Justice and Ideal Society in Islam

PROF. JAMIL FAROOQUI explains how Islam envisages an ideal human society based on justice as the cardinal principle of life and as the basis and deciding factor of collective dispensation.

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PROF. JAMIL FAROOQUI explains how Islam envisages an ideal human society based on justice as the cardinal principle of life and as the basis and deciding factor of collective dispensation.

Justice is the basis of human life and the cardinal principle along which human society operates. Shah Waliullah considers it as an essential moral trait of human being as well as an outstanding and distinctive characteristic of human society. It encompasses all the aspects of human life and enables one to live in peace and harmony with other fellow beings. According to him “when justice is expressed in dress, manners and mores, it is adab i.e. etiquette. When it is maintained in matters relating to income and expenditure it is ‘economy’. Its observance in the affairs of the state is called ‘politics’”.
Justice is a balance or harmony in thought, action, and relation with others as well as in the entire human operation in the world. It refers to rectilinear just, well balanced and applies both to beings and things. In the Mu’tazilite doctrine ‘adl, the justice of God constitutes one of the five dogmas (usuls) of the system. Al Muwardi describes the quality of ‘adl as a state of moral and religious perfection. According to Ibn Rushd it consists in not committing major sins and also avoiding minor ones. In the broad sense it simply describes the state of a person who in general obeys the moral and religious law. In the middle of the nineteenth century in the Ottoman Empire when the law was codified it was defined that the ‘aadil is one in whom good impulses prevail over bad. In nutshell justice indicates that a person should adopt a balanced view to lead life on earth and make it more meaningful and beneficial for himself as well as for other living and non living beings.
Islam always lays great emphasis on justice because it facilitates the establishment of a social order that enables humans to develop their humane qualities, live in peace and harmony and make this world worth living. Peaceful life is only possible when we would be just in our thinking and action, understand ourselves, and the universe and the Creator. Islam impresses upon humans to comprehend the Lord Who is the Creator and Sustainer of the universe and who makes it work and operate in a systematic and meaningful way. This is the reason that Islam preaches total submission to the will of God because the establishment of peaceful and just society is not at all possible without strengthening the relations of human beings with the Creator. The Qur’an mentions ninety nine names of Allah which signify his distinctive attributes. One of His attributes is ‘adl, the just. Allah is, in fact, the source and the Dispenser of justice. The Qur’an expounds that “the word of thy Lord doth find its fulfillment in truth and in justice: none can change His words: for He is the one Who heareth and knoweth all” (Qur’an, 6:115). The Qur’an, further, explains that “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 ye may receive admonition” (Qur’an, 16: 90). It indicates that besides other virtues good deeds are also included in justice.
The concept of justice in Islam is related to its worldview based on the unity of God and the unity of mankind. The unity of God means oneness and omnipotence of Absolute Reality which is none but Allah . It indicates that God is one and the Most Powerful, Most Exalted, Most Compassionate and Most Merciful. He is the Creator of the universe and things that lie between the heaven and the earth. He is the Master and the Lord of the world. All things are under His control. The Qur’an describes His attributes as follows:
Allah! There is no god but He – the Living, the Self-subsisting, Eternal. No slumber can seize Him nor sleep. His are all things in the heaven and on earth.
Who is there that can intercede in His presence except as He permitteth? He knoweth what (appeareth to His creatures as) before or after or behind them. Nor shall they compass aught of His knowledge except as he willeth. His throne doth extend over the heavens and the earth, and He feeleth no fatigue in guarding and preserving them for He is the Most High, the Supreme (in glory) (Qur’an, 2:255).
Allah created man, bestowed upon him unlimited bounties and endowed many superior qualities including the faculties of thinking and understanding. Further, He appointed the human being as His vicegerent and, as such He thrust a covenant on him which he has to discharge in this world and on the basis of which he will be rewarded or punished in the Hereafter. Human beings can be relieved of that covenant when they completely submit themselves to the will and order of Allah. Islam conveys this message and impresses upon humans to follow and manifest it in true sense both in faith and deed. Humans, in fact, can do justice for themselves and maintain it in their lives when they understand God as the ‘Highest Truth’ and the ‘Ultimate Reality’, realize their positions as His servants, completely submit themselves to His will and operate in this world according to His command and order. This is the most just act and this is the only way by which humans can lead a life of peace, harmony, contentment and prosperity. If they do so they seek the pleasure of Allah and adopt the course of righteousness, otherwise they will do injustice to their own existence and will be lost in falsehood and go astray.
Justice is important in social order of Islam because it helps to maintain and preserve the unity of mankind. Islam treats all human beings at equal level as the progeny of the same father and mother. It exhorts him to establish harmonious relations with all fellow beings. It can be possible when we are just in dealing with others, take their problems and interests into consideration and give them all rights and privileges which we want for ourselves. The difficulty is that man, by and large, is more concerned with his own benefit and pleasure. He tries his best to obtain them even at the cost of others. In this endeavor he does not hesitate even to deprive others of their due share. This situation damages the whole fabric of social relations and initiates the exploitation and oppression of humans by humans themselves. Society, thus, faces severe type of conflict, tension and turmoil that fracture the unity of mankind. Islam checks this tendency by creating God – consciousness among human beings and making them aware of what is right and wrong and just and unjust. God-consciousness enables them to know how they have to live in peace and tranquility with their fellow beings, how they have to utilize their life span to get maximum comfort and benefit in this world as well as in the Hereafter and how they have to operate in this world according to the Divine instructions. The Qur’an lays down an important principle as how to live with others and exhorts that one should be firm in justice as a witness to truth and implement it without fear and favour. It explicates:
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 (Qur’an 4:135).20
The verse points out that we should stand firm for justice as it is the attribute of Allah , and to be a witness to Allah , as He is the ‘Ultimate Truth’, is the highest form of justice. Further, we should not submit to our ego by distorting justice or declining it but adopt the righteous path which is just. Thus, the Islamic concept of justice is derived from Allah (wt) who is the ‘Most Just’, and whatever He commands and proclaims are highest form of justice. All other ideas and things contrary to His commandment and proclamations are injustice. If we follow this principle we can establish a just society in the world in the true sense. Man made principles of justice are relative as they often favour a section or group and fail to maintain neutrality and impartiality. Further, there is greater chance of distortion because people generally interpret them according to their own interest or the interest of their group. The reason is that they lack God- consciousness and act on the lust of their heart. There is an axiom in Roman Law: “Let justice be done though heaven should fall”. But there are many ifs and buts in implementation of this dictum. Islamic justice according to Abdullah Yusuf Ali is “something higher than the formal justice of Roman Law or any other human law. It is even more penetrative than the subtle justice in the speculations of Greek philosophers. It searches out the innermost motives because we are to act as in the presence of Allah, to whom all things, acts and motives are known”.
The other feature of Islamic justice is fair dealing. It is the essential attribute of a believer who is instructed time and again to be fair in dealing with other beings and objects. Human beings should be just and fair whenever they interact with living and non living beings. They should not harm and humiliate others or damage their prestige by calling them by bad names or exposing their weaknesses. They should not treat others inferior but consider them as important as they themselves are. Islam treats all human beings as equals and the servants of Allah and, as such, they have the same status, and are governed by and dealt with the same principles. Similarly when we use natural resources we should be fair and just. We should not, in any way, destroy or damage them or restrict them to our own use only. Islam rejects this tendency by which people adopt antagonistic attitude in dealing with those whom they dislike. Fair dealing is so vital and notable for living together in peace and harmony that Islam considers it next to piety. The Qur’an clearly explains:
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. Far Allah is well acquainted with all that ye do (Qur’an 5:8).
One cardinal principle of social life is that the natural rights of individuals which are necessary for survival must be made available to them. A society is just if it develops adequate mechanism to fairly distribute its benefits and privileges among all its members. Individuals should be particular not to grab all or most of the privileges of society to themselves or to their group and deprive others of their due shares. Justice demands that we should be considerate and take care of our brethren particularly those who are weak and downtrodden. We should give them their due share and provide adequate opportunity to avail of the privileges of society. It requires a distinct condition where human relations are based on justice and individuals are encouraged to do that. Islam motivates people to do justice to their fellow beings, give their due share and base their relations on justice. It is proclaimed that “Alalh doth command you to render back your trust 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 giveth you! For Allah is He Who heareth and seeth all things” (Qur’an, 4:58). At another place Allah commands people to act justly because He loves those who are just (Qur’an, 49:9). The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be with him) also warned people of injustice. He said: “People, beware of injustice, for injustice shall be darkness on the Day of Judgment”.
The principles of justice when augmented on the collective plane lay the foundation of society. Islam, in fact, establishes a moral and altruistic society based on high level of God-consciousness. It is a society that is humane in true sense. It transcends selfish nature of human being and creates an atmosphere where people do not respond only to their desires ad ambitions but act upon the Divine Will. Islam liberates man from the domination of his own ego and makes him a true servant of Allah. It creates a situation where the entire mankind completely surrenders itself to the Divine Will and enters into a permanent bond of love and affection. In Islamic society the human being struggles to seek the pleasure of Allah and, as such, establishes close relations based on mutual trust, help, and cooperation with his fellow beings. In this human collectivity people do justice to themselves and to their lives when they activate their faculty of understanding and comprehend the authority of the Creator. Consequently they consider it utmost beneficial to surrender to Him. Further, they do justice to the entire humanity and other animate and inanimate objects when they follow the commandments of the Lord, lead life accordingly and struggle to establish His system and implement His laws on earth. It is an ideal society because it creates a state of servitude to Allah where all stand at one level, live together in peace and harmony, cooperate with each other to implement the order and manifest the suzerainty and ascendancy of the Lord in their thought and action. Society in Islam comes into being for three sublime purposes: to witness to truth, to enjoin what is right and to forbid what is wrong and to establish Divine order on earth. It is free from all sorts of exploitation, develops human potentiality and imbues people with righteousness and virtues, the noble ideals of humanity.