WHAT DOES ISLAM TEACH ABOUT JUSTICE?
Br. Khalid Baig
There is one word that captures the essence of all Islamic laws and all Islamic
teachings; one word that describes the overriding value that permeates all
Islamic values. Justice. The Quraan 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.” (Al-Hadeed 57:25)
The one of the purposes of sending the prophets was to establish Justice in the
world and end injustice. Broadly speaking, doing justice means giving every
creature its due. But this simple statement camouflages all the complexities of
life in their myriad and ever-changing relations; all the temptations; all the
apprehensions and concerns; all the conflicts and dilemmas. To guide the people,
Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) sent down the prophets with clear signs, the
Book, and the Balance.
The Book contains the revelations that spell out what’s fair and unfair or right
and wrong. The Balance refers to our ability to measure and calculate so we can
follow the path shown by the Book and explained by the Prophets.
Together these sources taught us what are the rights of Allah (Subhaanahu Wa
Ta’aalaa), of other people, and of our own persons on us and how to balance
them. A life lived in obedience to Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa), then, is a
continuous balancing act, both individually and collectively.
Under normal circumstances many people can be just. But Islam commands its
followers to be just even in the face of strong conflicting emotions. In dealing
with other human beings, two major impediments to justice are love and hatred.
See how the Quraan teaches us to overcome the first impediment when we are
dealing with our closest relatives or even ourselves.
“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-Nisaa 4:35)
Here is the resolution from the Quraan of the perennial conflict between
self-interest and justice. Be just, even if it is against your narrowly defined
self-interest or of those very close to you. Ignorant people think they are
protecting their self-interest by being unjust to others. Their decision to be
just or unjust may be based on a cold calculation of self-interest. But real
faith in Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) elevates one beyond that
narrow-mindedness. These verses remind us that the real protector of interests
of all people is also Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) and He will protect us when
we follow His command to be just. The justice demanded by Islam permits no
The other equally potent impediment is hatred. Here again Quraan commands:
“O ye who believe! Stand out firmly for Allah, as witnesses to fair dealing, and
let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from
justice. Be just: that is next to Piety: and fear Allah. For Allah is
well-acquainted with all that ye do.” (Al-Maaidah 5:8)
In other words you cannot do injustice even when you are dealing with the enemy.
The natural, uneducated, and uncivilized tendency is to treat the enemy as less
than a human being; one who has no rights and deserves no justice or fairness.
It was as true in the pre-Islamic tribal Jaahilyyah (based on ignorance) society
as it is today. See how Islam directly curbs it. It is a command to the
believers, with a reminder that Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) is watching you,
that enmity of others cannot be used as an excuse for committing injustices
Justice does require retribution and Islam does call for, “an eye for an eye.”
But it does not mean an innocent eye for an innocent eye; it means the eye of
the perpetrator for the eye of the victim. It is amazing how those who call the
latter as barbaric, actually rally for the former when a real crisis develops.
Fourteen hundred years ago these commands created a society where rich and poor,
friend and foe, Muslim and non-Muslim, the ruler and the ruled, were all treated
equally and all of them could count on receiving justice. The Qazis (judges)
were independent and no one, including the Khalifah (Caliph) was above the law.
If a dispute arose between the Khalifah and an ordinary person, both had to
appear in court and provide their evidence. Islamic history is full of stories
of this justice that filled the earth wherever Muslims ruled in their golden
Even during their period of decline, we find sporadic incidents that are just
unparalleled. One example from recent history may suffice here. During the
British Rule in India, once a dispute arose between Hindus and Muslims over a
piece of land. Hindus claimed it belonged to a temple while Muslims claimed it
to be mosque. Emotions were high on both sides and the possibility of a riot was
real. The English judge could not find any means of ascertaining the truth. It
was one group’s words against the other’s. Finally the Judge asked both groups
if they could trust the testimony of any person. They could. It was a particular
Muslim Imam (religious leader) who was known for his piety. The person was
requested to come to the court as a witness in a very charged atmosphere, with
the entire community urging him to help them win the case through his testimony.
His testimony was brief. “The Hindus are right,” he said. “The Muslim case is
baseless.” He had not betrayed the community. He had once more affirmed its
unflinching commitment to truth and justice above all else. The British Judge
had to say, “The Muslims lost the case but Islam won.”
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.” (An-Nisaa 4:58).