The word community has acquired certain connotations, some of which are romantic and nostalgic, some derogatory and reactionist. But since we intend to deal with the basics, we shall confine our discussion to the most fundamental meanings of the word community.
In one basic sense, the concept community means “all forms of relationship that are characterized by a high degree of personal intimacy, emotional depth, moral is commitment, social cohesion, and continuity in time ….. It may be found in ….. locality, religion, nation, race, occupation, or (common cause). Its archetype ….. is the family” (Robert Nisbet, The Sociological Tradition - New York: Basic Books, 1996, pp. 47-48)
In another basic sense, a community is a comprehensive group with two chief characteristics: (1) it is a group within which the individual can have most of the activities and experiences that are important to him. (2) The group is bound together by a shared sense of belonging and a feeling of identity (L. Broom & P. Selznick, Sociology: A Text with Adapted Readings New York: Harper & Rowe, 1968, p.31).
The Historical master trend has been a movement from those intimate, deep, moral relationships of community to those impersonal, formal utilitarian relationships of mass society. The movement has been designated by different phases and marked by far-reaching consequences.
From this historical trend, one can infer certain conclusions. First, this historical evolution has not been totally negative or completely positive and constructive. Both negative and positive consequences have affected different people in different degrees. Secondly, modern society is far from perfect, there is a great task yet to be performed. Thirdly, the human condition is not a lost cause or a hopeless case. True, there are crises and travail, but the situation is not entirely out of control. Finally, mankind has grown more interdependent and human societies more intertwined. Whatever happens in one segment of society is bound to affect the rest. We should keep this in mind when we discuss the Islamic concept of community.
It should be generally correct to state that the Islamic concept of community has certain unique characteristics. Such unique characteristics relate to the foundation or basis of the community, its historic mission and purpose, its status among other communities, its identity, and its continuity.
The community in Islam is not founded on race, nationality, locality, occupation, kinship, or special interests. It does not take its name after the name of a leader or a founder or an event. It transcends national borders and political boundaries. The foundation of the community in Islam is the principle which designates submission to the will of Allah, obedience to His law and commitment to His cause. In short, an Islamic community is present only when it is nourished and fostered by Islam.
The Islamic community has a historic mission far beyond mere survival, sheer power, breeding, or physiological continuity. Such a mission is described in the Holy Qur’an as follows:
Let there be a community (or ummah) among you, advocating what is good, demanding what is right, and eradicating what is wrong. Theses are indeed the successful (3:104). You are the best community ever raised, you enforce what is right, fight what is wrong, and believe in Allah (3:110).
The historic role of the Islamic Community is to be the true embodiment of the virtuous, the wholesome, and the noble. A truly Islamic community is the alert guardian of virtue and the bitter enemy of vice. What is required of the community at large is likewise required of every individual member. This is because the whole community is an organic entity and every individual is accountable to Allah. The role of the individual Muslim is best described by the statement of the prophet:
Whoever of you sees something wrong must seek to rectify it by action or deed; if he cannot, let him try to change it by word; if he cannot, let his feelings of disapproval and condemnation intensify and this is the minimal degree of faith.
As we can see, this description is very significant and comprehensive. In this age of revolutionary media, no one in his right mind can underestimate the power of concerted actions, or the power of communicable words, or the power of feelings.
The historic role of the Islamic community is further restated in the Qur’anic verse:
We have made you middle nation, a well-integrated community, a balanced ummah, so that you may be witnesses over other people and the Messenger a witness over you (2:143).
Such a role of witnessing is both highly significant and extremely demanding. It means that the community of Islam must be exemplary. It must set the highest standards of performance and be the reference point for others. It must avoid excesses and extravagances, static rigidity and instant evaporation. To strike a middle course of action, to be steadfast and consistent, to know what to accept and what to reject, to have principles and at the same time remain adaptable is probably the hardest test of the human character and social viability. But this is the role of the Islamic community and the historic mission of Muslims. And it is this very criterion that qualifies the Muslim as the best human community ever to evolve.
The identity of the community centers upon the principles of consistent balance, exemplary conduct, unity of purpose, reciprocity of feelings, solidarity, and equity. Numerous are the statements of the Qur'an and Sunnah to this effect (for example 4:135, 21:92, ).
With regard to the continuity of the Islamic community, certain points are noteworthy. It is the duty of Muslims to do everything within their means to insure that continuity. The rules of marriage and inheritance, the duties of Zakah and Hajj, the mutual rights and obligations of kin, the individual conscientiousness and social belonging – all these are oriented to the healthy continuity of the community of Islam. On the other hand, Allah has pledged to prophet this continuity in several ways. First, He has pledged to preserve the Qur’an and protect it purity (15:9).
This means that there shall always be a community to follow the Qur’an; the Qur’an shall not be without followers even though there may be followers of other books. Secondly, Islam itself is a continuity. Whenever a nation deviated from the path of Allah, He restated His word, reaffirmed His truth, and commissioned new prophets or reformers to carry on. Thirdly, Allah has issued a strong warning to the effect that if Muslims turned away from the right path, they would be the losers; Allah would replace them by other people unlike the failing Muslims (47:38).
Again, the believers are warned that if any of them turns back from his Faith, soon will God produce people whom He will love and they will love Him, - humble toward the believers and mighty against the disbelievers, fighting in the way of God and never afraid of reproaches (Qur’an, 5:57).