By Moin Qazi, New Age Islam
17 April 2017
Surely We have revealed the Book to you with truth so that you may judge between people by means of what Allah has taught you. And be not one pleading the cause of the dishonest.
This verse lies down that the balance of justice must be held equal between friends and foes, Muslims and non-Muslims. The commentators of the Qur’an 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 sympathized with Taimah, but the Holy Prophet decided in favour of the Jew who had been falsely implicated.
Justice is one word that captures the essence of all Islamic laws and all Islamic teachings; that describes the overriding value that permeates all Islamic values. The Quran says: “We sent aforetime our messengers with clear Signs and sent down with them the Book and the Balance that men may stand forth in Justice.” [Q 57:25] The primary purpose of sending the prophets was to establish Justice in the world and end injustice.
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. In the Islamic paradigm, justice 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.
The fact that the Qur’anic commands to do justice and shun inequity have been repeated more than 50 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, are not permitted to colour justice .Indeed, those enthroned on the judicial pedestal are required to do right to all manner of people without fear or favour, affection or ill-will. This precept reflects the fundamental goal = to give equal access and protection to “=all manner of people= regardless of creed, faith, belief race, ethnicity, language, socio-economic status, political opinion, gender or sexual orientation
The Quran says `O you who believe, be maintainers of justice, bearers of testimony for Allah, even though it be against your own selves or (your) parents or near relatives — whether one be rich or poor....` (4: 135) And then, `... And not let hatred of a people keep you from acting equitably....` (5:8) `... So judge between men justly and follow not desire....` (38:26)
The Prophet of Islam (PBUH) was known for his fair and impartial administration of justice. He strictly implemented equality before law, and never made any distinction between litigants on the basis of faith or relations. Instead of claiming any legal immunity, he laid down the rule that even the head of state may be challenged, in both official and private capacities, in a court.
The Prophet was very emphatic about it: `Verily those who were before you were destroyed because when a man of stature from among them committed theft, they passed no sentence on him. By Allah, had Fatima, the daughter of Mohammad, committed theft, I would have cut off her hand. `
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 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 (Batin) of the believer rather than to external appearances (Zahir), 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) 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. The Qu’ran 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” (Q28.4) 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.
In the context of justice, the Quran uses two concepts adl and ehsan. Both are enjoined and both are related to the idea of balance, but they are not identical in meaning. A. A. A. Fyzee defines adl as “to be equal, neither more nor less,” and states that in “a court of justice the claims of two parties must be considered evenly, without undue stress being laid upon one side. Justice introduces the balance in the form of scales that are evenly balanced.”
Adl was described in similar terms by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, who stated “What is justice but the avoiding of excess? There should be neither too much nor too little; hence the use of scales as the emblems of justice.”
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 (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 can be attained only when a proper relationship and balance is established in between the various societal groups. A just society is produced through perfectly just state institutions and social arrangements and the right behaviour of the citizens. 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. Therefore virtue, evil and ethics are defined by revelation and not determined by intellect, desire, intuition or experience derived through the senses.
The Islamic conception of justice is comprehensive. It embraces all aspects of life and is concerned with mind and body as well as the heart and the 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. 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.
In his 1776 publication “Thoughts on Government,” John Adams praised Prophet Muhammad 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 Quran 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. In verse after verse, the Qur’an implores mankind not to swerve in the performance of justice.
Islam cautions against truth being overlaid by passion and emotion to avoid justice being derailed. 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.
The following portion of a letter, written by Ali to one of his governors, eloquently explains the status and role of the judiciary in Islam
`Select as your chief judge one from the people who by far is the best among them; one who is not obsessed with domestic worries; one who cannot be intimidated; one who does not err too often; one who does not turn back from the right path once he finds it; one who is not self-centred or avaricious; one who will not decide before knowing full facts; one who will weigh with care every attendant doubt and pronounce a clear verdict after taking everything into full consideration; one who will not grow restive over the arguments of advocates; one who will examine with patience every new disclosure of facts; one who will be strictly impartial in his decision; one whom flattery cannot mislead; one who does not exult over his position.
As the world grapples with a multitude of injustices heaped on it under the tyranny of a new world order, Islamic values provide the most authentic hope.
It is right time to pause and to appreciate the truth of the wisdom of Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen so poignantly elucidated in his epic book ,The Idea of Justice .
“When people across the world agitate to get more global justice", Sen writes, "they are not clamouring for some kind of 'minimal humanitarianism"'. They are sensible enough to know that a "perfectly just" world is a utopian dream. All they want is "the elimination of some outrageously unjust arrangement to enhance global justice".
But Islamic justice promises complete welfare as it embraces justice in all its verities.
That is the justice the world needs today. “Allah doth command you to render back your Trusts to those to whom they are due; and when ye judge between man and man, that ye judge with justice: verily how excellent is the teaching which He gives you! For Allah is He Who hears and sees all things.” [Q 4:58]
Moin Qazi is the author of the bestselling book, Village Diary of a Heretic Banker. He has worked in the development finance sector for almost four decades.
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