Humanism in Community Advocation

Community advocation is a term that is of much relevance today – it signifies a continuous and laborious activity with the intention of implementing positive change based on a specific worldview. It is therefore reformistic in its essence. With the advent of social media that brings much exposure to both knowledge and current happenings of the world, it is to be expected that man with his gifts of criticality and creativity would feel called upon to seek change. But creative intellect is not the only factor in the psyche of man for him to willingly bear this responsibility. Such a burden can only be borne by a being that possesses a moral conscience. Though the intellect defines for man what is right or wrong for his heart and soul, it is the conscience that pushes his mouth and limbs to seek change.

Even so, this conscience may be defined as a part of an inherent value that defines man, which is the powerful humanism that we possess, that colours our sight to the point that we seek goodness for not only ourselves but for those around us as well. Regardless of its subject, community advocation should be a deep manifestation of a person’s humanism that taps into the roots of a human soul while utilising his unique gifts.

Before we go further, allow me to state what I mean by humanism in this context. Fromm wrote,

“The humanistic position is that there is nothing higher and nothing more dignified than human existence.” [1]

“Humanist philosophy can be characterized as follows: first, belief in the unity of the human race, that there is nothing human which is not found in every one of us; second, the emphasis on man’s dignity; third, the emphasis on man’s capacity to develop and perfect himself; and fourth, the emphasis on reason, objectivity, and peace.” [2]

It is therefore the position of humanism that man’s individual existence, experience, and the gifts he bears, would allow him to reach his true potential. It is for this reason that Fromm expounded upon the importance of humanistic ethics, and subsequently its difference between authoritarian ethics. If I may say so, it is fundamental for us to distinguish between humanistic advocation and authoritative advocation. By adopting either one, it shapes the purpose and medium of our advocation.

The purpose of humanistic advocation would be to seek positive change through resonating with an individual’s humanism and humane gifts of intellect and conscience. Therein lies the value of hope in advocation – to believe that an individual or community is capable of positive change through their humane gifts. Authoritative advocation seeks no such thing, for its production is not based on hope. Rather, it is based on ego and fear, and therefore, it seeks to dictate change through the eradication of an individual’s humanism and humane gifts of intellect and conscience. In other words, authoritative advocation is a process that dehumanises the subject of its advocation.

With these differences, the medium of advocation becomes contrasting. As humanistic advocation seeks to resonate with the humane gifts of intellect and conscience, the medium is therefore ethical, engaging, and participative. Due to its humanistic position which I stated above, advocates would honour both their humanity and the recipients’ with time and effort.

The opposite can be said for authoritative advocation, which would be unethical, dismissive, and one-sided. Though the cost and labour of humanistic advocation would be much higher due to its nature, the impact of such a medium would emanate in not just one strand of an individual’s life as it would be more impactful and comprehensive. Humanistic advocation would aim for an unearthing and unshackling of man’s conscience and intellect, which would lead to an ethical and empathetic worldview.

For advocation today, due to the interwovenness of man, community, and society, like leaves, branches, and roots, it is only appropriate that we take each into consideration for the purpose of reaching common ground. We should not seek for the collective to adopt a common definition of positive change, for different worldviews of what is positive and negative for society are an unchanging part of reality.

Nevertheless, despite the difference in defining what is a positive change, humanistic advocation means there would be certain common values based on this ideal. A humane advocation in society will lead to civility and tolerance. It will also lead to the drawing of boundaries, whose transgression will rightfully be condemned by advocates alike.

One point I would like to emphasise is that humanistic advocation is one that is entrenched with Islamic values and teachings. Though there have been several types of advocation, it is important for those of us with care and knowledge to highlight the fact that humanistic values are a part of the Islamic faith and tradition. Strong parallels can be made between humanistic philosophy and certain strands of Islamic philosophy, such as the Mu’tazila and the Maturidi that place an emphasis on the potential of human rationality.

It is from my understanding of Islamic values and teachings, as espoused by contemporary Muslim scholars such as Khaled Abou El-Fadl, Buya Shafi Maarif, Buya Hamka, Nurcholish Madjid, Gus Dur, Sahal Mahfudh, M. Natsir, Quraish Shihab, Jalaludin Rakhmat, that I hold onto the importance of being humane in our advocation. To be humane means to acknowledge that the reality of man is made of his individual gifts and experiences, social structures, and historical elements. For this reason, I wish to elaborate on the characteristics of humanistic advocation in three different social structures: the individual, community, and society.

To base our advocation upon humanistic values means to harbour love in the heart for our fellow man. And to love means to trust in the potentiality of man. This trust does not indicate that advocates should abandon their activity in trust that man will eventually conform to their individual worldview that defines positive change. But rather, if they do love man, then they should seek to engage with their intellect and conscience through advocation, in hopes that man will come to share the same view with the advocates and be part of the positive change they seek.

A manifestation of this would be to base our advocation on love, hope, criticality, and creativity, not on hate, fear, irrationality, and dogmatism. Unfortunately, advocation of the latter does exist today. We see their advocation dripping with authoritative rhetoric, with hate and fear for those who do not share their worldviews, with irrationality based on their own warped observation of reality or even religious scriptures.

There is relevance in M. Natsir’s elaboration on the term, Mawaddah Fil-Qurba (Love for the Kindred). He stated eloquently that advocation can only be emanated into the hearts of the subjects when it originates from love. He wrote that there are two ways for an advocate to relate to his subjects:

“The first (knowledge) is about technique and tactic, while the second (love) is about being emotionally connected. Here lies the source of strength for an advocate in carrying out spirited advocation: trusting and respecting the values and dignity of man, while also rejecting all forceful and regiment techniques and blind discipline.” [3]

As I have written above, humanistic advocation will undoubtedly shape the nature of our advocation. Humanistic advocation for man would also be participative in nature. As the process of advocation should be humanising, it means to engage and interact with the innate gifts of man, which would be his intellect and conscience. Humanistic advocation towards man would not be authoritative in nature, and by this, I mean to seek blind trust and be irrational in advocation. This is an insult to the nature of man that is gifted with intellect and conscience, which would result in a dehumanisation of the individual to the point that he is unable to think for himself.

To have individuals in a community who are unable to be critical and creative can never be defined as a positive change.

With regard to humanistic advocation from a communal perspective, the importance lies in recognising and acknowledging the culture and traditions that define a community. As to how an individual possesses his own nature and character, so does a community. To advocate in a way that seeks to deny and diminish a community’s traditional values would mean to dehumanise a community.

However, in recognising a community’s culture and tradition, it does not equate to accepting all values and practices despite their conflict with the positives and negatives of our worldview. Certainly, traditions are subject to change. History has proven that it is possible to advocate for the reformation of traditions. The point I would like to emphasise is the importance of carrying this out humanely, with love, empathy, and knowledge. Synonymous with the act of loving is seeking to understand the ‘other’, as how a spouse would seek to understand their partner. To love a community would be to seek to empathise and understand the importance and formulation of certain traditions.

It is only when we view a community from a humane perspective, as a living organism influenced by social and historical factors, would we be able to truly understand it. It is from this understanding that our advocation would be shaped humanely. Never would we seek communal reform blindly, trampling upon cultural and traditional values, if we understand the nuances of culture and tradition. Practically, advocation of this nature would only lead to setbacks. A humanistic advocation would be communal and collaborative in nature.

In KH Sahl Mahfudh’s Social Nuances of Fiqh, he elaborated upon the importance of collaborative advocation:

“A collaborative approach requires the target of advocation to be involved in planning, especially in exploring problems and needs. This is where new ideas will grow, where the advocates act as guides for the emerging discourses in search of alternative solutions to problems.” [4]

Within this principle of collaboration contain two other elements that are of importance: compromise and communication. If we adopt a humanistic element in advocation, then it should be accepted that advocation should not result in an obliteration of individuality where the subjects would change to a worldview in totality. It would be humane for advocates to not only realise but emphasise that a community should retain an individualistic element in advocation. After all, a humanistic advocation does not seek to obscure the culture and traditions of man, but to engage with them.

This principle of collaboration is best exemplified by advocates in Java, known as the Wali Sanga. Their incorporation of traditions in their advocation signifies their humane understanding of Islamic teachings. It is also a form of compromise and communication, as their actions signify that advocation should be a two-way discourse.

Building upon the importance of knowledge regarding the subject of our advocation, how can we hope to reach a deep and nuanced understanding of society if we do not study it from a humane perspective? To advocate without factoring in social and historical factors would mean to deny the humane elements of a society. It would be synonymous with thinking that a society is not a living organism influenced by its surroundings, that it is a mere static entity in a vacuum to whom we should blindly advocate.

This type of advocation runs the risk of being disconnected with the reality it lives in. It risks ruining the social fabric of society as it might lead to a dissonance between man and his surroundings, which would only lead to a negative change in an individual. Without being humane would lead to a misunderstanding of society and its members as there is no willingness to emphasise and understand others. This means that their worldview is one that dehumanises those who are different as it strips others of their humanity, honour, dignity and rights. Once our advocation is one that is dehumanising, the fruits of the effort are those bearing animosity and discord.

It is therefore important that advocates seek to understand the social factors that shape society. To do so would mean to incorporate the knowledge of social sciences in our advocation. Regardless of worldview, the utilising of social sciences would imbue advocation with empathy and sensitivity, although the desired outcome of advocates varies. Azhar Ibrahim enunciated this point well:

“Third, reform ought to be infused with and affirmed by a strong social philosophy and informed critically by diagnostic social sciences. But the openness to critical perspectives is never incarnated into theory-mania, …without thinking of the context where they emerge and the relevancy to the local context and challenges.” [5]

For advocates that seek a positive change in society, a humanistic advocation would utilise historical knowledge in their advocation. If we perceive a society humanely, then just like how the current state of man is shaped by his past experiences, this is also applicable to society as well. As how man is formed through parental authority, so is society formed through authoritative institutions. To seek positive change, humanistic advocates would attempt to understand a society’s past for them to make an impact in its present. Therein lies the value of Ibn Khaldun’s words, ‘The past resembles the future more than one drop of water resembles another.’[6]

The study of historical factors is part of an effort to be socialistic and contextual in advocation. Humanistic advocation, in its recognition of man’s gifts and experiences, should strive to be grounded in contextual local needs and challenges. Though one may be inspired by a foreign-based advocation, it is best for advocates to recognise that no society is identical. To be humane means for us to be critical in our advocation, to realise that our advocation should be shaped by local social context. Azhar Ibrahim mentioned,

“A transplanted reformistic discourse can never take root, no matter how efficacious the reform agenda is. Instead, a decent and humble reformistic initiative has more potential to be developed especially if it is able to grow organically within the local community.” [7]

Therein lies my intention for this writing. It is my belief that advocation should be imbued with humanistic values. It should be borne out of man’s humanism and resonate with man’s humanism as well. The act of advocation is a noble one. It is a responsibility that not many would willingly assume, despite the wealth of resources at their disposal. The reason is because it is the humanity in advocates that pushes them to love and care for others. With this being said, the desired outcome does not validate the means. To be authoritative and dehumanising in advocation brings harm to man, the community, and the society. It is therefore important for advocates to instil the same humane spirit that spurred them into their advocation.

1 Fromm, E. Man For Himself. London and New York: Routledge Classic. 1947. p. 9
2 Fromm, E. A Global Philosophy of Man. The Humanist, Ohio: American Humanist Association, Vol. 26. 1966. p. 117
3 M. Natsir. Fiqhud-Da’wah. p. 228
4 Mahfudh, K. H. S. Nuansa Fiqh Sosial. Yogyakarta: LKIS, 1994. p. 123
5 Ibrahim, A., ed. Alatas, S. F. The Idea of Religious Reform: Perspectives of Singapore Malay-Muslim Experiences. Muslim Reform in Southeast Asia, Singapore: MUIS. 2009. pp. 84-85
6 Ibn Khaldun, tr. Rosenthal, F. The Muqaddimah. Princeton, 2015. p. 12
7 Ibrahim, A., ed. Alatas, S. F. The Idea of Religious Reform: Perspectives of Singapore Malay-Muslim Experiences. Muslim Reform in Southeast Asia, Singapore: MUIS. 2009. pp. 85


Ahmad Ubaidillah Mohamed Khair is a graduate from Yarmouk University, Jordan. He is a Sahabat Sastera under the Majlis Bahasa Singapura and has presented works of Nusantara poetry for Poetry Festival Singapore. He has also published writings on platforms such as, Wasat Online, The Karyawan and ELEVEN.

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