Justice among Arab tribes pre-Islam

Written by | Islam, Religious Concepts, Society

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Justice, to render someone their due would be a broad definition, however Islam goes further where justice is concerned in teaching that to compensate someone for good should by no means be less or fall short than what that person has earned. In the case of issuing a penalty, punishment should not go beyond what is deserved for the act committed. In this way we maintain a proper standard of justice. Some would go as far as to suggest that a person’s reward should not exceed their due, but Islam discourages this belief, favoring the notion that good multiplies itself and also wards away evil, The Holy Qur’an (11:115)

“Surely, good works drive away the evil ones. This is a reminder for those who would remember.”

What the Quran here means is that setting a good example wins the hearts of men and makes them duplicate it, eventually eroding away evil. Good examples are an ideal way of defining and growing virtue in this world. Regarding justice when you treat them with a kind deed, in this case rewarding them their due or even more, that person is likely to heed advice. In this way spiritual elevation is ensured which is a sure guidance for all. Ultimately the more we practice it the more we can be saved from evil.

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Looking at these teachings Islam has brought, one can only imagine what justice was like before the days of Islam. Back in those days, Arabs didn’t have any kind of court or judicial system, it was completely foreign to them. They feuded over trivial matters which resulted into sacrilegious wars that would last for years. Tribes were ever ready to battle it out and wage war against other tribes. There was no patience for resolving their issues, vengeance and feuding was their reflexive response. It was during Prophet Muhammad (sa)’s teen years that a bloody fight erupted among the various tribes. It was a fight to last several years as well as claim many deaths. When it finally ended a group of youths from different tribes rose up and initiated a covenant that would be dedicated to bringing about peace and keeping it maintained, it would also help the poor and those who were oppressed. It would work to resolve matters that arose, whether they be among individuals or tribes. This was to be known as Hilful Fudul, the same organization that Prophet Muhammad (sa) joined.

There was absolutely no justice for slaves. A master could do as he wished with his slave and not have to worry about paying the consequences. A slave could be sold and passed around, and be expected to work obey their owners no matter what. Hazrat Zaid, Prophet Muhammad’s (sa) adopted was a slave, although he was not born one. His mother was travelling to visit some relatives far away, Zaid who was only a child was with her. Suddenly there was a raid in the area and everyone was attacked. Zaid was stolen and sold off to slavery. Eventually, after many masters, he ended up with Prophet Muhammad (sa) who treated him so nicely that Zaid didn’t want to leave, even when his family had finally found him and begged him to come home. Although this was how Zaid became a slave, the domination of peoples would be subject to a life of slavery. What used to happen is that the men were killed while women and children were sent off for the slave trade, but with the demand for laborers whole nations and tribes would be taken under slavery.

“Have We not given him two eyes, and a tongue and two lips? And we have pointed out to him the two highways of good and evil. But he attempted not the steep ascent. And what should make thee know what the steep ascent is? It is the freeing of a slave. Or feeding on a day of hunger. An orphan near of kin. Or a poor man lying in the dust.” (The Holy Qur’an (90:8-11))

We can see here in the Quran that Islam was to change all this. Not just for slaves, but also for the orphans and the poor. Women had their hardships too, they were second class citizens and were only considered as commodities or property. They were easily used as a means of something to gamble. It was a terrible time for them, they had no rights to inherit, or any say in any issue much less their own. If her husband died her house, her property, it could all easily be taken away. A man could take on as many wives as he pleased, and in some cases, some even married their mothers. The rights of women were those that had to be addressed by Islam. The Quran says:

“O ye people! fear your Lord who created you from a single soul and of its kind created its mate, and from them twain spread many men and women; and fear Allah, in Whose name you appeal to one another, and fear him particularly respecting ties of kinship. Verily Allah watches over you.” (The Holy Qur’an (4:2))

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This verse saves women from their suffering that was prevalent before Islam, restoring their rights to them. Allah also warns that He will be watching their behavior to see whether or not they heed Him. Compared to a time when a woman had no voice of matter or opinion, Islam changed it completely for them and put them at a high pedestal, teaching how “paradise lies at the feet of the mother,” and how they are a pinnacle of respect and honor.

Arabia has come far from a deep darkness, however, some- times one must experience despair to appreciate all the goodness. In this case we see once upon a time when there was limited or no justice that plagued the world. Valuable lessons can be learnt by what happened in the past, they become essential to the advancement of our future. Let us not forget where society once came from, to what it is now.


The Holy Qur’an

The Concept of Justice in Islam by Sir Muhammad Zafrullah Khan

Last modified: April 2020

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