Reprinted from Hamdard Islamicus, Vol. XX, No. 3, July-September 1997
Islam avoids extremes so as to maintain balance and orderliness in society. Monopoly and cut-throat competition are therefore disapproved. Justice to all is Islam's essence as it enables man to lead a good and happy life and at the same time strengthens bonds of human brotherhood and fortifies the social fabric.Justice in Islam is termed 'adl which means to divide two things equally or to keep the balance. This term is used in the Holy Qur'an for justice in all matters. Islam teaches the believers to be fair in their dealings. The Holy Qur'an says that:
And when ye judge between man and man, that ye judge with justice [Al-Qur'an, 4:58]Islam not only ordains the believers to do justice among themselves but also exhorts them to do full justice even in the case of their enemies. The Holy Qur'an says:
And let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. (Al-Qur'an 5:8)Justice and righteousness are the cornerstone of the Islamic way of life.
The Holy Prophet p.b.u.h. was known for this justice even before he declared his prophethood. Throughout his life he exhorted his followers to be truthful and just and he himself set a perfect example of justice even to the followers of other religions and his enemies.
With regards to Islam and social justice, let us first examine the Greek view. Plato says, "what is due to every man is that he should be treated according to what he is in the light of his capacity and his training, and what is due from him is the honest performance of his work which the position assigned to him requires." He speaks of justice in terms of service and functions which the individuals perform with reference to the state.
ResponsibilityThis definition of social justice does not accord with the spirit of Islam. In Islam, the state is not a deity to be worshiped but a special organization that is subject to the dictates of law. Muslims are not associated in Islamic society because of their need for one another (that would be selfish) but rather, they are obliged to look after one another and to be responsible for the welfare of all.
In accordance with the Divine law, the concept of social justice lays down certain conditions to treat man as an individual with liberty and equality as his birth right. It provides him with equal opportunities for developing his personality so that he is better fitted to fill the situation to which he is entitled, to give each individual his due and to regulate his relations with society in terms of value and welfare.
Duties to SocietyThis concept of social justice is achieved by giving the individual a better understanding of his duties in society and the reward thereof as provided under the Islamic dispensation. Education, being the measure and touchstone in this context, was made obligatory by the Prophet p.b.u.h. on every Muslim. More specifically he said and knew that knowledge enabled one to distinguish right from wrong. By virtue of it, God exalts nations, makes them guides in good pursuits, and gives them leadership.
The progress of society depends upon the interaction between the individual and society with the result that a balance is maintained in human affairs. Man as such should always keep in mind that God created the whole universe with a particular purpose and man has been asked to strive for its fulfilment. In the words of the Holy Qur'an:
And the Firmament has He raised high, and He has set up the Balance (of Justice). [Al-Qur'an, 55:7]The terms 'measure' and 'balance' refer to justice, the heavenly virtue which should be established among all men who constitute a society.
Man has to act justly with his fellow beings and with the world around him. Here is again the Qur'anic verse:
We sent aforetime Our Messengers with Clear Signs and sent down with them the Book and the Balance (of Right and Wrong), that men may stand forth in justice. [Al-Qur'an. 57:25]which in the context of human affairs unfolds itself in the shape of social justice which weighs with exactitude all material and moral issues.
Equality and FreedomBroadly speaking, human rights centre on equality and freedom. Caliph Umar reprimanded the governor of Egypt whose son had struck a Copt in these words that admirably illustrate this concept : "On what account have you enslaved men who were born free by their mothers?". Again his instructions to establish equality among people demonstrate the best egalitarian features: the highly-placed man cannot take advantage of his position, and the weak person is not made to despair of his condition.
Human beings are all Slaves of God. In Islam, no superiority, no distinction and no pre-eminence can be lawfully claimed by one over the other except by virtue of piety. All people are equal in their social status and this is fully manifested in the congregational prayers where there is no room for rank and special privilege. All are equal in the sight of God whether he be a caliph or a slave. The Prophet Muhammade p.b.u.h. said that individuals were all equal like the teeth of a comb.
The Holy Qur'an says:
'O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and female and made you, into nations and tribes that ye may know each other. Verily, the most honoured of you in the sight of God is (he who is) the most righteous of you. [Al-Qur'an, 49:13]Rights are usually followed by duties but in Islam there are more duties and less rights and this is meant to restrict unlimited freedom lest it should be injurious to the interests of society.
Balance in SocietyIslam avoids extremes so as to maintain balance and orderliness in society. Therefore, monopoly and cut-throat competition are disapproved. Justice to all is Islam's essence and this enables man to lead a good and happy life while at the same time strengthening the bonds of human brotherhood as well as the social fabric.
The social framework prevalent today in most Muslim countries is not Islamic. There are many places where conditions are monstrous and oppressive for the poor. There is rampant corruption, poverty and want around us. There are few who have acquired substantial wealth and thus enjoy the numerous amenities and luxuries of life whereas the majority do not even receive two square meals a day. Social order in an Islamic state lays stress on simple and austere efforts that are free from ostentation. The Holy Prophet Muhammad p.b.u.h. was just -- he strove to bridge the gap between the rich and poor, the high and the low. He advocated a society in which there would not be any exploitation of one sector over another. What Islam aims at is a balanced life which represents the equilibrium of social forces.
Islam is far more than a system of theology. It stands for a distinctive civilization and a socio-political economic order based on practical considerations. It is through the operation of Islamic principles that the fullest development of man's potentialities can be achieved. The optimum level of civilization which embodies the maximum for well-being can never be possible without spiritual and moral development. Islamic principles descending from Divinity are indeed perfect and absolute. The Islamic approach is therefore just, natural, humane and also perfectly balanced and rational.
GuidanceAllah created mankind and He gave us a social order that has been embodied in the religion of Islam. Islam guides all mankind towards success both in this world and the hereafter and this has been the goal from the very first Prophet (Adam A.S.) to the last Prophet (Muhammad p.b.u.h.) of mankind. The perspective of Islam, apart from seeking success in the next world, is also strongly concerned with success in this world. Islam deals not only with the ways and means of devotion and worship towards Allah, but also with practices which lead man towards communion with Him. Furthermore, Islam helps man to solve worldly problems in terms of his relations in social and political life.