Individual reform is the path to social reform

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan remarks, "Real reform begins with educating individuals, and not by simply criticising the authorities."

Some people argue that social problems can be solved only through ‘social activism’, particularly through demonstrating against the state or the authorities.

This is nothing but ‘protest activism’, and experience shows that this kind of activism is completely futile in terms of results. We find that it always ends in a waste of money, time, energy and loss of life. Protest-oriented ‘social activism’ is just a beautiful name for reactionism. Social movements based on this may be good for their leaders, but not for the society at large. These so-called social movements only produce negative thinking which is destructive and cannot lead to any positive end. Reform requires a sincere kind of positive effort. No amount of negative criticism can bring about reform.

Some protest-oriented activists focus only on what they see as problems around them. They spend their lives demonstrating against this or that. This problem-oriented thinking is ‘unnatural’ thinking. According to the law of nature, problems are an integral part of life. But they cannot entirely eliminate the opportunities that also exist in the situation simultaneously. So, the best practical formula is to ignore the problems and avail the opportunities that are available.

By educating individuals, social problems will be solved by themselves.

According to the law of nature, problems are in fact, challenges. Problems create competition, and competition increases the creativity of people. This process consequently leads to progress and achievement. Historian and author Arnold Toynbee formulated the principle of challenge-response mechanism, according to which, all problems are challenges and all challenges are stepping-stones toward progress.

Social problems are in fact, individual problems. I believe in individual reform. By educating individuals, social problems will be solved by themselves. By ‘education’, I mean both formal and informal education. My concept of education also includes training the individual to be positive and realistic. Real reform begins with educating individuals, and not by simply criticising the authorities.

You might ask, can individual reform lead to social reform? To answer these questions, you need to be clear as to what ‘society’ really is. Society is nothing but a collection of individuals. So, when individuals are reformed, the whole society will, as a consequence, be reformed. When you focus on reforming individuals, you are focusing on real entities. If instead, you focus on trying to change society as a whole, your focus will be blurred. Society itself is an abstract concept and has no existence apart from the individuals who constitute it, so efforts to reform the whole of society without reforming individuals are all in vain.

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan is an Islamic spiritual scholar who has authored over 200 books on Islam, spirituality, and peaceful coexistence in a multi-ethnic society.




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