This orderly universe has not come to exist by chance. Neither was it created as a tool for the satisfaction of desires. It was created for a noble purpose, and has been made a place of examination for human beings. Therefore neither the creation of the universe nor the creation of humanity is absurd.
Nothing is created in vain, without wisdom or reason, for another beautiful Name of our Lord is al-Haqq – the Right, the Real, the Truth. He is free from doing anything absurd or futile. All things coming from Him are right. The Qur’an declares:
He it is who created the heavens and the earth with truth.(An’âm, 6/73).
Look at the universe as a whole, at humankind, and at other creatures. Each is a wonderful work of art. Their creation displays innumerable wisdoms and lessons, subtle measures and balances. Every person of sound mind should carefully reflect on the manifestation of this divine power.
Allah the Almighty directs our attention to this truth with a warning.
He has raised up the sky and set the measure, so exceed not the measure…(ar-Rahmân, 55/8).
And We created not the heavens and the earth, and all that is between them, for sport. We created them not save with truth; but most of them do not know.(ad-Dukhân, 44/38-39).
Does man think that he is to be left aimless?(Qiyâmah, 75/36).
Have you supposed that We created you in vain, and that you shall not be brought back to Us?(Mu’minûn 23/115)
The noble Qur’an clearly states that this world is a testing-place. We did not come here without purpose, nor are we left here on our own. We have a will that we may use for good or for evil, but our Lord has set some limits, and has commanded us to observe those limits. We are not in this world merely to satisfy our lowest desires. Whoever pursues those desires may easily and unwittingly become a tyrant. In that way we risk our eternal life.
In fact, servanthood means observing the limits set by Allah. By observing those limits, humanity saves itself from divine chastisement. Whoever breaks them has prepared his own punishment, and therefore has tyrannized himself. It must not be forgotten that the opposite of justice is tyranny.
The opposite of justice is tyranny
In the noble Qur’an, Allah Almighty notes as attributes of humanity:
“…Lo! he (man) has proved a tyrant and a fool.” (Ahzâb, 33/72)
Violent ignorance, jahiliyyah, is one of the major causes leading to injustice and oppression. The opposite of the jahiliyyah mentioned in the Noble Qur’an is knowledge, `ilm.
True knowledge is that which leads humanity to the recognition of Allah – that is, to our knowing Allah the Almighty in our hearts. Therefore, just as ignorance destines humanity to injustice, so knowledge directs us to goodness, justice, and truth.
The core and origin of truth is Allah the Almighty. Right and truth are made known to us by the creator and possessor of the cosmos. In the Noble Qur’an, Allah tells us:
…Say: The guidance of Allah is guidance indeed, and we are commanded to surrender to the Lord of the Worlds. (An’âm, 6/71).
Remaining indifferent to the commands and prohibitions of Allah and His Messenger, our guides to endless happiness is a bad idea. Whoever does that, tyrannizes himself. The gravest injustice is willfully to remain blind to ultimate truths. Every injustice defines its own punishment. The punishment corresponding to a crime committed against ultimate truths is an endless chastisement. Thus failing to keep faith with Allah destines one to Hell forever, because it is the gravest injustice and oppression against all the bounties of one’s Lord.
Although injustice evidently causes others to suffer, ultimately it leads whoever commits it into a terrible chastisement. The unjust harm themselves most. This is why in the Qur’an we frequently find the expression “those who tyrannize themselves.”
Rûmî says of justice and injustice: “What is justice? It is watering fruit trees. What is injustice? It is watering briars,” and “A person with no notion of justice is like a she-goat who suckles a baby wolf.”
That is, the injustice such a person feeds will lead to his own destruction. It destines him to collapse and disappear.
History bears witness that those who violate the rights of others for their private temporary interests only prepare their own dreadful ends. Finally they are destroyed by their own works. Thus, even if it is quite difficult, one must always uphold justice and support the right.
In the simplest language, injustice means to make people suffer without any good reason.
Despite the fact that human beings have the noblest place in all of creation, we neglect our elevated worth and dignity to chase after transitory pleasures, lowly desires, and fleeting passions. In this way, through sin and rebellion against the divine order, people destine themselves to endless chastisement. But who shall be held responsible for this situation?
The capacity to act justly and mercifully toward others is first and foremost the result of our acting justly and mercifully toward ourselves. And our best guide in reaching this end is the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
The best example of justice
Our Lord sent our Prophet (pbuh) to illustrate ideal human behavior, and in this way clarified the divine commands and prohibitions. The praiseworthy life of the Prophet (pbuh) demonstrates the intentions of Allah for human beings through living human examples. Our noble religion, Islam, is a religion of real life as it may actually be lived in the best manner. Its principles differ from human worldviews which are purely theoretical and cannot be put into practice. Thus the understanding of justice in Islam, although exalted, is also very concrete. Responsibilities are clear.
When the Prophet (pbuh) commanded his community to do something, he and his relatives were primarily responsible for applying that command. When he prohibited something, he and his relatives were primarily responsible for abstaining from it. In matters of justice, he did not assume any privilege, nor did he grant privileges to wealthy or influential people. The life of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is full of examples of virtuous behavior that make one marvel. Here are a few.
Even if it were my daughter Fâtimah…
During the Age of Felicity, a woman of a noble family of the Banu Makhzûm clan committed theft, and the victim invoked the law against her. Relatives of the woman sought someone to intercede with the Prophet (pbuh) so that she might escape punishment. Finally they decided to send `Usâmah ibn Zayd (r.a), who was one of the dearest Companions of the Prophet (pbuh). `Usamah went to the Prophet (pbuh) and asked whether she might be spared. The Prophet (pbuh) listened, and his face changed color. He looked at his beloved Companion reproachfully and asked, “Are you arguing for the cancellation of one of Allah’s limits?”
Hearing this, `Usamah (r.a) became utterly regretful. He apologized and said, “O Messenger of Allah! Please pray to Allah for my forgiveness.” (Bukhârî, Maghâzî, 53; Nasâ`î, Qat’ al-Sâriq, 6, VIII, 72-74).
Then the Prophet (pbuh) stood up and announced, “Nations before you were destroyed for the following reason: When somebody with a noble family or a higher rank committed theft, they used to leave him free, but when some poor and alone committed theft, they would punish him immediately. By Allah, if Fâtimah, the daughter of Muhammad, were to commit theft, I would cut off her hand!” (Bukhârî, Anbiyâ’, 54; Muslim, Hudûd, 8, 9).
In the Noble Qur’an, Allah says:
“O you who believe! Be staunch in justice, witnesses for Allah, even though it be against yourselves or (your) parents or (your) kindred, whether (the case concern) the rich or the poor, for Allah is nearer unto both (them you are). So follow not passion, lest you lapse (from truth)…” (an-Nisâ 4/135)
This episode clearly shows that our Prophet, whose whole life was a kind of explanation of the Qur’an, stood for the rule of law and a respect for the demands of justice even if his own family were to be involved. He certainly rejected granting privileges to people of social influence.
Even before he was entrusted with the mission of prophethood, Muhammad (pbuh) participated in a Meccan civic association known as the Alliance of the Virtuous (hilf al-fudûl). This Alliance was established to make justice predominate in business and social life. The group used to help foreigners whose rights were violated and who (through lack of social connections) were unable to insist on their due. It would work to extract from the powerful what was due to the poor, and to restore respect for the rights of the poor.
This sensitivity regarding the implementation of rights and justice can be seen throughout the Prophet’s life. One catches a glimpse of it in the following Prophetic sayings:
“….Any society in which a poor man cannot receive his rightful due without being hurt cannot prosper long…” (Ibn Mâja, Sadaqât, 17).
“…How should Allah purify a society (from sins) where the rights of the poor are not extracted from the powerful?” (Ibn Mâja, Fitan, 20).
“On the Day of Judgment, out of all the people, the dearest and closest to Allah will be just rulers. And on the Day of Judgment, out of all the people, the most unlovable and distant from Allah will be unjust rulers.” (Tirmidhî, Ahkâm, 4/1329; Nasâ`î, Zakâh, 77)
Again, in the last teaching reported from him, when the Prophet (pbuh) was about to depart from this world, he said: “Beware the designated prayers! Be careful about the designated prayers. And be fearful of Allah regarding the rights of those who are under your protection.” (Abû Dâwûd, Adab, 123-124/5156; Ibn Mâja, Wasâyâ, 1).
Obstruction of justice: a share of Hell
The pride of the universe, our Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), declared:
“I am only a human being. You come to me asking decisions regarding issues in contention among you. It may happen that one of you is more talented in presenting his evidence and making his case than others. And I may decide in favor of him, based on what I hear. However, if I have decided in favor of anybody based on deceptive evidence, I have allocated that person a share of Hell.” (Bukhârî, Shahâdât, 27; Muslim, `Aqidah, 4)
Indeed, some people may cover up their unjust actions and convince people of their innocence through mental acuteness and an ability to speak effectively. Let them not think that they will get away with their crimes! Even if they deceive the courts of this world, in the divine court of the Hereafter everything will be known, and rights will be restored to the defrauded. Such an awful situation in the Hereafter is much more terrible than anything one might experience in this world.
Therefore, anyone who asks the judge for justice must search his conscience as to whether he is truly right in that case.
The issue of justice is important not only in some dimensions of life, but in all of them. It must be implemented in business, in education, and in issues concerning the environment, as well as within the family.
Justice among one’s children
To discriminate in favor of sons and against daughters is disrespectful of Allah’s decree, and a sign of weak faith and weak Islam.
It is common knowledge that daughters have been deprived of many of their rights and suffered various oppressions. It is totally unjust and tyrannical to regard gender as criterion of superiority, since Allah declares that the only criterion of superiority is taqwa – reverent consciousness and carefulness toward Allah.
One of the Companions of the Prophet (pbuh) was in a meeting with the Prophet (pbuh). When his little son ran in, he embraced him and put him on his lap. After a while, his little daughter came in too. The Companion bade her sit down next to him. Noticing this, the Prophet (pbuh) said: “Should not you observe justice between your children?”
Thus he indicated that one must not discriminate between a son and a daughter on the basis of their gender. One must not prefer one over the other simply on this basis.
Nû`mân ibn Bashîr relates:
My father took me to the Prophet (pbuh) and said, “I have given a slave that I owned to this son of mine.”
The Prophet (pbuh) asked: “Have you given the same to your other children?”
My father said, “No, I have not.”
And the Messenger of Allah said, “Then change your decision about this gift.” (Bukhârî, Hibah 12, Shahâdât 9; Muslim, Hibât 9-18).
Distributing rights carefully to those who are entitled
After the victory at Khaybar, the Prophet (pbuh) used to send Abdullah ibn Rawâhâ there to handle tax collection. Each time, Abdullah would carefully estimate the quantity of dates to be levied and would collect the relevant amount of tax.
Certain Jews who farmed at Khaybar were unhappy with Abdullah’s estimation, and tried to bribe him to change the levy. They collected their wives’ jewelry and offered it to Abdullah, saying, “All this might be yours if you give us a break on the tax!”
Abdullah replied, “I don’t like you, because of many wicked actions. But I swear by Allah that my dislike will not prevent me from treating you with justice. Now you are offering me a bribe. But taking bribes is forbidden: we don’t do that.”
When these Jews understood that they could not bribe Abdullah , they appreciated his integrity. They said, “Here are the justice and truthfulness that keep the heavens and the earth in running order.” (Muwatta’, Musâqât, 2).
O you who believe! Be steadfast witnesses for Allah in equity, and let not hatred of any people seduce you that ye deal not justly. Deal justly, that is nearer to reverence. …. (Mâ’idah, 5/ 8)
How great is our religion, which commands strict observance of justice even toward those who oppose it! A conscious Muslim always respects the right and complies with the requirements of justice, since he keeps in mind that if he commits injustice, even against a nonbeliever, he will be held responsible for it. In fact, in a prophetic tradition the Messenger of Allah said, “Beware of the curse of the oppressed, for there is no veil between his curse and Allah.” (Bukhârî, Zakâh 41, 63, Maghâzî 60, Tawhîd 1; Muslim, Îmân 29, 31).
Here is another historical example of the observance of rights and of just treatment offered to non-Muslims.
In the early days of Islam, the city of Hims was under Muslim protection. When the Muslims heard that the Byzantine military was marching toward them, they immediately returned the tax that they had collected from the inhabitants of Hims. They said, “Since we are under military attack now, we are not able to protect you. We only collected these taxes from you in exchange for protecting you. Now you are free to do whatever you want.”
The people of Hims said, “We swear by Allah that your government and justice are better for us than the oppression and injustice we suffered under our earlier government. We shall defend the city under your governor’s command.”
The Jewish and Christian population of other cities that had signed pacts with the Muslims chose to act in the same way. In the end, when the Muslim military won victory, these citizens opened up their cities to the returning Muslims and welcomed their government. They went on living in peace and paying their taxes.
The Muslim military established this tradition of justice not only in Hims, but also in all the towns it originally conquered, when it had to withdraw later on. And the tradition continued. For example, in the Turkish era, when Pleven was conquered by European forces, Gâzi Osman Pasha returned the taxes that had been collected from the Christian people of Pleven. It was well understood that the tax had existed to pay for their protection.
It is because of such sensitive measures that many non-Muslim thinkers throughout history have appreciated the greatness of the justice taught by Islam. Indeed, when the French revolutionaries were faced with drawing up a Declaration of the Rights of Man in 1789, they did research into all the legal systems of the world. Lafayette, who was then a member of the commission, studied Islamic law. He is reported to have exclaimed, “O glorious Arab! You discovered true justice!”
Justice is the main pillar that upholds societies and keeps states functioning. One old proverb says, “An unbeliever may prosper; but a tyrant will not.” Another says, “Justice underlies rule.” It is true that nations and states function thanks to governors who possess might and power. However, might and power are acceptable to people only to the extent that they reflect justice. Might without right becomes oppression. Indicating this, Abû Bakr (r.a) said, “Justice without power is impotence. Power without justice is tyranny.” That is, power must be bound by justice to be useful, but justice must be delivered by power to be effective.
In Kutadgu Bilig, Yûsuf Has Hâcip says, “Injustice is like fire: it destroys whatever it approaches. Justice is like water: it feeds wherever it flows.” If the water of justice cannot rescue a society that is burning with the fire of oppression, that water has lost its purity, its fluidity, and its essential character. Any system of justice that is incapable of answering the cries of the oppressed is like polluted water.
When, after the passing of the Prophet, Abû Bakr (r.a) was elected to be caliph, he announced his office to the people with admirable modesty. “O people! I am chosen as caliph even though I am not the best person among you. If I carry out my duties properly, please help me in this cause. If I do wrong, please show me the right path…” (Ibn-i Sa’d, III, 182-183; Suyûtî, Târîkhu’l-Khulafâ, s. 69, 71-72; Hamîdullah, Islâm Peygamberi, II, 1181).
It follows from the spirit of this declaration that it is incumbent upon Muslims to support just governors, and to warn them without hesitation when they do something wrong.
Resistance to injustice and oppression
The Prophet (pbuh) said, “The best jihad is to speak the truth before an unjust ruler.” (Abû Dâwûd, Malâhim, 17; Tirmidhî, Fitan, 13). This is because where truth is not spoken, lies prevail. To remain quiet when it is time to defend the right is to turn yourself into a silent devil. To remain quiet before an unjust person is to worship him as an idol.
The people around Pharaoh who encouraged him to claim divinity and demand “Am I not your lord most high?” acted like devils despite having the form of human beings. Since they supported Pharaoh’s oppression, they were destined to share his disappointment. Fawning on oppressors for the sake of worldly gain is a cause of permanent abasement.
Those whose hearts support the right are blessed by the power of the right. Firmly supported by the right, such people support it in return. It is they who offer resistance to oppressors.
Thus Hasan al-Basrî did not remain silent against the oppression of Hajjâj the Tyrant, whose injustice is well-known. Hasan, taking all kinds of risks, declared the truth, and distributed that which was rightfully due. And Imam al-A`zam Abû Hanîfah, who did not wish to support the unjust policies of the caliph Ja’far Mansûr in any way, rejected his appointment to be chief qadi of Baghdad.
Words of truth are the voice of faith. Telling the truth and distributing what is rightly owed are among the marks of mature people of faith. As long as there people who do these things, the roads to tyranny will be closed.
Those who, following base desires, commit or support oppression must know well that lies and force win only temporary victories. Eternal victory is beyond them, for the destiny of oppression is to disappear. Since rejecting what is true and violating the measures of right and justice means opposition and rebellion against Allah the exalted, unjust people are doomed sooner or later to encounter chastisement by divine power.
The history of oppression and injustice are full of examples of the manifestation of divine vengeance. In this regard, the noble Qur’an says:
…And never did We destroy communities unless the folk thereof were unjust.(Qasas, 28/59). [s.17]
Some people cling to brute force because tyranny seems brilliant at the beginning…but only at the beginning. History shows us repeatedly the darkness at the end. Justice, on the other hand, may be difficult to get started, yet its end is bright and peaceful.
A Muslim who follows justice – everywhere, always, and for everybody – gains the love of Allah and His servants, and reaches nobility and happiness in both worlds. But those who depart from justice for the sake of lowly desires can receive nothing. Even if they gain deceitful and ephemeral benefits, these yield nothing but damage, regret, and disappointment at the end.
May our Lord protect our hearts from bending toward tyranny for the sake of temporary advantage. May He count us all among His happy and fortunate servants who are able to live according to the principles of right and justice, and who enter the Divine Presence with a peaceful mind!
. Tahâwî, Sharhu Ma’âni’l-Âthâr, Beirut 1987, IV, 89; Beyhakî, Shuab, VII, 468; Haythamî, VIII, 156.
. Balâzûrî, Futûhu’l-Buldân, Beirut 1987, s. 187.