Dispensing Justice [in Islam]

The Light (UK), May 2000 Issue (pp. 1–2)

The Holy Quran gives clear instructions about dispensing justice. It says:

اِنَّاۤ اَنۡزَلۡنَاۤ اِلَیۡکَ الۡکِتٰبَ بِالۡحَقِّ لِتَحۡکُمَ بَیۡنَ النَّاسِ بِمَاۤ اَرٰىکَ اللّٰہُ ؕ وَ لَا تَکُنۡ لِّلۡخَآئِنِیۡنَ خَصِیۡمًا ﴿۱۰۵﴾ۙ

“Surely We have revealed the Book to you with the truth, that you may judge between people by means of what Allah has taught you. And be not pleading the cause of the dishonest” (The Holy Quran, 4:105).

This law enacted by Allah is to be applied, not just by the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), but by all Muslims in all spheres of life. This verse was revealed to the Holy Prophet (pbuh) at a time when Muslims were few in numbers. Acceptance of Islam by even a single person raised the morale and strengthened the ummah (Muslim nation). At such a time, a Muslim called Tamah ibn Ubairaq stole a coat of mail. Having hidden it at a Jew’s house, he accused the Jew of stealing. Tamah’s whole tribe supported him. The Jews had been open enemies of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) from the time that he arrived in Medina. The Holy Prophet (pbuh) was appointed to judge the matter. The dispute was not just between a Muslim and a Jew. It was between a supporter and an enemy. More than that, the whole tribe to which the Muslim belonged, supported the accusation. A decision in favour of the Muslim might mean conversion of the whole tribe to Islam or, at the very least, their support. A decision in favour of the Jew would not help the Holy Prophet (pbuh) advance his cause in the least. Yet, without hesitation, the Holy Prophet (pbuh) handed down a verdict in favour of the Jew. What a great example did he set for the politicians and leaders of the world! In dispensation of justice, the judge must only have one consideration — what is just. His judgement must not be marred by any other consideration. This is the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) that must be followed at all times.

The Holy Quran also says to the Muslims:

یٰۤاَیُّہَا الَّذِیۡنَ اٰمَنُوۡا کُوۡنُوۡا قَوّٰمِیۡنَ بِالۡقِسۡطِ شُہَدَآءَ لِلّٰہِ وَ لَوۡ عَلٰۤی اَنۡفُسِکُمۡ اَوِ الۡوَالِدَیۡنِ وَ الۡاَقۡرَبِیۡنَ ۚ اِنۡ یَّکُنۡ غَنِیًّا اَوۡ فَقِیۡرًا فَاللّٰہُ اَوۡلٰی بِہِمَا ۟ فَلَا تَتَّبِعُوا الۡہَوٰۤی اَنۡ تَعۡدِلُوۡا ۚ وَ اِنۡ تَلۡوٗۤا اَوۡ تُعۡرِضُوۡا فَاِنَّ اللّٰہَ کَانَ بِمَا تَعۡمَلُوۡنَ خَبِیۡرًا ﴿۱۳۵﴾

“O you who believe, be maintainers of justice, bearers of witness for Allah, even though it be against your own selves or (your) parents or near relatives — whether he be rich or poor, Allah has a better right over them both. So follow not your low desires, lest you deviate. And if you distort or turn away from (truth), surely Allah is ever Aware of what you do” (The Holy Quran, 4:135).

 A real Muslim is required to put his physical relationships aside when dispensing justice. He is not to be swayed by the wealth or influence, or the lack of them, of either party. This was not mere speech. These injunctions were put into practice. On another occasion the daughter of an influential Chief was caught stealing. The matter was brought to the Holy Prophet’s (pbuh) attention. Some people tried to influence him by saying that if this girl is punished her father would be annoyed and Muslims will lose a powerful ally. The Holy Prophet (pbuh) responded by saying that even if Fatima, his own daughter, had been caught and brought to him he would hand down the same punishment.

We all wonder how it was that those early Muslims achieved such glorious successes in spreading Islam. They did so because they showed the world that their morals were superior. They showed that there were absolute truths which must be believed and absolute justice which must be handed down.

Sometimes it is said that in this day and age it is impossible to act in this way. One answer to this is that saying this denies the Holy Quran which says:

لَا نُکَلِّفُ نَفۡسًا اِلَّا وُسۡعَہَا ۚ وَ اِذَا قُلۡتُمۡ فَاعۡدِلُوۡا وَ لَوۡ کَانَ ذَا قُرۡبٰی ۚ وَ بِعَہۡدِ اللّٰہِ اَوۡفُوۡا ؕ ذٰلِکُمۡ وَصّٰکُمۡ بِہٖ لَعَلَّکُمۡ تَذَکَّرُوۡنَ ﴿۱۵۲﴾ۙ

“…We impose not on any soul a duty except to the extent of its ability. And when you speak, be just, though it be (against) a relative. And fulfil Allah’s covenant. This He enjoins on you that you may be mindful” (The Holy Quran, 6:152).

This verse clearly tells us that Allah does not impose upon any soul a duty it could not carry out. One duty specifically mentioned in this regard is to be just at all times. To say that we cannot behave in this way in this age, is to say that Islam is not a religion for all people and for all ages. That this cannot be correct is proven by the fact that many of us have seen members of this movement who set examples of this noble behaviour.

The Companions (rta) of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) knew this well and they too observed absolute propriety in decision making. In the Sahih of Bukhari (Kitab al- Faraiz), we find the following incident. Hazrat Aishah relates that after the Holy Prophet (pbuh) had passed away, his daughter, Hazrat   Fatima, went to Hazrat Abu Bakr to ask for a share in the Prophet’s (pbuh) estate. Hazrat Abu Bakr replied that the Holy Prophet had stated that prophets do not leave behind any possessions; whatever remains after they have passed away must be given to charity. Although Hazrat Abu Bakr held Hazrat Fatima in great regard, he did not disobey the rule laid down by the Holy Prophet (pbuh).

Islam requires a very high degree of integrity and fairness from the rulers. That is why Muslims are instructed to elect as their leaders those regarding whom, in the words of the Holy Quran:

اِنَّ اللّٰہَ یَاۡمُرُکُمۡ اَنۡ تُؤَدُّوا الۡاَمٰنٰتِ اِلٰۤی اَہۡلِہَا ۙ وَ اِذَا حَکَمۡتُمۡ بَیۡنَ النَّاسِ اَنۡ تَحۡکُمُوۡا بِالۡعَدۡلِ ؕ

“God Commands you to make over trusts to those worthy of them, and that when you judge between people, you judge with justice” (The Holy Quran, 4:58).

So long as Muslims obeyed this rule, their rulers were people who set a shining example of piety. We have already seen how Hazrat Abu Bakr turned down Hazrat Fatima’s request for a share in the Holy Prophet’s (pbuh) estate.

A cynic may say that it is easy to hand down fair decisions, or to play by the rule book, when your own personal interest is not at stake. Let us then look at other examples of how the Companions (rta) of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) behaved when their own personal interest was at stake. Hazrat Umar was the second khalifa [Caliph] of the Muslims. He succeeded Hazrat Abu Bakr. Hazrat Umar had purchased a shield from a Jew. Some time after the purchase, the seller took action against Hazrat Umar for non-payment. The matter was presented to the Qazi [Muslim Judge] of Medina. He called both parties to his court. The claimant had his say. The Qazi then asked Hazrat Umar what he had to say. Hazrat Umar replied that he had made the payment. The Qazi then asked Hazrat Umar to produce a receipt. Hazrat Umar was unable to do so. The Qazi then asked Hazrat Umar whether there were any witnesses to substantiate this claim. Hazrat Umar replied that there were none. On hearing this, the Qazi decided that Hazrat Umar, the head of state, the ruler of lands stretching from Arabia to Turkey and Egypt, must either return the shield or make the payment.

When Hazrat Umar had arrived for the hearing, the Qazi did not stand up to greet him. Hazrat Umar waited for the court to close. He then approached the Qazi and asked why the Qazi had not stood up to greet the head of state. The Qazi replied that in his court all men were equal and that it would have been unfair to stand up to greet the defendant and not the claimant. The Qazi then asked Hazrat Umar what he would have done if he had stood up to greet him. Hazrat Umar replied that the Qazi would have been instantly dismissed and never given any position of authority again because his impartiality would have become doubtful.

This is not an isolated incident. On another occasion, when it was proven that his own son had broken the law, Hazrat Umar personally flogged his son in public.

Hazrat Ali was the fourth khalifa of Islam and the last of the Khulafa-i-Rashideen (The Righteous Rulers). There is a similar incident from the time of his khilafat [caliphate]. Someone went to a Qazi and lodged a complaint against Hazrat Ali for non-payment of a loan. Hazrat Ali was called by the Qazi to explain himself. Hazrat Ali replied that he had repaid the loan but he did not have a receipt to prove it. The Qazi then asked if there were any witnesses. Hazrat Ali put forward his slave as a witness. The Qazi refused to hear him saying that he did not consider Hazrat Ali’s slave to be an independent witness. Hazrat Ali then put forward his son, Hazrat Imam Hussain, as a witness. The Qazi refused to hear Hazrat Imam Hussain’s evidence for the same reason. At this Hazrat Ali protested saying:

“You reject the evidence of the person (Hazrat Imam Hussain) regarding whom the Holy Prophet (pbuh) said that in the Hereafter he shall be the leader of the sinless.”

The Qazi responded that they were all in this world, not in the Hereafter, and unless Hazrat Ali could satisfy the court, a judgement shall be given against him. As to the Hereafter, the Qazi said that he will deal with it when the time comes. As Hazrat Ali did not have any witnesses which the Qazi would regard as independent, Hazrat Ali’s defence was rejected and he was asked to pay the loan.

The greatest example of giving just and fair decisions tempered with mercy was set by our beloved prophet himself, at the time of the conquest of Makkah. Abu Sufyan was the Holy Prophet’s greatest enemy. Before entering Makkah, the Holy Prophet announced that amnesty had been granted to Abu Sufian. Even his house was declared a sanctuary. After entering Makkah at the head of ten thousand men, the Holy Prophet surveyed the crowd gathered before him. His persecutors, killers of his relatives and his friends, his tormentors all waiting to find out what will happen to them. The heavens and the earth waited to see how much blood will be shed today. Time stood still. There was absolute silence in the multitude. The Holy Prophet forgave them all; he wiped the slate clean — he called them his brothers. Having forgiven the murders of his own clansmen, he recommended that all Muslims should forgive all such crimes. What a noble example was set! The whole of the ummah would have laid down their lives for him but he does not presume any automatic right! This is real justice, tempered with fairness and with mercy. The tormentors and killers were forgiven by the people they had wronged, not by some cold institution!

Let us pray that we have the wisdom to act in accordance with the Holy Quran, which says:

اَمَرَ رَبِّیۡ بِالۡقِسۡطِ ۟

“My Lord enjoins justice…” (The Holy Quran, 7:29)

and:

وَ لَا یَجۡرِمَنَّکُمۡ شَنَاٰنُ قَوۡمٍ عَلٰۤی اَلَّا تَعۡدِلُوۡا ؕ اِعۡدِلُوۡا ۟ ہُوَ اَقۡرَبُ لِلتَّقۡوٰی ۫ وَ اتَّقُوا اللّٰہَ ؕ

“Let not hatred of a people incite you not to act equitably; act equitably, that is nearer to piety, and be careful of your duty to God.” (The Holy Quran, 5:8)

Ameen, Ameen, Ameen.

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