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Individualism versus collectivism

The Quran has much to say about social duties and collective living, the most important of which is that no society can be healthy without unity and solidarity among its people. The Quran sets forth this principle in the chapter entitled Al-'Imran (The Family of 'Imran): "Hold fast to the cord of God and let nothing divide you" (3:103). It is said that man is a social animal and cannot fulfil his requirements without living in a society. Just as water is essential for the life of a fish, so also is society essential for the life of an individual. Social unity cannot be achieved on unilateral terms. If every member of society wants to live on his own, then social living cannot be established. Social unity is so important that it should be achieved at the cost of individual sacrifice. It is a fact that the maintenance of social unity may lead to the erosion of individual freedom, but paying this price is the lesser evil, because if individual members are not ready to pay this price, they will be bound to pay a greater price — that is, social anarchy, and social anarchy will be of no benefit to any member. Individual members must adopt the formula of adjustment with others, so that social unity may be maintained.

Then individualism is not good even for the individual for, if followed strictly, it is a great obstacle to personality development. One who practises individualism and refrains from social interaction is bound to pay a heavy price for this behaviour, and that price is depriving himself of personality development. Society is like a school where all its members are trained both in terms of experience and in terms of knowledge. There is no substitute for living in a society; no amount of study can compensate for living aloof in a society.

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