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6 Tips for Balancing Individualism and Collectivism in a Modern World

Living in the West, many of us have been taught to value our personal achievements and oftentimes, give little thought to pursuits that benefit the community as a whole. In Islam however, the beauty of our religion is how it gracefully entwines aspects of both individualism and collectivism for a harmonious, balanced lifestyle.

Living in the West, many of us have been taught to value our personal achievements and oftentimes, give little thought to pursuits that benefit the community as a whole. In Islam however, the beauty of our religion is how it gracefully entwines aspects of both individualism and collectivism for a harmonious, balanced lifestyle.

In nearly all Western cultures, individualism prevails as an overarching concept guiding people to self-sufficiency, independence, and diversity. Living in the West, we’ve been taught to value our personal achievements and oftentimes, give little thought to pursuits that benefit the community as a whole (1).

In Islam however, the beauty of our religion is how it gracefully entwines aspects of both individualism and collectivism for a harmonious, balanced lifestyle. 

As Muslims, we are taught to work on ourselves and be accountable for our actions, which will in turn benefit our communities and create a unified ummah. Furthermore, by giving Zakat, engaging in acts of charity, and advocating for the needs of others, Muslims wholeheartedly and regularly prioritize the welfare of the collective.

While it can certainly be difficult to juggle personal responsibilities with duties to our parents, peers, and elders, there are ways that we can foster these relationships without compromising our individual autonomy. This article will touch on 6 effective and intentional ways that we can spark self-development, while simultaneously addressing the needs of those around us.

1. Encourage Individual Talents Within Groups

Most of us have experienced being in group projects at school or for work. Common complaints include unfair distribution of work, conflicts, and frequent miscommunications. While group work has many advantages such as gaining feedback and shared responsibilities, it can also lead to a loss of creativity and individual thinking (2).

Being in a group setting, dominant personalities may instinctively take over, making it more difficult for good ideas from others to take precedence. Certain people in the group may be less inclined to participate, feeling undervalued and not properly heard. This is why encouraging individual talents and creativity within groups (such as family or friend groups) can be extremely beneficial, allowing the group to learn more from each other and produce better outcomes (2).

This can be done by implementing periods of individual brainstorming or reflection, giving everyone an equal opportunity to speak, and recognizing individuals for their distinctive talents. After all, if everyone in a group thinks the same without any unique perspectives, how can innovation and creativity truly flourish?

2. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help When Needed

It goes without saying that there is a stigma around asking for help from others. Many people falsely believe that asking for help when they are struggling will make them appear weak or incompetent. However, this is far from the truth.

It takes strength and courage to reach out for support and to let others know you need help. Also, asking for help and advocating for yourself is another way to better yourself individually and participate in your community – whether you realize it or not. Perhaps someone out there is looking for the opportunity to commit a good deed, and you could be helping them more than you know.

3. Volunteer to Improve Your Skills and Well-Being

Contrary to popular belief, volunteering is not all self-sacrifice. In fact, volunteering can have positive impacts on our mental, social, and physical well-being (3). It can be mood-boosting, get us out of our comfort zones, and even help improve our skills and fitness levels. Aside from helping the community at large, volunteering opportunities can also look great on our resumes and help us in more ways than one.

For Amena Aslam of Toronto, Ontario, volunteering at the Kent Muslim Welfare Association in England for 3 years helped her to see first-hand what others are facing. “I was a food bank volunteer which involved collecting donated food items from various local supermarkets and dropping them off at the food bank. We helped many families, students, single parents, and people struggling to make ends meet due to unemployment”, says Amena. 

“This role has made me so grateful for what I have. I had no idea that some people are willing to stand in line for hours just to get free food. I have seen mothers with young children waiting for food in the cold, wet weather and it has made me so grateful.” Through her volunteer experiences, Amena has not only made an impactful contribution to the community, but gained a new perspective and increased gratitude for her own life.

Khadija Nakhuda of Scarborough, Ontario has also noticed the benefits her past volunteer work has had on her mental state. Being actively involved in her community, Khadjia has volunteered for the Markham and Lawrence community engagement project in her hometown, as well as various election campaigns at the municipal and provincial level over the past 9 years.

“My volunteering roles have helped bridge the gap between the community and government agencies at each level of government. I was part of the planning, organizing and implementing of after-school programs, career opportunities and workshops for seniors in the community. We also worked to foster safe spaces that helped curb gang-related activities in the area”, says Khadija.

“I started volunteering while I was going through one of the toughest phases in my life. My father had health issues, the job market saw a retraction after the subprime mortgage crisis, and I couldn’t find a job after graduation. By giving back to the community and helping those less fortunate, I realized things could have been a lot worse and that I had a lot to be grateful for. My community work was not only a coping mechanism for me through hard times, but also something I really enjoyed. I have a business and development studies background and always thought I would work for the UN and save the world. Little did I know I would be putting my education to work right here in my local community.”

By allowing her to hone her skills and distract from hardships in her personal life, volunteering has helped Khadija grow and gain vital experience. She now works for the federal government of Canada in a role that both aligns with her career goals and her desire to help others.

4. Build a Network and Support System

In the age of social media, it’s easier than ever to have friends and family all over the world connected in one place. With endless Facebook groups and Whatsapp chats catering to different interests and hobbies, the ability to find the right group of people is at your fingertips. It’s really advantageous to utilize these abilities and to actively seek out networks that align with your goals.

This could mean anything from finding a local group of mothers who like to meet up or joining a group for solo travellers and sharing your tips and tricks. When you have a support system readily accessible to you, accomplishing tasks and individual goals becomes much easier (4).

Not only do you contribute to the expertise of the group, but you can use your network to gain knowledge, ask for advice when needed and meet others who are on the same trajectory as you.

5. Make It A Habit to Pay It Forward

You may be familiar with the concept of paying it forward and perhaps have seen examples such as paying for the next order in line at the coffee shop or returning the shopping carts for those doing their grocery trips. There are many, many different ways of paying it forward and it’s certainly not difficult to integrate random acts of kindness into your daily life.

One of the biggest ways that we pay it forward as Muslims is through giving Zakat donations. Besides being a fundamental pillar of Islam, Zakat helps to ensure that the poor and less fortunate have their needs met and are being taken care of. It is an obligatory charity for those who meet the wealth criteria and is a means of spiritual cleansing, as it is seen as a way to purify and even increase existing wealth (5).

“Charity does not decrease wealth, no one forgives another except that Allah increases his honour, and no one humbles himself for the sake of Allah except that Allah raises his status.” (Sahih Muslim 2588)

By paying it forward through Zakat, Sadaqah, and even just simple acts of daily kindness, we purify ourselves and increase our own wealth while also making it easier for others who may be in need. 

6. Work On Yourself For Yourself (And Others)

As Muslims, though we are heavily involved with others and our communities, we are still held individually accountable for our own deeds, actions, and acts of worship. We must rely solely on ourselves to fulfill duties that no one else can do for us, such as prayer, fasting and good deeds. Furthermore, as much as we may want to, we cannot bear the sins or burdens of another.

“And no bearer of burdens will bear the burden of another. And if a heavily laden soul calls (another) to (carry some of) its load, nothing of it will be carried, even if he should be a close relative. You can only warn those who fear their Lord unseen and have established prayer. And whoever purifies himself only purifies himself for (the benefit of) his soul. And to Allah is the (final) destination.” (Quran 35:18)

This means that we must strive to be accountable for ourselves and to work on our own habits and self-improvement. Islam has placed a heavy emphasis on being self-sufficient and further clarifies the importance of independence. 

Whoever wants to be independent of means, Allah, the Mighty and Sublime, will make him independent. Whoever wants to refrain from asking, Allah, the Mighty and Sublime, will help him to refrain. Whoever wants to be content with his lot, Allah, the Mighty and Sublime, Allah, the Mighty and Sublime, will suffice him.” (Sunan an-Nasa’i 2595)

Although we may be connected to friends, peers, and family members, cultivating an individual identity and relying on oneself is still extremely important. In fact, you may find that the more you work and focus on yourself, the more help you can offer others, without needing or expecting anything else in return.

You’ve probably heard the metaphor to “secure your own oxygen mask first” way too many times. While it may be repetitive, it is nonetheless true and speaks to the need to pour into ourselves first, before we can truly help others.

Remember, in order to be able to give Zakat, we must first have wealth. In order for us to serve others as workers, volunteers, or in pretty much any capacity, we must be physically and mentally able. With this in mind, perhaps individualism and collectivism are not as separate as we have been led to believe. By balancing the need for both in our society and daily lives, we can find fulfillment, honour creativity and uniqueness, and continue helping those that truly need it.


Sources

Cohen, Adam B., Michael Shengtao Wu, and Jacob Miller. “Religion and culture: Individualism and collectivism in the East and West.” Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology 47.9 (2016): 1236-1249.

Goncalo, Jack A., and Barry M. Staw. “Individualism–collectivism and group creativity.” Organizational behavior and human decision processes 100.1 (2006): 96-109.

Binder, Martin. “Volunteering and life satisfaction: a closer look at the hypothesis that volunteering more strongly benefits the unhappy.” Applied Economics Letters 22.11 (2015): 874-885.

Kasprzak, Elżbieta. “Perceived social support and life-satisfaction.” Polish Psychological Bulletin 41.4 (2010): 144-154.

Abdullah, Muhammad, and Abdul Quddus Suhaib. “The impact of zakat on social life of Muslim society.” pakistan Journal of islamic research 8.1 (2011): 85-91.

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