“Most of the obstacles children face today are linked to the belief among adults that the prime duty of the individual is to make the most of their own life, rather than contribute to the good of others… excessive individualism is causing a range of problems for children including: high family break-up, teenage unkindness, commercial pressures towards premature sexualisation, unprincipled advertising, too much competition in education and acceptance of income inequality.”
— UK Good Childhood Inquiry
Over the past 10 years, more than 20,000 American children are believed to have been killed in their own homes by family members. That is nearly four times the number of US soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The child maltreatment death rate in the US is triple Canada’s and 11 times that of Italy. Millions of children are reported as abused and neglected every year. Europe is not immune from child neglect. Take Britain for example. According to the 2010/11 figures from National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), child line counselors dealt with nearly 670,000 contacts from children about various problems including, bullying, sex abuse, violence and mental health issues. On average, every week in England and Wales at least one child is killed at the hands of another person. Children under one are the age group most at-risk of being killed at the hands of another person. Over 16,000 allegations of children suffering abuse were passed from the NSPCC Helpline to police or social services.
It is almost customary for governments to respond to cases of child neglect by launching public inquiries. In the past the outcome of such inquiries has led to either the social services playing a greater role in the prevention of the ill-treatment of children or new legislation aimed at offering children greater protection from abusive parents. All too often these inquiries fail to stem the growing tide of child abuse pervading Western society. This has led some to call for tougher measures such as permanently taking children away from cruel parents or even stripping them of their right to reproduce. It is highly unlikely that the present government will make any headway in reducing the ill treatment of children. This is because the main cause behind child abuse is the unbridled individualism, which governments, sociologists and parents alike have repeatedly refused to acknowledge.
Individualism is an important pillar of Western Secularism and dominates many of the relationships that exist between people in Western societies. Individualism stipulates that people should put their interests first and foremost. This imbues in people a selfish mentality and encourages people to satisfy their own needs before the needs of others. Furthermore, individualism leads people to view responsibility as a burden and a hindrance towards the fulfillment of their selfish motives. Therefore, it is common to find people in the West, especially in the social sphere, entering and leaving relationships in order to avoid responsibility – all of which has a detrimental effect on society. Hence rampant fornication, abortions, single parent families, fathers avoiding child maintenance costs, mothers forsaking children to pursue careers, parents giving up children to foster homes and wanton child abuse are all symptoms of individualism.
Western governments are unable to deal with the effects of individualism and the harm it causes to society. This is because the role of the government is to guarantee individualism for its citizens and not to impose restrictions on people’s individuality. Therefore, the primary concern of government is the welfare of the individual and not the family or wider society. For instance, when dealing with the issue of child abuse, Western governments view the child and its rights as separate to the rights of the mother and the rights of the father. Naturally any solutions arising from this type of thinking will focus more on preserving the individuality of the child, mother or father than protecting the family or society. In this way, the family and society bear no collective responsibility towards the mistreatment of children, since law and responsibility are solely applied at the level of the individual.
In Islam, the concept of individualism is limited to the relationship between man and God and the relationship of man with himself i.e. in the matters of worship, foodstuffs, clothing and morals. In relationships that involve people, individuals are permitted to satisfy their needs provided that they do not violate the rights of other individuals or transgress the limits imposed by Islam for the welfare of the society. In all types of relationships Muslims are required to seek the pleasure of God by conducting themselves according to laws prescribed by Islam. These laws when practiced produce a unique and distinct character for the human being, a character shaped by altruism and not selfishness. Islam promoted and raised high, not only the relationship between the parent and child, but also that of family and society.
Islam praised the family, the messenger (s.a.w) of Allah said, "Do marry the devoted and prolific women, for I will be proud of you before other nations on the Day of Judgement." [Abu Dawood, at-Tirmidhi]. Islam forbade the killing and torturing of children. It is mentioned in the Qur’an: “Kill not your children for fear of want, We shall provide sustenance for them as well as for you.” [TMQ Al-Isra: 31]
Islam has forbidden the neglect of children and has made it obligatory for parents to provide food, clothing, shelter and to meet the various other requirements of their children. The messenger (s.a.w) of Allah said, “It is enough sin for a person that he ignores those whom he is responsible for.” [Abu Dawood]
Thus, within the Islamic framework children are regarded as a blessing and the family is viewed as playing a pivotal role in the stability of society.
Today, individualism threatens the social fabric of Western societies through the erosion of family values and violation of civil rights. Left unquestioned and unchecked, individualism will result in the fragmentation of both Muslim and non-Muslim communities. The Islamic attitude towards the family and society is much more responsible than the selfish outlook of secularism. Therefore it is essential that Muslims in the West expose the shortcomings of individualism and endeavour to present Islam to non-Muslims as the only solution to societal problems.