“Let not the hatred of any people induce you act unjustly. Deal justly; that is nearer to piety…”–Quran, 5:8.
There is an urgent need to revitalize the concept of justice specifically as a virtue since the focus in the Islamic and Western worlds has been more significantly on the juridical and political aspects of justice. Since the European Enlightenment, the classical philosophical conception of justice has been replaced by individualistic conceptions of human nature, focusing on human rights. But for a society to operate with full justice we need righteous humans. For peace and justice to prevail in society, we do not require only laws of justice, but also people of justice. That is to say, justice as a virtue of political institutions should be brought in relation to justice as a virtue of character. Justice is the only one of the four virtues that is inherently good. Wisdom, temperance, and courage are good when they serve virtuous ends, but justice surpasses all of them because it is concerned with the quality of the soul and society. Justice is concerned with both an inward quality of the soul and an outward quality of virtue. We have to be just to ourselves and with everything else and everyone else around us. Justice or ‘adl literally means placing things in their rightful place and also affording equal treatment to others in the Islamic worldview. Justice is the opposite of injustice, just as white is the opposite of black and day is the opposite of night. Justice is nothing but to maintain equality in disputed matters. Justice is close to equality in the sense that it creates a state of equilibrium in the distribution of rights and duties, but they are not identical. The Holy Quran considers justice to be a supreme virtue. The establishment of justice is one of the most essential goals in the sending of the prophets and in revealing the divine scriptures (Quran, 57:25). The just are loved by God (60:8) while the unjust will face the fire of Hell (Quran, 72:15). The Holy Quran commands, “Allah commands justice, the doing of good, and liberality to kith and kin, and He forbids all shameful deeds, and injustice and rebellion: He instructs, that ye may receive admonition.” (Al-Nahl 16:90). Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) underscored the importance of rulers being just in one of his famous saying. “There are seven categories of people whom Allah will shelter on the day when there will be no shade except His. (One will be) a just leader.” (Saheeh Muslim) God spoke to His Messenger in this manner:“O My slaves, I have forbidden injustice for Myself and forbade it also for you. So avoid being unjust to one another.” (Saheeh Muslim). The centrality of justice to the Quranic value system is displayed by the following verse:“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…” (Quran 57:25)The phrase ‘Our Messengers’ shows that justice has been the goal of all revelation and scriptures sent to humanity. God has demanded justice and, although He has not prescribed a specific route, has provided general guidelines, on how to achieve it. Therefore, all means, procedures, and methods that facilitate, refine, and advance the cause of justice, and do not violate the Islamic Law are valid. Allah may tolerate a non-Muslim government with justice but will not tolerate a Muslim government without justice (Imam IbnTaymiyah). Holy Prophet (pbuh) was ahead of his times in promoting peace and justice in society. He (pbuh) and his followers were a persecuted minority in Mecca. When the torture became unbearable, he migrated to Medina, a city in northern Arabia, most of whose inhabitants had already accepted Islam. Once he settled in Medina, the Prophet realized that there was a minority Jewish community in that city that had no inclination to accept Islam. He met them and invited them to a pact with the Muslims so that each religious group in Medina knew its rights and obligations. One of the most outstanding features of the treaty is the freedom of belief it established. The relevant article reads: “The Jews of Banu ‘Awf are one nation with the Muslims; the Jews have their religion and the Muslims have theirs…” Article 16 of the treaty reads: “The Jew who follows us is surely entitled to our support and the same equal rights as any one of us. He shall not be wronged nor his enemy be assisted. The Qur’ãn decreed that the prisoners of war must not be ill-treated in any way. The way the Prophet dealt with the prisoners was very revolutionary. The poor prisoners were released free; those who came from affluent families of Mecca were returned for a specified ransom. (See the Qur’ãn: Surah Muhummad, 47:4) But the most interesting case was of those prisoners who were literate – the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) made a deal with them that they could go free if they could teach ten Muslim children how to read and write. I can proudly say that the example and teachings of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) about Prisoners of War are “definitively good and humane” even according to the standards of the 21st century. The Qur’ãn instructs the Muslims to maintain justice even when dealing with their enemies.“O you who believe, be maintainers of justice (and bearer of) witness for (the sake of) God. Let not hatred of a people incite you to act unjustly; be just—this is nearer to righteousness. And fear God surely God is aware of what you do.” (Surah al-Maida, 5:8) Justice of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was a source of peace and security for other communities, just as much as it was for Muslims. During the time of the Prophet (pbuh), Christians, Jews and pagans were all treated equally. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) abided by the verse “There is no compulsion where the religion is concerned…” (Surat al-Baqara: 256). In another verse, Allah revealed to the Prophet (pbuh) the kind of justice and conciliation he needed to adopt towards those of other religions:So call and go straight as you have been ordered to. Do not follow their whims and desires but say, “I believe in a Book sent down by Allah and I am ordered to be just between you. Allah is our Lord and your Lord. We have our actions and you have your actions. There is no debate between us and you. Allah will gather us all together. He is our final destination.” (Surat ash-Shura: 15) This noble attitude of the Prophet (pbuh), being in total harmony with the morality of the Qur’an, should be taken as an example of how members of different religions today should be treated. In many of his addresses, even in his final sermon, the Prophet (pbuh) stated that superiority lay not in race but in godliness as Allah states in the verse: Mankind! We created you from a male and female,and made you into peoples and tribes so that you might come to know each other. The noblest among you in Allah’s sight is that one of you who best performs his duty. Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware. (Surat al-Hujurat: 13) An incident illustrate how strictly justice was religiously maintained in the early phase of Islam in accordance with Islamic doctrines and commandments. A woman by the name of Fatimah, belonging to the Banu Makhzum tribe, once committed a theft. Her kinsfolk, fearing that her hand would be amputated, sent Usamah ibn Zayd to intercede with the Prophet on her behalf. When the Prophet heard this pre-planned intercession, signs of anger appeared on his face. “Are you trying to sway me as to the limits laid down by God?” he asked. Usamah ibn Zayd immediately admitted his mistake and begged the Prophet to pray on his behalf for forgiveness. The Prophet then delivered a sermon to those assembled there saying: “Communities of old came to grief and destruction because of the disparity and leniency shown to those in high positions when they committed such an offence. On the contrary, any offender of humble origin or lowly status in society had harsh punishment meted out to him. By God, if my own daughter Fatimah were to steal, I would have her hand cut off.” (Al-Bukhari, Muslim) Two hadiths report the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) as saying: “You are sons of Adam, and Adam came from dust. Let the people cease to boast about their ancestors.””These genealogies of yours are not a reason to revile anyone. You are all children of Adam. No one has any superiority over another except in religion and taqwa (godliness).” The agreement made with the Christians of Najran in the south of the Arabian Peninsula was another fine example of the justice of the Prophet (pbuh). The justice of the Prophet (pbuh) also awoke feelings of confidence in non-Muslims, and many, including polytheists, asked to be taken under his protection. Allah revealed the following request from the polytheists in the Qur’an, and also told the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) of the attitude he should adopt towards such people: If any of the idolators ask you for protection, give them protection until they have heard the words of Allah. Then convey them to a place where they are safe. That is because they are a people who do not know. How could any of the idolators possibly have a treaty with Allah and with His Messenger, except for those you made a treaty with at the Masjid al-Haram? As long as they are straight with you, be straight with them. Allah loves those who do their duty. (Surat at-Tawba: 6-7) With regards to relations with non-Muslims, the Quran further states: “God does not forbid you from doing good and being just to those who have neither fought you over your faith nor evicted you from your homes…” (Quran 60:8) The Quran demands that justice be met for all, and that it is an inherent right of all human beings under Islamic Law.
The Quranic concept of justice also extends justice to being a personal virtue, and one of the standards of moral excellence that a believer is encouraged to attain as part of his God-consciousness. God says: “…Be just, for it is closest to God-consciousness…” (Quran 5:8) The Quran also refers to particular instances and contexts of justice. One such instance is the requirement of just treatment of orphans. God says: “And approach not the property of the orphan except in the fairest way, until he [or she] attains the age of full strength, and give measurement and weight with justice…” (Quran 6:152, also see 89:17, 93:9, and 107:2) Fair dealings in measurements and weights, as mentioned in the above verse, is also mentioned in other passages where justice in the buying, selling, and by extension, to business transactions in general, is emphasized. There is an entire chapter of the Quran, Surah al-Mutaffifeen (‘The Detractors in Giving Weights,’ 83) where fraudulent dealers are threatened with divine wrath. References to justice also occur in the context to polygamy. The Quran demands equitable treatment of all wives. The verse of polygamy begins by reference to orphaned girls who may be exposed to depravation and injustice. When they reach marriageable age, they should be married off, even if it be into a polygamous relationship, especially when there is inequality in the number of men and women, as was the case after the Battle of Uhud when this verse was revealed. Today we observe unjust rulers unlawfully split blood, support wrong and unlawfully take wealth from the people. The response to these rulers and their supporters is to take guidance from Quran and show patience. Muslim attitudes to war and peace are based on the teachings of the Holy Qur’an, the Divine Book revealed to the Prophet (pbuh). Jihad consequently, in the Qur’an, stands for a movement of protection of human rights, freedom, and dignity of man.There are two ideas in Muslim teaching that relate to war – Jihad (to struggle in the way of Allah) and Harb al-Muqadis (Holy War). Islam is a religion which advocates peace and peace-making. However, it is not a pacifist religion; fighting and war is permitted in certain circumstances when all else has been tried and failed. The personal spiritual struggle or effort of every Muslim to follow the teachings of Allah (God) in their own lives e.g. overcoming things such as anger greed, pride and hatred; forgiving someone who has hurt them; working for social justice in one form of Jihad. The struggle to build a good Muslim society is also Holy War (the struggle to defend against oppression; paid religious leaders). When the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was asked which people fought in the name of Allah, he said: “The person who struggles so that Allah’s word is supreme is the one serving Allah’s cause”. In this more unequal, hotter, unstable and interdependent world we cannot now settle for charity. Muslims throughout world are facing tough time and it is important that we must recognise our responsibility to the poor victims and continue the long march to justice. Justice for an ordinary person is different from the justice for a privileged person in different countries. In our day, the only solution to the fighting and conflict going on all over the world is to adopt the morality of the Qur’an, and, like the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), never to depart from the path of justice, making no distinction between different religions, languages, or races. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)’s human love, kind thought and compassion, which turned those around him to true religion and warmed their hearts to faith, is that superior morality which all Muslims should seek to reproduce. In conclusion, justice ranks as the most noble of acts of devotion next to belief in God. All great prophets (peace be upon them) of Allah –Adam to Noah, Abraham to Moses, Jesus to Muhammad (SAW) – came to establish justice in society. “God does not bless a community in which the weak cannot take from the strong what is rightfully theirs without fear of reprisal.” (Sunan, IbnMajah). May Almighty Allah keep the world in peace from the tyrants of the East and the West? Ameen!
( The authors write regularly on Islamic topics exclusively for the opinion pages of “Kashmir Horizon”. Views are their own)