Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Islam and Justice

Dr. Waffie Mohammed
Tuesday 16th September, 2008
Feature Speech at the Opening of the Law Term 2008 / 2009

His Excellency the President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, Honorable Prime Minister, Ministers, The Honorable Chief Justice, Judges of the High Court, Magistrates, Honorable Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

We begin in the Name of Allah, the Creator and Sustainer of the worlds, and we invoke peace and salutations on His Final Messenger, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pboh) the Seal of the Prophets and Mercy to the worlds.

It is my honor and privilege to address you this morning, especially, since we both represent ideologies that commit to the perpetuation, nay, the infusion of justice for the benefit of all.

Before I elaborate, let me share with you the context in which I make this admittedly bold pronouncement. It is almost cliché to say that Islam is not a religion, but rather a way of life. We say this because Islam goes beyond the relationship of man with his Maker, and beyond man’s nurturing of his spiritual self, toward the attainment of peace or any other particular goal. It offers in addition guidelines on man’s interaction with his fellow man, as well as his recognition and value of the physical environment. And of course, for the sake of justice, my reference to man is not gender-biased, but includes our women-folk as well.

Islam is based on submission to the will of Allah through which peace is attained. This can only be achieved when it is done in the universal context. As a result, real justice will only be manifested when everyone submits fully to the source of all that is just and well ordered.

According to Islamic teachings, Allah demands justice, and although He has not prescribed a specific route, has provided general guidelines on how to achieve it. He has neither prescribed a fixed means by which it can be obtained, nor has He declared invalid any particular means or methods that can lead to justice. Therefore, all means, procedures, and methods that facilitate, refine, and advance the cause of justice, and do no violate the Islamic Law are valid.

The Qur'an views itself as a scripture devoted mainly to laying down the principles of faith and justice. It demands that justice be met for all, and that it is an inherent right of all human beings under Islamic Law.

The institution of administering justice began when Allah placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. They were given instructions to uphold what was permitted and stay away from the prohibited. When they violated the Command they were taken to task and the appropriate penalty was given, i.e. they were sent down to earth.

Being the last of the Revealed religions Islam teaches that to render justice is a trust conferred on human beings. It expects that, like all other trusts, fulfillment of justice must be guided by a sense of responsibility beyond mere conformity to set rules. A follower of Islam is guided by the Command of Allah contained in the following verse of the Holy Qur'an; Allah says:

O you who believe; be maintainers of your pact with Allah as witnesses to fair dealings, and let not hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just, that is nearest to righteousness. (5:8)

Islam also constitutes codes of conduct – rights, and responsibilities, that guide man’s relationship with his fellow man, and adds to this his relationship with the physical environment, ensuring all the time that every one is given due care and attention. Allah says:

O you who believe; Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even it be against yourselves, your parents, and your relatives, or whether it is against the rich or the poor. (4:135)

It is in this context that we say Islam is a way of life, and more so, after consideration of those rights and responsibilities imposed on man by Islam, we maintain that is without doubt a way of life that is dedicated to ensuring justice permeates every level of society. This advocacy we find infused throughout the Holy Qur'an; traditions of the Holy Prophet (pboh) as well as is ordained practices and codes of conduct.

Muslims guide themselves with the saying of Prophet Muhammad (pboh). He is reported to have said that Allah said to him:

O my slave; I have forbidden injustice for Myself and forbade it also for you, so avoid being unjust to one another. (Muslim)

As an example, of how important it is for every person to uphold this noble principle, every Friday in almost every Mosque throughout the world, the Imam concludes his Sermon with the reminder to the congregation as follows:

Verily, Allah commands justice, the doing of good to kith and kin, and He forbids all shameful deeds and injustice and rebellion. He instructs you, that you may receive admonition. (16:90)

We interpret the term ‘Justice’ to represent that finely tuned balance between individual rights and freedoms on one part, and individual responsibility to the social good – even beyond that – to enforcing the categorical imperative that we each do onto others as we would have them do unto us.

This manifestation of the dedication to justice became refined with the coming of Muhammad (pboh) the Final Messenger, to whom Allah said:

And the Word of your lord has been fulfilled in truth and in justice. None can change His Words. (6:115)

Emphasis of a principle is not enough – the real challenge is to establish its practice with religious fervor, in one’s daily life, both from the moral and ethical point of view, and also as a system with the dos and don't clearly defined. Every individual has a moral duty to himself and others as well as a social responsibility to all with whom he shall come into contact.

Every individual is honorable in the sight of God, and is entitled to be treated equally in the eyes of the Law. However it happens at time that some people, because of their particular circumstances, may behave as if they are special and superior to others. Those persons may even want to use their ‘gifts’ as a means of expressing some form of superiority over others. Allah warns against such practices and says in the Holy Qur'an:

And do not eat up your property among yourselves out of vanity, nor use it as bait for judges, with intent that you may eat up wrongfully and knowingly a little of other people's property. (2:188)

The Holy Qur'an views Justice as an absolute, that is, as an imperative which is unconditionally, universally and absolutely binding—binding on everyone, under all circumstances, and in all situations; binding without considerations of socio-economic position, gender or ethnicity; binding without regard to the distinction of religion, or of power within society, or of income; binding even if it is antagonistic to one personal interest.

Islam accepts this position because Allah says that it is nearest to the virtue of Piety. (5:9)

In the process of upholding what is just, there is the dual need for prevention on one part, and correction on the other – both being goals that must be imposed across the ranges of degrees of formality from codified law, through social standards and expectations to individual choice.

But the question arises as to how these are accomplished within such a cultural diversity of Islam:

Firstly there is the fundamental belief in One God – Allah, who is both All Knowing and Ever Present – His Word is law and He alone can judge us, individually. Amongst His Names some stand out that relate specifically to justice, viz. Al Aadil, the All-Just and Muqsitu, the Dispenser of Justice.

He says: When you judge, do so with justice. (4:58)

Secondly, there is the belief in the Last Day – the day of Judgment – a day in which every single individual who ever walked the face of the earth would be held accountable for his actions as he shall be tried by Almighty Allah. So that we can run from justice and maybe even hide in this life but never shall we ultimately escape.

In the widest sense the pursuit of justice relates to two levels, viz. individual and collective.

The individual level has two dimensions, viz. justice to ones self and justice to other individuals. Then there are two aspects of the pursuit in each case, viz. positive and negative. Thus, at the individual level, four basic rules of justice emerge in the Qur'anic ethics. These are:
· Establish positive devotion to the harmonious development of your personality.
· Remain constantly on guard against all negative factors in respect of every aspect of your personality,
· Give without hesitation to others what is due to them, and
· Refrain absolutely from defrauding others in what belongs to them.

At the collective level, justice takes the following four forms, which have been projected by the Holy Qur'an:
· Justice in social relations
· Justice in respect of the process and enforcement of Law
· Economic justice
· Political justice.

The healthy growth of the society, which influences the growth of the individual, demands the enforcement of all these forms of justice. Accordingly, the Qur'anic motto emerges as follows: Always adhere to justice in respect of self as well as in the interest of others with absolute sincerity and in all comprehensiveness. As a point of note, this builds on the categorical imperative – that single common theme that unites all religions the world over.

Sometimes the administering of justice can be very challenging, as there can be attempts at interference or influence over the decisions to be taken. The repercussions can reverberate to impact on one’s social spheres, or even family life.

But when one understands that the rendering of justice is a trust that God has conferred on the human being and that it ranks as the most noble of acts of devotion next to belief in God; when we are convinced that it is one of the greatest duties entrusted to the Prophets and specially appointed individuals; and when we realize that it is one of the strongest justification for man's stewardship on earth, we shoulder our responsibilities with dignity and honor and let the Merciful Lord take care of our personal matters.

With the intention to serve Him as the basis, we would all ensure that our actions, thoughts, behaviors and very existence emulates justice as we continue on our journey to return to Him, and hopefully we would all arrive at our destination inspired and with peace.

Distinguished guests, it is indeed a great honor to be entrusted with the sacred responsibility of administering justice. As we move into this new law term I pray to the Merciful Lord to make the task easy for everyone connected to it.

I beg Him to bless all of us with wisdom and understanding, so that we shall identify truth and uphold it, and that we may recognize evil and abhor it.

May He enable us all to be just in all our dealings and our interaction, and help us to bear in mind that one day we shall be called upon to give account for all that we did in this life.

May Allah bless us all,
Thank you.