Islam and Social Work

While a value-base is necessary for all professions, it is crucial for Social Work (Gutierrez, 1999). It gives form and substance to professional ethos. It provides a direction and focus, and lends professional authority to multi-layered Social Work practice. At one and the same time, the value-base of Social Work provides for stability and change in social organization and functioning (Dominelli, 2005). Moreover, pay attention to Social Work mission, practitioner-client relationship or intervention methods – all are found to be linked or even dependent upon societal values. Indeed, the value-base of Social Work is informed by numerous historical-cultural forces including religious ideologies. Let us examine Social
Work values and Islamic values – and the overlap between the two.

The nature of individual: By the very fact of his or her existence, every individual is unique, has worth and dignity and has common human needs as well as individual needs (see also, Bisno, 1952). Individual behaviour is the outcome of interaction between the biological organism and its surrounding physical and social environment. Man is amoral and asocial at birth, and interaction with the social environment develops social and ethical perceptions, attitudes and behaviour patterns. Further, human suffering in all forms is undesirable and should be prevented. As far as possible, individual should be involved and participate in the intervention programme meant for the self-betterment or development (Reamer, 2005). This is what is going to have an enduring impact and to ensure sustainability.

From an Islamic perspective, man is neither a predestined being (Qur’an 75: 36)* nor has he been allowed a free reign to pass an aimless life (23: 115). Every individual has been endowed with dispositions and capabilities, accompanied by a sort of inner direction and innate guidance (91: 7-8). A bundle of instincts, urges and desires, all individuals have human dignity and self-esteem (Behishti and Bahonar, n.d., p. 187).

They have an inalienable right to life, right to livelihood, right to privacy, right to have family and right to religious affiliation (Umri, n. d., pp. 12-16). While they are to make efforts at their own to resolve their problems and to achieve prosperity and salvation, they may not be, in the hour of exigency, left to fend for themselves (Behishti and Bahonar, n.d., p. 194). It would be thus seen that the Islamic view of man or individual has a noticeable similarity with the values Social Work attaches with the individual.

Interpersonal and group relations: Needless to state, Social Work rejects the doctrine of laissez faire. The rich or the powerful are not necessarily ‘fit’, and the poor or
the weak are not necessarily ‘unfit’. Social Work stoutly stands for socialized individualism (see, Bisno, 1952) which is largely instilled in individuals through the group process. It is a common observation that most of the engagement, awareness-generation and education of an individual come from group interaction (Gutierrez and others, 1999). Through this, rugged persons are moulded into socialized individuals. What is the position of Islam with regard to these value-assumptions? As is known, Islam places a premium on group living.
All adult males are expected to perform their prayers five times a day with jamaat (congregation of believers).

Usually this is done in a mosque where the prayer is led by imam (meaning, group leader, not a priest but a learned person in the group of devotees). Besides, the Qur’an lays emphasis on interpersonal tolerance, “ … those who control their wrath and are forgiving towards mankind, Allah loves them” (3:134). The sacred book ordains, “Help one another unto righteous and pious duty” (5:2). It also underlines (49:11) mutual respect, “O ye who believe! Let not a folk judge the other … nor insult by nicknames” (quoted by Ahmed Moulvi, 1979).

Prophet Mohammed, the messenger of God, has directed his followers, “Behave towards other people as you like them to behave towards you” (Behishti and Bahonar, n. d., p. 325). The stance of the messenger is equally clear in respect of cordial interpersonal relations, “As my Lord has commanded me to perform my religious duties, in the same way He has ordered me to be friendly with the people” (Behishti and Bahonar, n. d., p. 337). Islamic tradition, likewise, abounds with references that enrich precepts commonly associated with group process and group living.

Community living: Generally speaking, community is viewed as a complex of social unity in which individuals and groups have shared interests and values, customs and activities. It may also be thought of as a network of interconnected, interrelated and interdependent groups.

Individuals and groups living in a community have ‘a core of common attributes’, and an under-pinning of mutual understanding, camaraderie, equity and justice. Communities are characterized by value-structures that transcend their form, size or location. In a community, individuals and groups cooperate and collaborate with each other for the fulfillment of their common needs.

By doing so, on the one hand, they promote we-feeling among themselves and, on the other, they reinforce community’s cohesion and identity. Keeping the foregoing in view, let us turn attention to Islamic edicts in this regard.

May it be noted that Islam attaches great value to concerned and conscientious community living. For the annual festival of Eid, all the believers in the community are expected to foregather and offer prayer in one congregation. This ritual apart, the Quran ordains individuals and groups to shun vanity (in the land), to enjoin kindness towards  others, and to eliminate inequity (31:13). Behishti and Bahonar (n. d.) cite the prophet as pronouncing: He who sleeps satiated while his neighbour is hungry is not dear to Allah (p. 328).

Muslim has been a revered companion of the prophet. He cites the prophet as directing his people to gladly accept meal invitation from the neighbour, as it promotes understanding and solidarity (Ansari, n. d.). As mentioned earlier, Islam totally forbids discrimination on the basis of colour, caste, creed or position. The concept of brotherhood or fraternity permeates all Islamic rituals, customs and community living. Flowing from this is the concept of ‘justice’ – an inseparable part of Social Work values. In Islam, this concept comes up repeatedly and forcefully (Umri, n. d.). “When you judge between people”, lays down the Qur’an, “you should judge with a sense of justice” (4:58). That justice is the bedrock on which social order and civil society rests, is unequivocally reiterated by the sacred book, “Believers! Adhere to justice and bear witness before Allah, even though it be against yourselves, your parents or your relatives” (4:135). Assuredly, these concepts have influenced not only Social Work values but also jurisprudence globally.