Justice : A Taxonomy

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Justice involves putting everything in its appropriate place, and giving each his/her/its due right.

“God commands you that you restore deposits to their owners, and, when you judge between mankind, that you judge justly. How excellent is the teaching that God gives you! Surely, God is All-Hearing, All-Seeing.” [Qur’an 4:58]

“The just ones will be, before God, on pulpits of light….those who are just in their judgment, their families, and what they are in charge of.’ [Muslim]

For convenience, we can subdivide justice into the following categories:

1.      Justice to God

  • Giving thanks

“I hate ingratitude more in a person; than lying, vainness, babbling, drunkenness, or, any taint of vice whose strong corruption inhabits our frail blood.” [Shakespeare, Twelfth Night]

Moral decency calls for a person to show gratitude, and the foremost gratitude is due to the Creator, to whom the human being owes his/her very existence.

“God has extracted you from the wombs of your mothers not knowing a thing, and He made for you hearing and vision and intellect that perhaps you would be grateful.” [Qur’an, 16:78]

  • Not associating others with Allah, in belief or deed

Giving priority in matters of love, reverence and fear to Allah over others, if there is a conflict.

  • Fulfilling responsibility and trust in religious duties

especially in issues which people cannot see e.g. fasting, ritual  bath (ghusl) from states of impurity (janabah).

Associating others with Allah (<Shirk>) is the greatest injustice
“And [remember] when Luqman said to his son, when he was exhorting him: O my dear son! Ascribe no partners to Allah. Surely, to ascribe partners (to Him) is a tremendous injustice.” [Qur’an 31:13]
Someone who commits <shirk> – associates others with Allah in belief and acknowledgment of supreme authority, or similarly in word or action as a consequence– is committing a great injustice: he is not fulfilling the thanks he morally owes to his Creator for the countless blessings of life, or he directs some or all of this special gratitude – whether verbally or through actions of devotion – to other, created beings. At the same time, he is committing injustice against himself. He deprives himself of the joy of knowing his Creator, and of fulfilling his spiritual needs. He abuses his intellect, since he does not utilize this gift to affirm the ultimate reality, and thereby exposes himself to divine wrath. He also abuses his body in this world, for it is only through submission to Allah’s law that the correct balance can be obtained, and the danger of all harmful foods, substances and practices be realized. This injustice also extends to touch others, for when a person submits to false and corrupt authorities in preference to Allah, justice in mutual dealings is lost or compromised.

2.      Justice to one’s self

  • Not abusing one’s body, nor depriving it of fundamental needs.

Narrated ‘Abdullah bin ‘Amr: “The news of my daily fasting and night-long prayer reached the Prophet. So he sent for me or I met him, and he said, “I have been informed that you fast everyday and pray every night [all the night]. Fast [for some days] and do not fast on some days; pray and sleep, for your eyes have a right on you, and your body and your family (i.e. wife) have a right on you.” [Bukhari, Muslim]

“The Prophet made a bond of brotherhood between Salman and Abu Darda. Salman paid a visit to Abu Darda and found [his wife,] Um Darda dressed in shabby clothes and asked her why she was in that state. She replied, “Your brother Abu Darda is not interested in [the pleasures of] this world.” In the meantime Abu Darda came and prepared a meal for Salman. Salman requested Abu Darda to eat (with him), but Abu Darda’ said, “I am fasting.” Salman said, “I am not going to eat unless you eat.” So, Abu Darda ate (with Salman). When it was night and (a part of the night passed), Abu Ad-Darda’ got up (to offer the night prayer), but Salman told him to sleep and Abu Darda slept. After some time Abu Darda again got up but Salman told him to sleep. When it was the last hours of the night, Salman told him to get up then, and both of them offered the prayer. Salman told Abu Darda, “Your Lord has a right on you, your soul has a right on you, and your family has a right on you; so you should give the rights of all those who has a right on you.” Abu Darda came to the Prophet and narrated the whole story. The Prophet said, “Salman has spoken the truth.” [Bukhari]

  • Not harming one’s own body (including drugs, suicide, etc.)

“And do not kill yourselves [or one another]. Indeed, Allah is to you ever Merciful. And whoever does that in aggression and injustice – then We will drive him into a Fire. And that, for Allah , is [always] easy.” [Qur’an, 4:29-30]

“….and do not throw [yourselves] with your [own] hands into destruction….” [Qur’an, 2:195]

  • Justice between the parts of one’s body.

The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him and his Household) instructed us not to shave a part of the head leaving another part unshaven; we should either shave it all, or leave it all. [Bukhari, Muslim] Similarly, we are not to wear a shoe on only one foot [Bukhari, Muslim], nor to sit half in the shade and half in the sun [Abu Dawud, Ahmad].

  • Not abusing one’s mind by blindly following others on profound matters of belief or action

“They have hearts with which they do not understand, they have eyes with which they do not see, and they have ears with which they do not hear. Those are like livestock; rather, they are more astray. It is they who are the heedless.” [Qur’an, 7:179]

And they will say, “If only we had been listening or reasoning, we would not be among the companions of the Blaze.” [Qur’an, 67:10]

‘And similarly, We did not send before you any warner into a city except that its affluent said, “Indeed, we found our fathers upon a religion, and we are, in their footsteps, following.” [Each warner] said, “Even if I brought you better guidance than that [religion] upon which you found your fathers?”’ [Qur’an, 43:22-3]

2.      Justice to other human beings

This includes:

  • Equity in trade dealings, weights and measures

e.g. avoiding cheating, exploitation, theft, embezzlement, bribery.

Such norms and standards of decency, needless to say (?), apply to us regardless of where we happen to be living, and whether or not the person we are transacting with is Muslim.

“Be conscious of Allah wherever you might be.” [Tirmidhi]
  • Fulfillment of obligations and trusts

“Allah commands you that you restore deposits to their owners….” [Qur’an, 4:58]

“O you who have believed, fulfill [all] contracts.” [Qur’an, 5:1]

“Holding back of repayment by one who has [the sufficiency to repay] is an injustice.” [Bukhari, Muslim]

  • Fulfilment of responsibilities

“Beware. every one of you is a shepherd and every one is answerable with regard to his flock. The Caliph is a shepherd over the people and shall be questioned about his subjects (as to how he conducted their affairs). A man is a guardian over the members of his family and shal be questioned about them (as to how he looked after their physical and moral well-being). A woman is a guardian over the household of her husband and his children and shall be questioned about them (as to how she managed the household and brought up the children).” [Bukhari, Muslim]

The greater the position of leadership one has, the greater the responsibility.

On the positive side, one of the types of believers to be shaded under the Throne on the Day of Judgment is the just ruler. [Bukhari, Muslim]

  • Judging with justice when resolving any dispute

“….and, when you judge between mankind, that you judge justly.” [Qur’an, 4:58]

  • Giving credit where it is due

“He will not thank God who does not thank people.” [Ahmad and others]

Similarly, giving due consideration to the points raised by one’s opponent in a dispute or debate.

  • Avoiding discrimination based on irrelevant factors, personal whim

This includes:

  • avoiding discrimination based on race, ethnicity, nationality, etc. This could even be a feeling in one’s heart that another person/people/community’s achievement or suffering is not so important because they are from a different ethnic group. The Prophet’s Companions included Bilal the African, Suhayb the Roman and Salman the Persian, among others. Today, sadly many Muslims have lost the true egalitarian spirit.

“Allah has removed from you the haughtiness of Jahiliyya, and taking [false] pride in forefathers. People are from Adam, and Adam is from the dust.” [Abu Dawud and others]

  • giving equal treatment to equivalent employees
  • equality in gifts to one’s children,
  • being just in one’s last will and bequests.

3.      Justice to other living beings

Islam teaches us to treat animals well, and to avoid oppressing them, e.g.:

  • not to torture them

“The Messenger of Allah cursed the one who takes something with a soul as a target.” [Muslim, Nasa’I]

“The Prophet once saw a donkey which had been branded on its face, and he said, “May Allah curse the one who branded it.” [Muslim, Abu Dawud]

  • not to kill them for mere sport, without a legitimate purpose such as for food

“Whoever kills a bird or something bigger without right, Allah, the Might the Mejaestic, will ask him about it.” [Nasa’I, Ahmad]

  • when it is necessary to kill (such as killing an animal for its meat), to kill without cruelty

“Verily, Allah has prescribed excellence upon everything. Therefore, when one of you kills [something it is legitimate to kill], let him kill efficiently [i.e. without causing undue suffering]. When any of you slaughters [an animal] let him slaughter efficiently, and you should sharpen your blade [i.e. beforehand; not in the presence of the animal (this is clarified in another hadith)] and give relief to the animal [by giving it a swift death, and not a prolonged, painful one].” [Muslim]

True halal-ness is not restricted to a matter of how the animal’s throat is cut, and what words of prayer are pronounced over the slaughter. True halal-ness is a holistic attitude and lifestyle of awareness and compassion.

  • not to mistreat them, such as by depriving them of food

“When you journey through lush land, then give [your] camels their due of [grazing from] the land.” [Muslim]

“Indeed, Allah is gentle, and loves gentleness … therefore when you ride these silent animals, treat them as they deserve.” [Malik]

“A woman entered the Fire on account of a cat, which she tied up, neither feeding it, nor letting it eat [for itself] from the vermin of the earth, until it died, and as a result she entered the Fire [of Hell].” [Bukhari, Muslim]

  • not to grieve them by separating their young from them

Ibn Mas`ud says, “…We saw a hummara (a type of small bird) with its two chicks and took its chicks. The mother bird began flapping its wings. Then, the Prophet came back and said: “Who has caused sorrow to this bird by taking her offspring? Return her offspring to her!” [Abu Dawud]

One thought on “Justice : A Taxonomy

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