Law and Justice
By: Faysal Burhan
Islam is an exhibition of peace and justice. It manifests peace and harmony in many ways and forms: through the removal of exploitation, injustice and mischief and the promotion of mercy and forgiveness, assisting the weak and the orphans, the traveler and the helpless, by defending the oppressed and preserving the human soul, in fostering graciousness and kindness to family, neighbors and friends, and by promoting mercy and forgiveness to both friends and enemies.
Justice is an essential component in the philosophy of Islam. It pervades every aspect of life and protects all humanity.
“God commands justice, the doing of good, and liberality to kith and kin, and He forbids all shameful deeds, and injustice and rebellion. He exhorts you [repeatedly] so that you might bear [all this] in mind.”Qur’an 16:90.
Some of the attributes of God is The Just, The Judge, The Giver of Peace, The Reliever and The Merciful. Islam is a haven of social justice and gender equality. Ingrained in its philosophy is the brotherhood of mankind.
“O humankind! We created you from a single pair of a male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know and deal with each other in kindness (not that you may despise each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God (is he who is) the most righteous of you, and God is Knower, Aware.” Qur’an, 49:13
“And when you judge between people that you judge with justice.” Qur’an 4:58
Law and Justice of Islam vs. Love of Christianity is an interesting discussion made by Karen Armstrong in her book, Muhammad, A Biography of the Prophet, regarding the idea of Justice of Islam and the idea of Love of Christianity. Here is what she said:
“It is often said that, where Christianity is a religion of love, Islam is a religion of social justice. Loving your neighbor is seen by Christians as the test of true religion; the Qur’anic definition of the religious spirit is less ambitious but arguably more practiceable:
“True piety is this: to believe in God and the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and the Prophets, to give of one’s substance, however cherished, to kinsmen and orphans, the needy, the traveler, beggars, and to ransom the slave, to perform the prayer, to pay the alms (Zakah).” Qur’an, 2:172
In principle everybody in the umma [nation] would be treated in the same way: if love could neither prevail nor be enforced, justice and equality could be legislated for. It does seem as though the Qur’anic and later, Islamic Holy Law (shari’a) did help the Muslims to cultivate a deeply egalitarian spirit.
Not long after Muhammad’s death, an important Bedouin chief called Jabalah ibn al-Ayham became a Muslim. One day a lowly member of the umma struck him on the cheek. Islamic principle did not require Jablah to turn the other cheek and he fully expected that an extremely severe punishment would be imposed on the offender because of his high rank. Instead he was simply told that he had permission to strike his assailant once on the face, to avenge the insult exactly and fairly. Jablah was so outraged that he abandoned Islam and returned to Christianity.
It is possible to see the egalitarian ideal of Islam as practical way of fostering brotherly love by reducing all men to the same social and political level.”
Muslims believe in the promotion of good traits, which are accepted by all people. This concept makes Islam universal and does not clash with civilizations. Here is the concept of joining good (al-Ma’roof) and forbidding bad (al-Munkar).
One of the Lesser Pillars of Islam (Fardh Kifayah) is: al Amr bil Ma’roof wa Annahi ahn al Munkar, commanding the doing of what is globally-known right and forbidding what is globally-known wrong.” “al Ma’roof” is, “Any thing known to all people as good,” and “al Munkar” is, “Any thing known to all people as bad and unwanted.” Thus Islam accepts and promotes what is known by all people to be good, such as the safety measures at home, at the work place and in traffic, penalizing the criminal, saying the truth, etc. and it rejects what is known to all people as bad or immoral, such as intoxication, harming neighbors, stealing and lying. Allah said in Chapter 3, the family of Mary:
“Let there arise out of you a band of people inviting to all that is good, enjoining “al Ma’roof,” the doing of what is right and forbidding “al Munkar,” the doing of what is wrong.” Qur’an, 3:104
Law and the Protection of the Five Essential Elements
The Islamic law, Shari’ah, is built around the protection of five basic things: People’s blood, mind, honor, property and religion. This protection is transcendent and applies to all individuals irrespective of creed, color, national origin, position or gender. To safeguard the five human elements, Islam denounced violence. God emphasizes in the Qur’an the sacredness of the soul and condemns acts of terror and injustice.
“If anyone slays a human being, unless it be [in punishment] for murder or for spreading corruption on earth, it shall be as though he had slain all mankind: whereas, if anyone saves a life, it shall be as though he had saved the lives of all mankind.” Qur’an, 5:32
Any act of safety and prevention of harm made for saving a human life or any of the five essential elements is therefore considered Islamic.
Islam prohibits intoxication, prevents social diseases and promotes safety regulations in traffic, industrial and public places, supports medicinal child-proof-bottling and other mind-harming or accident-preventing measures. This principle of safety and prevention of harm apply to the entire ecological system and establishes a cleaner and healthier environment for all the creations of God. The following article is from www.guidedones.com.
Social Justice means equality in law, or justice for all. Prior to the advent of Islam, this kind of social justice was almost unknown either in theory or in practice. It was Islam then that established equal justice for the first time in human history. This fact was acknowledged by non-Muslim thinkers. For instance, Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) writes in one of this letters.
“If ever any religion approached to this equality in any appreciable manner, it is Islam and Islam alone.” (p. 379).
The contribution of Islam in this respect can be placed under three headings: first, the formulation of a complete ideology of human equality and justice; second, the giving of powerful incentive to adopt this ideology; and third, the establishment of a living example of equality and justice in all walks life.
In ancient times the concept of human inequality, which was prevalent everywhere, gave rise to social injustice in every society.
For example, the Greek philosopher, Aristotle, regarded certain classes of individuals as natural slaves. Although there were other thinkers who did not subscribe to this view, slavery continued to be widespread in Rome and Greece and indeed, throughout the entire world of antiquity.
In modern times, this concept has been further strengthened by Darwin’s theory of evolution, according to which mankind was regarded as having achieved differing levels of development, the apex being white European civilization.
The superstitious concept of racial differences, handed down to us from ancient times, paved the way for social discrimination. And such discrimination found an academic basis in modern times in Darwin’s theory of evolution, which purported to show that in the evolutionary process, some groups had made distinctive progress while many other groups had been left far behind. That is to say that certain groups attained a superior level, while others remained in a primitive condition.
Thanks to this theory of evolution, the European nations came to regard other nations as being inferior to them, hence the concept of ‘the white man’s burden’ according to which the white races considered themselves invested with the natural right to subjugate the rest of the world in order to civilize it. This was the logic behind the colonialism of modem times. These concepts, in some measure, still exist.
The world of today can be broadly divided into two parts; the traditional and the scientific. The former appears undeveloped and the latter developed. But from the standpoint of social justice, there is no difference, because in both, beliefs which form a permanent obstacle to social justice still persist.
The traditional world is influenced to a large extent by believers in Karma, the theory that anyone born today necessarily shoulders the burden of his past deeds. As they see it, that is a law of nature, as such, has to be submitted to without question. A belief of this nature obviously stifles any possible incentive for social justice. In the light of such a belief “injustice” simply becomes “nature’s verdict.” The human being has to suffer in this world for his misdeeds in his previous life. Given this state of affairs, it is just not possible for anyone to alleviate human suffering. If this is all to be believed and followed, how can there be any motivation to act out a sense of justice?
The scientific world is likewise under the influence of this concept of human inequality, but for another reason, the general acceptance gained by the theory of evolution. The concept of the biological evolution of life seeks to explain the differences in the existing species, advancing the theory that in the process of evolution some have gone forward while others have been left behind.
For instance, Darwin claims that the female of the human species remained at a primitive stage in the evolutionary process while “man has ultimately become superior to woman”. By the same token, the blacks of Africa, the pygmies and other dwarfish races have been “left behind.” Because of this theory, the scientific world cannot be sympathetic to the supposedly backwards, or under-evolved races.
The theory has thus been so advanced that if people suffer a variety of afflictions, it is “their own fault.” That is to say that those who are made to feel inferior in the treatment they receive from others are, in fact, suffering the consequences of their own shortcomings. It is as if they were fated to be the victims of injustice; the perpetrators are not, therefore, to be blamed.
With the advent of Islam, all such ideas based on an inherent inequality lost ground. In different ways and with great persistence, Islam presented to the world the concept that, in spite of outward differences, all human beings are equal. All are entitled to equal social status and equal rights. No one is inferior or superior. Here are two references from the Qur’an and Hadith respectively.
“Men, we have created you from a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes that you might get to know one another. The noblest of you in Allah’s sight is the most righteous of you. Allah is wise and all knowing”. (49:13).
According to this verse of the Qur’an, the differences of color and race found amongst human beings are for the purpose, not of discrimination, but of identification. Men in essence are equal. What really distinguishes one man from another is character. His superiority can therefore be spoken of only in terms of the degree to which a man is honorable. The truly honorable man is one who is God-fearing and who recognizes and fulfils the rights of God and his fellow men.
On the occasion of the final pilgrimage, the Prophet delivered his last sermon while sitting on his camel. One of the things he said is recorded in these words:
“O people, listen carefully, your Lord is one Lord, there is no doubt about it. Your ancestor, is one ancestor, there is no doubt about it. Listen well to my words: no Arab has any superiority over a non-Arab and no non-Arab is superior to an Arab. No black is superior to a brown or red and no red superior to any black. If there is any superiority in anyone it is due to his God-fearing qualities. Have I conveyed the message?” The Prophet asked the people. The people answered from all corners, “Indeed so! God be witness.” Then the Prophet said: “Let him that is present tell it unto him that is absent.” (Al-Jamili Ahkam al-Qur’an, 16:342)
This declaration was made by the Prophet in the final year of his life at a time when the whole of Arabia had been conquered. As such, it was not the declaration of a reformer, but of a ruler of the time. His definition of human equality was not just listened to as a theory but was immediately put into practice, enforced in society.
In his declaration, the Prophet told people that just as there is one Creator of this world, so all the human beings in this world were born of one man and woman. All human beings were thus equal, being each other’s brothers and sisters. They might differ in respect of appearance but as to honor, status and the right to legal justice, there was no difference between them.
So far as human status is concerned, Islam clearly states that if people have been placed on different rungs of the social ladder, this is not a matter of having been favored with or deprived of social distinction but of their being under divine trial. God has created man in this world in order to test him.
Worldly goods and position (or the lack of them) are used by God as instruments of this test. They are like examination papers set by the Almighty. Opulence and penury are both intended to be states in which man is tested. He should, therefore, stop suffering from inferiority or superiority complexes and consider instead whether he is going to pass or fail this test.
Modern psychological and biological research on race has clearly upheld the teachings of Islam, so that from the academic point of view, other theories stand refuted. Molecular biology, too, has opened a whole new field of research in modern times.
A team of genetic experts in the USA, convinced by the evidence they already had, that all of humanity had common ancestors. They have attempted to trace that single progenitor across the millennia. Placed in this perspective, all differences of color, physiognomy, physique, etc. are purely relative, and do not necessarily constitute different racial characteristics. All modern research points to human beings as members of one Great Family, all bound together by the same biological brotherhood. (Newsweek, January 11,1988).
As well as enjoining justice, (16:90) the Qur’an holds out the promise of reward for one’s deeds. It also informs us that a complete record is constantly being made of human actions.
After death, everyone will find himself standing in God’s court, where he will receive his just desserts. No perpetrator of cruelty will escape God’s punishment. That time has to come when man will suffer the consequences of his deeds. “On that day mankind will come, divided in terms of vice and virtue, into groups to be shown their labors. Whoever does an atom’s weight of good shall see it and whoever does an atom’s weight of evil shall see it also.” (99:6-8)
This concept of accountability alerts man to the necessity of being extremely punctilious in his dealings with others. He then sees how essential it is to be just to everyone, if he is to save himself. He avoids doing others wrongly so that he may not be punished by God. In the absence of any concept of accountability, social justice figures in our lives as a need felt by others, not by ourselves. But once we recognized that there is such a thing as accountability, social justice becomes a prime necessity for everyone, including ourselves. And who can neglect his own needs? The concept of accountability is such a strong check that it restrains one not just from oppression, but from even any semblance of it.
Once when the Prophet was at home with his wife, Umm Salmah, he called the maidservant, who took some time in coming. Seeing signs of anger on the Prophet’s face, Umm Salmah went to the window and looked outside where she saw the maid was playing. When the maid came in, the Prophet happened to have a miswak (a stick used for cleaning the teeth) in his hand. “If it wasn’t for the fear of retribution on the Day of Judgement,” he told the maid, “I would have hit you with this miswak.”
In ancient times the beating of slaves was considered a natural right. But the mentality created by Islam put a stop to this practice, whatever the faults of the slaves. This was because the Muslims were afraid they would be held accountable for this act in the eyes of God.
The Prophet once came across Abu Masood Ansari beating his slave. “You should know, Abu Masood “, he said, “that God has more power over you than you have over this slave.” Abu Masood trembled hearing these words of the Prophet. “Messenger of God,” he said, “I am freeing this slave for God’s sake.” “If you had not acted so, the flames of Hell would have engulfed you,” the Prophet told him.
This incident shows that Islam, by obliterating outward differences, brings all men on the same footing. Abu Masood had at first considered himself to be on a different footing than his slave in a purely material sense where he was respectable and powerful, the slave was lowly and weak. But when the Prophet reminded him that in the eyes of God he stood on exactly the same ground as his slave, he immediately humbled himself. Material differences in standing bring about social injustice. When these differences are obliterated, social inequality will, of necessity, disappear.
It is undeniable that all incidents of oppression and social injustice are the result of inequality between men. Some are powerful, others are weak. Some are rich, others are poor. Now what happens is that the powerful and the wealthy come to regard themselves as being superior to the weak and the poor. They imagine they can oppress others with impunity, their elevated positions being enough to safeguard them from any attempt at retaliation. But Islam tells us that every man’s fate is the concern of God.
All moral issues are finally to be judged in the divine court, God being infinitely more powerful than all of the powerful men in the world. He will pronounce His verdict and enforce it with absolute justice towards one and all. At that time no mortal creature will be able to escape God’s verdict.
In this way, human affairs are no longer matters to be settled amongst men. They become matters to be settled between man and God. On the one side stands God and on the other side stands all of humanity. So, when faced with God, no one is powerful. Everyone feels himself in the same state of humility as he had supposed was the state of other human beings “weaker than himself”. When this consciousness is created in a man, he dare not whatever the circumstances, be unjust to others. This undoubtedly gives him the greatest incentive to bring about social justice.
In an atheistic society where people do not believe in God, such a check is not possible. Where there is no belief in God, human affairs must be settled between men themselves. And in that situation there can be no conviction that all men are equal, for the differences between them will remain all too obvious. In the absence of a divine overlord, such differences can never be leveled out, and if their effects are to be negated, it can only be done by taking matters between men and turning them into matters between man and God. Everyone should have the conviction that there is a God above all men and that all issues must finally be settled by Him and that no one may challenge His verdict.
There are other religions besides Islam which have the concept of God. But, owing to human interpolations in their scriptures, their particular concept of God has, for all practical purposes, become ineffective. For instance, in Christianity, God’s son atoned for the sins of humanity by his crucifixion. In Judaism salvation is granted in advance to its adherents as their birthright. In Hinduism, the monistic concept of God serves no practical purpose. In terms of Islamic Monotheism, God is a separate being, and all human beings are His creatures and His servants. Such a belief arouses in man the feeling of humility. Contrary to the Hindu concept, God in Islam is the sole supreme being: man has no part in that divinity.
In Hinduism, man is a part of God, a concept which produces the opposite feeling of superiority. While Islamic monotheism awakens in man the consciousness of his being God’s servant, Hinduism encourages man to say, “I am God.” The former creates the psychology of humility, unlike the latter which fosters pride. When the members of a society are flawed by pride, it is impossible to bring about an atmosphere of social justice.
Islam’s third great contribution to social justice was the example itself set according to the same honor and respect to all human beings, whether they were weak or strong, kings or commoners, be it in family circles, social life, positions of power or in the government, by the same token, no one could escape punishment for his sins.
The history of Islam abounds in examples of justice for all. Below are just a few:
1. In ancient times, it was unthinkable for a girl of noble birth or even of any free person, to be married to a slave. The Prophet, wishing to break with this tradition, decided to arrange a marriage between his own first cousin, Zaynab bint Jahash (d. 20 AH), who belonged to the Banu Hashim, the most respectable clan of the Quraysh tribe and Zayd ibn Haritha, a black slave. This most extraordinary event served as an important example of Islamic justice.
2. The Ka’aba, the most holy place of worship, was considered sacrosanct in all its parts. Therefore, when the call to prayer had to be made from its roof, it was only a person of noble birth who could ascend it. A man of lowly birth performing this religious duty was not be counted out. After the conquest of Mecca, the Prophet broke with this tradition by asking a black slave, Bilal ibn Rubah to go up on to the roof of the Ka’aba and give the call to prayer (Azan).
This was a unique event, not only in Arab history but also in world history of ancient times. Had Islam not become dominant, people would certainly have killed Bilal for his “arrogance”. They did, however, voice strong reactions against this act, which is an indication of how shocking it had appeared to them. For example, Utaba ibn Usyad of Mecca thanked God that his father was no more and could not, therefore, witness this horrible sight on that day. Harith ibn Hisham asked, “Couldn’t Muhammad have found someone other than this black crow?” (Al-Jame Lil Ahkam AL-Qur’an, 16/341).
3. Ali ibn abi Talib, the fourth caliph, lost his coat of armor. One day he saw a Christian of Kufa selling the same coat of armor. This case was brought to the Qazi Shurayh bin al Alharith. Ali went to his court like a commoner where he was asked by the Qazi to produce two witnesses. Ali then brought forward his son Hasan and his slave Qambar. The Qazi rejected the evidence of his son on the grounds that the evidence of a son in support of his father is not acceptable. Thus the reigning Caliph lost his case. However, the Christian was so greatly impressed at the display of such equality in the court of Islam between the king and commoner, that he himself admitted that Ali was right. The coat of armor did belong to him (Azmath-e-Sahaba, pp. 32-33).
4. Once during the caliphate of Umar Faruq, the second Caliph, Amr ibn al-Aas, who was the governor of Egypt, arranged a horse race in which his own son was also to participate. His son’s horse lost to a young, native Copt. The son, Muhammed ibn Amr, was enraged and lashed the Copt boy with a whip, saying, “Take that! That will teach you to beat the son of a nobleman!” The Copt came to Medina and complained to the Caliph Umar, who took it upon himself to institute an inquiry. When he found that the Copt had been beaten unjustly, he immediately sent an emissary to Egypt to summon the governor and his son before him. When they arrived, he handed the Copt a whip to flog them, just as he himself had been flogged.
In the presence of the governor, the Copt started whipping his son, stopping only when he was satisfied that the punishment had been severe enough. Then the Caliph addressed himself to the governor Amr: ” O Amr, since when have you enslaved people who were born free? (Azmat-e-Sahaba, pp.40 – 41)
5. Palestine was conquered during the Caliphate of Umar Faruq. To sign certain agreements with the conquered nation,
he had to travel to Palestine. When he left Medina, he was wearing rough clothes and had only one servant and one camel. He said to his servant, “If I mount the camel and you go on foot, it will not be fair to you. And if you mount the camel while I go on foot, that will not be fair to me. And if we both sit on the camel’s back, that will be an injustice to the camel. So, it would be better if all three of us took turns.”
So taking turns, Umar Faruq would ride and the servant would walk and vice versa and then both would take a turn of walking so that the camel could rest. Travelling in this manner, they reached the gates of Palestine, where the inhabitants gaped at the sight of the Caliph going on foot while his servant rode the camel, for it was his turn to ride as they approached their destination. In fact, many Palestinians failed to make out who was the Caliph and who was the servant. (Taamir ki Taraf, pp..56-57).
Through intellectual revolution and practical examples, Islam created a history which had an impact on almost the whole inhabited world of that time. This revolution was so powerful that its effects could still be felt one thousand years later.
After the Prophet, the period of Sahaba (The Prophet’s companions) and of Tabiin, (the companions of the Prophet’s companions) is known as the Golden Age of Islam. But the effects of the Islamic revolution lasted far beyond this period, continuing to leave its imprint on human society in various forms across the centuries. Even Muslim kings dared challenge it. Many examples of their submission to Islam can be cited. An incident relating to Jehangir, the Mughal emperor, has been very effectively portrayed by Maulana Shibli Nomani in the form of a poem entitled, ‘Adl-e-Jahangiri.’
Jahangir’s Queen, Noor Jahan, once inadvertently killed a poor man. It happened at a hunt, when a washerman, straying into her line of fire, was hit and mortally wounded. When he died, the matter was brought to court, where the Qazi passed the death sentence on the Queen. Neither the King nor the Queen dared refuse the Qazi’s sentence. Finally, the issue was resolved only when the washerman’s wife pronounced herself willing to accept the blood-money, as is provided for under Islamic law. (If the victim’s next-of-kin refuses to accept the blood-money, the culprit is sentenced to death, murder for murder).
Below is an example of conduct which is the very opposite in spirit. The British ruler, James I, (1566-1625) a contemporary of the Indian ruler, Jahangir (1569-1627), claimed that he was above the law and could exercise his judgement independently. The British chief Justice, Sir Edward Cook, (1552-1634) differed with him on this issues, so when John Beat, a British merchant, once refused to pay tax on imported currants (an order given personally by James I) because no law to this effect had been passed by parliament, Sir Edward took the side of Beat. Enraged, the King exclaimed, “Am I subject to the law? To say so, is treason!” Justice Cook did not waver from his standpoint. As a result he was removed from his post by the King. It is a matter of historical record that legal differences with the King eventually broke his judicial career.
When the case of the King and Justice Cook came to the British privy Council, the Attorney General, Francis Bacon, upholding the legal supremacy of the King said: “Judges should be lions, but yet lions under the throne.” (1/92).
According to time-honored legal traditions in Britain, there were two kinds of law: common law and legal prerogative. For the public there was one set of laws and for the King and nobles quite another. The King was above the law. His word, in fact, was law. It was not until the advent of Islam that this division was abolished and the same set of laws was enforced for all. The rule of the King had perforce to give pride of place to the law of the land.
Shortly before his death on the eve of his last pilgrimage, the Prophet of Islam gave a sermon which came to be known as the sermon of the Final Pilgrimage. One of the historic declarations made in this sermon was: “Everything pertaining to paganism now lies beneath my feet.” With these words, the Prophet announced the advent of a new age, an age freed by him of all superstition and ushered in with the special succor of God.
This historic change was first wrought within Arabia, then it spread beyond its frontiers, ultimately making itself felt throughout the entire world. This resulted in the eradication of the division in society between free men and slaves and the inception of the rule of law all over the world. It also caused all such philosophies as sanctioned injustice and social inequality to lose in influence. Now, any philosophy based on human inequality finds no ground on which to flourish.
15th century Islamic School
It is true that Christianity does not teach human inequality or social injustice. But there was not a powerful, historical example of human equality. The mission of Christ did not reach beyond the invitation to faith. It did not reach the stage of practical revolution. The Islamic system is totally different from those of Hinduism and Christianity. In it, there exists a complete ideology in favor of human equality, while alongside it exists a perfect, practical example. On both counts, the first phase of Islam set the course of Islamic history for all eternity. And Islamic history will continue forever in the same direction, for there is no influence powerful enough in the world to alter its course.
The adventurous legends “Aladdin,” “Sinbad the Sailor,” and “Ali Baba.” (700-1200) are direct reflection of the enormous culture of trade of the Golden Web and the importance of the two cities, Baghdad and Busra to this maritime.
These adventurous legends are only few of the many Arabian Nights that were the main entertainment media then and continued to be so well into our modern times.
Abbasid writers also developed new a genres of literature such as adab, the embodiment of sensible counsel, sometimes in the form of animal fables; a typical example is Kalilah wa-Dimnah, translated by Ibn al-Muqaffa’ from a Pahlavi version of an Indian work. Writers of this period also studied tribal traditions and wrote the first systematic Arabic grammars.