory of the composition of society, regard the individuals as merely receptive matter like empty receptacles and deny the principle of true human nature, only then we can consider the hypothesis of the fundamental diversity of societies. But this theory as propounded by Durkheim is not acceptable by any means for the most important question which remains unanswered by this theory is: If collective spirit does not primarily spring from the individual spirit of man and is not a by-product of inborn human nature, then from where has it come? Has it come into existence out of absolute non-existence? To answer this question, is it enough to say that since man has existed, society also has existed.
Moreover, Durkheim himself maintains that social matters such as religion, moral principles, art etc. have existed and will always be existing in all societies. In his own words, they have temporal permanence and spatial diffusion. This in itself proves that man's collective spirit is of one single type and has one single nature.
According to Islamic teachings there is only one religion. The differences of canonical laws are merely subsidiary, not substantial. We also know that religion is nothing but a scheme of individual and collective evolution. This shows that Islamic teachings are based on the conception of the singleness of the type of societies. Had societies been of many types, their evolutionary goals and the ways to attain them would certainly have differed, and there would have been plurality of religions basically different from each other.
But the Holy Quran insists that there has been only one religion, not more, in all regions and societies and in all ages and times. From the viewpoint of the Holy Qur'an religions (in plural form) have never existed. What has existed is the religion (in singular form). All Prophets have preached and taught one religion, one way of life and one goal. The Holy Qur'an says:
"He has ordained for you that religion which He commanded to Nuh, and which We revealed to you and which We commanded to Ibrahim, Musa and 'Isa, saying.- Establish the religion and be not divided in it." (Surah al-Shura, 42:13)
Several verses of the Holy Qur'an indicate that during all times and in all places the true Prophets sent by Allah preached the same religion. The idea that fundamentally religion is not more than one is based on the conception that all men belong to one species, not to more than one. Similarly human society as an actuality is basically of one type not of several types.
Man and Universe by  Martyr Ayatullah Murtada Mutahhari
Copyright © 2009 The AhlulBayt World Assembly . All right reserved