Islamic Concept of Justice

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“The Islamic Concept of Justice”

By His Holiness Mirza Tahir Ahmad (rh), Fourth Khalifa of the Promised Messiah (as)

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I shall now cite a few important examples of Islamic principles, which perhaps, need particular emphasis in the world today. The first concerns Islamic teaching in respect of equity and justice. Other religions do not present a comprehensive direction about the administration of justice and fair play, and even if they mention this at all, it is in terms that can scarcely be applicable to us today. In fact, some parts of these directions appear to conflict directly with the intellect and sensibilities of our age, and one cannot but conclude that these teachings have either become corrupted or were intended only for local and temporary application. As Judaism presents God as only the God of Israel to the exclusion of everyone else, no wonder then, that it does not even in passing deal with the fundamental question of Human Rights as such.

As for Hinduism, it seems outright hostile not only to the non-Hindu but also to the Hindu of a low caste, hence narrowing further the field of God’s mercy to a much smaller section of the human race. Hinduism decrees:

If a Brahmin is unable to return a loan to one of low caste, the other has no right to demand its return. But if one of low caste is unable to return a loan taken from a Brahmin, he is to be made to work as a laborer for Brahmins till such time as he is able to pay back the loan in full. (1)

Again, in Judaism we fail to detect a concept of justice toward one’s enemy. It is said:

And when your Lord your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them: then you must utterly destroy them: you shall make no covenant with them. (2)

I shall now, by way of comparison, cite a few examples of Islamic teachings in the same areas. The Holy Qur’an enjoins, and I quote:

  • And when you judge between people, do so fairly and justly. (3)
  • Be strict in observing justice, and be witness for Allah, even though it be against yourselves or against your parents or kindred. (4)
  • And let not a people’s enmity incite you to act otherwise than with justice. Be always just, that is nearer to righteousness. (5)
  • And fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you but do not transgress. Surely, Allah loves not the transgressors. (6)
  • And if they incline towards peace, incline thou also towards it. (7)
  • The other example I wish to cite of the eternal teachings of Islam is the one concerning revenge and forgiveness. When we compare Islam’s teachings in this sphere with that of other faiths, we are at once struck by this injunction of the Old Testament:

Your eye shall not pity: it shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. (8)

Doubtless, such emphasis on vengeance causes not mere wonder, but also saddens our heart. However, I am not citing this example to castigate another teaching, but to show that, when viewed in the light of the Qur’anic principles, even such drastic measures may also sometimes be justified. The Holy Qur’an, thus helps us in following the conflicting teachings of other faiths in a spirit of sympathy and understanding, which, too, is an exclusive feature of Islam. According to the Holy Qur’an, the extraction of full vengeance was decreed only to meet the specific needs of a particular period. This was necessary to give heart to the Israelites to make them stand up for their rights after they had remained victimized and enslaved for a prolonged period, and had as a result, become cowardly and developed a deep-seated complex of being an inferior people. Obviously, in such a situation, it [the teaching regarding forgiveness]would only have made the Israelites sink deeper into their morass and not give them the confidence and courage to break the shackles of abject bondage. This teaching, therefore, was right and proper in the situation, which then existed, and was indeed given by the All-Wise God. On the other hand, when we consider the New Testament, we find that in contradiction of the previous Scripture, the Old Testament, it emphasizes forgiveness to such an extent that it totally deprives the Israelites of the right to extract any vengeance whatsoever. The real reason for this was that practicing the previous teaching over a long period of time, the Israelites had become hardhearted and ferocious, and this could only be remedied by suspending for a certain period their right to extract vengeance. This is why Jesus admonished them:

You have heard that it was said, ‘an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth’, but I say to you do not resist one who is evil. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also, and if anyone would use you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well. (9)

Islam holds these two opposing teachings to be complementary, each suited to the conditions and situation prevailing at the time, and neither, therefore, able to lay claim to being universal or eternal. This perfectly stands to reason, for man was still progressing through earlier stages of development and had not yet become one community to which could be vouchsafed a law that would be final and universal. We believe that Islam is that final law and presents a teaching not influenced by place or time which fact is amply illustrated by its teaching in the matter being considered. The Holy Qur’an says: Remember that the recompense of an injury is an injury the like thereof; but whoso forgives and thereby brings about a reformation, his reward is with Allah. Surely, Allah loves not wrongdoers. (10)

Islam thus combines the best features of both the earlier teachings; with the vital addition that forgiveness is com- mended provided it is likely to result in an improvement and in the correction of the defaulter, that being the real objective. If not, then punishment is held to be necessary, but not exceed- ing the degree to which one is wronged. Surely, this guidance is in full conformity with human nature and is as practicable today as when it was revealed, fourteen centuries ago.

[Note: This article is taken from the book Some Distinctive Features of Islam by His Holiness Mirza Tahir Ahmad, Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community from 1982-2003; first published in 1985 by Islam International Publications Ltd., Surrey, UK]

References:

  1. Manu-smriti 10:35
  2. Deuteronomy 7:2
  3. The Holy Qur’an 4:49
  4. The Holy Qur’an 4:136
  5. The Holy Qur’an 5:9
  6. The Holy Qur’an 2:91
  7. The Holy Qur’an 8:62
  8. Exodus 21:24
  9. Matthew 5:35-45
  10. The Holy Qur’an 42:41
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