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Islam and Social Justice (Part 2/2)

By Dr. Ali Al-Halawani

Justice is Allah’s attribute, and to stand firm for justice is to be a witness to Allah, even if it is detrimental to our own interests (as we conceive them) or the interests of those who are near and dear to us.

Justice is Allah’s attribute, and to stand firm for justice is to be a witness to Allah, even if it is detrimental to our own interests (as we conceive them) or the interests of those who are near and dear to us.

The discussion in part 1 of this article shows that the concept of equality among all human beings – as children of Adam and Eve and their entitlement to equal rights, freedom and human dignity – was non-existent before Islam. Islam was the first to declare all human beings as equal regardless of religious, racial or caste differences.

All social and economic systems, old and new, aimed at the achievement of social justice; however, we have to draw a line between two issues:

First: The social justice enjoined by Allah that guarantees equality among all human beings in terms of human rights, liberties, dignity and which gives every person what he/she really deserves.

Second: The mundane social justice which is legislated by humans be it philosophers, lawmakers, MPs or rulers.

That mundane justice, indeed, must be partial and defective as it is designed by human beings, no matter how rational or impartial they are. A human being cannot establish absolute justice because he is just a mere human. He is a human in the sense that he is usually influenced by his own education, social caste, creedal affiliation, and culture. One can safely say that this sort of justice may only codify some aspects of social justice at best.

On the other hand, the divine social justice advocated by Islam is an integrated system for justice enjoined by the Creator of man and all other creatures. Allah Almighty cannot be described as biased to any caste, race or tribe as He is the Creator of all. This divine justice enjoined by Allah to be practiced on parents, friends, foes, men, women, and children was not and could not have been existent before Islam as no mundane system could ever have reached such sublime concepts and perfect practices. Let us take a look at some ayahs from the Qur’an as Allah Almighty says,

“Allah commands justice, the doing of good, and giving to kith and kin, and He forbids all indecent deeds, and evil and oppression: He instructs you, that ye may receive admonition.” (An-Nahl 16:90)

“Justice is a comprehensive term, and may include all the virtues of cold philosophy. But religion asks for something warmer and more human,”[1] that is the doing of good deeds such as returning good for evil and giving out in charity to one’s relatives and caring about them. Similarly, all bad deeds should be avoided: anything that is recognized as shameful, unjust, or anything that goes against Allah’s Legislation or our own conscience; all these are to be avoided.

Allah says also,

“O ye who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for Allah can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest ye swerve, and if ye distort (justice) or decline to do justice, verily Allah is well-acquainted with all that ye do.” (An-Nisa’ 4:135)

Justice is Allah’s attribute, and to stand firm for justice is to be a witness to Allah, even if it is detrimental to our own interests (as we conceive them) or the interests of those who are near and dear to us.[2]

Here, it suffices us to cite the hadith narrated by `Aishah, Mother of the Believers, in Sahih Al-Bukhari, which reads,

`A’ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) narrated:

The people of Quraish worried about the lady from Bani Makhzum who had committed theft. They asked, “Who will intercede for her with Allah’s Messenger?”

Some said, “No one dares to do so except Usamah ibn Zaid the beloved one to Allah’s Messenger.”

When Usamah spoke about that to him, Allah’s Messenger said,

Do you try to intercede for somebody in a case connected with Allah’s Prescribed Punishments?

Then he got up and delivered a sermon saying,

What destroyed the nations preceding you, was that if a noble amongst them stole, they would forgive him, and if a poor person amongst them stole, they would inflict Allah’s legal punishment on him. By Allah, if Fatimah, the daughter of Muhammad stole, I would cut off her hand.” (Al-Bukhari)

Love for his most beloved daughter and one of the best women who have ever lived in this world did not prevent the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) from declaring that if she steals, he would cut off her hand. This is the true conception and realization of absolute justice; this is the true birth date of social justice that appeal to all people who have sound reason or pure hearts.

To conclude, Islam lays great stress on the doctrine “justice for all,” as every Muslim is required to uphold social justice in his/her daily life lest all their efforts towards attaining true spirituality and closeness to Allah would become null and void.

The Basis of Social Justice in Islam

Islam is the religion of natural disposition. It heeds the deepest subtleties of mankind. After all, the Creator (i.e. Almighty Allah) is to know ‎the created (i.e. man) better.

Hence, Islam recognizes all about man including the gifts humans are endowed with and the defects they suffer from. Human beings not only differ in their bodies and features, but they also differ in their mental and psychological abilities. This also includes the conditions they go through, the environments in which they live, and the cultures they inherit from previous generations.

Given this, it is impossible for a human being to sketch a balanced and equal society that is void of any mistakes or defects. However, Islam has provided the necessary prerequisites for such a balanced society that enjoys the perfect sense of social justice as desired by all sane people.

Social justice is one of the most important components and principles of justice in Islam. In his Social Justice in Islam, the late Sayyed Qutb distinguishes three basic elements of social justice in Islam. These are the absolute freedom of conscience, the complete equality of all ‎men, and the social interdependence among members of the society. [3]

The Absolute Freedom of Conscience

Freedom of conscience refers to the psychological liberty from submission to and/or worshipping of anyone or thing other than Allah because Allah is the only One Who can do good or bad to man. He is the only One Who can give life to man, sustain him, and take his life without the mediation of anyone even a prophet or a messenger. Allah Almighty says in the Ever-Glorious Qur’an concerning Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him),

“Say: It is not in my power to cause you harm, or to bring you to right conduct.” (Al-Jinn 72:21)

He says also,

“Say: O People of the Book! Come to common terms as between us and you that we worship none but Allah; that we associate no partners with Him: that we erect not, from among ourselves, lords other than Allah.” (Aal `Imran 3:64)

The aim behind getting rid of submission to others than Allah is to rid oneself of fear of any creature since nobody but Allah can benefit or harm man’s life, livelihood, or position.

This freedom of man from submission to any creature may not be fully realized since humans are still bonded to basic instinctive needs, such as food. These needs may impede the complete and absolute freedom of man’s conscience and soul.

For Islam to be able to realistically and effectively achieve this freedom of conscience, Almighty Allah ordained a set of rules and legislations that guarantee man’s basic needs and thus helping one to achieve absolute freedom of conscience.

The Complete Equality of All ‎Men

Foremost among these rules and legislations is considering the principle of equality as one of the basic principles of Islam as a religion.

Unlike those who claimed to be descendants from gods, or those who deemed their blood as blue or nobler than that of the rest of human beings, Islam “taught the unity of the human race in origin and in history, in life and in death, in privileges and in responsibilities, before the law and before Allah, in this world and in the world to come.” Allah Almighty says,

“O mankind! Fear Your Guardian Lord, Who created you from a single person, created out of it, his mate, and from them twain scattered (like seeds) countless men and women.” (An-Nisa’ 4:1) and,

“O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you.” (Al-Hujurat 49:13) and,

“We have honored the sons of Adam; provided them with transport on land and sea; given them for sustenance things good and pure; and conferred on them special favors, above a great part of Our Creation.” (Al-Isra’ 17:70)

Hence, human dignity is guaranteed and preserved for all human beings, and the only difference among people in the sight of Allah is the degree of their righteousness and piety, not their race or color.

The Social Interdependence among Society Members

The remaining prerequisite advocated by Islam to guarantee the absolute freedom of conscience is social solidarity and interdependence among all members of the society. This social interdependence refers to the commitment all members of the society show to one another; each and every individual have some sort of responsibility towards the welfare of the society.

This does not only mean the emotional sympathy or compassion towards others, but it also means taking practical actions to help the needy. This may be represented in the form of providing financial aid for the needy in a way that covers their basic needs. This is done through observing the Islamic institution of Zakah as long as it suffices the needy. If not, the rich are to shoulder their responsibilities towards the destitute as they are required to give out of their wealth to support those needy fellows whenever necessary.

Prime Examples of Social Justice in Islam

The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) has given a prime example as he was the role model in good manners; foremost among these manners was the moral of justice which he observed with all people without any sort of discrimination. The story of the noble woman who stole and the reaction of the Prophet to Usama’s intercession that was cited above can perfectly attest to this. It goes beyond the scope of this paper to relate the countless examples that show the Prophet’s absolute justice and fair dealing with all human beings, and even with animals.

Remarkably, the Prophet’s Companions followed his noble suit; `Umar ibn Al-Khattab, the second Caliph, was noted for his justice as a ruler. Let us just cite part of his speech and advice to the public in the presence of the leaders who were appointed by him to govern the Islamic cities: “I didn’t hire them as rulers to mistreat you or to take your money… If any of you faces injustice by any of them, raise it to me, and I will give your rights back to you.”[4]

In addition to justice and equality, the Prophet’s Companions set wonderful examples in terms of spending in the Cause of Allah and social solidarity between the rich and the poor. Abu Bakr As-Siddiq, the first Caliph, for example, once had 40.000 Dirham which he spent on the emancipation of Muslim poor slaves whose unfaithful masters used to torture them in a way to force them renegade their faith and denounce Islam. Only 5000 Dirham were left for him and his family.

In the same vein, `Ali ibn Abi Talib, the fourth Caliph, gave out in charity the only three loafs of bread he had to a poor, an orphan and a prisoner of war![5]

Remarkably, `Uthman ibn `Affan, `Abdul Rahman ibn `Auf, among many others, were prime examples and models to be emulated in this regard as well.

A Final Word:

Islam came to ennoble and honor man as is declared in the Qur’an; man is the chief concern of the final message of Prophet Muhammad which made it incumbent upon Muslims to achieve social justice among themselves and among all people. It is not allowed in Islam for any caste to raise itself upon another, or for an individual to exploit another. All members of society are entitled to equal rights and are required to observe equal duties without the slightest degree of discrimination or distinction.

Islam came to spread peace on earth; no peace can be gained without justice and no justice can be obtained without equality. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) says,

O people! Your God is one and your forefather (Adam) is one. An Arab is not better than a non-Arab and a non-Arab is not better than an Arab, and a red (i.e. white tinged with red) person is not better than a black person and a black person in not better than a red person, except in piety.” (Ahmed’s Musnad)

Finally, despite the absence of real practice of these values and concepts in our modern age, it is incumbent upon the Muslim Ummah to recall all what it has been taught by Islam and the Prophet of Islam in order for us to be able to restore the intact and solid structure of our society and to re-obtain feelings of love, security, and tranquility which our society lacks.

 

Notes:

[1] The Holy Qur’an: English Translation of the Meanings and Commentary. King Fahd Holy Qur’an Printing Complex. Saudi Arabia. P. 760.

[2] Ibid., P. 259.

[3] Qutb, Sayyed. Al-`Adalah Al-Ijtima`iyyah fil Islam (Social Justice in Islam). Dar Al-Shorouk. Cairo, Egypt (2002), Pp. 31-62.

[4] Abu `Ajwa, Nageiub Ahmed. Al-Mujtama` Al-Islami: Da`a’imuh wa Adabuh fi Daw’ Al-Qur’an Al-Kareem (The Muslim Society and Its Foundations and Etiquettes in Light of the Qur’an). Maktabit Madbuli. Egypt, 2000. P. 92.

[5] Qutb, Sayyed. (Ibid.) P. 151.

———–

Dr. Ali Al-Halawani is Assistant Professor of Linguistics and Translation, Kulliyyah of Languages and Management (KLM), International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM), Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He was Assistant Professor and worked for a number of international universities in Malaysia and Egypt such as Al-Madinah Interanational Univerity, Shah Alam, Malaysia (Mediu) and Misr University for Science & Technology (MUST), Egypt; Former Editor-in-Chief of the Electronic Da`wah Committee (EDC), Kuwait; Former Deputy Chief Editor and Managing Editor of the Living Shari`ah Department, www.islamOnline.net; Member of the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS); and member of the World Association of Arab Translators & Linguists (Wata). He is a published writer, translator and researcher. You can reach him at alihalawani72@hotmail.com.

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