Concept of Justice in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam

The protection of the rights of all human beings, irrespective of race, colour, creed, nationality, or language, is central to any conception of justice. The state of human rights in a nation is directly related to national and international security, and this indicates that justice is a condition for security and peace. Justice can be…

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The protection of the rights of all human beings, irrespective of race, colour, creed, nationality, or language, is central to any conception of justice. The state of human rights in a nation is directly related to national and international security, and this indicates that justice is a condition for security and peace. Justice can be defined as the morally correct state of persons and their affairs. It is a virtue enjoined by religions and honoured by the wisdom of generations.
From a practical point of view, justice demands equality, objectivity, and fair dealing. The time-honoured symbol of justice in the West is the Lady of Justice (adapted from Greek and Roman mythology) depicted as a blind-folded woman with a scale in one hand and a sword in the other. This stands for equality in the dispensation of justice without favour or prejudice. However, there is an important difference between law and justice.
According to an article by Hon. Anthony M. Peccarelli, the dictionary defines law as “a rule of conduct imposed by authority; the body of rules, whether proceeding from formal enactment or from custom, which a particular state or community recognizes as binding on its members or subjects.” The same author contends that in the Fourteenth Amendment of the US constitution, we read:
No state can deprive particular persons or classes of persons of equal and impartial justice under the law. Law, in its regular course of administration through courts of justice, is due process.
In fact, justice, as distinct from law, is a timeless value emphasised by the great religious leaders and philosophers, and we may not always see justice as a concomitant of what is usually called “the due process.” The Oxford English Dictionary (Unabridged) defines justice as “the quality of being morally just or righteous; the principle of just dealing; the exhibition of this quality or principle in action; just conduct; integrity; rectitude; conformity (of an action or thing) to moral right, or to reason, truth, or fact; rightfulness; fairness; correctness; propriety.”
Humanity has taken pains to realise justice in all aspects of human life, and the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights is one significant step in that direction. Here are the first three articles of that historic declaration:
Article 1. All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Article 2. Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.
Article 3. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.
In the ensuing paragraphs, we are concerned with justice as envisaged by the three Abrahamic religions.
David S. Maddison states that the foundation of Judaism is the Tanakh, an acronym based on the letters T (for Torah), N (for Neviim, or the prophets), and K (for Ketuvim, or the sacred writings). To the Jews, the Tanakhis “the compendium of the teachings of God to human beings in document form.”
And according to information from Judaism 101, the Torah, consisting of the five books of Moses, is Judaism’s holiest book; but the Talmud, comprising a body of jurisprudence written in a later period by the sages of Judaism, is considered “the Oral Torah.” Thus, the Tanakh and the Talmud serve as the foundation of the legal system of Judaism known as the Halakhah, which has been in force among the Jews for centuries and is still honoured by the orthodox followers of Judaism (Rich).
Jewish apologists often say that Judaism is a universal religion that does not claim any superiority for Jews over others. This is quite at variance with their belief that they are “God’s chosen people,” because “God offered the Torah to all the nations of the earth, and the Jews were the only ones who accepted it,” and so “Jews have a special status in the eyes of God” (Rich). Consequently, their Talmud is filled with laws that command them to discriminate against non-Jews, as the following examples show:
1. Professor Israel Shahak wrote in Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The Weight of Three Thousand Years, that according to the compendium of Jewish laws, the murder of a Jew is a capital offence and Jewish courts and secular authorities are commanded to punish anyone guilty of murdering a Jew. But when the victim is a Gentile, the position is quite different. A Jew who murders a Gentile is guilty only of a sin against the laws of Heaven, not punishable by a court; and to cause indirectly the death of a Gentile is no sin at all. A Gentile murderer who happens to be under Jewish jurisdiction must be executed whether the victim was Jewish or not. However, if the victim was Gentile and the murderer converts to Judaism, he is not punished.
2. The Halakhah presumes all Gentiles to be utterly promiscuous; whether a Gentile woman is married or not makes no difference. In the case of a sexual intercourse between a Jewish man and a Gentile woman, the Gentile woman must be executed, even if she was raped by the Jew, and the Jewish man must be flogged (Shahak).
3. In addition to unjust laws which are directed at all Gentiles in the Land of Israel, there are special laws against the ancient peoples who lived in Palestine before its conquest by Joshua, as well as against the Amalekites (who were considered eternal enemies of Israel). Talmudic Law insists that all those nations must be utterly exterminated and reiterates the genocidal biblical exhortations with even greater vehemence. Influential rabbis now identify the Palestinians (or even all Arabs) with those ancient nations, so that commands like “thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth” (Deuteronomy 20:16) acquire a topical meaning. In fact, as David Rosen stated, there are many similar examples of bloodthirsty rabbinical pronouncements against the Palestinians, based on these laws.
Here is the justification by Rosen, a prominent Jewish scholar, for “extrajudicial action” taken by the Israeli government against the Palestinians (Note that this ruling is based on the Halakhah):
Would Israel protect the Jewish people from violations of the Torah? Since the Intifada began, violence by Jews against Arabs has risen dramatically. Many living in Judea and Samaria have even rioted and lynched Arabs after attacks. These violations of the Torah (i.e., by the Israelis) may be stopped by enacting harsh punishments to stop the violence (of the Palestinians) that leads to these acts. The courts may decide that assassinating leaders (i.e., Palestinian leaders) and stopping future violence will prevent further violations of the Torah (by the Israelis). In the same sense, the judges may decree that for the benefit of society, punishments disallowed by the Torah may be permitted (Rosen 33).
And elsewhere we find:
To find a way to deter terrorist acts, then, the government willingly assassinates terrorist leaders, deports families of terrorists, and destroys their homes. These are now justified under Israeli law. (Rosen 34)
The foregoing shows that justice envisaged in the Jewish Law is largely at variance with the universally accepted principles of equity and fairness with regard to the basic rights of all humans irrespective of race, creed, nationality, language, etc. And indeed, this fact undermines the generally voiced Jewish claim that Judaism is a universal religion meant for all humanity.
Christianity came in the wake of Judaism “to fulfil” the Law as it was. From the very beginning, Jesus Christ taught his followers to make peace by “turning the other cheek.” But Christ (unlike the churches) never said that he came to bring a new Law to replace the old one:
Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-19 KJV)
The words of Jesus in the following verse point to the need to internalize the spirit of the Law, rather than to follow an outward and literal observance:
For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:20 KJV)
This means that the true righteousness springs from the heart and does not signify a mere outward obedience to the commandments.
Explaining the central point in Pope John XXIII’s encyclical, Pacem in Terris, (Peace on Earth) (1963), Father Theodore Hesburgh, president emeritus of Notre Dame University, wrote that there will be no peace where there is no justice, and no justice where human persons do not have their basic human rights (Montville).
But Saint Paul — who could be called the real founder of modern Christianity — subverted Jesus’s “Gospel of the Kingdom” (Matthew 9:35 KJV) by introducing creeds antithetical to the Law, which Jesus had come to fulfil. It was Paul who substituted a new law for the Law of Moses:
For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. (Galatians 3:10–11 KJV)
And the faith he taught was that every human is born a sinner, and God incarnated as His own son to suffer and die for human sin. As Hugh Fogelman noted, this Mithraic idea was foisted on the followers of Jesus as the New Covenant in the place of the old one.
After the success of the Trinitarians, Paul’s theology spawned a plethora of theories aimed at resolving the theological controversies it had generated — particularly on the question of Christ’s suffering and death on the cross. In their article “For God So Loved the World?”, Brown and Parker wrote:
Is it any wonder that there is so much abuse in modern society when the predominant image or theology of the culture is of “divine child abuse,” God the Father demanding and carrying out the suffering and death of his own son? If Christianity is to be liberating for the oppressed, it must itself be liberated from this theology. We must do away with the atonement, this idea of a blood sin upon the whole human race which can be washed away only by the blood of the lamb. This bloodthirsty God is the God of the patriarchy who at the moment controls the whole Judeo-Christian tradition. This raises the key question for oppressed people seeking liberation within this tradition: If we throw out the atonement, is Christianity left? Can we call our new creation Christianity even with an asterisk?
The question is whether Christianity is ready to accept the fact that those who sought to crucify Jesus wanted to silence him by his death. If so, how can his crucifixion be justified by claiming that the violent act of killing an innocent man was THE way of salvation open to humanity? Where on earth is justice then?
It is clear that Jesus stood for integrity and steadfastness in the face of threat; his life was a call for radical love, liberation, and above all justice. And any attempt on such a person’s life can never be termed an acceptable sacrifice to save humanity because God does not demand the blood of an innocent man; He demands justice. That is why Joanne Carlson Brown and Rebecca Parker indicated that a true follower of Christ has to be with those who “challenge unjust systems both political and ecclesiastical; and who in that struggle have refused to be victims and have refused to cower under the threat of violence, suffering, and death.”
Moreover, we read in the Bible that to know God is to do justice as stated in (Jeremiah 22:16 KJV), and we see how this great principle is violated by the doctrine of vicarious atonement or redemption from sin by proxy through the unjust crucifixion of an innocent man. We see, in the words of H.P. Blavatsky “how the faintest glimmering sense of Justice revolts against this Vicarious Atonement,” despite all the theories the theologians have formulated for its justification (vol. 2, 542).
The Qur’an emphasises the balance and justice that are central to the design and order underlying Allah’s creation as also in the ultimate reckoning on the Day of Judgment. The harmonious interrelationship between elements in the universe reflects the unity fundamental to Allah’s creation in its totality. In other words, anyone who ponders over the mystery of the universe cannot but arrive at some idea of the balance of justice set up by the Creator:
[And the Firmament has He 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] (Ar-Rahman 55:7-9)
Indeed, God has done all this and even more: He has implanted His own religion into every human at birth. The true religion is innate, a religio naturalis, with which all humans are equipped. This is the primordial religion, the Ur-Religion, the one and only true religion. Everyone possesses it unless acculturation and indoctrination, misguidance, corruption, or dissuasion has taught them otherwise. In “Islam and Other Religions,” Isma’il Al-Faruqi beautifully clarified that all people, therefore, possess a faculty – a sixth sense, a sensus communis — with which they can perceive God as God.
The divine system is one of perfect justice, and so Allah has sent prophets to peoples in different places at different stages of history to teach them the same message: That He alone must be worshiped and evil must be eschewed:
[For We assuredly sent amongst every People a messenger, (with the Command), “Serve Allah, and eschew Evil”: of the People were some whom Allah guided, and some on whom error became inevitably (established)] (An-Nahl 16:36)
[We sent not a messenger except (to teach) in the language of his (own) people, in order to make (things) clear to them] (Ibrahim 14:4)
Islam thus lays a solid foundation for a harmonious relationship with all peoples, because people of all religions are equally honoured by virtue of revelation and are worthy of respect by Muslims. Al- Faruqi says:
Islam entertains no idea of “the fall of man,” no concept of “original sin.” It holds no man to stand in an innate, necessary predicament out of which he cannot pull himself. Man, it holds, is innocent. He is born with his innocence. Indeed, he is born with a thousand bounties, with faculties of understanding and an innate sense with which to know God. In this, all men are equal, since it follows from their very existence, from their creatureliness. This is the basis for Islamic universalism.
The basics of Islam are usually called the pillars of faith and practice, and correspond to peace and justice:
They are clearly connected since there can be no enduring peace without justice. The very word Islam 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 equally believe that there can be no real justice except as an aspect of submission to the source of all that is just and well ordered. (Eaton)
The acceptance of human equality and the recognition of human rights are religious obligations of Muslims because Islam teaches that it is Allah Who has granted rights to humans, which no one can amend or change. Absolute equality between people is an article of faith that is directly linked to the Oneness of the Creator. There is no superiority of Arab over non-Arab, white over black, or vice-versa. All people are descended from Adam and are as brothers and sisters. The Qur’an says:
[O mankind, we have created you from a single pair of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes so that you may recognize one another; the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you] (Al-Hujurat 49:13)
In Islam, every human has the right to the safety of life. This means that if someone is ill, wounded, starving, drowning, etc., he or she has the right to be saved. Only a proper and competent court of law can decide to take a life in retaliation for murder or as punishment for spreading corruption on earth. Only a properly established government can decide to wage war. No human being has the right by him- or herself to take a human life for retaliation or for causing mischief on the earth. Allah commands us in the Qur’an to do good and to avoid shameful deeds, injustice, and rebellion. He commands us to be just, even if we hate a people:
[O you 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 you do] (Al-Ma’idah 5:8)
Another central principle is the freedom of conscience that is the right of people to follow their own convictions. The Qur’an asserts that there should be no compulsion in matters of faith:
[Let there be no compulsion in religion; truth stands out clear from error] (Al-Baqarah 2:256)
Islam is strongly opposed to all forms of injustice and takes all measures to ensure that justice prevails in every field:
[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-Hadid 57:25)
Here, the balance of justice is mentioned along with the Book (meaning Allah’s guidance), implying that the decisions of judgment should be subject to Allah’s guidance and Law as revealed in His Book.
One prerequisite for peace in the world is what we call social justice. As Islam is a practical religion, issues of social injustice are necessarily addressed within the purview of religion itself.
For in Islam, religion is not so rarefied and sublimated as to ignore social or political concerns. For this reason, Islam cannot approve of a purely spiritual movement that never bothers about the problems of the people. Islam does not leave burning issues of the society to the whims of self-seeking Machiavellian politicians, but deals itself with politics, which cannot be separated from life. It is for the same reason that good Muslims are committed citizens of a country and not ascetics who flee from the day-to-day affairs of the world.

The emphasis on justice very clearly bears out Islam’s stance on a justly balanced society, the realization of which in space and time, is the desired end of all the means at the disposal of a Muslim society. (