Sociologist Emile Durkheim defines religion based on its function and purpose in society; specifically, religion fulfills a fundamental part in preserving and reinforcing social structures and hence was crucial to the continued existence of society. According to Durkheim, society remains cohesive because of shared traditions, values, and ideals of which, customarily, religion had been the facilitator. Through the values, rituals, and sacraments of religion, it creates a feeling of belongingness to a bigger social group or institution with claims upon the person. It effectively brings and holds people in a group together, thus building social cohesion, meaning, and social control within the group (Kimmel and Aronson 112). Durkheim argues that one of the functions of religion was to provide identity to a person. He argues that religion offers people ways to go beyond their personal identities and, rather, identify themselves as a member of a bigger organization (Dillon 106). For example, the wearing of hijab by the Muslims conveys to the world their Islamic identity. Simply put, Durkheim claims that religion contributes to the formation of a shared consciousness and feeling of belonging that promotes social cohesion.
Nevertheless, Durkheim argues that the theory that views religion as a spiritual belief system appears insufficient, because it promotes a kind of religion that is not based on reality. Durkheim says that religion should also provide a universal meaning and an image of the interrelatedness of all things in the universe. Islam is a religion that is strongly rooted in social cohesion and solidarity among its components (IntroductiontoIslam.org “Belief” para 1). Such cohesion and solidarity has been conveyed in the Shari'a-- Islamic law. Primarily, emphasis is given on the nurturing of personal morality and conscience and on the predominance of moral obligations in society (IntroductiontoIslam.org “Sharia” para 1). As regards social cohesion and the function of religious values in that matter, most Muslims tend to mention such terms as giving, philanthropy, and charity. However, these terms and their meanings do not embody the real function of the Islamic law in the promotion of social cohesion and social control. In Islam, social cohesion is a completely developed and mature social system. The Sunnah-- a collection of customary legal and social practices and traditions of Islam-- and the Quran-- the Islamic holy book-- explain that a social cohesion rooted in faith is the strongest of all forms of social cohesion (Murad 24). It embodies individuals from across the globe uniting for a single objective-- to revere God. In order to attain this objective, Muslims co-operate and follow the Islamic creed with love and compassion.
There are in fact a huge number of passages in the Hadith-- written teachings of the Prophet Muhammad-- and the Quran that express with certainty that Muslims are to create a single, all-embracing community. One of the examples of these passages is as follows: “The parable of the believers with respect to their love, mercy and compassion for one another is like that of the body: if one of its limbs is hurting, the remainder of the body is afflicted by sleeplessness and fever” (Zarabozo 602). However, this strong social solidarity within Islam is not merely abstract. In truth, it is explicit and strengthened by actual guidance and obedience. It holds specific fundamental elements to it and particular responsibilities and privileges that are stated in the Sunnah and the Quran. All Muslims are expected to comply with these responsibilities and privileges, not only as an instrument of social cohesion but also as a means toward effective social control.
In fact, the concept of social cohesion in Islam designed as a process for cultivating the person's conscience, morale, and soul, and the nourishment of his/her individual abilities and gifts for valuable and beneficial pursuit. Durkheim explains that people who observe or carry out religious tradition, ritual, or ceremonies do so not merely for religious purposes, but to convey as well their identification with the spiritual faith and all of its devotees. Moreover, religious traditions function to remind people of the principles of their religious faith (Kimmel and Aronson 116). The everyday Islamic prayer, for instance, profess God's omnipotence. The Sharia teaches members of Islam the practices and customs that foster solidarity, compassion, and co-operation among the adherents, which is a clear objective of Islamic law itself. Hence, for instance, if a Muslim shows compassion for another Muslim by virtue of God's command, s/he must let the person know about that feeling. The explanation for such action has been mentioned in the Hadith: “If one of you loves his brother for the sake of God, he should inform of that as this will make the bond longer lasting and the love more confirmed” (Murad 111). This passage clearly values a strong social bond among Muslims.
Besides these desirable actions, when a Muslim stays away from the prohibited actions, the outcome will also be desirable for the social bond within the Islamic community. Simply put, when a Muslim does not practice cheating, deception, slandering, backstabbing and so on, no desirable outcome will arise from nonparticipation to in these wicked acts that Islamic law has openly prohibited (Mohammed 84). Hence, it is reasonable to believe that social cohesion within Islam is certainly one of the most desired objectives by the religion. Moreover, actual, doable measures are specified to guarantee that this objective will be fulfilled.
Durkheim also argues that religion serves as a social control for another powerful component of religion-- passion and emotional aspects. Religion serves as a control and expression of emotion which consequently facilitates interpersonal relationship and thus enhances social cohesion within Islam and strengthens religious norms (Dillon 106-7). Emotional expression can be witnessed in such instances as the emotional demonstrations at worship and/or praise festivals or revival gatherings. Nevertheless, the social control that Islam puts on emotional display and expression are accomplished through the establishment of appropriate and inappropriate norms and acts. This body of social controls contributes to the positive functioning of society.
For both society and the individual, morality is the social control that ensures the survival of society. While valuing individual rights within a wide-ranging Islamic paradigm, Islam is focused as well on the society's moral wellbeing. Hence, all that contributes to the wellbeing of the society and the individual is morally desirable within Islam, and all that is damaging is immoral (Murad 62). Because of its value to a fair, just, and productive society, Islam promotes and strengthens morality and actions that result in the reinforcement of moral behavior. In essence, it is through morality that Islam functions as an instrument of both social cohesion and social control.
Durkheim has provided a comprehensive explanation of religion within the functionalist perspective, arguing that religion promotes social cohesion, meaning, and social control for the continued existence of society. Islam is one of the religions that value social cohesion and social control. It is evident in their Islamic law, Sunnah, Hadith, and other religious documents. In essence, Islam is a perfect example of Durkheim's functionalist theory of religion.
Dillon, Michele. Introduction to Sociological Theory: Theorists, Concepts, and their Applicability to the Twenty-First Century. UK: John Wiley & Sons, 2009. Print.
Kimmel, Michael and Amy Aronson. Sociology Now: The Essentials. New York: Allyn & Bacon, 2011. Print.
IntroductiontoIslam.org. “Interesting Articles on Islam.” IntroductiontoIslam.org N.p., 2016. Web. 24 April 2016.
Mohammed, Riza and Dilwar Hussain. Islam: The Way of Revival. UK: Kube Publishing Ltd., 2015. Print.
Murad, Omar. Understanding Islam. New York: AuthorHouse, 2011. Print.
Zarabozo, Jamaal al-Din. Commentary on the Forty Hadith of Al-Nawawi. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University, 1999.