The Concept of Justice in Islam


Introduction

Imagine waking up one morning to the sound of gunshots. A man has just been killed. You pass by a home where you hear some children crying, orphaned, and left alone to suffer because of the crimes of other people. On the other side of town, you witness a home that has just been robbed, its residents thrown out mercilessly. You walk past a quiet street and see a car that has been vandalized, its windows broken to shattered glass. Now, just for a moment, stop imagining, switch on the TV, and go watch the news. Chances are you will see all this happening right in front of your eyes, and even more, in our very real world!

Injustice is very widespread on this earth. There can be no peace without the firm establishment of justice. The more you see injustice, the more you realize the importance of establishing justice in the land. When mankind lacks guidance on how to live their lives, the entire structure of society is damaged. Allah (swt) has sent down the Quran as guidance for all of mankind, with all the rules and regulations we need to stay on the right track. Islam is a very complete way of life. Every rule that is good for humanity has been ordained in the Shariah of Allah (swt). Everything we need, in order to live successfully, can be found in the Quran. Amongst these very important divinely instructed laws is the law of establishing justice.

Allah says in the Quran:

“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 you, that you may receive admonition.” (Surah An-Nahl: 90)

In this study, we will Insha’Allah, explore the different ayaat of the Quran relating to the topic of justice, and how we can apply them in our daily lives.

What is Justice?

Before we begin, let’s look into the definition of justice. What is justice, and what do we understand from this term?

According to the American Heritage Dictionary, the word “Justice” can be defined in the following ways:

  1. The quality of being just; fairness.
  2. The principle of moral rightness; equity.
    • Conformity to moral rightness in action or attitude; righteousness.
    • The upholding of what is just, especially fair treatment and due reward in accordance with honor, standards, or law.
    • Law, the administration and procedure of law.
    • A Judge
  3. Conformity to truth, fact, or sound reason.

The Islamic definition of ‘justice’ comes under the same categories. Justice, as defined in the Quran, commands mankind to behave in a fair and just manner. Allah (swt) has commanded us to protect the rights of others, to be fair and just with people, to side with the one who is under oppression, to help and be fair with the needy and orphans, and to be just and not go beyond the boundaries set by Allah, even with our enemies. We are required to be fair and just in all circumstances, and in all situations. We must establish justice in society. This is the law of our Creator.

Allah (swt) says in the Quran:

“Verily, Allah commands that you should render back the trusts to those, to whom they are due; and that when you judge between men, you judge with justice. Verily, how excellent is the teaching which He (Allah) gives you! Truly, Allah is Ever All-Hearer, All Seer.” (Surah Nisa: 58)

Justice: The Law of Allah

Establishing justice is the law of Allah (swt). It is part of the balance which Allah has created. In Surah Ar-Rahman, Allah (swt) describes how He has created a balance of justice, and why:

” And the Heavens He has raised high, and He has set up the Balance (of justice). In order that you may not transgress (due) balance. So establish weight with justice, and fall not short in the balance.” (Surah Ar-Rahman: 7 – 9)

Upon examination of these ayaat, we can understand three different points.

1. Allah (swt) has created the balance of justice in this world. This is His Divine Law.

2. We are not permitted to transgress against the system of balance that Allah has created.

3. Allah (swt) has commanded us to establish weight with justice, and ordered us to refrain from falling short in keeping this balance.

Allah is Just

Amongst the Great Names and Attributes of Allah (swt) is Al-Hakam, which means, “The Judge”. Allah (swt) is the Most Just, and He judges the affairs of His beings with full justice. There are several ayaat in the Quran which describe the justice of Allah (swt). Among them are the following:

“Surely Allah does not do any injustice to men, but men are unjust to themselves.”
(Surah Yunus: 44)

“Surely Allah does not do injustice to the weight of an atom, and if it is a good deed He multiplies it and gives from Himself a great reward.” (Surah Nisa: 40)

“And He gives you of all that you ask for. But if you count the favors of Allah, never will you be able to number them. Verily, man is given up to injustice and ingratitude.” (Surah Ibrahim: 34)

We understand from the above ayaat that Allah is just, and He does not do injustice to mankind. It is men who do injustice to themselves. Not only is Allah just and fair, but He (swt) is so just, that He will not even do the injustice to the weight of an atom. On top of that, Allah will only multiply our good deeds, and will reward us for that. SubhanAllah, how Merciful Allah is! He (swt) gives us ALL that we ask for, and there is no way we could possibly count all of our blessings. It is mankind, who is unjust, and ungrateful to the bounties of Allah.

Allah Has Commanded us to be Just and Fair

“Oh you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even though it be against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, be he rich or poor, Allah is a better protector to both (than you). So follow not your lusts, lest you may avoid justice, and if you distort your witnesses or refuse to give it, verily, Allah is ever well acquainted with what you do.”
(Surah Nisa: 135)

In the above ayah, Allah has commanded in explicit words the importance of standing up for justice. Before Islam, the Arabs were living in a state of ignorance. Their loyalty was to themselves, their families, their own tribes, even when their own were committing great injustices. Allah then sent down this verse, commanding the Muslims to be just, even if it goes against themselves, their parents, their kith and kin, and whether they be rich or poor.

Naturally, it is very easy for human beings to wish for justice against others who have done injustice upon them, or to a third party. The heart is prone to inclining towards that which is just. This natural inclination, however, changes when we are the ones at fault. Let’s take a look at the following scenario.

Suppose your neighbor’s house has been robbed. Their doors have been broken, windows shattered, and belongings taken away. Their lives are left in ruins. Naturally, your heart will incline towards bringing the burglar to justice. The victims would definitely want the thief to be punished. Now, let’s say that thief is you. Would you still want justice to be served? As the criminal, you would do your utmost to get away with the crime. Now that your own self is at stake, you no longer incline towards justice. So what if the thief is your father? What if the thief is your brother? Most likely, you would still incline towards saving your family by concealing their crime, and helping them get away with it. Yet, if the culprit is NOT yourself or your family, you would want justice to be served, for the exact same crime! Why the double standards? These double standards are the result of our lusts and desires, which often lead to injustice.

To perfect the concept of justice, Allah (swt) orders us to stand firmly for that which is true, even in situations where our hearts will incline towards that which is unjust. Regardless of who is at fault, we MUST stand for that which is right. Even if we ourselves are the ones at fault, we do not have the right to escape punishment. We cannot conceal the wrongdoings of our family. Allah knows our natural inclinations, and thus firmly commanded us to refrain from following our heart’s desires, lest we avoid justice.

The Wisdom Behind this Command

In Surah Ma’idah, verse 8, Allah explains the wisdom behind the command to establish justice in society.

Oh you who believe! Stand out firmly for Allah, as just witnesses, and let not the enmity and hatred of others make you avoid justice. Be just: that is nearer to piety: and fear Allah. Verily, Allah is well-acquainted with what you do.” (Al-Ma’idah: 8)

We understand from the above verse that Allah (swt) has commanded us to be just, because that is closer to piety. Although the ayah here points out that justice is ‘nearer’ to Taqwa, there is not any other course of action to take. According to Tafsir Ibn Kathir, ‘nearer’, in this verse, means ‘is’. So why is Allah equating justice to Taqwa? Let’s put things into perspective.

Taqwa, in its general meaning, is God-consciousness, or a state of submission. A person who has full taqwa can never stray away from being just. We know that Allah is watching us at all times. We know that Allah is well acquainted with what we do. This fear of Allah’s displeasure and anger would prevent a person from being unjust in situations where serving justice becomes necessary. We know that Allah wants us to stay within the walls of justice, even when dealing with ourselves, with our family, with the rich or poor, even with an enemy. Only a person with full taqwa could practice complete justice like that.

Justice in Action

When Allah commanded us to be just, He (swt) did not just leave us there to sit and wonder about ‘how’ we can practice justice. Throughout the Quran, Allah has given us numerous guidelines on how to act justly in various situations. Here are a few examples.

Allah (swt) says in Surah Al-Hujraat, verse 9:

“And if two parties among the Believers fall to fighting, then make peace between them both: but if one of them transgresses beyond bounds against the other, then fight you (all) against the one that transgresses until it complies with the Command of Allah. Then if it complies, then make reconciliation between them with justice, and be fair: for Allah loves those who are fair (and just).” (Al-Hujraat: 9)

This ayah gives us the answers to four important points:

What to do when two believers are fighting?

  • First, try to make peace between them.

What if that doesn’t work?

  • Then fight against the one who is transgressing.

What to do if the transgressor straightens out?

  • Then if the one who was transgressing complies with the Command of Allah, once again, try to make reconciliation between them with justice.

Why?

  • Because Allah loves those who are fair and just.

Allah says in Surah Al-An’am, verse 152:

“And come not near to the orphan’s property, except to improve it, until he (or she) attains the age of full strength; and give full measure and full weight with justice. We burden not any person, but that which he can bear. And whenever you give your word (i.e. judge between men or give evidence), say the truth, even if a near relative is concerned, and fulfill the Covenant of Allah. This He commands you, that you may remember.” (Surah Al-An’am: 152)

This ayah gives us the answers to three main points.

What to do with an orphan’s wealth?

  • Nothing. Stay away from it. Don’t come near it.
  • If you must do something, do so only to improve it in a way that it will benefit the orphan.
  • When the orphans attain the age of full strength, give them their wealth in full measure and in full weight with justice.

How should you give your word?

  • When you judge between men or give evidence, say the truth! Say the truth even when a relative is concerned.

Why?

  • We must fulfill the Covenant of Allah (swt). This is His Command.

Allah says in Surah Al-Ma’idah, verse 45:

“And We ordained therein for them: Life for a life, eye for an eye, nose for a nose, ear for an ear, tooth for a tooth, and wounds equal for equal. But if anyone remits the retaliation by way of charity, it shall be for him, an expiation. And whosoever does not judge by that which Allah has revealed, such are the wrong-doers.” (Surah Al-Ma’idah: 45)

We find the answers to several questions regarding the implication of justice, in this ayah.

What should be done in the case of intentional murder?

  • Death penalty. Allah says: “A life for a life…”

What should be done if someone hurts you?

  • Hurt them, just as they hurt you. No more than that.

Is it a MUST to retaliate?

  • No, you do not have to retaliate, although you have the full right to do so. Allah says, “But if anyone remits the retaliation by way of charity, it shall be for him, an expiation.” If someone commits an injustice towards you, and you forgive them for the sake of Allah, and remit retaliation, Allah will forgive your sins in return for that noble deed.

What if someone wishes to retaliate in a way other than that which Allah revealed?

  • We cannot base our judgment on anything other than what Allah has revealed. We cannot go beyond our limits when retaliating. Allah says, “And whosoever does not judge by that which Allah has revealed, such are the wrong-doers.”We must judge and retaliate in the way Allah has revealed. Any person who goes against Allah’s guidelines falls into the category of wrongdoers.

These were just some examples of ayaat where Allah (swt) tells us ‘how’ to implement justice in different scenarios of life. The Quran goes into extensive detail in explaining the implementation of justice in many other issues, such as divorce, inheritance, theft, and so on. For the sake of brevity of the paper, we hope that these three examples will be sufficient.

How to Judge Between People?

In Surah S’ad, verses 20 – 26, Allah (swt) tells us the story of Daawud (as), and when Allah tested him to see how he would judge between two people. We can take good lesson from this story.

Allah (swt) says:

“We made his (Daawud’s) kingdom strong, and gave him wisdom, and sound judgment in speech and decision.” (Surah S’ad: 20)

“Has the story of the disputants reached you? When they climbed over the wall of the private chamber.” (Surah S’ad: 21)

“When they entered in upon Daawud, he was terrified of them. They said, “Fear not. (We are) two disputants, one of whom has wronged the other. Therefore, judge between us with truth, and treat us not with injustice, and guide us to the Right Way.” (Surah S’ad: 22)

“Verily, this my brother has ninety-nine ewes, while I have (only) one ewe, and he says: “Hand it over to me, and he overpowered me in speech.” (Surah S’ad: 23)

“Daawud said, (immediately without listening to the opponent): “He has wronged you in demanding your ewe in addition to his ewes. And verily, many partners oppress one another, except those who believe and do righteous good deeds, and they are few.” And Daawud realized that We have tried him, and he sought forgiveness from his Lord, and he fell down in prostration, and turned (to Allah) in repentance.” (Surah S’ad: 24)

“So We forgave him for that, and verily, for him is a near access to Us, and a good place of (final) return (Paradise).” (Surah S’ad: 25)

“Oh Daawud! Verily, We have placed you a successor on the earth; so judge you between men in truth (and justice), and follow not your desire – for it will mislead you from the path of Allah. Verily, those who wander astray from the path of Allah (shall) have a severe torment, because they forgot the Day of Reckoning.” (Surah S’ad: 26)

We learn from these ayaat the importance of hearing both sides of the story before passing any judgment between two people. Sometimes, the truth is not spoken by one party, and the one who is judging can get misled without hearing the voice of other side. Allah (swt) tested Daawud (as) by sending him two disputants. When Daawud (as) 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. In order to pass a fair judgment, one must listen to both parties, evaluate the situation, and then, come to a conclusion. This is a fundamental crux for judging between two or more people or groups. If we just turn our head around and see, we will find numerous examples at an individual and societal level and also at national and inter-national level where this fundamental principle is violated.

People who Strive to Establish Justice

We live in a world where there are people who commit crimes and create chaos in society. There are people who commit thefts. There are people who vandalize cities. There are people who torment others. There are people who are not fair and just when it comes to their dealings with people. Often times, they get away with their wrongdoings. When so much wrong exists, sometimes, seeing the good in society can become difficult. We find ourselves wondering, “There were just Prophets and Messengers sent by Allah in the past. Are there not any just people today?” By the Mercy of Allah (swt), there are always some people out there in this world who have the taqwa of Allah (swt), and will judge between people with justice.

Allah says in Surah Al-A’raf, verse 181:

“And of those whom We have created, there is a community who guides (others) with the truth, and establishes justice therewith.” (Al-A’raf: 181)

Let’s take a brief tangent here. We now know that there will always be a community who guides others to the truth, and establishes justice with Allah’s guidance. A question might arise from this. What do we do when those people are not in authority? In today’s world, rulers strive for power and fame, and it may be impossible to find a ruler who establishes the law of justice based on the guidelines of our Creator. What do we do in this situation? The answer is in Surah Al-Asr.

Allah says:

“Verily Man is in loss. Except those who have Faith, and do righteous deeds, and (join together) in the mutual teaching of Truth, and of Patience and Constancy.” (Al-Asr: 3 – 4)

These ayaat tell us that mankind is lost. Only those who have true faith in Allah, do righteous deeds, and join together in the mutual teaching of truth, and of patience have saved themselves from this loss. The wisdom behind having a Khalifah in Islam to rule us is that we always have an authority that will stand for the truth, and rule people with justice in accordance to Allah’s Commands. Unfortunately, we do not have a Khalifah in this day and age. Often times, there are situations that need to be dealt with justly on a higher level, and our leaders are not willing to take that step. When we ourselves are not capable of taking the lead of establishing justice at an upper level, what can we do? We should always stick to the truth, and have patience. We must do our part in trying to bring about a change, but until that change comes, we must be patient. Patience is the key to success.

The Ultimate Justice

As we discussed earlier, there are times when people do wrong in this world and get away with it. Sometimes, criminals commit crimes, and no one brings them to account. There are times when wrongdoers commit their evil deeds in the darkness of night, and no one witnesses their crime, other than their Creator. As Allah Himself created the balance of justice as His law in this world, Allah will not allow any injustice to happen, without bringing that person to account. Those matters which are not resolved in this world, Allah (swt) will deal with them in the hereafter…on the Day of Judgment. Every one of us was created by Allah, and every one of us will return to Him for final judgment.

Allah says in the Quran:

“And We shall set up Balance of justice on the Day of Resurrection, then none will be dealt with unjustly in anything. And if there be the weight of a mustard seed, We will bring it. And Sufficient are We to take account.” (Al-Anbiya: 47)

Here, Allah (swt) tells us that He will set up a balance of justice on the Day of Resurrection. On that day, no one will be dealt with unjustly. If there is a matter that will be as small as the weight of a mustard seed, Allah (swt) in His Manifest Wisdom will take account of it. Allah will be our Judge.

Allah (swt) has prepared a great reward for those who lived their lives in righteousness, worshipping Him, and obeying His Commands, and doing good deeds:

“And whoever does righteous deeds, male or female, and is a (true) believer, such will enter Paradise, and not the least injustice, even to the size of a ‘Naqira’ [speck on the back of a date stone], will be done to them.” (An-Nisa: 124)

On the other hand, those who did wrong in this world will be punished severely on that day:

“And the Book (one’s Record) will be placed (in the right hand for a believer in the Oneness of Allah, and in the left hand for a disbeliever in the Oneness of Allah), and you will see the ‘Mujrimun’ (criminals, polytheists, sinners), fearful of that which is (recorded) therein. They will say: “Woe to us! What sort of Book is this that leaves neither a small thing nor a big thing, but has recorded it with numbers!” And they will find all that they did placed before them, and your Lord treats no one with injustice.” (Al-Kahf: 49)

Remember that the greatest injustice in the sight of Allah is shirk. There is no forgiveness for those who live their lives committing shirk and die in that state. For such people, the punishment after judgment will be very severe.

“Behold, Luqman said to his son by way of instruction: “O my son! Join not in worship (others) with Allah. For false worship is indeed the greatest injustice.” (Surah Luqman: 13)

When Allah is the Judge, who can dare try to get away with their crimes and evil doings? They will never be able to do that. Truly Allah is the Best and Most Wise of all Judges.

“Is not Allah the wisest of Judges?” (Surah At-Tin: 8)

And Allah knows Best.

We ask Allah to make us amongst those who always stand firmly on the truth, for justice. We ask Allah to forgive us for our mistakes, and make us amongst the successful ones, on that day when He(swt) will bring us all to account, and every soul will be dealt with in complete justice, and rewarded with only that which they earned with their own hands.

Ameen.

( Source: Muslim Matters )


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