By Moin Qazi, New Age Islam
12 October 2015
“O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to God, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor; for God can best protect both. Follow not the desires (of your hearts); lest you swerve, and if you distort justice or decline to justice, verily God is well acquainted with all that you do. “[Q4:135]
Justice is the cardinal value of any civilized society and has been the cornerstone and bedrock of all great civilizations. Without justice, the entire bulwark of society would crumble. There would be utter chaos and confusion and people will have to live in constant fear and agony if justice were to fade away from society.
Justice can take roots in the hallowed soil of civilization only if it is nourished by the blood of people who are willing to sacrifice themselves for the noble principles of honesty, rectitude and piety. Justice is not just a social value but also an essential virtue for every human interaction. It is not left just to kings, rulers or to judges and pleaders to practice and uphold it, but it an essential element of individual human transactions.
Justice, in the Islamic paradigm, has a very broad connotation and even our individual actions vis a vis other individuals and the society at large are amenable to the rules of justice.
Those who enquire about the basics of Islam are usually told about the “Five Pillars” of the religion. These relate to faith and to practice, but at a deeper level it might be said that there are two great pillars which support the whole edifice. These are Peace and Justice. Although God in Himself is beyond comprehension or analysis, the Qur’an gives us hints as to His true nature through what are sometimes called “the 99 names” and one of these is al-ªAdl, “the Just”. Another of these names is al-Muqsiö, “the Dispenser of Justice” or “He who gives to each thing its due”. The Quran says, “God does command you to render back your Trusts to those to whom they are due; and when you judge between man and man, that you judge with justice” (4.58).
From a practical point of view, justice demands equality, objectivity, and fair dealing. The time-honoured symbol of justice in the West is the Lady of Justice (adapted from Greek and Roman mythology) depicted as a blind-folded woman with a scale in one hand and a sword in the other. This stands for equality in the dispensation of justice without favour or prejudice.
The terms used to characterize justice in the Quran are not spelled out in philosophical detail, yet they pervade the text with enormous regularity and force. It is possible to see in the Quran and the Prophet’s own actions an implicit theory of justice that informs both the reading of those texts and their later applications. The Qur’an has frequent recourse to a vocabulary of justice which is grounded on the proposition that humankind is responsible for all those actions that lie within the exterior bounds set down by God. To pay one’s moral and fiscal debts and to temper retribution with mercy are qualities to which mankind is enjoined. A person who is just therefore engages in acts that are framed by an awareness, born of the pursuit of reason over passion, of the harm that may be done to the community of believers by acting against the tenets of justice. The Quran (Q4: 152) enjoins the believer to ‘be just even if it should be to a near kinsman’ and demonstrates practical application when, for example, it recommends that contracts be written down in order to avoid subsequent doubt and conflict.
The Qur’anic conception also suggests that ultimately justice is related to the interior life (Bāţin) of the believer rather than to external appearances (Zāhir), and hence true justice must be accompanied with proper intentions. The Qur’an repeatedly assures mankind that God is incapable of acting unjustly and that those whose well-intended acts accord with divine prescription will indeed receive divine reward.
In the hierarchy of values, justice is a central universal value and a basic objective of Islam, to the degree that it stands next in order of priority to the belief in God’s exclusive right to worship (Tawhid) and the truth of Muhammad’s prophethood. This is evidenced from the Qur’anic injunction:
“Be just, for this is closest to God-consciousness.” (Q 5:8)
The Islamic concept of justice is based on the divinely-ordained right of human dignity: “We have honoured the children of Adam” (17.70). If honour and dignity, is a common heritage of mankind, then it is only logical that they all must be treated as equals Justice is also closely associated with moral rectitude and fairness, necessary ingredients to build an equitable system that leaves no room for any section of the community to feel burdened or discriminated against. In fact, the Quran uses strong language to denounce those regimes that divide people by applying differential treatment. It says, “Truly Pharaoh elated himself in the land and broke up its people into sections, depressing a small group among them: their sons he slew, but he kept alive their females: for he was indeed a maker of mischief” (28.4) whereas Christianity is primarily the religion of love, Islam is above all the religion of justice. This does not, of course, mean that Christians are necessarily better at loving than Muslims, or that Muslim society lends itself more successfully to the realization of justice. Nevertheless the two watchwords, love and justice, can usefully act as signposts to a wide range of differences between the two religions in terms both of their acknowledged practices and dogmas and of the unconscious prejudices of their adherents.
Comparisons with Christianity aside, it is indeed a striking feature of Arab popular culture and politics that the concepts of justice and injustice play such a central role in everyday life and thought: in discussions of history, where the times may be seen as just or unjust; in stories, where the qualities of the characters are assessed in terms of their just behaviour; in social perception, where the appropriate response to another’s behaviour may be measured against the justice that flows from the relationship; in politics, where movements and demonstrations reverberate with claims of—or for—a justice that is often felt to be absent; and in law, where what people often seek is not merely to win but to have the justice of their claim given public recognition.
The centrality of justice to the Islamic value system is displayed by the Qur’anic verse that says:
“We sent our messengers with clear signs and sent down with them the Book and the Balance (of Right and Wrong) in order to establish justice among the people […].”(Q 57:25)
This shows that justice is a central goal of all revelation and scriptures sent to humanity. The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) declared in a Hadith that“… there are seven categories of people whom God will shelter under His shadows on the Day when there will be no shadow except His. [One is] the just leader.”(Bukhari 660, Muslim 10315)
In Islam, justice is the root of all other values-material, moral and spiritual. The Islamic conception of justice is transcendental and based on fairness, for God says in the Qur’an:
“Oh you who believe! Stand out firmly for God, as witnesses to fair dealing […].”(Q 5:8)
Islam provides that justice is achieved when proper relationships and balance are established within and among created things. The principle of unity sets the context for these relationships but Islam being a ‘way of life’ prescribes specific regulations for individuals, societies and communities, through the teachings of the Qur’an and Ahadith. Therefore virtue, evil and the foundation of ethics are defined by revelation and not determined by intellect, desire, intuition or experience derived through the senses.
The Islamic conception of justice is also comprehensive. It embraces all aspects of life and is concerned with the mind and the body as well as the heart and conscience. It is not only a social concept (corrective and distributive aspects) but it is also a personal moral virtue. Justice is also universal in that it cannot be limited by location or time. With respect to human development, the relevant aspect to consider is social justice. Islam views social justice as setting out the balance of rights and obligations, and of freedoms and responsibilities within a framework of equality and solidarity.
The Islamic moral order calls on the people not only to practice virtue, but also to eradicate evil. It is based on the absolute, just and coherent unity of existence and the general, mutual responsibility of individuals and societies. Hence it is founded on an Islamic understanding of freedom, human rights, equality, solidarity and sustainability
In his 1776 publication “Thoughts on Government,” John Adams praised Prophet Muhammad (SAW) as a “sober inquirer after truth.” And the Supreme Court building contains a likeness of the prophet, whose vision of justice is cited as an important precedent to the U.S. Constitution.
The fact that the Qur’an commands to do justice and shun inequity have been repeated more than 55 times in the Quran, gives an idea of the overriding importance of justice and equity. The duty to do justice is paramount and no extraneous considerations like personal hatred are allowed to colour the judgment. Not just hatred, other considerations like personal interest, kinship or the high or low standing of the person concerned, shall have no bearing on doing justice. The directive is clear to “stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to God, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it is against rich or poor” (Q4.135).
The Quran further clarifies that in matters of justice; even the proclaimed faith of a person cannot help him to avert punishment if he is found guilty. It sternly warns those who show partiality on account of religious affinity and defend a wrongdoer: “We have sent down to you the Book in truth, that you may judge between men, as guided by God: so be not (used) as an advocate by those who betray their trust” (4.105). The commentators explain this verse with reference to the case of one Taimah bin Ubayraq, a Muslim of Medina who was suspected of having stolen some valuables and later planted them in the house of a Jew, where the property was found. The Muslim community sympathised with Taimah, but the Holy Prophet decided in favour of the Jew who had been falsely implicated.
In verse after verse, the Qur’an implores mankind not to swerve in the performance of justice.
• “Surely Allah does not do any injustice to men, but men are unjust to themselves.” (Q10: 44)
• “Surely Allah does not do injustice to the weight of an atom, and if it is a good deed He multiplies it and gives from Himself a great reward.” (Q4: 40)
• “And He gives you of all that you ask for. But if you count the favours of Allah, never will you be able to number them. Verily, man is given up to injustice and ingratitude.” (Q14: 34)
• “And if two parties among the Believers fall to fighting, then make peace between them both: but if one of them transgresses beyond bounds against the other, then fight you (all) against the one that transgresses until it complies with the Command of Allah. Then if it complies, then make reconciliation between them with justice, and be fair: for Allah loves those who are fair (and just).” (Q49: 9)
Equanimity is a basic virtue in Islam. Here, perhaps, there is a clue to the reconciliation of the alternatives with which we are so often faced – to take up arms against the injustice we have suffered or to accept it with resignation. The right choice can only be made if we detach ourselves from our emotions and from all subjectivism. History recounts that, during one of the battles in defence of the Muslim community in Medina, the Prophet’s son-in-law Ali, engaged in combat with one of the pagans, brought his enemy to his knees and was about to strike the killing blow when the man spat in his face. Ali sheathed his sword, knowing that to strike out of personal anger rather than as an act of dispassionate justice would be a sin.
In Surah Sa’d, verses 20 – 26, God tells us the story of Prophet David, and how he faltered in dispensing justice .The verses reveal to us the key principles we must bear in mind while dispensing justice.
“And We strengthened his (David’s) kingdom and gave him wisdom and discernment in speech.
“And has there come to you the news of the adversaries, when they climbed over the wall of [his] prayer chamber –
“When they entered upon David and he was alarmed by them? They said, "Fear not. [We are] two adversaries, one of whom has wronged the other, so judge between us with truth and do not exceed [it] and guide us to the sound path.
“Indeed this, my brother, has ninety-nine ewes, and I have one ewe; so he said, 'Entrust her to me,' and he overpowered me in speech.
“[David] said, "He has certainly wronged you in demanding your ewe [in addition] to his ewes. And indeed, many associates oppress one another, except for those who believe and do righteous deeds - and few are they." And David became certain that We had tried him, and he asked forgiveness of his Lord and fell down bowing [in prostration] and turned in repentance [to Allah].
“So We forgave him that; and indeed, for him is nearness to Us and a good place of return.
“ [We said], "O David, indeed We have made you a successor upon the earth, so judge between the people in truth and do not follow [your own] desire, as it will lead you astray from the way of Allah." Indeed, those who go astray from the way of Allah will have a severe punishment for having forgotten the Day of Account” (Q38 20-26)
We learn from these verses the importance of hearing both sides of an issue before passing any judgment between two warring parties. God tested Prophet David by sending him two disputants. When Prophet David heard the story from one side, he passed his judgment, without realizing that he should have heard what the other person had to say first. He then realized his mistake and turned to Allah in repentance. In order to pass a fair judgment, one must listen to both parties, evaluate the situation, and then, come to a conclusion. This is a fundamental crux for judging between two or more people or groups. If we just turn our head around and see, we will find numerous examples at an individual and societal level and also at national and inter-national level where this fundamental principle is violated.
We live in a world which, apart from virtuous people’, has evil characters who create chaos in society. Often times, they get away with their wrongdoings. At times the mischievous characters get such wide sway that one wonders whether their brute impulses can really be chastened given the unbridled reign of terror they unleash so brazenly. God repeatedly reminds us that each one of us was created by God, and each one of us will return to Him for final judgment.
He says in the Qur'an:
“We shall set up scales of justice for the Day of Judgment, so that not a soul will be dealt with unjustly in the least, and if there be (no more than) the weight of a mustard seed, We will bring it (to account): and enough are We to take account.” (Q21::47)
Addressing mankind, God says that He will set up a balance of justice on the Day of Resurrection. On that day, no one will be dealt with unjustly. Deeds and misdeeds as small as weight of mustard seeds will be accounted for. God will be our judge on that Day of Reckoning
“If any do deeds of righteousness, - be they male or female - and have faith, they will enter Heaven, and not the least injustice will be done to them”. (Q4:124)
On the other hand, those who did wrong in this world will be punished severely on that day:
“And the Book (of Deeds) will be placed (before you); and thou wilt see the sinful in great terror because of what is (recorded) therein; they will say, ‘Ah! woe to us! what a Book is this! It leaves out nothing small or great, but takes account thereof!’ They will find all that they did, placed before them: And not one will thy Lord treat with injustice.” (Q18:49)
The greatest injustice in the eyes of the Lord is associating partners with Him. There is no pardon for this heinous sin and it carries a very severe penalty.
“Behold, Luqman said to his son by way of instruction: "O my son! Join not in worship (others) with Allah. For false worship is indeed the highest wrong-doing." (Q31:13)
We all will be resurrected on the Day of Judgment and will face the throne of Divine Justice whereby God, the greatest of all judges, will decide our fate.
“Is not Allah the wisest of judges? (Q95: 8)
Moin Qazi is a well known banker, author and Islamic researcher. He holds doctorates in Economics and English. He is author of several books on Islam including bestselling biographies of Prophet Muhammad and Caliph Umar. He writes regularly for several international publications including Daily Sabah (Turkey) Moroccan Times, Chicago Monitor, Sudan Vision and Times of Malta. He was also a Visiting Fellow at the University of Manchester. He is based in Nagpur.