Islamic ethics include all aspects of human beauty and perfection and take the human soul to the zenith of virtues. They have an exceptional essence, for they are unshakably founded upon rights and justice. This is because the peace of humanity can be ensured only if rights and justice are observed.
So what are rights and justice?
The most general definition is “to treat everybody and everything according to its due; to judge truthfully; and to behave toward all in a balanced and moderate manner.”
On this definition, to give somebody more than his rightful due is to violate the rights of others, while to give him less than his rightful due is to usurp his rights, that is, to violate justice. People of sincere faith are extremely careful to avoid such a crime. That is, a believer feels compelled to give each human being whatever is rightfully due.
Islam demands justice at every stage of life and in all kinds of situations. Pursuing a life that is pleasing to Allah requires us to observe the balance of rights and justice, for justice occupies a central place among the divine orders and prohibitions. Thus a believer must first act justly toward his Creator, then toward other creatures, and finally toward him- or herself.
Accordingly, every believer must observe justice when measuring goods, when judging people, when writing records, and when testifying in court. Additionally, we must pay proper attention to what is due to Allah in our ritual prayers and devotions. We must observe their due form, because that is a right belonging to our Lord. His servants are responsible for them to Him.
The faithful person who organizes life according to this consciousness and the measures of rights and justice reaches the state of ahsan al-taqwîm, “the finest design.” This is because the observance of rights and justice are among the divine attributes.
The Beautiful Name al-`Adl, “the Just,” indicates that Allah the Almighty is the absolute owner of right and justice, and even that He is right and justice themselves. This exalted Name is always manifesting in this world, but it will be manifest in all its majesty at the divine judgment in the Hereafter. Allah declares in the Noble Qur’an:
“We shall set up scales of justice for the Day of Judgment, so that not a soul will be dealt with unjustly in the least, and if there be (no more than) the weight of a mustard seed, We will bring it (to account): and enough are We to take account.” (Anbiya’; 21/47).
We should never forget that Allah the Almighty, who orders His servants to observe rights and justice, always supports those who are subjected to injustice. Those who think that they can get away with whatever they do in this worldly life cannot escape kneeling down and trying to explain themselves before Allah the Almighty, the judge over all judges.
We can say that humanity, of all beings, bears the heaviest responsibility regarding rights and justice. The human being is the noblest of creatures and all other beings are placed at our disposal.
Consequently, we carry the responsibility for their rights and welfare. This is why humanity is obliged not only to protect its own rights but also the rights of all. We are answerable for the rights of plants, animals, and inanimate things as well as our own.
Among the Friends of Allah we find excellent examples of careful observance of the rights of all. In one account, Bâyazid al-Bistâmî, one of Allah’s Friends, rested under a tree and ate a meal, then continued on a journey. After some miles he noticed an ant on his traveling bag. “O my Lord,” he exclaimed, “I have separated this ant from its homeland!” He went back to the tree where he had eaten, and left the ant.
The poet Firdawsî has this beautiful couplet in his Shahnâma:
“Don’t trouble the ant hauling a grain of wheat! It too lives its life -and life is sweet.”
On the Day of Judgment, all other creatures will be resurrected along with humankind, and will claim the rights that were violated during their lives in this world. This is why it is forbidden to make an animal suffer, to fatigue it unduly, or even to cut the branch of a tree without need. We are allowed to kill harmful animals out of necessity, but even when killing a harmful animal we should not cause unnecessary pain. For example, when trying to protect oneself from a snake, it is proper to dispatch it with a single stroke.
In summary, every person of faith must grasp the true meaning of rights and responsibilities and be extremely careful in establishing justice. For a believer, just conduct in all dealings is among the greatest of virtues. Yet for those who mount the staircase of maturity, there is a virtue even higher than this: forgiveness in justice.