What Does Islam Teach About Justice?
Neither love nor hatred can be allowed to compromise
Posted: 4 Rajab 1422, 22 September 2001
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 aforetime our messengers with clear Signs and sent
down with them the Book and the Balance, that men may stand forth in Justice."
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 explained 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 4:135]
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 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 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."
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
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 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
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.
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."