Islam makes the individual and society responsible for each other. It requires each to fulfill its duties to the other. It brings public and private interests together in such a way that fulfilling individual interests becomes a means of realizing the general good and likewise, realizing the general good entails realizing the good of the individual.

The individual in Muslim society is responsible to help in preserving the general order and to refrain from any behavior that could harm society or work against its interests. Allah says:

“The believers, men and women, are protectors of one another; they enjoin what is right, forbid what is wrong, perform prayer, keep the fasts, and obey Allah and His Messenger. Allah will have mercy on them. Surely Allah is Almighty, All Wise.”

The individual, moreover, is commanded to play an active and effective part in society. Allah says:

“Help one another in righteousness and piety, but do not help one another in sin and transgression.”

Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said:

“The believers, men and women, are like a building where every part of it supports the rest.”

Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) explained the unity between the members of society and the feelings of mutual responsibility that they share in the following way:

“The believers, in their affection, mercy, and compassion for each other, are like a single body; if one limb feels pain, the whole body becomes feverish and restless.”

From another angle, there are the rights and liberties of the individual. Society is responsible to protect the sanctity of the individual and ensure individual rights and freedoms.

Allah says:

“O you who believe! Let not a group of you belittle another; it may be that the latter are better than the former. Nor let some women belittle other women; it may be that the latter are better than the former. Nor defame one another, nor insult one another with nicknames. How bad it is to charge someone with iniquity after they have believed. And whosoever does not repent, such are indeed transgressors. O you who believe, avoid much suspicion; indeed some suspicions are sins. And spy not, nor backbite one another.”

Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) has given us a clear picture of these mutual responsibilities by saying:

“The parable of one who stands in defense of the limits of Allah (meaning the one who works to protect the order of society and the individuals therein) is like a situation where a group of people board a ship, some settling on the upper deck and others on the lower deck. Those on the lower deck begin to feel thirsty and say: ‘If we drill a hole in our part of the ship, we will get water without bothering those on the upper deck.’ If those on the upper deck leave them to do what they want, all the people on board the ship will perish, and if they prevent them, all of them will be saved.”

As far as the mutual responsibility between all human societies is concerned, Allah says:

“O mankind. We have created you from a male and female and made you nations and tribes so you could come to know one another. Verily, the most honorable of you with Allah are the most righteous. Verily Allah is All-Knowing All-Aware.”

This verse sets down the principle of mutual responsibility between nations, placing all nations in a worldwide union that has the ultimate purpose of realizing universal welfare and preventing harm on a global scale, as well as fostering a beneficial exchange on all planes: material, spiritual, scientific, cultural, and economic. At the same time, each society retains its unique characteristics and identity. There is no threat that these unique qualities will be destroyed or abolished, because all are united by a sense that their origins and their ultimate destinations are the same.

This responsibility is not limited to the present generation. It must take into consideration future generations as well. Many of our present problems and those that are sure to face future generations could have been avoided or solved if this had been taken into consideration. Many of the world’s problems stem from the present generation running after its own interests without considering the future consequences of its behavior for humanity as a whole. These problems are many, among the most serious of these being the problem of the environment and that of dwindling natural resources.

We have in the policies of the Caliph `Umar b. al-Khattâb (may Allah be pleased with him), an example of one generation taking into consideration its responsibility to future generations. When the Muslims opened up Iraq, the soldiers wanted to divide the fertile agricultural land between them as part of the spoils of war. `Umar rejected this opinion, saying: “I want a situation that will be good for the people of the present and the future.” He decreed that the land should have a land tax levied on its produce and it should remain in the hands of its people who would pay the tax to the general state treasury.

This principle is derived from the following verse of the Qur’ân that defines the relationship that one generation of Muslims has with other generations:

And those who came after them say: “Our Lord, forgive us and our brethren who have preceded us in faith and do not put in our hearts hatred for those who believe. Our Lord, you are indeed Most Kind, Most Merciful.”

The future generations should have a good impression of the present one, so they will uphold their honor, seek from Allah their forgiveness, and carry in their hearts good feelings towards them. This is, in turn, how the present generation should feel about their relationship with the generations to come and the effects that their actions will have on them. Thus, they will refrain from depleting the resources that are in their possession and squandering the necessities of life.

They should enrich the soil of the future so that a continuous progression of generations can be built on solid ground and inherit a rich and venerable legacy.

In this way, the present generation presents an ideal realization of its responsibility to those who are to come, and the next generation, in turn, looks back on them with love in their hearts and prayers on their tongues asking for their forgiveness. In this way, their mutual responsibility towards each other is fulfilled from the first generation to the last. Manifestations of Social Responsibility in Islam
A general outline of social responsibility should be clear from what has already been said. When we turn our attention to specific manifestations of this responsibility, we find that Islam pays greater attention to the needs of certain classes of people who are more exposed to suffering and harm than others and who are more often the focus of social responsibility in its narrowest sense.