Sociology and Anthropology

Sociological Realism: An Islamic Paradigm

Ever since its revelation more than fourteen hundred years ago, the Qur’an has been the object of recitation and memorization, as well as scholarly analysis by millions in every generation. During this long span of time, not only religious scholars and jurists, but also other professionals like physicists, medical doctors, historians, and orientalists have tried to scrutinize and analyze the Qur’an. It is about time that sociologists paid attention to this primary source of Islam. Sociological interest in the Qur’an, as belated as it is, is in fact natural, for, after a brief foray in the direction of what one may call Origin Theology, the basic thrust of the Qur’an remains ideological- humanity and its society in this world. Not that this is such a revealing idea. Whether one looks at it from a juristic point of view or from a historical perspective, it hardly escapes notice that the Qur’anic verses speak out loudly about the nature of plural living as fabricated by the crisscrossing episodes generated by very active, assertive, and expressive individuals over the course of history. Most of what has been going on in Islamic studies, under the rubric of law and history in particular, provides us with sufficient encouragement to cast a fresh look at the same source of knowledge.

Questions Sociological Theory Should Answer

As we have already seen, sociologists have at different times asked different and disparate, although quite relevant, questions. They have also been insufficient questions. For example, symbolic interactionists remained interested primarily in the indeterminstic nature of the human act. This microscopic preoccupation prevented them from asking questions about social processes of a larger magnitude. Even Blumer’s emphasis on collective behavior, which showed an early promise for the analysis of revolutionary social change, has had only scant appeal for his fellow symbolic interactionists.

On the other hand, structural-functionalists as well as conflict theorists remained interested in the deterministic nature of the macro social order.  By pursuing this interest, they generated a heated debate with respect to the extent of consensus and conflict in society.

Thus, although we have three major sociological theories in vogue today, there are only two major Controversies: determinism vs. indeterminism, and conflict vs. consensus as determinants of social structure. What is needed is a dialogue on the relationship between individual social action and the society which provides it with its relevant context. In short, we need a more synthetic view of social interaction encompassing these controversies. This leads us to ask the following questions:

  • What is the nature of a given social act?
  • What is the nature of a given social order?
  • What is the relationship between the two?

In brief, these questions cut across the whole spectrum of contemporary theoretical sociology. By providing answers to these questions, one may find, hopefully, a resolution of the controversies which have beset sociological theory ever since its inception. These questions quire a systematic and holistic paradigm which is both realistic and universal in scope. It must be realistic in the sense that it must appeal to the experiences of all those who read it, and it must be universal in the sense that it is applicable to all societies as they vary in time and space.

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