The past few years have seen a remarkable rise in advances and struggle for social justice. Often set in motion by horrendous displays of man’s inhumanity to man, these movements are opening windows to the dark and dusty corners of our society where cruelties and inhumanities to the weak and underprivileged are piled up daily, seen but not noticed. The “Black Lives Matter” and the “MeToo” movements, campaigns for girls’ education, civil and voting rights, or raising the minimum wage, are uncovering decades if not centuries of injustices committed under our noses.
While these efforts and movements are certainly a step in the right direction towards a more peaceful, balanced world, the principles for justice in society had already been laid down about 1500 years ago by a humble man of God, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa), the fountainhead of Islam, whose entire life was a testament to his unrelenting efforts to establish justice, peace, and harmony in the world.
In his youth, years before his claim to prophethood, he joined an association to help victims of aggression. Their aim was as follows:
“They will help those who were oppressed and will restore them their rights, as long as the last drop of water remained in the sea. And if they do not do so, they will compensate the victims out of their own belongings” (1).
Near the end of his life, in an iconic farewell speech in the valley of Mina, this unlettered Prophet of God with no formal schooling laid down the principles of justice for every facet of life from business to marriage and inheritance to war, which are just as relevant today as they were 1500 years ago. In this speech, he exhorted his followers on the sanctity of life, justice, and kindness towards the weak and beholden.
Speaking of equality, he said:
“Hearken ye people! Your Lord is one and your progenitor was also one. Aye hearken to me O ye people! An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor has a non-Arab any superiority over an Arab; nor do the white have any preference over the dark; nor have the dark any preference over the white, excepting of course, what an individual can acquire by his personal qualities or morals, intelligence, and self-effort” (2).
Today we see both the smallest and the biggest examples of inequalities in our society; in schools, where students of different colors or cultures face discrimination by their peers or teachers; in the hospitals, where healthcare for people of color may be delayed; or at the workplace, where the origin of a person may weigh in on whether they are hired or promoted. These are insidious crimes often ignored, but there are also frequent instances of violence and terror that people are subjected to all over the world as a result of differences in cultures, colors, races, or religions.
How different would our world be today if we all inculcated in our decisions and actions, the principles of equality laid down by the Holy Prophet of Islam (sa)!
Going beyond justice, Prophet Muhammad (sa) encourages kindness and beneficence towards everyone. He teaches kindness towards one’s parents, children, spouse, and their family, saying:
“The most complete of the believers in faith, is one with the best character among them, and the best of you are those who are best to your women” (3).
He encourages kindness towards neighbors saying:
“So repeatedly and so much has God impressed upon me the duty owed to a neighbor that I began to think that a neighbor might perhaps be named an heir” (4).
In an address at the inauguration of a mosque, the worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba), explains that the Islamic meaning of ‘neighbor’ includes at least 40 houses on each side, indicating the vastness of the coverage, as well as our work-colleagues and fellow travelers, etc. (5). The poor and the orphans are not left out of these teachings either. The Prophet (sa) is known to have said that “He who takes care of an orphan, and me will be like this in paradise, and he raised his forefinger and middle finger [joined]by way of illustration (6). A similar injunction is given for widows and those in need. He was also most concerned for laborers and workers, saying that the wages of a laborer must be paid to him: “before the sweat dries upon his body” (7). Prisoners of war are also given rights; the Holy Prophet (sa) admonished Muslims: “These are your brethren over whom Allah has granted you authority, then he who has a brother under his authority should feed him on what he eats himself, should clothe him as he clothes himself, should not set him a task beyond his capacity, and if he is assigned something heavy or difficult, should help him in carrying it out” (8). Thus, the Holy Prophet (sa) teaches us with such minute details the importance of eschewing even the smallest cruelty and injustice to anyone in our society.
Another facet of social justice is economic justice, which is found lacking in most communities. The predominant reason behind much of the strife and conflicts seen today and the wars fought in the past is the disparity in economic status. Jealousy and greed for wealth, which starts at an individual level, eventually lead to terrible violence and conflicts between countries. The economic depression that Germany went through after World War I played a huge role in the rise of Hitler’s power and the subsequent World War II. Similarly, the civil wars in many countries are frequently a result of the economic differences between two or more groups of people. We see two predominant economic systems in the world, neither of which can truly establish justice and at the same time, promote the growth and prosperity of a nation and its people.
Communism, a system characterized by nationalized and collective wealth, kills incentives and effectively hinders the growth and development of individuals and communities. Capitalism on the other extreme seeks to make the wealthy even wealthier and further widens the bridge between the poor and the rich. It thrives on the results of interest or “riba.” the system of making loans on interest draws wealth towards the few rich taking advantages of the need of the poor. Islam prohibits interest in no uncertain terms.
So how does Islam solve this problem of establishing economic and social justice?
The answer is in the system of Zakat, which is an obligatory charity levied as a percentage of one’s savings from income or property that is spent wholly for the benefit of the poor and needy. The Holy Qur’an gives a tremendous amount of importance to Zakat, and so did the Holy Prophet (sa). He said: “the object of the institution of Zakat is to take from the better off to return the same to the poor and the needy” (9). Zakat serves a two-fold purpose: providing the underprivileged with means of growth and development, and cleansing greed and selfishness from the hearts of the
privileged. Charity, both voluntary and obligatory, is highly encouraged in Islam. The Holy Prophet (sa) said:
“A generous person is close to Allah, close to the people and close to paradise but far away from Hell” (10).
The Holy Prophet (sa) encouraged honesty and transparency in all matters of business. Once while passing by a heap of corn, he thrust his arm into the heap and found wet corn buried underneath. Upon asking the owner, he was told that it was wetted by the rain. He admonished the owner saying: “Why did you not let it remain on top so people could see it? He who cheats is not one of us” (11).
Islam is frequently accused of “enslaving” women by not providing them equal rights with men. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. The Holy Prophet (sa) has said: “A person who is blessed with a daughter or daughters and makes no discrimination between them and his sons and brings them up with kindness and affection will be as close to me in Paradise as my forefinger and middle finger are to each other” (12). He stressed on the equality of the intellectual status of men and women saying: “It is the duty of every Muslim man and every Muslim woman to acquire knowledge (13). He established the rights of women in marriage and divorce, inheritance of wealth, and entitlement to property and money. How unfortunate that the so-called “modern society” which is only now, in the last few decades, starting to recognize these rights, vilifies Islam and the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa), the true liberator of women!
These are just a few examples, whereas the Holy Qur’an and the Holy Prophet (sa) provide us with guidance towards justice and beneficence in all kinds of situations. Read the Holy Qur’an and the books of Ahadith (the sayings of the Holy Prophet) and you will find that Islam is truly a peaceful religion and that the Holy Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon, is truly a Mercy for all mankind.
1. Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad, “Life of Muhammad,” P. 19, Edition 2005, Islam International Publications Ltd, UK.
2. Bukhari, Hadith Numbers: 1623, 1626, 6361
3. Jami’ at-Tirmidhi, The Book on Suckling, Vol. 1, Book 7, Hadith 1162 (English Translation)
4. Sahih al-Bukhari 614 (Good Manners and Form), Vol. 8, Book 73, Hadith 43
5. Mirza Masroor Ahmad, March 18, 2012. “Laying the foundation of peace and reconciliation,” Address at the opening of Baitul Ghafoor Mosque, Halesowen, West Midlands, UK. https://www.alislam.org/articles/laying-foundation-peace-reconciliation/ [Accessed: April 8, 2022]
6. Muhammad Zafrulla Khan, Translation of “Riyadh as-Salihin” of Imam Nawawi, P. 65, Reprint 2006.
7. Sunan Ibn Majah, the Chapter on Pawning, Vol. 3, Book 16, Hadith 2443 (English translation) [accessed on sunnah.com]
8. Sunan Abi Dawud, General Behavior (Kitab Al-Adab) No. 5158, Book 42, Hadith 5139 (English translation) [accessed from sunnah.com]
9. Sahih al-Bukhari, Obligatory Charity Tax (Zakat), Chapter: The obligation of Zakat, No. 1395, Vol. 2, Book 24, Hadith 478
10. Jami’ at-Tirmidhi, Chapters on righteousness and maintaining good relations with relatives, Vol. 4, Book 1, Hadith 1961 (English translation)
11. Muhammad Zafrulla Khan, Translation of “Riyadh as-Salihin” of Imam Nawawi, P 268, Reprint 2006.
12. Muslim, Section: Beneficence, Chapter: Value of Beneficence towards daughters
13. Hadith from Sunnan Ibn Majah, quoted by LAI, C.H. et al. (1989) Ideals and Realities, Selected Essays of Abdus Salam, 3rd Edition, World Scientific Publishing Co. London, Pp. 343-4.
Last modified: June 2022