In the Name of Allah, the All-Merciful, the Especially Merciful
The call to justice is echoed repeatedly in the Islamic tradition, in both the Qur’an and the transmitted Traditions of the Prophet Muhammad (may the blessings of God be upon him, his family, and blessed Companions). Allah, the Arabic word for ‘God’ (related to the well known Aramaic words Elo, Eloi, or Eloh-im) commands the believers in the fourth chapter of the Qur’an, titled “Women”:
“[O] You who believe, uphold justice and bear witness to God, even if it is against yourselves, your parents, or your close relatives. Whether the person is rich or poor, God can best take care of both. Refrain from following your own desire, so that you can act justly—if you distort or neglect justice, God is fully aware of what you do” (Qur’an 4:135).
In this chapter, Allah informs the community of believers of the rights of women. This verse is specifically enjoining rights to women: considering her inheritance when widowed, her marriage contractual rights, her right upon her husband treating her well, and her right to divorce her husband among other rights. While this verse holds specific import to women, this call to justice is universally relevant. God commands vigilance in upholding justice.
Moreover, the Islamic concept of injustice might actually give us more insight to its opposite, justice. The Qur’anic term for injustice is dhulm.* The term is colloquially rendered as “oppression” or “tyranny,” but is also a general term for injustice. What is injustice, or dhulm, according to the Islamic tradition? In Islam, injustice is seen in all levels of life: from the disrespectful child to the smug teen who deems his peer unworthy of a greeting in the hallway to the power-hungry dictator who kills babies with chemicals, injustice can occur anywhere and everywhere. Specifically, it is the misplacing of something from its proper place. One may be unjust in many respects: any disordering of things is an injustice. One may be unjust to Allah, as Allah says:
“These are the bounds set by God: do not overstep them. It is those who overstep God’s bounds who are doing wrong” (Qur’an 4:229).
To disobey Allah is an injustice, even though doing so takes nothing away from Him at all, just as obeying adds nothing to His Perfection and Glory. The proper role of the believer is willful obedience to Allah. Injustice is forbidden not just for man, but for Allah. Allah says, as related by a tradition (a hadith qudsi*) of the Prophet Muhammad, the following:
“O my servants! I have forbidden injustice to Myself and have forbidden that for you as well, then do not commit injustice to each other” (Muslim).
Moreover, one may be unjust to other people. Allah warns those who wrong others that He will defend those being oppressed. Nevertheless, God encourages His servants to come to reconciliation and to pardon (Qur’an 42:40). Also, it is a condition of repentance that one apologizes and seeks the forgiveness of anyone he or she wronged if the sin involved other people (i.e. cheating a business partner).
Lastly, one should not be unjust to oneself. To be clear, every injustice a person commits is ultimately against him or herself. This is why Socrates, in Plato’s Republic, informs Thrasymachus that being oppressed is superior to being the oppressor. Allah informs us in His Book:
“We gave the Scripture as a heritage to Our chosen servants: some of them wronged their own souls, some stayed between [right and wrong], and some, by God’s leave, were foremost in good deeds. That is the greatest favour” (Qur’an 35:32).
As a consequence of free will, we, as human beings, can oppress ourselves by doing that which we know is not good for us. It is thus the enjoining of good and the forbidding of evil in one’s own being, one’s interactions with people, and, most importantly and centrally, one’s relationship with Allah that is true and complete establishment of justice. In the end, Muslims are taught to do as Moses (Musa) did when seeking pardon of Allah:
“He said, ‘Lord, I have wronged myself. Forgive me,’ so He forgave him; He is truly the Most Forgiving, the Most Merciful. He said, ‘My Lord, because of the blessings You have bestowed upon me, I shall never support those who do evil’” (Qur’an 28:16).
In a time when our good world is mired in evil, corruption, and injustice, the words of the Prophet Muhammad should serve as a reminder:
“Do not commit injustice, because injustice is darkness in the Day of Judgment” (Muslim).
Injustice is darkness in this world and the Next. The night is darkest right before the dawn. So, as things get worse, do not lose hope; rather, increase in hope knowing deliverance is near and keep close to the words of Allah (may He be glorified and exalted):
“[Indeed] God Commands justice, doing good, and generosity towards relatives and He forbids what is shameful, blameworthy, and oppressive. He teaches you so you may take heed. Fulfil any pledge you make in God’s name and do not break oaths after you have sworn them, for you have made God your surety: God knows everything you do. Do not use your oaths to deceive each other—like a woman who unravels the thread she has firmly spun—just because one party may be more numerous than another: God tests you with this, and on the Day of Resurrection He will make clear to you those things you differed about (Qur’an 16: 90-92).
And may the blessings and peace of Allah be upon the Chosen One, the Comforter Muhammad and all of the Perfected Chosen Messengers of God, from Adam to Moses to Abraham to Isaac, Ishmael, David, John and Jesus the Messiah. May Allah ennoble them and bless their families, their companions and all those who follow their way until the Last Day. Ameen.
*dhulm: injustice; the misplacing of something from its proper place; oppression
*hadith qudsi: a tradition related by the words of the Prophet Muhammad, but is actually a meaning communicated to Muhammad by Allah; such a tradition is not equal in status to the Qur’an, which is believed by most Muslims to be the Uncreated Speech of Allah
*All Qur’anic verses are taken from the following source
Abdel Haleem, M.A.S. The Qur’an. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.
This piece was written by a member of the Muslim Student Association. May Allah (God) continue the positive work of the MSA and groups like the MSA on campus that promote literacy and tolerance. Ameen.