What is Individualism?
Cambridge dictionary defines individualism as “the idea that freedom of thought and action for each person is the most important quality of a society.”
It is a concept or idea or behaviour that each person should think and act independently, each person or oneself is more important than the group and one should work for our own advantage. It urges a person to strive for oneself. Self-progress and personal achievements are prioritised creating a strong sense of free choice and self-sufficiency in turn leading to competition between individuals.
Negative effects of individualism on families and communities.
Individualist culture is predisposed to believe that people are self-directed and independent, and they also give priority to freedom of an individual and his/her incomparability to others. Socioeconomic development is one of the major factors for the increase of this behaviour. In contrast to this behaviour is collectivism, where the stress is on the importance of a group and social cooperation, where people are not separate units but part and parcel of a larger group i.e., family, society or community, and they turn to family and friends for support during difficult times. People with a collectivist approach are willing to sacrifice their comfort for the greater good whereas in an individualist approach people tend to value their own wellbeing over the benefit for the group, in case of a tough situation they try to solve it on their own without seeking assistance also doing the same when trying to achieve a goal, as the qualities of uniqueness, independence, self-sufficiency and autonomy are of primary importance to them. These qualities are considered good whereas qualities such as sacrificing for others, generosity, interdependence and helping others are considered signs of weakness and loss by them.
An individual is the basic unit, whether it be in a family, community, society or nation. When this unit is corrupt it leads to corruption everywhere. When he works for himself, he only benefits his own self but when he considers the community he helps in social growth. Individualistic approach urges a person to pursue personal goals while in a family this may at times be hard to achieve or sometimes even impossible to do so.
The family is one of the most important socio-economic institutions of any society and needs to be protected. For family ties to be strong each member of the family plays an important role performing a variety of services, desires shifting in their importance depending on the need of the family in order to meet their requirements. Families are distinguished by both biological and cultural bonds and in reality, is the origin of unequal opportunity. It bridges the gap between individuals and communities. Families also emphasise interdependence and social compliance and for families to thrive it is necessary to put the needs of others before self which contradicts the basic meaning of individualism thus harming the sanctity of this unit. There is need for compassion and cooperation for a society to survive, qualities which are not encouraged by an individualist.
Man has been sent on this earth as a “Khalifa” (vicegerent)and hence his life in this world is a trust. Islam strives to maintain a balance between an individual and the society. On one hand it gives man the freedom to choose his path while on the other hand it holds him accountable and responsible for his actions. Individual freedom should be used for the betterment of the society and for the existence of peace and harmony in the community. Only rights and no duties would most certainly lead to imbalance in the society.
The five pillars of Islam emphasise the rights and responsibilities of individuals and the community in a most balanced way. The prayers set a reminder that there is a return to our creator, and we will be answerable for our deeds, fasting helps us in empathising with those in need and make us thankful for what we have instead of indulging in jealousies and competitiveness over trivial matters. It also helps us to develop patience, which is of primary importance when living in a family and society. Zakat teaches us selflessness and to think about the welfare of the community and Hajj is the ultimate lesson in how a community should thrive. Individualism, on the other hand, promotes all those qualities which go against the above and in no way helps an individual to be a good Muslim, instead, the qualities of self-sufficiency, self-advocacy, self-direction, self-reliance and self-efficacy are considered to be of primary importance. These qualities might give an individual better prospect in the moment but in the long run, man being a social animal needs a family and community to survive and thrive. Staying aloof is not what man has been created for, this causes damage to the family and community both.
As the Messenger of Allaah has stated: “ Each of you is a keeper or a shepherd and will be questioned about the wellbeing of his fold.”[footnoteRef:1] Also it has been stated by the Messenger of Allaah, “ Live together, do not turn against each other, make things easy for others and do not put obstacles in each other’s way.”[footnoteRef:2] [1: Bukhari and Muslim.] [2: Ahmad.]
Thus, individualism has more negative effects on the families and communities than gain for the individual and, ultimate success is in that prescribed by the Creator.
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