Essay on “The Concept of Justice in Islam” for CSS, PMS

This is an essay on “The Concept of Justice in Islam” for CSS and PMS. In the Islamic worldview, justice denotes placing things in their rightful place. It also means giving others equal treatment. In Islam, justice is also a moral virtue and an attribute of human personality, as it is in the Western tradition. So here is a complete essay on the topic of the concept of justice in Islam for CSS, PMS, and All other Judiciary Examinations.

Essay on “The Concept of Justice in Islam”

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. They are clearly connected since there can be no enduring peace without justice. The very word 0lslam comes from the same verbal root as salam meaning “peace” and, since the religion is based upon total submission to the will of God, Muslims believe that real peace is out of reach unless it is based upon this submission within the universal order.

They believe equally that there can be no real justice except as an aspect of submission to the source of all that is just and well ordered. Although God in Himself is beyond comprehension or analysis, the Qur’an gives us hints as to His true nature through what is sometimes called “the 99 names” and one of these is al-Adi, “the Just”. Another of these names is al-Muqsio, “the Dispenser of Justice” or “He who gives to each thing its due”.

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 Qur’an says: ‘We sent afore time our messengers with clear Signs and sent down with them the Book and the Balance, that men may stand forth in Justice.” [AI-Hadeed 57:25]

The sole purpose of sending the prophets was to establish Justice in the world and end injustice. Broadly speaking, doing justice means giving everyone his 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 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 explain by the Prophets.

Together these sources taught us what are the rights of Allah, of other people, and of our own persons on us and how to balance them. A life lived in obedience to Allah, 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 Qur’an 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-Nisa 4:35]

Here is the resolution from the Qur’an 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 set interests 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 elevates one beyond that narrow-mindedness. These verses remind us that the real protector of interests of all people is also Allah and He will protect us when we follow His command to be just. The justice demanded by Islam permits no favoritism.

The other equally potent impediment is hatred. Here again, Qur’an 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.” (AI-Maidah 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 jahilya (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 is watching you: that enmity of others cannot be used as an excuse for committing injustices against them.

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 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 nonMuslim, 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, 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 era.

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 a 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 others.

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.

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-Nisa 4:58)

The Qur’an praises those who always act “in the light of truth” and tells us: “Perfected are the words of your Lord in truth and justice”. It tells us also: “Behold, God enjoins justice and good actions and generosity to our fellows”, and it commands us never to let hatred lead us into deviating from justice: “Be just! That is closest to God-consciousness”. This, of course, applies to all believers who must fear divine justice if subjective factors or personal emotions lead them to deviate from the path of justice which is also the path of Islam, but it weighs heavily upon those who are required to adjudicate in disputes or to give judgment in criminal cases.

There were cases in the early history of the religion when men whom the Ruler intended to appoint as judges fled from Court rather than assume this terrifying responsibility and we read of one who did accept the burden that his whole body trembled when he was called upon to give judgment, believing that a single mistake might carry with it the threat of damnation. The divine Judge stands over the human judge, observing all that he does, and human justice, even at its best, can never be more than a poor imitation of divine Justice.

The Prophet Muhammad himself when he was called upon to adjudicate in civil actions warned the litigants that one of them might be more eloquent in putting his case than the other and thereby achieve an unjust settlement. “In such a case,” said Muhammad, “I will have given him a portion of hellfire”. This is clearly a grave matter indicating that those who seek justice must themselves practice it without deviation even to their own hurt. Under all and any circumstances, a victory which is contrary to justice· is a poisoned chalice.

Of special significance is the relationship between justice and wisdom in the Arabic language. The words aukm, “judgment”, and aikmah, “wisdom” come from the same root, and al-Aakrm (the “All-Wise”) is another of the names of God in the Qur’an.

In the Christian tradition, St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that, among all human pursuits, “the pursuit of wisdom is more perfect, nobler, more full of joy” than any other human enterprise. The Muslim might amend this slightly by emphasizing that one cannot “pursue” wisdom as one might a rare butterfly since it is a divine quality and out of reach of the human seeker as such. It is for us to lay ourselves open to this gracious gift by making ourselves fit and ready to receive it.

It is commonly said that Justice is or should be “blind”, in other words rigidly objective, but a Judge is required to possess the quality of insight in the most profound sense and can deserve no higher praise than to be described as “wise”, participating, as it were, in “the wisdom of Solomon”. Wisdom is as much a quality of character as an attribute of the mind. It has nothing to do with erudition, which, however extensive, is necessarily limited in scope.

A learned man can still be a fool when he steps outside the area of his expertise. The wise man is protected by his insight from folly – although not always from minor errors in the worldly context – because he possesses an inner yardstick by which to assess the situations he encounters. For the Muslim, this yardstick is the Qur’an together with the example of the Prophet and their reflection in the human heart. There is no higher aim for the Muslim than the cultivation of what is described as a “sound heart”. From the sound heart comes sound judgment. The same is true of sound governance and, in Islam, this implies “ruling between” in accordance with wisdom rather than “ruling over”.

The Qur’an always emphasizes that Muhammad, though endowed with the fullness of wisdom, was only “flesh and blood”, capable like other men of error except when inspired from above, but it was his mission not only to convey with meticulous accuracy the revelation which descended upon him but also to offer the supreme example of what it meant to follow in his personal and his public life the full implications of the revelation no less meticulously.

When he was dying and came for the last time to the mosque in Medina he said to the assembled people: “If there is anyone among you whom I have caused to be flogged unjustly, here is my back. Strike in your turn. If I have damaged the reputation of any among you, let him do the same to mine. To any I may have injured, here is my purse… It is better to blush in this world than in the hereafter”. A man claimed a small debt and was promptly paid.

Islam is a very realistic religion and the Qur’an itself recognizes the reality of human weakness. Those who are injured are permitted to take retaliation but they are reminded at every turn that it is better to forgive and to seek reconciliation. Muslims are commanded to return good for evil, thus breaking the vicious circle of animosity; “to do good to those who have injured us” in the words of one of the classical commentators on the Qur’an, but this requires human qualities which are by no means universal although they were characteristic of Muhammad.

In his dealings with the pagans who tried by every means to destroy him and his community he exemplified the rule of forgiveness and reconciliation, forgiving even the most vicious of his enemies when he finally re-entered Mecca in triumph, providing them with gifs so that their hard hearts might be softened and peace prevail after the years of conflict. Justice might have required their punishment, but there is no contradiction here since there is more than one way to achieve balance, which, after all, is the ultimate objective of justice.

Islam describes itself as “the middle way”, a religion of moderation in everything except the love and worship of God. Muhammad condemned extremism with the greatest severity and today’s Muslims have a greater need to be reminded of this than ever before as they do of his saying that “anger burns up good deeds just as fire burns up dry wood”.

Extremism and anger are both ugly in their manifestations. In one of his inspire? sayings (these are quite separate from the revealed text of the Qur’an) the Prophet said: “God is beautiful; He loves beauty”. It is significant that the Arabic word aasan means both “good” and “beautiful”. The connection is clear since a good action or, for that matter, a good character has a ·quality of beauty which, in its turn, is related to the idea of harmony, just proportion, and therefore of justice as such. It is worth noting that the English word “fair” means both just and beautiful. The Arabic verb adala, from the same root as adal (Justice), is usually translated as “to proportion”, “to create in symmetry” or “to be equitable”. Here again, we have the idea of harmony, which is dependent upon justice.

Muslim thinkers have always been interested in the science of numbers and their significance, and each letter of the Arabic alphabet has a particular number attached to it. Words derived from the root ‘DL, including adal, occur 28 times in the Qur’an, and, as it happens, there are 28 letters in the Arabic alphabet. These are related to the 28 “mansions of the moon” which determine the Muslim calendar. This may seem somewhat esoteric but, in the Islamic perspective, there are no chance coincidences and, for Muslims, it is further proof of the universal harmony, which is the pattern of creation and a sign that everything makes sense when it is closely examined.

In the Qur’an, which is for all Muslims the directly revealed Word of God, He says: “We sent down the Book and the Balance so that mankind might uphold justice”. Here again, the idea of balance occurs, linked directly with the revelation itself. The “scales of justice” are set up and our actions are to be weighed in perfect equity. Regarding the Last Judgement, we read in the Qur’an: “That day mankind will issue forth in scattered groups to be shown their deeds, and whoso does an atom’s weight of good will see it then and whoso does an atom’s weight of ill will see it then”.

Actions that may appear to us completely trivial are cast into the balance, but go0d and ill are not alike in weight. The Qur’an tells us also that good action, however small in itself, will be rewarded many times its own weight whereas the crimes or sins we may have committed will weigh no more and no less than what they are as such. It might even be said that the scales are themselves weighted in favor of the good and since God is the source of all that is good, all that is beautiful, and all that is harmonious, this is in the nature of things.

So far as human justice is concerned, the Prophet counseled all those who are obliged to sit in judgment over their fellows to “avert penalties by doubts” and this is clearly in accordance with the requirement of the British legal system that guilt must be proved “beyond reasonable doubt”.

In the present age, at least in the West, the notion of j1stice and, in particular, of rights has taken on a coloring that is specifically modern. People are unwilling to accept that misfortunes are a part of life and not necessarily the fault of someone else or of the system. Earlier generations in the West were taught the virtue of resignation, as are Muslims still to this day. The cry “It’s so unfair!” is heard now on every side and the subjective conviction that one has suffered injustice or that one’s rights have been infringed is a source of bitterness and unhappiness.

The Muslim, while he must uphold justice so far as he can, has no right to such self-indulgence or to suppose that he can be a judge in his own case. To complain against destiny is, in effect, to enter a complaint against Him who holds all destinies in His hand and whose justice is beyond questioning. Here certain Qur’anic verses are particularly apposite: “And surely We .will try you with something of fear and hunger and the loss of wealth and lives and crops. But give good news to the steadfast who say, when misfortune strikes them: Truly we belong to God and truly to Him we return. These are they upon whom are blessings from their Lord and mercy. Such are the rightly guided”.

Life’s vicissitudes test our .metal and reveal what we truly are in ourselves. The notion of “fair shares” can be dangerous since few people today are ready to accept that what life has given them is indeed fair. In the Islamic perspective, ultimate justice puts everything in its appropriate place, whether high or low, and this is to be accepted since there is no place from which the ascent to the Creator – “seeking the Face of his Lord Most High” – may not be undertaken. This, rather than wealth or good fortune, is the priority of the Muslim who aims to fulfill the purpose of his life.

Clearly, the question of balance arises once again: on the one hand the obligation to strive for justice in this world, on the other to accept the injustices, which are woven into our earthly life in a spirit of resignation. Circumstances dictate which of these alternatives is appropriate. The story is told of a merchant in Muslim Spain who, when told that his ship had sunk with all his goods aboard, looked down for a moment before exclaiming: “Praise be to God!”. Later a man came to tell him that the ship had been saved. Once again he looked down before exclaiming:

“Praise be to God!”. He was asked why he had looked down. “I wanted,” he said, “to be sure that my heart was untroubled”.

Equanimity is a basic virtue in Islam. Here, perhaps, there is a clue to the reconciliation of the alternatives, with which we are so often faced – to take up arms against the injustice we have suffered or to accept it with resignation. The right choice can only be made if we detach ourselves from our emotions and from all subjectivism.

This, of course, is an ideal not easily attainable but what matters is that the ideal stands clear of personal entanglements, is respected, and is seen as the goal for which the good man should aim. History recounts that, during one of the battles in defense 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.

Islam is a religion of justice. God has said:

“Truly God commands you to give back trusts to those to whom they are due, and when you judge between people, to judge with justice”. (Qur’an, 4:58)

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