“What Can the Holy Quran Teach the World about Justice”
by Tariq Sharif
Appears in Fall 2017 issue
Have you ever been wronged by another person? Has someone you care about been wronged by another person? Have you seen examples in the news media, or in your community, of groups of people being wronged by others?
No doubt, the answer is yes, yes, and yes. As decency, morality, and integrity continue to decline in the world, and even become ridiculed as outdated old-fashioned values, it is no surprise that justice is also fast becoming an “endangered species”. When our political and religious leaders regularly lie and break promises to their own people, how can we expect honesty and justice across nations and communities? Too many of us, faced with another act of betrayal of our trust, say with a wry smile, “what else can you expect?” The Holy Qur’an speaks of this current crisis:
“Corruption has spread on land and sea because of what man’s hands have wrought …” (1)
It is particularly damaging that injustices by religious leaders of every faith have occurred and been widely reported, because they have helped obscure the role that religion can and should play in creating a system of justice that is in harmony with human nature. Islam has by no means been immune to this. Hazrat Khalifatul Masih V (aba) states:
“I also do not deny the fact that a veil was put over this beautiful teaching …due to the selfish attitudes and the personal interests of Islamic leaders and scholars. He [God] sent the Promised Messiah (as), who clearly expounded upon this beautiful teaching …” (2)
What was the beautiful teaching of justice laid out in the Holy Qur’an and re-established by the Founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community? How can it help us reclaim this lost value in an age of corruption and selfishness?
The hallmark verse of the Holy Qur’an which illuminates this subject is found in Chapter 16 Al-Nahl, Verse 91. This verse is so significant that Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IV (rh) commented on it as such:
“When Hazrat Abdullah bin Masood contemplated on the above-mentioned verse, he spontaneously exclaimed that it was the most comprehensive verse of the Holy Qur’an. This observation by … one of the greatest commentators of the Holy Qur’an is indeed of great consequence.” (3)
The verse is as follows:
“Indeed Allah requires you to abide by justice, to do good to others, and to give to others like the giving to one’s own family and relations.”
Those familiar with the style of the Qur’an will note a series of three types of actions required of a person by God, arranged in a specific order: Abiding by justice is the first and most basic requirement of a human being, followed by the doing of good, and finally reaching a level where others are treated as if they were family.
Before expounding on these three levels, let us take a step back and ground ourselves on the meaning of justice. We all likely know what it is, but it is important to articulate it. Think back to those examples when you or someone else was wronged. What happened? There are only two options: You did something of value and were not fully rewarded OR you did something wrong and were punished beyond a reasonable means. In short, justice is only served when a person or group of people receive what is due, either as a reward for good works or as a punishment for bad works. This justice should be based only on one’s actions, NOT on any other criteria, including the person’s family background, wealth, influence, country of origin, and so forth.
Therefore, the Qur’an establishes the minimum requirement of human interaction as ‘Adl or justice, meaning giving what is due. However, the Qur’an lays out a deeper wisdom, that there is a higher level of doing good above and beyond the basic limit. In his book The Concept of Justice in Islam, Muhammad Zafrulla Khan explains:
“It has sometimes been suggested that a … strict concept of justice demands that reward or recompense should not be in excess of what was earned. Islam does not accept this limitation. It proceeds upon the principle that good multiplies itself and has the quality of prevailing against, or of driving away, evil … Consequently, there is no reason to put a limit upon the reward or recompense of good.” (4)
This principle is illustrated in the Holy Qur’an – specifically, that good does not simply substitute for evil but actually works to overcome it:
“Surely good works drive away evil works. This is a reminder for those who would remember.” (5)
Therefore, the basic level of justice, ‘Adl, would require one to, for example, pay back a loan in full. But God Almighty in the Qur’an holds up a higher standard, namely “doing of good” or Ihsaan, essentially asking what would happen if you were to pay back more than what was owed? How might that engender love and peace in society? In fact, it is well recorded that this was the practice of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa) and his companions. Hazrat Khalifatul Masih V (aba) explains:
“Today we observe at both a personal level as well as at a governmental one, loans are taken yet all sorts of excuses are presented when it comes to paying it back. However, when we observe the example of the Holy Prophet (sa) which in fact is the true teachings of Islam, we find that not only did he repay the loan before it was due, but he would return more than the actual sum he had borrowed due to his benevolence.” (6)
On the flip side, how can a creditor practice the higher level of Ihsaan, doing of good? Here the Holy Qur’an speaks of benevolence in the case of a debtor who is struggling to repay the loan.
“And if any debtor be in straitened circumstances, then grant him respite until a time of ease. And that you remit [the balance of the loan]as charity is better for you, if you only knew.” (7)
The person whose only balance sheet is materialistic wonders at such advice. But the person who has developed faith and a relationship with God, knows that there is a spiritual balance sheet as well. Allah Almighty has promised to more than make up the difference of the forgiven loan. God says in the Holy Qur’an:
“Who is it that will lend to Allah a goodly loan? He [Allah] will then increase it multi-fold for him, and he will have a generous reward.” (8)
This reward from God is not simply rhetoric. Thousands and thousands of religious people can attest to the worldly and spiritual benefits of charity according to Ihsaan, goodness, which goes beyond the basic limits of justice.
Then, in the Qur’an, Allah lays out the highest standard of justice and goodness – treating others as though they were your own family. The depth of wisdom in this concept, called Iitaa-e-Dhil Qurbaa in the Qur’an, could fill volumes and is extraordinarily relevant in our world today. How many times have we seen a different standard of justice applied because it is the “other”, because it is “someone else’s” family, or community, or nation, or race? To be provocative, the moment we are more soft-hearted towards our own children than to someone’s else’s, thus applying a different standard of justice, the moment the seeds of discourse and moral disease are sewn in society. That is the standard that absolute justice requires.
Hazrat Khalifatul Masih V (aba) quoted an example from the life of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa) in his Friday sermon of March 13, 2009:
“Once a woman named Fatima who belonged to a wealthy tribe committed theft and the Holy Prophet (sa) passed judgement accordingly. Some Companions approached the Prophet (sa) for concession. This angered the Prophet and he said that even if his own daughter Fatima had been the one who committed the crime, he would have passed the same judgement.” (9)
In short, wisdom, mercy, and justice must form the basis of every action. Whether someone chooses clemency, punishment, or something in the middle, it can never be applied with bias or inconsistently because of family ties or any other reason. Rather, all situations should be treated in the interest of serving God and society, and all must be treated as extensions of one’s own family rather than the “other”.
When we start to look at the world around us with these “new” eyes of the Qur’an, we can quickly see where societies and nations have deviated from justice and goodness. Fundamentally, when people un-tether themselves from trust and fear of God, all bets are off, so to speak, and selfishness becomes the order of the day. With trust and fear of God, the standards of Absolute Trust, Goodness, and Kinship (‘Adl, Ihsaan, and Iitaa-e Dhil Qurbaa) become new standards that foster peace and collaboration.
For example, the number of times more powerful nations have attempted to subjugate weaker nations who possessed natural resources such as gold, diamonds, and oil is well-documented in history. The plot is as old as mankind, and only the most unjust person would deny it. Yet if the more powerful nations had any real fear of God and also trust in God, how different our world might look today! Not only would they have justly compensated these weaker nations, but they would have sought to help establish them on the same infrastructure, technology and financial systems to empower their independence and growth. Rather than the stronger nations ‘missing out’, think of the money and lives that would have been saved from the lack of conflicts, wars, and weaponry. Think of the great minds and innovations that entire nations and continents could have contributed to the future of mankind.
Hazrat Khalifatul Masih V (aba) explains this state of mind:
“You should not consider ‘Adl and Ihsaan [justice and doing of good]to be the ultimate stage, rather, giving like kindred [Iitaa-e Dhil Qurbaa] should also be kept in view, and you should afford sympathy to others without any personal motive. You should feel the pain of others as if it is your own pain; such is the condition that will make you a true believer (Mo’min)” (10)
I would like to close this brief explanation of the Qur’anic concept of justice with a prayer by our current Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih V (aba):
“May God Almighty enable us all to develop such sympathy for the whole of mankind! Each person should try to develop this [sympathy]according to the standards and capacity of his own emotions and feelings. Instead of heading towards destruction, may the world save itself by understanding the subject of justice, and the doing of good to others, and giving like kindred! May God Almighty also enable the world to understand this and thereby make the world into a heavenly abode, and provide also the means in this world for the heaven that lies in the hereafter!” (11)
- The Holy Qur’an (30:42)
- True Justice and Peace, p.15-16, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih V
- Absolute Justice, Kindness and Kinship: The Three Creative Principles, p. 15, Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih IV
- The Concept of Justice in Islam, p. 1, Muhammad Zafrullah Khan. Note: italics in passage added for emphasis
- The Holy Qur’an (11:115)
- Ibid, Khalifatul Masih V, p. 27
- The Holy Qur’an (2:281)
- The Holy Qur’an (57:12)
- Friday Sermon: True Commemoration of the blessed life of the Holy Prophet (pboh) by Khalifatul Masih V at https://www.alislam.org/friday-sermon/printer-friendly
- Ibid, Khalifatul Masih V, p. 21
- Ibid, Khalifatul Masih V, p. 36-7