The Qur’an 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 Qur’an sets forth this principle in the chapter 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 fulfill 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 or her 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.
Individualism seems to be a beautiful idea, but it is wrong for the simple reason that it will not work. Where the individual finds that his interests are not at stake, he remains indifferent to the welfare of other members of society, but the moment his own interests are at stake, he will be forced to adopt the policy of adjustment: social compulsions are so crucial that he cannot afford to ignore them. Looking after his own interests, therefore, reduces the self-centered individual to the level of hypocrisy.
Then individualism is not good even for the individual for, if followed strictly, it is a great obstacle to personality development. One who practices individualism and refrains from social interaction is bound to pay a heavy price for this behavior, 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. 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.
Society is a natural training institution for every man and woman, giving them all kinds of precious experiences free of cost. So-called training camps cannot serve as a substitute for a society that exposes its members to all kinds of eventualities during the natural course of human interaction.
Individualism is based on the wrong notion that one can live on one’s own. But this kind of thinking is not workable. Every person is interconnected with society in numerous ways. He cannot detach himself from society. Any attempt at detachment from society is bound to have baneful effects and can even lead to social suicide.