Justice and the Prohibition of Wronging Others
Life on Earth cannot be truly flourishing and sound without justice. Thus, the call to and the implementation of justice is one of the most prominent features of Islam. In numerous places in the Quran, Allah orders the Muslims to fulfill the demands of justice, even if these should go against their own interests or needs.
For example, Allah says, “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” (4:58); “O 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 the lusts (of your hearts), lest you may avoid justice, and if you distort your witness or refuse to give it, verily, Allah is Ever Well-Acquainted with what you do” (4:135); and “O you who believe! Stand out firmly for Allah and be 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” (5:8).
The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) demonstrated that nobody is above the law and justice in Islam. One time Usaamah, who was very close and dear to the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), was convinced to try to intervene with the Prophet concerning a prescribed punishment and the Prophet told him, “Do you, Usaamah, intervene with respect to one of Allah’s prescribed punishments? By Allah, if Fatimah the daughter of [the Prophet] Muhammad were to steal, I would have her hand amputated.”
Thus, justice is to be applied to everyone, rich and poor, young and old, ally and enemy, Muslim and non-Muslim and so forth. In reality, if this were not the case and some sort of double standard were to be used, it would not be true justice. A Muslim is required to be just to everyone, friend or foe, and even to his own soul. He is not allowed to wrong his own soul as wronging one’s own soul is not “freedom” but it is one of the worst forms of injustice. Actually, a true Muslim has been ordered to be even more than just; he must also be benevolent and forbearing. Thus, Allah says, “Verily, Allah enjoins justice and beneficence, and giving (help) to kith and kin, and He forbids all lewd acts, evil and oppression. Thus He admonishes you, that you may take heed” (16:90).
The establishment of justice and working for justice is one of the heavy responsibilities upon the Muslim community as a whole. It is by this way that the Muslims are witnesses to the rest of mankind that this is the true religion of Allah. Thus, Allah has said, “Thus We have made you a wasat (just) nation, that you be witnesses over mankind and the Messenger be a witness over you” (2:143). One of the meanings of the word wasat is just and balanced, avoiding the extremes that always accompany exploitation and injustice.2
Finally, there is a very important relationship between justice and following the revelation from Allah. Allah alone is the only one with the impartiality and just nature to lay down laws that will not favor one class of people over the other (in particular, the powerful over the weak). He is also the only one with the complete knowledge that allows Him to lay down laws that are truly just. Someone may have sincere intentions but due to lacking perfect knowledge of the human psyche and human social interactions may invoke laws that are actually unfair and unjust. Thus, once again, if a person is truly interested in pure and adulterated justice, he has no option but to turn to the revelation from Allah and the law from Him.
Ibn al-Qayyim therefore wrote, “Allah sent His Messengers and revealed His Books so that the people could live by justice. It is the same justice and balance upon which the earth and the heavens are balanced. Wherever the signs of true justice are apparent and clear, therein also lies the law of Allah and His religion.”3 Fortunately, for all of humankind, the working of the cosmos is according to the justice and truth from Allah and is not based on the desires of humans. Hence, Allah says, “And if the truth had been in accordance with their desires, verily, the heavens and the earth, and whosoever is therein would have been corrupted! Nay, We have brought them their reminder, but they turn away from their reminder” (23:71).
The justice that is so essential to Islam extends beyond this life to the Hereafter. In other words, Allah will judge all individuals in the most just way and will not wrong anyone in the least. Part of this justice includes the fact that no individual will bear the burden of another’s sin and no one will be held responsible for what is beyond his means.
Thus, Allah says, “Say: Shall I seek a lord other than Allah, while He is the Lord of all things? No person earns any (sin) except against himself (only), and no bearer of burdens shall bear the burden of another. Then unto your Lord is your return, so He will tell you that wherein you have been differing” (6:164); “Whoever goes right, then he goes right only for the benefit of his ownself. And whoever goes astray, then he goes astray to his own loss. No one laden with burdens can bear another’s burden. And We never punish until We have sent a Messenger (to give warning)” (17:15); “Allah burdens not a person beyond his scope. He gets reward for that (good) which he has earned, and he is punished for that (evil) which he has earned” (2:286); and, “Allah puts no burden on any person beyond what He has given him. Allah will grant after hardship, ease” (65:7).
Justice does not only have a positive aspect to it (the fulfilling and restoring of rights after they have been infringed upon), it must also have a “negative” component to it: the prohibition of wronging others. Islam places great emphasis on the avoidance of wronging of others in the first place. Thus, the Prophet stated that God has said, “O My servants, I have forbidden wrongdoing for Myself and I have made it forbidden for you. Therefore, do not wrong one another.”4 Ibn Taimiyyah states that this statement covers all of the religion. Everything that Allah has forbidden is, in one way or another, a type of dhulm, while everything that He has ordered is a form of adl or justice.5 In fact, Allah has said, “Indeed, We have sent Our messengers with clear proofs, and revealed with them the Scripture and the Balance (justice) that mankind may establish justice. And We brought forth iron wherein is mighty power as well as many benefits for mankind, that Allah may test those who will help Him and His messengers, while unseen. Verily, Allah is All-Strong, All-Mighty” (57:25).
Thus, the messengers were sent, books revealed and the balance made so that humankind may establish and live by justice. Furthermore, iron has been created so that it may be used for the sake of truth and justice. The book guides to justice and the sword and iron assists it.
There is yet another very important relationship between justice and Islam. In order for humans to be truly just, they need some internal mechanism that drives them to do what is right. It is very easy to be swayed and impartial when one’s wealth, family, nation, status or honor is at stake. Many can recognize the injustice in others but fail to or refuse to recognize any injustice on their own part.
In such cases, their desires will not allow them to recognize the truth. However, once true faith enters an individual’s heart, the situation changes completely. The person understands that Allah wants justice from him. He also knows that Allah is aware of even the most minute of his actions or intention. Allah demands justice and has forbidden all forms of injustice. The true believer, then, will not give preference to his desires, his wealth, his family, his nation—or whatever—over what Allah demands from him in the form of justice. He knows that he will meet Allah and he will desire to do so with a clear conscience. Thus, he will work for justice and will accept nothing less than it.
Many converts today come from individualistic societies, where justice is sometimes overridden by the desire to serve one’s own interests. This has no place in Islam. Again, even if it is against one’s own interest, a Muslim must always stand out firmly and bravely for the sake of truth and justice.
Jammaal al-Din M. Zarabozo