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Justice in Islam—a Compulsory Obligation Universally and Categorically Imposed Upon Muslims— Towards Friends and Foes Alike?

By Ghulam Ghaus Siddiqi, New Age Islam

 3 August 2016

Justice is one of the central values of Islam. Any system that is not based on justice is not acceptable to Islam. It is equally applicable to the entire humanity, regardless of religion, caste, culture, country and race. Islam has categorically and universally imposed the obligation of justice upon Muslims in all contexts.  

The Arabic equivalents for justice are the words ‘Adl and Qist that are more comprehensive, represent two of ninety nine beautiful names of Allah Almighty and are extensively used in the holy Qura’n. The words ‘Adl and Qist, in their several forms, have been used in the Quran about twenty seven times each.

Accordingly, the root meanings of the word ‘Adl or Qist include the sense of justice, non-discrimination, equity, putting the things in their right order and place, giving equally just treatment to others, genuine respect for people, moral virtue and attribute of human personality. The word ‘Adl frequently translated in English as ‘justice’ captures the essence of all Islamic laws and teachings.

Allah Almighty has commanded Muslims to do justice to all mankind including Muslims and non-Muslims. He says:

“Indeed, Allah commands justice and benevolence (towards everyone), and giving away to the kindred, and forbids indecency, evil deeds, defiance and disobedience. He admonishes you so that you may remember with concern”. (16:90)

In another verse, He says,

“O you, who believe, be upright for Allah and (be) bearers of witness with justice...” (5:8)

It is unequivocal from the above that justice is an obligation of Islam and injustice is forbidden [Haram].

The sole purpose that Allah Almighty sent the prophets was to establish justice in the world and eliminate injustice and oppression. Allah Almighty says: “We sent Our Messengers with clear signs and sent down with them the Book and the Measure in order to establish justice among the people....”.(57:25)

Non-discrimination in Justice

Under normal circumstances people can be just only with their friends, nations and country. But, Islamic standards of justice go beyond the considerations of race, colour, nation, religion, creed, relatives and non-relatives. Islam has commanded Muslims to be just towards their friends and foes alike.  

Allah Almighty says,

“O believers! Become tenaciously firm on justice, bearing witness (merely) for the sake of Allah even if (the witness) is against your own selves or (your) parents or (your) relatives. Whether the person (against whom is the evidence) is rich or poor, Allah is a greater Well-Wisher of them both (than you are). So do not follow the desires of your (ill-commanding) selves lest you swerve from justice. But if (whilst giving evidence) you twist your statement or evade (the truth), then Allah is indeed Well Aware of (all the works) that you are doing”.(4:135)

This verse of the Quran makes firm resolution for Muslims facing the enduring conflict between self-interest and justice. It commands them to be just, even if it is against their narrowly defined self-interest or against their relatives. Some people protect their self-interest by doing injustice to others. But Islam forbids this sort of so-called self-interest, as these verses remove narrow-mindedness, reminding us that the true protector of interests of all mankind is Allah Almighty and He will protect our interests when we follow His command to be just.

Justice in Islam is Compulsory even towards the Enemy

It is clear from the above that Islam does not permit any favouritism when doing justice between relatives and non-relatives. According to another verse of the Quran, Muslims are not allowed to do injustice even when they are dealing with their enemy. The common tendency of uneducated and uncivilised people is to do injustice towards the enemy. This tendency was as true in the pre-Islamic period (Jahiliyyah) as it is today. But Islam categorically forbids this tendency as an unprecedented example for all mankind in terms of doing justice.

Allah Almighty says,

“O you, who believe, Stand firm for Allah, giving testimony with justice- and do not let the enmity of anyone tempt you not to do justice. Be just; that is nearer to piety [Taqwa] and fear Allah; indeed Allah is Well Aware of your deeds. It is Allah’s promise to those who believe and are righteous, that for them will be forgiveness and a great reward, and those who disbelieve [i.e. who do act of kufr] and deny Our signs - it is they who are the people of the hell. (Surah Maidah5: 8-10)

This speech of Allah has been directed towards those who are believers. Stand firm for Allah means stand firm for acting according to the commands of Allah. Do not let the enmity of anyone prevent you from doing justice.

Imam Al-Qurtubi explained this verse:  وَدَلَّتِ الْآيَةُ أَيْضًا عَلَى أَنَّ كُفْرَ الْكَافِرِ لَا يَمْنَعُ مِنَ الْعَدْلِ عَلَيْهِ meaning “This verse shows that the unbelief of the unbeliever does not prevent him from enjoying justice”.(Tafseer Al-Qurtubi 5:8)

Imam Qurtabi further said, “This phrase “La Yajrimannakum [do not let…prevent you]” means that you should not let your hatred of a people cause you to transgress the truth and engage in falsehood or swerve from justice to oppression” (Jamiul Ahkam fi Al-Quran by Al-Qurtabi)

Disbelieving any command of Allah is an act of Kufr [disbelief] that will take its perpetrator to the eternal hell. So, doing justice even towards the enemy is a command of Allah, even if the enemy are non-Muslims or unbelievers. Those who disbelieve this command of justice will have to face the torment in the Hell. The command of justice mentioned in the Quran is a categorical statement for all cases; the application and the meaning of which can’t be changed in any circumstances.

The Quran says, “Allah does not forbid you to be good to them and treat them with equity and justice who did not fight against you on (the question of) Din (Religion), nor did they drive you out of your homes (i.e., homeland). Surely, Allah likes those who conduct themselves with equity and justice”.

The scholars, Ulema and exegetes of the Quran have concluded that this ruling applies to all nations, adherents of all religions, as a matter of fact to the entire humanity.

Justice is a compulsory obligation.  That is why the Prophet was told:

“…And if you judge, then judge between them (too but) with justice (i.e., their enmity should not restrain judgment based on justice). …” (5:42)

“(O Glorious Messenger!) Surely, We have revealed to you the Book based on Truth so that you may judge between the people in accordance with (the Truth) which Allah has shown to you. And (never) become a contender on behalf of the treacherous ones”. (4:105)

“So keep calling them to this (Din [Religion]), and hold fast (to it) as the command has been given to you. And do not give any heed to their desires and say (this): ‘I believe in every Book that Allah has revealed, and I have been commanded to do justice between you”. (42:15)

The holy Quran considers itself as a divine scripture devoted to establishing the principles of faith and justice. According to the Quran, justice ought to be done for all, regardless of religion, country, caste and nation, and that it is immutable right of all human beings under Islamic Sharia.

Allah Almighty says, “And the Word of your Lord has been perfected in truthfulness and justice. There is no one who can change His Words. And He is All-Hearing, All-Knowing”. (Quran 6:115)

He also says,

“Surely, Allah commands you to entrust the belongings to those who are worthy of them; and when you judge matters amongst people, give judgment with justice. What an excellent advice Allah gives you! Surely, Allah is All-Hearing, All-Seeing.” (Quran 4:58)

Allah Almighty also says:

“…And when you say (something pertaining to somebody), do justice even though he is (your) near relative. …” (Quran 6:152)

Teachings of Justice in Ahadith [the plural of Hadith]

Several Ahadith have enjoined justice, mercy and pardoning, even in the state of enmity. I am reproducing here some of them, hoping this will impact on the readers.

Abdullah Ibn ‘Amr reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said:

"الْمُقْسِطِينَ عِنْدَ اللَّهِ عَلَى مَنَابِرَ مِنْ نُورٍ عَنْ يَمِينِ الرَّحْمَنِ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ وَكِلْتَا يَدَيْهِ يَمِينٌ الَّذِينَ يَعْدِلُونَ فِي حُكْمِهِمْ وَأَهْلِيهِمْ وَمَا وَلُوا"

Translation: “Surely, those who were fair will be in the presence of Allah upon pulpits of light, near the right hand of the Merciful, the Exalted, and both of His sides are right (being equal in honour); those who practiced justice in their rulings and with their families and in all that they did”. (Sahih Muslim 4493, Grade: Sahih)

Jabir Ibn Abdullah reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said:

"اتَّقُوا الظُّلْمَ فَإِنَّ الظُّلْمَ ظُلُمَاتٌ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ وَاتَّقُوا الشُّحَّ فَإِنَّ الشُّحَّ أَهْلَكَ مَنْ كَانَ قَبْلَكُمْ حَمَلَهُمْ عَلَى أَنْ سَفَكُوا دِمَاءَهُمْ وَاسْتَحَلُّوا مَحَارِمَهُمْ"

Translation: “Guard yourself from oppression, for oppression will be darkness on the Day of Resurrection. Guard yourself from greed, because greed destroyed those before you. It caused them to shed blood and to make lawful what was unlawful”. (Sahih Muslim 2578, Grade: Sahih)

Anas bin Malik reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said:

"اتَّقُوا دَعْوَةَ الْمَظْلُومِ وَإِنْ كَانَ كَافِرًا فَإِنَّهُ لَيْسَ دُونَهَا حِجَابٌ"

“Beware of the supplication of the oppressed, even if he is an unbeliever, for there is no screen between it and Allah”. (Musnad Ahmad 12140, Grade: Sahih)

Wathilah Ibn al-Asqa reported: I asked, “O Messenger of Allah, what is tribalism?” The Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said:

"أَنْ تُعِينَ قَوْمَكَ عَلَى الظُّلْمِ"

Translation: “It [tribalism] is that you help your people in wrongdoing”. (Sunan Abu Dawud 5100, Grade: Hasan)

Islam has prohibited all kinds of tribalism in the strongest tone, equating such thought with the pre-Islamic ignorance [Jahiliyah], as the following Hadith puts it,

Ibn Abdullah al-Bajali reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said:

"مَنْ قُتِلَ تَحْتَ رَايَةٍ عِمِّيَّةٍ يَدْعُو عَصَبِيَّةً أَوْ يَنْصُرُ عَصَبِيَّةً فَقِتْلَةٌ جَاهِلِيَّةٌ"

Translation: “Whoever is killed under the banner of blind following, calling towards tribalism or supporting tribalism, then he has died upon ignorance. (Sahih Muslim 1850, Grade: Sahih)

Hudhaifa reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said:

"لَا تَكُونُوا إِمَّعَةً تَقُولُونَ إِنْ أَحْسَنَ النَّاسُ أَحْسَنَّا وَإِنْ ظَلَمُوا ظَلَمْنَا وَلَكِنْ وَطِّنُوا أَنْفُسَكُمْ إِنْ أَحْسَنَ النَّاسُ أَنْ تُحْسِنُوا وَإِنْ أَسَاءُوا فَلَا تَظْلِمُوا"

Translation: “Do not let yourselves become blind followers, saying that if the people are good then we will be good, and if they are unjust then we will be unjust. Rather, make up your own minds. If the people are good then be good, but if they are evil then do not be unjust”. (Sunan At-Tirmidhi 2007, Grade: Hasan)

Islam has laid great emphasis on justice, despite that, Muslims are recommended to be forgiving and merciful when injustice and oppression is committed against them. For instance, Islamic gives the family of the murder victim the right to seek legal retaliation. However, Islam suggests that it is better to replace this right by way of mercy and charity.

Allah Almighty says,

"وَكَتَبْنَا عَلَيْهِمْ فِيهَا أَنَّ النَّفْسَ بِالنَّفْسِ وَالْعَيْنَ بِالْعَيْنِ وَالْأَنفَ بِالْأَنفِ وَالْأُذُنَ بِالْأُذُنِ وَالسِّنَّ بِالسِّنِّ وَالْجُرُوحَ قِصَاصٌ فَمَن تَصَدَّقَ بِهِ فَهُوَ كَفَّارَةٌ لَّهُ"

Translation: “In that (the Torah) We had prescribed for them: a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a nose for a nose, an ear for an ear, and a tooth for a tooth, and in the case of injuries (too) there is a requital. But the person who (forgoes) this (requital) by way of charity, this will serve as atonement for his (sins). And he who does not judge (and rule) in compliance with the commandments sent down by Allah, it is they who are the transgressors”. (5:45)

According to Ahadith, whenever any issue of legal retaliation was brought to the Prophet, he would always recommend his Ummah for being patient and pardoning the criminal.

Anas bin Malik reported:

 "مَا رَأَيْتُ النَّبِيَّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ رُفِعَ إِلَيْهِ شَيْءٌ فِيهِ قِصَاصٌ إِلَّا أَمَرَ فِيهِ بِالْعَفْوِ"

Translation: “I never saw a case involving legal retaliation being referred to the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, except that he would command pardoning the criminal. (Sunan Abu Dawud 4497, Source: Sahih)

Here the reason is that all human beings are in the habit of committing sins and in great need of the mercy of Allah Almighty. If Allah sought complete justice for all of our wrong doings and sins, we would be severely punished. Instead, Allah’s mercy prevails over His wrath.

Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said:

"لَمَّا قَضَى اللَّهُ الْخَلْقَ كَتَبَ فِي كِتَابِهِ فَهُوَ عِنْدَهُ فَوْقَ الْعَرْشِ إِنَّ رَحْمَتِي غَلَبَتْ غَضَبِي"

Translation: “When Allah decreed the creation, He wrote in His Book which is with Him on His Throne: My mercy prevails over My wrath”. (Sahih Bukhari 3022, Grade: Sahih)

Having explored the afore-mentioned verses of the holy Quran and Ahadith of the prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), it is obligatory upon us Muslims to stand for justice for all people including Muslims and non-Muslims. Besides, we Muslims are recommended for forbearing, mercy and pardoning when any sort of injustice is committed against us and our rights are violated.

(والله ورسوله أعلم بالصواب)

A regular Columnist with New Age Islam, Ghulam Ghaus Siddiqi is an Alim and Fazil (Classical Islamic scholar) with a Sufi background and English-Arabic-Urdu Translator. He completed the Classical Islamic Sciences from a Delhi-based Sufi Islamic seminary Jamia Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia with specialization in Tafseer, Hadith and Arabic. He completed his Alimiat and Fazilat respectively from Jamia Warsia Arabic College, Lucknow and Jamia Manzar- e- Islam, Bareilly, U.P. He did his graduation in Arabic (Hons) and post-graduation (Arabic) from Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.


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