Solidarity And Sharing In The Arab-Islamic World – Analysis


The Big Contradiction

Amongst the topics that come up often in debates, newspapers, news, talk shows, international meetings, as well as, in literary and worldly conferences, one finds the following: democracy, intercultural dialogue, interfaith dialogue, dialogue of cultures, tolerance, coexistence, acceptance of the other in his difference, cultural diversity, equality, equity, etc.

The recurrence of these topics bluntly shows that the third millennium, so often described by experts as the era of intercultural communication is, par excellence, ultimately, not what it is supposed to be.

It is true, that human being can physically and virtually move from point A to point B, somewhat, with ease, yet, culturally speaking, he cannot communicate fully with the person standing in front of him. It is, even, worse when each individual seems to bear against the “other” dangerous stereotypes and misconceptions and surrounds himself with walls and shields, supposedly to defend his environment from a potential unknown cultural danger, and does in, no way, consider building bridges and passageways, instead, to achieve much-needed contact and togetherness. The rise of White Nationalism 1, as a result of the election of Donald Trump in 2016 is ominous for world justice, communion, brotherhood of men and world peace.

In this regard Lois Beckett and Jason Wilson, argue quite rightly  in an article entitled: “‘White power ideology’: why El Paso is part of a growing global threat,” published by The Guardian: 2

The escalating global death toll from white nationalist attacks puts a spotlight on the social media companies that have allowed white nationalists to organize on their platforms with little interference, as well as on the clear parallels between white terrorists’ justification for their attacks, and the racist and anti-immigrant rhetoric of some mainstream politicians. Donald Trump has repeatedly referred to immigrants and refugees as an “invasion”.

And they go on to say :

Many of these attacks inspired even more acts of violence. The suspected Christchurch shooter, who is accused of livestreaming his murder of dozens of innocent people in New Zealand in March, appears to have inspired at least two additional mass shootings in the United States within five months. In April, another young white man opened fire at a synagogue in Poway, California, killing one woman and injuring three other people. He cited the Christchurch attacks as his model, prosecutors said. On Saturday, the manifesto linked to the El Paso shooting, too, referred to the Christchurch massacre as an explicit inspiration.

On top of that, it must be said that in spite of the fantastic digital revolution, which the whole humanity is experiencing and celebrating with great fanfare, the image of the “other” has not improved, it is still dull, not say lugubrious due to the stereotypes and the preconceptions whose origin is, generally, ignorance and selfishness, and still is. Sadly, these stereotypes, so harmful towards universal harmony and love for one another are cultivated by certain media3, where the only goal sought is to raise their percentage of audience, for purely commercial reasons.

Actually, where it hurts the most, is when racist groups, xenophobes, homophobes, supremacists or simply fascists spearhead these campaigns to spread blanket fear and put psychological pressure on common people to demonize the “other.”

Therefore, today, although science has pushed further the frontiers of ignorance and our world has become, as predicted by the famous Canadian visionary Marshall McLuhan, a global village” 4, one asks,  with insistence, is the world really a true village, with everything that is attractive about such a human gathering: solidarity, warmth, harmony, friendship and love, or mostly a “jungle” where only the fit, strong and  fierce survive?

If things continue at this rate, this era will certainly be one of total contradiction. On one hand, people will communicate virtually and physically much faster, more often and more effectively, although, in practice, each individual will close up in one’s own world to protect his culture from extinction. And on the other, will continue to look at each other with much suspicion, not to say, of course, fear and apprehension because of the difference.

Nevertheless, it is a high time the natural and superficial cultural barriers were destroyed for good, and open and honest dialogues amongst the different groups of society are established. This noble objective cannot be realized fully other than by the adoption of the philosophy of sharing and caring, so dear to Saint Martin of Tours, this great man who re-invented, many centuries ago and more precisely on 337 AD, “solidarity amongst men.” Indeed, while he was in garrison in Amiens, in Gaul, he had this universal gesture whereby he shared half of his coat with  a poor person shivering in the cold. 5

Sharing Amongst Traditional Society

One of the harmful consequences of this fast-growing and invading globalization, is the inevitable destruction of structural norms of traditional society. In effect, the economic constraints of globalization in the world today, push towards the nuclearization of the traditional family , therefore leading to the extinction of the extended family 6. In reality, apart from certain limited places in our planet, still geographically untouched by globalization, the extended family is, almost, a thing of the past.

It is true that with science’s constant progress, human society automatically and simultaneously follows its movement and tries to, somehow, adapt to the new reality and new ways of life. Globalization brings humanity closer and creates new wealth, though this wealth is not equally distributed amongst the different layers of society and its different groups. The gap in wealth, knowledge and tradition, between a developed and rich north and a bruised and poor south, is getting bigger and bigger and becoming an unfathomable chasm.

Formerly, the south subsisted thanks to its traditional social structures, and with the disappearance of these structures, this part of the world is today very vulnerable and in many places, it wallows, unwillingly, in violence, crime, corruption and hate. This leads one, however, to ask the following question: what is the secret of the success of the traditional social structures?

One of the prominent aspects of the extended family is, without  doubt, the philosophy of sharing, known as twiza among the Amazigh/Berber people of North Africa 7. A social concept based on values such as:

  1. Sharing of wealth in a fair way;
  2. Sharing responsibility and obligations;
  3. Active solidarity;
  4. Mutual help and protection;
  5. Safeguarding of the vital interests of the community; and
  6. Protection of collective identity.

These societies were governed by a strong sense of community; the individual existed as an individual as long as he belonged to a community and vowed to protect it from external dangers, whatever their nature might be.

But, for the philosophy of sharing to be able to manifest itself fully in a traditional society, without any obstacles or hurdles, society is called upon to definitely reject individualism equated with selfishness and encourage active collectivism. In such an environment, the individual, in reality, is a small particle of a given community, not having any cultural existence of his own. In effect, in these societies, one would, generally, identify oneself first by the person’s clan name, then, if necessary, by the tribe name.

On the concept of collectivism, Craig Biddle writes in an article entitled: “Individualism vs. Collectivism: Our Future, Our Choicein The Objective Standard: 8

Collectivism is the idea that the individual’s life belongs not to him but to the group or society of which he is merely a part, that he has no rights, and that he must sacrifice his values and goals for the group’s “greater good.” According to collectivism, the group or society is the basic unit of moral concern, and the individual is of value only insofar as he serves the group. As one advocate of this idea puts it: “Man has no rights except those which society permits him to enjoy. From the day of his birth until the day of his death society allows him to enjoy certain so-called rights and deprives him of others; not . . . because society desires especially to favor or oppress the individual, but because its own preservation, welfare, and happiness are the prime considerations.” 9

That which the individual would lose in identity, he would, definitely, win through sharing, solidarity and protection. In these communities, wealth would be shared in a fair way: all members of the clan would have enough food to eat, would have a ceiling to sleep under and would have clothes to dress decently. There are no big differences of wealth, or opportunities between the different members of the society or any feeling of insecurity or any resentment towards the other.

It is true that traditional societies were less developed than modern ones, less sophisticated, but they had this great quality of being human, in their own sense of the term, as they believe and practice sharing and solidarity by conviction and love and not by interest or fear. Most importantly, however, traditional societies were in their collectivism, friendly to nature and to the environment and fully ecology-minded because there was no excess on utilization of land or its products: consumption was strictly regulated and there was no unnecessary waste of any kind.

This type of society, mostly outdated today, on the view of the development of humanity and of the occurrence of modernity, contains many positive teachings, which one can use to construct a fair modern social structure without insecurity and reaching out towards all people, without misconceptions or any form of stigmatization and towards development and modernity, in an earth-friendly responsible fashion.

Though aware of the importance of the positive aspects of modern society, nevertheless, many human groups have reinvented, by conviction, a traditional society and traditional values 10, in their environment and have settled in the comfort of their own communalism. Others have recreated the conditions of the traditional society in religious brotherhoods, sports associations, civil society organizations or simply in political or cultural parties. The central axis of all these human groups is solidarity, generosity, philanthropy and sharing. This solidarity manifests itself by mutual help and sharing, a form of social justice, a sine qua non condition to having a decent life of dignity and humanity, knowing that the human being is, today, undoubtedly, threatened in his humanity by the materialism of globalization.

Solidarity In Islam

It goes without saying that the majority of human religions and faiths revolve around putting face to face the duality of good and evil and preaching the triumph of good on evil. For the Religions of the Book, the most important aspect of the good is sharing and caring.

In Islam, the philosophy of sharing is inscribed in gold in a multitude of surahs from the Qur’an, such as:

“Help one another in acts of piety and righteousness. And do not assist each other in acts of sinfulness and transgression. And be aware of Allah. Verily, Allah is severe in punishment” (Quran 5:2).

As a matter of fact, there is a wide range of concepts that highlight solidarity and goodness to the other: the notions of ummah, zakat, kafalat al-muhtaj (sponsoring of the needy), kafalat al-yatim (sponsoring of the orphan). 

The Ummah “The Nation Of Believers”11

It is a notion where all Muslims are all equal in front of God in spite of their ethnic, linguistic, material or geographical differences; the thing that distinguishes one from the other is their degree of piousness or piety.

Thus, the concept of the transversal notion of ummah is sharing 12. This is illustrated in a transparent and direct way by a hadith of the Prophet Mohammed:

“When a member or a part of the human body is attacked by illness (a germ or a virus) the whole body flies to the rescue of this part of the body without hesitation”

This hadith shows without detours the importance of sharing and  solidarity in Islam.

This effective solidarity amongst Muslims from different regions and cultures finds its ultimate expression during the season of Hajj (Pilgrimage to the Mecca,) when three million believers, from all over the world, find themselves in a cramped space in Mecca or Medina in Saudi Arabia, to accomplish the rites of pilgrimage. This rite is based on active solidarity and generous sharing, which is what the pilgrims strive to accomplish with flair.

  1. Zakat 13: is a religious annual tax given by the believer to bayt-al-mal (state treasury,) and the funds serve to combat poverty and exclusion from society. Unlike modern taxes, religious taxes are voluntary and in case of non-payment, the law does not repress it. 
  2. Kafalat al-muhtaj / kafalat al-yatim: is the immediate support given to the needy and orphans by the Islamic State thanks to the zakat funds. The needy are looked after in dar al –mouhtaj (house of the needy), which are financed by the funds from bayt al-mal or the religious legacies known as the habus 14 or waqf 15.

Regarding the orphan, he is taken care of until he comes out of age or his effective insertion in the active professional life making use of bayt al-mal or waqf funds. The believers make religious legacies or habus in cash or goods, with the finality of helping the state help the poor, the needy, the orphan and the handicapped. These legacies are either anonymous or carry the name of the sponsor or donator.

It should be pointed out that these religious practices are of great value for the believers and, for centuries, have become a sort of citizen obligation, what Antoine Selosse 16, from the Cultural European Center Saint Martin of Tours 17, called “shared citizenship.”

Besides, the believer that makes the donations towards the state, with the purpose of sharing, is called in Arabic mohsin “benefactor” this same word has passed to French under the form of “mécène” and this is an additional proof of the centrality of giving and sharing in the Islamic faith.

States In Crisis

At the beginning of the last century appeared in the Arab world a philosophy that preached the nahda “renaissance” and modernity, after independence from European colonialism.

With the access of these countries to independence, the regimes that came with it were mostly logical structures of European inspiration, therefore, the ultimate desertion of the caliphate, Islamic State mode of government. Unlike Europe, these post-independence political structures and entities were not democratic but rather totalitarian, either of military or oligarchic nature. This system of government favors the emergence of leading classes and elites that increase their wealth at the expense of the state by rentier or illegal means. This state of matters and condition led to a great division in the Arab societies, not to say a gap between the elites that have amassed riches thanks to the system of rent and the hard-working class, and the poor who were further impoverished, with time. The post-independence state failing, willingly or unwillingly, to anticipate a system of solidarity, welfare and sharing pushed the lower classes to total marginalization, therefore, making them easily recapturable by the radical anti-establishment movements, be they leftist or Islamist.

In 1972, appeared in Morocco a music band named “Nass El Ghiwane” 18 which did deal, successfully, in melody, with the daily concerns and problems of the rank and file. The anti-establishment themes galvanized, beyond belief, the common people unlike with the majority of other singers that interpreted mundane themes such as: love and affection. This band sung themes about exclusion and poverty about repression and lack of social justice as well as about much-wanted democracy, making use of traditional instruments long-forgotten. The songs of this band found audience amongst the anti-establishment intellectuals and the less-favored societies everywhere within the Arab world.

The exemplary success of this type of music from the hinterland, at both the national and international levels, is due mainly to the relevant themes of sharing and solidarity, as well as, inclusion and freedom openly addressed by the grass root artists, for the first time, in such a direct and daring fashion.

37 years later, the band “Nass El Ghiwaneis still anti-establishment and still carries the solidarity flag with pride, insistence and fervor:

O human being

O human being 

Why are we enemies?

We are brothers

We are cousins

We are neighbors 

O human being

But, they, also, sing about the persistent ailments and splitting headaches of modern Arab society, with much eloquence and fervor, and without any detour or circumvolution:

O all merciful God

Why has our summer become winter?

And spring fall?

Why are the officials 

Liars and oppressors?

And why are the judges unfair?

And why are our leaders

Oppressive and violent?

The latter song, in itself, cannot resolve the poor Arab citizen’s many problems, illiterate and emasculated by dictatorship patriarchy and oppressed by the heavy weight of the past, which is glorified by Arab leaders to make him live, permanently, in the past and reject modernity and democracy and, most importantly, forget about his daily problems caused by poor governance and unacceptable dictatorship and oppression.

Following the advent of the Iranian revolution of Khomeini at the end of the 70’s of the last century, Islamic groups appeared like mushrooms in all the Arab countries, yearning for freedom and hungry for political power. It was the beginning of political Islam 19 that preached openly the re-islamisation of society and the return to Islamic sources, getting rid of any form of modernity and democracy, seeing as the West’s ploy to control the Muslim world by indirect means and ways

Islamic groups owe their evident success not to their religious orthodoxy, but, rather, to their decided and voluntary actions of solidarity and sharing by assisting the less-favored people, forgotten by their corrupt and oppressing governments, like in the case of the Ikhwan ‘Muslim Brotherhood) in Egypt. The Ikhwan, indeed, supplanted the government in the area of social welfare with the poor and led to their democratic victory in elections, after the advent of the Arab Spring. Thus, without firing a shot, Islamists won support from the less-favored in many Arab countries where the percentages of poverty vary from 60% and 70% of the total population.

So, how did the Islamists manage to achieve their feat of sharing and solidarity whereby governments with their ministries, bureaucracy and their budgets have miserably failed? The Islamist´s success in their politics of sharing and solidarity is due largely to their righteousness in the management of local affairs, their transparency, their realism and their proximity and availability, at all times. They take periodically a census of the economic priorities and urgent requirements of the poor population and immediately support their needs of food, clothing, school supplies, hospital costs, medicine, wheelchairs for the physically handicapped or glasses for the visually impaired. In case of death, the Islamists take charge of burial expenses, but they, also, provide help with hospital and medicine costs and provide compensation without any conditions, apparently of course.

In this indirect way, the project of the Islamist society won the hearts of the people and, at the same time, their electoral votes. While secular or other political parties suffer from credibility problem because of their lack of transparency, advocacy and political voluntarism in addition to their cooptation by the regimes in place.

The Islamists in Turkey with their Party for Justice and Development or AKP (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi) 20have shown that they are capable of big social advancement thanks to their policies of voluntarism by sharing and showing solidarity within their society, at large, which made them win the trust of the citizens, even from those who did not believe in their political dogmatism. 21

Era Of Sharing, Philanthropy And Solidarity Is Here Now More Than Ever

Thanks to generous and such brave men  as Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and many others, the world of today is a much better place though it is not fully egalitarian but solidary, responsibility and generosity are running high within society.

It is, however, the duty of the citizen to voluntarily show his sense of solidarity and sharing. To achieve this, everybody is called upon to reinvent the historical gesture of Saint Martin of Tours and to, solemnly, universalize it and go, even, further to call world politicians to include such an act of human generosity in the constitutions of the member countries of the United Nations, as was the case, in the past, with human rights.

Today, the world, more divided than before, has an urgent need of Saint Martin of Tours philosophy to spread around more generosity, more sharing and more solidarity amongst the citizens of this planet, the only available habitat for humanity.

To keep the planet sane, there is an urgent need to show care for its inhabitants in an unselfish way. Would man rise up to such a lofty challenge? That is a question that only time can answer.

You can follow Professor Mohamed CHTATOU on Twitter: @Ayurinu


  4. Cf. Concept popularized by the Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan in such works as :  The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man (1962) and Understanding Media (1964). « Today, after more than a century of electric technology, we have extended our central nervous system itself in a global embrace, abolishing both space and time as far as our planet is concerned. »
  5. « Martin was known to have many different prophetic visions that came true. People have also attributed many miracles of healing to him, both during his lifetime (when God reportedly healed a leper after Martin kissed him) and afterward, when people prayed to Martin in heaven to pray for their healing on Earth. During his lifetime, reportedly, three people were raised back to life from the dead (all in separate incidents) after Martin prayed for them. A famous miracle related to horses in Martin’s life happened when he was a soldier in the army in ancient Gaul (now France) riding a horse through a forest and encountered a beggar. Martin didn’t have any money with him, so since he noticed that the beggar didn’t have enough clothes to keep him warm, he used his sword to cut the heavy cloak that he was wearing in half to share with the beggar. Later, Martin had a miraculous vision of Jesus Christ wearing the cloak. »
  6. Extended family, an expansion of the nuclear family (parents and dependent children), usually built around a unilineal descent group (i.e., a group in which descent through either the female or the male line is emphasized). The extended family system often, but not exclusively, occurs in regions in which economic conditions make it difficult for the nuclear family to achieve self-sufficiency. Cooperation being necessary, aid is recruited, usually either from the patrilineal kin or the matrilineal kin. In traditional China, for example, the extended family ideally consisted of the nuclear family of the head of the household, his unmarried daughters, his sons and their families, his sons’ sons’ families and unmarried daughters, and so forth. The extended family may include more distant kin, but the uncles, aunts, or cousins usually belong to the same clan as members of the core lineage.
  9. Cf. A. Maurice Low, “What is Socialism? III: An Explanation of ‘The Rights’ Men Enjoy in a State of Civilized Society,” The North American Review, vol. 197, no. 688 (March 1913), p. 406.
  11. The concept of ummah might seem to correspond to our understanding of a nation, but there are important differences. The nation is a strictly political concept; it may be defined as a community of peoples possessing a given territory with their own government; citizenship involves giving allegiance to the State, independently of a person’s religious commitment. By contrast, citizenship in the ummah very much involves commitment to a particular religion. To the Muslim way of thinking, the only ummah that counts is the Ummah Islamiyyah, the Islamic Community, an entity that theoretically comprises all Muslims throughout the world, whatever their national origin. In Islamic thought, “The Ummah” represents a universal world order, ruled by an Islamic government (the Caliph) in accordance with the “Law of God” (the Shariah, Islamic religious law), and patterned after the community founded by Muhammad at Medina in 622 AD; it even includes Jews and Christians living within its territory as separate (and inferior) communities.
  12. Cf. Frederick Mathewson Denny, « The Meaning of “Ummah” in the Qurʾān » in History of Religion. Vol. 15, No. 1 (Aug., 1975), pp. 34-70
  13. Zakat is an Islamic finance term referring to the obligation that an individual has to donate a certain proportion of wealth each year to charitable causes. Zakat is a mandatory process for Muslims and is regarded as a form of worship. Giving away money to the poor is said to purify yearly earnings that are over and above what is required to provide the essential needs of a person or family.: KEY TAKEAWAYS: Zakat is a religious obligation, ordering all Muslims who meet the necessary criteria to donate a certain portion of wealth each year to charitable causes.Giving away money to the poor is said to purify yearly earnings that are over and above what is required to provide the essential needs of a person or family. Zakat is based on income and the value of possessions. The common minimum amount for those who qualify is 2.5%, or 1/40 of a Muslim’s total savings and wealth. If personal wealth is below the nisab during one lunar year, no zakat is owed for that period.
  14. “Ḥabūs”, in: Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition, Edited by: P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, W.P. Heinrichs. Consulted online on 09 September 2019 First published online: 2012. First print edition: ISBN: 9789004161214, 1960-2007
  15. The literal meaning of the word waqf is ‘detention’. In the legal context, waqf means detention of a property so that its produce or income may always be available for religious or charitable purposes. When a waqf is created, the property is detained or, is ‘tied up’ forever and thereafter becomes non-transferable. Meaning and various types of waqf are defined in this project. There is an object behind making a wakf. Office of Mutawalli (manager) is very important. There are many modes to create waqf, which are dealt with in this project. Wakf is binding and enforceable by law, it has legal consequences which are dealt with in this project. The law of waqf is “the most important branch of Mohammedan Law for it is interwoven with the entire religious, social, and economic life of Muslims.
  18. Nass El Ghiwane (Arabic: ناس الغيوان‎) are a musical group established in 1971 in Casablanca, Morocco. The group, which originated in avant-garde political theater, has played an influential role in Moroccan chaabi (or shaabi). Nass El Ghiwane were the first band to introduce Western instruments like the modern banjo. Their music incorporates a trance aesthetic, reflecting the influence of local Gnawa music. Their music is inspired by ancient North African Sufi poetry, most prominently that of Abderrahman El Majdoub, whose work was a direct inspiration to the band. They are also credited for helping bring a new social movement to Morocco.
  19. Cf. Cesari, J. 2018. What Is Political Islam ? Lynne Reinner Publishers. Jocelyne Cesari is professor of religion and politics at the University of Birmingham; senior research fellow at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs; and professorial fellow at the Australian Catholic University. The debate continues unabated: Is political Islam decipherable through the tenets of the Islamic tradition—or is it a tool of secular actors who shrewdly misuse religious references? Is it an expression of modernity, or a return to the past? Eschewing these dichotomies, Jocelyne Cesari demystifies the continuous process of interaction between secular and religious actors and institutions that is at the core of political mobilization in the name of Islam. Cesari traces the origins of political Islam to the inception of the modern nation-state, revealing the decisive role of secular nationalist rulers in its creation. In the process, she puts to rest the myth that there has been a lack of modernization in the Muslim world—and shows how that myth has proven dangerous. Ranging from Senegal to Egypt, from Indonesia to Iraq, her analysis provides a much needed corrective to the “conventional wisdom.”
  20. The Justice and Development Party, abbreviated officially AK Parti in Turkish, is a conservative political party in Turkey. Developed from the conservative tradition of Turkey’s Ottoman past and its Islamic identity, the party is the largest in Turkey

Dr. Mohamed Chtatou

Dr. Mohamed Chtatou is a Professor of education science at the university in Rabat. He is currently a political analyst with Moroccan, Gulf, French, Italian and British media on politics and culture in the Middle East, Islam and Islamism as well as terrorism. He is, also, a specialist on political Islam in the MENA region with interest in the roots of terrorism and religious extremism.

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